A fine thread seemed to be the only thing keeping Ino from slipping into the wonderful, refreshing, amazing, lovely, awesome, desirable, fabulous world of sleep. And that fine thread, as the blonde stood at the gates with her head slowly slipping downwards, was threatening to snap.
Earlier that night – or should she say last night since it's technically morning, now? – she had returned from a particularly long and exhausting mission. For the past month she'd been undercover in an overturned government, waiting for just the right moment to assassinate the rebel leaders.
For four weary weeks, she had been in an extremely delicate and dangerous position, pretending to be a mercenary interested in the rebel cause while secretly plotting to murder the notorious, but elusive, men in charge. Ino had needed more time, she was still uneasy with the plan even though she'd made herself familiar with the hideout's layout and schedule, but the mission contract demanded the rebel leaders' deaths by the end of the month.
So, when the deadline neared she nervously went ahead with her plan. It had worked out fine in the beginning, the first seven men died silently that night, but she had no information of the eighth one having a mistress. When Ino crept to his room, his lady friend was leaving. The blonde was spotted before she had a chance to hide, and had to act quickly.
She successfully assassinated all eight men, but the woman had gotten away (mainly because Ino didn't have the time or the heart to kill her) and alerted the guards. Ino had little time to slip away and was forced to keep a hard pace all the way home. To make matters even worse, Ino stumbled into the middle of a fight halfway home and had to intervene to save some genin she recognized from Konoha. By the time Ino had arrived, two of the fledglings had been knocked out, the sensei was critically injured, and the only one remaining was at his breaking point, barely keeping the attackers off. It was clear the genin team had bitten off more than they could chew.
Ino was hesitant to join the battle at first, being by herself and already weary from her tussle with the eighth leader and her fast pace, but couldn't just leave the team to die. It was one of those missions where the level had been falsely reduced due to insufficient funds, submitted as a C-rank mission when it was really S-class.
The battle dragged on and on, to the point where Ino feared that her pursuers would catch up, making her pervious hard pace pointless. Her fears weren't too off base: one of the teams (Ino had checked, there were currently five teams chasing her) reached the battle scene just as it was ending. Luckily, about the only lucky thing that had happened to her out of the whole damn mission, the sensei had recovered somewhat and the three of them – Ino, the sensei, and the only conscious genin – managed to defeat the attackers and Ino's pursuers.
The problems didn't end with the battle, though. There were the other four teams following her, and the genin team could barely stand. Hard pressed for time and low on chakra, Ino did what she could to heal the sensei and genins. She wasn't able to wake the two unconscious genin, so she and the sensei had to carry them. The sensei had suggested that they make camp and leave in the morning when they were somewhat refreshed, but changed his mind once Ino, maybe a tad bit forcefully, explained the situation she was in. The teams chased them all the way to the fire country's borders, not daring enough to enter such a strong territory where Ino would be able to secure back up.
So, she arrived in the Hokage's office exhausted, chakra-depleted, beaten up, and carrying a child, ready to be done with the mission and sent to bed. But, the Hokage had a different idea in mind. Lady Tsunade sent the genin team to the hospital and sent Ino to the gates for – oh joy! – guard duty.
That was why Ino leaned against the gates, nearly asleep on her feet. Her head slipped further down, giving her the sensation of falling and jolting her awake. She reached for her weapons pouch and glanced around wildly before realizing that there was no threat.
"This is no good," Ino mumbled, rubbing her eyes. The leaf village had already been destroyed once because of intruders, so it wouldn't do to fall asleep while guarding the gates. Also, it'd look pretty bad on her Shinobi transcript. Ino had experienced extreme exhaustion during missions before, so she knew that the most effective way to stay awake was to find something to focus on.
She began to invent games. How many flowers could she spot and classify in two minutes? What were the names of all the genin sensei this year? And last year? What are the concepts of the Yamanaka clan's jutsu? What was that noise? Who was the-
Wait, what was that noise? Ino peered down the path and saw two dark blobs heading in her direction. She gripped a kunai in her hand, even though the blobs didn't seem to be hostile. If they were going to attack, they wouldn't have revealed themselves so early.
As the blobs neared, she identified them as Kiba and Akamaru. They must have had a rough time on their mission as well, both of them in rough condition. Akamaru was limping and Kiba looked dead on his feet, like he would lose consciousness any minute.
When they approached the gate, Ino held up her hand to stop them. "What's your mother's name?"
"Inuzuka Tsume," Kiba answered, clutching his arm to his side and leaning heavily on Akamaru.
"What was the last thing I said to you before I left on my mission?" Ino asked.
"See you later, Dog-boy," Kiba answered easily. Ino relaxed, sure that this was the real Kiba and not some imposter. 'Dog-boy' looked concerned. "What's with the questions? Is Konoha on high security?"
"No," Ino said. She felt a little foolish, but defended herself anyway. "I just don't want enemies to infiltrate on my watch."
"Oh," Kiba said. He gave her a once over, "When did you return from your mission? You look terrible."
"Thanks a lot, Dog-boy," Ino said, rolling her eyes. Before he could protest, she continued, "About four hours ago. You look pretty bad yourself, what happened to you two?"
"Akamaru and I were ambushed just outside the borders – hey, should you be doing that?" While he was talking, Ino had begun to heal his injured arm.
"Why shouldn't I? If I don't heal you, you might not even make it to the hospital wing, let alone the Hokage's office," Ino said, continuing to heal his arm.
"Well, you look like you're going to fall over. You can't have much chakra left. Why would Tsunade-sama have you guard right after returning?" Kiba asked.
"We're low on Shinobi at the minute, what with Naruto and them gone to…," Ino suddenly realized something. "Wait! Did you say you were ambushed on the outside of the border?"
"Yeah, why?" Kiba looked at her closely. "Don't tell me it's because of you!"
With Kiba giving her such a vicious look, Ino was reluctant to tell him that it was because of her. But, she didn't want add lie to him after apparently causing him so much trouble and told him about her mission's horrible mess of an ending.
"Just leaving all those rebels at the border is sloppy, Ino," Kiba said, his face contorted with anger. "Akamaru and I barely made it through with our lives intact."
"I didn't have a choice! I was being pursued by five teams and there was a nearly dead genin team that I had to get home. I wasn't really in the position to deal with that!" Ino said, her own anger rising. Was she supposed to be able to do everything!?
"You should have dealt with your followers immediately!" Kiba said. Akamaru whined at the tense atmosphere.
"I'm sorry you and Akamaru were injured, but am I supposed to be some sort of super being!? I only did what I could given the circumstances!" Ino said, clenching both her fists now that she was finished with her quick healing job. "You're healed enough to get to the Hokage's office, so go!"
Once Kiba and Akamaru were out of sight, Ino sighed and fell back against the gate. She was so tired and her head ached horribly. She just wished the night would end. Ino began to drill herself again. What was the first Hokage's wife's name? Who visits the flower shop most often? How could she have done the mission differently to anticipate flaws like the mistress?
Forty minutes into her game, Ino heard footsteps from inside the village. She turned around to see Kiba returning. He was all bandaged up and looked just as exhausted as before.
"Ino, go to bed," Kiba said. Ino was surprised.
"Tsunade-sama is letting me replace you. I'm injured, but you're injured and tired. Go get some rest," Kiba said.
Ino wanted to protest, but she was so exhausted that she was mostly thankful and just accepted his offer. She tackle hugged him, resting her cheek on his chest. "Thank you, Kiba-san."
His uninjured arm wrapped around her to return the hug and Ino didn't want to pull away. But, her eyes were drifting shut and if she didn't go she'd fall asleep right then and there. Not to mention the hug was only meant to be brief and was beginning to grow awkward as it grew long.
"Good night," Kiba said.
"Good night," Ino replied. As she walked away, she decided to sleep for three hours and then return so Kiba could get some rest, too.