Ino: Weeeeeee're BAAAACK!! Did ya miss us?

Temari: Meowrf. Bllearghh….

Ino: Oh dear. Temari, are you still tired?

Temari: Need…coffee…

Ino: Coming right up! spills pot of boiling coffee Oops!

Temari: OW!! That hurt like bleep! What the bleep did you do that for?!?

Ino: I'm soooo sorry! Let me show you my sincerity by hand-washing your clothes for you.

Temari: …this sounds suspicious.

Me: Don't do it, Temari! Don't fall for Ino's clever plan!

Temari: Ah, Jinny-chan!! You saved me once again! How can I ever repay you?

Me: …

Ino: Oh. Yeah.

Both: OUR BELOVED AUTHOR DOES NOT OWN US OR OUR FRIENDS.

In the Subway

The storm had passed.

Not two hours ago had the skies been pulsing a dangerous purplish-red light, ominous dark clouds flashing with lightening and laced with thunder. In between the thunderous claps of thunder and lightening, rain had fallen in buckets. At one point there had even been hail.

And Yamanaka Ino had walked through all of it, utterly miserable.

Of course, it wasn't as if she cared or anything. Oh, no. Her self-esteem had already plummeted through the sewers and into the ocean and drowned for all she cared. So she let the rain mat her hair and the icy wind tangle the blonde locks, let the hail batter her pale skin until she had a couple of bruises.

It wasn't as if anyone was going to see her in this weather, for goodness sake. You'd have to be pretty depressed or lost to be wandering around.

However, that was exactly how she felt; lonely and depressed and lost. Just like a vulnerable little puppy that was left in a moldy cardboard box by the dumpster.

She whimpered pitifully. Her stomach was twisting itself unbearably into knots because she hadn't eaten anything on the plane over to Konoha—Instant Ramen wasn't her cup of tea, really—except for a cereal bar. Her black mood darkened ominously as she brooded and snarled to herself.

Another whimper.

Ino stopped. Wait…'another whimper'? That wasn't her this time. She paused and raised a hand to cup her ear for better hearing range. It was deathly silent. As deathly silent as it could be in a roaring thunder and lightening storm, anyways. Hail clinked against shop windows and the gray sidewalk.

Shaking her head and berating herself for staying out in a storm for who knows why because goodness she was bound to catch a cold from the way she was hallucinating, Ino started walking past a dark alley that no doubt hid the smarmy drug dealers and the delusional homeless. However, just as she let out a sigh of relief for clearing the obstacle (for she detested being out alone at night—it frightened her) there was an animalistic snarl from deep within the inky darkness of the alley that caused her heart to leap and sputter and the little hairs on the back of her neck to rise.

Frozen in place—Ino didn't know why she couldn't run away, but her legs wouldn't let her—blue eyes were wide as they stared unblinkingly where the noises were coming from. A thumping noise and the unmistakable sound of a yelp of a wounded puppy spurred Ino into action.

She ran.

Of course, she didn't run in the direction she wanted to, which was far, far away, obviously. Instead, she ran into the alley.

Where the scary noises were coming from.

What was wrong with her?

Perhaps the beautiful stranger from the desert had addled her brain more than she thought, Ino mused as her mouth opened against her will to snap at the assaulter. Or maybe she was just plum, drop-dead crazy.

Yes, that was probably it.

Because you'd have to be completely out of it to snap at a group of huge, burly men that had biceps the size of barrels and faces that looked like they hadn't washed or shaved in weeks (Ino flinched slightly at the suffocating stench the men gave off). Ino tried her best to ignore the hostile glares (though it was a bit hard because there were so many hostile glares and oh dear was she surrounded?) as she fell to her knees by the puppy…or what could be considered a puppy.

The gorgeous creature would have had a beautiful coat of chestnut hair if there wasn't mud and other disgusting-looking liquids all over it, and the eyes that would've effortlessly given off the classical pouting-puppy-dog-look were now darkened slightly with pain, if the mean looking cuts said anything. The long, almost rat-like tail, the hair there also matted was motionless on the dirty cement ground, bent in an awkward angle. The dog had a powerful body, obviously meant to prance around and leap and run, with sleek muscles that looked coiled and ready to spring into action.

Ino's heart gave a leap, contracting painfully, and the unmistakable fury began bubbling in the pit of her stomach. "Oh, you poor doggie," Ino murmured gently, petting his head, "Don't worry, I won't let you get hurt anymore. You're safe."

The dog ignored her, seemingly content in staring blankly at the wall.

"…Fine then. You'll thank me later…after I kick these guys' ass." She finished in an ominous tone that promised pain. However, since they were a group of huge, burly men that had biceps the size of barrels and faces that looked like they hadn't washed or shaved in weeks (Ino had to flinch once more at this), one petite woman was not going to do anything against them. Even if the said petite woman had previously been a black belt before becoming a tennis star.

So, brute force wasn't going to do anything to them. That was unpleasant, because Ino enjoyed beating up wimpy thugs in her free time. Much better than sweating like a pig in the gym, where muscle-heads would ogle her. So, since she couldn't beat these guys up as much as she wanted to, she had to use her head.

Fixing her most ferocious and fearsome Yamanaka Glare about her features, Ino stood at her full height—which didn't even reach their chests, unfortunately—in her very best attempt to intimidate them. No such luck. Their scary expressions didn't even twitch. Ino felt her resolve waver a bit, and decided to change tactics.

Strength wouldn't work. Intimidation wouldn't work. What now?

"I'm sorry to bother you gentlemen this fine evening," Ino smiled cheerily up at them, fluttering her eyelashes demurely, "But I'm afraid I must ask you to please step aside to allow my puppy and I to go home. It would mean so very much to me."

Nothing…not even one measly grunt.

Well, keigo and all that polite small talk had never been her forte. Next tactic.

"I'm in a bit of a hurry, you see. So if you'll please move I'd appreciate it." Their lack of response was beginning to worry her. They seemed closer than before, and their presence was suffocating. Not to mention stinky.

Hoping that her twinge of hysteria wouldn't show, Ino threw her hands into the air and said in (fake) exasperation, "What do you want with me? Let me leave, already!"

"I recognize you," One of the men rumbled in a thick accent. He seemed to be missing quite a few teeth, and his breath was absolutely horrid. "Youse one of 'em sports sissies. Prancin' aroun' in those tight shorts of yours…whatcha doin' aroun' these parts, girlie? Git lost or somethin'?"

"I'm not lost," Ino replied sharply. God, she hated these kinds of men! With their lecherous eyes, and hidden meanings—they thought she was a slut holding a tennis racket or something! It never ceased to infuriate her whenever they sidled up to her and whispered cheesy pick-up lines to her, mistaking her for those women who leaned against buildings in absolutely revealing outfits. She was not one of them; never was and never would be. Ino made sure to tell them that, along with some extra curses.

However, they all were looking at her like that, and odds were she probably wouldn't make it out unscathed if she ran her mouth again.

"Oh? Then you come to get your pup?" Another spoke, nudging the mentioned animal with his toe. Ino wordlessly nodded, jaw tightened and shoulders tense. They were much closer now. Too close.

"In that case, I'm afraid you're going to have to…barter with us, little lady. A body for a body. What do you say?" They flashed a suggestive wink and a lewd smirk.

Ino felt the bubbling in the pit of her stomach boil over into a roaring inferno. She snapped. "I say, 'Go fuck each other', you disgusting apes. And get the hell out of my way, or you'll pay for it." Her eyes crackled with unbridled anger, and she was sure if she was a canine, her hackles would've rose and she'd be baring her teeth, snarling.

The storm had stopped, but the temperature seemed to have dropped even lower. Ino involuntarily shivered as the tallest man, easily twice her size, presumably the leader, narrowed his eyes at her.

"Ey, you. You're a disrespectful little shit, aren't ya? I'll have to beat some sense into you, eh boys?" There was a unanimous roar of approval.

Ino dropped into a defensive stance, senses alert and screaming.

No one moved.

It was quiet and tense. Ino's eyes darted this way and that, wondering when someone would make the first mo—

there. Ino dropped low to the ground, sweeping a leg to catch him off balance at the same time, to avoid getting knocked out by a brass-knuckled hand. Rising up directly in front of one of the henchmen, Ino gave a little one-two punch, a jab here and there into the stomach as she knocked the wind out of him.

Spotting a fist from the corner of her eye, Ino ducked and retaliated with a quick thrust to the nose with her palm. Ignoring the crack and the enraged howl, Ino used the moment of disorientation and chaos to scoop the wounded dog into her arms and stagger out of the alley—the dog was heavier than he looked.

"Good god, how much do you weigh?" She groaned, tearing off to get away from there. Anywhere else would be fine. They were hot on her trail anyways. The lumbering brutes were only a bit behind her. She cursed, holding him closer. She couldn't put him down, not after all the work she put into rescuing him! No, she'd just have to outrun them.

Ino exploded, her lower body a blur as she bent forward to slice through the wind, gaining distance amazingly fast between her and her would-be muggers. Before long, she was lost in the horizon, and the men stopped pursuit, but she kept on running. Her thighs burned, her calves ached, her feet tingled not in a pleasant way, and her lungs were on fire.

Just as her body worked together to escape as the primal instincts of fight-or-flight emerged from deep within a part of her slumbering brain, her body started to work together to tire her. She was completely burnt out.

Slowly, Ino slowed to a stop, leaning heavily against a brick building. Sliding down to the ground and using the wall as a support, she stared up at the swollen clouds, obviously a warning of more storms. The sky was a deep and melancholic gray, just like her mood, which had gone from horrible to abominable.

"This is great," Ino muttered, rubbing her companion's head in an absent-minded way, "This is just great. Do you know how swell my day's gone, little doggie? Bad luck. Someone must be after me, I swear. Did I do something wrong? 'Cause it seems like karma's come back to bite me in the butt, and I don't even know what I did wrong." The dog nudged her hand comfortingly, rising up a bit to lick her cheek reassuringly.

"You need a name," Ino sighed, "I can't call you 'dog' all the time. I don't even know what kind of dog you are. Or where you're from. You're so adorable; your owners should be worried sick!" She paused. "A collar! That's it! I'm a genius!" She felt carefully around the neck area, and struck gold. Literally.

"…wow…" Ino breathed. "Is this real gold? You must have some filthy rich owners, boy." The dog wagged his tail. "I wonder who your owners are." Ino shook her head and stood shakily, bracing herself against the bricks. "Well, in any case, I'd better get you home. It says your address on the collar, old boy. I can get directions there, too, 'cause I'm lost."

She stretched, and winced when her muscles protested. Then she sneezed. "Jesus, let's get going before I get pneumonia."

"Or a fever." Ino whipped around, glaring.

"Who's there?" She demanded. "I've been harassed enough as it is, and I'll be more than happy to break your nose as you leave."

A young man emerged from the shadows, chuckling. Ino blanched and stared at him.

"Why are you making make-up?" She asked, sweatdropping.

He looked insulted. "It is not make-up! It's kabuki paint, I tell you! Paint!"

She waved a hand, bored. "Yeah, yeah, whatever you want, Make-up Boy. What did you want?" He seemed too weird to be a threat.

Make-up Boy snorted, crossing his arms in a huffy feminine fashion. "Well, excuuuse me, lady. You look like you've just been released from the loony bin yourself."

Her eye twitched once. "What did you say?"

"What, are you deaf too?"

Her eye twitched twice. An irritated gleam entered her expression. "I swear, if you—"

"Kankurou."

Make-up Boy turned around, startled. "Gaara? Shouldn't you be at home training?"

A boy with a mop of crimson hair grimaced, stuffing his pale hands into the pockets of his dark jeans. Upon a closer look, he looked like he hadn't slept in days, and above his pale mint eyes on the side of his forehead was a kanji tattoo.

"I've done enough. Baki's run me through the course three times the required amount."

Kankurou grimaced as well. Ino blinked. The grimaces were identical. Were they…?

"So, brother," That answered her question. "Who is this lady with our dog?" Ino glanced down at the dog, who leaped forward excitedly at Gaara, who welcomed his licks with a pat on the head. His eyes were fastened on Ino.

"Er…that is…um…" Kankurou looked flustered, obviously not having thought of this.

"Yamanaka Ino." She nodded at them. "A pleasure."

"Sabaku Gaara." Gaara nodded back, obviously pleased that someone didn't mind his anti-socialness.

"Sabaku Kankurou. The pleasure is all mine." Ino gave him an annoyed look.

"So, this is your dog?" She asked instead.

"His name is Astro," Gaara knelt beside Astro, pulling him into a light hug. "He's an Egyptian Pharaoh Hound. Seems to have taken to you quite well."

Ino laughed dryly. "Well, I'd be too if I was rescued by some thugs."

Kankurou glanced at her sharply. "He was attacked? Is he okay? Oh, my poor Astro!" He all but strangled the poor dog, sobbing loudly. Gaara rolled his eyes, used to his brother's antics, and backed away to get away from the waterfall of tears.

"What about me?" Ino demanded, miffed.

"What about you?"

"Aren't you going to ask if I'm okay?"

"…"

"…idiot." She muttered, crossing her arms. "Anyways, I need directions to Pikake Inn. Can you tell me where it is?"

"Certainly," Gaara rose to his feet, beckoning. "We are staying there ourselves, along with our trainer and elder sister. I'm sure she'd be…pleased to meet you, Yamanaka-san."

"I'm sure we'd get along," Ino said cheerfully, happy that she was on her way to a safe, warm, soft bed. And a hot bath.

And so the two Sabaku brothers escorted the exhausted tennis player to the inn and right up to the front desk, where the receptionist eyed Ino distastefully up and down. Ino blushed, fully aware of her state.

"Hi, Yamanaka Ino checking in." She smiled tentatively, only to be met with a sneer.

"Of course, miss, let me check the computers for your reservation." Her long fingernails tapped away at the keyboard, and her mouth twisted nastily into a sweetly saccharine smile at Ino. "I'm so sorry, but it seems you aren't listed here, Yamanaka-san."

"What!?" Ino screeched, slamming her palms on the counter. "That's impossible! I called here myself to confirm it! Let me talk to the manager! He knows who I am. Where is he?"

"Don't make me call security, dear, I really wouldn't want to, you know." The receptionist gave her another triumphant smirk before tossing her hair over her shoulder and turning away.

Ino gaped at her, ignoring the dripping sound of the water from her clothes dripping onto the lush carpet.

"Oh, I'm afraid you'll have to step outside. You're getting the carpet all wet." The lady added.

"H-how dare you! I'll have you fired, bastard! I've had a bad day, and I'm not settling for this!" Ino spat. "Excuse me!" She stormed off in the direction of the manager's office, leaving a trail of dazed guests in her wake.

"Nara Shikamaru!!" Ino shrieked, slamming the door open. "I want you to fire that woman this instant!"

Two men lifted their heads from their game of shogi to stare at the newcomer. A cigarette fell out of the gaping mouth of the older man, and the other ruffled his hand through his pineapple-hair in a frustrated manner.

"I've told you a million times, Ino, Tayuya is staying. She's a hard worker and frankly, I need all the help I can get."

"And I've told you a million times, Shikamaru, Tayuya has got to go. She's rude and frankly, I've had a shoddy day and prefer to end it nicely." She retorted, hands on her hips.

His lips quirked. "I can see that. Mind telling me what happened?"

She frowned. "I'd rather not. Just give me a key card and I'll be on my merry way. I suppose my luggage is already up there?"

Shikamaru sighed. "Troublesome, but it's not. I've been informed that they're currently on their way to Peru because of some misinformation, but the airline was gracious enough to supply you with a tennis outfit to play in, Ino."

Ino had turned a frightening shade of white. "My…luggage…is gone?"

He rubbed his throbbing temples. "Asuma-sensei, could you get me an aspirin? Thanks. And yes, it's gone, Ino. I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do about it."

"This day has gone from abominable to atrocious. What else could go wrong?" Ino wailed, collapsing bonelessly into a leather loveseat. It was quiet. Ino opened an eye and squinted it at him. "Shikamaru?"

He felt cold sweat appearing on his face. "Yes?" Pleasedon'tletherfindout.

"You have some bad news for me, don't you?" Damn that woman and her perceptive mind.

"Erm, how did you know?"

"…my all-seeing eyes, remember? I can see into your soul." She leaned forward, adapting a business-like expression. "So, what's the verdict? It's killing me here."

"I've been having a busy season, Ino."

"That's nice."

"And that means my rooms fill up quickly."

"But of course you would save a room for your dear old childhood friend, right?"

"Uh, sure. And since my rooms fill up quickly, I am forced to ask patrons to share suites. This isn't unusual at all in the Grass country, you know."

"But it is here."

"Well, a lot of my regular guests are kind enough to share, and they're fine about it."

"Good for them."

"Yes. I'm very grateful for their cooperation. As such, there are no open rooms for you."

"Well, that's very unfortunate, isn't it, Shi-ka-ma-ru-kun? The way she butchered his name sounded oh-so-very chilling, and he found it hard to ignore the shivers running up his spine. Though normally very shy and sweet, Ino had the famous Yamanaka temper. No more said.

"It is. So I talked with a group of very nice people from the Sand—good friends of mine—about this, ah, situation. They said they'd be more than happy to share their suite with you."

"Really, now? That's great." She said, deadpanned. Ino didn't even try to pretend to sound excited. Shikamaru winced, and pulled at his collar uncomfortably. Keh, fishnet shirts are more comfortable in this weather.

"Yes, it is. The Sabakus should be here in a minute."

"That's grea—wait a minute. Did you just say 'Sabakus'?"

"I, uh, did. They're very trustworthy people, Ino."

Ino glowered at him for a very long time, letting him sweat it out. It was his worst nightmare that Ino's father might get wind of the situation and come after him in his sleep, and she knew it.

Heaving a humongous sigh, Ino tentatively agreed. "Fine. It's not like I'm gonna be here forever. As long as I got my tennis racket, I'll be fine…" Ino grin wavered, eyes never leaving her friend's face as she slowly patted the ground next to her for her racket. Her blood ran cold.

"Oh my god," Ino said, horrified. "I left it on the subway. This is bad; this is very, very bad! My tennis racket! I can't play without it!" She didn't notice, in her panic, that someone had knocked and, hearing no answer, walked in. The person stopped, quirked an eyebrow, and started to grin.

"You mean this?"

Ino slowly turned around and met the gaze of the one person she wanted to see most (yet denied it the most).

"…Temari…"

Temari, still so achingly beautiful in the dim lighting of the office, smirked at her.

"Hey, Ino-chan. We're gonna be roomies!"

Thud.

"Er, Ino-chan? Ino? Good God, she just fainted."

"Nice."

Wellll, this is the end of chapter 2!!! I'm a bit tired, even though it's technically not late for me (but I really want to sleep). I just finished this chapter, so it's what you would call 'hot off the press' or something like that…please excuse any mistakes I may have.

Remember, folks, this is a Temari-Ino fic. If you wish to see another 'background' pairing, feel free to submit a request. Or a suggestion. Those are terrific as well. Reviews are food for the soul. Feed meeeee.