10 - Fluke

The second chuunin exam in the reign of the fifth Hokage was hailed as the most exciting chuunin exam held by Leaf in a decade. It surpassed the previous exams not because the contestants were more powerful or the jutsus more dazzling, but because it was first and only time in a public exam that an Aburame ninja was conquered with his own blood-bonded insects. Such a feat was unheard of, and the implications mind-numbing. Contestants, judges, and observers of the event carried the story back to their own towns and hidden villages, disturbing news not only for the boy's clan, but for the plethora of other families that tied their ninjutsu so closely with animals.

Some of them must have wondered, when they heard the recounting of events spill from the lips of some excited traveler, how significant this could become. Had one girl single-handedly discovered the way to defeat a famously untouchable, unbreakable link? Would those who observed the contest be able to replicate her technique, to use against others? Was the technique tailor-made for the Aburame insect bond, or could it be adapted? What exactly had the child done, to leave so many speechless?

Then the other news would come. Oh, you don't need to worry too much about that, a traveler would say. Whatever it was she did, it put the poor thing in a coma. This after a bout of horrific screaming, right on the floor of the arena. No ninja worth his salt is fool enough to attempt what she did. What good is a technique if leaves you a vegetable?

The traveler would have been right, as far as the medic-nins of Hidden Leaf were concerned. Ino had suffered for her victory, and suffered still. Although she'd sustained little physical damage—primarily bruises from the taijutsu combat—she remained comatose for thirty six days after the final match. Her condition was assumed to be mental in nature, and unfixable by conventional means. Fellow chuunin Nara Shikamaru had frequented her hospital room, guilting over the sleep jutsu he'd put her under at the end of the exam. The Hokage had attempted to explain to the boy that his jutsu had worn off and she'd been sleeping naturally at least three hours before she slipped into the coma, but logic does not always work on the young, no matter how clever they may be.

The Hokage herself had taken time out to visit the young ninja's bedside more than once, especially on the days when Shikamaru had been forced to go home. That is where Shizune found Tsunade on the fourteenth day after the exam, and she paid her respects to the sleeping girl before addressing her Hokage and former teacher.

"Pretty scary, what she did out there," Shizune said, tucking a pencil behind her ear and placing a clipboard of charts under her arm. "The Aburames are all in a tither about it. Their impenetrable family technique was completely…"

"Hijacked."

"Yeah. Some of the other clans are whispering about it too. Who knows how many ninja families out there use animal familiars."

"Enough to fret, I'm sure. But they can stop worrying about it. This was likely a one-time thing."

Shizune's mouth dropped open in surprise. "You don't think she'll wake up?"

"Oh, I'm sure she will," Tsunade said quietly, pointing to the folded green material on a nearby chair. "And this vest will be waiting right by her bedside when she does. But I don't think she's ever going to make the mistake of trying to overtake a hive mind again, and no one else who saw that fight will either."

"You suspect permanent brain damage?"

"Permanent emotional damage is more likely, but honestly who knows what to expect out of this? The Aburames maintain a psychic link of a sort with the insects, but it's just a link, not a co-existence of minds. For a few minutes this girl actually took over the minds and bodies of those insects the way you'd take over a human mind and body, but instead of one it was thousands of minds. Crammed into very tiny, very alien bodies."

"It must have been a nightmare," the younger medic nodded, but couldn't keep a shadow of curiosity from crossing her features. The other woman noticed.

"What is it, Shizune?"

"I was just thinking, Hokage-sama…that even if she can't or won't take over a hive mind again, there's nothing to stop her from taking over some other animal, something larger and more individual. Or taking over the mind of her opponent and his animal at the same time."

"That's a possibility, true," Tsunade sighed, "but let's not spread the idea around too much. There's a long history of shinobi using animal familiars, a long history and a lot of jutsus that one can counter or block—but not take over. People don't like it when someone robs them of their previously untouchable advantages."

Shizune gaped at her former sensei. "You're not suggesting—that's absurd. You don't think one of the other villages would actually…"

"Invade our village to assassinate a rookie chuunin barely out of the academy? Break into her hospital room and kill her as she sleeps, before she can wake up and tell people how she what she did? Yes. If there's any chance what she did could be replicated—and mind you I do not believe it can—then it would render any gained by using jutsu that relies on an animal-human link useless. And the last thing we need is someone to send an assassin to stop a threat before it starts."

Tsunade walked toward the door, looking back on her assistant and smiling faintly. "Let people consider it a fluke-- and for Miss Yamanaka's sake, hope it turns out to be one."


Author's Notes:

Well, this is by far the furthest I've gotten in a chapter fic before. Yay for me! This one seems to have staying power, though it's been a long time between updates. Still, I'm determined to get through. I can see it all in my head, and it's fun to write. Nerve-wracking, but fun. I have to warn you guys—we're nearly a quarter through the story event-wise, and future chapters could get into the 40s in number, depending on how long or short they are. A typical chapter will range from 2-6 pages. I'm sorry they can't be longer, but that's as much as my brain will permit me to write at any one time, and I figure it's better to post as I go than save up and make longer posts farther apart. If it takes me this long for short chapters, imagine how long it would take to put out long chapters:sigh: It's hard, doing the whole college thing.

A few things to keep in mind for future chapters:

This story goes clearly AU after the manga time-gap. It will deal with events that happen after the three year period ends, and will go on past that to deal with Ino as an adult. This fic basically has three major parts: Ino as a child and teenager, Ino during the events immediately post-time-gap when Naruto returns and there's the subsequent confrontation with Orochimaru and Sasuke, and then finally Ino as a young woman and jounin. This fic is my version of Ino's life, an AU where things happen quite differently. Will Ino be in-character? I hope so. I'll try my best, but I'll be writing her as a teenager and later as an adult, which means complicated emotional stuff that we really can't infer based on what little we know of her 12 year old self. But I'll do my best.

Naruto's post-time-gap characterization might end up being somewhat different from canon. Not out of character, but more like an alternate possibility of how his character might have matured. Trust me, it'll make sense in the context of the story. Thankfully, we still don't know much about him in recent chapters, because it's all been action and plot-talk, but little characterization. So maybe my interpretation won't be far off after all? We'll just have to wait and see.

On pairings: There will be more than one Ino pairing in this story. I'm not going to tell you who, except that obviously Shikamaru is one of them already. Beyond that, wait and see. I believe in complicated romances so don't expect me to be all "Ino/whoever 4EVA OTP!" or anything. Not happening. I think you love different people in your life for different reasons, and Ino's just like everyone else in that regard.