Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
Story is set in between time skip.
Ignoring the yells behind her, Ino ran to her room and slammed the door behind her. Breathing heavily, the young girl leaned against the door, slowly sliding down to the soft, carpeted floor. Ino shakily hugged her knees and resisted the urge to burst into tears.
"Go away!" Ino shouted, bringing her knees closer to her body. The young girl trembled slightly as her mother knocked on the door again.
"Ino, what's wrong? Please let me in. We'll talk about it."
Ino shook her head furiously, her short blonde hair swaying from side to side. She didn't want to talk. She didn't want to see anybody. She didn't want to care.
"I don't want to talk," she sniffled. Ino shut her eyes tightly. She promised herself that she wouldn't cry. She wasn't a person who cried often. Why was she crying now? The blonde hastily scrubbed her face, wiping away the shining tears on her cheek with the back of her hand.
"Is it about Sakura?"
The blonde's eyes widened and filled up with tears. Ino's soft sniffles slowly grew and soon became large sobs. Her shoulders shook uncontrollably as she buried her face in her hands. She barely even noticed when the door slowly shifted open and her mother walked in. Warm arms enveloped Ino's small shaking frame.
"It's okay," her mother murmured, stroking Ino's silky, blonde hair.
"Sakura b-broke our f-friendship," Ino sobbed, finally giving in to her tears. "She f-found out t-that I l-liked Sasuke and…"
"Shh… it's okay."
"I told her e-everything about me-e," Ino continued as she clutched tightly on to the fabric of her mother's sweater.. "I-I d-defended her and taught h-her everything I knew."
Ino bit down on her lip as she tried to prevent herself from crying any further. Sakura wasn't worth it, she said to herself though unconvincingly. Sakura was ugly. She was weak and cried all the time. Ino wiped away the tears on her cheek and gazed down at the blue carpet. But… she didn't think of Sakura like that. She knew that Sakura was a beautiful person and with time and encouragement, would bloom into a beautiful woman. Ino seemed uncertain for a moment but the memory of Sakura walking away from her aided Ino in her decision. She wiped away the thoughts of the Sakura she knew as her friend from her mind. If she wanted to become rivals, then Ino would do her best to defeat her.
"I won't lose to Sakura," Ino said forcibly, her turquoise eyes shimmering with determination. Ino closed her hand to form a fist. "If Sakura wants to fight over Sasuke, then I will do my best to defeat her."
Ino strode confidently through the park, searching for Sasuke. Sakura had no chance against her. After "borrowing" her mother's make-up and hours of sitting in front of the mirror, applying everything on to her face, she was sure Sasuke wouldn't be able to resist her. Images of Sasuke clinging to her arm appeared in Ino's naïve mind.
As Ino passed by the playground she heard the familiar sound of Sakura's voice. The pink haired girl sat in between a group of friends –actually, Ino's friends—talking and laughing. Ino's hand closed to form a small fist.
Marching over to the group, Ino smirked and stood over Sakura, showing off her make-up. "What are you doing hanging out with my friends crybaby?"
The pink haired girl gazed up at Ino with a surprised expression on her face. Her face hardened and Sakura rose to her feet. "What do you want Ino-pig?"
Ino's eyes widened in surprise. "What did you just call me?"
Sakura smirked, pleased that she had hit a nerve.
"I said, Ino-pig," Sakura repeated, pronouncing each syllable clearly.
"Sakura, do you even know what you are saying?" Ino yelled.
Sakura glared stubbornly at Ino. "I do."
Not able to look at Sakura directly in the face, Ino stormed away, not looking back once. She had come to the park in such a great mood. How could Sakura be so cruel to her? The other girl hadn't even flinched when she had called her a pig. Ino breathed heavily and broke in to a run. Once she was far enough away from Sakura, Ino hid behind a tree and burst into tears.
Ino watches as Sakura present her Ikebana arrangement to the class. How much Sakura remembered from what she had taught the pink haired girl impressed the blonde. A small sense of pride mixed with sadness travels through Ino as she gazes over at Sakura. Sakura raised her head and gazed at Ino with a smirk on her face.
The blonde ninja in training raises an eyebrow and gazed condescendingly at Sakura. Sakura has changed and no matter how much Ino wanted to deny it, Sakura was blooming into a beautiful flower right before her eyes. The old Sakura wouldn't have been able to tolerate her taunts about her large forehead or confidently present such a beautiful flower arrangement in front of the class.
Ino didn't know whether to be happy or sad. Gazing down at her own flower arrangement, Ino caressed the cosmos sadly with her finger.
"I'm on the same team as Sasuke."
"Why say it again?"
"I won't lose to you anymore, Ino."
"I won't lose to you in everything," Ino replied. She watched, slightly confused as Sakura reached behind her and drew out an object. Ino wavered as she recognized the object as the first gift she had given Sakura. "The ribbon?"
"I'll give this ribbon back to you."
Ino furrowed her brow. The ribbon was her gift to Sakura when they first met. Why did Sakura want to give this back to her? In place of where the ribbon usually was, was the forehead protector that Sakura had received upon graduation. Ino felt her heart tug painfully but didn't let it show. Putting a smirk on her face, Ino raised an eyebrow and said, "I gave that ribbon to you. And you're supposed to put that forehead protector on your head."
"I'm no longer the girl that has been chasing you," Sakura stated. "When I put this forehead protector on, I can't lose to you as a female ninja."
Ino gazed at Sakura, trying to decipher the meaning of Sakura's words. The blonde gazed down at the ribbon waving in Sakura's hand. A smile formed on her lips as Ino understood what Sakura was telling her. Ino gazed somewhat proudly at the girl. Sakura was growing up not only to be a strong woman but a strong ninja as well. Ino was happy for her old friend yet she felt sadness as well.
Reaching forward, the ninja accepted the ribbon.
"A good idea. I'll do the same when the time comes."
Ino gazed at the unconscious ninja by her side. She couldn't believe she had tied with Sakura out of all people. She had been too confident when entering the battle and too careless. All these years, she had still thought of Sakura as her old friend, someone who had great potential but was unable to use it. Sakura had proved her wrong. They were equals now. Sakura had blossomed into a person that was as strong as her. Ino was proud of her old friend but disappointed in herself.
Sakura shifted and slowly opened her eyes. The pink haired girl asked in a dejected voice if she had lost. Ino shook her head and replied that she should be the one wanting to cry because they had tied. The blonde admitted to Sakura that she had finally bloomed into a flower.
A look of shock and pleasure passed over Sakura's face. Ino could tell that Sakura had been waiting to hear these words for a long time. From that day on, it seemed that they started a new, though rather unstable friendship. Both of them still chased after Sasuke, but they had reached an understanding that they were equal and didn't need to prove anything to one another.
Ino nibbled on the energy bar absently as she watched over the camp. Her eyes fell over the young man she and Sakura were guarding. The man lay quietly in his sleeping bag, breathing regularly as he slept. His cinnamon brown hair fell over his face as he snored, rising and falling with his breath. Sakura lay against a tree beside the man, her eyes closed and breathing quietly. Her short pink hair fluttered wildly as the wind twisted around the campsite they had made.
Stretching her limbs, Ino stood up and walked over to Sakura, placing a blanket over the pink-haired woman's body. Rubbing her arms, Ino looked warily around the clearing. The trees swayed gently in the night breeze and only the occasional sound of scampering forest animals interrupted the quiet night.
Stepping lightly to the young man they were protecting, Ino bit her lip. She went over the mission in her head. Escort the son of the daimyo of the Land of Honey back home and return home as quickly as possible. It shouldn't be too hard if she was careful.
A branch snapped from behind Ino, and the blonde spun around, a kunai ready in her hand. Moments passed and a bunny stuck its head out from the bushes and hopped past. Ino relaxed and put her kunai down.
"Look at what we've caught."
Ino stiffened as she felt a cool blade press against her neck. Another hand held onto Ino's wrists, preventing her from reaching her kunais. Everything happened so quickly that Ino barely realized what was happening until both her wrists were constrained and a kunai was pressed against her neck.
"Don't even think of screaming," he murmured into Ino's ear. He pressed the knife closer to Ino's skin for good measure. The blonde regained her composure and narrowed her eyes, cursing herself for being subdued so easily.
"What do you want?" hissed the woman.
"Money," the man breathed, causing Ino to wrinkle her nose at the putrid stench. Gazing down at the grimy hands holding the blade, Ino figured that the attacker was a rogue ninja that had come across their camp. Ino felt a wave of disgust pass over her as the man breathed on her neck. "Hand over all your money."
Part of Ino was relieved that the person had not realized that they were escorting the son of the daimyo yet she still didn't like her situation any better. The best thing she could do was to agree and find a chance to turn the tables on the attacker. Rogue ninja often were unorganized and weak. If she didn't have a knife pressed against her neck, she would definitely be able to kick their sorry behinds out of their camp. She couldn't let them have the money. They needed the money for the rest of their journey and were too far from Konohagakure to turn back to get more.
"Alright," Ino agreed reluctantly, her voice laced with venom.
"No tricks," the thief warned, pushing Ino forward. He still held the knife against her neck as they walked towards her knapsack. Ino was about to reach into the pouch in her knapsack with extra kunais when someone grabbed the bag.
"Looks like you've found a good load," a new voice said.
Ino gazed up to find two more men had arrived at the camp. The two new arrivers searched through Ino's knapsack, tossing out some of her belongings. As a pair of underwear flew past her face, Ino felt her blood boil. She was going to make them pay after she got out of this mess. Inner Ino screamed angrily at the thieves while throwing imaginary punched in their direction.
As if sensing her thoughts, the man behind Ino pressed the knife closer to Ino's skin. Gritting her teeth, the blonde kunoichi tried to think of a plan. Yet the sight of her belongings being handled by the group of grimy men distracted her greatly. Ino's eyes traveled to the two rogue ninja by her backpack waving her underwear around in the air and felt a vein in her forehead throb.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," a voice said from behind the thief.
Ino felt the thief release her as he spun around to face the kunoichi behind him. Ino smirked and quickly took out a kunai, spinning the weapon around her index finger as she quickly turned around, creating a small dust tornado. Turning her head, Ino saw the Sakura sleeping against the tree disappear in a puff of smoke. She turned to the real Sakura behind the ninja, crackling her knuckles.
Smirking evilly, Sakura punched the ninja that had been holding Ino captive, sending him flying into the bushes. The blonde ninja quickly ducked as the surprised man flew over her head. The other two thieves spun around and drew out their knives. Their eyes glinted maliciously as they gazed over at Sakura.
Smiling, Ino rose to her feet and stood beside Sakura. They were going to regret ever coming across their camp and going through her belongings. Nodding, both kunoichi charged forward at the same time, using charka to increase their speed.
Dodging a knife, Ino stepped to the side and aimed a punch at one of the attackers. The knife flew out of the man's hand and was caught by Ino as the man was sent flying into the bushes. Though it didn't have the force of Sakura's punches, Ino was still pleased with the result. Unfortunately, her punch was unable to knock him unconscious. Growling angrily, the man burst out from the bushes, calling up a jutsu which caused rocky spikes to blast out of the ground in front of Ino.
Surprised at the sudden attack, Ino was unable to dodge the rocks that rose in front of her. The blonde felt the boulder hit her stomach, pushing her backwards. Ino dug her heels into the ground, stopping her self from crashing in to the trees behind her. Gasping for breath, Ino collapsed onto the ground.
"If you think you can beat me with those skills," the man growled, "then you're pretty idiotic."
Pain still coursing through her body, Ino shakily pushed herself up on to her hands and knees. She needed to end this quickly. Ino quickly formed a rectangle with her fingers.
"What are you doing now?" he taunted, walking toward Ino, a smirk plastered on his face. He raised his hand holding the knife, lashing out at the helpless blonde. However half way through his attack, his arms stopped moving. The thief's eyes widened as he found that he could no longer control his own body.
"Shinraiju no jutsu succeeded," Ino smirked. Focusing on controlling the thief's body, she made the man slam himself into a tree, knocking himself out.
Releasing the hand seal, Ino slowly rose to her feet and swept a few stray locks of hair back. She scolded herself for being so careless and getting hit by the rogue ninja so easily as she gingerly touched the giant bruise she had gotten. Turning around, she found Sakura had already disposed of the thief that was fighting with her.
"That'll teach them to mess with us," Sakura said grumpily as she wiped her hands. Ino scowled, seeing that Sakura didn't have a hair out of place after all that fighting.
Breathing deeply and ignoring the pain in her abdominal area, Ino leaned against a tree and asked what Sakura wanted to do with the bodies. They decided just to tie them to a tree trunk and leave the thieves there until someone found them. Sakura did most of the work, while Ino glared disdainfully at the unconscious thieves, claiming she didn't want to touch them.
Picking up her belongings, Ino rubbed the bruise on her stomach and complained about the mission overall. She didn't want to go on this particular mission; in fact, she was totally opposed to going on this mission. It was Tsunade's threat of sending her back to the academy that had forced Ino to go on this mission. So far, there didn't seem to be any reason for Ino to like the mission more that before.
"Ino-pig, hurry up! We have to go!"
"If you would help me pick up my stuff, we could leave sooner!" Ino shouted back. Scanning the clearing, Ino tried to find the bottle of shampoo that was missing.
"What are you looking for?" Sakura asked as she kneeled down beside Ino.
"Honestly Ino," Sakura cried, exasperated. "Just leave it."
"What? I can't leave it—"
"I'll buy you a new one when we get home then," Sakura said, grabbing Ino and dragging the blonde away from the campsite. The daimyo's son stood by a tree, waiting patiently for the two kunoichi to continue with the journey.
Sighing, Ino gave in to Sakura's urging and continued grudgingly with the journey.
"Ino, what's your problem?" Sakura shouted after Ino's tenth complaint in half an hour.
"I just don't like this mission forehead girl!" Ino snapped back.
The client rolled his eyes but hid a smile behind his hand. The two kunoichi amused him greatly. He was sure they had a special relationship despite their arguing and yelling. The voices suddenly stopped, causing Kenji to frown.
The young man was cut off as a knife came flying in his direction, missing his nose by the width of a hair. Ino and Sakura were instantly in front of him, their kunai out, and ready.
"Hand over the daimyo's son and no body will get hurt," a voice boomed, echoing around the clearing.
"Try and take him from us," Ino challenged.
Instantly, two-dozen thieves appeared in a circle around the three travelers.
"Damn it Ino! Why did you ask them to come out and attack us?" Sakura shouted.
"Shut up! I didn't know there would be so many thieves!"
"I suggest you stop arguing and spend more time paying attention to the enemy!" Kenji yelled.
Ino and Sakura stiffened, coming back to the situation at hand. The enemy had surrounded them at all sides, preventing any escape routes. In addition to being out numbered, they had to defend Kenji. Ino's grip on her kunai tightened, her turquoise eyes scanning the surrounding area. Thieves were better organized than rogue ninja. If they were organized well in great numbers, she and Sakura would be in trouble.
Sensing movement, Ino could tell Sakura was inching closer to Kenji, enabling her to grab him and drag him out of the fight as soon as it started. Howling loudly, the wind swept through the meadow, causing the grass around the group to sway. None of the two groups moved to attack. Ino's eyes swept back and forth, keeping an eye on the thieves lined behind her and Sakura.
Sakura's eyes caught Ino's turquoise orbs. They would run for it. Ino nodded, tensing her muscles, ready to jump. The thieves seemed to take that as a signal to attack; the men behind Ino charged forward, swiping at her back with their knives. Moving quickly, the blonde evaded all the attacks while leading the thieves after her away from Kenji.
Sakura had grabbed hold of Kenji and leaped over the thieves' heads and landed gracefully on to a nearby tree. Sakura caught sight of a dozen more thieves surrounding the area with arrows drawn onto bows. The kunoichi realized that they wouldn't be able to run for it unless they wanted to be shot down by arrows. She was sure that they would not shoot if they didn't try to run though. That brought the risk of injuring the person they wanted and their own people. Sure that her client wasn't going to fall off the tree and kill himself, Sakura jumped back down to help Ino and intercept the thieves running towards the tree Kenji was on.
Seeing that Sakura was being outnumbered badly, Ino fought her way to the pink haired kunoichi. The men pressed forward, trying to pass the two female ninja and reach the daimyo's son. Ino panted heavily as she found herself back to back with Sakura. Sweat trickled down her forehead and scratches littered her body. She had managed to knock out five thieves but it seemed that there were as many thieves as they had started with.
"Ino, I think the leader is the one with the red headband," Sakura said, nodding towards a man watching from the side as she slammed her fist into the ground, causing the men around them to back away. "Use your jutsu to take control of his body."
"I—I don't think I can reach him from this far away," Ino said as she swiped at a man with her kunai.
"I'm quite sure you can reach him," Sakura argued. She threw several shuriken forward, hitting a few thieves.
"What if he moves? Shikamaru isn't here to hold him."
"We have no choice! They have us surrounded, we can't run away."
Ino hesitated, glancing back toward Kenji.
"I can't," Ino yelled as she blocked a blade with her kunai. The blonde winced as she backed into the tree trunk Kenji was on. She gazed up at Kenji.
Leaping up on to the tree, Ino grabbed on to Kenji. They were going to run for it.
"Ino, they have the clearing surrounded!" Sakura shouted.
"We'll risk it," Ino yelled back as she threw a smoke bomb in front of her.
Sakura covered her mouth and backed away while cursing at Ino under her breath.
Ino landed softly on the ground with Kenji beside her. The two started to run for it. Arrows being released from around her could be heard. She glanced at Kenji, surprised that he was able to keep up with her pace.
"Can you run faster?" Ino asked, panting slightly.
The brown-haired man nodded and increased his pace. Ino quickly followed. A dozen arrows suddenly showered over the two. Ino skidded to a stop and swiped the arrows aside with her kunai.
"Go on without me," Ino directed. "Sakura will find you."
"What about you?"
"Just go, I'll catch up."
Kenji hesitated. Ino gasped as a dozen more arrows came pouring towards them. Without thinking, Ino pushed Kenji down. Spinning around, Ino swiped a couple of arrows away from their bodies, which fell useless by the kunoichi's side. The blonde gasped and staggered backwards as she felt an arrow pierce through the flesh of her left arm. The stream of arrows ceased for the moment and Ino took the opportunity to get out of harms way.
Ino pulled Kenji behind a tree while trying to not cry in pain. Breathing deeply, she tried to ignore the feeling of searing pain and the warm blood trickling down her arm. Ino leaned back against the tree and tried to focus on the sound of their enemies instead. Arrows began to rain down again. Ino heard a few solid thunks behind her where arrows had embedded themselves in the tree they were hiding behind. The stream of arrows stopped and Kenji rose on to his feet and look at the surroundings.
"There isn't anyone coming for us," Kenji announced. He hauled Ino on to her feet, careful not to bump into her injured arm. "Let's run for it."