(disclaimer: i don't own anything, but Sai, Ino and Neji are my baes. 614 didn't happen. This is postwar I guess.)


part i ;

It was his turn to catch her.

It was a very intimate gesture, Sai figured, and he'd never known anyone outside Team 10 who'd ever done it – maybe Kiba, and Rock Lee, once – but right now Choji was fighting and Shikamaru was too far away. He was the only one who could do it.

He watched her body sway sideways, a moment more of hesitation before she hits the ground. Shikamaru yelled something but he couldn't hear it clearly. Finally, he threw himself forward to catch her rather inelegantly (her head hit his chest, and he was sure he pulled a muscle on his leg), but that was not important. Naruto had told him, an unspoken rule of working with Team 10 was to never – ever – let Ino's body hit the ground when she does the mind body switch.

He wasn't quite sure why. For tactical and practical purposes, it sure made sense. When she transfers her consciousness to another body, it creates a vulnerable spot in the team. A teammate must keep a lookout, in case the enemy finds out the jutsu's weakness and decides to go after her.

But the zealousness with which her teammates adhered to that rule he found a little more suspect. He had never asked Shikamaru – he was always irritable these days and Sai had a feeling the tactical genius didn't like him. Lee said something vague about girls and … chivalry, was it? Kiba shrugged and said it was instinct, besides, she'd never let you hear the end of it if you let her touch the ground.

Instinct. The naturalness of certain actions had always fascinated Sai. He was a conditioned soldier. His movements, battle or not, were learned, by the book, and he longed to be able to express himself more… naturally, without putting too much thought or effort. His personality was that he had no observable personality whatsoever.

Blank slate, he'd heard a captain call him. He wondered... spontaneity, could he find a way to learn it too?

He had caught her attention first.

Judging by Sakura's reaction – Ino, you're being such a bimbo – it wasn't an appropriate thing to do to a comrade you just met, so he figured the tightening in his chest was just an unpleasant reaction to an unpleasant event, and he thought no more of it. In any case, her interest dwindled after a few meetings; by the time they were on a hi, hello, wanna join us for lunch basis, she would have forgotten what she did during that first encounter, had he not brought it up.

I did that a lot back then, didn't I, she had said with a laugh, two years later, after four rounds of sake, when he mentioned it. Sakura said attending these get-togethers will help him mix better with others, so he did.

Yeah, Ino, you were such a flirt, Tenten said teasingly. Remember that time you flirted with Neji during the Chuunin exams? We must've been babies then. He was so mad!

This sent a ripple of laughter across the table. Sai laughed along, though he wasn't so sure what the punchline was.

Man, you sure were gutsy. Neji was such a scary turd back then.

Neji gave some sort of undignified snort. He was slightly flushed from all he had to drink, muttered something that made Ino laugh and blush a little, or maybe that was the alcohol too.

He never knew the full history between those two – actually, he didn't know much about any of Ino's past relationships, or even much about herself at all. It was impossible to get her alone these days anyway. Between Ibiki overworking her at the Intelligence Division and Sakura insisting she put in more hours at the hospital, Ino spent most of her off-days holed up in her house or else flanked by Choji and Shikamaru on either side, in which case Sai would hesitate to approach because he'd feel he would be disrupting something important.

He felt something… electric when he caught her. It started out as a little tingling, in his arms (muscle strain, probably, from catching her at such a strange angle), followed by a tightened chest (must be the result of her head bumping it), finally culminating to a strange wave passing through his stomach (for this he had no explanation, he pondered the possibility of him having unknowingly eaten a poisonous mushroom which means he was probably going to die soon).

Shikamaru yelled louder. Chakra blades coming at your 2 'o clock, get your ass out of there! As quickly as he could, he summoned one of his drawings to get him and Ino out of the line of fire.

The fight ended quickly. Ino returned to her body, muttered a soft thanks but he could tell she wasn't very pleased about something. Shikamaru approached and for some reason he could not follow, they got into a verbal sparring match about who did what wrong.

You were supposed to get out of there when you got the information, what did you take that extra five seconds for?

You think I didn't try? Shikamaru, get your head out of your ass!

Choji caught Sai's eyes and smiled apologetically. Break it up guys, let's head home before it gets dark.

Shikamaru and Ino barely spoke to each other the whole way home. Upon arriving, the group split up – Shikamaru, to Tsunade's office; Choji, to an after-mission BBQ; Ino, to the hospital, to see Sakura, probably. Sai didn't have anywhere specific to go. He caught up with Ino in front of the hospital.

"Oh, are you injured? You should have said something, if it wasn't serious I could have healed it right away."

He shook his head no, it wasn't serious, just maybe he twisted an ankle and strained some muscles in his arms. And no, he didn't tell her then because she didn't seem to be in the mood after fighting with Shikamaru.

Her expression relaxed a little. "I'm sorry. Shikamaru's acting like a bitter old man lately, I couldn't take it."

"Perhaps he and the Kazekage's sister are fighting?"

Ino rolled her eyes. "Ugh, who knows? He doesn't tell me anything these days. Anyway, he shouldn't be taking it out on Choji and me, I won't stand for it."

He didn't realize they had reached the minor injuries unit until she pointed it out. "Didn't you say you wanted something fixed? Or did you want to see Sakura too?"

The last part, he figured, was meant to be teasing. One didn't need to see the Head Medical Nin over child scratches and pulled muscles. He smiled and hoped it was the socially acceptable thing to do in these situations.

"Ino-san, I'd like to talk to you more sometime. Maybe we could have a meal together?" He wasn't sure if the words came out alright. Replaying what he said in his mind, he wondered what his more upfront comrades like Naruto or Lee or Kiba would have said and quietly wished he had paid more attention when the people around him did these things.

"Oh, you mean like with Sakura? Now?" He didn't understand how she made the logical jump and end up with that conclusion, but it could have been much worse. She could have made a disgusted face and turned around without giving an answer – his books say that was a very possible reaction – so he went with it.

"Yes, if that's okay."

"O-okay, let me just check with her if she's busy." For a moment, she looked as confused as he was, but he must have been imagining it. No, that wasn't possible, no one could be as clueless as he was when it came to social interactions.

But Sakura wasn't available, she had tons of work to do, Tsunade-sama will kill me if I don't get this done by the end of the day – besides, Naruto wants to have dinner with Hinata, you guys will be fine, right? So it was to be his first date with Ino, or at least he hoped so.