I do not own Naruto.

Five Ways Yamanaka Ino Doesn't Die

The forest is silent.

It's the first thing she notices as she sits high above the earth, nestled in the crook of one of those massive branches from one of those monster trees, blue eyes peeled for any signs of an enemy advancement. At first she wonders if this is a sign of an approach, but quickly shrugs the idea aside. Any creature here hoping to save its life would stay silent.

So preoccupied with what she can see (eyesight is everything to a Yamanaka, after all) Ino almost doesn't feel the sensation of sand sliding over her calf. Almost.

She leaps away from her place, landing in a crouch at the far end of the tree branch and preparing to leap for another tree when the sand catches her ankle, yanking her backwards and slamming her into the knotted wood. Though painful, the fall is nothing compared to the excruciating scrapes that form along her belly as she is dragged backwards towards her attacker.

Even before the sand stops pulling, even before she tries to face her enemy, she knows who it is.

She turns over, the smell of slaughter rolling off of him and the gourd at his back in waves, yet that isn't what paralyzes her. It's the look in those green eyes, the mad joy that stops her.

It's the last thing she sees as the sand creeps across her body and over her face.

Orochimaru's tongue slithers from his mouth, a trail of saliva following. It reaches toward the bound girl, who hisses with anger and disgust at the offending appendage.

"What do you want with me?" The pale man merely chuckles and turns to his subordinate, ignoring the sudden outrage at his lack of response.

"Answer me!" she screams. No one can hear her but it hides the shake in her voice. The unnatural shrill doesn't bother her so much, Yamanaka Ino is irate after all, but the tremor born of helplessness does.

"I would like very much to learn about this mind-transfer jutsu," the missing-nin says to his partner, who she recognizes vaguely. "Do your experiments."

With a bow, the man pushes his glasses onto the bridge of his nose. "And when she is no longer useful, Orochimaru-sama?"

The dry chuckle, like scales over dying leaves, seals her sentence. "You may do as you see fit, my servant." He sweeps out of the laboratory.

The spectacles do little to hide the flash in Yakushi Kabuto's eyes as he looks upon his newest test subject. Idly, he pushes the door closed with a little click as his eyes traverse her frame.

"Well, Yamanaka-san," the medic-nin says, eyes crinkled behind the lenses with a false smile, "It appears we have work to do."

A mission gone wrong, and she finds herself manacled to the wall of some dank prison in Mist Country. It was supposed to be an easy information gathering stint. Chouji was just along as backup; she was supposed to be able to use her kunoichi skills to pump this petty crime lord for everything he knew about a smuggling operation the Godaime wanted out of the way. Perhaps two chuunin were overkill for some reconnaissance, but something hadn't seemed right about the mission. Now Ino understands all too well what was wrong.

They have chakra suppression seals covering the walls of the prison, pasted to the shackles she now wears like a particularly fashionable handbag. The crime lord was no problem, but the missing-nin he hired to do his dirty work for him were.

One of Akatsuki, Ino thinks, staring at the orange swirl mask over the red clouds and black robe. She can't quite recall this one's name. Though all members of the organization were infamous, this one did not strike her memory in the way Uchiha Itachi or Akasuna no Sasori would have.

The first time he enters her cell, she remains firm in her training. A probe, she decides. However he responds, she will learn something she can eventually take back to Tsunade.

"Since when has Akatsuki started working for petty smugglers?" she asks, voice artfully scornful. Out of all the female shinobi of their year, she is the one to have perfected the deadly art of deception. She is a true kunoichi.

Orange Mask seems not to notice her condescension, merely kneeling down to her level and placing the tray on the concrete beside her. "Since petty smugglers promised Kakuzu-san lots of money!" He procures a spoon from his back pocket.

She is tensed for some form of torment, any form of torment, but the bowl he raises into the air and the spoonful of soup he takes from it steams in the cool air. "Try it," the odd man encourages. "It's really good. Tobi made it himself!"

Suspicion and hunger rage within the blonde's body, but the ever present gnawing at her belly wins. "If this is poisoned, my teammates will kill you," she warns, before taking the offering from his hands and ducks her head forward to sample the broth.

The soup is warm and filling. When she wakes the next morning, the first inklings of trust for this Tobi begin to grow in her heart.

The next days pass much in the same way. Though she now knows poison is not how they will kill her, she continues to make the threat. It soon transfers into each aspect of her prison stay.

"If I don't wake up tomorrow, my teammates will kill you."

"If I freeze to death, my teammates will kill you."

"If this cold kills me, my teammates will kill you."

Then the day she has been waiting for comes, and Ino can't bring herself to feel anything more than numbness. A stranger is sent to remove her shackles, and she knows this is no rescue.

He leads her to another room, a twin of the first. Concrete, dank, and musty, she can't help but sigh. She's weak as a kitten from a lack of food and exercise. There will be no fight from her, not that they will give her one.

The stranger binds her again and pushes her into a kneeling position. From here she can see the two Akatsuki enter the room.

"I was hoping we could do this outside," she says, babbling in an attempt to quell the fear that wells up in her chest. "I mean, a girl should see flowers one last time, hmm?" The words spill from her mouth despite the silence she had promised herself she would endure this with.

She receives no reply from the stranger or the Akatsuki. As if they have rehearsed this, Tobi moves silently to the wall and folds his arms over his chest. Moving her gaze to the other missing-nin, she lets her training fail her. "You stole my hairstyle!" she says, faking the surprised tone, and the man (Deidara, she recalls vaguely from the bingo book) only sneers in her general direction.

"Any last words?" he asks, tone perfunctory and eyes straight ahead. It's too fast, she'd hoped to draw him into some sort of banter to prolong it, but it looks as if there's no time.

For a moment Ino fears the lump in her throat will not ease in time to say anything, but a glance at Tobi shows a slight quiver in his shoulders. The lump retreats momentarily. "Nara Shikamaru and Akimichi Chouji," she says, and he bows his head. "They're going to kill you someday."

To his credit, Deidara doesn't laugh. For once, she can find the time to appreciate the small things.

Her eyes are dry as the missing nin draws a kunai, but she trusts that behind the orange mask, her strange captor Tobi is shedding the tears she cannot.

At first the shuriken graze on her upper thigh doesn't bother her all that much. She continues her assault on the rock-nin, finally finishing him off with an exploding tag.

It isn't until she's bandaging the worst of her wounds that Yamanaka Ino notices the web of red spreading from the graze, and not until she's seen this that she realizes the burning sensation weighing her limbs down is not, in fact, exhaustion.

The chakra pattern moving her way is, thankfully, familiar, but the ones following farther behind him are not. Nara Shikamaru leaps into the clearing, and his sharp eyes miss nothing.

"Ino--" he starts, only to be cut off just as quickly.

"Finish the mission," she says, voice firm in contrast with the violent trembling of her hands. "I'll hold them off here."

The genius hesitates, but Ino knows better. She yanks him into an embrace, clinging to him as fiercely as he holds to her, and says "I don't have much time."

Shikamaru nods and steps away, his eyes meeting hers for a silent moment. Then, nimble as the deer his family is known for, he leaps from the clearing, the scroll that is more important than their lives tucked firmly into his vest.

When the fallen nin's reinforcements arrive, the kunoichi can hardly walk. At first the rock-nin joke, taunting the blonde, but soon jests turn to shouts of surprise and the sounds of battle.

Momochi Zabuza once battled an entire army with useless arms, at the cost of his life. Yamanaka Ino only needed her hands.

Pure coincidence, she thinks as those red sharingan eyes begin to whirl, that Uchiha Sasuke would be in this small town nothing in Grass Country at the same time as she.

Pure irony, she thinks as she stares helplessly at the cold man before her, that she once thought she'd spend the rest of her life with him.

Pure mockery, she thinks as the warm blood begins to trickle down her front from where his blade pierces her chest, that she did.