Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

Chapter 22

Day 13: The Shards that Rip us Apart

Ino barely felt the glass imbedded in her fingers and knuckles as she slowly pulled the shards out. She was slumped against the wall opposite her bathroom counter with the trash can beside her. She used tweezers meant for her eyebrows to pull out the glass and as she did so Ino mentally reminded herself to chuck these and buy a new one later. Blood dripped down her wrist to her elbow and then its descent ended either on her knee or the floor.

Ino sighed with a slight hiss when she managed to pull out a rather deep shard dropping it into the small trash can as more blood swelled out of the wound. She stared down at her hand as blood practically covered it hiding her pale skin from her sight. Her thoughts wanted to stray to other things but she wouldn't allow it. She didn't want to think about anything at all. Ino was sobering up more and more as the morning wore on. Soon enough she wouldn't be drunk enough to keep her mind clear of the thoughts that wanted to swarm her mind, the questions that begged for answers that the blonde didn't even begin to know how to answer or was willing to answer; even to herself.

The blonde pushed up from the ground to stand though she was still unsteady on her feet but she needed to rinse off her hand to see what glass was left. The cold water was a shock to her system and stung her wounds; her hand throbbed painfully at the treatment it received. Ino pulled her hand out and started again on the pieces of glistening shards. The silence of her apartment seemed to echo around her, pressing down upon her as she worked. A slight ringing in her ears bugged her but she ignored it for the most part.

Maybe she should get a cat or something? She never felt as alone as she does now and having a furry companion would be nice. Ino gave a slight smile to her reflection. She was never allowed to have a cat because her father was allergic so the idea never crossed her mind. Just as she finished up rinsing her hand once more Ino heard a faint knocking on her front door. She instantly frowned before concentrating her chakra.

Sakura, Tenten, and Hinata.

'I am not in the mood…' Ino grabbed a towel to wrap her hand in as she stopped just outside the bathroom door in her bedroom. She went through a list of her options on dealing with her friends. She could foreign sleep but they would come in regardless. Ino could just sneak out and get away but, she looked down to her jelly legs, she wouldn't get far or break her neck trying. Another round of knocks that sounded more like breaking the door down had Ino going with plan three.

She stumbled back to the bathroom and locked the door. Wasn't much of a plan but it was all she could think of. Ino backed away from her door tripping over the trash can she had forgotten to put away and landing painfully into the bathtub. She made a bunch of noise too.

There was maybe a small moment of silence before she heard her front door burst open and feet pounding her way. Ino groaned rubbing the back of her aching head, here it goes…

"Ino! Are you okay?!" Sakura called out slapping her hand on the door. Ino groaned again hearing the door give its own groan at the heavy hand beating down upon it. She strained her hearing to listen to what her friends were saying in her bedroom. She could hear Tenten commenting about the drinks on her nightstand and Hinata voicing her worry. "Ino open up!" Sakura banged on the door shaking it with the power of her fist.

"It's locked…" Ino said softly but they heard her all the same. "Well unlock it!" Sakura barked back not heeding Hinata's worries for her to calm down. Ino rolled her eyes thinking to herself that if she could unlock the door she probably still wouldn't. She felt like shit inside and out, right now was not the time to have girl talk even if it is her birthday.

"Watch out Sakura, I can pick a lock faster than you can knock the door down." Ino could hear Sakura scoff at Tenten before hearing metal scratching each other near her door handle. The blonde preferred the weapons mistress picking at the lock than her best friend tearing her door off the hinges.

For the life of her Ino couldn't find the strength to pull herself out of the bathtub. Any energy she had left lingering in her was all but gone now. More scratching and a grunt came before a click noise echoed in the bathroom then the door opened.

Sakura about bolted in but Tenten flung her arm out stopping her as they took in everything. Ino looked around too seeing the mirror cracked with chunks broken on the counter or in the sink along with blood stains and her floor was a mixture of trash, glass, and more of her blood. Briefly she wondered if she had lost too much blood and that's why she couldn't find the strength to get out of the tub? Hinata stood over Tenten, who was still crouched, as her worry filled eyes centered on Ino who's legs were dangled over the side of the tub, her hand wrapped in a towel that had once been white (she really hadn't been thinking when she grabbed a white towel, had she?) was now red and Ino with her dark circles around her tried eyes and looking like she was dragged from hell and back.

She felt like it too.

"Holy shit, what happened?!" Tenten asked slowly coming to a stand. Ino glanced around the bathroom again before shrugging, "Bathroom birthday party got out of control?" Ino could instantly tell they were not amused, not at all.

"Ino…" Hinata spoke her name so softly that she almost didn't hear it at all. Her eyes were glossy as she stared at her. Sakura sighed deeply like she was so disappointed in Ino. The blonde rolled her eyes at the thought; she could care less what her friends thought right now. All she wanted to do was lay down and sleep.

"Wow Ino…just…wow." Sakura couldn't seem to make a proper sentence. Her astonishment grated on Ino's nerves. Enough so that it gave her the energy to pull herself out of the tub. Her legs were even more like jelly than before and she almost tumbled backwards into the tub again.

Both Sakura and Tenten walked over to her, the latter swiping the trash and glass to the side with her sandal. Sakura pulled one of Ino's arms over her shoulder as they walked out of the bathroom. The walk to her bed felt much longer than usual and she felt lightheaded too. Hinata had the bed all ready for her with the blankets pulled back for her. Ino thought she gave the girl a grateful smile but for all she knew it could have been a grimace instead by the sad look Hinata directed at her.

"Here let me see your hand." Sakura pulled aside her desk chair to sit beside the bed. Ino offered her towel wrapped hand before dropping her head into her pillow.

It was quiet for the time being as Sakura unwinds the drenched towel to unveil her bloody hand. Ino felt a lurch in her stomach at the metallic, irony smell. Her best friend got to work ignoring her groaning. It only took a short time for her hand to stop hurting and she could bury it under her blankets with her other hand. Sakura was just that good, Ino mused.

"Shikamaru told us what happened." Tenten blurted out leaning against the dresser with arms crossed. Ino blinked a few times to comprehend what she had just heard before nodding absently mindedly.

"I'm a horrible person…" Her throat was extremely dry as she spoke. "I should have never started something so stupid…" Hinata perched herself on the edge of Ino's bed opposite where Sakura was currently sitting. She reached under the blanket to hold her hand.

"You did the right thing though, you told him the truth." Tenten nodded her agreement.

"Hinata's right Ino! That has to count for something. I mean Neji will come around eventually." Ino shook her head sinking further into her bed. They had no idea. Sure Shikamaru told them what she had said but she hadn't told him that she lied to Neji to keep him away.

"No, he won't…" Sakura eyed her over, thinking quietly to herself. It was only a matter of time before she picked up on what she had done.

"Ino, I know it won't happen suddenly but he will forgive you one day." Tenten tried reasoning with the blonde knowing her teammate so well. She smiled lightly but Ino's mood didn't improve.

"What exactly did you tell him?" Sakura asked, her question voiced slowly like she was unsure she wanted to learn the answer. Hinata looked between the two in confusion.

"I," Ino sucked in some air feeling her throat tighten up, "told him everything…" Sakura raised an eyebrow with her lips turned downward. "And?" She prompted. Ino closed her eyes tightly as they began to water. She didn't want to cry anymore! What was the point? He's gone and not coming back, she needed to just get over it. No matter what she could never take back what she had said to him; never.

It was her own doing anyway. 'Then why do I wish I hadn't lied at all…'

"He asked if he meant anything to me…and I said," tears escaped her tightly closed lids, she refused to look at their faces as she continued knowing the expressions that would be there and the disappointment, "you mean nothing to me…" If the room hadn't been silent before it definitely was now. Ino breathed out softly feeling the tears leak out of her closed eyes to run down the sides of her face and sink into her pillow.

"Oh Ino…please tell me you didn't…" Sakura begged placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. Hinata squeezed her hand but at this point Ino could feel a numbness come over her.

"Why?" Hinata whispered Ino could imagine tears coming down her cheeks and it only made her feel even more numb.

"Because….he deserved better than me." Ino's voice came out dull and emotionless shocking the other female ninjas.

"You can't possibly think that? You made a mistake everybody does that doesn't mean you're undeserving of being happy." Tenten stated staring down hard at the blonde.

"I don't want to talk about this anymore. I'm tired…" Ino pulled up her blankets to cover her face relinquishing Hinata's hand in the process. "Just go away…"

Sakura scowled. "Ino today's your birthday; you can't hide out in your room all day."

"Watch me!" Now go away!" Hinata got up first coming around to exit with Tenten leading the way. Sakura glared at them.

"Seriously guys! We're just going to leave her here?!" Hinata shook her head.

"Come on Sakura; let's let her get some sleep." Reluctant at first but Sakura soon got up bringing up the rear as she shut the door behind her.

Ino turned on her side away from the door to curl up into a ball. As much as she wanted to be done with this pity part of hers, as numb as she is feeling now, Ino just couldn't stop the tears or sobs that wrecked and choked her mind, heart, body and soul…

All that could be heard throughout the small clearing was a thumping sound. It vibrated around the trees and had a constant rhythm along with it was harsh breathing. Neji slammed his hand against the bark of a tree chipping it away as she continued with no break in sight. His hands looked almost terrifying to look at with scrapes and skin ripping off from the abuse. Blood slowly dripped down his fingers coloring the light dirt by his feet a deep reddish brown. Normally he would never go so far in his training but at the moment the pain helped him focus and that's what he needed most now. His fingers ached and he was starting to have a hard time keeping them straight, not only from the pain but also from clenching them into fists.

If Neji wanted to be honest with himself he was tired; exhausted to his bones. He had been training most of the night to early day. At first he tried mediation to help control his rampant emotions but it proved to do nothing to help, actually it only worsen his state of mind. As a result Neji decided to train and that seemed to help him get through it.

He avoided his family like the plague and his friends. He felt only slightly bad about not seeing Shikamaru for his birthday but then he reminded himself that all his friends knew about the bet and neglected to tell him. That was probably what got to him the most. The fact that his friends, his teammates, and even his cousins had known about it all and hadn't felt the need to be honest with him or let him know.

A deep sense of betrayal enclosed on him when he thought about it. He wasn't entirely sure that Hanabi knew but Neji knew without a doubt that Hinata knew everything. Rage erupted through his veins burning a hot trail straight to his heart. Neji found himself punching the tree instead of striking it with his fingers.

It felt good to be releasing the anger in him through his fists. He ignored the sensible side of his mind saying that he needed to stop now or he could really damage something. As if to rebel even more he hit harder feeling the tree ricochet with power back into his fists. Neji felt his bones jarring with pain and suddenly his legs gave out. He glared up at the sky lying there he couldn't feel any strength to get back up.

That's how Lee found him, laid out on his back glaring hatefully at the sky.

Lee walked towards him slowly almost cautiously. He had a good reason too. There were three different ways this could do down. 1. Neji ignored him completely. 2. They talk for a bit and sort of clear the air. And 3. The one that scared him the most, Neji beats the crap out of him and/or murders him. To be honest Lee would probably let him if he really wanted too. He felt terrible as a friend and teammate. He's supposed to watch Neji's back not help stab it.

At first when he started his day he didn't have any intentions to go see Neji, at least not first thing in the morning but guilt ate away at him till he made the life or death decision to see Neji.

It took Lee a few minutes to locate the Hyuuga and this is where he finds him. He stood back for a good minute or so wondering what he would say to him. No amount of saying 'I am sorry' would fix the horrible mistake they've all made. Lee guessed the best he could do was try to talk with Neji and hope for the best but even then that was wishful thinking. Swallowing he walked closer though he was sure Neji had already known he was there. Nothing really got by him…except Ino…

"Hello Neji." Lee called out coming to a stop about a foot away from his head. Neji didn't say a word just kept glaring up at the sky. Lee looked around them to see no one around and rubbed his arm absentmindedly. His eyes then took in his friend's damaged hands and the poor tree that had little to no bark lift around its middle.

"I see you have been practicing." Lee felt as awkward as he spoke. "I know that saying I am sorry will not do anything, it may just make it worse but I am sorry Neji. It was not our intentions to hurt you." Neji scoffed, his face twisting to a mocking smirk. Slowly his eyes moved to bore into Lee's.

"Had no intention to hurt me? Pardon my language Lee but that's complete and utter bullshit." Lee frowned but he couldn't exactly disagree. The way it looked from Neji's eyes it did look like bullshit. He sighed deeply crossing his arms behind his back.

"I know how it may look to you but we are very concerned for you. I was never a part of the bet, I didn't vote that Ino," Neji flinched at the name, "would go through with her deed or not." Neji then rolled his eyes.

"But you knew about it and still had no intention of telling me. You're just as bad as they are." Lee winced at the harsh tone Neji directed to him but nodded.

"You are right. I am no better than the rest of them. I should have told you from the very beginning but…" The taijutsu master coughed in his hand. He then stared straight into his friend's eyes to show how sincere he was being. "But I knew Ino would never go through with it, deep down I knew. And I also knew you needed this." Neji suddenly found the strength to jump to his feet. Instantly he was right in Lee's face. On a side note he forgot that Lee was finally his height maybe an inch taller, what happened to the days where he was taller than Lee the shrimp?

"What the hell are you talking about? I needed this! Yes Lee I needed to fall hard for a girl that had no intention of being with me! Absolutely! Why the hell not!?" Lee stayed completely still and he would continue to do so even if Neji lifted his hand to hit him. It was well justified.

"But Ino does want to be with you." Neji pulled back giving Lee a ludicrous look.

"No I can assure you she does not." He turned away to get some space from his old teammate. Lee frowned, that didn't seem right.

"That does not make sense Neji. I know for a fact that she wants to be with you and she might even be…in love with you." Neji laughed. It was a bark of humorless, dark laughter. Neji always pegged Lee a fool more than once in their friendship and work together but this was going much further.

"Lee I think you've been spending too much time with Sakura. Ino even told me that 'I mean nothing to her'." Lee blinked as he replayed what Neji just told him over in his head. That didn't make sense. Lee had spoken with Hinata only three days ago about Ino and Neji. He knew that Ino was in love with the Hyuuga, he knew that she was conflicted over everything and that she didn't want to lose him. So why then would she jeopardize the one thing she wanted most?

"Neji…" The man scoffed again.

"Don't Lee, just don't. I am done hearing your explanations for yourself and for her." Neji then walked away leaving Lee behind.

He couldn't believe the audacity that Lee had! To say that he needed this! Yeah he very much needed the heartbreak and suffering from one girl's actions. Neji gripped his hands tightly as he made his way to the Hyuuga compound. As angry as he is with his friends he really wanted to understand what Lee was coming from. He really did, but they could have gone about it a different way. Blind date? Lie about training to get him on a date? Anything was better than betting someone's virginity…and his own.

Neji burst through the main entrance to get to his room. He needed to shower.

Even if he thought much of what Lee told him was bullshit he did believe that Lee wasn't a part of the bet. Neji felt betrayed by his friends but he knew that Lee would never bet something like that or bet at all. But he knew about it, and still chose not to do anything about it. The taijutsu master was persistence he'll give him that, but he knew what he was told. Ino may have gotten pass his outer shell but the look in her face when she told him that he meant nothing to her…it was all cold and icy.

Neji didn't want to give himself hope. He shouldn't even want to be with her after what she planned on doing. In the back of his mind a voice said that he should give her the benefit of the doubt plus she did tell him before everything went down but Neji pushed the voice away. The fact of the matter was that Ino had every chance to tell him, hell she could have just left him be from day one but she didn't. She just wanted the money…not him.

Neji forced himself to ignore the ache inside his chest as he turned on the shower. The scorching hot water burned his damaged hands but he also ignored that. He stood there for quite a bit just letting the water burn its way through his long hair down over his skin to end at his feet. He felt like he was cleansing himself of everything. The betrayal, the heartache, and the worry and nervousness he felt for his upcoming fight with his uncle. He was just washing it away, out of his skin to go down the drain. Sadly it only lasted as long as the shower it and once he was out of the burning spray and drying off Neji felt everything come back to him.

He was tempted to get back in the shower again but just wrapped the towel around his waist and into his room. He walked by his desk to get to the dresser but stopped instantly. Neji slowly turned his head to his right to see a white envelope sitting there on the dark wood. He knew what it was. He had gotten it in the mail the day she sent it out but didn't bother to look at it. Ino had already told him all about her super fun birthday bash in great detail so he found no point in opening it and had left the envelope there.

Anger gripped tightly at his heart and Neji quickly swiped it up to walk over to the trashcan near his door. He stood there then with every intention of dropping it in the trash. In a way he supposed it was another way of cleansing himself of her but as the anger left him Neji found he couldn't let go of the damn envelope. It crunched in his grip but he couldn't get his hand to release it to drop into the damn trashcan.

"Damnit…" Neji mumbled turning away to sit down on his bed. He stared down at the slightly wrinkled envelope. He didn't know how long he stared it could have been a minute, it could have been five. Hell it could have very well been an hour but he sat there staring hard at it like it would tell him all the answers. Of course it didn't.

Neji turned it over to rip off the sealed back. Quickly before his mind could catch up to what he was doing he pulled the card out. On the front it said his name 'Neji Hyuuga' with an explanation point after it. He never knew how beautiful her hand writing was. Slowly he opened it to see that he was invited to her birthday bash with the date, time, and place on it like any normal invite. He noticed that she drew little kunais on it and a badly drawn set of eyes that looked like they were using Byakugan.

He could hold back the slight snicker and roll of his eyes. Then he noticed a folded piece of paper attached to the inside of the card. It was notebook paper and it was taped in. Becoming curious Neji pulled it off and opened it up. It was a note addressed to him from Ino.

Hey Neji!

Hopefully you're actually looking at this invite but I'm sure I've already told you everything you mean to know anyway. I just wanted to say thank you for everything you have done for me. I know you have much better things to do than train me but I appreciate it even if I had to badger you and force you into a bet at first. Isn't it strange how time flies and everything changes? I can't believe I'm going to be eighteen in like three days. I want to say something more but I'm too nervous especially to say it to your face so I'm just going to quickly write it down here and mail it out before I change my mind plus the guy at the front desk is giving me the damn evil eye.

Neji…I love you, I know it's extremely soon and I hope it doesn't scare you off but…I love you!

And now I'm going to seal this away and get to your training session. Shit I'm late! You're going to kill me!

Thanks again!

Xoxoxoxox Ino

Neji stared down hard at the note in his hand. He reread it at least five times as his hands started to shake. She wrote this before their training that day when he had gotten made at her and told her to flirt with the guy so she could be on time. The note fell to the ground as Neji gripped the sides of his mattress. Nothing made sense anymore! She told him clear as day that he meant nothing to her, but why would she write down that she loved him? Neji felt so confused by it all.

He lay back on his bed feeling his damp hair seep into the blanket as he stared up at the ceiling.

Maybe…just maybe she was lying to him?

A/N: Yay! I made through this damn chapter! Ugh I had like Ino's half written and part of Neji's done but I was experiencing writers block from hell. Luckily I just forced myself to finish and it came out half way decent. Now I know this chapter is exciting especially with Neji's half but there is more to come and drama lets never forget that drama! Holy shit three chapters away from finishing! I cannot believe it! I didn't think I would ever get this far to be honest! After leaving this story for so long I am truly happy I've gotten this far and that I've kept some readers around. Thank you all so much! Stay tuned for the next chapter! I'm out…

ALCzysz17 ^_~