Chapter Two: Baby, It's Cold

A burst of icy-cold wind somehow bypassed the thickness of my parka; chilling my body to it's very core.

Isn't winter exhilarating?

Taking shelter in a vinyl gazebo, I gaze out into the picturesque landscape; a forest of evergreens, each tree frosted at it's peak, and a frozen lake, where children skate around like a Norman Rockwell painting.

"This is your own personal utopia..." Itachi stated as a fact; as if he could see through all of my illusions.

"As a child, my father had given me a snowglobe. Before he'd leave on a mission, he'd tell me to shake it. When I asked him why, he said the answer is inside the glass. It took me years to realize it, look beyond the plastic figurines, but I've finally figured it out. The snowglobe is us. Ninja, trapped in glass, we can only pray mercy to those bold enough to shake the very foundation. Though rarely, one comes along that can break the glass that traps us all together... Itachi, you were on of them," As I finish, a sharp gust hits my face, burning my eyes to tears.

Stepping out into the storm, I spin around, a light sheer of snow forming on my shoulders. "Ino, so are you," Itachi uncharacteristically utters; but I ignore him for the moment. In my Utopia, everyone's content with living in the snowglobe, because it's a scary world out there; and after all, ignorance is bliss.

For now...

Bringing my attention to the children skating, two of the skaters catch my eye. Or should I say mind? The smallest one couldn't possibly be over the age of eight, and the other seemed to be entering his adolescence. But that's just a facade, They were faded, like watercolors in an acrylic painted world. It's because their inner innocence is wearing away; slowly tainted by the shinobi life...

"Over there," I pointed, and Itachi's eyes began to swirl. It was them, the Anbu agents sent to 'retrieve' me. Unfortunately for them, they're the ones that will need the rescuing. "May I?" Itachi asks, and I nod, as if I honestly care.

Within a matter of seconds, the ice cracks, dragging the two Anbu underneath. As fast as it had shattered, the ice quickly freezes over, solid; the pristine landscape showing not-a blemish.

"Take me back," Itachi asks, and I agree. Blinking my azure eyes, the winter-wonderland slowly melts away, revealing a grimy motel hallway.

"Did you get any information?" Itachi asks, and I stop, considering the consequences of telling him.

Though it's not like I can't mind-wipe him afterwards.

"Well, nothing too Earth-shattering, though I did find something quite intriguing," I pause, and Itachi's perpetually stoic face stays unfazed. "Your brother, he's being hospitalized in Ota, apparently for a drug related issue. Honestly, I was hoping one of the Anbu read the tabloids, I feel lost without my weekly update of celebrity gossip." Looking up, Itachi had already begun walking towards the door, unlike me, he's got other things to do.

Itachi doesn't say goodbye because he knows it's unnecessary. I have his mind wired.

Maybe I should find a new interest.

"Ino Dear, Akatsuki isn't the girl scouts," Spoke a voice from behind. Ah, The Leader, the one person that still manages to surprise me.

"I have a special mission for you, since I see you've come across some free time," He stops, and caresses a strand of my blond hair. "Mind-wipe me," he pleads.

Urgh, why couldn't have I just developed the power to talk to fish?

"I see you have your hands full," spoke the Phoenix, its voice sharp, yet distorted. Shielded by its usual facade of red feathers, the Phoenix casually levitated its body, however, the tips of its magnificent auburn hair still touched the ground.

"Don't you, like, have some more important creature to bother?" In a typical fashion, the Phoenix flashed me a mischievous grin, before blowing a handful of red feathers my way. Swirling around me, the feathers formed a green outfit, similar to the one the Phoenix itself sported.

"Before you ask, 'of course' I expect you to wear that." Well, at least I managed to save my breathe. "It'll protect you, it signifies that you're my avatar." Her what?! "Ino, dear, I made it quite clear to you. Don't you remember?" No, not really; I tend to suppress crazy encounters on the astral plane. "We bonded. You'll understand soon enough. For now, though, just trust my words."

It's hard not to notice the similarities between the Phoenix and a fox. Both are red and clever. Perhaps I'll never trust the Phoenix; however, I still think it would be wise to follow its advice.

Touching the fabric, it instantly bonded with my astral-self. I wonder how I look? "Fabulous," the Phoenix complimented. Hey, maybe having it around isn't such a bad idea...

Wait, wasn't I supposed to mind-wipe Leader? "Taken care of," it stated, while rolling its emerald eyes. "You really should consider a new occupation, this Akatsuki-gig doesn't suit you well." Well, I'm a bit too old to fulfill my childhood dream of being a Campfire Girl.

"When he asked you to mind-wipe him; it was all trick; he was testing you." That news comes as unsurprising. "As revenge, I made him sneeze for two hours straight." Reaching into thin-air, the Phoenix pulled out a bottle of mascara, and began to delicately apply the makeup to its eyelashes.

I wonder if Leader is a psychic like me? "No, Ino, dear; very few psychics are like you. Avatars of the Phoenix are scarce; besides, I've developed a soft spot for you." You said, there has been others bonded to the Phoenix? "Has been, is, and will be. Time is linear, however, I'm not. Those bonded to the Phoenix span across many generations, dimension, etc."

"There goes my 'uniqueness'."

"Who are you talking to?" Looking up, I come face to face with Itachi and his perpetually swirling crimson eyes. That's strange, he was the first to break the silence...

"...The last thing you'd expect." Actually, he has a hunch; but I can always erase that and replace it with something trivial, like catchy 80's music.

"The Phoenix, why'd you expose me to it?" Keeping his lips tightly shut, Itachi decided to do something else with them; shove his mouth against my own. "He'll thank me for this later," the Phoenix quipped, revealing who's really pulling the strings.

I guess he didn't like me from the start, huh? "Nope," the Phoenix mouthed; and I mean that in two ways. "Give a fire-bird entity a break, playing matchmaker is quite fun." Phoenix, you have a sick definition of fun.

Snapping my fingers, I draw myself back to the astral plane, with Itachi in tow. Let's find out what's 'really' on his mind.

Wait, somethings not right. Placing my hand on Itachi's shoulder, I realize that his astral self is too young; it looks around thirteen. "It means he emotionally stopped at that age in life," the Phoenix states.

The Uchiha massacre; of course. I wonder if I can decipher his reasoning for doing such a thing? "Ino, dear, that's water no sane individual should tread." Which makes pursuing his secrets all the more worthwhile.

"Don't say you weren't warned." Hn, it can't be that bad, can it? "Nawh, I'm just exaggerating; go for it, girl!" With all these mind tricks scrambling my brain, I've lost the ability to define insanity...though I'm gonna guess the Phoenix falls into the category. "And this is coming from a ninja? Ino, dear, no-one is normal, get used to it."

Oh, I will... Letting go of Itachi, I decide against probing his mind – let's save that for a rainy day. Right now, I have more important things to... well, mind.

Reaching for my wrist, Itachi clasps my hand and smiles warmly. "Will you marry me?" Take that back... I'm giving him a CAT-scan...

I can't believe you let him kill you.

With my index finger, I traced along Itachi's bare back.

"Well, it wasn't like I didn't put up a fight," he answered; his vermilion eyes flickering.

It was a mere hour after Itachi battled his brother to death; i.e., his own death. Of course, I couldn't let that happen, now could I?

I brought him back to life.

Well, not in the Jesus and Lazarus sense. I'm psychic, not God.

I just placed Itachi's soul back into his body.

"So, did you mindwipe the leader?" Itachi asked; though it was obvious he already knew the answer.

"He's psychic as well," I replied, while reaching for a roll of medial gauze. There was a large gash across Itachi's forearm. Already disinfected, all I needed to do was bind the wound.

"Hold still." Steadying Itachi's waist, I leaned forward and felt his breath against my collarbone.

In Itachi's mind, he pondered over Leader's plan.

Leader wants to eliminate Konoha. Leader wants to kill Naruto.

Leader fears me.

"I need to go back," I gasp; and without looking up, I sense Itachi's reaction.

It's not that I want to save my village, perhaps... just....

Morbid curiosity?

It's not like they know I've joined the enemy. In fact, they probably think I'm on vacation.

Vapid, useless, Ino; there she goes again, messing up another mission.

If only Sakura knew what I've become.

Well, technically she can, you know, taking my 'psychic powers' into account. But that would ruin all the fun of Sakura finding out for herself.

"Ino?" Itachi placed his hand on my shoulder; in his mind, he tries to determine my thoughts.

"I think you know the answer."

Konoha killed the Uchihas; but does that give them the right to slaughter Konoha?

"Do you think....Sasuke will go through with it?" He doesn't respond; however, haven't I already clearly established that I don't need verbal answers to my questions?

Itachi cannot decide whether he wants his brother to finish what he started; or follow another path entirely.

"What if I....fixed everything?" Intrigued, Itachi brought his lips to my ear.

"But at what price?"

Phoenix – the divine entity that took me under it's wing...quite literally; laughs.

Ah, Ino, you're finally beginning to see the world for what it is; shattered glass... However, if you feel the need to piece things together, I'll have your back.

At times, I wish I followed my late grandmother's wisdom and became a florist. It's a stable career; something that doesn't involve sharp projectiles and government funded murder.

"Itachi, if I do...piece things back together, where would that"

Straddling against my body, I could feel his sweat slowly saturate the thin fabric of my shirt.

"Maybe somewhere it shouldn't be," Itachi replied; his voice raspy due to infrequent use.

"As a little kid, I could never explain my infatuation for your younger brother, Sasuke. But now I think there's just something hypnotic about you Uchiha men."

Flashing a rare - seriously, let's emphasize on 'rare'- smile, Itachi began to unfasten the clasps of my blouse.

"Itachi, what are you.."

"-Look into my eyes," he replied, and just like that, I was pulled into a strange crimson world of urgency.

My back lifted into an elegant arch as he thrust my body against the milky silk sheets.

You know, Ino; everything's a lie

..This...wasn't the distraction I needed.

"Itachi, I...I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have interfered with your emotions. Like leader, I can alter thoughts, read minds. I didn't mean to, just..."

He was asleep. Smiling, I tucked the sheets over Itachi's chest and cuddled up next to him.

The morning sunlight seeped through the window, illuminating Itachi's soft figure.

"The leader has gone to retreive Naruto," Itachi stated. Sitting up from the bed, I ran a finger through my matted locks.

What I'd do for a shower...