Title: I Love The Sound of You Walking Away
Pairings: More than you can shake a stick at (het and yuri).
Summary: Look out, Konoha. Yamanaka Ino is on the rebound.
Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Kishimoto Masashi.
I Love The Sound of You Walking Away
"I could see your gazing face
See your new boyfriend starcased
I want to be back in that place
So I'll be there just in case…"
(Maul 10.09.97, Third Sex)
To be perfectly honest, Ino thinks, staring down at the brindled liquid in her cup, she really doesn't like Cappuccino.
She likes coffee because it is black and mostly bitter, and Cappuccino is neither. It's more like hot chocolate gone horribly wrong, too much milk and cream and nutmeg and who-knows-what-else added in until you can't even taste the coffee anymore.
Just like love, I guess. Too much of it and people just lose themselves, go all swimmy and fall apart at the seams.
Across the table from her, Sakura is profusely mumbling excuse after excuse, most of which Ino simply translates into her own language.
"So you see how it's just not going to work out between us, because I'm not really sure I feel as strongly about you as you feel about me…"
Because you never felt anything about me at all and I was just the stupid bint who kept running after you and letting you wrap me around your finger.
"I do think what we had was special, but I was really just experimenting—that is, I wasn't sure…"
You weren't sure whether to be a dyke or a doormat, and just settled for the latter because it's easier and you've been doing it most of your life.
"Anyway, I know who I want to be with now. I really believe this is real and I… I hope you can be happy for us."
Happy that after all these years, he's finally given you the time of day, and now that you have your Prince Charming, there's no need for the place-holder anymore.
Sakura leaves, and there is an empty space where she sat, an empty place in Ino's chest. Ino pours more cream into her untouched coffee, watches the thread of off-white swirl like a vortex, and wishes she could wash every memory she has of their relationship down its current.
Eventually, everything will stop hurting.
That, Ino thinks, is a load of bullshit.
When relationships fall apart, people throw themselves into their hobbies to forget the pain. They form rock bands, become vegetarians, sometimes find a new religion. Ino's fingers, in spite of their flower-arranging grace, can't manipulate guitar strings to save her life; she also loves medium-rare steak and doesn't believe in God.
She is, however, inordinately good at sex. So in lieu of tears, this is how she will get over Sakura: one body at a time.
Because unlike her (bitch of an) ex-girlfriend, there are never any shortage of lithe, beautiful young things giving her the time of day. The whole village is hers for the taking; Konoha's mothers had better hide their sons (and daughters) when Yamanaka Ino is working out her slut tendencies. She never sleeps with any of them more than once, doesn't remember any of the faces the next morning, knowing that the grass is always greener on the other side.
A few more notable individuals do make it into her little black book, as if memory is her way of commemorating them.
Hyuuga Neji is first and that makes him that much extra special.
She goes for Neji mostly because she wants somebody on the same level with, if not better, than the boy Sakura left her for, and at first, Neji seems perfect. Older. Handsome. Successful, with family connections. Trophy conquests don't get much better than that.
In the beginning, he doesn't want to have anything to do with her, but Ino knows her game and can pretend to have class when she wants to. They talk flower arrangement, classical literature and ninja techniques. They're the best-looking couple in the village (suck on that, Mr. and Mrs. Uchiha). He writes her haiku which sometimes are about her but most of the times aren't, and she acts all soft and demure which for some reason really turns him on.
At one point, Ino has herself almost convinced that their non-relationship is really some kind of beautiful. That is, until they have sex, and then she discovers that Neji must be the saddest man in the fucking world. He holds her delicately, face somber as death, fingers careful as if she were some porcelain thing that might break unless handled just so, and Ino immediately clues in that it's not her he's making love to. She doesn't ask him who his ghost is, however, knowing he'll probably ask about hers.
Afterwards, he says a lot of things about love and fate and hopelessness that she doesn't quite understand, eventually breaks down into tears so that she has to cradle his head on her bosom. They part on amiable terms, with the mutually implicit knowledge that two wrongs don't make a right.
There is the thing with Mitarashi Anko, and every time Ino thinks about it, she can't help but succumb to a mad giggling fit.
Ino doesn't remember much about Anko from her first Chuunin exam, or even her second, except that the older woman is obnoxiously loud and has the makings of an uber bitch. This is a plus in Ino's book; she only ever goes for the brass, feisty girls, the ones that spit fire with their mercurial eyes.
This year, the Chuunin exam takes place in Kusagakure, and by some grave mistake on the part of the personnel department, Ino's name ends up on the list of those to accompany Konoha's Genin. She takes revenge by making a point of being as brattily annoying as possible, so that the other Leaf shinobi have to spend as much time babysitting her as the Genin.
In the middle of the Second Test, Anko hauls Ino up by the front of her shirt and snaps in her face, "Stop being childish!"
Ino knows she's in the wrong but can't help biting back with, "If it isn't the pot calling the kettle black!"
As they fling insults back and forth, the other shinobi shake their heads exasperatedly and leave them to their rapidly escalating spat.
Ten minutes later, Ino finds herself shoved up against a broom handle in a cramped, splintery supply closet, her panties around her ankles and Anko's head between her parted thighs. She discovers that Anko's tongue, which usually stings like a whiplash, feels spectacular against her clit, even better when she lifts her skirt and tugs on Anko's wiry hair with one hand.
She knocks over the broom with the force of her orgasm, and Anko laughs softly and kisses her thighs gently before wiping her lips and marching out the door, and then it's like nothing has happened between them. And that is how Ino knows the difference between a girl and a woman: the acknowledgment of the sacred law of no strings attached.
She thinks of her sexcapades as a parade, a parade just for her and come rain or shine, she is going to enjoy it.
After one particularly wild night, she wakes to a splitting migraine and a naked Shikamaru watching her with pursed lips and a pinched frown.
Alright. No biggie. Everyone fucks their best friend when they're drunk at least once.
But before she can open her mouth to begin damage control, he pulls himself up on his elbows and says, "Burning the candle, Ino?"
"You burn hard, but you won't burn long."
She realizes her mouth is hanging open—glub, glub, glub, like a fish—and closes it forcefully.
Says, "I'll burn it as long as I can hold it."
She tells herself that she's not haunted, and most of the times, this is true.
Doesn't seem as true when leaden winter clouds roll in and the sky turns an ashen shade of grey, when stepping out of your house in the morning feels like being cut down by a wintry blade of wind. Frost forms little frozen flowers on the glass of her windowpanes, and her knees knock into each other when she stands exhausted outside a nightclub as dawn breaks bleak and bitter over the horizon, shivering in her fishnet stockings and sucking desperately on a cigarette for warmth.
Then she staggers back into her cold, empty apartment, and it's all she can do not to think about hearty miso soup shared over the checkered-cloth kitchen table, and soft wet kisses in the early morning, swaddled in the feathery warmth of the down comforter. A feminine body in her bed, slipping elegant ladyfingers into her hand, a cold foot into the toasty crook of her knee. Dimpled cheeks and that satiny hollow at the small of a pulled-in waist.
It's snowing outside, and she's so cold with anger she's about to cry.
It's time to take a break. She goes looking for heat.
The month-long mission in Sunagakure is over-ranked and much too mechanical for a kunoichi of her caliber. The village is drab and unbearably harsh, the people unwashed and lackluster, and by the second week, Ino thinks she's about to lose her mind.
She runs into Temari at the local market, and suddenly, amidst all the heat and dehydration and sand in her shoes, there is a spot of bright possibility.
She invites the other girl over for lunch, lacing enough insinuations into her words to make her intention unmistakable, and Temari raises an eyebrow but says yes, of course she'll come. Sure enough, she arrives to find Ino sunbathing on the rooftop in a bandanna shirt and a faded pair of cut-off jeans that aren't much more than hot pants.
"Sorry," Ino says sultrily. "I forgot to get any food. Can you help me put sun lotion on my back? I can't reach it all the way."
Temari eyes the small bottle, amused. "That yuppie stuff won't protect you from the desert sun."
"Oh, I know," Ino answers, feeling beads of sweat form on the skin of her inner thighs, sticking to the frayed cuffs of her jeans. "But it's plenty good enough for other things."
Temari has calloused fingers, she thinks later, and her nails are bitten and ragged, her touch like the gritty bite of a sandstorm. Her kisses aren't soft and wet, but hard and dry and full of rough teeth, and juxtaposing the excitement she feels with her memories of domestic warmth fills Ino with dissonance.
When they're done, there's not enough running water for a proper shower so Ino wipes their sticky hands with her abandoned shirt. Temari gets to her feet, walks down the stairs without a word, and Ino has the sudden, absurd wish for Temari to ask her out to dinner.
But that's not the way the game works.
Back in Konoha, she's visibly clubbing every other night. The party's back in full swing with the thaw of the weather, as if loneliness were ice-cubes and people only needed each other when it's cold outside. Tonight the club is busy, the dance floor crammed with sleek nubile bodies writhing to the heavy bass beats spilling from the club's sound system.
Ino picks up her fifth Mind Eraser, and pauses for a moment when she catches a flash of big boobs, shapely thighs and long blond hair illuminated by the brightly colored strobe lights. She makes her way onto the dance floor towards the moving girl-body and freezes when she notices the familiar whisker scars. Mouths 'What the fuck' to herself.
"Hey," she screams over the blaring music. "Naruto!"
Pretty blue eyes widen in surprise, almost glassy from a liquor-induced haze.
"You got that right. What's with the get-up?"
She thinks she sees him color, but it's hard to tell in the poor light.
"It was a bet."
"Sure it was. Wanna dance?"
"Aren't we already?"
Ino smirks, shimmies over, and Naruto hooks his arms (her arms—God, she's drunk) around her waist and moves their bodies to the frenzied rhythm. The music turns up a notch, and they can't talk anymore, it's too loud. This suits Ino just fine.
They wake up at noon the next day in Naruto's apartment tangled up together on his narrow single bed, and for a sunbright moment, everything is a bit surreal. Naruto still hasn't released his jutsu, and Ino finds that her tongue has been put to more work than usual the previous night.
"Fuck," Naruto says, massaging his likely aching head. "We just had lesbian sex."
Ino meditates on his non sequitur for a good long second, then shrugs her shoulders and lights a cigarette from a handy pack on the bedside table, adding the sharp scent of tobacco smoke to the mingled ordor of booze, sex and cheap perfume of the room.
After a moment, Naruto sighs in defeat and reaches over Ino's stomach for a cigarette of his own. She lights it for him with the end of hers, and they smoke in silent for a long time. What a picture they must present, Ino thinks, just two hot chicks sitting side by side in bed with their backs to the headboard, bare-breasted, hair mussed, sheets tangled and pooling around their naked hips, and one of them not even a real girl.
"You want to hear something really strange?" Naruto asks, blowing smoke from his red-smeared lips.
"I'm not even sure which of them I'm jealous of anymore."
Ino extinguishes her cigarette in a nearby shot glass. "What are you talking about?"
"Sakura and Sasuke. I don't know who I'm still hung up on. You?"
"Don't be stupid," she scoffs. "I'm not like you. I'm not hung up on anyone." Maybe she'll even believe herself this time.
Naruto looks at her skeptically, then makes a dismissive noise that for some reason raises the fine hair on Ino's arms. She grabs the dying cigarette from between his fingers, pulls him towards her by the end of the long pigtails, and burrows into those impossibly marvelous breasts.
"No strings attached?"
But it gets harder and harder to believe that.
The parade goes on and there are more svelte, fresh-faced lovers in her bed than ever, but instead of feeling happy or even satisfied, she is mostly bone-tired and oddly anxious, like she's taken one sake shot too many. Even when she is utterly, coldly sober.
This is the state she's in when she knocks on Shikamaru's door at four in the morning one day and this is the state in which he finds her when he glares daggers at her over the threshold of his apartment. "This had better be good."
"I want to stop burning the candle," she blurts out in one breath. "Tell me how."
Shikamaru blinks at her groggily. Then he sighs one of his centennial sighs and says, "Don't kid yourself, Ino. You were born to burn the candle."
"The best thing you can do is find someone else to burn it with you."
Ino stands rooted to the spot, not knowing what to say in reply. Then she flings her arms around Shikamaru, squeezes him briefly, and leaves before he is awake enough to notice.
On her way home, she drops by Naruto's apartment building and tags a note to his front door.
When Naruto appears at her door, he is himself: there is no perfume, make-up or slinky clubbing clothes. Just the two of them and the brightly burning candle.
Afterward, they order take-out chicken wings and eat them in bed, her head resting on his washboard stomach, their legs twisting languidly into the sheets, and Ino thinks that food and sex smell a hell of a lot better than booze and sex.
Ino says, "I'm not over Sakura."
And Naruto says, "Yeah, I know."
She raises her eyebrow. "You do? Then why?"
"Why not?" he replies, wiping barbecue sauce from the corner of his mouth. "Doesn't change anything."
The silence is long and intense.
"At least," Ino begins lightly, "you don't have to worry about bringing me home to meet your parents."
"Bitch," Naruto says in disgust.
"But that's why you love me." All of a sudden, her heart is beating a fast tattoo against the walls of her ribcage. She has never been here before.
When Naruto laughs, the sound is like the tinkling bell of an ice-cream truck. "I know that too."