Smoke Signals

Rating: PG-13
Wordcount: 380
Notes: I finally got around to writing some Ino/Neji I didn't instantly scrap! Hopefully somebody out there will like it. You're warned for a bit of an unhappy ending, and some general unpleasantness.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, or any of the places and characters mentioned in that series and this piece of fanfiction. No profit is being made, I write for free.

At the age of sixteen, Ino develops a bad habit.

Maybe "develops" isn't quite the right word, Neji thinks. She acquires it, from too many fashion magazines, and too much time spent in bad company. Ino smokes with more grace than anybody else Neji has seen – the cigarette hovers around her waist then glides to her mouth, smoke wisping from her parted lips. Ino only smokes in suitable company, and never in the shop.

Neji doesn't care much for Ino. More accurately, he doesn't care for frivolity, vanity and misplaced pride. Her voice cuts right through him.

"What're you thinking?" Ino murmurs around a cigarette, and Neji shakes his head. They're only together because neither wishes to make an issue of their bad habits; he never said anything about conversation.

The material of Ino's skirt rasps as she moves; her free hand dashes along the hem. "If you're going to be quiet, you won't mind if I talk for both of us," she says, and, without waiting for a response, "You're the worst company." Neji barely turns his head, but the irritable set to his expression is clear.

Ino turns to him, a smile tilting one side of her mouth. "Hey, check on the shop for me, will you?" It's not a big deal. Neji forms the seals and feels the familiar strain of the Byakugan; he looks past their little sanctuary outside and into the Yamanaka flower shop. Neji almost feels that he can smell the flowers from out here. Maybe it's the smoke. He nods to Ino once, says, "It's fine."

Nodding in return, Ino's smile goes crooked and she leans forward to cough. "Won't sell itself, though," she grumbles, straightening up. Her voice is steady, but her fingers shake as she stubs out her cigarette. "Help me up."

The Byakugan still tugs at Neji's attention, and as he pulls Ino up by the hand he feels a quick stab of something unpleasant – guilt, maybe, though why should he feel guilty for her bad habits? The tumor weighs down Ino's left lung, and the colour of it makes Neji sick.

"Thanks for the company," Ino laughs. She turns, opens the door, and it swings shut behind her. Neji is left outside. The silence after her voice cuts right through him.