I know I pretty much promised a Naruto/Tayuya fic after the last but no matter which way I try to work it I don't think I can turn that story into a one-shot, unless it's a one-shot of absurd length. So I figure I'll get this one out the way first, which is closer in my mind anyway and keep working on the other 'till I get it right. Better for all that way I think, eh?
As for the timing of this fic, I'm gonna dismiss everything that happens after the time jump and make it up from there. To be honest it isn't even that important really. This fic happens when all concerned are perhaps 16. Rest will be explained in the story. Another, hopefully decent one shot, coming up then.
Right, if you're reading this then you're reading version 2 of this fic. The original had no explanation of Naruto's feelings for Ino and his confession was painfully, rectally probe-tacullarly abrupt. So after some reviewers mentioned this I fleshed it out a little. I hope this doesn't get shunted to the top of the fanfic list since it is only a minor alteration and that would be pretty gay. I'm just replacing chapter with chapter not re-posting so hopefully that shouldn't happen though. Sorry if it does. Not my fault dammit!
Me no own, you know sue.
Yamanaka Ino was leaning on the countertop of the Yamanaka family store, watching the world pass by outside the door of the shop and talking to her best friend/rival, Haruno Sakura. The pink haired girl was leaning on the far side of the counter, twirling a fragrant blossom between her fingers and listening to her friend complain. However rather than another extended rant about Shikamaru's abject laziness or Choiji's favouritism of eating over training, this was a complaint of a very rare kind.
"I've not really improved at all." Rare, because it was one about herself. "I've gotten better at taijutsu and I even know a few very basic genjutsu, but I'm still one of the weaker Chunnins." Since Sakura had begun her tutelage under Tsunade the gap between the two girls abilities had gradually widened, something Ino was normally rather complacent about. While Sakura had a mentor and teacher, at Chunnin level most ninja were expected to be able to take care of their own learning much more readily. While Team 9 still managed to get together occasionally for training, the slew of missions Konoha accepted made these instances rare and it was even rarer for their sensei, Azuma to be able to attend. While Sakura had someone to nurture her growth, Ino had a harder time learning new skills and techniques. Therefore the gap in their abilities was to be expected and so was not something Ino begrudged her friend. Well, not much anyway.
"The family jutsu are all great at infiltration and spy work, but on more volatile missions they aren't much use unless they are high level techniques and I've not mastered them yet. The shintenshin no jutsu isn't much use in combat without the kage mane no jutsu to back it up and Shikamaru isn't always on the same missions as me." Ino sighed into her forearms, which were propping her head up.
It was true that as a ninja there was only so much one could achieve with only one jutsu, unless you were heavily skilled at taijutsu like Lee or a weapons expert like Tenten. Unfortunately Ino was neither. While the Yamanaka family techniques were based primarily in the information gathering and spying areas, it would do Ino well to learn a wider variety of skills, for self defense if nothing else. Sakura knew that Ino's father, Inoshi, was an accomplished taijutsu fighter as well as being versed in the more versatile uses of his families techniques, which made up for their limitations, but these skills were not ones his daughter had mastered yet. Under normal circumstances Chunnin would learn off each other to build up their skills but the hectic nature of the last few years and the fact that Konoha was still almost permanently understaffed meant that this had proved impossible.
Examining the blood red bloom between her dexterous fingers Sakura spoke.
"You need to find a training partner Ino-pig." A tiny vein stood out on the blonde girls forehead at the 'affectionate' nick-name. "One either on the same level as you, or who doesn't mind training you up to their level." Sakura shrugged lightly "Don't really have any suggestions though." One suggestion was in fact lurking at the back of her mind, but she was uncertain as to whether it was a constructive one. Not that this would have stopped her normally - it was fun to get under Ino's skin after all - but this was a more delicate matter.
"Thanks for the idea Forehead-girl." A corresponding vein popped out in the pink haired kunoichi's temple and her smile became a tad tighter on her face. Ino smirked slightly, her spirits lifted by the familiar insults. Sakura's eyes narrowed.
"Of course I can't think of anyone who'd be willing to train you, Ino-pig. But I'm sure somewhere there has to be someone with nothing better to do..." The sole female of team 7 turned around and leant back on the counter, making sure that the other girl caught sight of her smirk before she did. Ino fumed mildly, before firing her own comeback in a tone so saccharin it made a few of the more lively flowers in the room droop, her eyebrow twitching sporadically.
"You're right, Sakura. It would be hard to find someone to train with wouldn't it? Well, perhaps if we pinned an advert to your forehead, then everyone in Konoha would get to see it..." Sakura spun and slammed her hands down on to the counter, snarling at the comment, the vein in her temple having grown exponentially and throbbing with suppressed rage.
"Inooo-pig..." Barely suppressed rage. The blonde growled at the familiar insult before mimicking the other's posture leaving about an inch or two between their faces, making them look like they were going to try and headbutt each other to death as they glared silently. Silent except for the grinding of teeth anyway. Lightning crackled between the two teenage girls.
After a few seconds they both sighed and flowed smoothly back into their previous positions, relaxing.
"There's only so much I can learn by myself. Really, I'd only be improving on what I already know and that's not the problem." Sakura shrugged absently, making a small noise of acknowledgement under her breath. In reality her mind was more concentrated on deciding whether or not she should bring up the idea she had a minute ago. If circumstances were different she would have volunteered to help Ino herself, but aside from her normally busy schedule she didn't think it would be a good idea for the two of them to train together. They were more likely to end up trying to maim each other, than to actually achieve any progress. Ino groaned into her arms quietly. It was unlike her to find fault with herself but on this occasion there was really no other choice. If it were a decade ago then this wouldn't be a problem. The Yamanaka family had always been specialists in spying and information gathering and were assigned missions that kept this in mind. However since Orochimaru's attempted destruction of Konoha four years ago the number of active ninja's were low, and there was no longer any guarantee that Ino would be assigned missions that played to her talents. There simply wasn't enough ninjas in Konoha at the moment for that to be a practical possibility.
Faced with the possibility that she would be given assignments that weren't in her area of expertise, it only made sense to branch out her pool of abilities. it would make her more versatile in the short run and far more capable overall. Ino saw her friend straighten abruptly out of the corner of her cerulean eyes but unconsciously dismissed the movement without thought, too busy trying to think of a solution to her dilemma to notice.
"Ino... there is someone who could, well tutor you I suppose..." Ino looked up, face bright with enthusiasm, not registering the dubious tone in her friends voice.
"Really! Who?" Sakura frowned and avoided her eyes, seeming far more interested in one of the arrangement of flowers on the shelf to the left.
"Well... since he got back from his last mission.. Tsunade-sama demanded he take a vacation of a month or two. Something about running himself ragged. All he does is train all day, so I can't think of a reason he wouldn't be willing to help you." Ino was getting impatient, beginning to sense something behind her friends reluctance to speak.
"Just tell me who it is already!" Sakura bit her lower lip.
"...Naruto." Ino fell silent and looked down to avoid her friend's eyes, not that they were looking at her anyway.
"...Oh." Sakura sighed and turned back to her first friend. Ino's pale blue eyes had clouded over as she stared into the racks and rows of flower arrangements adorning the walls. Sakura had long known that Ino harboured feelings for the last Uzumaki. Unlike their shared infatuation with Uchiha Sasuke these affections were virtually unknown. Only she herself and Sakura knew and possibly Shikamaru, considering his intelligence. The only reason Sakura knew was because after a failed mission Naruto had spent some time in the hospital - totally drained of chakra in the process of securing his teammates escapes. It had taken him a few days to recover his chakra reserves. Before he woke up Sakura had visited him and found Ino arranging a small group of Jonquil blooms in a simple vase. While not as well versed in the complexities of flower language as Ino she knew enough to recognize the hidden meaning to the handful of flowers. The small white petaled blossoms represented a desire for returned love or returned affection. Someone who knew the meanings of flowers inside out like Ino would not have randomly picked the bouquet without reason.
It was fairly easy to figure out from there. Ino had confessed that she had indeed developed feelings for the young ninja after Sakura cornered her outside the hospital room when she had fled. Sakura had been surprised at first, had actually mocked the blonde girl for having a crush on the 'loud-mouthed idiot'. Only after a tear ridden tirade from Ino about how much Naruto had accomplished and how many times he had saved the lives of those around him, had she realised that Ino's feelings had progressed far beyond a crush.
'How many times has he saved you? Every one calls him a dead last and a loser and a monster! And he never even fights back!'
After watching Ino run out of the hospital in tears and realising just how shitty she felt for making fun of her eldest friend, Sakura hadn't been able to get the words out of her head. She had started noticing things she hadn't before and realised that Ino was right. The people in the village did seem to revile the young boy for some reason, with the few exceptions of those on his team, his small circle of friends and the people who really knew him. Jiraiya and Tsunade-sama and Iruka-sensei, the Jounin who had taught the rookie nine and Gai-sensei and his team... but that was about it. Unless you included the man and his daughter who owned the ramen restaurant and that was more of a passing acquaintance. Ino was correct too, when she said that Naruto never seemed to respond to the harsh treatment. He just seemed to ignore it, like it wasn't even there... or he was so used to it. Sakura had felt even worse seeing that one of the people she called a friend was so victimised by the people of Konoha and a member of another team had noticed it first. She had asked about it after he had recovered and he had avoided her question, saying it was a 'family matter'. This had puzzled Sakura even more, as she had never heard of the Uzumaki clan outside of Naruto, but it seemed obvious that Naruto didn't want to talk about it so she let the matter drop. Then she had hunted down Ino and apologised profusely for her behaviour, something rare for the both of them.
That had been nearly a year ago and Ino's feelings for the young man hadn't faded. If anything they had grown, to the point where she jumped at any chance to spend time with him, and it had seemed they had become nearly inseparable. But Ino was convinced that Naruto only saw her as a friend. Sakura was unsure of the matter. Sakura couldn't help but feel sorry for her friend. She knew what it was like to be ignored by the object of your affections, the days she had trailed after Sasuke had taught her that much at least. In a way she thought it was worse for Ino because Naruto never seemed to even notice her attentions. Whenever they met he always seemed to treat her the same way he always had - like a friend, if that. Certainly never a hint of anything more. Eventually it had begun to wear on Ino, until it was clear to her friend that she had nearly given up hope of the blond youth ever noticing her. A few months ago she would have jumped at the opportunity to train with Naruto alone... now she saw it as just another opportunity to get her feelings hurt.
"...So are you gonna go?" Ino shifted uneasily, chewing on her bottom lip in a rare show of nerves. Sakura sighed quietly and followed her fellow kunoichi's intent stare, tracing it to a bucket of familiar soft petaled white flowers.
Yamanaka Ino leapt lithely from the thick branch beneath her sandalled feet, springing to ones meters ahead. Clear cerulean eyes scanned the foliage of the forest, seeking the object of her search despite Sakura's words. There was always a chance that he wasn't where the rose haired ninja thought he would be and Ino didn't want to miss him by accident.
'He trains at the Valley of the End. Says he likes the quiet. If he's training that will defiantly be where he is.' Ino hadn't missed the tone of weary worry in her voice. Naruto's attachment to the site of his first battle with Uchiha Sasuke clearly made the girl uncomfortable and Ino could imagine why. She had been to see it herself once, after the battle, while Naruto was away for the years of his training mission. It hadn't been a welcoming place, even in sunlight it was somehow foreboding, it's aura dark and hurtful. Ino couldn't imagine it being any more appealing on a day like today. Skipping over a small branch without hesitation and continuing onwards, Ino peered at the sky above her through the thick leaf coverings of the tree's. It had rained intermittently, on and off all day. She hadn't been caught in a shower since she left the flower shop to seek out Naruto, but didn't think her luck would continue indefinitely. First she had checked his house, but had found it empty. Following that she had checked the ramen stall and when finding him not there surmised that the only place left to try was his training ground, however much she disliked the idea. The dark clouds remained overhead, ominous warnings that another downpour would soon be unleashed. Sighing Ino syphoned more chakra to her feet and increased her speed, vaulting trees and skipping down bark in her path across the forest to the edge of the territory of the Fire Country.
Sakura had asked if she was going to be okay with Naruto, knowing that Ino would probably return depressed and feeling lonely by the end of the day no matter if Naruto agreed to train her or not. Ino had shrugged and walked out the door without really answering. Even if Sakura knew that Ino cared deeply for the Uzumaki youth, maybe even suspected that she loved him, that knowledge didn't really help her any. It hurt just as much to see him smile at anyone but her, even though it felt like a thousand stars were blooming in her heart when he smiled at her for some reason. No, Sakura knowing didn't really help... but sometimes it made her feel better, if only a little. The blonde could feel her eyes misting slightly, even as she swung her body around a thin tree trunk and launched herself onwards. The feeling of tears in her eyes lingered enough to distract her from her path and made her miss her footing a little and stumble before collecting herself and moving forwards again.
It had started as a crush. She had been one of the first to see him after he returned to Konoha with the Frog Hermit. She had rounded the corner to see the of them and Sakura talking together. For some reason the pink haired girl had looked disgruntled. Ino wasn't a great friend of the blond boy but they were both members of the Rookie 9 and they as such had always looked out for each other when possible. She had intervened in the Forest of Death and didn't doubt he would have done the same if the situation had been reversed. Besides she was impressed at his strength. To beat Kiba was a surprise but to defeat Hyuuga Neji was a fantastic achievement. Especially for the 'Dead Last'.
She had made her way over to the group, smiling when Naruto saw her and grinned, giving a wave. She waved back as she neared and came to a stop by Sakura, who was for some reason still fuming mildly. She blinked when she saw two small circles of pink appear on the tall white haired man's cheeks (she assumed that he was Jiraiya-sama from Sakura's descriptions) and he started giggling, his eyes roving from her to the pink haired girl and back. She sweatdropped lightly. Turning back to Naruto she grinned.
"Hey Naruto! You just got back?" The blond youth nodded in return, mildly distracted by the sounds of Jiraiya rummaging through his pack and laughing maniacally. The girl ignored the commotion. "Looks like you've gotten taller, Naruto. Not much though." Smiling and ignoring his pout and mild glare she continued. "But you're not the only one whose grown, you know." Ino decided to tease the boy a little. Neither Shikamaru or Choji were any good for teasing, and every girl should know how to tease boys after all. She needed practice. Striking a pose to accentuate her developing figure she smiled devilishly.
"So do you think I look more like a woman now?" Strangely it sounded like Sakura has swallowed her own tongue next to her and Jiraiya was seemingly sketching madly on a unrolled scroll and laughing insanely, tears of joy streaming from his eyes. Naruto blushed a little and kept his eyes fixed on her face with visible effort. Before he could stutter an answer a wild stroke of the Sannin's brush twacked him in the head. Jiraiya continued to draw animatedly. Scowling and rubbing his head Naruto roared at him.
"What do you think you're doing you old pervert! Damn, that hurt!" Nursing his head, Naruto rubbed at the tender spot. Ino sweatdropped again, slightly disappointed with the ending of her fun, but she was happy she got him to blush. Naruto stopped hopping from foot to foot in pain and peered inquisitively up at the hermit.
"What are you drawing anyway?" Without preamble Naruto clambered up the older mans body like a gecko and perched with his head peeking over Jiraiya's shoulder. The man seemed totally unaffected by the extra weight, not even sagging slightly. Ino's eyebrows rose in amusement. From this position Naruto looked almost fox-like. And kinda cute too, with his curious face tracing the lines Jiraiya had drawn.
Abruptly Naruto's jaw dropped and he yelled in shock.
"EEEHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH?" Falling off the mans back like he had been poleaxed he lay in the dust ridden street twitching occasionally and frothing mildly at the mouth. "fvedbfiwwnnvowiwenklskbfkalqflnqewlfklqkb..." He wasn't making much sense either. Ino hurried to crouch by his side, worried he might have been hurt. Sakura knelt with her, preparing a diagnostic jutsu quickly. Just before her hands touched him he leapt up with flames in his eyes, startling both girls as he dived to his feet and pointed at the white haired ninja, spewing wrath.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, old pervert!" Snatching the scroll out of the Frog Sennin's hands he hurriedly scrunched it up. Jiraiya howled in loss, falling to his knees to apparently mourn the passing of his work, before flashing to his feet and towering over the shorter boy.
"What the hell are you doing! That was perfect material!" Both girls sweatdropped not entirely sure what was going on, still crouched in the street and watching the little drama play out. Naruto, seedily unfazed by his teachers anger leaned up into Jiraiya's face.
"No way are you putting my friends in your damn books! Not like that!" His face flushed slightly for some reason. "Not together, or in any other way!" Ino felt mildly surprised that the boy considered her a friend and was apparently getting so worked up on her behalf, even if she was still not sure what it was about.
"Damn you brat, that was one of my best works! You little punk!"
With a roar the older man tackled Naruto around the waist and the two of them began rolling around in the street, a dust cloud obscuring all movement. People had stopped to watch. The girls gaped at the childish fight between Naruto and one of the Sannin. Various growling and cursing was coming from the dust cloud.
Ino started when two Anbu members and the Hokage's assistant stepped out of the crowd and wandered towards the two crouched girls, who only now took the opportunity to stand, still fixed on the fight. The three approaching figures ignored the fight completely. Coming to a stop beside a stunned Sakura, the woman - Shizune, Ino thought - smiled at the two of them.
"Hello, you two. We were told Jiraiya and Naruto had arrived in Konoha. Have either of you two seen them?" Sakura pointed wordlessly to the cloud of dust. From the small patches of colour and movement it looked like there were far more Naruto's then there were Jiraiya's making it seem like Naruto had found time to use his favourite jutsu and made some clones to join the fight. As if confirming her suspicion Naruto crawled out of the tussle, the cloud growing behind him as the smoke generated from defeated kage bunshins added to the dust. Standing up and brushing himself down he ignored the circle of spectators and grinned at that dark haired woman.
"Yo Shizune!" A quick glance at the woman standing beside them showed a stunned expression and a small twitch in her left eye. Both Anbu masks had grown sweatdrops. The woman was about to reply when a hand reached out of the cloud to grab Naruto's leg.
"Eep!" Turning around Naruto saw Jiraiya's face leering out of the smoke, with one of his clones gnawing on his head - seemingly ineffectually. Dragging the boy towards him the Sannin took the opportunity to bite down on the youth's ankle. Naruto howled in pain, making the three females wince.
"GOD DAMMIT! What kind of ninja bites his opponent!" Abruptly the orange tracksuited teen was whipped back into the tussle, only his occasional yelps and curses floating towards the spectators.
"Jiraiya-sama... please stop assaulting your student... please?" Shizuneasked weakly, stunned by the events.
"Get him off, get him off, get him off, get him off, get him off - HE BROKE THE SKIN! - get-him-off-get-him-off-get-him-off-get- him-off-get-him-off - SWEET MERCYFUL KAMI, HE'S STILL BITING!"
Ino shook her head in disbelief, before bursting into shell-shocked laughter. The other two looked at her like she was insane but that only made her laugh harder. The dust had begun to settle, revealing the fox like boy writhing in the dirt with Jiraiya wrapped around his leg like some deranged and carnivorous koala, teeth still locked onto the boy's ankle and evil glinting in his eyes. Naruto had begun to drag himself - and by proxy, his teacher - towards a market stall where he proceeded to beat the frog summoner over the head with a large good luck charm that had stood outside the doorway. This was having no effect.
A few minutes later when Shizune had finally managed to separate the two of them - and perform a healing jutsu on Naruto's ankle - she dragged Jiraiya off to report to Tsunade-sama... but not before a final round of name calling and glaring that had nearly to another fight. The Anbu had to restrain Jiraiya as he lunged for his student one more time.
Finally alone the three teens stood together watching the four other's leaping across the rooftops towards the tower of the Hokage. Ino noticed the scrunched up paper that had started the fight. Reaching down and scooping it up she began to unravel it curiously.
"What was this anyway...?" Naruto shrieked, in a disturbingly high pitched and panicked way and grabbed the nearly unfolded sheet from her hand, before ripping it into little shreds and then proceeding to eat the shreds. Both girls raised eyebrows in confusion. He grinned weakly back, rubbing the back of his head and laughing lightly.
"So..er.. how about lunch? We can all catch up... and stuff? Heh?" Sakura shook her head, having attributed this strange behaviour as being merely vintage Naruto.
"Sorry, I've got duty at the hospital. How about we all meet up later? I'll tell everyone else?" Naruto grinned and shouted his agreement. Waving quickly Sakura hurried off, leaving Naruto to turn to the blonde girl.
"So, you gonna join me Ino?" Ino was about to decline, before smiling and changing her mind.
"Sure. Sounds like fun."
After a lunch of ramen - at Naruto's insistence - spent catching up over the years, he had spoken to her briefly before they went their separate ways.
"Oh, by the way Ino, about what you asked?" Ino looked at him bemusedly, unsure what he was referring to. "About looking like a woman? You're even prettier now, you know." With a quick wink he had turned and wandered away through the streets leaving a confused and blushing Ino. Even prettier? Did that mean he thought she was pretty before he left?
Later Sakura had told her that when they had first met up again Naruto had said she hadn't changed at all, a fact which plainly infuriated the girl. Ino had lost her high spirits then. If he hadn't complemented the girl he had a crush on for years then why would her complement her? Maybe he had been teasing her, but it had still meant something to her. And it had made her blush. She had tried to forget about it after that.
But soon she found her eyes lingered on him longer than they should have, found herself pausing in the street when she passed the ramen stall and could see him inside, gleefully slurping bowl after bowl of his favourite snack. After a while she had begun eating there a few times a week, deluding herself into believing she just wanted a change from home cooking and not that she was there to 'bump' into Naruto. He always seemed happy to see her and after a while it had become an unofficial tradition for them to meet and eat together at the ramen stall. A few times she had caught him staring at her when they ate, but he had always waved it off and she had never allowed herself to get her hopes up. She had always blushed though.
They seemingly bumped into each other more and more and always seemed to start talking and hanging out with each other, sometimes spending whole days just talking together, when they didn't have duties. The lunches became almost daily, because they always seemed to meet each other in the morning and it made sense to eat together. She had somehow managed to get him to eat somewhere aside from Ichiraku, with a bit of nagging. He even began visiting her in the flower shop, when he knew she was working, just to keep her company. He seemed to be spending more time with her than he did with Sakura.
She found herself paying attention to where he was and what he was doing. Soon she knew things about him that no one else did. No one else to the best of her knowledge knew he fed a small kitten that pretty much lived with him. The young woman had been passing his home one day and looked up, her eyes drawn by the possibility that she might catch a glimpse of him. She had seen him leaning out his small window and stroking a tabby cat as it rubbed it's head into the palm of his hand in appreciation. After a while she noticed him hurrying back to his home at around the same time everyday and had stumbled across him feeding the tiny creature, though he hadn't seen her, poised as she was on top of a roof block and few streets away. Ino had never told him, but she had taken to feeding the cat when he was on missions, feeling guilty about it going hungry while it's benefactor was away.
Similarly she saw that the villages constantly threw dark looks a the youth when he passed, muttering uneasily in his prescience. He never seemed to notice. or ignored it if he did. It was strange, and unnerving to find that so many people in the village he risked his life to defend and provide for seemed to hate him, especially because she had never managed to figure out why. Her parents were no different, though she had noticed her father looking at him more speculatively a few times, so she hadn't asked them. It seemed like there was some secret that almost all of the village knew, but her and a few others, absurd as that sounded.
It wasn't long before it had been clear to her that she had fallen for the young man with the smile brighter than the sun and the loud laugh. It hadn't happened suddenly like in the shoujo manga she had read. No lightning bolt had struck at the moment she realised she loved him. She had just found herself watching him one day when they were all eating lunch - not ramen, to Naruto's distaste - and found herself thinking:
'I love him.' She hadn't objected to the thought, or even been that surprised at it's emergence. Because she knew it to be completely true. Far from being the happy occasion she had always dreamt of it was bittersweet, the knowledge that she loved Uzumaki Naruto and the knowledge that if he loved anyone it was Haruno Sakura.
Since that day she had taken any chance to be with him, always hoping that he would somehow feel for her even a fraction of what she felt for him, always believing it to be hopeless really. He loved Sakura. That had not changed in two years of not seeing her, so why should it change now? She conveniantly forgot all the times she had caught him watching her and all the time they spent together.
The rain had begun to fall, the heavens opening above her as if weeping for her plight. Gods and demons knew she had shed enough of her own and not just the time that Sakura had caught her either. The cool rain plastered her hair to her face, that one long cowlick she never quite managed to tame feeling heavier as it soaked up the water. Mist was rising on the forest floor, prompted by the soft but steady rain. Sighing and paying more attention to her footing, Ino hurried forward figuring that it was too late to tun back. She would get wet and feel like shit either way.
The roar of water was her first clue that she had arrived coming only seconds before she cleared the tree line, masked as it was by the muted roar of the raindrops breaking on leaves. A small bank led to the raging river and a little beyond that Ino could see the white foam and cobalt waters slipping over the edge of the cliff, between the stone carved heads of the First and Second Hokages. The stone looked much darker when it was wet that it did when it was dry, almost like the granite had become colder and harder in response to the rain that fell upon it. Shaking her head at her imagination Ino leapt forward to land neatly on the shoulder of the First, peering into the valley below where she could only assume Naruto was. If he hadn't gone home, due to the uncertain weather. Leaning out over the cold rock expanse she caught her breath at the sight below. Naruto stood on the churning water, a feat she wasn't capable of yet at all, hands clasped in the handseal of the tiger, a little bit beyond the churning chaos of the cascading waterfall. She was to far up and at the wrong angle to see if he had any expression on his face. Facing him stood an older shinobi, bare chested and carrying a monstrous sword across his back. His pants were a dark camouflage grey, as were the wrist warmers he wore. She couldn't make out his face but his forehead protector was strapped across the side of his head and his lower face was covered by a white expanse, much like Kakashi's. He too held his hands poised in the sign for the tiger.
Their hands flashed and the water behind them erupted, two long serpentine bodies unfurling into the air. The sea serpents were formed of water, their sinuous bodies arcing down until a set of seemingly muscular arms, complete with talons extended. Below that their bodies met with the expanse of the flowing river water. Roaring bestially both water-dragons hurtled towards each other, seemingly intending to go through the other to get to their intended targets - one of the two shinobi. Sharp, resounding cracks echoed across the valley as they clashed, slamming into each other again and again, ripping drops of water off each other with their talons and seeking advantage over their opposite.
Ino remained huddled on top of the statue. This fight was far out of her league - there was nothing she could do no matter how much she wanted to help Naruto. She felt the cold prick of fear in her heart and felt her lips mumbling through a prayer she hadn't spoken since her childhood. She knew how hard it was to maintain a constant flow of chakra into a clone, to give it even a semblance of solidity. The amount of chakra being channeled to keep the dragons in their forms was immense and almost impossible to control.
The dragons whipped through the air, snarling at each other in simulated fury. Apparently enraged they renewed their assaults, smashing their bodies into each other in seemingly vain efforts to defeat the other. Ino's eyes widened in fear. Naruto's avatar was weakening, taking longer to reform after injury and not attacking with the force it had. The other ninja's leviathan was pummeling it constantly now, and Ino could imagine that Naruto was slumping, could see him feeling tired even from this height. Finally the enemy technique shattered the Leaf ninja's, ripping it asunder to flounder back into the river, it's two now separate halves returning to mere water as they fell. The victorious dragon hurtled forward, a semblance on animal victory on it's face as it blurred towards it's prey. Naruto's hands blurred again, but Ino didn't see what he could do to avoid the jutsu. She opened her mouth involuntarily calling his name in desperation.
Her anguished cry and frantic screams were drowned by the abrupt roar and eruption of the cascading water fall. Formed from the falling water itself a giant ice serpent, three times the size of the water snake below it bellowed it's defiance. It's snow crystal scales and diamond skin glinted in the rain, it's giant angled horn jutting out of it's forehead and over it's long, thin face. Roaring forwards it smashed through it's suddenly puny water-based brother like tissue paper, before reigning up above the seemingly frozen figure of the enemy and smashing itself down on their stunned form.
The collision sent waves racing across the valley, nearly obscuring Naruto in it's onslaught as it ravaged the sides of the water logged ravine. Eventually the waves died down and the small whitecaps, churned up by the cold wind and the rushing rain returned. Ino's eyes scanned the river surface looking for signs of survivors of the conflict. Her sobs were choking her throat and making it difficult to breath normally. A flash of orange drew her eyes to the prone figure of Naruto, kneeling on the water's surface and catching his breath. Of the enemy there was no sign. Leaping lengths down the body of the First, she at last landed heavily on his stone hewn foot, ignoring the twinge her ankle gave at the fall. Naruto turned in surprise at the sound and was just in time to catch the small bundle that wrapped itself around him and sobbed into his chest as it leapt from the statue he stood near.
"Ah... Ino, is that you?" Ino just wrapped her arms around his neck and tried to burrow into his chest. Not receiving an answer Naruto hesitantly put his arms around the girl, somewhat confused and relaxing a little as she eased in his embrace, while he held her above the cold water.
Eventually Ino's tear stained face drew away from Naruto, though her arms were obviously reluctant to relinquish their position. Least of all because she couldn't walk on water and needed him to hold her up. Trying to force her voice not to crack from the tears and resultant hoarseness her crying had left her with Ino whispered.
"I thought you were going to die..." Naruto looked clueless.
"Die? What? When?" Ino blinked, her wide blue eyes staring into his own.
"Just now! I thought he was going to kill you! Who was he and why was he fighting you?" It was Naruto's turn to blink in confusion.
"Who are you-" Comprehension dawned on his face suddenly and he couldn't help but chuckle, leaving her dumbfounded. "That guy just then? He was a shadow clone I used a henge on to make him look like someone I once fought. I was practicing chakra control, that's all." Ino stared at him, agape. Suddenly fury replaced the terror and relief that had been running through her system and she released an arm from around his neck to slap him hard across the face. He yelped in surprise and pain and nearly dropped her, resulting in a few seconds of awkward juggling to keep her in his arms and out of the water, which was more difficult now she wasn't holding on as well.
"I was scared shitless that you were gonna get hurt, you asshole! You goddam jerk! I thought, you'd died... I thought... I'd never see you again..." Abruptly the girl dissolved into tears again and threw herself into his chest, locking her arms around his neck again and leaving the poor teen more confused than he had been the first time. After a few seconds his face softened and he rubbed her back soothingly as she cried.
"It's ok... I'm fine." Her tears had died down quickly this time, but she remained in his embrace, never wanting to leave it as her last sniffles subsided. Her cold cheek was pressed against his body and she watched the rain fall on the lake around them, each drop rippling across the watery expanse. She closed her eyes silently unconsciously nuzzling into the dull warmth of the taller boy's chest. She thought she felt him hug her tighter, but the cold was too severe for her to be sure she was feeling anything at all. Without speaking Naruto stooped slightly and lifted Ino under the knees, perhaps thinking she was asleep, and held her in a bridal lift as he carried her off the water to the rock shore, cradling her body gently. Ino opened her eyes slightly, not enough to let him know that he hadn't fallen asleep, if that was what he thought in the first place. But she could think of no other reason he would carry her in such an intimate manner unless he thought her asleep. Though ironically she had dreamt of him holding her like this she knew he never would. Snuffling into his arms she felt him hunch over a little, trying to protect her from the worst of the steady rain.
Not really feeling tired at all, Ino never-the-less closed her eyes and let herself get lost in the feel of her secret love's arms around her body. After a while she heard the crunch of his sandalled feet on the shore and noticed the more pronounced motions as he stepped over the rock strewn terrain. Carefully he stopped and looked down at her, Ino feeling his gaze on her face and trying to will her cheeks not to flush, no matter how much they wanted to.
"You wanna get down now Ino?" The blonde's eyes snapped open and she blinked a few times. He had carried her and known she was awake? The sudden warmth in her chest and whirlwind of butterflies in her stomach made speaking difficult, but she murmured an affirmative. Gently, almost hesitantly if Ino hadn't known better, the Uzumaki male set her feet on the ground and released her but didn't move away, staying near enough that their shoulders were almost touching. Looking up Ino found that Naruto had moved the both of them underneath a stone outcrop which was protecting them from the worst of the rainfall.
"So, what brings you out here?" Ino blinked and looked at the man, his tone mild and unconcerned - apparently adopting to ignore her behaviour on the lake and the way he had carried her like a lover. She frowned minutely. Of course. Why shouldn't he ignore it. He loved Sakura. Fighting back the tears - her previous panic induced crying had seemingly left her weakened, for she would never have normally showed that side of herself to anyone - she struggled to sound casual.
"I was wondering if you could spar with me a little, actually." Naruto's eyebrows rose fractionally.
"You came all the way out here to ask me to spar?" An undertone of skepticism and the barest hint of something else that Ino couldn't fathom laced his voice. Immediately defensive the Yamanaka daughter felt her cheeks heat.
"Sakura said you would be a good partner if I wanted to improve." Naruto blinked, curiously unaffected by the praise the woman he loved had given, albeit grudgingly. Ino continued. "My family techniques are all stealth based, but sometimes that won't work. I need something more-"
"Loud?" Naruto's grin cut her off and made the butterflies in her midriff act up again. "So you came to Konoha's loudest ninja for some tips, eh?" Ino couldn't help but smirk at the title. No matter what else had changed, Naruto was still Naruto. She nodded.
"Yeah. Your taijutsu is as strong as Rock Lee's and that's the area I need help in. My chakra control isn't brilliant either. I can't even walk on water." The girl seemed to droop at these admissions, confessing her own weaknesses or admitting that she had any wasn't something she did often. Naruto nodded and gave a sound of acknowledgement.
"Well, why don't we start there then?" Ino looked up.
"You'll help?" Naruto grinned and gave her a thumbs up his spare hand on his hip.
"Of course! I'll always help the people I care about." Ino couldn't help it. She blushed.
"Dammit, stop laughing and help me!" Naruto was doubled over in the shallows, watching as Ino sank and rose from the eddying water like a bobbing ice cube, uncertain of how much chakra she needed to use. His loud laughter wasn't helping her concentration any. Eventually she gave up and let herself fall into the knee high water, feeling it's chill on her bare legs. Stomping towards the boy proved difficult in water but she gave it her best shot. His eyes widened as she drew close but he was too weak with laughter to dodge as she kicked him, non-to-gently in the side. Rolling onto the floor with a grunt and still failing to stifle his chortles Naruto scrambled away from her assault. Stalking after him Ino started poking him in the sides, which were doing more to increase his laughter than halt it.
"Teach. Me. Damn. You!" After a while Naruto raised a hand in supplication and Ino backed off but kept her fist cocked just in case he looked like he was about to start laughing again. She twitched slightly when a smirk writhed it's way across his lips, but her hard gaze softened when he followed it up with a tender smile. Suddenly she could feel her heart beat.
"Lets try again. C'mon Ino." Reaching forward he grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the still water. The rain had halted a little while previously but the murky cloud still hung over head. Ino's fingers squeezed Naruto's cool hand unbidden and she nearly stumbled when she felt a minuscule squeeze back, despite his bland expression. Pulling her into the shallows to about where she was before he turned to face her and took her other hand, making her heart beat a frantic tattoo. She watched as he rose through the water until he was standing on top of it easily. He grinned at her encouragingly.
"Give it a go." The girl took a deep breath and closed her eyes, trying to force herself to focus on her chakra pathways rather than the feel of his callused hands in her own. Slowly she increased the chakra to her feet and began to rise, bobbing uncertainly and leaning a bit to the side. "Careful. Bit more to the left." Following his instructions her left foot rose out of the water and left her standing on it's surface gingerly. Naruto grinned at her, obviously proud. She grinned back tentatively. Still holding her hands Naruto tugged Ino further out onto the lake.
"Right, we'll walk further out, until you've got the hang of it." At his words the heavens opened again and unleashed a light mist of rain fall on the Valley of the End. Sighing under her breath Ino followed Naruto, trying not to hold on to his hands to hard. Walking to the middle of the lake the young woman felt her control becoming more stable, until she felt comfortable enough to take her hands back from Naruto, as much as she didn't want to. Taking a few tentative steps she felt herself slipping down slightly and clenched her eyes shut, trying to focus the chakra on her feet evenly, covering each sole with a thin layer of ethereal cobalt fire. Steadying herself she continued to walk cautiously, before finally feeling totally confident. She spun with a grin back to Naruto finding him in a crouched taijutsu stance. She blinked nervously.
"W-what'cha doin'?" His grin became feral.
"Sparring." He blurred forwards, licking up spray as his feet flew across the water. Leaping high into the air he brought his fist down, narrowly missing the surprised girl as she threw herself to the side. Barely managing to keep her feet on the water Ino danced away from the incoming blows, countering the occasional strike. Scrambling to her left to avoid a flurry of punches her left leg gave way underneath her, plunging into the cold water and carrying her away from the spin kick she hadn't expected. Concentrating on avoiding his attacks, Ino gave up any chance of fighting back and focused all her energies on countering his attempted hits.
Wincing as his fist skimmed her ribs just below her breast leaving what was sure to become a dark bruise, Ino concentrated her chakra to her hands and flipped backwards over the water, panicking only a little when she felt her hands sink a few inches into the water. Landing back on her feet and springing back into a ready position, hands raised in guard position to intercept any more attacks.
Naruto stood on across the expanse of the lake smirking at her, relaxed and obviously not intending to continue his little impromptu spar. This established unrelenting rage arose in the blonde girl. Naruto gulped. When girls had flames in their eyes it normally meant nothing good.
"What the hell was that?" Naruto backpedaled, absently noting that Ino had become much more comfortable on the water now. She was hardly concentrating as she stalked him across the murky depths. He also noted ruefully that all that meant at the moment was that she'd be able to stand on the still water with one leg and kick him repeatedly with the other.
"Sparring?" She was gaining on him. Naruto was seriously considering backpedaling up the side of the rock face in a bid to escape, but never got the chance. Irate blue eyes were suddenly hovering in front of his. He grinned uncertainly. She didn't grin at all.
"Was that really necessary?" As much as he wanted to say 'yes', a primal instinct to avoid angering women by answering their deliberately confusing questions wrongly - sadly dormant in some men - kicked in and left him unsure what his response should be. Ino twitched.
"Urm, if I say yes are you going to kick me?"
"Very hard, yes."
"Where it hurts the most."
"...You're hardly encouraging me to be honest here, you know." After a few more seconds of glowering Ino brightened, as if something had occurred to her suddenly. At her rapid change of expression Naruto flinched slightly. Primitive survival instinct told him that 'smiling Ino means bad things will happen'.
"I did it! Even with you 'sparring' with me -" She paused to glower at Naruto again momentarily as she said 'sparring' - "I still stayed on the water! I even managed to do it on my hands!" She beamed. Naruto sweatdropped slightly, thanking the guardian spirits that the girl was so mercurial, for once. Ino was positively hopping up and down in happiness, her hands clutched together at her throat. Even wet in the rain her corn-silk hair shimmered. Laughing slightly at the sight Naruto rubbed the back of his head nervously.
Calming down from her little victory, Ino quietened a little and stared at the water rippling around the boy's feet, standing before her own. Her mood suddenly dived.
"Naruto?" The change in her tone caught Naruto unawares and he peered at her in concern.
"Yeah?" Ino paused.
"...Why do the villagers hate you?" The youth's sharp inhalation sounded loud in her ears. She still didn't look at him, staring at their feet instead, trying to lose herself in the patterns the ripples of water were making. Naruto swallowed.
"It's a family thing. My clan isn't well thought of is all." Ino shook her head at his poor attempt at deception.
"Please don't lie to me. You're not very good at it, you know. I just want to know... why everyone seems to hate you. We're friends, aren't we? You can tell me." She brought her sky blue eyes up to meet his azure ones and he flinched away, preferring to stare at the side of the canyon. His eyes were sad and his usually happy smile had been replaced with a morose stare.
"Please tell me?" Naruto brought his eyes back to hers and spent a few minutes staring into them, before sighing deeply, seemingly draining his life away before her eyes.
"I hold the Kyuubi." His voice was flat and unemotional, much like the gaze he was leveling her with. She blinked.
"The Forth sealed the Kyuubi inside a small child as he was unable to kill it. He sealed it within me and the Third forbade any he knew of it to speak of it. They see me as the Kyuubi walking in their village, a demon in their home." Ino's mouth worked silently, unable to believe what Naruto was saying. Apparently recognising this Naruto lifted his shirt and exposed his abdomen soundlessly. With a small grunt of pain and a muffled curse the black seal faded into appearance over his stomach. Ino gasped. After a few seconds she reached out to touch it tentatively but was stopped when the boy pulled down his shirt abruptly, blocking the obsidian marking from view. Ino drew back her hand.
"D-does it hurt?" Naruto shrugged.
Small choked sobs rippled through the girl's body, leaving her new tears to spill into the dark water below.
'He's the demon? He's the Kyuubi Kitsune? Naruto? No...No...NO!'
"NO! You're not the demon!" She could feel the tears trickling down her face, unchecked. Naruto's eyes remained hard and cold.
"Yes. I carry the demon within me. I have the power of the Kyuubi. Wishing otherwise doesn't make it so..." He trailed off absently, though his eyes never left her.
"You have him inside you! That doesn't make you the demon! You're not the Kyuubi, Naruto!" Trembling hands reached out to touch his cheeks, falling across the whisker shaped birth marks on each side of his face. Pulling herself to him, Ino felt his lips pushed into her forehead as she cried her salty tears into his throat.
"I love you..." The words fell off her lips so easily, almost like they had been waiting in her mouth to slip over her tongue. She felt him stiffen, rigid like hardened wood against her.
"Wh-What?" She closed her eyes and pushed herself against him, sincerely believing it the last time she would ever get to be with him like this and tell him she loved him.
"I love you, Naruto. I know you're not a demon, even if you carry one in you. I love you, Naruto Uzumaki." She could feel her own breath, warm on the skin of his neck rolling up into her face again as she leaned on him, her hands still caressing his birthmarks.
"...You can't love me, Ino. It's too dangerous. If the seal broke... the last thing I want is for you to get hurt-" She wrenched herself away from him and slapped him. Hard.
"Don't tell me who I can love! I love you dammit and I don't give a crap about the damn seal or the Kyuubi or the villagers!" He stared at her slack jawed, the red hand print still outlined on his cheek, but fading as she spoke. Her red, puffy eyes glared up at him, refusing to back down. His head drooped, defeated. Ino turned away, making for the shore. His hand whipped out and caught her wrist.
"...Don't leave me..." She didn't look at him, clenching her fist tightly.
"What difference does it make? It's not like you love me right?" His arm reeled her in gently until she was leant against his chest.
"I do love you Ino... I love you so much..." Ino's tears doubled.
"Don't lie to me! I know you don't love me, you love Sakura! So don't you dare lie to me!" She spun away and ran, paying no heed to her chakra control and running perfectly across the water, spray kicked up from her feet splashing up onto her chilled bare legs.
'I should never have told him! Now he'll never speak to me again!' A strong hand gripped her arm and pulled her backwards leaving her to thump quietly into a orange clad body. Struggling weakly Ino tried to get away, but Naruto's arm had snaked around her waist and he was holding her to him. Her tears had left her too weak to struggle much. She could feel his breath on the back of her neck and his warmth as he leaned closer to her ear.
"I don't love Sakura-chan. I had a crush on her for years, but I didn't love her. You're the only woman I love Yamanaka Ino. You're the only woman I've ever fallen for and you're the only one I would ever want to spend my life with... Please... stay with me?" He whispered into her ear, his cool breath sending gooseflesh across her arms. His arms had loosened around her, allowing her to leave if she wanted. She slowly spun in his embrace and searched his sapphire eyes as his arms held her loosely.
"Do you mean that?" He nodded, seemingly conscious of how close their lips had becoming. He dipped his head and caressed her soft lips with his own, nipping at them lightly. Pressing up into him she wrapped her arms around his neck and crushed his lips sweetly. Opening her mouth she could feel his gentle tongue lapping against hers and could feel the elation in her heart beginning to soar as she kissed the man she loved.
It started to rain harder as they held each other over the lake.
The Ino one shot, done and dusted. Took a while longer than I had hoped this one. These one shots are gonna go on the back burner for a bit, seeing as I have to update 'XVII' and 'Webslinging in Tokyo-3' as well as finally finish 'Memories'. And then I've got a few ideas for a short 'Oh My Goddess' fic and 'Outlaw Star' fic. Curse you inspiration! Damn you! Damn...you! ...Just don't leave me until I finish the stories though.
There we go. A little editional edit to prove that Naruto didn't just pull that 'I love you' out of his ass.