Title: His Strength.

By: Kaara.

Genre: Angst/Romance.

Rating: PG13 ('cause I don't give a shit 'bout the new rating system)

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, though I wish I could lay claim on Kyuubi-chan.

Note: A homicidal Plotbunny of DOOM (!) attacked me while I was vegetating on my couch, temporarily killing off my resident laziness. This is written as a gift to those who had supported me through all my idiosyncrasies and general bitchiness, both online and offline. I love ya all!



His Strength


Today is one of his rare day-offs.

He had spent the morning helping Iruka-sensei at the Academy, demonstrating the importance of accuracy using several common projectiles (kunai and shuriken) and explaining simple technical details that had eluded him years before to the admiring faces of future shinobi of Konoha. Those children looked up to him with adoration playing in their wide eyes, and he felt slightly guilty to bask in such limelight. It never fails to embarrass him and he aptly covered it with his loud personality. He had said goodbye to Iruka-sensei and sauntered to one of the many cliffs that overlooks the green sea of trees surrounding Konoha, allowing gentle breezes to caress his battle-hardened skin and sifts through his rough blonde hair as he sits, thinking on the soft carpet of young grass. Peaceful times like these that makes him remembers his delinquent childhood, at how he scoffed at the mere mentioning of planning beforehand and stubbornly persisted his thoughtless sprints towards trouble.

The memories sometimes make him wonders why he was not dead yet.

His friends and teammates and admirers tell him that he was brave.

He knows that it was because of dumb, sheer luck that he had made through those years.

But he had grown up now. He values his life more than he used to, after watching comrades after comrades fell prey to the unrelenting clutch of Death and the grief that it brought to those dear to them. Death is a menace that accompanies the life of a shinobi and he knows that better than anyone. But still, he doesn't want anyone shedding tears for him; like Hinata did when Neji sacrificed himself to save her in a mission. He wishes that no one had to place those white, melancholy flowers in front of the cenotaph, running thumbs over his name while muttering how they missed him. Kakashi-sensei might be late for six hours instead of the usual three and that would be unacceptable. Tsunade-baachan had too often complained to him about his ex-sensei's tardiness.

Besides, if he died, it would kill him again and again to see Ino's tears for him.

She had become important. Too important for him to leave behind, being the selfish bastard that he is. After years that they had spent together, he still remembers how it all begun to the smallest of details. She was there when he woke up after a mission went wrong, standing besides his bed with a vase of bright flowers in her slender hands. The careful arrangement was supposed to mean something but he paid little to no attention to the blossoming petals. He had stared at Ino, open-mouthed, before asking (if a bit rudely) what the hell was she doing in his room. The platinum-blonde shook her head, smiling amusedly as she gave the flowers one last touch and sat on a chair next to him. They simply stared at each other for an indefinite amount of time, until a nurse came in and informed Ino that the visiting hour was over.

She only nodded and stood up, pausing by the door to say that she would come again and disappeared behind the rectangle of dark wood.

He had frowned, before staring down at his bandaged stomach, where he had lost a portion of his intestines to a missing nin the night before. It was due to unforgivable carelessness on his part, because that Hidden Mist missing nin he had been asked to hunt down looked vaguely like Uchiha Sasuke, Konoha traitor extraordinaire and his missing ex-teammate. The dark, slightly spiky hair and the pale complexion made him falter for a second, though that bought his opponent enough time to draw out a menacing-looking wakizashi and used the blade to carve a perfect circle onto his torso, splattering blood and innards all over his ANBU uniform and stylised fox mask. That hurt like the time when Uchiha-bastard Chidori-ed his lung but he managed to thrust his own chakra-enveloped hand into the nin's chest, straight through the heart.

He noticed that the missing nin had green eyes, not onyx or Sharingan crimson.

Definitely not Sasuke. Bah.

Tsunade-baachan had gone ballistic over his 'little' slip and would've punched him through the wall if it weren't for his critical condition when his ANBU squad carried him back into Konoha. The old hag grumpily patched him up, as he floated in between consciousness and cast a sleeping jutsu on him as soon as she completed her healing. It was kind of a mixed blessing. He was no longer bed-ridden as Kyuubi had fulfilled his share of rent and he could walk around the room without wincing every so often. The Godaime told him that morning that he was discharged but he wanted to stay. Because he was convinced that Ino would come. And she did. She brought another flower arrangement that day, nodded lightly at him in acknowledgement and changed yesterday's wilting flowers without a word. He had asked again why she had come to visit him. She blinked and bluntly told him that she liked him. It took him ten whole minutes to gather back his wits and promptly asked 'Why?'. Why did she like him? Why? Didn't she like Sasuke?


Ino said that he was strong. He told her that he wasn't. She looked at him and laughed. The blonde kunoichi LAUGHED at his FACE.

"What's so funny?"

More laughing, subsiding to chortles. "Y— You are."

"Enlighten me." Humourlessly and dryly said. Fists clenching and unclenching.

"Don't be an idiot." A placating grin. Almost apologetic. "Of course you're strong."

More fists clenching. "And how would /you/ know that?" Harsh and defensive.

A brilliant smile. "Because you /are/ strong, idiot."

He didn't believe her at first but he did asked her out. For some ramen, at Ichiraku. She was beautiful and he was lonely; it was just too convenient to ignore. She told him that he was pathetically unromantic but didn't decline. It was their first date and she arrived an hour late, flurried and parading a rather large spot of drying bloodstain on her jounin vest. An emergency mission, Ino said, and interference from some suicidal Sound nins near the border. He nodded in understanding and ordered chicken ramen for both of them. She scrunched up her pretty little nose and pouted, complaining that she didn't like chicken ramen. He finished the two bowls whilst she ordered a beef for herself. She called him a pig when he placed order for two more bowls; shrimp and beef. He asked if she was always this polite and deliberately belched out loud.

Ino smiled and said, no, she only did it around him. Be grateful, brat.

Two dates later (one at Ichiraku and another at a BBQ restaurant), he kissed Ino. It was on impulse, because she was pouting in that cute way of hers for some reason that he forgot about and he found himself thinking about those pale pink lips. She tasted sweet and hot and delicious and she reminded him of his first bowl of ramen, though she was much, much more appetizing. Like his favourite food, he was immediately addicted to her. And he knew that she knew it because he felt her smiled into their first kiss. It should make him angry, as he was exposing his vulnerability to her but surprisingly, he didn't. He only kissed the beautiful blonde harder at the thought and tangled his calloused fingers into her silken hair. Never mind that he had an assassination order that night, never mind that he was doing it in broad daylight, never mind that everyone was gawking at them.

He never tasted anything better than Yamanaka Ino.

It took him two days to officially confess his love to the kunoichi and two weeks for them to move in together. The delay was because he had to recover from Tsunade-baachan's abominable brute strength after forgetting his mission and convincing Ino's overzealous, overprotective weepy father that he would make the man's precious daughter happy for the rest of her life. The apartment was slightly bigger than Ino's, and the interior design was more decent than his old glamorised closet. They spent several days redecorating the place, swapping ideas and arranging everything to accommodate both of their conflicting tastes, though she tenaciously refused to use orange wallpaper for their new home. Commoners, instead of fellow shinobi surrounded them and that decreased the need to annihilate perverted voyeurs. Namely Jiraiya and Kakashi-sensei. After dutifully de-virginizing the couch of their home, they parted ways, happy and sated. That afternoon, they had a massive argument because Ino caught him tacking up ramen posters in their bedroom.

She will never understands the gift from God that is ramen.

He tilts his head up to stare at the brilliant streak of blue in the sky, smiling as he shakes his mind free from the lingering memories. Ino is currently undergoing a classified mission (information-gathering, he suspects) and today is the day that she is expected to be back. He had asked the Hokage for one-day leave and even went as far as bribing the old hag with an exceptionally fine bottle of sake that Jiraiya gave him for his wedding gift to ensure that no mission (albeit crucially important ones) is to interfere with his day-off. The golden band around his finger glitters proudly under the warm sunlight, and he smiles as he holds up the ring in front of his face, examining the delicate handwork. They got married because Tsunade-baachan said something about demolishing loose moral and all that bullshitting nonsense amongst the shinobi population of Konoha. Ino looked absolutely gorgeous on the altar in a plain white wedding gown, platinum golden hair woven into a simple braid, a bouquet of blood red roses clasped by her slim fingers and at that very moment, his simple love had evolved into silent worship.

He realized just then that he would even kill for this one woman.

His keen senses pick up a familiar chakra signature from behind him and his smile widens, savouring the experienced ease in the soft footsteps approaching him and the mixed scent of flowers that always radiates from that certain someone. And then, comes the light poke on his back.

"Thinking about me, hm?"

"Actually, yes," he brushes spikes of golden hair from his bare forehead, another hand reaching out to coil itself around a slim waist that he had known only too well. "How's the mission?"

Ino snorts and allows herself to be pulled onto his lap, wriggling a bit to find a comfortable position. She once complained that he had grown too rapidly from the short brat that she knew and that it was not fair that he had become taller than she is. He told her that it made sex easier and more enjoyable. Her complaints ceased to exist after that. "Boring. Dangerous, but boring. Kiba barks too much."

"Yeah, but he's an excellent tracker, eh?" his fingers entwine with hers, his thumb rubbing her gloveless knuckles in slow circles. She had apparently discarded her jounin uniform in favour of wearing a light purple silk kimono that he had bought for her as an anniversary gift the week before. He always enjoy these brief moments of intimacy, when they are not chained to their duties and can allow themselves to indulge in lapses of comfortable silence without some homicidal nin trying to kill them.

Or when they are not yelling at each other.

"I won't think much of Mr. Filthy Mutt if he couldn't stop balking about Hinata or how he 'conquered' the frozen heart of Hyuuga Hiashi. I swear, that guy has dog shit for brain," the blonde retorts in a somewhat annoyed manner. She leans against his chest and exhales lazily, stretching her long limbs like an overgrown feline and snuggles into his shirt. "Mm… I wish we could just stay like this today. You smell nice. Did you take a shower?"

He purses his lips, looking down into mischievous grey-blue pools. He crosses his arms like that of a petulant brat to play along with Ino. "Are you trying to say that I don't always smell nice?"

"Well…" she taps her index fingers on her slightly pointed chin, frowning in mock thoughtfulness. Then, the frown clears out and she cranes her neck to press her soft lips against his in a chaste kiss before withdrawing. "Yup, you should shower more! I could get used to this."

"I'm truly wounded," he whines, pouting and clutching at his chest dramatically. Ino laughs, the merry tinkles vibrating through the air and he pulls her into another kiss, this one longer and wetter than the first. When they break apart to gasp for air, he smirks at the rosy hue painting the kunoichi's pale cheeks. "I missed you."

She huffs and rolls away from his lap, lying with her head resting on her crossed hands and her cheeks flaming. The green grass makes a rather gentle contrast against the wrinkled purple kimono and her pale golden hair but he finds himself thinking that she looks lovelier and livelier than ever. "You better don't get all mushy gushy on me, Uzumaki. I don't marry a lovesick fool."

He laughs loudly at the jab. "This fool really loves you, you know."

"… I know. And just to make it clear, I love that fool too."

He stands up, dusts away the dirt that clings on his pants and extends a hand towards Ino. His eyes are twinkling like early night stars when he says, in a soft, affectionate tone, "Let's go home."

She eyes the offered hand for seconds, before glancing up to meet bright blue irises that shines with sheer intensity. And love. Her supple lips curl into a fond smile and she nods, placing her softer palm onto his. "Yeah, home."

"Because you /are/ strong, idiot."

Ino once said that but he knows now.

He /is/ strong.

Because she is his strength.


I'm not really sure how my brain works. The plotline just twisted into something entirely different from the original one. And this is the first time I tried writing something in present tense. It feels… weird.