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Kitchens Abuzz

Preparing two adjoined rooms with a fireplace was the very last thing on Ino's mind. Instead she hurried down the castle corridors, making a left here and a right there, hoping her memory served her correctly and that she would be able to find the kitchens with relative ease. But I haven't been in the castle since... almost since my birthday! And it's winter now! Besides, she wouldn't even know where to start looking for two such rooms.

Her first dead end was met with a frustrated laugh, but she wouldn't let her spirits down. "Should have made a right back at that suit of armour," she hummed aloud to herself, promptly turning around and retracing her steps.

The second dead end was a bit more irritating, but she tried not to let herself be discouraged. Only this time when she turned to retrace her steps she couldn't find the corner she had made the wrong turn at. So she stopped for a moment, closed her eyes and listened, pretending for a moment she was like Hinata simply knew what way to go... and in the distance she heard the faint sounds of conversation.

"Left!" She cheered to herself, just about skipping along her way.

... at the third dead end, she screamed out loud and nearly tore her hair out. So much for knowing what way to go! Pacing the hallway, she kept sulking and muttering to herself. Should have asked Shino the directions before leaving. But those two look more and more crazy in love every time I see them, and they aren't even allowed to be together, and-

"Ino?" A voice called, breaking her out of her train of thoughts.

She whirled around to find who had called her name, and couldn't stop the huge grin that had blossomed on her face. "Kiba?" The brunette boy stood in the middle of an intersection of hallways, giving the blond the wary look one would give a lunatic on the street, but he was smiling as well. What is she doing down here? And then suddenly she was running at him and the young hunter braced himself for impact. "Kiba!"

"Yes, that's me," he laughed as he caught her. He twirled the blond in the air, mentally rejoicing when he heard his friend laugh as well. After a few moments he set her back down, but he didn't let her go. It has been a long time, Ino. His arms tightened around her waist when she tried to wiggle away, and he leaned down to breathe in the scent of her hair. "We've all been worried about you..."

"Why were you worried?" She giggled, pushing against his chest to put distance between them - this time he let her. "Not much harm can happen to someone locked up in a tower. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's where all the Princesses in all the stories were put to stay 'safe'."

"So you were getting the royal treatment?" Kiba nodded at her logic, then shook his head at her antics. She was practically buzzing, bouncing up on the balls of her feet. "Unfortunately," he said slowly, watching as she instantly deflated, the shadow of a pout on her lips. "I have to go down to the kitchens." He pointed at his forgotten pack of meat, laying beside them on the ground.

"Perfect!" Her smile was back, all but bedazzling him. "That's exactly where I was going!"

She was lost? He thought, trying desperately not to chuckle. "So that's what you were screaming about?"

"Be quiet," she huffed and crossed her arms, causing his laughter to escape him. "What? It's been awhile since I first went up into the tower!"

Kiba sobered up at her words, a frown marring his brow. You have no idea how long it felt to the rest of us. "Yeah, I guess," he said instead, scratching the batch of his neck sheepishly. "You must've collected a bunch of dust between your ears."

"Kiba!" Ino shouted as she smacked his arm, but she was smiling.

"Hey! Be nice!" He shouted back at her. "If you keep that up I won't show you how to get down to the kitchens!"

Her change in attitude was like light and day. Suddenly she was all sweetness and smiles, clasping her hands together behind her back as she looked up at him. "You wouldn't do that... would you?"

"Of course not," Kiba sighed, any ill will dissolving at her expression. "But hurry up... my Father wants me back in time to help make dinner."

The kitchens were buzzing with chatter, causing the workers to move slowly from one task to another. It didn't matter how many times Chouji turned to glare at them or how many reprimands he barked out, all anyone wanted to do to was talk about the story of the Princess. I regret saying anything now! But there was no use crying over spilt milk, and Chouji wouldn't let his lazy cooks get the better of him. He simply increased their workload, tenfold.

"No complaining!" Chouji grinned at their whines, chuckling to themselves. They should know better. "And if you don't quiet down, I'll send the dishwashers out early and you'll have to clean everything yourselves!"

The talking slowed to a stop, the air filling with the sounds of chopping knives and boiling pots. Chouji let out a happy sigh, turning back to the batter he was mixing on the main table... then he did a double take, and nearly pinched himself to make sure that he wasn't dreaming.

Ino was sitting at the table, smiling at him.

"Ino!" He roared out with a laugh, moving to her side to give her a hug. "What are you doing down here?"

"I'm not sure, really," she laughed with him and returned the embrace. "But I'm back."