Summary:The method he chose to fulfill his mission was to acquaint himself with a certain artistic female.
Crap. Just crap.
Ino was late. She ran through the ill-lit streets of Konoha non-stop, almost tripping because of her own carelessness. It was a starless night, but the moon was high up, shining at its brightest. It illuminated part of the sleeping village, making shadows dominate certain areas. It was a nice and cool night, which was fairly rare at that time of the year. Each house she passed had no lights on, had curtains down, and the front door tightly shut. The village was so quiet it was scary. It felt like a ghost town.
And Ino was frustrated. She wasn't supposed to be out here, running and worrying about the time.
She was supposed to be in bed, sleeping soundly like the rest. Her backpack packed with necessary items for her real mission tomorrow. She should be feeling a soft and cool breeze caressing her face, fluttering her hair even, as her head rested on a soft pillow.
But she was pulled into this.
(They should've left her out of it.)
It was the sort of assignment that made her pack a flashlight, a decent amount of kunai and shuriken in her holster, and a bit of medical supplies. And later she would be given a wireless radio for her to talk into.
Her shift was from 02:15 AM up to 05:33 AM, making her have approximately three hours of sleep before the escort mission she had with Shikamaru. She wouldn't be in this if Tsunade-sama hadn't sent all the other shinobi on high-ranking missions with such little pay. She was randomly called to the Hokage's office yesterday, not saying why, together with Tenten… or was it Hinata? Kiba?
It didn't matter. But she knew that at least one of them were there.
Around ten, or less, over-qualified chuunin filled the office and she felt small. Tsunade-sama had explained the details of the night watch after the last chuunin arrived. Word was, Amegakure was planning a raid in certain villages and Tsunade-sama wanted to make sure Konoha wasn't on their list.
After the meeting, Ino had stayed.
"Godaime-sama, have you forgotten that I have an escort mission?"
"No, I haven't."
"I didn't have any choice. The lack of shinobi due to missions this week is unfortunate. Plus, you are one of few ninjas available for tomorrow night."
"Can I at least have a decent shift then?"
"That's not up to me. Ask Genma about that. He's your head."
And just sadly, it didn't work out. She came in just a tad bit too late to plea for a comfortable time.
"Available my ass."
She furrowed her brows at her own comment and turned a corner. She was greeted by a handful of people that have just finished their shift. She ran past shinobi that were yawning, half-asleep, stretching, and complaining that there was really nothing to worry about. She could see the big gates from there and sighed. Ino saw the people there disappear one by one as they headed on to take patrol. It didn't take long for her to arrive by the guard-stand, panting, her hands on her knees, and not forgetting to take a short glance at the clock hanging inside.
Two minutes late. No big deal, right?
Ino turned to look at the owner of the booming, grumpy voice. She stood there, staring at the most pissed-off face she had seen for the past couple of days. The woman's forehead was creased with lines due to the explicit frown plastered on her face; it made her look twenty more years older than how old she actually was. She wasn't thin, and she wasn't fat either. Her expression annoyed her––a look of superiority blended in with a pint of disgust and impatience, she looked ugly––but she didn't care that much. The woman tossed her the radio, not caring if the wires were tangled.
"Thank you, ma'am…"
Tone polite, sarcasm obvious, choice of words dubious.
She was half-right. Kiba was the other one who got called up into this. He walked along side her, conversing about several things that came to mind.
"So, you have a mission tomorrow?"
"Yeah. And it's at eight in the morning."
He chuckled a little. "You've got a rough schedule there, Ino."
She sighed contemplatively. "By the way, where's Akamaru?"
"Left him at the gate. Head chuunin said he'll be more of use there."
Then there was an ear-piercing screech followed by static coming from both their radios. Then it was backed up by a loud scratching noise––it seemed to echo out like a waterfall crashing against the rocks down below––then by a message broken down by bad reception.
… th–s is Gen… ch–l… trees… –moose and cart full… I re–eat… caref–…
Then the connection ended. Or was disconnected.
"Did he just say… moose?" Kiba asked, looking at the radio incredulously.
"That's what I heard," she had her eyebrows slanted downward, "and they expect us to remain undetected by enemy-shinobi with these obnoxious things." She exasperatedly whispered.
A look of amusement crossed Kiba's face then it was gone.
He thought her jaded expression made her look cute.
Ino now treaded the northern outskirts of the village. Kiba had left her a few minutes back, his scouting was routed to the west of the village. She shivered every now and then whenever the wind became too cold for comfort. She skirted around trees that blocked her way. Several tall, wild flowers brushed against her calf, making it feel itchy. A sudden chill lashed her arms and she trembled at the contact. Ino settled herself down and brought out her cloak. It was khaki in color, but the darkness of the night made it look brown, and it had a hood. She put it on and proceeded.
At quarter past three, her eyes began to feel heavy. Her vision had become hazy due to the sleep-waters her yawning had ensued. She walked unfocusedly. Her bones began to shut down and her muscles ached for something soft to lie on. She needed rest, sleep. Her legs felt wobbly and unsteady that it made her sway as she walked. Guess the stimulant-pills didn't work, she thought unconsciously.
She yawned for the umpteenth time.
God, I'm sleepy.
She tripped over a rock––she wasn't sure if it was a root of a tree or a rock––but not hard enough to make her fall and she cursed herself for not being attentive. She squinted all around her, trying to find something big enough for her to sit on.
She found a grey rock, with green moss creeping up underneath, positioned blamelessly beside a tree. (Typical for a forest to place something expected there.) She heaved a sigh of tiredness and sat comfortably. She had her back pressed against the trunk of the tree and her head leaned back. She heard her neck crack a little, and strangely enough she appreciated the clear, usually sickening to her, sound. Ever so slowly, everything she saw faded to a renewing black, and drowsiness took her captive.
Just… for… a whi–
A gust of wind, that might as well be a mini-tornado, nearly knocked her off of her sitting position. Her eyes widened, but were still marked of sleep deprivation, then squinted toward the direction of the wind, her hand shielding her face. Then it stopped.
Everything was as they were. Nothing happened.
She wanted to (well, needed to) check what that was all about––it was protocol, every suspicious jerk in the bushes, rustle of leaves, sudden outbursts of wind, she had to check it out––because what just happened wasn't very likely to occur, but her body refused to move. It was weary and asleep all the same. It pleaded for her to just stay there and rest for at least a few minutes.
She did so and fell into a light sleep.
Meanwhile, a handful of miles from her, Deidara stepped off his clay bird.
… so familiar…
Her hand twitched.
Fire. Not far… from…
Her eyes shot up.
Ino turned her head toward the smell of combusted wood. She fumbled her pack for the radio, forgetting that it was strapped on her hip. She got out the flashlight instead and twisted its head so that the light came out dimly, but bright enough for her to see where she was going. She took hold of two kunai in her right hand just in case. She followed her nose.
At first, she thought of going back to the guard-stand and informing whoever was in there. But then again, Akamaru was there, and Kiba was not that far from where she was, or so she thought.
And it could just be other chuunin warming themselves.
She wasn't of the Inuzuka Clan so it was pretty hard to lead herself to where she wanted to go. She was running again, the scent fading whenever she took a wrong turn, then becoming more pronounced as she neared the source of ignition. Her foot thudded against the hard––though splotchy with mud––ground, disrupting some of the sleeping animals under several bushes. She would stop often and check if she was on the right track.
She saw a faint glow of bold-yellow and bright-orange a couple more miles away, ten minutes, or more, later.
She perched up on a tree and continued from there, jumping from one tree to the other.
Dark purple clouds overlapped the round white disc hovering up above.
Stealthily, Ino disappeared from one branch to the other as she approached the vibrant glow, her flashlight now turned off. Her heart pounded in her chest, her hand gripped hardly on the pair of kunai. But she wasn't afraid, just excited. She could feel the adrenaline coursing through her body like bullets. She leapt from the trees faster and soon enough a bonfire greeted her eyes. It illuminated her face a little, but was still shadowed by the thick leaves of the trees. Colors bounced off her face and it painted her cerulean eyes.
She squatted and she scrutinized the area. There were no other sounds except the crackling of wood under intense heat, the endless hooting of nearby owls, and the crickets' eerie rhythm. It was a pretty small camp––there was neither a tent nor was there a sleeping bag––and the place emitted an earthy scent that mixed with the wafting smell of fire.
There was someone there.
From the looks of it (his body build), it was a man.
He sat against an old, sagging tree. He had his left leg propped up, his left arm resting on it, and his right leg stretched toward the fire. He wore a dark blue shirt, that was partly mesh, and pants. He had long dark blond hair, a part of it tied up and the rest flowed down his back. His face was hidden from view. His shadow danced like some sort of performance he was supposed to watch and probably enjoy. No matter how hard Ino tried, she couldn't sense his chakra.
She felt the rush of blood and the surge of adrenaline again. Her hands felt dead cold and it gripped the kunai in her hand even harder. She hardly felt herself breathing.
He moved. A very swift movement she barely recognized it. He threw something… several somethings…
… at her.
She was able to dodge it, no sweat, but she was too surprised to move carefully that she fell off the branch into the opening, where he could see her clearly.
Ino's cloak hung from a partly chipped off bark of the tree, unable to protect her fallen form from numerous shards on the ground. Her hands and right elbow dug into several sharp pebbles and some of it sent her palm, and the base of her elbow, into a bleeding mess. The limb of said elbow hurt from the severe impact of the fall and the side of her hip hurt as well. She had bit her tongue and could taste blood in her mouth. Her body was partly paralyzed from the pain that travelled up her arm and then spreading down her side. Both the kunai she used to hold were impaled on the ground, but not before it nicked her by the forearm. Ino heard a smug heh across from her and she looked at him through pain-slit eyes.
"Thought I wouldn't notice you, un?" He said, amusement lacing his words.
She sat up, trying to ignore the numbing pain on her hip. She sucked the blood her tongue produced and she clutched her elbow that might as well be broken. Ino stared at his face, her eyebrows slanted downward, her expression angry with a mixture of pain. The fire illuminated him more distinctly this time: She saw a bleeding cut on his right cheek, his skin and ruined clothes dirtied by earth, and his arm full of scratches. She also noticed that he wasn't wearing a hitai-ate. His expression was unreadable and mute.
"Who are you?" she said bitterly and sternly, her tongue stung like acid had been poured over it. "You're within the boundary of Konoha. So unless you have some form of identification, I need you to come with me."
"I don't think you're in any condition to do that." He brought out his right hand that was previously concealed from her view; a kunai dangled from each finger. She saw a deep cut that ran a few inches above his elbow to a few inches below it. It was dry with blood.
The man, named Deidara (but she doesn't know that), knew that he was in no shape to fight. Not even this girl. He was too worn out from the ANBU ambush back in what-was-its-name village. And if he was going to accomplish his mission in Konoha, he needed to blend in, make friends. And he knew he wasn't befriending her in any way. The Leader's stern voice rung in his mind:
"You're there in undercover. Don't make a scene, Deidara."
She looked at him, taken aback by the unfamiliar word. "Excuse me?"
"You asked for my name, right? It's Deidara." Now he prayed that she didn't recognize the name from any of the pages in the Bingo Book––last time he checked, which was about a week ago, he had no picture printed in the book, so he only had to worry about his name. The kunai that have been dangling from his fingers clanked together as he dropped them on the ground. He reached inside his pocket. "Here." He tossed it and it landed a centimeter away from her. Ino looked at it with a questioning look.
It was a card.
A travel permit.
Ino's mind became troubled. She remembered the war between Konoha and Iwa and she immediately thought of him as a spy, and maybe Amegakure wasn't the one planning a raid.
Then again if he was a spy, he wouldn't have showed this to her.
And he would've most likely killed her by now. (Though he looked worn out from a previous fight, looks could be deceiving.)
"You're from Iwa?"
"Of the sort."
The bush to the left of Deidara moved…
… and hooted?
A giant white owl, something close to an owl, stood amidst the bushes. Its ears were shaped into a triangle and were long like streamers. It didn't have any feathers, or any lifelike distinction of an owl. Its small round eyes were pale and it bored through her, its head twitching to one side, and then to the other. It looked more like a sculpture brought to life. Deidara saw her agape, and his lips turned into an awry smile. Finally, she averted her eyes from the owl to look at him. His attention was directed to the dark bluish-purple sky. She took note of his wounds.
"Do they hurt?" she asked, her voice meek and uncertain.
Deidara understood what she meant.
"Some do, some don't." He closed his eyes and rubbed his jaw with the back of his hand. His face was suddenly distorted by a look of discomfort then it faded. "Say, do you have medical supplies in that bag? This gash is killing me." He gestured to his left side where his shirt had been slit open and blood soaked the remainder of his shirt.
"Well, I'm a medic… sort of. I can take a look at that for you…"
"Oh, great then." His face was alight with gratitude, but was never minded. She thought it was the light of the fire, oddly illuminating his face.
Ino stood up, her knees felt rusty for being bent too long, and sat down beside him. She gestured him to sit straight and he did. The wound was deep and the gap was wide and long. It was still fresh and the blood still seeped through in little amounts. She wondered how much blood he'd lost––and still live.
"I can heal it for you, but it needs to be stitched."
"Don't worry, I won't cry. Go right ahead." His eyes pierced through hers.
"What? No! You need to see a professional. I'm still training in the me––"
"Doesn't matter. A medic's a medic."
Deidara turned his head away, his hair shielded half of his face.
"Won't you prefer someone who knows what he's doing rather than someone who doesn't? There will be someone who'd attend to you in our hospital." She explained. This guy's mind wasn't in tune with hers. She wasn't sure if she had brought any sutures.
"No. You'll do fine."
Hospitals were dangerous, he thought, for criminals anyway; and he wasn't just any regular criminal…
He was in Akatsuki.
Deidara felt a lot better after she healed that gash. Her stitching stung, but it was done so carefully that afterwards there wasn't any pain. He asked her if she could take care of the other minor wounds and she agreed. She was now fixing up the torn flesh on his right arm.
"You know, you never told me your name."
"Oh. It's Yamana–um…" She bit her lip before she could say anymore, but he probably knew what her last name was now, what, with the Shintenshin no Jutsu known throughout several villages.
"Yamanaka…?" He said inquisitively, teasing.
She let out her breath, "it's Ino."
A dangerous smirk.
"You shouldn't be giving out your last name just like that," he replied, "be more careful next time."
Silence engulfed the both of them. The forest was still, the wind had died. The moon tried to peek through the thick and thin clouds that partly covered it. Both of them heard each other breathing. Deidara's head was tilted back, resting against the tree. He had his eyes closed and Ino supposed that he was just as sleepy as she was a while ago. The scar on his exposed cheek was coagulated with a maroon lining. She couldn't summon up the will to ask him about the cuts and bruises he had, simply because he might've lost a battle and felt bad about it. He broke the silence.
"Yeah?" She didn't bother to look up at him but was forced to after he spoke again.
"Your chakra's warm."
She didn't reply and just stared at him semi-semi-stunned. "Aren't all chakras warm?"
"Well, kinda, but yours is different, un. It's…" he searched for the right word, "… nice."
She raised an eyebrow and went back to attending to his arm.
"Sorry for making you fall back there." He sounded insincere. His tone was flat and the words he uttered seemed like it was carelessly thrown together, and by accident it sounded sensible.
His apology fell on deaf ears.
Ino never replied.
She came back to the big gates a minute before her shift ended. Akamaru was by the guard-stand, as Kiba had said, and she patted him on the head. The blond didn't come back with her, even though she had insisted on taking him back to book him in a hotel, so at least he could have a decent resting place. But he said that he'd be fine and he'll check in somewhere first thing tomorrow morning.
"I'm too tired."
She wanted to retort back, it was an impulse, but the words had fallen dead on her lips. She bade him goodbye and left.
She got her radio (which she couldn't find before) and placed it on the table where Genma sat, filing in reports. She took hold of a pen and got a piece of paper from a square-shaped bin. She began writing about what happened during her patrol. She stopped as soon as she was about to write Deidara's name.
"Do me a little favor and don't say anything about me in your report. A squad will surely come here and take me to your village and question me, interrogate me… and all that shit tonight, un. I'll introduce myself tomorrow."
She submitted it and went home.
Her yawning came back.
Deidara, bored and hungry, threw another stick into the fire. His left hand chewed clay and formed it into a bird. Crushed it then formed it into a spider. A butterfly. A swan. Never detonating them. He shouldn't. His mind was juggling every possible way he could accomplish his mission, escape unharmed, and not get tracked down.
He squished the clay in his hand.
His thoughts rested on her. The blonde who had no idea who she had just met. The blonde who'd just healed an S-class criminal within the Akatsuki…
"She's an option."
An arrogant smirk crossed his lips.
Dawn came up just by the horizon and it tinted the sky with a pinkish-beige.