When Chouji emerges from the hospital still skinny but eager to make up for it, she feels something different. She feels a kind of heat, a lot like the breathy little flutter that pretty boys like Sasuke-kun bring to her stomach, but deeper. It's not something she ever expected to feel from looking at one of her teammates.
So she didn't expect it, but since Ino is a practical girl at heart, she accepts it. Giving up Sasuke is almost a relief at this point; besides, Sakura's probably given up on him too. Any sane girl would--no matter how pretty he is, he isn't worth all this trouble. Chouji, on the other hand, is newly thin and right here.
But before Ino can think of the proper way to start chasing her own teammate, he has the nerve to start getting fat again. It's amazing how fast he manages it. She tries to tell him that she liked how skinny he was before, but it doesn't get through. He goes back to being himself.
It was probably for the best, Ino decides. Lusting over a teammate? That's just wrong. He's her friend.
The funny thing is, when he smiles at her, she still feels that warm flutter inside her, even now that he's fat again. She can't figure out an explanation for that.
When Ino is thirteen, she finally manages to get rid of those obnoxious feelings about Chouji, or so she tells herself. It took her the better part of a year, but now she's a free woman.
She tries looking at pretty boys some more, but the best she can manage is a faint twitch of lust. Even the thought of Sasuke has stopped doing much for her. This annoys her to no end. She may be a ninja, but she's also a teenage girl, and a very pretty one, at that. Why can't she look at boys the same way she used to? Not that she ever did anything about it, nor does she plan to, but that never stopped her from appreciating what's out there.
The next time she manages to feel that deep flutter again is when she gets distracted and stumbles during training. She winds up sprawled flat-out over Chouji's back. He is warm beneath her, and when he shifts slightly, she can feel muscles ripple. It's not all fat on that body of his.
She takes a cold shower when she gets home from training.
When Ino is fourteen, she has a best friend again. She's beginning to realize just how little she understood and appreciated Sakura in all the years they spent together. Not that she'd ever admit this, and certainly not to Sakura of all people. And yet--
Sakura still surprises her sometimes.
Ino mentions Sasuke one day. "Giving up on the Uchiha brat was the best thing either of us ever did."
Sakura is very quiet for a moment. She looks straight ahead.
Ino pauses, gives her a funny look. "What's wrong, Sakura-chan? Can't see past your forehead?"
"When do you think I gave up on him?" Sakura asks quietly. Her eyes are strangely intense.
"I don't mean as a friend," Ino clarifies, although she's surprised it's necessary. "He's still your teammate, even if he's crazy. I mean as a boy."
Sakura gives her a funny look, one Ino has never seen her use before. "I love him," she says simply.
Ino is prepared to laugh it off when she stops and sees something really surprising: Sakura means it.
When she goes home, she takes her father aside and demands that he tell her about love.
By the time she is fifteen, Ino has put a lot of thought into her feelings. Some of the conclusions she's reached aren't what she expected. But that doesn't stop them from being right.
She selects flowers carefully from her family's shop, and she goes to see Chouji. She points out each flower to him and explains their meaning. Then she pushes the lot of them into his hands.
He looks at her, not quite comprehending but oddly hopeful.
Ino sighs impatiently and taps her foot. "Look, it's really simple."
She doesn't want to wait any longer. It looks like if she really wants something done about this, she'll have to do it herself.
So, with her hands freed from the flowers, Ino settles them firmly on Chouji's shoulders and leans up to kiss him.
All things considered, it's not a bad start.