A/N: Not Beta-ed, he took too damn long. Sorry for all the mistakes, sorry for being such a procrastinator. Feel free to beta it if you like! Sorry I suck at endings too...Allow me to apologize for my very existence!
"Hey…" Tako whispered down at the sleeping face below him. It was his third attempt at awaking the Konoha-nin and he had about enough. Although he was always taught on being civil, there was always an exception for these kinds of situations. "Che-Naruto? Get up!" he cried out, feeling his irritation swell. He grabbed at Naruto's cheek, tugging at it for good measure. "Listen you loaf of dead weight, get up!"
Still, that was not sufficient enough to arouse the teenager. The boy tapped at his chin, quickly running out of ideas. He just could not understand how the latter couldn't hear his round of bellows; Tako guessed he was probably tone deaf. And at that thought, he chuckled to himself, amused by his own joke. Still, he had grown to like this fellow.
"I could have been dead by now and I have these two to thank." he remarked with a snort.
He observed the look of peace on Naruto's face, a bit taken aback by how calm he had appeared. With that in mind, he grinned as he reached for the dirt floor. A malicious wish came to mind and he intended to fulfill it. His palm clamped as the mass of pebbles as his grin grew wider. What an idea, he thought as he lifted his hand, prepared to throw a few pebbles at Naruto's face. Before he could've reached the blonde boy's face, an arm quickly grasped Tako's wrist as he emptied his hand, leaving Tako a bit surprised himself.
"Nice try." Naruto groaned, lifting his eyes. Tako quickly replaced his shocked face with a smile.
"Well, g'morning there, sunshine!" Tako greeted him, making sure to dazzle him with a cheesy smile.
"What the heck are you doing here?"
"I ask myself that question too, sometimes."
Naruto lifted himself in a sitting position, his first instinct was to drastically wipe at his lips. "What did you try to kiss me?! You're crazy!!"
"Riiight." he rolled his eyes, running his hands through his brown hair. "Waking you up was a hard task to do."
"What are you talking about? I was awake the whole time!"
"Really? I find that hard to believe." Tako scoffed, before replying, "What an act! You sound like a dying cat when you're asleep-or when you're pretending."
"…so what did you really wake me up for? Verbal abuse? I get enough of it from her." Naruto nudged his head to the side, towards the direction of the sleeping Ino.
Tako laughed, jabbing his index finger onto Naruto's chest, "You're funny." He smiled. After waiting a few silent seconds, he then added, "you two make quite the couple."
"Is that a compliment?"
"…Yes!" Tako snorted, shaking his head side to side. He then slapped Naruto's back, watching as the young man yelped in sudden pain. "This is goodbye, my friend."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"I don't know quite how else to put it." Tako shrugged. "But-uh…well I know my way back to my village from here. It was nice having company, though."
"…What do you think, you're leaving? You can't!"
"Why not? I paid for the escorts; I can fire you guys if I want to." Although his words were a bit condescending, that euphoric smile continued to radiate a sort of ecstatic optimism. Naruto could not quite put his finger on it, so he guessed that the teenager just plain weird. Weird, he thought that had to be it.
"…Are you serious?"
"Very." Tako nodded, offering his hand to Naruto, only to have the latter stare at it.
"I don't get it."
"Let me tell you something, Naruto. I'm not as dim-witted as I look and as far as my foolishness goes, most of that was an act. In any case, I decided to cut this little bet off short-mostly, I miss home." before he could have asked, Naruto remembered that semi-challenge he had the night before. "Not to mention, Ino is a bit crazy herself. You two belong together."
"I mean that, I can see it. She's a bit impulsive, but I recognize fondness when I see it."
"What do you mean?"
"Naruto, when are you going to tell her that you love her?"
Naruto simply gulped, he felt accumulated saliva ride painfully down his throat. That was enough of a response to satisfy Tako. Instead of facing silence, Tako only grabbed the young man's hand for a good shake before he stood up.
"Farewell. Look me up if you ever come to the land of the rice fields." finally, Tako turned his back towards Naruto, waving his hand as he walked into the opening path of woods ahead of him.
Naruto would have thought to have stopped him, but he guessed it probably was not the right thing to do. His gut told him otherwise. Besides, Tako has just left him the perfect opportunity; he would only let him down by messing it up. As he watched the strange teenager fade away into the mass of green ahead, Naruto simply smiled, silently thanking him.
Tako was probably the only push left, but in what direction he did not quite know.
Ino felt the rays of sunlight pinch her face, shoving her away from her vacant dreams and into a chilly awakening. Soft winds breathed down her neck, causing her to nudge away from the cool air. This was not a very relaxing way to get up in the morning, but Ino was unfortunate to break from her forgetful dream, feeling the sudden draft of cold morning air rush past her. She groaned rather loudly, wincing from the light that pierces her eyes. "It's so early…" her voice cracked from lack of moisture.
Instead of taking the waking period in stride, she felt the best way to cope was to break through it. And so, Ino pushed passed that sleepy enigma that wanted ever so to settle within her. She yawned, pushing herself into a standing position. Her torso shivered, wanting to feel the blanket's warmth, or remains of warmth.
She shielded her eyes from the blinding sun, turning to take a fleeting glance towards her left, at the grounds of fallen twigs and leaves. Ino expected what should have been the quite obvious sleeping Tako also settled in his own sleeping accord, yet what welcomed her was an empty mass of flat grass.
"What?" she whispered fiercely, feeling the sudden pang of fear squirm within her insides. Before she could even turn to scream her reaction was interrupted by the sight of Naruto kneeling beside her. "The hell-?!" she cried out, equally angry as she was frightened. She shoved his arm away, propelling herself backwards as she slide a few feet from him.
"What is wrong with you?!" she wiped at her eyes, baring her teeth at him.
"Can't I just say good morning?" he grinned, shaking his head. An amused expression played upon his features as he offered his hand to the girl in front of him.
"No." she brushed herself off, pulling herself forward as she stood up; she flicked at the portions of dirt and twigs that clung to her legs. "You're too sneaky for your own good." she mumbled under her breath.
"Yeah." Naruto lamented sarcastically, heaving an exaggerated sigh.
It was not long before realization sunk in deep, "Naruto!" She cried out, those feelings of panic returning quicker than they had once left. "That guy--?! Where is he?!"
"He left." Naruto shrugged as he stood up. "I actually saw him leave!" he chuckled, pivoting his body in other direction. "There, I think. It was a while ago, gee he was pretty nice if I say so myself."
"…" Ino could only blink for a few moments in her frightened silence. Her fear settled in a hasty matter, only to allow room for her untamed anger. "I can't believe…" she shook her head, dumbfounded for words. "…You just let him go? Why didn't you WAKE me UP?"
"He wanted to go by himself, what the heck was I supposed to do?-"
"You could have NOT let him go by himself! The whole point was for BOTH of US to take him back to his village!"
"Nah—he's old enough to roam on his own," Naruto laughed once more, "C-mon, that only makes our job easier. Now it's just you and me, back to Konoha."
He held his palm behind his disarray of blonde locks, a look of sweet innocence practically plastered on his face. There was some sort of silence between them for a moment as Naruto could only help but grin. He watched as Ino balled her palms into fists, she shut her eyes as she attempted to calm herself down.
"Anything wrong there, Ino?"
"Everything." She shot back. "This is exactly what I mean!"
"What?" he asked, a bit confused by her response.
"I can't do this anymore, Naruto! In Konoha I'm only going to get scolded by Tsuanda-sama for not going with him! What if he gets killed? Obviously there were people who wanted to hurt him, or else why would he waste his time and money on being escorted?!" she growled, throwing her hands up in the air. "I can't believe you, I try so damn hard, ya know, even going as far as taking this ridiculous mission because I want to be taken seriously!"
"I'm still a chunnin here, Naruto. Just because you and everyone else were able to be Jounins before you guys even aged into goddamn adults doesn't mean you can just do things like this!" she kicked at the pebbles of rocks, muttering a few curses here and there as she continued with her rant. "Shit, what the hell was the whole point of wasting all my time getting my assed kicked by freaking Shikamaru…" she sighed, suddenly forcing herself to fall on her rear end. Small recollections of training with Shikamaru had passed her, that look of iconic laziness that Shika sports then plagued her mind entirely. This time, her voice lowered into a mere whisper, "I just wanted to show Sakura—everyone, that I was still in the fight." she frowned, pausing for a round of self remorse.
"Ino, quit beating on yourself like that."
"That's easy for you to say,"
"You'll have a thousand missions waiting back home for you."
"Naruto, you don't get it. This was a mission for them to keep me quiet; I've been pining for one for months. I'd always bother Tsunade about it, and as far as she's concerned, she thinks this is as much as I'm capable of." Ino wrung her hands together, the palms of her hands reddening from the pressure.
"Yeah right, Ino." Naruto inhaled deeply. He sat onto the soggy dirt filled with morning dew. Seating himself next to her, he scratched at his scalp for a second before he responded, "I practically begged Tsunade to give you this mission." The comment made her cringe.
"Yeah, because she probably wanted to give me some low-class kiddy task, am I right?"
"--" Naruto attempted to explain himself but was interrupted.
"Jeez—you didn't have to help my sorry ass. I suck, I know." she laughed, patting his arm. "What did you say to her? 'Give Ino something more than finding that kooky cat'?"
"She wanted to give you an A-rank, Ino."
"…" Ino let her mouth hang for a second, taking a moment to grasp that last sentence. The idea of getting an a-rank was incomprehensible, so she chose instead to abide with her initial thoughts. "Oh so I got stuck with this because…Because there was no room for me in A-rank territory."
"Ino, she wanted to put you in an A-rank mission with Shikamaru. That's the truth; you were supposed to surveillance some village we didn't have much of an alliance with. It was supposed to be different, something I know you are capable of."
"What the hell are you talking about?" She narrowed her eyes.
"Tsunade thought it was the perfect team, Shikamaru, Chouji and you. Like old times…"
"How the hell do you know?"
"Don't ask me how I know." Another huff of warm air left him, a puff of condensation filtering the clear atmosphere. "I told her not to do it, I was supposed to accompany some new Chuunin into this stupid mission but I suggested you."
"You're telling me…" Ino lifted herself once more, "I could have been somewhere else, basking in at least some sort of satisfaction for having to be involved in something slightly important, instead of being here? I could have been doing-what was it that you said? Surveillance?-I could have been doing an A-rank?!"
Instead of speaking, Naruto nodded, flinching at the thought of the many punches he was about to receive. What came next was no act of violence; instead Ino leaned to the side to pick up her belongings sprawled on the floor. "I'm going home." she simply stated, her words empty and vacant. Her reaction was unnerving.
Easily went the painful squirms, the hot dreadful lines and laces that filled his chest. Guilt left him faintly panting for the cool air, anything to endure the hot coals in the midst of his abdomen. Suddenly the bitter temperature that left his body shaking for warm was not enough to calm him down.
"What an impressive gift!" Ino cried out, unable to contain the developing rage that left her blood torrid. "Should I thank you now, or later?" She stuffed the remains of what she thought was a tent into a bag, only to find that her careless manner was making it quite difficult for her to pack her things. Impulsively, she yanked the materials out of her backpack, hurling it to the opposite direction. "Hah! This doesn't matter; I don't give a shit about being in the good ol' outdoors! The damn squirrels can house in that damn thing for all I care!" anger was simply too consuming as the thoughtless Ino tossed her backpack aside along with her camping material. "I'm so done! I just want to go fucking home." she stomped on her bag, assuring that the dirt smeared into the cloth material.
Yet, her actions were only slightly satisfying.
"I-I-teh…" she sucked at her teeth, searching endlessly for words that escaped her grasp. "Don't you dare follow me!" was her last remark as she headed towards the direction that she believed was the path back to Konoha.
Naruto watched Ino disappear between the hoard of vegetation that surrounded them. "Too bad she took the wrong way." he rolled his eyes. There was only one option for Naruto, he believed. He reached into his knapsack, bringing that small book close, shoving it in one of his pockets. If it were not for his favorite foolishly baggy pants, he wouldn't have known where to put her diary. With that, he followed Ino's tracts, leaving the rest of his belongings behind.
He shaded his eyes, looking ahead as far as his eyes could go. He guessed by then, considering how effective her anger was, Ino was probably already a mile ahead. It didn't matter anyway, he figured he could tract her quite easily. Because there was one thing about Ino and her absolute rage, it was quite obvious.
While he contemplated that, he laughed, letting the tension out into the air. The hum of bird chirpings proceeded to deafen his moment of silence. His hand ruffled through his hair as he tried to think of a plan. "What am I supposed to do?" he finally asked, peering ahead, at the boundless trail of woods. No one answered him of course; and-well, probably that was the response he was looking for.
He felt the subtle current of air tickle his cheek as it swept passed him. It was faint feeling and if not for his deep concentration, he would not have felt it at all. And to such amazement, it calmed him, that sense of cool air brushing his face. Maybe that was the answer, he thought, and with that in mind he took his first step towards the trail Ino had once taken.
Naruto squinted, glaring at the sky above him. Instead of the feathery puffs of marshmallow-like clouds that awaited him the night before, there lay clouds that appeared to be less than welcoming. The once fairly pleasant November weather was now concealed by the blanket of grey skies above. Before he could quite tell, pitter patters of raindrops plopped on his palm. "Rain?" he murmured, bringing his arm closer for further inspection.
"Wait…" he felt the small hairs in the back of his spine stand erect. "Oh…sh-" he was left interrupted as an unexpected bellow of thunder erupted above him. Naruto ducked, raising his shoulders as the raindrops began pouring on him. The cool water soaked into his clothes, quicker than he could have suspected. In only a matter of minutes while he wandered through the woods, his clothes clung tightly to his torso and limbs. "Shit, and this only makes things harder." Yet, as agitated as he once had felt, the rain was a bit relieving. Even if the dark clouds covered most of the area's visibility, the rain soaked that stress away.
Naruto wiped the rain out of his eyes, peeking through the cracks of his fingers as he thought of what to do next.
The right thing to do, he thought, was to find Ino, no matter how pissed she actually was. He took one last sigh before he started heading deeper into the trails.
Ino pressed the left side of her body against the rough edges of the tree trunk. It was not very snug but she needed a resting point; a break. Walking aimlessly around who-knows-where was not exciting in the least, especially when one was hot-headed with anger. Ino glared at what seemed like endless green to her before she allowed her wobbly knees to cave in. Her legs crashed onto the soggy ground, her clothes were soaking in the puddle of raindrops.
Lost was probably not the word to describe what she was, or at least not her word of preference. Her muddled thinking had left her forgetting whether she was going backwards or forwards. Not that she was admitting it, however. Instead, she allowed the odd rhythms of the rain drop's pitter patters to ease her hot-tempered mood.
"You can come out from hiding now; I'm not going to do anything." Ino shrugged, speaking rather loudly. Her posture remained as she continued to stare indifferently at the area ahead of her. Naruto, from behind, only snorted as a humored smile now plagued him.
He chuckled, ducking as he walked under the tree-not that it was any form of protection, he was already doused in rainwater. Ironically enough, the tree did offer a slight form of protection from the rain but it was belated. Once he was along side Ino, he plopped himself onto the ground taking his time to breath in the fresh time-and enjoyed it.
"Aint it funny…" Naruto leaned backwards, placing his palm behind him, "right at this very moment, you and I are stuck here in this freezing rain all because you dropped a bunch of fruits in front of your house?" He too did not realize the implication of his statement until his words remained lingering in thing air. It was not until he let his words momentarily hang before he found it profoundly….hilarious. And he laughed. His bellows of sweet laughter echoed against the trees, scaring away a few birds that had once inhibited the branches above them. Ino turned, simply to stare at him. Her look was quite blank until she too let out a small giggle. She quickly paused, attempting to catch her nervous laughter as she covered her mouth. Yet, another burst of laughter exploded from her, this time as boisterous and as happy as ever.
"And we're stuck here because of you." he added, now feeling himself at ease. He kicked out his feet, hooking them under his knees Indian style. Despite the fact that his clothes were either drenched with rainwater or had grime engraved into the stitches of his pant legs, he felt far more pleased with himself than he had this entire trip.
Ino arched an eyebrow, "Me? How so? Didn't you admit that this was your GREAT idea?" She sounded much more amused that Naruto had expected. He leaned forward, a smug grin forming on his lips as he thought of a reasonable explanation.
"You let me stay-"
"It was a favor." she blurted out. Realizing the severity behind her words, quickly she added, "You helped me out, how could I not help you in return?"
"You're right." Naruto took hold of hands, bringing them close as he lowered his lips, kissing her palms. His voice lowered down into a whisper. "And, sweetheart, you don't owe me anymore." As quickly as he had a hold of her hands, he had loosened his grip, as her hands slipped from his fingers. "When we get out of here I'll leave you alone, for good, I promise."
Ino widened her stare, glaring at him. There was a serene sadness in the alluring cerulean orbs that was left blinking in her direction before dropping its gaze. Ino bit her lip, a pang of something dreadful seeping inside her, but she did not know quite where. It was painful hearing that potential agreement, that she would never see him again-that it would never be like this, whatever this was. "No, don't do that." she spoke lower that she had expected to; it troubled her to hear just how upset she sounded. This was probably it, she thought, she could not explain what it was, but she just…
"You left this in your bag last night," Naruto shoved his hand into his pocket, fishing for the journal. He pulled the hard covered book out, reaching it over before Ino wordlessly grabbed onto it. "Don't be mad, but I read it."
Ino waited for her anger to spike, merely to find herself feeling the same. She shrugged, flipping through the pages in a vague manner before tossing the book over her shoulder. From behind, raindrops slapped against the once dry pages, leaving the inked words to smear into a tiny blob of black ink. "I'm guessing you're curious at what that page said, right?" she glanced at him, a small smile spreading across her lips.
He stretched his arms, folding them as he held them behind the base of his neck. "…Of course."
"Remember that day with you and Sakura-"
"No, no." she reached over to pat his shoulder, her smile broadening. "It's alright; just hear me out, okay?" she watched him sigh in defeat, followed by a nod of agreement. "That was probably both of our faults…I don't know what the hell I was thinking-maybe as a way to just make sure I don't have to see you again-I promised Sakura I'd help her get you two together-"
"…" she took another pause, biting onto her lip in a nervous manner, "I don't know, I was mad with both of you,"
"Boy, what a punishment," Naruto rolled his eyes.
"She really does like you, Naruto-"
"No." he shook his head from side to side, "I took her out one day, a long long time ago. The entire time, I acted like…" he dropped his gaze again; his mouth was left squirming, and said "I acted like Sasuke. I wanted to impress her because I knew she was still infatuated with him." Taking one last moment of silence before he said, "What a stupid idea that was because even though I did kiss her that day…I didn't feel anything."
The rain pounded against the puddles of mud around them, followed by a crack of thunder. Ino widened her eyes, feeling herself tense at the idea of a thunderstorm. She always loved the rain, but never when she was an open target outside any form of shelter. "I'm sorry." she blurted out, staring down at the cluster of wet grass. She began to pluck at it, something to keep from focusing on this awkward moment.
"Why is that?"
"I just felt it was my time to say sorry." a weak smile brightened her face.
"Well then," he exhaled deeply, forgetting to smear away the rain that had dripped onto his hair. "I'm sorry too."
Ino shook her head, finding herself chuckle at how amazingly ridiculous they both appeared at the moment. Wordlessly she allowed Naruto to gently take a hold of her hand, linking his slender fingers with her small fist.
"You want to know the truth?" he watched her nod in silence
"The truth is…" Naruto lifted his chin and for the first time in a very long time, there was no humor in his eyes. "I don't love Sakura. The truth is it'll never happen." he sighed, heavy heartedly, taking a passing glance at a side before turning back, "I'm sorry I put you through so much crap." he chuckled lightly, peering down at his drenched clothes. "I'm sorry we're wet and hungry and have no idea where we're at."
"..." she pressed her forehead against his, lowering her gaze towards their now linked hands. Interestingly enough the rain gradually dwindled into soft drizzles faster than she had expected. She stared into the dark center of his pupil, a bit surprised how earnest he has sounded. Perhaps, for the first time, there was no mask of arrogance in his demeanor, just a smile; one appealing smile that had Ino smiling back.
His breathing tickled her nose as she stood only centimeters away from his face. There was a long pause afterwards, when she found herself staring. She felt herself needing something to say but she didn't know whether it was appropriate timing. When she saw how attentive Naruto seemed, she couldn't help but blurt out.
"I'm a train wreck, Naruto."
"That's okay." he nodded, followed by an amused grin.
"No, I mean I'll drive you crazy, you wouldn't be able to take it."
"No?" Naruto chuckled, a slight scowl forming on his lips. "I already have."
And so, he seized the moment. He quickly yanked onto her arm, bringing her close as he forcefully pressed his lips onto her. He cupped her chin, ignoring the pitter patters of rain that only slapped onto the top of head. At the end of this sloppy kiss he pulled back, only to gaze at the softly flushed Ino.
"I did that because you're Ino and that is the only reason why."
She leaned in for a brief kiss, when pulling back Naruto wiped at the raindrop trailing from under her eye, "Thank you." she whispered gently, her words heard faintly against the sounds of rain.