Title: Eyes Open
Type: One-shot / short fic
Word count: 1,638
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
Once when Ino still had her teenage fascination with horoscopes and beauty magazines, her teammates had taken her to a fortune teller for her birthday.
Shikamaru and Chouji had led her a little ways outside Konoha to a temporary settling made by a group of strange nomadic people who appeared once every few seasons. The fortune teller's tent had so many garishly coloured scarves and beads strung about it that Ino had seen rainbows on the back of her eyelids for days after. Choking on the incense thick in the air, Ino explained that she wanted a full account of her romantic future, and since it was her birthday, it had better be a good one.
The woman smiled at her, her eyes almost becoming lost in the wrinkles of her face, and had rambled off a bunch of generic star sign and astrology nonsense. Her leathery fingers traced the lines on Ino's palm; she put up with it reluctantly, since it was in the name of love and all, but remembered making a mental note to scrub her hands clean until they shone when she got back home. Then she'd picked some cards at random and the fortune teller declared that she'd received enough cosmic vibes to part the mists of destiny.
"You'll be successful in love," the old bag had announced in a raspy, accented voice, "As long as you open your eyes."
Well it was quite a few years later and her eyes were open wide enough to see that Sakura had once again forgotten that that dress clashed with both her eyes and hair, but Ino wasn't hanging off the arm of a cute ANBU captain yet.
She'd thought that maybe she'd have some luck in meeting her prince charming tonight, but the simple fact was that she already knew too many of the guys who'd shown up to this party thrown by Tsunade. (The technical reason for the evening was said to be for celebrating Kurenai's baby, but Ino suspected the Hokage had just been looking for any excuse to get drunk.) After giving her congratulations to Kurenai and her new baby, there was nothing much for Ino to do but try not to look too sulky by the buffet table as she watched all the happy Konoha couples ooze affection at each other.
Hinata's face was charting new territories of red as she lived her dream of dancing with Naruto. She didn't even seem to notice that he kept stepping on her feet. Neither did Neji, who'd given up watching his cousin protectively in favour of responding in charming monosyllabic responses to the gorgeous Tenten. Even Sakura had snagged an admirer, if only because Lee was colourblind.
It made Ino feel slightly better seeing that Shizune was dateless, but then she realized that was only because keeping Tsunade from following Jiraiya's suggestion of dancing on the tables was a full-time occupation. Ino knew she looked stunning in her dress the same colour as her eyes, but even she was jealous of the red number worn by Tsunade that was undeniably flattering on certain aspects of her body. At her age though, Ino thought bitterly as more intrigued jounin wandered over to watch the drunken Hokage, Tsunade really should know better.
Even Kakashi had shown up for a few minutes, clapped Kurenai on the back, mumbled something about being bad with kids, and then disappeared back down the road of life. 'Uncle Genma' and 'don't-you-dare-call-me-Auntie Anko' were currently pulling faces the infant was going to be having nightmares of well into adulthood.
A few times, Ino thought she'd glimpsed new, at-least-fairly-attractive faces in the crowd, but the moment she took a single step towards them, some girl would inevitably appear by their side, giggling at what Ino knew was probably a dumb joke anyway.
With all of the other ninja equally taken or just clearly not her type, Ino resigned herself to keeping Chouji company near the buffet table. She made small-talk with anyone who passed by, but most of the time she just concentrated on not looking like the biggest and lamest wallflower ever. It seemed like she was the only person who wasn't having a good time.
In the corner of her eye, Ino could even see Shikamaru attempting to make awkward conversation with that Sand bitch he was so clearly smitten with. Plucking the olive out of her martini and popping it into her mouth, she wrinkled her nose in distaste and remarked to Chouji, "I don't know what those two think they're doing. She's like, what, three years older than him? Is being a cougar socially acceptable in Sand?"
Chouji, being the brilliant conversationalist that he was, shrugged his shoulders and looked vaguely nervous about taking sides between his two best friends.
Nibbling on a cracker topped with salmon pâté, Ino considered how the universe could be so unfair as to gift the Sand barbarian-girl with an admirer while she was stuck with finger-food. (Even if the admirer was Shikamaru, and the pâté was quite good.) Really, the girl was the biggest tomboy out there, her hands were probably all calloused and unmoisturized, and her face was kind of square anyway. How could she be getting attention when Ino was not? There must be something, but Ino simply could not fathom it.
She pursed her lips in thought before remembering that that was a sure-fire way to premature wrinkles. Settling on the second option available, she turned and asked, "Chouji you're a guy, so tell me, why can't I get a proper boyfriend? What's wrong with me?"
He shook his head, smiling softly as he finished the rest of his canapé before replying, "There's nothing wrong with you, Ino."
"I've always known I'm really pretty, so it can't be that." Pausing on this thought for a moment, Yamanaka Ino experienced self-doubt for one of the few times in her life. Dropping her voice to a near whisper, she asked, "Am I pretty?"
He blushed slightly and looked away. "You're very pretty."
"Apparently not enough!" Sighing with impatience, she snatched another cocktail off the tray of a passing waiter. "All those years ago that crazy old gypsy lady told me I'd have a great love life as long as I looked for it, but how can that be true if I'm nineteen it still hasn't happened?" She paused before adding hastily, "Not that I believe in that stuff anyway, what a bunch of nonsense!"
"Maybe it was," smiled Chouji, always so soft-spoken and gentle despite his size, "Shikamaru told me it was a stupid idea for a birthday present, but I'm glad you still think of it, at least."
Ino was surprised for all of five seconds to learn that the present had been Chouji's idea, before she remembered that the other person they were talking about was Shikamaru. The kid had so many ideas they could export them, but any form of gift required far too much effort to ever come from the Nara boy.
Idly, Ino wondered if Chouji liked anyone. No, she decided after a few minutes of careful observation. He'd stayed beside her pretty much the entire evening, chatting about their upcoming missions, explaining how to make the finger-foods she liked, and putting up with her whining. If he did have an interest in someone, he'd be off like all the other boys at this party trying pathetically to chat them up, rather than keeping his romantic failure of a teammate company. Silly boy, she sighed to herself as Chouji smiled at her in his usual kind yet shy manner and offered her a plate of hors d'oeuvres, romance was hopeless if he didn't make an effort! Besides, if Ino was searching high and low for the man of her life with no results, Chouji really had no chance if he wasn't even looking.
Deciding that she really must have a chat with her childhood friend over his nonexistent efforts at obtaining a love-life, Ino's eyes fell upon a noisy table of guests that was popping open another bottle of champagne. Studying them for a moment, it didn't take Ino long to realize that one of the lovely ladies was fanning a forest-fire sized crush on one of the oblivious jounin. Men were so clueless, Ino sighed inwardly, making herself feel slightly better with the thought that her dating troubles were entirely the fault of the opposite gender. They were so blind they could never see what they had right beside them all along. Yes, she concluded as Chouji handed her some form of cucumber and cheese combination that he assured her was delicious, that was why she couldn't get a boyfriend. Stupid men.
Draining the rest of her daiquiri, Ino figured it was high time she left this flop of a party and put her night to a better use. She still had this month's issue of Kunoichi Kosmo to get through, after all.
Declaring that she was far too tired for any more celebration, Ino was impressed when Chouji wasted no time in politely offering to walk her home, even though they both knew full-well that she could take care of herself.
Now here's one guy who has some proper manners, Ino thought as Chouji helped her slip into her coat. Whoever ends up with him is a lucky girl indeed. If there were more decent men like him in this world, she figured she wouldn't be having such problems finding romance. That would never happen though, she thought sadly, and she was just going to have to follow the old woman's advice and keep her eyes open until the right man appeared in front of her.
Taking Chouji's politely proffered arm, Ino lamented the lack of good men all the way back home.