A/N: Shoujo ai, shounen ai, and . . . um, boy-girl ai? ^_^;;
Eh-heh . . .
Anyway, spoilers for the chuunin exam and following events. Set
before the Sound's Four get up to their tricks- probably while
Itachi is looking for Naruto and a bit before he gives Sasuke
his spanking. InoSaku, with a teeny bit of implied
NejiLee/HinaKiba- and some NejiHina friendshippy-ness on the
side, because I like that. ^_^
"The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and
beautiful of all." ~ Mulan
Ino cuts the head off a half-wilted rose.
There go the leaves. She dispassionately watches them fall,
like the little orphans of autumn running away from home a few
weeks too early.
Hinata is standing on the other side of the counter, watching
her with a troubled expression in her blank-paper eyes. Neji is
behind her, watching the leaves as they settle next to the rose.
Ino looks at her decapitated flower- though it's not a flower
now, just a stick of thorns- and wonders just what the hell she
thinks she's doing here. Sasuke doesn't like her. Sasuke will
never like her. And Sakura will never forgive her.
That hurts the most.
She watches through dull eyes as Hinata "rescues" the rose's
leaves and head, asking, "C-can I please h-have these, I-Ino?"
"What for?" Ino asks tonelessly.
"I-I th-thought I c-could dry them," Hinata stammers nervously.
"For po-potpourri, m-maybe. S-Since you d-don't w-want them . .
"Whatever." Ino reaches for the next flower. She feels like
destroying something beautiful. If that weird Hinata wants to
be stupid and try to make something out of the pieces, that's
Ino's fingers close around a branch and she pulls it free of the
mess of flora in her parents' vases, scissors already halfway to
It is from a sakura tree.
She palls slightly and pauses. She had forgotten that they were
blooming right now.
How could she have forgotten?
"Um, I-Ino," Hinata begins, tapping her fingers together
anxiously, "c-can we b-buy something?"
"What do you want?" Ino asks in that same dull voice. This
time, though, there is an undercurrent of pain to be found in
it, if you know where to look. Hinata and Neji both do.
"I'm going to visit Lee is in the hospital and make sure he
doesn't kill himself trying to get better," Neji tells her, his
own voice truly blank. "And that loudmouth Kiba," he rolls his
eyes, "managed to get into a scuffle with someone else he
couldn't handle. So we're bringing them get-well-you-idiot
gifts." Hinata giggles a little and then looks guilty for
laughing. Neji just gives her a wry look.
Ino returns the branch to its vase and considers the idea.
After a moment, she disappears among the aisles of the shop
without a word, coming back a moment later with two bouquets-
one huge and loud and violently colored; the other a smaller,
carefully controlled riot of white petals and green leaves.
"Kiba," she says, hefting the first. "Lee." The second.
"Th-thank you, I-Ino," Hinata says with a faint smile, taking
Kiba's. "T-they're perfect." Ino shrugs neutrally.
"Very nice," Neji agrees with an even fainter smile of his own
as he accepts Lee's.
"I'll ring you up," Ino replies with a yawn. She can't bring
herself to care today, not really. Even receiving a compliment
from the usually dispassionate but always sexy Neji isn't enough
to stir her. Besides, he's been nicer since Naruto kicked his
ass in the chuunin exam anyway.
She is kind of curious, though, as to why Neji and Hinata are
here together. Everyone had heard Neji's opinions on the main
branch of the Hyuga family during the exam.
Of course, they'd also heard Naruto's promise to change the
Hyuga too, and it seemed that Neji had been listening carefully
to that part.
"Your h-hair l-looks nice, Ino," Hinata says softly.
"Liar," Ino accuses. Hinata flinches and Neji glares. Ino
ignores him and names the price, collecting their combined
money. Hinata puts up most of the money but Neji doesn't tense
up. This is progress.
"They are nice flowers," Neji murmurs while Ino counts out the
"I suppose," she replies neutrally, and gives the change to him
to spite him.
But he is Neji and he does not spite quite so easily. He just
passes it to Hinata and she accepts it silently, having no
interest in beginning the fight they are going to have later
about it. Disgraced or not, Hinata is the heir and gets a far
better allowance than Neji, who lives on a frayed shoestring
budget. And maybe she doesn't like to fight, but that doesn't
mean she'll just roll over.
Hinata's stubbornness is a strange thing.
Ino wants to talk to Sakura about it. It and a thousand other
"Th-Thank you v-very much, Ino." Hinata goes to leave and Ino
watches her hips move under her clothes. The all-seeing Neji
raises an eyebrow and Ino keeps staring after Hinata for a
moment, feeling a brilliant flush rise to her cheeks.
"Hinata!" she blurts as a lot of things suddenly make sense.
The other girl pauses and Ino sees the deliberate tilt of her
After all, she has the Byagukan. She can see everything.
"Y-Yes?" the ruin of an heir asks curiously, and Ino knows that
Hinata is looking right at her even though she's facing the
"I'm in love with Sakura, aren't I," Ino says, feeling a strange
certainty steal over herself. Remembering things she's said
that aren't really things "just friends" say.
Hinata shrugs very slightly. "I d-don't know," she replies
slowly. "M-Maybe you should ask Sa-Sakura that?" With that,
Neji touches her shoulder and they both leave. Again, Ino
wonders why they're getting along so well nowadays.
Then she gets out the sakura again and starts looking for
She has a very complicated apology to give and figures she may
as well stack the deck.
* finale *
. : if i had a flower for each time that i have thought of
you, then i could walk forever in my garden : .