Tough Love

"You don't want to miss this," Ino grinned at Sakura. Banished back up the stairs after opening the door for her date, she grabbed her friend – who was putting away various hairstyling supplies – and dragged her to the top of the stairs. They stood in the shadows and regarded Ino's hapless new suitor, now flanked by the original InoShikaCho.

"Where are you taking my daughter tonight, young man?" Ino and Sakura watched Inoichi appraise the boy over a long pull of beer.

"Just dinner, and then to the festival."

All three of Ino's "protectors" nodded, apparently satisfied. At that, Ino's suitor stood up a bit straighter.

"Her curfew is midnight," Shikaku put in. He was leaning against the wall, arms crossed.

"Yes, sir," the boy said solemnly. "I'll have her back on time." Shikaku raised an eyebrow. "Or sooner!"

At the top of the stairs, Sakura nudged Ino. "They're going to scare him off," she mouthed.

Ino shrugged. "Nah, not him. And if they do, was he worth it anyway?"

But downstairs, Inoichi, Shikaku and Chouza weren't finished.

Chouza, seemingly disinterested in the proceedings until that point, stepped forward and dropped a heavy hand on the boy's shoulder.

"If you hurt her…"

Inoichi finished his sentence. "We will kill you."

Still leaning against the wall, Shikaku added, "And they won't find the body."

"But if they do, they'll wish they hadn't," Chouza put in.

"Got it?" Inoichi finished.

"Got it," Ino's date squeaked. He nodded his head vigorously, too, just in case there was any doubt left in the three men's minds.

Upstairs, Sakura was aghast. "You're a highly trained kunoichi. A Chuunin! If this guy really was stupid enough to try to do something you didn't want to do, you could fight him off with one hand tied behind your back."

Ino fiddled with the strap of her dress, smiling. "Of course I could. They know that just as well as I do. Besides, it's nothing personal against him in particular. They do this to all my dates."

Sakura cocked an eyebrow, puzzled. "Why do you let them?"

Ino laughed. "Why wouldn't I? How else are they going to tell me they love me?"