title: head in hands
written for Pinaface's birthday, and (later) as an answer to one of Annie's prompts. :)

summary: He wondered if perhaps he was in over his head—wondered when exactly he had stopped caring.

notes: Back! It's ridiculous—my passion for SasuSaku clearly outranks any crack pairing my tattered mind comes up with, and yet, here I sit, updating this in the midst of cherry apple wine's incompleteness.


And, I got three questions that I would like to address. First, a thousand cranes raised a question that I respectfully wish to address—specifically the meeting of Lee and Sakura, and Sasuke's reaction to it. Quite honestly, I wrote this story never planning that the two would meet. I'm sorry if you're disappointed by this. :/ To be frank, I don't feel that it's necessary to the plot of the story that the two ever meet. And while I adore a jealous Sasuke right along with you, he won't be appearing—as blasphemous as this might be to those readers who know me for my SasuSaku obsession, Sasucakes doesn't much figure here. He exists in this piece only as Sakura's boyfriend. Further, I am of the opinion that when Lee falls, he falls hard, and even if he were to meet Sakura in this story, it wouldn't matter—in the context of this piece, it is Ino who holds his interest.

Above all, this story is about Lee and Ino—Sasuke and Sakura are peripheral figures (really, I don't even mention darling Sasucakes by name XD) though I suppose that you could argue that Sakura was the accidental matchmaker.

Despite this, I hope you—and everyone else who has been kind enough to give this piece a second glance—stick around for the rest of the story. It's coming to a close fairly soon. :)

The second question came from Coco Minu way back in the second chapter. Yes, indeed, I did intend those two customers in the coffeeshop to be Karin and Naruto, mostly because I love sort-of cameos. Snaps to you for getting it!

The third question, but certainly not the least important, came from Neitzarr who asked me how I got into this. Honestly, this is one of those pieces that just came to me when I received the prompts. It almost wrote itself. But, I am, nonetheless, ridiculously proud of it. :)

Please feel free to ask any other questions you may have!

Thank you all very much for dealing with the obnoxiously long AN, and for reading, of course!

disclaimer: Not mine!

She ran.

Her light steps seemed to fall in time to rhythm of her breaths, and a part of her wished she'd had the foresight to leave her scarf home. It served only to weigh her down, and she had enough of those matters in the back of her head—she didn't see the need to wear them around her neck, too.

Running was how she escaped—her preferred method, before the arrival of those silly tomes, and the silly boy who seemed to come along with them. She brushed aside a twinge of something like guilt at the thought—so much more than a silly boy—and sped up resolutely, determined to ignore the dangerous direction her sentiments seemed to take.

It was stupid. He was stupid. Love. What did he know? Certainly not me, Ino thought blankly, somewhat saddened at the thought. If he had, he wouldn't have said a word.

He shouldn't have said a word. She'd been satisfied already. What need was there for more, she wondered. He couldn't possibly have—

He couldn't possibly have accepted reciprocation.

"Stupid," she gasped aloud, as she stopped to catch her breath. Her knees were shaking, and Ino knew it was only her pride that allowed her to blame it on the run.



She hadn't returned his calls.

He'd left a message the day after, and another one three days later. When he'd heard her answering machine for the twenty-third time, Lee had wondered whether it was time to walk away.

He didn't regret it, or at least, he didn't think he did. There was no shame in honesty, and at least, she hadn't lied to him. There had been no dutiful reciprocation, no outright rejection. She'd only looked at him with those wide, blue eyes.

Lee was thankful for that—for her honesty. He liked to think that he knew a bit about Ino, and what he knew was that she was the sort who loved wholly and deeply. For her—as it was for him—it was all or nothing. He didn't think he would have been satisfied with only half a heart.

No—with Ino, it would be everything or nothing.

He would wait.


The days after had come and gone, and when she woke up on the following Wednesday, it was to the flashing LCD screen of her father's latest offering. Three more missed calls—Lee, it seemed, had remembered her preference for conversations at midnight.

Ino had done her very best to keep it out of her mind. And what was left to say, anyway? Surely he would have understood by now.

He wasn't in her plans—wasn't near what she'd expected, what she'd wanted, and she'd never been the sort of girl who liked surprises.

Love. Love. Love. Love.

The word was a metronome, a quiet beat that lingered long after she'd fallen asleep.


After today, he would step back, Lee decided, as he wrapped an ash-gray woolen scarf around his neck.

He would want her still, he knew. Lee knew himself—had tried, from the moment he learnt about the theory of self-serving bias to see himself objectively, to know himself the way others would see him from the outside. Heart, he knew, could not matter to those who did not—could not—see it.

But if he knew her—and he liked to think, that despite his self-made mess, that he did—adding to the feeling of her pushing him away would not help his cause.

Despite her disavowals to the contrary, Ino was a good person. She was imperfect and flawed, half-whole, and whole-hearted. And he knew what he was to her, knew that at the moment, all his calls were adding to the noose she'd hang around her neck.

Ino had a penchant for tragedy.


Sakura noticed it in first period, but mercifully, saved the inquisition for their shared free period. Sasuke was languishing in Theater—"Need it for my scholarship," he'd grumped earlier in the semester—and so, she had nothing to distract her from her best friend's sudden case of malaise.

"What's wrong with you," she asked bluntly. "I'm wearing a purple and orange scarf that clashes spectacularly with my hair and you haven't yet said a word. Did the Burberry boutique near your house close down," she asked playfully, though Ino noted the strain around her eyes. Sakura looked worried.

"Everything's just fine," she muttered, turning away to face the wall. "I just didn't get much sleep last night."

Sakura frowned for a moment, before her features softened into a look that seemed far too probing for her peace of mind.

She didn't want to talk about it, couldn't explain why she was suddenly feeling so undone in her own skin. Maybe she was being selfish. Maybe, she'd been fooling herself with the something more, with the something "better". Maybe she was self-centered and narcissistic, shallow and superficial—rife with artifice.

Maybe he'd been wrong, and maybe the mask she'd been wearing had taken, had pressed itself so cleanly against her skin that neither of them had noticed when it had become her face.

Maybe that was why she'd walked away. Too cowardly to face his disappointment, she'd elected to avoid it.

The thought seemed to linger on her tongue, surprising her with its bitterness.

She sat up, startling Sakura, who'd been eyeing her silence with worry.


"Say there was a boy," Ino said, before she lost the nerve again. She ignored Sakura's sharp look. "Say there was a boy, and he loved you."

"I'll try to imagine that," her friend said wryly.

"Say there was a boy, and he loved you, but you knew that you were selfish, and wrong, and entirely unlike the person he's created in his mind. Say you aren't perfect—" Her words were coming faster now, almost stumbling over themselves to leave her mouth.

"This hypothetical situation is really doing a lot for my self-esteem, Ino."

"—but that he thinks that you are. Or that you're close to it. Or something. Say that you told him you were beautiful—someone else would have told him anyway—instead of waiting to hear the words coming from his own lips."

She was standing now, and attracting quite a bit of attention. Heads turned whenever Yamanaka Ino opened her mouth, but Sakura was almost entirely sure that for the first time, her best friend wasn't even aware of anyone else in the room. Her monologue might as well have been a soliloquy.

"Ino, where is this going? And you should sit—Ibiki-san's looking over here, and you know how he is about talking in his library." She punctuated her words with several sharp tugs at her friend's pale arm before Ino acquiesced, almost blindly.

"So you have a boy, and you know you aren't what he needs, and that he isn't what you need. Say that you know you'll hurt him."

Now, she broke off, looking at Sakura with wide eyes.

"So what do you say when he tells you he loves you?"


She called him from the courtyard, not three minutes after the last bell—low and dolorous; she'd never heard it before today, had never stayed long enough to listen—had sounded through the empty halls of her school. Despite herself, she'd memorized his schedule by heart, and knew he'd be in the coffee shop reading about torts and mandates and constitutional law. When it had been theirs, he'd read Plato and Aristotle, the odd Shakespeare—"the everyman's poet," he'd insisted, and had politely ignored her when she'd argued otherwise—and sometimes, de Tocqueville, whom he'd insisted was a combination of all three. He didn't care for Machiavelli—neither the man, nor his methods, and as his was the only name Ino was vaguely familiar with, so a lot of the time, they had been at an impasse.

Still, she thought now, as she stared blankly at the phone in the palm of her hand—the steady, unforgiving, beeping audible even from a distance—they had compromised.

Perhaps, she thought, it was over.


When he stepped out of the café, his breath seemed to form clouds in front of him, seemed to lead him instinctively to his next destination. His feet seemed to fall in time with his breaths—rhythmically, like a runner's—and he walked without thinking until he found himself near the river.

It wasn't as cold, he thought—not nearly so, even despite his breaths. He shifted the bag he carried so that the corners of his laptop weren't digging into his side, and exhaled deeply, closing his eyes to the scene before him.

Lee was away now, far enough that nothing could reach him. Civilization had no place here, or at least, it didn't rule. The closest buildings were blocks behind him, and a river away. His signal was nonexistent, and he'd left his car parked near the café, the keys safely ensconced in a pocket of his bag.

It was quiet here.

"Enough now," he said softly, willing his thoughts away. "Enough."

No, this isn't ending with a suicide. Absolutely not.

I'm thinking one more chapter.