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Disclaimer: I own nothing, I make no money.

Author's Note: Part One of a three-parter. These two have overtaken me. I hope they do the same to you.

Smokescreen

Chapter One: Fissure

"He's reaching for her wrist before he even knows he's moving (because her laughter sounds eerily familiar to crying these days and Shikamaru doesn't think he can tell the difference anymore so here - here is where he makes a choice.)" - Yamanaka Ino and Nara Shikamaru. She is losing her mind while he is losing her.

"I'm telling you, they're together together," Ino urges from her spot beside him along the bridge, her legs dangling over the ledge, her arms wrapped around the guardrail as she leans forward, watching Kurenai and Asuma walking down the far street.

Shikamaru makes a disinterested face, leaning back as he plants his hands along the wood of the bridge. "What does it matter, anyway?"

Ino waggles her eyebrows at him. "It means I won the bet with Chouji."

Shikamaru chuckles softly, peering across the river to where their mentor and the kunoichi at his side are talking casually. A cigarette dangles from Asuma's lips, and Kurenai punches his shoulder good-naturedly. It's so very… intimate, in a comfortable sort of way, and Shikamaru turns to look at Ino just then, watching the wide smile that spreads across her face.

She always was a hopeless romantic. Or at the very least, hopeless.

He huffs in annoyance at the remembrance of her love for Sasuke (or rather, her infatuation, as children's love often is, though war makes such affection all the more resilient, even when it is false).

"This will only be trouble," he says on a sigh, closing his eyes to the sun above them.

Ino smacks his shoulder, and it's so very not unusual that he finds he has already braced for the hit.

"Stop being so pessimistic."

"It's my job." He opens one eye to watch her, a frown already at his lips.

"No," Ino stresses, elongating the 'o' enough to make him scoff laughingly while she levels a piqued look his way. "Your job is to be our strategist. So...strategize!"

"Come again?" He blinks both eyes open now in apprehension.

"About what to do with them," she explains, pointing across the way to where Asuma and Kurenai are slowly disappearing before their view. Shikamaru catches the way Asuma's hand lingers at the small of Kurenai's back when he leads her toward a turn in the path, and the way Kurenai inclines her head to better hear what he whispers at her ear, and then suddenly - it is all entirely too intimate and Shikamaru finds himself clearing his throat as he sits up straight and shakes his head.

"I'm not getting involved in that."

"Oh come on." Ino urges, grasping at his arm and shaking it petulantly. "They'd be perfect together."

"They're 'perfectly' fine on their own," he retorts, snorting his derision. "Stop roping me into these schemes of yours. I won't be party to it."

"God," Ino groans, releasing his arm, "this is why no one likes you. You're just so...stale." She wrinkles her nose as she says it.

Shikamaru raises his brows at her in incredulity. "Says the town gossip, who, by the way, nobody likes either."

Ino draws a hand to her chest in mock offense, a dramatic gasp leaving her. "Me? Not likable? Impossible." She bats her eyelashes at him and smirks saucily. "I'm the darling of the village, didn't you know?"

Shikamaru laughs, loud and bright and abrupt. He doesn't miss the way her cheeks flush or the way she grips at the guardrail, even when her smile is brilliant and genuine. "You're crazy," he says as he shakes his head, chuckling.

He's right though, in the end, even when neither of them know it just then. Because in this moment it is only light and laughter and them. But somewhere in the back of Ino's mind, something cracks. The rupture has already begun.

The pieces have already started to fall.

"You're crazy" he had said. And in true jest, they laugh. Because neither of them know it yet.

But when they do - when Ino's mind is in pieces around them, when it is all white light and unfamiliar faces, when she is more Yamanaka than she is Ino and they both know neither will ever return - she will remind him he said this.

She will remind him he called her crazy once, and he had been right.

(He had been so right it nearly stole the breath from her lungs.)

She will tell him, with tears in her eyes and hands gripping her head, with fractured memories and a broken, defeated voice -

She will tell him that he was right from the very start.

If she could only remember.

(They were - each of them - hopeless, afterall.)


It is a gradual loss of sanity, as insanity often goes.

"That's not what I meant," Ino fumes, arms crossing over her chest.

Shikamaru shakes his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. As though you ever say what you mean.

Ino scoffs. "You're one to talk."

Shikamaru blinks at her, his hand falling to his side, staring at her in keen disquiet. "What?"

Ino huffs, throwing her hands into the air. "It's not like you ever say what you mean either. You're never… open with me." She eyes him darkly.

Licking his lips, Shikamaru steps closer to her. "Ino, hold on."

Rolling her eyes, Ino leans her weight to one leg, recrossing her arms. "What?" she snaps.

"I didn't say anything."

She narrows her eyes in frustration. "That's exactly the point. You never do."

"No, Ino," and here is where she pauses, because Shikamaru's eyes are focused in a way she hasn't seen in a very long time, his throat flexing imperceptibly, and suddenly she is alert - alarmed at his stillness. "I didn't say anything," he clarifies.

She doesn't understand for a moment, watching him in this breathless quiet.

And then his voice replays in her head, only the slightest bit muffled, like it came from inside, from just between her ears - this intimate near-whisper.

"Shikamaru," she breathes in the space between them, trembling without notice, her limbs going limp and she reaches for him, grabs a hold of his sleeve, eyes wide. "What's… what's happening?" She thinks maybe her father should have warned her about this (if he was still alive).

Shikamaru's frown sets deep and harsh.

Her fingers stay curled in his sleeve. "What's happening?" she croaks.

She never truly gets an answer.


"This is ridiculous. I don't need a babysitter." Ino huffs her annoyance while she sits along the medical bed, feet swaying back and forth as Sakura's fingers hover over her head, chakra threading into her temples.

Shikamaru crosses his arms over his chest and leans back along the wall. "The Hokage begs to differ."

Another huff. Sakura eyes her crossly, silently commanding the blonde kunoichi to stop fidgeting. Ino straightens at the look, but not without a roll of her eyes.

"Tsunade wants a report on your condition."

"My condition is fine," Ino defends.

He doesn't answer differently, but the fact that they're here at all says everything he doesn't bother voicing, and maybe Ino understands that as well, because she's uncharacteristically silent for the rest of Sakura's examination.

"Any headaches lately?" Sakura asks.

Ino muses for a moment. "Nothing unusual."

"So you have 'usual' headaches then?" The medic nin's brows narrow in focus.

Ino waves her off. "It's nothing serious. The Yamanaka have always had them. Comes from overuse of the clan jutsu sometimes."

Shikamaru straightens from his lean against the wall. "You've never said anything about that."

She eyes him in a strange sort of hesitance, as though this were something he should know without her even mentioning it, but she's afraid to call him on it. What's worse is that he discovers belatedly it is something he should have already known. Distantly, he wonders if Chouji was aware, if maybe he was the only one who hadn't fit the pieces together (and what a ridiculous idea.)

No wonder she'd be hurt. He sees everything else. Why couldn't he see this?

He doesn't have more time to ruminate on it however, because she's shrugging with forced disinterest, her gaze returning to Sakura. "We have ways of dealing with them, clan secrets and all. It isn't important."

"It could be," he says, stepping closer.

She eyes him warily. "It's not."

"He's right, Ino." Sakura looks at her with her soft green gaze, and Ino's back is suddenly stiff and brittle.

"Yeah, well, it's not like it's anything you'd know about, huh? So just leave me to my clan and let us clean up this mess. You can't fix everyone, Sakura."

Shikamaru recognizes the anger that suffuses the air, but he isn't about to step in the middle of this.

Sakura narrows her eyes at Ino, huffing indignantly. Her hands find purchase on her hips and she lifts her chin. "Then I'll be leaving my report to Tsunade and she can decide what to do with your mess."

"Sure, thanks a bunch." Ino is already pushing off the medical bed and heading for the door. Shikamaru turns just in time to see the regretful look sweep across Sakura's face, her arms falling uselessly to her side, before he follows his teammate out the door.

He's with her until they exit the hospital, his hands stuffed in his pockets, Ino determinedly striding through the halls. When they break out into the sun she suddenly stops, Shikamaru pulling up short just behind her. She sighs, leans her head back to look into that wide, cloudless sky, her fists curling and uncurling at her sides.

"I don't need an escort, Shikamaru, I know how to get home from here." She says it shortly, but even he can catch the crack in her voice. He's always known her just a bit more than she'd have liked, though neither of them would admit to it. So she swallows down that break and closes her eyes to the sun.

He shrugs noncommittally, and his distinct non-answer has Ino looking back at him over her shoulder.

"Isn't...Temari visiting today?"

Something constricts inside his chest at the name, but he can't be bothered to figure out exactly what. He can't be sure if the feeling is welcomed or not, and either way, this is where he needs to be right now. So he will stay.

"Yeah," he says in answer, though it tells her nothing, and himself even less, because he should be heading to meet the Suna kunoichi already and yet he can't seem to move his feet and damn if Ino isn't the most troublesome woman he knows (even still, he stays - he always does.)

Ino turns fully to him. "So…?" She motions her hands for him to continue, fully expecting him to give his farewells and be on his way.

"So let's go for a drink," he finds himself saying.

Her frown is instant. "Excuse me?"

"Let's go for a drink," he repeats, a daring smirk sliding across his face. "Or didn't you hear me?" He taps at his head meaningfully.

Ino's mouth parts to release something equally scathing and scandalized but instead it's a hoarse choke of laughter that passes her lips. She clamps her mouth shut quickly, glaring at his responding chuckle. "That's not funny," she retorts.

He shrugs again, hands still stuffed in his pockets. "It's kind of funny," he defends, his smirk staying stubbornly put.

Ino pulls her shoulders back as though in challenge, but then something passes over her face and in the moment she releases her breath, her own soft laugh coloring the air as she shakes her head at him, Shikamaru finds it isn't funny at all.

Not really. Maybe not ever.

But it is all they can do to laugh.

He's reaching for her wrist before he even knows he's moving (because her laughter sounds eerily familiar to crying these days and Shikamaru doesn't think he can tell the difference anymore so here - here is where he makes a choice.)

Temari is but a distant thought when he wraps his fingers around her wrist and tugs. "Come on."

He pulls her gently after him, and though her face is a reluctant protest, she lets him. She is staring at the space between his shoulder blades as he leads her away. Away from the hospital. Away from home.

When he hears the first sniffle leave her, he slips his hand down her wrist and links his fingers through hers, taking her by the hand.

He doesn't see the way she fiercely wipes the wetness from her eyes before the tears can fall, but her laughter still sounds like sobbing and he doesn't know which hurts worse anymore.

(It's a different kind of tightness in his chest but Shikamaru has never been one to chase trouble before.)


Months pass and nothing happens. Ino begins to think it a fluke, a mishap, a symptom of stress from the recent war. She waves off Sakura's concern and doesn't pass on missions. It's pointless to be scared of voices in her head.

It wasn't anything new anyway. She'd never been alone in there in the first place.

"Ino!" Chouji calls, dodging another attack from the enemy nin. She knows what to do on instinct, her hands moving into the appropriate sign, and when she takes the mind of the nearest nin, something jars unnaturally. She braces her feet in the dirt, rocking back with the force of it, and for a moment, all she sees is white.

But it only lasts a second, because the next thing she knows, she's using her ninjutsu to manipulate her puppet into slashing across his comrade's stomach, flipping him back into another opponent, launching a kunai at the nin barreling toward Shikamaru. She lasts nearly two full minutes in the body before his throat is cut, clean and swift, Ino's connection ruptured violently.

Another flash of white. An abrupt catch of air in her lungs. And then a ragged cough of blood spraying the air, her hand going to her throat.

Shikamaru swings sharp eyes her way, dispatching his own opponent swiftly and then bounding toward her. The last enemy nin drops to his knees in the grass before Chouji just as Ino falls herself, an unintelligible croak breaking over her blood-flecked lips.

Shikamaru catches her, bracing her against his chest, eyes wild on hers. "Ino, Ino. What happened? Ino!" He shakes her.

She screams - sharp enough to split bone - before her eyes roll back into her head and unconsciousness greets her.

It is not the first time she has woken in the hospital.

It is also not the last.


"You look like shit," he muses, slumping back in the non-comfy chair beside her hospital bed.

Ino chucks her unopened cup of pudding at him.

He dodges it easily enough, chuckling as she throws him a withered look.

"If you're just going to insult me than you can just leave already."

"Look, I won't anymore, okay?" He gives her an almost pleading look ('almost' because she doesn't think she's ever seen him plead before in the first place).

She only narrows her eyes at him.

Shikamaru rolls his eyes, and then stops, recognizing the habit as hers and why the hell is he even here?

(He knows, though he will never say.)

Silence pervades the room for long minutes, stunted by Ino's labored breathing as she lays back against the pillow, her brows furrowed, forehead sweat-slicked. Shikamaru takes the moment to watch her, to take in the sharp angle of her nose and the full lashes along her lids, the slight frown to her full lips, the way her long, brilliant hair spreads dimly along her sheets in the shuttered light from the closed blinds. This is his teammate. His friend. Ino is… she is…

Quite pretty, if he thinks too long about it. Pretty in a sharp, unconventional sense. In a way that cuts. A way that reminds you how very mortal, how very temporary you are.

Ino's beauty is the rush of air as a kunai glides past and the whisper of gliding skin when his hands form a seal.

She blinks her eyes open to watch him as his gaze flickers to her lips - where only harsh words and one single, heart-stopping scream has ever issued from - and he can think of nothing else but kissing her.

"Shikamaru."

He turns his gaze from her face, his hands clasping each other tightly in his lap. "The Hokage wants to see you," he says (instead of the many things he wants to say).

Ino shifts along the pillows, sighing as she settles. "I figured as much."

"Then I'll be… I'll be going." He stands then, his chair scraping harshly along the floor with his jarring movement.

"Okay," she breathes lowly, eyes on her hands as they clench the sheets in her lap.

He leaves before he says more. Before he does more.

Shikamaru glances back just before the door slides shut behind him, catching the way she looks to the window and the cloudless sky beyond it.

What he doesn't catch is the ragged breath that leaves her, or the way his fingers curl around the door handle, or the tightness in his chest when he realizes his words are futile.

Because Ino is -

Shikamaru closes his eyes.

(teammate, friend, pretty)

Because Ino is not his.


Ino is tipsy. The mark where her IV was injected is already faded from the back of her hand, her temples barely even sore anymore from Sakura's probing, and Tsunade's letter has been left forgotten on her desk for the night.

It's Chouji's birthday, and nothing can dampen the celebration. Not even the whispers in the back of her mind, or the subtle throb of heat behind her eyes, or the soft inkling of white at the corners of her vision. No. These things are temporary. They come and they go. It is part of being Yamanaka. She's known this from the start, or at least, known some semblance of it, from what she could glean from her father, before he had passed - his words bright in her mind, even still, the heady weight of his screams still reverberating in her mind, pushed back and back and back until it is only a faint echo in the distant reaches of her memories.

No, she reminds herself. This is a day of joy. And when she slides into the seat beside Chouji and wraps her hands around his arm, watching him turn his brilliant smile her way, she remembers that nothing can take this from her. Not even her slowly brimming insanity.

(Pushed back and back and back until -

There is no space left for such screams.)

Ino swallows back her trepidation and leans her head on Chouji's shoulder. "I miss this," she says affectionately, her smile tugging at her lips while she watches Kiba and Naruto argue over the last bowl of BBQ meat, the grill sizzling in the center of the table, and across from them, Tenten is parsoning out the cooked pork to Lee, Shino, and Hinata's bowls, the two quieter ones of the trio objecting politely while Lee energetically gobbles up all three of their portions while they're busy playing manners. Sakura and Sai are waving down the waitress for more bottles of sake and in the corner of the restaurant, Shikamaru is talking furtively with Temari.

Ino blinks, watching them a moment, catching the way the fiery Suna kunoichi motions to the table, and then jabs a finger into Shikamaru's chest, her cheeks pink with her frustration, her hands landing on her hips. Shikamaru turns his gaze from his partner, his hand rubbing the back of his neck and he says something that makes her recoil softly. Temari licks her lips, her shoulders slumping slightly, and the look on her face is something Ino recognizes immediately (but she doesn't like to think too long about it).

She can't look at them anymore, so she turns her head, the heavy knot of unease still lodged in her throat, and she clings to Chouji's arm more surely. In the rash of joyous noise around them, she is lost, her world narrowing to a pinprick focus, and when Chouji chuckles beside her, his hand coming up to brace beneath her chin, raising her gaze to his, Ino thinks her lungs might burst beneath this weight.

"It's my birthday, Ino," he says softly, smiling. And then he flicks her chin, laughing as he leans back, and for just a moment it is enough to anchor her, and she releases the breath she was holding, watching him retreat back as he watches her tenderly. "You're not allowed to be sad."

Ino blinks, pulling back from her lean against him, her hands still wrapped securely around his arm. "I'm not sad." And then she scoffs for good measure, her throat dry.

He lifts a single raised brow and it's all she needs to feel guilty suddenly.

"He's being vague again, isn't he?"

She stares at him, blinking dumbly. "Who?"

This time it's his turn to scoff, though it's lined with laughter. "Don't play stupid, Ino. It doesn't suit you."

She pokes him in the ribs, earning a short yelp and a deadly glare. It makes the smile return easily to her face, and she narrows her eyes at him playfully. "Stop being so nosy."

He laughs again, this time louder, boisterous, genuine. "Never thought I'd hear those words from your mouth, Ino."

She smacks his arm good-naturedly. "Alright with the sass. I think you're taking this birthday thing a little too far."

Chouji laughs, his chest bubbling with the sound, and then he's looking down to his plate, his brow furrowing. He glances back at Ino. She's laughing at something Kiba is saying, watching as the man grapples with Naruto along the other bench, her hand still locked around Chouji's arm and he suddenly realizes how very not Ino she seems tonight. How very...subdued.

Chouji looks back at his plate, eyeing the lone piece of meat he was ready to devour, and with a heavy, knowing sigh, he picks it up with his chopsticks and plops it down onto Ino's plate. She glances to it, her laugh ebbing, her mouth pursing in thought, before she looks at Chouji.

She raises her brows at this last piece of meat he's offered her, her hand clenching reflexively along his arm. "What's this?"

"Just…" He stops, shaking his head, looking elsewhere. "You're not allowed to be sad," he repeats, this time softer.

Ino stares at him a while longer, the noise in the room slowly dimming to a hum, and even she can tell that this is no longer about Shikamaru. This isn't about anything but her. And that's when the terror sets in.

He finally looks at her, and something flares hot inside her. Anger, or pride, or maybe just the slightest touch of self-preservation that makes her callous - makes her brittle to the world. She narrows her eyes at him.

Chouji leans back in his seat with a defeated slump. "Are you okay, Ino? Is it… is it your head? Your… I mean, are you okay?"

Swallowing the tight knot in her throat, Ino releases her hold of Chouji's arm, watching as his gaze lowers, his face faltering with something akin to loss.

She doesn't care.

Because she isn't sick, dammit, she isn't… she isn't hurting. She isn't broken or breaking or dead. It's just a headache. It's just a stupid headache, and some voices, and fuck - she knew she shouldn't have gone to the hospital. Keep it in the clan. Keep it tight, keep it closed. Don't let them see you break.

It's just your mind, afterall.

Ino grits her teeth.

Just… fuck what the Hokage wants and fuck what Chouji thinks and fuck this entire mess if it means - if it means -

She glances back to Shikamaru in time to see Temari brushing past him, a hand over her eyes while his gaze is on the floor, hands securely and safely in his pockets. He sighs, and it takes his whole body.

Ino frowns at their teammate, and Chouji holds his tongue, his hand moving over Ino's.

"Ino, don't - "

But she is already standing.

Shikamaru catches her eye just before he leaves the building, his features hardened in frustration, his shoulders tight with unease. She moves - and Chouji's hand on her wrist stills her.

She glances back down to Chouji, her free hand reaching up to rub at her temples. She doesn't notice the concerned glance Sakura sends her way, or the way Chouji rubs his thumb along her pulse point comfortingly.

"You need rest, Ino. You need… you need time."

She isn't sure whether Chouji's talking about her or talking about them but it doesn't even matter, because the white light is edging across her vision and she's dropping back down into her seat and she's just so fucking angry because - because -

"It's your birthday, Chouji," she expels on a breath of pain. She shakes her head and pulls her hands from her temples. "And I'm not allowed to be sad." She ends with a crack to her voice, though she desperately hopes he doesn't hear it, and when she looks back at him, blinking away the hot sting of salt on her lids as she smiles haltingly, she also hopes he doesn't see her shaking fists.

Shikamaru, she thinks, but this insanity of hers is a one-way street.

There is no answer at the end of the far walk.


He finds Ino at the bar, already four cups in before he even gets there. From behind, she looks exactly the same as she always does, except perhaps, for the slight slump of her shoulders - unnoticeable by anyone other than either he or Chouji and fuck he didn't think he had it in him today to comfort her. Not after Temari had...well, not after Temari.

Shikamaru thinks maybe some troubles are worth having but not this. Their goodbye had been stilted and full of half-truths. She had called him distant. He had called her suspicious. She had thrown out Ino's name once, almost in a crazed, desperate denial - but once had been enough. He wasn't going to listen to it anymore, because it was pointless, and untrue, and...and now here he was, looking for her.

As if Temari hadn't already called it and this - this is where Shikamaru decides maybe she had reason to be suspicious.

He thinks back to when they were children, to when Ino was especially down and he would step up behind her and cover her eyes with his hands, tell her it was okay to cry, and that no, the world couldn't see her, just go on, stop being stupid about it - "it's okay to cry, I'm here, aren't I?" - and she would hold onto his wrists while she sobbed, her nails digging half-moons into his skin and he'd wince, grimacing, but he never pulled away, never until she was ready, just watching the way their shadows intertwined on the ground before them and somehow never questioning it.

Shikamaru moves before he can stop himself and then his hands are reaching around her form, and she stiffens, her shoulders going taut, until he folds his hands over her eyes and stills behind her, his breath brushing the top of her ponytail. They stay like this for many moments. Enough for Shikamaru to wonder at the way their shadows still fit seamlessly.

And then Ino is pulling at his wrists, but not in any way she used to. This time it's irritably and sharply - this time it isn't half-moons biting at his skin but angry, irretrievable loss.

(When they were children, maybe...maybe...)

"You can't do that anymore, Shikamaru," she says sullenly, glancing at him out of the corner of her eye when he settles at the bar next to her. "We're not children anymore."

This he knows. This he knows more than she will ever understand.

And this he mourns.

Ino sighs, swirling the sake in her cup slowly as she eyes the drink. "Sakura saw Sasuke today."

He can't help the dark chuckle that leaves him, the gruff scorn staining his tongue.

Ino's pink cheeks flash a hot red as she narrows her gaze to him. "It isn't what you think."

"You miss him," he says with a shrug, turning fully to the bar so that he doesn't have to look at her when he says it. "Even still." He's gotten so good at feigning disinterest.

Rolling her eyes, Ino throws back her glass of sake. Beside her, Shikamaru pours himself a cup. "I told you," she presses, slamming her cup back down on the bartop. "That isn't it."

He raises one speculative brow and watches her chest puff out in indignation.

"She waits and waits and fucking waits for him. Endlessly. And he comes back - what - once every few months? A year? Two?" She shakes her head, reaching for the bottle, throat already dry for another pour. "While Sakura wastes away - stagnant, stuck without him. It's pathetic. It's...not the Sakura I know." She grimaces at the sip she takes. "It's not the life I ever wished for her." Ino grips the neck of the bottle tightly, staring down at her half-empty cup. Or was it half-full? She couldn't rightly tell at this point, and truthfully what did it matter? Half-full or half-empty, it was still never whole. Never wholly full, never wholly empty. Just this liminal mid-point of agonizing indecision. And dammit, why is she even thinking about this shit? What is wrong with her? Why does it fucking matter?

(Because he does, she reminds herself, years later. Because he matters.)

Ino shakes her head, gritting her teeth. "And then one day Sasuke shows up and flicks her fucking forehead and everything's suddenly okay. Life is good. She's back in love. She's whole again."

Something about half-full or half-empty cups always kind of stuck with Ino because it sounds suspiciously like love (love in the way she knows it, at least) and what she really wants to do is just chuck the whole damn cup through the window and never have to look at it again but then -

But then, here she is.

(The trick is to never stop pouring. You can't have a half-empty-half-full anything if you just keep pouring - overflowing, past the rim and down down down -

The kind of love that doesn't stop.)

Shikamaru takes a swig of sake. "You're jealous."

And where the fuck did he get that one from?

Ino's attention swerves to him so tightly she almost falls off her stool. "Excuse me?" It's a hiss of air that leaves her.

"Because he does come back. Because he comes back to her."

Ino's cup very nearly shatters in her hand. "You're not fucking listening." And then she scoffs, shaking her head as she spits her words heatedly. "I won't live like that. I won't waste my life waiting. Not for anyone." She stops, pulls a sharp breath in, watches him with meaningful eyes.

He has to look away at the blazing blue of her gaze.

She releases a rueful laugh, digging the heel of her palm into her eye, her shoulders shaking with the heavy mirth of it. "And what a fucking joke. Because you're still not listening." She drops her hand, watches him intently. "Maybe that's been the problem all along."

He looks back at her to see her tear her gaze from him, her throat constricting with the tight swallow she takes, the gleam of wetness over her eyes barely discernible just before she turns from him.

He grabs for her wrist, for anything, for those half-moons that used to dot his skin.

(For the comforting darkness of their linked shadows.)

She stops, eyes closing, breath pulling tight in her chest. "You can't do that anymore," she repeats simply.

It's okay to cry, he thinks, but he isn't sure who he says it to, and it doesn't matter anyway, since it's no longer a comfort and they're no longer children and now - now - Shikamaru knows exactly what he mourns.

He releases her reluctantly and before he can say another word she is already leaving. She doesn't wait for him.

(She already said she wouldn't.)