Vermilion

Chapter 1 (day 50)

The sun broke across the horizon, a magnificently quick show of light and color. Beautiful reds, yellows, and the last hints of purples stretched across the sky, alerting all that it was time to wake. The sun continued to rise, relentless as to whether people were joining it or not. In an almost unnatural swiftness, the sun completely revealed itself from its blanket of earth, shining brightly with the first rays of morning light.

But this spectacle was not witnessed by either Ino or Deidara. The room in which they had slept actually had a window, but the shades were closed. As Ino silently observed her surroundings from atop her lover's bare chest, she was able to witness the lighting in the room go from dark, to bright, to very dark, then very bright - all within minutes of each other. She always loved watching the sun rise, but she didn't want to wake her lover, on which she was resting. Deidara's chest rose and fell evenly, still controlled by sleep. His wonderful heart beat evenly, as it should. Despite their near-death experience only two days ago, they were perfectly healthy again. Ino had not been the second-best medic nin in Konoha for no reason.

That was when she realized that she was no the best medic in all of Konoha; Haruno Sakura, Shizune, and Tsunade had all been killed. This brought a smile to her lips as she willed her right hand into action and untangled it from Deidara's hair and ran it down his body gently. He responded immediately, moving his left arm - which had been resting at the small of her back - to gently rest his hand on her hair. "You're up early, un," he whispered.

"Un," she murmured with a smile, cheerfully stealing his like as she propped herself up on her elbows to meet his gaze.

Deidara's beautiful lips were carved into a smile as well as he responded, "You stole my line, Ai!"

Ino smiled as she swept her eyes over Deidara's bare chest, appreciating the slight build of his muscles. Underneath the blanket, he was properly covered in boxers. Ino was, as well, wearing her typical t-shirt and underwear. There had been no 'activity' between them the night before; they were learning self-restraint. With a sigh, Ino kissed Deidara's lips passionately. He responded by slowly rubbing both hands down her shoulders, down either side of her body. Deadly shivers ran down her body, electrifying her most sensitive points and forcing a groan to pass over her lips.

Gently, Deidara pushed her back slightly, sighing. "We're on a mission, un," he reminded them both. "And our wounds are still healing internally."

Ino heaved an even heavier sigh than he - if that was possible - and crawled off the bed, murmuring a small, "I know." as she pulled her uniform on, followed by her Akatsuki cloak.

Her blonde bishie followed after her silently, putting his clothes on as she quickly ran a brush through her hair and tied it back. "Don't be so down, un," Deidara responded as he fixed his hair and replaced his eyeliner. "Self-restraint is not easy."

"Hn," she answered with a nod, trying not to think about it. Then, over the connective link she shared with the rest of the Akatsuki, she checked on Sasori. He was awake and ready to go.

We have to eat first, Deidara reminded the both of them.

Yeah, Ino murmured with a mental nod. They were in a hotel, Sasori the room next door. Despite almost dying in their previous mission, Pein sent them out again with only a day's rest. That was the problem Ino was having; she and Deidara had barely enough time to recover from their ordeal. She didn't have the choice to be with him alone for a while - people were always coming into their recovery room to check on them. Over those two days, Ino had begun to feel possessive over Deidara. It was silly, Ino knew that, but all she wanted was even an hour alone with him, uninterrupted. Even this was not respected.

"Ino-ai," he lover called aloud, drawing her attention. Wordlessly, Deidara held her chin softly in his hand and kissed her lips in a way that told her he knew what she wanted. He backed off before she had the chance to react properly and relinquished her chin, using the same hand to hold hers gently as he led her outside. The mouth on his palm licked hers playfully, causing a smile to shine across her face.

They met with Sasori in the hall then, and Ino's smile disappeared. "Ohiyo, Ino," Sasori greeted softly. She had been acting sullen since they returned to Konoha for a second time - it had not taken Sasori's genius mind to see that. Deidara had noticed as well, although neither said anything to her outright.

"Hi, Sasori," she murmured, looking away. She wanted to let go of Deidara's hand and be alone, but he held firm. He was forcing her to be slightly sociable.

"What's with the sour mood?" the redhead asked with a curious tilt of his head. "You've been like that ever since we got back here."

Ino shrugged silently. Sasori was intelligent - someone she entrusted all of her secrets to - but he wouldn't understand. Sasori studied her for another moment, then silently moved off. The two blondes followed, Deidara releasing her hand for her waist, wrapping his arm around it and pulling her closer. As they stepped out of the hotel and into the destroyed streets of Konoha, he asked her, "What do you want for breakfast, Ai?"

She looked around, biting her lower lip in indecision. Which restaurant deserved the most money? Which could they trust, especially? The answer came to her almost instantly, and - without conscious thought - she answered, "Ichiraku Ramen."

"Ramen, un? Okay. Lead the way, un."

She did so, silently evaluating the destroyed houses, remembering things that she shouldn't resurface. Before she knew it, tears stung her eyes, and she found her breathing impaired. A single tear ran down her cheek, and soon dozens more followed.

Her distraught mood didn't improve when they passed by her house, the house of nightmare. Staring up at it blankly, Ino stopped completely to stare at it, a life's worth of memories flashing before her eyes. It was then that she realized how long ago two months seemed. She also realized that, during these two months with the Akatsuki, the old Ino had died and left room for a much prettier woman to blossom. Pushing through those sad memories of her childhood, Ino willed herself into action, wiping away the tears.

Deidara must have read the nameplate on the house - 'Yamanaka' - because he softly tugged her away. "C'mon, Ai," he murmured softly, "Don't look anymore, un."

Ino shook her head feebly, breaking away from him and approaching the house. After staring down the door for a moment, she bent down and groped through the flowers - now growing wildly - to her left. Although the flowers were now unkempt, the key hidden within was still safe. Gripping it tightly in her right hand, Ino turned back to her door, debating. Deidara was at her side now. "Ino, don't," he warned. "It'll only make living harder, un."

Not looking at him, Ino pushed the key into the lock, turning it as she gripped the doorknob with her free hand. Ignoring his calls, she pushed the door open and gingerly stepped inside.

Her house was a mess - as it always used to be. But now, with two months of her absence, it had sunk to a new low. Dust covered everything, moldy food that had been left out since Kami knew when was now food for bugs of all kinds, beer bottles littered the floor - along with other things - and the whole place had a rancid sort of smell that made Ino's nose wrinkle in disgust. No feelings of love for this place was with her as she stepped inside, Deidara and Sasori silently following along behind.

Like a ghost, Ino silently crept through her house, not making a sound. It was Deidara who tripped over everything and cursed loudly when he did. His clumsiness brought a faint smile to her face, but she continued on silently until she reached her room.

Once there, Ino hesitated for the briefest of moments, then pushed the door open, quickly walking inside before she had to rethink the situation. Deidara and Sasori followed. "This was your room, un?" Her lover asked as he looked around the tidy space. It was the only room in the house that was still pretty and well-kept, along with actually smelling good.

"Yeah," Ino whispered as she approached her desk and studied the few pictures on it she had. One was of her and Shikamaru, another with her full genin cell, and a third of her and Naruto. In each of the pictures, she noticed just how badly depression had affected her appearance - in each of them, she was...grey. There was no other way to describe it. She had dark bags under her eyes and was ghastly white.

"You look really pretty in this one, Ai," Deidara commented, picking up the one of her genin team.

"That was my cell," she whispering, running her finger along the wooden frame. "I was twelve in that picture."

Deidara nodded, brushing his thumb over the picture of her face and set the picture down again. "We should go," he murmured.

"I know," Ino replied, her voice soft. Tears sprang to her eyes as she suddenly realized that everyone she had known and loved were dead. Ino shouted this as the tears came down full-blast, hugging Deidara tightly as the sobbing came unbridled. Deidara said something to Sasori, who left silently.

Deidara held her close, rubbing her back a little in an attempt to calm her fried nerves. "Ssh, Ai, it's alright," he promised as he guided her to her bed.

"All dead," Ino managed through sobs as she held her knees and buried her face in them.

"I'm here, un," he said softly as he held her tight, using his legs as a barrier from the outside world. "I love you." His voice seemed desperate, frantic; as if he feared she was leaving him behind in her group of friends.

"I love you too," she choked, forcing a smile as she gently kissed his lips. "Not everyone I love is dead," she admitted. "There's still Naruto, Sai, Temari, Kankuro..." Deidara's face fell with each name she gave that wasn't his. "And, of course, there's my number one man," she added, poking his forehead. Her forced smile became a genuine one as she watched Deidara's visible eye brighten with relief and love. They kissed again, and Ino forgot how miserable she was supposed to be.

"I'm so glad everything turned out to be okay," Deidara murmured when they backed off. "I don't know what I would've done if you left this world without me, un." He held her tight.

Ino nodded, folding into his embrace. "Me neither," she whispered, pressing her head against his chest and listening to his heart. A rush of love swept over her then, pushing the tears back. "Kami, Dei, I had no idea how much I loved you back then." She clung to him tightly, the tears gone. "It doesn't matter that all of my old friends are dead. You're every friend I've ever had...No, you're better. I don't need anyone else."

Deidara blocked her from accessing her thoughts suddenly, causing her to look up to him in confusion. Whatever he was thinking, it brought a wide smile to his face. "That was very artistic, un." he answered, although she was still blocked from his thoughts. "I wish I could express my love for you with words, but I'm more of an action-type." He smiled sheepishly, causing a giggle to pass over her lips. She knew what he meant.

"Deidara," she said suddenly, the laughter gone as she backed off a little and rested a hand on the mouth on his chest, "can you do me a favor?"


Five minutes later, Ino stood beside her lover outside of her house and watched as he made the sign for Chakra, detonation the clay he had stationed within the place. With one loud bang - along with lots of smoke and fire - the Yamanaka household crumbled to the ground, no longer a building. A great weight was lifted from Ino's shoulders as she watched the last of her past crumble to ashes. She inhaled deeply, closing her eyes as she thanked the terrorist.

"No problem," he answered softly, turning to her. "How're you feeling, un?"

"Better, actually." She answered as she opened her eyes to observe the burning ruins. "I feel like a weight's been lifted from my shoulders." Deidara nodded, hugging her close for a moment before asking is she still wanted ramen. She answered positively, and they jumped off in the direction of Ichiraku, Ino leading the way.

They ran into Sasori along the way, who was talking with Temari. "Hello Deidara-kun, Ino-chan," Temari greeted as they approached. She had a large smile on her face as she turned back to Sasori, flipping her bangs back.

Sasori and...Temari? Ino asked herself, blocking Sasori from her thoughts. Deidara, having blocked her from his, was unable to hear hers as well. It worked both ways. "What brings you back to Konoha, Temari-chan?" Ino asked politely.

Temari frowned as she was forced to look away from Sasori. "My brother sent me to retrieve the last of his puppets," she looked back to Sasori and resumed their conversation, a smile brightening her features again.

"Sasori-danna," Deidara broke in now, "we're on a mission, remember? We were supposed to - "

"Get followers whilst eliminating the last of the oppression," Sasori interrupted him curtly, mentally adding, What do you think I'm doing?

Deidara mentally answered, but she couldn't hear.

Suddenly, Sasori blocked her from his thoughts as well.

What the hell? Ino thought freely, her temper rising. First Deidara, now Sasori? What were they talking about?

"Ino-chan," Temari called softly, breaking through Ino's temper, "would you like to go for a walk with me? You seem angry about something." She smiled weakly, a sign of peace.

Managing the smallest of smiles, Ino nodded and followed along beside Temari. "So," she began softly when they were out of earshot, "You like Sasori, I see."

Temari flushed red and nodded vigorously. "H-hai. Perhaps I like him a little too much. But I can't help myself...He's so damn sexy. I thought I liked Shikamaru before, but Sasori-sama..." she gulped as her eyes flickered over to him.

"That's interesting. I never would've thought to pair you two together, but now that I think about it...I like it." Ino smiled genuinely. "I like the thought of you two being together. It seems cute to me."

Temari smiled weakly, flustered. "D-do you really think so? I've never had a boyfriend before..." her voice drifted off in thought.

"Apparently, I haven't, either. Deidara's my first and only." Again, she smiled genuinely. She was suddenly overtaken with an incredible urge to kiss the blonde. Still smiling, Ino looked over to him and stared for a while as she admired the way the sun bounced off his golden hair, his perfect frame...A rush of love ran over her for the blonde male, and she had to swallow hard and blink in order to force her gaze back on Temari. "I really do love him." It was more than a statement.

The Suna kunoichi smiled fondly. "I can see that," she whispered. "By the way you look at him and everything. It's so romantic."

Ino couldn't help but keep the smile and look over to Deidara once again. He was so beautiful...What had she ever done to get so lucky? To have someone like him love someone like her?

That was when Temari asked the question that obliterated all anger she had bottled up for Deidara: "When are you two going to get married?"

"N-nani?" Ino asked quickly in surprise, whipping her head around to face the other blonde. "W-what did you say?" The question took her so off-guard, she didn't remember why they were standing there.

Temari's face went blank with surprise. "I just asked when the two of you were going to get married...I didn't mean to offend you or anything..."

Ino managed a chuckle. "Heh, married? Me? Honestly, can you picture me married?"

"When I think of you and Deidara-kun together," Temari answered solemnly.

Ino was dumbfounded. "R-really? You think me and Dei should...?" her voice trailed off in thought. She couldn't bring herself to say it. She could hardly think it. For some reason she couldn't comprehend, Ino failed to ever think about the two of them being married. She was happy as they were now, just being together. But if they were to get married, she would belong to him for the rest of their natural lives. He would be even more devoted to her than he was now. Was that even possible? Ino's heart leapt into her throat. That was when she realized that she wanted to get married.

Gingerly, Ino looked over to her lover, her face hotter than a thought had ever made it before. "Huh," she murmured softly, heart racing as she turned to look at Temari again. "I think I like that idea." There was an awkward silence – one that reddened the blush on her cheeks – until Ino mumbled, "Soooooo, how's it goin'?" She looked to the ground, suddenly afraid of Temari's jurisdiction.

"Well, I'm the new representative of Suna for the Akatsuki, so I'll be around the base more," Temari told her cheerfully, expertly lifting the awkwardness Ino felt. "And Kankuro might come around every so often, as well. We're both political figures in Suna's government, but neither of us want to be Kazekage. Needless to say, I'll be around Sasori-sama more, as well..." she blushed and snuck a peak at the redheaded puppeteer.

The blonde female Akatsuki chuckled at that. "How cute. You're crushing really hard, Temari-chan. Maybe Sasori feels the same...?" She let her voice drift off, leaving Temari to her hopes.

Temari chuckled. "There's no way someone as great as Sasori-sama would like someone like me." She returned her gaze to Ino.

"What makes you say that? Sasori's not that type of person."

The Suna kunoichi shrugged. "I just don't feel like his type, is all. I mean, if he doesn't like me, he doesn't. It's no big deal. So I'm not going to get my hope up if I know nothing good will come out of it."

Ino frowned. How could Temari be so negative about something as important as a relationship? "Well, if you don't try to win him over, there's no way you'd ever know if he liked you or not. Anyway, I think he does. From the way he acts. He's not an open book like Dei, but I've been with him long enough to understand his 'language,' if you know what I mean."

"Yeah, well...I'll be around more, so I guess I'll just try carefully. You know?"

"Yeah." Suddenly, she didn't want to talk anymore.

Luckily for her, Deidara and Sasori jumped over then, permanently closing the conversation. Their minds were kept tightly shut from Ino, which provoked her to growl. She held it back, though - as soon as she had some alone time with her lover, she would get the information she wanted.

"We have to go," Sasori told her friend with a heavy sigh.

Temari nodded glumly. "Well, I'll see you around. I'm Suna's main representative now, so I'll be at the base more."

Sasori seemed to brighten, although he tried to hide it. Temari didn't seem to notice, but Ino did. He nodded. "See you, then."

The Suna kunoichi nodded, not hiding her glowing smile, before jumping off.

Sasori turned away from them and began walking, murmuring, "Do you two still want breakfast?"

Ino ignored the comment as she folded her arms tightly. Her stomach growled audibly. "How are we supposed to go about this?" She asked them.

"All we have to do is fight any oppression, get some follows, and identify all the bodies. It should be pretty easy, un." Deidara answered her. "But I really want food first." His stomach growled louder than hers, if that was possible.

"Yeah. Okay," Ino answered with a nod as she looked off to the Hokage's palace. "Do you think you'll need three people to do that?" Her gaze never strayed from the palace. Naruto drifted through her thoughts then, making her throat go dry. She swallowed weakly before reminding herself that Tsunade knew how to breathe life back into a soulless body. Perhaps the Hokage had written it down or left some sort of evidence of the Jutsu's existence.

"Why?" Both artists asked in unison. Then, Deidara added, "Aren't you hungry, un?"

Ino sighed heavily, biting down the retort she had in mind: If you hadn't blocked me from your thoughts, you would know what I'm thinking. Instead, she said to them, "There's some...documents in the Hokage's palace that I need to get. And I'm not hungry." She looked back to them, careful not to allow her facial expressions to fail her.

Deidara and Sasori both studied her intensely, but the intense silence was broken when Deidara finally answered, "Okay, Ai, if you say so. Just meet up with us when you're finished." Ino nodded once and jumped off in the direction of the palace.

Landing in front of the Hokage's palace, Ino paused to look up to it for a long moment before rushing inside. All of the doors were left open, which meant that she would not have to waste time punching through them. Pein expected them back by the day after tomorrow at latest, and so time was of the essence. Having trained under the Fifth for four years, Ino was able to easily locate the rooms she wanted.

She tried Tsunade's workroom first. It was filled with paperwork, as usual, and so she immediately tore through it, not caring about the mess she made. Anything even remotely mentioning Naruto was thrown onto Tsunade's desk for evaluation. Most were mission reports, which she threw out after memorizing. Things mentioning anyone else were thrown on the floor.

After about two hours of skimming through Tsunade's paperwork, Ino finally finished, satisfied with the two-foot pile of papers on the Hokage's desk. She slowly sank into Tsunade's old chair and grabbed the topmost file.

It was a brief record of Naruto's medical history. Ino intently read it, committing each word to memory. It seemed that whenever Naruto lost control of his anger and the Kyuubi took over, he ended up in the hospital once he'd calmed down. It seemed, based on what it said, that the Kyuubi's Chakra was too much for the Uzumaki to handle, and when it took over, its Chakra seared his skin off. Then, miraculously, he would heal and be discharged that very day. Healing so fast after such major injury, Ino thought as she bit her lower lip, will eventually kill him. Fear for her friend raced through her at the thought. I have to find a way to get him under control when he does loose control, as well as fully restoring his body after the...attack. That's easier said than done. Jiraiya-sama had a seal that could repress the Kyuubi's Chakra whenever Naruto lost control, but obviously I can't get the information from him. Maybe a search of his apartment...Her thoughts drifted off as she returned her attention to the files before her. Also, after the attacks, he would suffer amnesia of the event. As though the Kyuubi had taken over his mind. Ino didn't realize how badly she was biting her lip until she tasted blood in her mouth. Things were not getting any easier for her.

Pushing that file to the side, Ino began work on the rest. Most of the files she had uncovered were useless, as she had anticipated them to be, except for the very last one; a file created by the Third Hokage days after Naruto's birth.

The Kyuubi was sealed within the newborn body of Uzumaki Naruto, she read, by his father, Yondaime, who sacrificed his life for the greater good of Konoha. Glancing down at the rest of the page, Ino realized that it was a speech. She readily devoured the rest, hoping for some sort of clue. Now that Yondaime has past, I will once again rule over Konoha, as I have for years. Uzumaki Naruto - now an orphan - will be inheriting Yondaime's fortune. He is what we call a Jinchuuriki - a person holding a Bijuu within them. He is not a dangerous 'creation'; furthermore, the Kyuubi has been safely sealed away, out of his reach. Any accidental discovery of the Kyuubi is impossible unless the Fifth or Eighth seals have been broken. Here, towards the right side of the paper, was a quick sketch of what both seals would look like. The exact jutsu used to contain the Kyuubi within Naruto-kun is unknown. He will be put under a careful watch for the first ten years of his life, but I do not have any reason to believe that he would be dangerous.

Ino inhaled sharply, her eyes widening, and shot her head upright. "As the years have gone by, the seal containing the Kyuubi within Naruto has weakened!" She shouted aloud. It was too surprising to keep within her thoughts. "Why didn't I notice that before?!" She yelled at herself, shooting to her feet. It was true that there were things kept from her about Naruto - Tsunade was not inclined to always tell her pupils everything they wanted to know - but why hadn't she at least guessed at it? Now that she knew about it, Ino realized that it was completely true. Everything was slowly falling into place after this realization.

That was when she noticed a locked drawer on Tsunade's desk. Studying it intensely, Ino slowly sank to the ground, looking for signs of a trap. She even attempted to cancel any genjutsu that may have been placed on it, but nothing happened. Ino studied it for another brief instant before gripping its handle, heart racing, and pulled on it.

Other than her Chakra-enhanced strength defeating the lock and giving her the drawer, nothing happened.

Ino hesitated for a moment - waiting for something to happen - before searching through it. She was pleased to find well over five million ryo sitting there. As she emptied out the drawer, putting the ryo inside another pocket in her cloak, Ino realized that this was a false bottom. Gingerly pulling the plywood out of place, Ino found that it revealed a single bit of paper, neatly folded into a loose square. Ino carefully unfolded the paper - wary of any explosive notes that could have been hidden inside - and read the paper.

She would have expressed her joy, had she not frozen in place at the sound of scratching on the other side of the door. Ino stared at it, her body tensing in preparation. Her heart pumped adrenaline through her veins, producing a slightly-sadistic smile. She silently got to her feet.

"Oink oink!" Came the feminine pig's voice from the other side of the door. "Oink oink oink!"

Ino breathed a sigh of relief, the smile disappearing. It was just Tonton, Shizune's old pet. She was about to open the door for the pig, had not a familiar voice stopped her: "Where are you leading us, pig?" It was Sasori.

Quickly, Ino shoved Tsunade's notes, the Third Hokage's speech, and Naruto's medical files in her cloak pocket before the two artists' had a chance to enter. She held her hands behind her back and put on a cheesy smile as the door opened, revealing her two partners. Upon seeing her, Tonton rushed inside, shouting, "Oink!" as she jumped into Ino's arms.

Ino chuckled. "Tonton!" she said happily as she held the ninja-pig. Tonton responded positively, licking Ino's face in friendliness. Ino laughed at the ticklish sensations and asked, "What brings you here? I didn't even know you were still alive!"

"Oink oink!" Tonton answered happily; "Of course I was! Didn't know you were alive, either." The feminine pig wriggled out of Ino's grasp and hopped onto Tsunade's desk, going through the mess of paper Ino had left behind. She grabbed a particular file in her mouth and handed it to Ino.

It was photo identification of both of Naruto's parents. Tonton sat on the desk, facing Ino, and stared up at the blode kunoichi's confused face. "Oink oink oink." She answered, her tone grave. "You have to tell Naruto-kun who his parents were."

"Why?" Ino asked, holding the file in her right hand as she looked solely at the pig. "It's not my place to tell him."

"Oink oink!" She snapped. "You're the only one left who can tell him."

"But...why?" She didn't want to have to tell the Kyuubi's Jinchuuriki for some reason.

"Oink!" "He deserves to know!"

Ino recoiled at Tonton's words, studying the pig for a moment. After a moment of consideration, she sighed in defeat and folded the photographs, storing them within her cloak. "Why'd she bring you here?" Ino asked, looking to Deidara.

"Oink oink oink oink oink," came the pig's reply. "Because I thought that blonde one was you." She jumped off the desk and walked away.

"We're not that similar," Ino murmured as she moved over to Deidara and Sasori. "Do you think me and Dei look alike, Sasori?" She asked the puppeteer.

"Immensely," he answered without a smile - he was serious.

"Nani?!" Both blondes shouted in unison, causing a smile to appear on the scorpion's face.

"We don't look alike at all, un!" Deidara shouted defensively. "I didn't know you were blind, Danna."

"You both have blonde hair that's styled in a similar way," Sasori explained, relentless, "And similar eyes."

"You can't see at all!" Ino shouted angrily. Sasori laughed aloud. She sighed then. "So I suppose fate keeps us tied together, huh?"

Deidara bridged the short gap between them and held her in a light embrace, kissing her quickly before backing off enough to say, "I don't ever want to leave you alone somewhere where you could get hurt, un."

Ino smiled weakly, but remembered that she was supposed to be mad at him. "Why did you two block me from your thoughts?" She pushed Deidara back, her annoyance returning.

"It's a secret," Deidara said with a smile, holding his pointer finger to his finger in such a way that kept her from being mad at him. She sighed, dropping it. He's too damn sexy for his own good, she thought weakly. "You'll be happier if I wait for the right moment, un."

Again, Ino kept up the weak smile and said with a sigh, "So...breakfast?"

Deidara's stomach growled audibly at the thought. With a wince, he nodded. "Un. I could really go for some Ramen right about now. Sasori-danna, are you going too, un?"

Sasori shook his head. "No. I'll go work on the mission while you eat. We have only the rest of today and tomorrow before Hatafuri-sama is expecting us back." The two blondes nodded, and he jumped off, out of Tsunade's large windows.

"Shall we go, un?" Deidara asked in a seductive tone as he pressed his pelvis against her thigh.

Ino blushed heavily. She hadn't realized how much she had missed this.

Tonton squealed angrily, shouting Ino back to reality. "Oink oink oink oink oink!" She reprimanded. "I'm still here, y'know! Stop behaving like such adolescents and go eat breakfast."

"We're a couple," Ino grumbled weakly as she led Deidara out of Tsunade's palace and to Ichiraku.

The two blondes entered the little Ramen shop and took a seat. Tonton jumped onto the free stool to Ino's left and said to her, "Oink oink." "I'm with you now."

Ino nodded once before the old male owner appeared before them. "Konnichiwa, Ino-chan! Ohiasashiburi desu, ne?"

She managed the smallest of smiles. "Ah. Konnichiwa, ojiisan. Can we have some Ramen, onegai?"

"Of course, of course," he answered off-handedly, turning to his food as he asked, "Have you heard from Naruto-kun lately, Ino-chan?"

Deidara nodded once for approval. With that, she answered, "He's safe for now. With the rest of the Akatsuki." She looked down to her black cloak.

"Is...is he happy?" The old man paused to look up at Ino, whilst Ayame - his daughter - silently continued on with her work.

"Content," she corrected with a wince of guilt. "Ojiisan," she changed the subject, "you are older than I. I was wondering...Do you know anything about Jinchuuriki? Anything at all?"

The owner's face went blank. "I'm not that old, Ino-chan. All I know is that Naruto-kun is one and this his father - Yondaime - was the one who sealed the Kyuubi within him."

Nothing she didn't already know, Ino realized with a sigh. Their bowls were served, and so Ino momentarily closed the conversation, muttering, "Itadakimasu," as she broke apart her chopsticks and grabbed some noodles. After silently slurping up the first bite, she spoke again. "Do you know anything about…medical healing?"

That was when his daughter, Ayame, broke into the conversation. "I do, a little. When I was on a mission with a medical cell."

"Did they ever mention anything about reanimating a fallen person? Or about animating a puppet, perhaps?" Ino's heart raced with excitement.

Ayame shook her head. "No, but I can tell you how to contact the kunoichi that does." She started scribbling information down on a piece of paper. "She lives in the Village Hidden in the Mist. Her name is Aihara. Last I heard from her, she was living at this address." Ayame handed Ino the paper, which was now neatly folded into a little square. "Good luck finding her – she's never been the type to stay put."

Ino nodded and tucked the note into her cloak's inner pockets with the other notes. Then, from the other pocket, she produced a thick clip of ryo. "Here." She said as she extended it to Ayame. "Domo arigato for your services. I trust this business – and the family – to support the Akatsuki to their fullest extent."

Both father and daughter shouted in excitement as the former to the clip from her. "Of course we will support you, Ino-chan!" He shouted as they happily danced around. "This is more money than we see in a year!"

Ino smiled as she ate more of her Ramen. It felt good to make people so happy, even if it was through monetary gain. From her right, Deidara whispered in her ear, "Where'd you get that much money, un?"

"Tsunade's desk," she answered, taking more Ramen from her bowl and closing the conversation.

A few minutes later, the two lovers said their goodbyes and left the shop, Tonton following along behind them. Once they were out of earshot, Deidara asked her, "Why were you asking about reanimation jutsus?"

"Because I made a promise to Naruto that I would save him after the Kyuubi was extracted. You know that."

"Demo…Jutsus that reanimate a fallen person requires the entire life source of the user, un." A worried expression crossed over his face, through his thoughts were still inaccessible.

"That's why I'm making inquiries about it – to see if I can find a way that won't kill me." She sighed.

"Un," her lover murmured, nothing else said.

After a moment of heavy silence, Ino stopped. "Dei?" She called softly, gripping her left hand in her right.

"Un?" he asked softly, looking to her.

"I love you," she whispered, looking to the ground.

"I love you too, Ai." He answered, hugging her close as he kissed her lips. "What's wrong, un?" Deidara asked gently after backing off a little.

"Nothing," she murmured, looking into his chest. Delayed grief suddenly washed over her, and she wanted nothing more than to leave this village and never return. The sadness she felt before was nothing compared to this. She wanted to cry, to throw a childish fit and sleep the rest of the tantrum away. But she did not want that to happen here in Konoha. With the grief came repulsion; Ino wanted to leave Konoha, to run away from it and stay gone.

But her prerogative was to the Akatsuki. And so, because of that prerogative, she was forced to stay in Konoha's borders a bit longer. At least until Sasori decided they had completed their mission to the fullest. Sasori was the leader of their three-man cell, who answered only to Hatafuri. When on a mission, Ino and Deidara were tethered to his every word.

Tears welling, Ino found herself unable to control the emotion. "I don't wanna be here anymore!" Her voice cracked as she forced a hug with the blonde bishie. The tears flowed freely.

Deidara held her tightly, in an understanding way. "It'll be alright, Ai. We'll be leaving soon anyway, un." The sound of his voice against her ear calmed her a little, thought it still annoyed her how both of them kept their thoughts hidden from her.

"Oink oink," Tonton said sadly, nudging Ino's ankle with her snout. "Don't be said, Ino-chan."

Ino relinquished her hold on Deidara and bent down to pick up Tonton, who happily snuggled into her grasp. "I'll feel better when we get back home." For the first time since her rebirth to the Akatsuki, Ino did not feel awkward when referring to a base full of S-rank murderers as home. She was the very same, and by now most of them didn't completely hate her. The base was home, the other Akatsuki were family. Her life couldn't be any more complete than that.

That was when Sasori jumped down beside them. "Ready to head back?" He asked them both.

The two blondes nodded, but Sasori stopped their movement with a question, "What's that pig still doing around?"

"Oink oink oink!" Tonton squealed in defense. "I'm going with Ino-chan, of course!"

"Um, Sasori," Ino timidly began, "can I please bring her with me? She won't survive on her own." After a moment of Sasori's incredulous silence and are-you-crazy stares, she continued, "Tonton's a good girl! She was trained at the best ninja-pet academy around! She won't make a mess, I promise! I'll be a good mommy!" That last plea struck a very sensitive nerve – one that had been shredded two days ago. A few hours after she had woken and healed herself, Konan, Pein, and Sasori had pulled her aside for assessment. They came to the conclusion that because of where the katana had pierced through her, she would now be able to carry a child. She would never be able to give Deidara the family they both craved. The worst part was that Ino had never been able to tell Deidara because of the shock. Their mission helped take her mind off it, but she had not been able to get over the grief completely.

Sasori, noticing her quickly-falling state, agreed to let her keep Tonton as a pet. Tonton oinked happily, and Ino forced herself to forget the sever stabbing pain in her heart as they made their way back home.


Translations:

Ai - Love

Bishie - Pretty boy

Kami - God

Suna - Literally, 'Sand'

Kunoichi - Female ninja

Nani – What?

Genjutsu - Illusionary technique (ie, Itachi's Sharingan)

Hatafuri - Leader

Konnichiwa - Good day/hello

Ohiasashiburi desu, ne? - It's been a long time, hasn't it?

Ah/oh - Yeah

Ojiisan - Respectible term for an older male.

Onegai - Please

Itadakimasu - I gratefully receive/thank you for this meal

Ryo – Japanese form of currency when the anime/manga was originally created. Since then, the ryo has become obsolete and replaced with the Yen. However, in keeping the originality of the plotline, I will continue to refer to Japanese currency as ryo.

Domo Arigato – Thank you very much

Demo – But


A/n

Wooooot!!!!! SEQUEL! Sorry it took so long – I got grounded off the computer and so now I have to use my school computer XD. As you can see, it takes a while to get through my computering work. Gomenasai! (dodges angry projectiles from fans). Hopefully I can get some more things up sometime! Until then, ciao!