Shikamaru hated to admit it, but it was strange to hear someone supporting the idea of him being together with someone as lively as Ino. But Sakura wasn’t just anyone else, which might explain why he didn’t laugh her compliment off like it was a joke at his expense. If Ino’s best friend thought he was a good match for her, then there was hope for him yet. All he had to do was play this relationship game properly. Luckily, he had the perfect partner on his side.
He listened on as she explained her dilemma of boredom. Team Seven was effectively cut in half ever since Sasuke Uchiha defected and Naruto left with one of the Legendary Sannin. The gap between sensei and student left Sakura unable to go on many missions with Kakashi, something he understood almost immediately. Asuma, too, was away on assignment, leaving Team Ten idling away to do solitary training and continue their day-to-day activities until called into action. While he could say that he had Choji and Ino to work together with, Sakura couldn’t say the same about her own teammates.
“Spur of the moment decision or not, I’m grateful you took the chance,” Shikamaru started, perking up as their waitress returned to them, meals balanced on a black tray. The aroma of meat and vegetables was strong, immediately making his mouth water in anticipation. Joining Sakura in breaking chopsticks, he stirred the stew and continued. “There’s nothing wrong with working on medical jutsu and reading books. It isn’t the most exciting, sure, but it makes you happy, doesn’t it? That’s what matters, not what anyone else considers enjoyable.”
With that said, he turned to his meal and dug in with her. The wait was worth it; the flavors within the dish blended together well, and he found himself savoring every piece he ate before swallowing with satisfaction. From the look of things, Sakura was pleased with the place, too.
“It’s not as stifling as the joints Choji usually wants us to go to, so that’s a plus. It’s cleaner than the average restaurant as well. Not bad at all.” He believed Ino would be just as impressed as Sakura. Not only were the dishes great, but it felt “official” – like a real place you’d take out someone you liked. ‘Asuma might want to take Kurenai here. Maybe he already has.’
He nodded at Sakura’s mention of picking Ino’s brain a little more. “We could use all the knowledge we can— “he paused midsentence, catching sight of a familiar face outside who stared back at him. Kiba, and right beside him Akamaru. Based on the wide grin on his face, the Inuzuka was all too happy to catch them in the middle of the “date”. And, unsurprisingly, he was making his way inside. “Brace yourself,” Shikamaru muttered. “Unwanted attention.”
Through Kiba’s prying, Shikamaru maintained a relaxed demeanor. If he looked too pressed, it could encourage him to stick around, which was the last thing either him or Sakura would have wanted. Thankfully it was Sakura herself who handled the response, to which Kiba decided that their dating made sense. Their intelligence made them perfect for each other apparently. But rather than leave it there, Kiba went on to suggest that they spend their time doing a lot more than hitting the books.
At the thought of them doing more than engage in conversation, Shikamaru rolled his eyes. It wasn’t as if Sakura was unattractive in any way; she had attractive features like Ino, specifically her eyes. Looking at her face turn red made him realize that her blush was cute, too. But it was a stretch to imply that they couldn’t keep their hands off each other. They had dignity. Maybe Kiba didn’t know the meaning of the word.
Bidding them a good night, Kiba left them to their meals, prompting Shikamaru to return his focus to Sakura with a sigh of mutual relief. Left alone again, they could continue laying out their plan. Sakura beat him to it by suggesting they address rumors that could stir up from their sudden romance.
He shook his head. “No. It’s troublesome, but if I know Ino, I know that her lack of intel about what we talk about and what we do in private will keep her thoughts centered on us,” he reasoned, peering down at his bowl. “Kiba’s one of the first, but he won’t be the last. It’s just another advantage for us. People talking about what they don’t know. Ino is going to press you, but I know you can handle that.”
Returning his chopsticks to his bowl, he continued to eat with his thoughts settling on Sakura’s previous mention of aimlessness. She was a ninja, book smart and determined to learn under Lady Tsunade just as Ino did. It never occurred to him that she could be so dissatisfied with her situation as it was now. It wasn’t her progress at the hospital, or the books, or even the lack of missions that made her feel dull. Nothing had changed her day to day activities for a while. Not until today.
‘Something new, huh?’
He focused on her for a few seconds before leaning back in his seat, setting his chopsticks aside for the moment. “Have you ever played shogi before?” he asked. Knowing the answer before she gave it, he pressed on before she could reply. “While we spend time together, we can make it an opportunity to get to know each other better, like friends. If you want, I could teach you how to play it. I don’t see Ino having the patience to learn, and if Kiba was right about one thing, it’s that you’re one of the smartest people to leave the academy. What do you say?”