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Plan B

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His best friend is due to get married in three days, and he supposes he should be celebrating with everyone else. Instead, he sits in a bar and tries to ignore the happy chattering of the people around him who know the happy couple (and he'd be surprised if anyone didn't, as the bride is the Hokage's daughter). He noticed his own father and his teammates seated at a table in the corner of a bar a while back and has practically been trying to hide since then, burying his face in his arms on the surface of the bar or else throwing back drinks (though he has things to do tomorrow so he does this significantly less).

After nearly two hours of gritting his teeth whenever he hears Chōji-ji-san's distinctive chortle, he feels a familiar hand on his back.

"Go away, Ino-ba-chan," he murmurs without lifting his head. To the contrary, he hears a stool's feet scraping against the floor, and when he looks up, she has pulled the seat out to sit next to him. He rolls his eyes and rests his forehead against his arms once more. How troublesome, he thinks, but this makes him think of Inojin and that stings too much so he finally sits up and orders another drink just so he can chase thoughts of his soon-to-be-wed friend away. He notices his honorary aunt still smiling at him, but there's something sad about it that he doesn't want to think about.

"I know this picture well," she says, and then turns to the bartender to order a drink of her own (and it's none of the fruity, girly drinks she was daintily sipping on at the table with her teammates which makes him wonder how much of her personality around them is an act). She doesn't elaborate until their drinks arrive, and then she finally adds, "Of course, I haven't seen a look of self-pity like that since your parents got engaged. Y'know who was wearing it?" For a second he thinks the answer will be his father, but when he looks over at her with furrowed brows she is staring down at her own drink, looking almost nostalgic.

"This place was a lot smaller then," she says, and he almost feels sad for her. "Sai and I had been married for almost three months when your dad proposed to your mom, but for some reason it didn't feel real until we were both locked down, you know?"

He's only ever picked up on hints that his father and Inojin's mother were in love when they were younger, and having verbal confirmation so suddenly is jarring. "It's not like I didn't love my husband," she explains after a minute, and he forgets about his drink as he stares at her with bated breath. "I just... I wanted there to be a way where I could love Sai and still be in love with Shikamaru."

Something about that strikes him, and his eyes go wide. "When I was fourteen, I asked you if you could be in love with two people at the same time." She nods, putting her empty glass on the bar, and he doesn't even remember seeing her drink it. "What do you do when they're in love with each other?"

She adopts a thoughtful expression, and slides the empty glass toward the bartender with a warm smile. She waits for him to finish his own before dropping money on the counter and gesturing for him to get up and walk with her. He stumbles out of his seat and follows her out of the bar and into the street, eyes straining against the darkness of the streets. "I can't say that I have experience with that particular area," she starts eventually. He stares at his feet just so he doesn't trip over anything while they walk (at least, that's the reason he tells himself he's staring at his feet). "But the best advice I can offer is to just move on."

He snorts, and tries not to be bitter as he says, "How am I supposed to just move on?" He's not sure he's ever seen such a sympathetic look on his aunt's face. The way her face pinches in pain, but not just like she is trying to understand his pain and take some for him; like it is an old wound that has been reopened. He imagines blood pouring from any of the old scars on her sides (and for a moment he is distracted simply by the fact that she still wears crop tops at her age).

"I'm not gonna lie to you, kid, it's not easy," she jokes, but there's something almost wistful about it. "It might take you a long time. Nobody falls in love and thinks, 'Well, if this doesn't work out, here's my plan two.' Well, no one except your dad, I guess." Something uncomfortable stirs in his gut at the thought that his mother was the plan two. He wonders if she knows this. "But I'm sure you've looked at people other than my son and Hima-chan, right?"

"How did you--"

"You don't have to say anything to be obvious, Shikadai," she says, and he feels his ears turn red.

He thinks to the civilian boys he stared at during his teen years, to the girls who used to flirt with him in bars when he was left alone (and he doesn't even want to start wondering why that's stopped). For almost a whole minute he thinks about his match with Yodo during the Chūnin Exams when he was twelve, and he stuffs his hands in his pockets so he doesn't start fidgeting.

He hears Ino-ba-chan laugh next to him and his face heats up again. "Nobody wants to feel like a Plan B, Shika-kun, but someday you'll meet someone who isn't a Plan B-- they're just the person you love. Just because the people you're in love with right now are getting married doesn't mean you don't get to be happy." He stops walking and she does not, leaving him staring after her back while she walks away. For a second, he imagines a reality where she and his father never broke up for whatever reason. He imagines a reality where Ino-ba-chan is his mother and Inojin's name is Nara Inojin and his mother is left with the same feeling of dread at having to attend the love of her life's wedding. He wonders who she marries in this timeline-- if she marries at all. That's not what happened, though, and he knows everyone is happy because he's here to see it.