Word Count: 713
Inoshikachou, or the half-story I wrote months ago and finished today.
Don't fight, comes the terrified whisper in his head. Don't fight me. The familiar voice repeats again as Chouji goes strangely slack, then straightens to look at the carnage around him.
A muffled sob rises out of his throat as he looks at Ino; body flung a fair distance off and twisted at an impossible angle – dead. Shikamaru, still and pale from the loss of blood he suffered when the enemy had broken through his kage mane and reversed it, taken control of his shadows and forced him to slice himself.
Chouji goes over to his best friend and lifts him gently as he can, wincing at the scream of his tired muscles. Shikamaru stirs, looks up and goes completely still as a haunted look comes into his eyes.
"Ino? But I saw you die –"
Chouji looks frightened and uncertain, his voice rising an octave. "I know. My mind lives until my chakra runs out. And then – and then I'm gone."
The silence that follows is so deep and full of pain and denial that Shikamaru can hear a leaf drop, or three hearts breaking.
"But it's not so bad, is it?" Ino continues with a rush, not allowing him to say anything nor herself to break down. It's better to move fast, she thinks, to deprive herself of any time to think and to face death. Her time is limited to minutes, or to hours. She doesn't know.
They move on willpower alone.
Ino has determined, in her usual bossy way that Shikamaru now cherishes, that she's going to get the three of them back to Konoha no matter what. She's carrying Shikamaru, grateful for the strength that she is borrowing from Chouji, and moving with extreme caution to avoid any remnant enemy ninja. He clings on to the way she says it in Chouji's voice, the three of us. Ino-shika-chou, the team that Ino has no qualms about declaring the 'Invincible Three'.
He is soaking in everything he can, everything about Ino he remembers, even though the arms that hold him are not hers. He remembers and he stores them in his memory, to be shared with Chouji later. Somewhere along the way she stops suddenly and looks at him, breaking their self-imposed silence.
"Don't you dare forget Yamanaka Ino, Nara Shikamaru." There is the ghost of a smile on Chouji’s face. "It wasn’t your fault. Tell Chouji thank you, for everything."
"I love you," Ino whispers in exhaustion as she sinks down against the gate while still holding Shikamaru, waiting for dawn, waiting for them to be discovered. Waiting to die. They are home, they are nearly home. The closed gate separates them from safety and loved ones, and they wait for it to be opened.
Shikamaru is now deathly white from blood loss, and a thin scarlet line trickles from the lower corner of his mouth. Ino brings a thumb up to delicately wipe it away, and she feels a mind stirring back into consciousness beside her own. It hits her then that she is well and truly going to die. Ino wants to scream suddenly, to protest against the unfairness of it all. It's the last minute of her life, and she feels this going through her mind: love, loss and longing. A low laughter bubbles out of her mouth, and Ino determines that she will not fade away into death, but depart like the proud shinobi she is.
Chouji's mind flutters again, and she feels herself getting weaker. Ino brushes lips that were not hers against his, and the kiss becomes more intense as the butterfly wings in her head gain a steady rhythm of their own.
"Kai," she breathes and slots her fingers together for one last time. Release. Extinguish.
And she is gone.
Shikamaru looks up at Chouji, who has a look of longing and loss so raw that he knows he'll never forget. Chouji makes a little gesture, and somehow, Shikamaru recognizes it for what it is – Chouji’s reaching out, trying to catch the intangible and bring it back. What makes it more painful is that they both know it’s a futile effort.
Together, they grieve as the sun finally rises and the eastern gate of Konoha opens at last.
I PROMISE that the next fic I write will NOT HAVE ANY DEATHS IN IT. I SWEAR!!! Also um I used the hated plot device of kind of getting one team member out of the way for a two-member romance. ;___; I tried to include Chouji!
(Crossposted to acanti.)