Learning Through Repetition

Title: Learning Through Repetition

Summary: No matter how many times she heard it, it never made her feel any better.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

Pairings: Ino/Neji

Warnings: This is a hurt-comfort fic. So naturally we have some angst and some fluff. Possibly some OOC but if you know me by now, you know I try and keep that to a minimum.

Winter-Rae: I needed to write a one shot. I love writing my multi-chaptered fics very much but right now I needed to write something simple. This takes place a few days after Asuma's death. Please enjoy.

Italics - flashbacks

Learning Through Repetition

'The life of a shinobi revolves around death.'

No matter how many times she heard a statement like that it never made things any better.

She was well aware of what she was getting into when she decided to become a ninja like her father. She didn't choose the path simply to be like her father before her, she had something to prove. Being the only child, and a daughter at that, she knew being a great kunochi would make her father very proud of her.

She also knew that being a kunochi meant the possibility of losing someone close to you, possibly even someone you loved dearly. But when she saw how well her father's team operated, and that all of them were still alive, she was comforted. It grew in her mind that the 'Ino-Shika-Cho' group was well on its way to becoming unbeatable.

However, it was only just recently that she realized that Asuma was not a part of that three-man combination.

'There is no place in a shinobi's heart for emotions.'

One of the most common 'rules' they were taught at the academy. In her opinion it was also one of the stupidest ones.

How could they seriously expect twelve and thirteen year old children to block out emotions? At a time when not only hormones are raging but a young person is just starting to figure out their place in this world. She never understood such a request and being the headstrong person she was, she had chosen to ignore it.

Maybe that was a stupid thing to do?

However, maybe if she had blocked the emotions and raging tears; she might have been able to focus on the task that was at hand a few days earlier. Perhaps if she didn't focus on boys so much, or dieting as often as she did, she might have had a little extra clear headedness to get the job done well and right.

All of these maybes, perhaps and what ifs weighed on her heart in a horrible way.

'There needs to be a level of separation between you and your comrades.'

This guideline, if one could call it that, had to be the worst of them all.

To her it meant that if one of your comrades was lying in the mud dying, and going back to help them meant you died too, you left them and lived to fight another day to avenge them. That was unacceptable. In her mind, anyone who would so willingly abandon a comrade was scum. Being part of a team was something to be treasured; even if ones team was composed of a complaining slacker, a too nice glutton and a chain smoker.

She had taken some time to seriously consider the possibility. If Shikamaru or Chouji had fallen behind and she was ordered to leave them could she do it? Her mind, body and soul all screamed a resounding 'never.' Those boys were her brothers and she loved them more than anything. Sure Shikamaru was hard to get motivated and sure Chouji was too nice for his own good but in their own way they were perfect.

She loved Asuma-sensei as well, but all the love in the world wasn't enough to save him in the end.

"It wasn't your fault Ino."

Oh how sick she was of hearing that line over and over again.

She was the only medic-nin on scene that day. She was the one who had the capabilities to heal Asuma-sensei. She had been trained and was apprentice too the most gifted medic-nin to ever live. All of these factors had led her to believe that it was indeed her fault that Asuma had died that day. She couldn't help but think that if Tsunade-sama or Sakura had been there, he probably would still be alive.

Even now she was looking for something, anything that could provide her with some sort of closure in the matter. Even if it ultimately proved that it was truly her incompetence as a medic-nin that led to her sensei's death, she had to know. In her mind it was better to know than to go through life always wondering, what if.

Flipping through all of the medical books in Tsunade-sama's study that she could get her hands on, nothing was helping her. Everything she read only pointed to that she had indeed done the right thing in the sequence she chose to follow.

To her that was unacceptable. If she had done the right thing than why had he died? That didn't make sense.

"You did all you could."

Did she?

She kept going over the situation over and over again in her mind. What if she healed the four critically injured areas in a different order? In dealing with the Akatsuki one of Asuma's lungs, his liver, the stomach and spleen had been injured; each of them major organs and all of them necessary for life.

Of course she automatically went to healing the liver first. The lung wasn't a big thing to think about at the moment as he had the other to compensate until she got to it. Then she went to the stomach, thinking that if a large amount of the acid in the stomach leaked out that would lead to more complications and pain. Then she moved on to the spleen and then finally the lung.

'I should have done the stomach first,' she thought to herself as she pulled another book towards her and turned its pages, 'The stomach acid had to have done something; that has to be it.'

Still the books stated otherwise.

'This is wrong,' she thought, 'It has to be. If I had done the stomach first the acid wouldn't have burned the other tissues. But if I left the liver the other systems would have started to shut down one by one.'

She rubbed her temples, a massive headache starting to plague her.

"Four of his vitals were pierced, there was no chance."

"There's always a chance!" she yelled as she threw the current book she was reading across the room in a flurry of anger and grief. She looked at the fallen book and stifled a sob. She quickly walked over and bent to retrieve it. As a medical ninja you had to believe that there was always a spark of life in the person, even when everyone else says no.

"I followed that rule!" she said out to whoever or whatever might be listening, "If I did everything right then why is he gone!"

Unbeknownst to her, someone was listening to her. Hyuuga Neji was standing in the hallway watching her in her moment of pain, afraid to enter for fear of being accused of being nosy. Instead he just stood silently, listening to her weep and beg someone for some sort of explanation in the tragic event.

Neji had been speaking with Shikamaru earlier on that day, offering his sympathies to him, when the shadow user had stated he was worried about Ino.

"She won't say it but I know she blames herself," Shikamaru said.

"That's foolish," Neji replied, "She has no control over life and death."

"Medical ninjas would say otherwise," the younger replied, "sometimes they do hold the life of a person in their hands. To Ino, that's a big deal. She never wants to be useless to us."

"She thinks she's useless?" Neji asked. Shikamaru nodded.

"She used to, but after she started her training with Tsunade-sama, not to mention working more with her father on her techniques, she found a new drive," Shikamaru explained, "It's troublesome but she's becoming very independent."

"An admirable quality," Neji mused, "How is Chouji and Kurenai-sensei?"

"As well as could be expected I suppose," Shikamaru replied, "Chouji talks about Asuma-sensei a lot, reminiscing and what not but he deals with grief that way. Kurenai-sensei has been very quiet and is seeing Tsunade-sama for counselling. I think she will be alright. But Ino..."

Shikamaru paused and heaved a sigh. Neji arched an eyebrow and waited for him to speak.

"I just wish she would be a little more open with me, I can never tell what she's thinking."

Neji noticed how disturbed Shikamaru was. He couldn't help but wonder if he worried about all of his friends in such a way.

Ino had once mentioned about how Shikamaru was worried sick for him and Chouji when they were hurt trying to bring Sasuke back to the village. Neji was amazed, as lazy as Shikamaru might seem he was a true friend and comrade who would gladly give his life for them.

"I've spoken to the others and she hasn't spoken to them about what happened," Shikamaru looked at Neji, "Has she come to you?"

Neji shook his head.

"I believe I would be the last person she would come to for advice," he replied. A small smile played on Shikamaru's lips.

"Give yourself some credit Neji," he said, "Some people rather enjoy talking to you."

Neji wasn't sure what he meant by that but the tone in Shikamaru's voice made him wonder if this conversation had ulterior motives. Shikamaru sighed again and got to his feet, stretching as he did.

"Well, if you see her," he mused, "Don't hesitate to talk to her."

With that said the shadow user turned on his heel and walked away.

Another sob spilt from her lips, jerking him from his thoughts, and he no longer wished to be silent. He knocked on the door and waited for a moment before he entered. He wanted to give her the chance hide her tears if she so wished.

"Come in," she said. He pushed open the door and watched as a look of surprise came over her face. Her eyes were slightly red and puffy but she acted as if nothing was going on. He bowed his head to her.

"Ino-san," he said, "I came here to offer you my condolences, I am sorry for what happened to Asuma-sensei."

Ino scoffed as he straightened.

"Did Shikamaru send you to come and check up on me?" she asked, "I swear I'm going to break his legs."

"No one sent me," he replied, "I came on my own accord."

It was mostly true. While Shikamaru had hinted that he would like for Neji to come and see her, it was Neji's own want that put him here. Ino shrugged.

"Fine, I accept your condolences, now if you don't mind I am trying to work."

Neji glanced at one of the tables where her notes sat. He picked one of them up and frowned slightly as he read it.

"So," he mused, "You do blame yourself."

Ino reached out and snatched the note pad away from him.

"This is none of your business," she snapped at him, "So leave it alone, alright."

Neji nodded apologetically. He stood near of the tables behind her and took to watching her quietly. Ino looked at her notebook and sighed. She set it down and glanced at Neji.

"What are you doing here anyway?" she demanded of him.

"I thought I might be of some help."

She scoffed and flicked some of her long hair over her shoulder.

"Oh really, you have experience in these types of things then?"

Neji hesitated before he spoke again.

"I do," he paused, "somewhat."

"Somehow I doubt that very much."

She had gone back to looking through her books, leaving Neji to watch her back. As he watched her, he saw her shoulders droop slightly, as if she was carrying a great weight on them. He approached her from behind, and crossing a boundary he never thought he would, he placed his hands on her shoulders. Ino tensed.

The two of them just stood in silence for a few moments. Neji took a deep breath, by doing this he knew that he was going to leave himself vulnerable. He had rarely mentioned things about his life to anyone before. However, he had learned that sometimes the best way to get through to someone who was hurting was to open your own heart to them. To let them know that they truly were not alone.

"I know what it is like to lose someone you love," he told her softly, "However I do not know what it is like to be able to say goodbye to them. Perhaps you might tell me?"

Ino turned and looked at him.

"What are you talking about," she demanded. Neji could tell he was pushing her a little too hard but he did not stop. He feared that if he did she might never get to the point where she could properly grieve and deal with losing Asuma. Of course Neji was no expert on grieving as he still felt a deep hurt for his father, one he thought might never go away.

"Not many people know about the history of the Hyuuga clan," he started, "And I won't bore you with the details. My father died when I was young. At the time I had once believed that he was murdered it was only a short while ago that I found out he had sacrificed himself. Not only to save his me and the family but this whole village. Knowing that took away part of the burden and I could carry me head a little bit higher."

"What does that have to do with me?" she demanded. Her voice was shaking but she was doing a fine job of keeping everything under control.

"Maybe nothing, maybe everything," Neji replied, "I just wanted you to know that you are not alone in grieving for someone dear."

She scoffed and turned away from him, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Ino," he said, "If you think locking your heart away is strength you're wrong."

"Look," she stated, sounding like she wanted to get rid of him "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have snapped at you. I'm just..."

Neji placed his hand on her shoulder which silenced her.

"No need to explain anything to me," he told her, "What you're dealing with right now is clearly hard for you. My being here is only making it more difficult. I'll leave you alone."

Ino cast her glance to the floor. Just as he was about to leave the room, he stopped.

"Ino, if you won't listen to anything I have to say, at least hear this."

Ino clenched her fists, willing him to leave.

"No one blames you."

Ino's eyes widened and she turned to look at him; however his back was already facing her as he continued to walk away.

"No one blames you."

That was the one statement she had never heard before this night.

Neji sighed as he walked. He hoped that something he said got through to her. He wanted so badly for her to be alright. He didn't want someone to bright and carefree as Ino to become lost in her own darkness as he had once been.

Maybe he had helped, even if it was just slightly. If what he had said drove her to Shikamaru to talk about what happened that would be better than nothing. If she wasn't going to talk to him, at least let it be someone who could really help her.

He was about to exit the building when he felt her hand close around his wrist, stopping him. He turned to face her. Her clear blue eyes searched his, it was as if she was trying to find a find that he had been untruthful to her in what he said.

It seemed so long before she finally spoke to him.

"No one blames me?" she asked, her grip on his wrist tightening slightly. Neji covered her hand with his free one.

"No one blames you," he repeated, "Not a soul."

He saw her eyes well up with tears and in that moment he knew she was going to heal.

Ino let her tears spill down her cheeks, not bothering to hide them from him. She knew that with his eyes it would be impossible to do anyway, but she found herself not caring about how she looked to him. She also didn't care what he thought of her. If he thought her weak, so be it. Right now she just wanted to cry. She wanted to let the wretched weight on her heart loose so she could breathe again.

It was as if those simple words, 'no one blames you,' had lifted the burden from her shoulders and heart, making it alright to properly grieve for her lost sensei. She felt as if Neji had just let her know that it was alright to feel like this, it was alright to feel confused and hurt and lost. But, she also knew that even though she might feel this way, she knew she was not alone. He was here, standing right in front of her.

Ino buried her face against his chest, fisting the material of his robe tightly, and wept.

Neji circled his arms around her, allowing her to grip to him tightly. For one of the first times in his life Neji felt as if everything in this world of theirs would work out in the end. True there would always be tragedies and heart breaking circumstances to challenge them, but they would overcome them all and eventually be stronger because of it.

Neji hugged Ino close to him, but they each stood in silence, save for the muffled sounds of her sobs. He felt special in that she was willing to confide in him this act of grief, he would never speak of it to anyone, and this was a moment he cherished. He was able to be there for someone else just as many of his friends had been there for him in the past.

She knew it was alright to cry right now, she needed that and he was willing to stay with her until she was alright, no matter how long it took.

"Thank you Neji."

Winter-Rae: Well, this is without a doubt some of the deepest stuff I have ever written. I would appreciate some feedback and thank you all for reading. Cheers.