A/N: Well, here it is. The sequel to the unexpectedly popular oneshot, The Forgetting Game. It took me forever to come up with a satisfactory idea, and even longer to actually write the blasted thing. I'm happy with it, though this is more of a vomit of conciousness on paper with crappy transitions than it is a well written oneshot. I hope those that enjoyed TFG will enjoy this. I had fun doing the research for this one, as the fic will no doubt tell you. As usual, let me know how crappy it is.
Enjoy and review.
Summary: Saying nothing is an art unto itself.
The Art of Unspoken Words
A Xenocide Production
She pursed her lip thoughtfully as she surveyed her choices, absentmindedly tapping her chin with her forefinger.
It wasn't very often that you would find her deep in thought, and actually willing to take the time to think a decision through. That was best left to her teammate, the eternally lazy Shikamaru.
Many people would brand her as brash, with the tendency to speak without thinking and acting without a thought for the consequences.
And for the most part, they would be right.
She was overbearingly bossy, as the unfortunate Akimichi and Nara duo could and would inform you. Her temper was volatile, especially when she was dead set on getting her way, come hell or high water. You had to learn to instantly become submissive to her flighty whims or by kami-sama, you would suffer her screeching and nagging until you saw the error of your ways. She never really seemed to put in much effort to be a kunoichi, unlike her erstwhile friend, Haruno Sakura, the Slug Sannin's apprentice. She was more concerned with how her hair looked, whether the slits in her uniform were high enough while tastefully showing a forbidden glimpse of her legs, and maintaining her status as the loudest, bitchiest, and most beautiful girl of the Rookie Nine.
Yep. No one could definitely accuse Yamanaka Ino of being thoughtful.
Yet against all reason and past precedent, here she was in her family's flower shop, proving a good portion of Konoha wrong. The blonde idiot had overdone his training regime again, leaving him stranded in a hospital bed due to chakra exhaustion and more cuts and gashes than she cared to see on him. She had left him to suffer alone on the first day, just to let him know how displeased she was with him. But today, she would swoop in like a hawk and surprise him with one of her famous flower arrangements, leaving him speechless with gratitude and with eyes only for her. Even if she was irritated with the blue eyed moron, she would be damned if she let Sakura get ahold of him first. She still wasn't quite sure why she found herself so adamant on capturing his attention. After all, he wasn't exactly prime boyfriend material.
She was content to blame the whole thing on her ongoing rivalry with the Hokage's apprentice, which admittedly had been spurred on with her sensei's last words for her. That excuse was shaky at best.
It had been exactly one week since the Disastrous Dinner Incident. The whole affair was more than enough to earn a few 'inner capitalizations' in her opinion. She was seriously thinking of adding quotation marks, just for added effect.
He had scrubbed up nicely, she had to admit. When he met her at the entrance to the flower shop, he gave her a heartstopping smile that made her heart pound and her insides burn with a delicious heat. She had impulsively hugged one of his arms to her chest as she proceeded to drag him to a decent restaurant, reveling in the feel of his wiry muscles rubbing against the extremely thin evening gown she had chosen for the evening. A Yamanaka didn't do things halfway.
Unfortunately, it had all gone downhill from there.
He had obviously never been to a high class restaurant before, and he was considerably nervous about even entering the place. But she had managed to coax him in with a gentle smile and soothing touch.
They had hardly seated themselves when a maitre'd with a rapidly purpling face had rushed up to Naruto and tightly demanded that he leave. Naruto's face had gone expressionless, much like it had been in the bar, and that had infuriated Ino. She had no idea why they were being so rude to him, but she wasn't happy about it. She had politely asked him why he was refusing Naruto service and the man merely snorted, muttering that the bastard demon wasn't welcome in any civilized setting. Naruto, bland expression still in place, had risen to leave and take Ino with him. She angrily bade him to stay in his seat. She was furious and she let the man know in no uncertain terms what she thought of him and his ancestor's sexual preferences in general.
The man had turned an alarming shade of violet and hissed menacingly that the demon's bitch wasn't welcome either.
She thought that the room exploded. Naruto had snapped, and the expression on his face was anything but bland as he lunged for the man's throat with his hands outstretched. The table overturned, and silverware went flying, panicking a few nearby diners. Ino was knocked backwards onto the floor by Naruto's violent explosion of rage, but she was quickly on her feet when she heard the shouts of the other waiters and the screams of the women.
Naruto was snarling, his teeth bared as he tried his damndest to throttle the life out of the man and bash his head through the floor. She could only stare, shocked at the intensity of his anger, as five waiters struggled to pry Naruto off of the rapidly suffocating fool.
Finally, they had pried him off and proceeded to bodily throw him to the curb. He was followed by curses and vile epithets. She had tentatively followed, still in a state of disbelief. How could someone be so cruel? Naruto had never done anything to the man, as far as she knew. What he could he have done to make them hate him so? It was irrational and sickening. Not even his childhood pranks warranted such blatant hatred.
He had gotten up, and without a word or glance to her, had tried to leave for home. She planted herself in front of him and refused to let him by. She forced him to meet her eyes with a hand to his chin, and she was surprised to see his cerulean eyes swimming with unshed tears. Without saying a word, she opened her arms and gathered him to her. He buried his face in her hair and wrapped his arms around her, his frame shaking violently with silent sobs.
She stood with him in the middle of the darkened street, stroking his hair and murmuring nonsense words to calm him.
Finally, the shakes subsided, and his eyes were dry, if a little red. He pulled back and looked her deeply in the eyes, the shade of blue ever so slightly brighter than his own. He reached up and traced her cheek with a gentle hand, rough with calluses from training. Without breaking eye contact, she had leaned into his touch, surprising him and causing him to break out into a grin.
With a sly twinkle in his eye, he gently pinched her cheek and danced out of the reach of her retaliating swipe. She had shrieked in mock anger and tried to chase after him, but an evening gown and high heels weren't exactly designed for a high speed pursuit. So he led her on a merry chase, both breathless with laughter, through the winding streets of Konoha, until they had finally reached Ichiraku's, the one place that Ino had promised unyielding pain on Naruto if he took her there.
But with that evening's earlier events, she decided to let him get away with it, just this once. The old man had greeted them with a friendly catcall as they seated themselves, and his daughter gave Ino a knowing smile as they were served.
Naruto had suddenly become all smiles again, all past wrongdoings forgotten and forgiven. They spent the rest of the evening joking and laughing at Naruto's decidedly spot on impressions of the various inhabitants of the village.
The most memorable part of the evening though, had been the chaste kiss that he had given her in front of her door.
Chaste the kiss might have been, but the thoughts that were running through her mind and the intense heat sweeping through her body were demanding otherwise. Without a second's thought, she threw her arms around his neck and pulled him against her with the door at her back.
The second kiss was much more satisfying, and she noted with glee the dazed expression on Naruto's face as she said her goodnights and sent him on his way.
She frowned while she reached out and ran her fingers over a few lackidaisal Geranium.
She had no idea what had possessed her to demand Naruto to take her out to dinner. Granted, the date had gone well, even after the unpleasant beginning. But, he was Naruto for kami's sake! Just because he had paid her a few compliments and made her feel like she was actually worth something didn't mean…..
"Everyone knows you're the most beautiful girl in the Rookie Nine!"
A light tinge of pink crept its way across the girl's cheeks as her fingers wandered into a small patch of majoram.
Though she was loath to admit it, that enthusiastic admission had been what piqued her interest in the first place.
For several months after her sensei's death, she had thrown herself into her work, willing herself to work so hard that she could drive the memories away by sheer force of will and exhaustion alone.
It had worked.
To an extent, anyways. While her missions were keeping her occupied during the day, and some of when she slept, it did absolutely nothing to stave off the nightmares. Most of them featured Asuma-sensei, and the dead look that he had in his eyes as she tried to shove his intestines back into his torso, while torrents of bloody rain would paint her crimson. Though she knew that Asuma-sensei's last words were anything but accusing, the man in her dreams had no such compunction. He would rail, rant, and scream at her for allowing him to die so carelessly, so easily. She could have done something, anything, goddammit!
She nearly crushed a few of her mother's prize dahlias as her hands convulsed at the memory of her night terrors. Her parents could offer no comfort and her teammates had no clue how to go about comforting her. They had enough trouble trying to sort out their own grief. It had shamed her that she had no control over her emotions, overcome by sudden fits of weeping like a small child. After all, a shinobi is nothing more than a tool. And tools can neither afford nor endorse emotions.
In utter desperation, she had turned to the bottle.
Finally, an easy solution had been found. The nightmares had finally stopped, and if she drank long and hard enough, the bloody visage of her teacher would begin to fade ever so slightly. Of course, her nightmares were traded for blinding headaches and constant nausea, but she considered it a more than equivalent exchange.
Her family and friends could only watch in horror as she tried to drown herself deeper and deeper, desperately seeking peace or absolution.
Her parents had pleaded, cajoled, and even cried in their attempts to bring her back, but it was to no avail. Her father had once tried to physically wrest the bottle from her in a last ditch effort to save his daughter. He had received a broken nose and a black eye for his pains.
They hadn't talked for two months after that.
Chouji, in his kind, gentle manner, had tried to lure her away from her misery with the promise of every last chip at the bottom of snack bags for the rest of his life. She had crushed him when she coldly informed him that turning into a fat slob was not going to solve any of her problems.
Shikamaru had followed her into one of her frequent haunts one night and tried the same method her father had, only this time, he tried to remove Ino herself from the bar. That particular confrontation had landed them both in the hospital for a week and left her owing 20,000 yen to the bar owner. Needless to say, she was longer welcome at that particular establishment.
It got to the point where her every waking moment, when she wasn't out on a mission, was spent in a bar or pub, neglecting even her basic personal hygiene in favor of her efforts to forget.
For a good solid month, all she did was drink. And drink. And drink some more.
And she had pretty much resolved to drink herself into oblivion, because anything would have been better than the pitiful existence she found herself occupying.
It had been a great shock to see Naruto in the same straits that she herself was in. She frowned again as she walked slowly down the display tables, eyes alighting on a patch of Rosemary in the front.
Admittedly, Naruto had been in far better shape than she. He, at least, had some concept of personal hygiene, and he certainly didn't look like a sullen drunk that was pissed off at the world. No, he had been dignified in his disgrace. Well, as dignified as one can be when rip-roaring drunk.
She had found it quite hard to believe that even Naruto could be troubled enough to turn to the drink, and obviously much sooner than she had. He had started out depressed and melancholy, which she had disliked immensely. Naruto had always been, quite literally, a ray of sunshine. Nothing could faze him, and even when life dealt him a rapid succession of crippling blows, he always got up with a determined smile on his face. It was almost a physical blow to her faith in the world when the unflappable Number One Ninja of Konoha finally let the weight of reality settle around his shoulders.
She found herself trying to draw him out, of all things. Nartuo may have been an annoying idiot, but he had been one of the few constants in her life. Asuma had been one. She was determined not to lose another. In the course of uplifting his spirits, to her great surprise, she found herself rising from the wretched depths she had placed herself in.
And when he had said that she was beautiful...
Well, in all her life, no one had called her beautiful. Pretty, yes. Cute, sure. But beautiful? That was reserved for girls like Sakura, painful as it was for her to admit it. To hear it from Naruto of all people gave her a warm feeling in the pit of her stomach.
Naruto, once again, without even meaning to, had helped her regain a new desire to live, even if it was only to honor her teacher's last wishes. The boy seemed to have an innate gift to change whomever he met for the better, and she was grateful that he had pulled her out of her funk. She decided in that very instant that if Sakura was the least bit interested in Naruto, then the girl was going to have a hell of a fight on her hands. And if she didn't...well...that was the stupid girl's own fault and it only meant there was that much less effort for her to go through to capture his heart. She would prevail, and that's all there was to it.
With a determined air that was not unlike a certain handsome (and here she blushed again at calling him handsome in her thoughts) shinobi, she selected a small but elegant vase and began to work.
There was no way she could sort out all the different emotions that she had for him, so she was going to do so through the way that she knew best--the art of ikebana.
Flower arrangement had always been an art that had been passed down to each successive woman in the Yamanaka line.
Ino had come to appreciate the practice, though she would never be as skilled or dedicated as her grandmother and mother.
"Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day, like writing a poem, or saying a prayer. Kami knows it's the only way I've managed to keep my sanity all these years." Her grandmother would say as she made minute adjustments to an arrangement. While her granddaughter had not been quite as philosophical as her about ikebana, she had come to view it as a means of relaxation.
Her mother, on the other hand, had always been fiercely adamant that an artful arrangement could say more to a person than a mere handful of words ever could.
"Each bloom has its own unique message, Ino. If you know the language, a single flower can say more to someone than you yourself could ever dream." And when her daughter would appear skeptical, she would smile a small, mysterious smile and comment, "As a matter of fact, your father proposed to me with a phlox bloom in his hand. He didn't say a word. He merely dropped to one knee and offered it to me. We were married the next week."
Ino had learned the truth of her mother's words over the years as she worked in her parent's flower shop. Many a time a husband or future paramour had come to her, requesting an apology or a declaration of love in the form of riotous colors and soft blossoms. More often than not, an artful arrangement said what a man or woman could not.
Even though she had already selected her vase, Ino was still unsure of her choices. While she knew that Naruto probably wouldn't know the meaning behind every flower or bloom that she chose, every self-respecting kunoichi with any knowledge of ikebana at all would know instantly her intentions when they saw her arrangement. Even Naruto, ignorant as he was, had some knowledge pertaining to ikebana. She had to be subtle without appearing subtle, and yet make her claim on him as obvious as possible.
It was no easy task, as you can imagine.
So, she started with something simple.
Honeysuckle, for friendship. Obvious, but not unusual either.
A goldenrod for encouragement, if only to get him out of that hospital as fast as possible.
Larkspur was painfully appropriate, considering it spoke of laughter and lightness.
The obvious choices were out of the way. Now came the hard part. Ninja were trained from the get go to be subtle, but in the art of ikebana, there were very few flowers that could be deemed to be subtle.
Firstly, rosemary for remembrance. She was sure he would understand that one, and she doubted any other person, unless Shikamaru or Chouji decided to visit, would understand the personal significance behind it.
Next, an apple blossom for admiration. This choice was anything but subtle, though the apple blossom's meaning was not as widespread as one would think.
A white camellia, for self worth. She would always be grateful to him for helping her recognize her own self-importance, and she wanted to help him recognize his.
Lastly, and most importantly, she chose a lily of the valley for the centerpiece. Love, purity, and happiness. That was taking subtlety and throwing it right out the window. But she felt that Naruto would need at least one obvious sign of her intentions.
She stepped back and scanned her work with a critical eye. For all intents and purposes, it was as perfect as she could possibly make it. She carefully gathered it up and headed for the entrance to the shop, calling a goodbye to her mother at the register who said not a word, but was smiling her small, mysterious smile as she nodded to Ino.
As her daughter dashed out the door, Yamanaka Sayuri wondered, not for the first time, what boy had managed to drag Ino out of the darkness. For the last week, she and her husband had noticed that Ino looked considerably less haggard. She would never forget that feeling of astonishment when her daughter had stormed into the house, marched right into the kitchen, and emptied the refrigerator of every last drop of alcohol, pouring it all down the sink with a smile on her face.
She then announced to her shell shocked parents that she had a date that evening, and to not wait up.
She had left the house cleaner than she had been in months, and with an air of happiness and serenity about her that her mother had ever despaired of seeing in her daughter ever again. When she returned, face flushed and a dreamy look on her little girl's face, she knew that Ino had finally found someone to make her happy.
Ino had yet to bring the boy home, but she and Inoichi were already determined to thank him profusely from the bottom of their hearts. All they knew was that she was visiting him in the hospital today. He was obviously a hard worker, if the fact that he was checked in for chakra exhaustion during a rigorous training regiment was any indication. Her husband was even talking of actually taking it easy on this particular boy, though she doubted that he could quell his 'over protective father' instincts as well as he claimed.
She grinned mischievously as she flipped through a seed and seedling catalogue. Perhaps she should order some orange blossoms? The young kunoichi and her husband both would no doubt pitch a royal hissy fit if she tried to have Ino's young paramour present them to Ino herself. The boy would be clueless as to the true meaning behind it, but that's what would make it so fun.
On second thought, perhaps she should. She had taken careful note of Ino's arrangement out of the corner of her eye. While her daughter would never be as skilled as herself or her late grandmother, there was no denying the fact that she was good at what she did. She had an eye for getting an arrangement of flowers to say exactly what she wanted to say.
And with the arrangement that she had chosen, there would be no doubt in anyone's mind what her intentions were. Ino was quite good at the art of saying nothing at all. Her blossoms spoke for her.
A/N: For those of you who like doing a little extra research, go online and try to search for the meaning of the orange blossom. I thought it was quite funny, considering that orange is Naruto's color, after all. Hope you enjoyed it.