Title: Between Sun and Moon.

By: Kaara.

Disclaimer: … Do I have to go through this mundane routine /again? Fine. I don't own Naruto. Happy now?

Warning: Serious lack of explicit fighting scenes. I love them. I hate writing them. You can't make me write them. Live with it.

This fic has nothing to do with 'Fighting All Odds'. FAO /is/ my pet project but I need a break from all the angsting and revenging melodramatic crap before I claw the life out of my muses. 'Sides, I've been dying to morph this idea into actual words. There will be no /major/ OC, no /kick-ass/ hidden village, no /serious/ bashing and Naruto is /not/ a depressed, homicidal/suicidal super genin with uber mysterious bloodline limit.

Timeline is after Naruto kicks Mizuki's pathetic ass and graduates. This is an AU.

Randomness /will/ pop up once in a while. You have been warned.


Chapter One: Virago.


Ino stared at the mirror. Long and hard.

"Is that a… zit?"

Her neatly plucked eyebrows collided into a full-fledged frown at her outspoken thought, the tip of her finger gingerly scraping over a tiny mound that would have otherwise been invisible if Ino hadn't been squinting at her reflection for an entire hour. She gave the mound an irritated scratch, before exhaling loudly and picked up a hairbrush from her cluttered make-up kit. Sifting through her half dried sheen of pale golden hair, Ino started complaining at her reflection. Which could do nothing but to listen diligently like any good reflection should.

"It must be that awful lotion Mum bought," brush, brush, brush. "Or maybe it's not a zit. Maybe it's… an /allergy," brush, tug, brush. "Oh bother! What did I do to deserve a /gigantic/ boil on my first day as a /genin!" tug, brush, brush. "And to think I've spent all my allowance just so I can look nice today. This is /so/ not fair!"

The blonde's voice was slightly muffled when she clamped her teeth on the handle of her hairbrush, fingers expertly trying back her hair into its customary ponytail. She rummaged among scattered glittering scabbards and odd pieces of jewelleries for hair clips, finding three that were quite plain and didn't have any exaggerated flower patterns or multi-coloured studs on them. Slipping those into their rightful places, Ino spewed out her hairbrush and proceeded on trimming her ponytail in silent. The lines of frown on her face had disappeared by the time she traded her fluffy milky white bathrobe for her unofficial sleeveless purple uniform, humming away to a vague childhood tune.

A sharp knock on her door almost made Ino jump in surprise, pausing from her current task of wrapping her middle section with a roll of gauze. "Ino?" That was her mother. "You're going to be late if you don't hurry. Your father wants to have a word with you before you go."

"I'll be down in a minute, Mum!"

She snipped the end of the gauze in a flash, hastily tucking the roll away in a small bag and cast a sweeping glance around her room to make sure that everything was in place. Ino adjusted the end of her pale blue comforter, running a hand over the soft mattress underneath it to smooth some unwanted creases that offended her neat eyes. Satisfied, the blonde jogged out of the room, the linoleum floor a cool welcome to her bare feet. Ino trudged downstairs with the enthusiasm of a five year old kid, self-consciously tugging at her clothes. Her father was already there, flipping through the Konoha Daily and only looked up when Ino took a seat across him.

"You're going to have a new team today, right?" the jounin asked, smiling at his only daughter.

Ino dumped a pancake on her plate and poured a substantial amount of maple syrup onto it, grinning at her father. "Uh huh. I can't wait to know who's going to be in my group. I bet we're going to be the best new team this year."

Her mother tipped some sausages into Ino's plate and said, "I just hope you'll be careful, Ino. Heaven's know why you wanted to be a ninja, such a dangerous job. I always thought you like handling flowers."

"I'm not a little girl anymore, Mum," the blonde pursed her lips, chewing on her sweetened sausage. "Dad's a ninja, and he's cool!"

"That's my princess," father and daughter chuckled when the mother heaved an exasperated sigh, muttering something under her breath as she turned to the lump of sizzling scrambled eggs in the frying pan.

"Say, can I have my allowance early this month, Dad?" Ino asked through a mouthful of pancake, busily cutting said pancake into smaller pieces. "I want to buy that new set of kunai they have in Harumi's."

The jounin took a sip on his cup of coffee thoughtfully. "What happened to your last allowance?"

"I had to buy extra rolls of gauze, because Mum keeps complaining that she didn't have enough to bandage /you/ up after your missions," she pouted in mock anger at her father, who laughed sheepishly and scratched the back of his head. "Then, my wardrobe needed some new clothes and I found out that they were having a sale yesterday. Mum always said that even ninjas need to look good."

"Alright, alright. I'll give it to you after you come back from your first team meeting, okay?"

Ino swallowed the last of her breakfast and flashed him a wide grin. She spared a glance at an antique grandfather clock in one corner of the kitchen and choked when she saw the time. Washing down all the food with a glass of milk, Ino sprang to her feet and capered to hug her mother and gave her father's cheek a peck. Scrambling into her ninja sandal, Ino glanced over her shoulder. "I'm going to make you proud, Mum, Dad! See you later!"

Yamanaka Saeki smiled fondly at her daughter's disappearing figure, a pot of coffee in one hand while another held a plate of scrambled eggs. She looked at her husband and remarked in a warm, soft voice, "I think you're right to agree when she told you that she wanted to be a ninja. It's a shame to have all that energy wasted in doing flower arrangements."

"Ino has the potential," Inoshi folded his newspaper and leaned back into his chair, a small smile playing on his lips. In a teasing, smug tone, he said, "She's my daughter after all. It's in her genes."

"Of course, dear. Keep telling yourself that, maybe it'll come true."

"Hey, what's that supposed to mean?"


The room was packed with other new genins when Ino sauntered in, searching for familiar faces that didn't annoy her on daily basis. She caught sight of Ami, the snotty bitch-slash-her archenemy surrounded by a group of twittering admirers, smirking when she saw the girl paled as their eyes made contact. Ami hurriedly looked away, stuttering something to her groupies. Ino shook her head in amusement and made her way towards Shikamaru, before something, or rather /someone/ made her stop on track. A mischievous grin made its way onto her face as she eyed Sakura and Sasuke, the latter engaged in a one-way conversation with the former.


Latching herself onto the Uchiha, Ino stuck out her tongue at Sakura, who was gaping angrily at them. It was her favourite game; pissing Sakura off. She wasn't really interested in the sallow-faced Sasuke, preferring her boyfriend to be more talkative and cheerful than Sasuke's patented grunts and air of theatrical angst. The boy was too dramatic for her own liking, anyway. The only reason why she pretended to fawn over Sasuke was Sakura. That pink-haired, forehead girl that had no whatsoever confidence in anything that didn't involve tons of books and loads of memorising. Ino wanted to help, in her twisted kind of way.

"Get away from Sasuke-kun, Ino-pig!"

"Make me, forehead girl!"

Sasuke grunted and disentangled himself easily from Ino's hands, choosing a seat some feet away from the two females. He proceeded to fall into the part brooding, part thinking look that he had perfected over the years. Girls giggled and squealed, guys had to restrain themselves from gagging. Ino raised an eyebrow when a blond she vaguely remembered from the Academy started harassing Sasuke, crouching close to the Uchiha. Too close in fact. So close that when an anonymous boy accidentally knocked him with an elbow, the blond stumbled forward and /kissed/ Sasuke.

Ino thought she would've died that day when her oxygen supply was cut short from excessive laughter.

When she finally managed to wipe the tears away from her eyes, the blond was on the floor, supporting several large bumps and a facial makeover courtesy of Sakura, who had a maniacal glint gleaming dangerously in her eyes. Sasuke looked traumatised, his usually expressionless face twisted into something akin to a mix aghast, confusion and mortification. For the second time that morning alone, Ino gasped for breath in between mad bouts of laughter. She was saved from death by asphyxiation when Iruka-sensei walked in and commanded immediate attention. Shoulders shaking slightly in her attempt to /not/ laugh, Ino prodded the blond with a foot.

"Wake up, you idiot," she hissed as the boy stirred. "Iruka-sensei's here."

One eye blinked open, followed by a groan. "I'm still alive…?"

"Unfortunately, yes," Ino held out a hand and helped the boy to a seat besides hers, taking in the blue eyes and prominent whisker marks. "You're Uzumaki, right?"

"Yeah," he trailed on, wincing when he fingered his bumps. "Sheesh, Sakura-chan gets more and more violent these days. Ouch!"

"You really are an idiot," she ignored his glare and tossed a handkerchief at the blond, who quirked an eyebrow in response. "Clean those cuts, whisker-face. You might get an infection."


"Don't mention it."

Iruka-sensei shuffled the papers in his hands importantly, before smiling at the expectant faces of the genins. "Now, Team Seven is… Uchiha Sasuke."

The boy grunted indifferently.

"Uzumaki Naruto."

The blond besides Ino groaned in misery.

"And… Yamanaka Ino."

The girl blinked in surprise. That was an unexpected turn of event. Earlier, she thought she would've been assigned to a team that consisted of an Akimichi and a Nara. Her father often told her stories about his efficient team works with his fellow jounins, especially Akimichi and Nara. He also told her that his partners have sons going to the Academy as well, about her age and it would be a blast if she could continue the tradition of the Yamanaka, Nara and Akimichi Combo. She had nothing against the idea, though Shikamaru grated her nerves with his unmatched lazy-assedness and Chouji with foods was just plain disgusting.

Before Ino could say anything, Iruka had paved on ahead with the list. "Team Eight will be Inuzuka Kiba, Aburame Shino and Hyuuga Hinata. Nara Shikamaru, Akimichi Chouji and Haruno Sakura are Team Ten. Your assigned teacher will come shortly after this and I hope you will all grown up to become the proud shinobi of Konoha. Those who don't are going to hear from me."

Cheerful laughter greeted the half-hearted joke. Iruka-sensei bowed and made his way out of the room, leaving the newly promoted genins to chatter happily with their new teammates while waiting for their teachers. Ino was staring ahead at the blank wall, still surprised by the arrangements and thinking how her father would react to it. How disappointed her father would be. Maybe she could meet Iruka-sensei afterwards and demand a change of teammates. Ino distantly felt a hand descended onto her shoulder, snapping out of her musing only when someone began shaking her to and fro. Slapping the offending hand away, Ino glared at its owner. It was the blond.

"What?" she asked, irritated.

The boy grinned, a wide, foxy grin that made his eyes twinkle impishly. "You're Yamanaka Ino, right? We're going to be in a same team."

Ino sighed heavily. "I happen to realize that, Uzumaki."

"Call me Naruto. It's weird having your team mate calling you by your last name everytime."

"Then you can call me Ino," she said, smiling a bit despite herself. She looked around, before turning to Naruto, "Where's our last teammate?"

"Sasuke-bastard? Um… he's /somewhere," was the vague reply she got from the blond genin. "Probably hiding from his fan club. Again."

"Poor boy," snickered Ino, toying absently with her ponytail. "This is boring. I wonder when our sensei will come."

Naruto cracked his knuckles and exclaimed confidently, "He's probably on his way right now!"

xxx Three Hours and a Peeved Blond Later xxx

"Where the hell is that goddamn sensei!"

Yawning, Ino allowed her head to rest on the table, eyes scanning the room without much gusto. It was empty, save for Naruto (who was hyperventilating in front of her), Sasuke (who was brooding at the other end of the class) and herself. No whatsoever sign of any sensei. All the other teams had long departed with their respected teachers, who unlike theirs, arrived in time. She had shrugged in pity at Sakura, who had stomped sulkily behind her teammates in a tow. The pink-haired girl shot Sasuke one last longing look before disappearing down the hallway, the same direction Ino wished she had gone three hours ago.

Noticing that Naruto was fiddling with a blackboard duster, Ino lifted her head and asked, "What are you doing?"

"It's a punishment for our unpunctual sensei," the boy replied cheekily, giggling as he set the duster on top of the sliding door. Jumping down from the stool, Naruto clapped his dusty palms together and grinned. "Now we just have to wait for that late dumbass."

"A jounin won't fall for such kindergarten trick," Sasuke commented, the most they had heard from him all morning.

Naruto and Ino adroitly ignored him.

As if on cue, the door opened just as Sasuke finished talking to reveal a mass of bushy silver hair. Which was promptly covered in a cloud of chalky dust when Naruto's plan (surprisingly) worked. A tall and lanky man in typical jounin attire walked into the room, shaking his head free from the white dust with a hand while another firmly held on a book. Ino had to clamp a hand over her mouth to stop herself from bursting into another fit of laughter, while Sasuke was eyeing the jounin suspiciously. Naruto was jumping and pointing at the jounin like a drugged monkey.

The silver/white-haired man rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"My first impression on you… is not good."

Awkward silence ensued.

Ten minutes later, they were already seated outside, Naruto sitting between Ino and Sasuke with their 'Kakashi-sensei' propping his chin up with a hand in front of them. His one visible eye was regarding his new charges lazily, one of his hands rested across his knees. Ino thought that if it weren't for the jounin vest, the man would've looked more like some drunken sleazebag that she often ran across in front of bars. From their introduction earlier, he only revealed his name and a load of other unimportant crap. Naruto had an insane ambition to become the next Hokage. Ino also found out that Sasuke had homicidal urges.


"Now that we've known one another—"

"We only know your /name," Ino pointedly interjected, arms crossed against her chest.

Kakashi ignored her and continued on. "Next meeting is tomorrow, at the clearing by the bridge. I want you to be there by eight, and don't eat any breakfast. I don't want anyone throwing up on me. Got that?"

"Why would we throw up?" questioned Sasuke in his usual silent way. After his rather chilling revelation that his dream in life was to kill a certain someone, Ino had scooted to a safe distance away from the Uchiha, suddenly wary of her safety around the boy.

"Now, that's my secret, isn't it?" their silver-haired sensei cheerfully retorted, standing up and dusted the back of his pants nonchalantly. "See you tomorrow, kids."

And with that last bid, the jounin disappeared into a cloud of smoke.

"… I think Kakashi-sensei is a serious weirdo," Naruto muttered matter-of-factly under his breath. He jumped up and said/yelled, "Who's up for some ramen?"

Sasuke abandoned his seat and started to stalk away. "I have better things to do than hanging out with dead lasts."

"Why you—!"

"I'll go with you," Ino piped up, trying to nip the argument short. She did a short stretch to loosen her stiff muscle and smiled at Naruto. "All that waiting makes me hungry."

Anger forgotten, the blond boy eagerly agreed. They walked side by side to Ichiraku, chatting quite contentedly about the weather, jutsus, Iruka-sensei, everything. By the time they arrived at the ramen stand, Ino had learnt that Naruto was an orphan, living alone inside a small apartment somewhere in the heart of the village. He told her that he didn't have many friends while he was in the Academy. It puzzled Ino, as she remembered her mother warning her about Uzumaki Naruto when she was younger. She didn't have the chance to meet him before, studying in separate classes but as they laughed at some odd jokes Naruto picked up from Iruka-sensei, Ino couldn't understand why her mother would warn her about someone as cheery as Naruto.

Naruto didn't look dangerous at all.

The welcoming warmth of Ichiraku Ramen made Ino's stomach grumble, nodding at the owner as she parted the curtain. The stand was deserted by the time they claimed two stools, sitting cosily together.

"What will you two have?" the owner asked, his voice thick and friendly.

"I want beef and shrimp ramen!" Naruto.

"I'll take vegetarian ramen, thank you." Ino.

"Vegetarian? What's the point of eating ramen if you want veggies!"

"The point is that it's healthy, whisker-face!"

"Stop calling me 'whisker-face'!"

"Then stop criticising my eating preference!"

"Order up."

Still glaring at one another, Ino and Naruto swiftly snatched one bowl each, jabbing at the innocent noodles vindictively with their chopsticks whilst their eyes were locked in a glaring match. When both finally turned their attention back to their bowls of ramen, they immediately realized their blunder. Ino ended up with the beef and shrimp ramen, while Naruto had her vegetarian one. Cheeks colouring slightly at the mistake, Ino looked up from the bowl and offered an apologizing grin to the blond boy besides her. Naruto shrugged nonchalantly and they traded bowls in silent, though Ino noticed that the boy's cheeks had adopted pretty tints of bright cherry.

"… Sorry I yelled at you," the boy softly mumbled, spewing some bits of chewed noodle onto the counter as he did so.

Ino grinned widely. "Nah, s'my fault too. My dad always said that I have quick temper." She glanced at the darkening sky outside, frowning when she spotted dark rain clouds parading over Konoha. Rumbles of young thunder echoed in a distance. "Shit, I think it's gonna rain. Mum is /so/ going to nag me to death if I got home late. You don't mind me slipping back first, right?"

"I don't," then, Naruto added in a more morose tone, "Nobody's waiting me back home anyway."

"You go, Mr. Sunshine," the girl teased, quickly deciding that sadness didn't suit Naruto at all. She ruffled his hair (much to the boy's annoyance) and slurped down some hot broth from her ramen. Dumping some money on the counter to cover her order, Ino said, "I'll see you tomorrow then, 'kay?"

"Bye, Ino-chan!"

Ino paused at her new title, arching an eyebrow at Naruto. The blond waved his chopsticks before turning back to his bowl, shovelling the food down his throat in an inhuman pace. Shaking her head, Ino jogged towards her home, the jogs quickly replaced by a sprint when she felt drops of water crashing against her skin. She shielded her face with a hand, wiping her face in intervals as the increasingly thick curtain of falling raindrops restricted her vision. The street ahead was reduced to mere blurs, dim spheres of light from random lampposts were the only indication that she was going the right way. Ino grimaced when she nearly slipped on a puddle of mud, trying to stay on the paved road.

Before she could take another step, a hand latched itself onto her wrist.

"What the— Hey, let me go!" Ino instantly regretted yelling when filthy rainwater rushed into her lungs from her opened mouth, causing the girl to cough and spluttered painfully, her chest heaving from the sheer effort to keep breathing.

The hand yanked Ino away from the road underneath her feet, dragging her towards an unknown direction. Ino struggled against the firm grip, succeeding only in making its owner tighten the cold fingers over her flesh. Fear manifested itself inside the girl's mind, squeezing her heart with undiluted panic. What if it was a murderer? What if it was a /rapist! The rain made Ino unable to discern her 'captor', except that whoever he/she was, the person was doing a /fabulous/ job in killing her blood circulation. Through the slits of her eyes, Ino could make out a glowing /something/ a few feet away from her, hoping against hope that nothing bad was going to happen.

Suddenly, Ino couldn't feel the harsh rain beating down on her face anymore.

"Open your eyes."

The curt voice was strangely familiar and despite her fear, Ino slowly fluttered her eyes open, wincing as a shower of bright light assaulted her irises. After her eyes had adjusted themselves to the brightness, Ino found herself blinking into the face of none other than Uchiha Sasuke. The blonde girl immediately tensed, her sore throat burning from shock as Sasuke's dark orbs pierced through her mental defence. She took a step back; a glance at her surrounding revealed that she was standing in someone's porch, the light pouring out from an opened door. Sasuke was wearing a coat over his dark blue yukata, a pink umbrella clutched possessively in one hand.

Ino's first instinct was to snerk at the umbrella. "/Pink, Sasuke?"

"… Shut up."

Ino's second instinct was to yell at the dark-haired boy. "What the hell do you think you're doing! I was on my way home!"

"You're heading towards a ditch," Sasuke informed the blonde, his brows knitted into a dark brown. He slipped out of his drenched sandals and took a step through the door, placing the pink umbrella into a bamboo stand. Leaning against the doorway, the Uchiha said, "Kakashi-sensei wanted to meet the /three/ of us, he'll be pissed to find your body inside that ditch tomorrow."

"…Wow. That' like, the first time I heard you complete a whole sentence. I'm impressed," Ino said, deadpan. Remembering her manner, she flashed Sasuke a sweet smile. "Thanks for saving my life."


They ended up staring at one another for several uncomfortable minutes.

"Um, do you have a phone?" Ino asked, shivering from a sudden gust of wind and wished she hadn't left Ichiraku. At least she won't be trembling like a drowned street rat there. "I need to call my parents. They're going to get worried if I don't."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes, a sudden unidentified gleam flashing through those dark irises of his. Ino kicked herself mentally, thinking that the Uchiha was offended when she mentioned 'parents', like Naruto had earlier. The girl chewed on her bottom lip crossly as she came to the sudden realization that she was saddled with two chronic cases of lonely /stubborn/ orphans. Iruka-sensei is /so/ going to pay for this… Shifting her weight to one leg, Ino waited for Sasuke's answer, praying that it didn't involve bodily throwing her out of his porch into the heavy rain or anything equally atrocious. To her surprise, the dark-haired boy beckoned her to come inside.

Now, knowing Sasuke's reputation as the heartless walking block of ice that was averse to any kind of vocal and physical contact, coupled with the fact that that said block of ice had revealed that his goal in life was to murder someone just hours ago, it was fully understandable for Ino to hesitate at the invitation. She looked around for any possible /dry/ escapes and upon finding none; the blonde exhaled in resignation and started taking off her own soaked sandals. She ran a hand through her straggly hair in an attempt to appear somewhat presentable before taking a step into the Uchiha resident.

Contrary to popular belief, Sasuke /did not/ live in a thousand year old manor with creepy butler and painting with moving eyes, or an elegant traditional Japanese dojo that covered a vast acres of land. The boy's house was a simple double-storey bungalow, sparsely but stylishly furnished. There was a big fire cackling merrily in the grate and several armchairs placed strategically around the fire. On one end table was a leather-bound book, a bookmark sticking out from its many yellow pages. Ino followed Sasuke into a dimly lit hallway, wrapping her arms tighter around her quivering body with every step that she took. They eventually stopped inside a clean space that resembled a kitchen.

"Here," Sasuke shoved a cordless phone into her hands, moving to a set of high cabinets and began searching for something.

Punching her number in an instant, Ino only had to wait until the second dial when her mother's voice greeted her eardrum. "It's me, Mum. I'm okay… I know I should've called earlier… No, really, I'm okay. I'm at a… /friend's/ house. No, I'm not at Sayu's. Don't worry, I'll get back as soon as the rain stops. Uh huh… tell Dad I'm sorry, okay? Love you too. Bye."

Something fluffy smacked her right into the face, Ino's nose picking up the lingering scent of a fabric softener that she often used. She raised a hand to clutch at the object, which turned out to a small pink towel and the culprit was standing with his back against the refrigerator. Placing the phone onto the tiled counter, Ino grinned in gratitude at Sasuke and wasted no time to rub her hair dry. It crossed Ino's mind that Sasuke was not really the kind of person whom anyone would call 'charitable', let alone showing general hospitality to other people. Her vigorous rubbing eventually halted to a stop and Ino stared at the dark-haired boy with curiosity.

"Why are you being nice to me?" the blonde bluntly questioned, raking her fingers through her hair thoughtfully.

Sasuke snorted. "I told you about that ditch already."

"You're doing /that/ again…"

"Do /what/ again?"

Ino grinned. "Speaking in complete sentence. You should make it a habit, you know. It's /very/ appealing."


"Someone should crown you Mr. Conversation of the Year."


"I've been meaning to ask," Ino held up the pink towel with a smirk. "What is it with you and pink colour? You happen to own a lot of them. The umbrella, this…"

"… They were on sale."

A muffled snicker came from the general direction of Ino. "I never knew you could be so /domestically/ efficient."

"One more word and I'll throw you out."

"Fine, stop being so sensitive, will you?"

Her smirk came anew when she saw Sasuke flinched at her words. Sure, the boy saved her from committing unintentional suicide but even /that/ couldn't stop Ino from picking on him. She wrapped the slightly damp towel around her neck, looking out a window and into the hazy landscape beyond the glass confinement. Besides the fact that her /new/ outfit was sopping wet and she had created puddles of water across Sasuke's home, Ino had nothing to complain about. She even thought of asking Sasuke for a cup of hot chocolate or something warm but figured that even the Uchiha had his limits. Therefore, Ino settled on staring at the window for the rain to recede.

Ino grinned when a thought crosses her mind.

The things Sakura would do to be in her place right now…

Her patience was rewarded ten minutes later when the heavy downpour slowly reduced to soft drizzle, splashes of rainwater against the glass pane not as intense as before. Ino abandoned her place by the counter and sauntered over to the window, pressing her face to the smooth surface to check the visibility of things outside. Convinced that she could see the ditch by now, Ino untangled the towel from her neck and walked towards Sasuke.

"I think it's okay outside," she tossed said towel to the boy and smiled. "Thanks for the shelter, Sasuke. I'll find some way to pay you back later."

The Uchiha shook his head. "I don't mind."

Ino was almost sure that there were aquatic microorganisms waddling inside her sandals when she put them on; the sandals making weird squelchy noises everytime she started walking. Shaking excess water out of one sandal, Ino grimaced and turned to Sasuke. "See you t'morrow."


"Yeah, nice talking to you too."

The raindrops were more bearable this time and it didn't take Ino long to arrive in front of the Yamanaka Flower Shop, without falling into any ditch. She ducked into the shop after unlocking its side door, carefully zigzagging among multi-coloured flowers to a back door that adjoined the shop to her home. Tipping her sandals against the wall to allow them to dry, Ino squeezed a fair amount of water from her ruined clothes before slowly pushing the door open. It led to the kitchen, which was empty. The blonde was not fazed, seeing that her father must be at work, doing missions or whatnots for the Hokage. And her mother usually spent her free time knitting inside the living room if she wasn't fussing over some new flower arrangements.

"I'm home," Ino quietly muttered, trudging straight towards her room on the first floor. She couldn't wait to get out of her purple uniform; it was getting too sticky and itchy for comfort.

Upon arriving inside her little haven, she quickly undressed, dumping her wet clothes into the laundry basket and wrapped a bathrobe around her shivering form. Making sure that her windows were securely latched, Ino stalked to her closet, picking out a set of pyjama and placed it onto her bed. She stepped into the shower, adjusting the temperature of her water heater before shrugging off the bathrobe and hung it on a peg. Warm drops of water chased the shivers and coldness away once she turned the knob, cascading down her naked curves like miniscule waterfalls. She enjoyed the welcoming sensation for a while, reaching out to grab her bottle of shampoo. Pleasant fruity scent filled the small space as Ino massaged her head through the thick white lather.

The blonde leisurely took her time, scrubbing her skin free from crusty mud and slimy grime. There was even an unidentified greenish brown /thing/ that took ten whole minutes until it surrendered to Ino's vicious scrubs, leaving an angry red mark just below her left collarbone. Finally turning the shower off, Ino groped blindly for a towel and stumbled into the main vicinity of her room. She heard the front door slammed shut as she buttoned the last of her pyjama top, her lips stretching into a wide smile when Ino recognized the pattern of footsteps echoing throughout the house. It was the sort of uneven, tired pitter-patter that could only belong to her father. She dried her hair as fast as possible, tucking some hair behind her ears and bounded downstairs.

"Hey there, princess," Inoshi raised a hand to greet his daughter, slouching in front of the dining table tiredly. His other hand was nursing a mug of hot coffee. A delicate chink of china against wood resounded faintly when Saeki placed a bowl of chicken soup before the jounin. "How's your first day?"

Ino claimed the chair to her father's right and smiled at him. "It's great. Until it started to rain."

"My poor princess," the jounin laughed when Ino pouted. "Tell me about your team. How are Shikamaru and Chouji?"

"That's the thing I wanna tell you, Dad," helping herself to Inoshi's untouched bowl, Ino swallowed a mouthful of the delicious soup and said, "I'm not in the same team with Shika and Chouji. And we got this weird sensei, Hatake Kakashi. He came in late and we gotta meet him tomorrow for something."

Her father frowned slightly at the information. "Kakashi, huh? That's interesting. And who are your other teammates, Ino?"

"Uchiha Sasuke," she swallowed another mouthful. "And Uzumaki Naruto."

A loud 'Clang!' made Ino jump, almost upsetting the table when she spun to face her mother. There was a large pot rolling on its round bottom by Saeki's feet, but what surprised Ino was the expression on the woman's face. It was a livid combination of fear and anger. Inoshi was on his feet in a second, holding his wife's shoulder and whispered something to Saeki. Her knuckles were turning white from the tight grip she had on a ladle, her lovely ocean blue eyes glazing over with an unfathomable look. Ino stared at her mother, and then at her father, before turning back to Saeki. Before she could say a word, Inoshi pinned her on the spot with a warning glare.

"Ino, please go back to your room," the black-haired jounin's voice was laced with atypical authorisation. "Now."

The blonde girl stood her ground stubbornly, something she had inherited from her father. "But—"


The order was said with such firm tone that it left no room for objection. Ino hesitated at first, but wisely succumbed to her father's glare and left the kitchen, walking as slowly as humanly possible. She was almost all the way up to the first floor when she heard her mother's voice, barely above whisper at first, but was rapidly rising into a crescendo. Pausing, Conscience fought a gruesome battle with Curiosity, to which Conscience was mercilessly beheaded by the latter. Ino stealthily sneaked a few steps down, convinced that the shadows could hide her from Inoshi's trained eyes. Her parents were sitting by the table, Saeki's hands clasped tightly in Inoshi's larger ones. The woman seemed to be at the verge of tears.

"We… Iruka-sensei… change teammates," the words that flowed from Saeki was punctuated with a growl, her strained voice barely audible. Ino shifted slightly to gain a better angle. "Can't believe… my Ino… that /demon/… same team."

Demon? Ino scowled, perking her ears to catch the words. What demon? She couldn't understand what her mother was talking about. It seemed as though Saeki was convinced that there was a demon in the same team as the blonde girl. But that was ridiculous; Ino couldn't actually imagine Naruto /or/ Sasuke being demons. Not the cheerful whisker face. And certainly not that brooding dark-haired boy that had rescued her from death-by-ditch. It Sasuke /was/ a demon, then she certainly wouldn't be home, right? It was too farfetched. More confused that she had ever been, Ino continued on eavesdropping.

It was her father's words that caught Ino's attention. "He's not… demon. The Fourth's sacrificed… vessel… small boy. To judge him… unfair. Should… believe in the Third."

The voices were muffled after that and Ino couldn't make out anything other than she had heard. Risking a peek into the kitchen, Ino saw her father wrapping his arms around the sobbing woman in a soothing hug. Weariness was reflected clearly on Inoshi's feature, like he had grown old just in a matter of minutes while they were having their conversation. Carefully treading up towards her room, the scowl on Ino's face was replaced by a worried frown. What could possibly make her usually composed mother freaked out like that? And what was that about a demon, the Fourth and sacrifice? The blonde girl silently flicked off the light in her room, though she remained wide awake under the safety of her blanket.

What demon?

Imaginary enigmatic patterns flashing across the ceiling finally lulled Ino into a deep, dreamless sleep.


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