Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

Death of a Phantom

They say that there is a thin line between love and hate.

It's pretty cliche.

But Ino would like to think that she agrees for the underlying idea of it. Hate can easily be born from love. Though having it work the other way...she isn't so sure. But the line blurs. There is something deep, dark, and primal about these emotions that can either build a person up, or completely bring them down.

They are not uncommon feelings. When experienced, people usually go about it in two ways; they tried to objectively reason out it, or they give in. But Ino smiles because she finds it humorous to do either. Once realized, love and hate can defy all logic, rhyme and reason. We must have been feeling love and hate for generations upon generations, for eons long before our minds have come to be capable of such reason. We have loved and hated long before we have given them names. She speculates; love is beneficiary from an evolutionary point of view. Love has the tendency to preserve things. To encourage things to carry on and persevere. It is almost poetic then, she realizes, if she were to think of it this way: we were designed to love. To love and preserve. Perhaps we were also designed to hate.

With neither an embrace or ambivalence to love and hate, Ino Yamanaka had no intention of defying her design. Yes, she had loved. Truly loved.

So she supposed, it wasn't all that surprising she learned to hate.

As a "regular" kunoichi (a member of a clan who's status was not as high or prestigious as the Hyuuga or the once Uchiha), Ino's body was auctioned off. It was part of her training they said. Even her over-protective father knew it had to come. The Yamanaka household was tense and grim for weeks. Ino smiled and did her best to reassure him (herself?) that it was all okay. Everything was going to fine. (Right?) She did it with her head held high. She did it as a kunoichi for Konoha. She did it with honor. She lost her first kiss and virginity on the same night, to a rich border-line pedophile stranger at the age of 15. A percentage of her earnings went to Konoha, like good devoted shinobi contributing to their village.

With her contribution (sacrifice?), an idea begins to bloom within her pretty little head. When they say that 'nothing comes free,' they've got the emphasis all wrong she thinks.

It really ought to be; everything comes with a price.

At sixteen, she'd mastered the arts of seduction, deception and persuasion of the ways of traditional kunoichi and performed it flawlessly. She giggled and twirled as if there was nothing wrong in the world. She preened her hair, smoothed her skin, and puckered her colored lips. She batted her eyelashes and wore clothing that flattered her body. What a pretty girl, they said. What a pretty pretty, vapid girl.

Soon enough Ino found that people could be just as vapid and even more shallow themselves. With this knowledge, she became disappointed. Disappointed at how people are easy to fool. How easy shinobi can be fooled by her appearance, by the very things that they had taught her. What happened to all that bullshit about seeing underneath the underneath? At sixteen, she also took away her first life, her first kill because people are so damn easy to fool. She wasn't careful enough to cut his neck at the right angle though, and came home with blood stains and tears streaking down her face. Tears are easy enough to deal with.

But bloodstains are such a bitch.

She held her head high, but inside; she couldn't help but envy the protection of Hyuga Hinata, heiress of the noble Hyuga clan. Of course, she wouldn't be put to trail of the simple customs of common kunoichi. She was of an ancient and noble bloodline that had supported Konoha from the start. The Hyuuga did not dirty their hands with such common practices. Certainly not. She also came to envy the protection of Haruno Sakura from Tsunade-Sama, from the title of a brilliant blossoming medic-nin. Of course, Tsunade's most precious and brilliant apprentice wouldn't be put to the tests of what trivial kunoichi went though. No, of course not. Ino's pretty face and body to match were pleasant and lovely to look at. But women like Ino were dime a dozen. Like the flowers she sold, they came in bundles and bouquets. Common. Trivial. There would always be beautiful women. Always.

She can't tell anymore, every time she glances in the mirror, if what she sees is a blessing or curse.

With no special treatment, she became closer to TenTen. A raw deep bond of sisterhood formed. They understood things on a level that neither Hinata's intense empathy nor Sakura's intelligence could ever truly understand. She and Tenten lived it.

But they were bound not by the same life, but of the same sacrifices.

TenTen wasn't the least surprised as she stumbled upon Ino one night, collapsed in the street. Uncharacteristically exhausted. Battered, bruised and bleeding. Where was that golden smile? Where was that gleeful laughter that rang with unfettered joy? And those bright blue eyes and ever hopeful countenance?

Ino looked close to being broken. But not quite. At eighteen, she was accustomed to this life. Perhaps a bit too accustomed.

She breathed unevenly, ragged wisps of air escaped her. She was practically exhausted to the point of slurring her words. "Bastards. All o' 'em." She spat out along with a bit of blood, and stretched her bloodstained lips in something twisted might have been a smile. "Took 'em down, 'course." Tenten doesn't even bother looking at her torn clothing or the bruises forming because Tenten knows. She helps her fellow kunoichi home and helps her patch her wounds.

Tenten realizes that Ino's life has been set, bound, and branded for her. Ino is perfect for her job.

And Tenten thinks that maybe it is not such a good thing.

At nineteen, she continued to exceed people's expectations. She did well. Ino was considered on of the most accomplished kunoichi in her field for her age and also quite talented in other specialty fiends. She filled out the notion of an ideal interrogator well. Though that was probably the last thing people expected when she breezed so airily through the doors.

When Ibiki laid eyes on this girl he knew to be Inochi's daughter he wasn't quite sure what to expect. A glimpse of her made-up face, and he did not know whether to be happy or scorned at having been charged with teaching this young woman that is the daughter of a man he very much respected. He gazes as her blank but lovely face and does not know whether to encourage or pity her. If Yamanaka was not a kunoichi she could have easily led a happy, peaceful life. But instead, her long curled eyelashes didn't even bat once at the idea of torture. With practice, and an never ending succession of targets withholding valuable information she came to know the broken minds of shinobi like the back of her hand. Ibiki found that her blank and lovely face is a product of Konoha. And for a brief moment, he feels the rare sensation of his skin crawl.

Ino traverses twisted minds day after day. These broken people were everywhere. They all had the same old sob story over and over. People were always straying onto the wrong paths. They were always confused. They were always making mistakes. They were all struggling. They were all missing somebody. They were all deeply hurt. They were always desperate. They were always lost. War and violence had wrecked them all.

Ino perhaps forgot to consider that she too, had been wrecked.

As history shows, it has come to be realized over and over again that genuinely brilliant shinobi pushed the limits that horrified many. They were freaks and abominations of unspeakable nature. They pushed their boundaries. They crossed them. They blurred the line between life and death. They pushed against what was possible and what was not. As she delve further into her work, deeper and deeper as never before, Ino toed the edges of her humanity as the thread that bound her soul to her body began to fray. Her projected spirit left a lingering cataclysm of anomalies in the atmosphere. Her spirit and will seemed to linger in the atmosphere. The air was chilled in pockets when she came around. It stirred in corners. It grew dense and brushed against your arm. Sometimes it even played tricks on your eyes and held a faint color of form. Gen-jutsu? Perhaps. As she advanced in the ranks and took on more dangerous missions in the neighboring countries, a garish myth seemed to follow. As the years passed, whispers of 'The White Phantom' spread in foreign lands. People who discovered the bodies often came upon a pale outline of a woman standing over them, barely clinging to the vestiges of this realm before fading away.

It is a faded woman that haunts the world.

Once her father died, Ibiki was relieved to see her take a leave of absence. He was relieved to see her shed tears and body-wracking grief. But then she came back, all too sooner than expected with eyes hard and cold. She came to secure a position within the ANBU. As a successful assassin and interrogator with the additional skills of a medic, trainees couldn't decide exactly how they felt about her. Yamanaka-san was young. And so pretty. Sometimes she was so friendly. Sometimes she smiled. Sometimes she even laughed and it was bright. Sometimes, she seemed just like them. But then this illusion would waver and crack, every time she was seen doing what she did so well. They learned how she managed to keep such a clear and smooth complexion unfettered by scars or blemishes. Yamanaka-san could break a man without lifting a finger. And though it was rare, if there was ever any blood involved, she would calmly side-step it because "bloodstains are such a bitch." Yamanaka-san told them that if they were intent of saving an article of clothing touched by blood it needed to be dealt with as quickly as possible. Then it should be soaked in cold soap water. Not warm. Cold. This much they could agree on:

Yamanaka-san was a professional.

In the ANBU she wore a blank mask, smooth and devoid of features. It was eerily less human than the animalistic masks that her team and comrades wore. In choosing her specific mask, she thought of her humanity. She is human. She is not an animal, no matter how the lines for that can blur. None of the masks offered met her standards, so she requested this one specifically to her liking. She didn't like the warped contours and gaudy red accents. Give me something that pleases the eye. This smooth mask of porcelain, with the eyes simply rimmed in red will have to do.

One time, a shinobi took her by surprise as a suicide bomber with way of explosive tags. She ended up with first-degree burns on her arms and shook off the slime and yellowish red gore of human innards. Under the eyes of her mask were oozes of blood as pieces of flesh slid down and hit the floor. She was the White Phantom, and she looked to be shedding red tears. Underneath that porcelain, she crinkled her nose at the smell, and cringed as she looked down at her clothing. Eugh, because bloodstains are such a bitch.

When she was in her early twenties, she had the unfortunate chance of running into the infamous Akatsuki pair returning from a solo mission and was just a mere eight miles away from Konoha's welcoming gates.

Her body was found fresh. Still warm. The cause of death could have been a combination of things.

Chakra depletion. Flesh shredded to ribbons. 'Hoshigake Kisame's sword.' Her wrists were blue and broken. Angry purples stained the pale skin of her arms. A fraction of her face was painted with her own cherry red blood. 'Mild concussion. Major blood loss. Hemorrhages.' More dark bruises circled her neck and her elegant collarbones - a morbid necklace. 'Attempted strangulation.' A criss-cross of cuts was found on the side of her temple, and her mask was found shattered. As were some of her ribs. 'Broken by force. Various trauma.' A chaotic seal where her neck met collarbone; a final pendant to the chain of bruises. 'Unidentified sealing technique.' Bloodstained lips glistened unnaturally. Her pleasing features were frozen in a expression of schooled calm composure. Yamanaka Ino was a professional. And her blue blue eyes were metallic and empty. 'Dead. So very dead.'

Sakura could not stop her eyes from welling up with tears at how frightfully lovely Ino could look, even lifeless and still on the diagnostic table. Even black and blue all over, Ino was always such a pretty, pretty girl.

Yamanaka had a white funeral. Just like the old days of centuries past. The way their ancestors had it. White. Sakura remembered how after the Third's passing, she told her how the black reminded her too much of an ending. Black felt too much like their daily lives. Black felt like the uniforms she wore everyday to do a dark shinobi's deeds. Black was her work. Let there be white for all the beautiful bones that held them up. White for the clean slate so many sought after. White for the future. White for empty black canvas full of possibility. In addition, there were to be brilliant colors of flowers of every kind, to remind them of the beauty in the world, against the constant ugliness they saw. There was that glimpse of her ever hopeful countenance.

Sakura at first thought it horribly morbid for Ino to tell her just how she wanted her funeral to be. Sakura didn't want to listen. The idea of it made her sick to the heart. Then she felt her skin crawl as she realized how much Ino's funeral sounded like what Sakura wanted her own wedding to be like. White for hope. Hope against their ever dwindling odds. Colored with flowers for beauty. For life. Beauty against the ugliness. Sakura wondered then, if her friend knew this was how it was going to end.

The medic clutched a Cosmos flower in her hand, determined not to snap the stem in two.

Each person gave a different flower. Sakura brought a Cosmos. TenTen brought the brightest bouquet she found, violent with yellows, blues, purples, greens and reds. Hinata brought a flower blue enough to match the color of Ino's once lively eyes. Shikamaru and Chouji brought sunflowers for that ever sunny and loud disposition they once knew.

Yamanaka-san was highly honored with special mention of services to the good of Konoha. Her name was carved on the famous memorial of those who died "gallantly" in battle.

From the one of the best in her time, she was elevated to one of the best of all time.

Ino Yamanaka went down in history.

And it was all due to one dumb stroke of luck. If she hadn't finished early or decided to take that chosen path...so many little things could have propelled her in a different direction and perhaps she might still be alive. Some people might call it destiny. Some might call it coincidence. If it were Ino herself, she isn't sure. But all she knows is that even if things could have gone in an infinitely vast number of ways, it doesn't matter anymore because she is so very dead.

Yamanaka Ino managed to bring down a man in history with her. She took people's fears, a man's life and another man's dream to the grave with her.

The body of Uchiha Itachi was found a mere foot away from her. The two were found facing each other on their sides, giving an ironic illusion of fallen lovers. While Ino died with a face of schooled composure, Itachi's face broke it's normal mask of apathy. There was a curious surprise lingering over his dead eyes. Neither bore each other any intention ill will. This is was just what they did. This was nothing personal. This was business.

The same chaotic seal was found on his chest. What members were left of the Yamanaka clan puzzled over it. No one knew what it was. If Inochi were still alive, he might have recognized it from the oldest of their family scrolls. But he might have not.

Something else that no one would ever know, is that Ino died learning about love with hate within her heart. Itachi died learning that the rumors of the Yamanaka clan were true. "A gen-jutsu never worked longer than a second on a decent Yamanaka." And Ino managed to become so much more than her clan's namesake. Her last thought was vain, as she thinks that Uchiha Itachi was probably the most handsome man she'd ever see in her lifetime. And wondered briefly how life would be for the two of them if they weren't shinobi. Maybe life would be different. Maybe they could have fallen in love. Maybe, they would still be alive.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

The last thing Itachi saw was the quelling calm in her blue metallic eyes.

The last thing Ino saw was the shocking red of his eyes fade into black.

And the one thing both of them knew was that they weren't all the way alive to truly die.

AN: I wrote this thing all the way back in 2006. That is a damn long time ago. I revisited it and had to edit parts of it, added a some things and what not. I am not satisfied with it completely looking at it now, but I tried to keep it true to my original intent all those years ago. *shrug* Hope it gives a little more depth and insight to the possibilities of one Yamanaka Ino though. Thanks for all the past reviews. :)