'Laughter is the closest distance between people.'

Victor Borge

oOo

Inuzuka Kiba, as most people know, is not quick to catch on. He is the last to realize that when Neji and Sasuke say 'training', what they really mean is naked training. Of their penises. In Sasuke's apartment. He is also the final person to hear about Tenten's tattoo in a very interesting place. The scandal that is Kankurou and Anko of all people has gone through the rumour mill a good two and a half times before it even gets to Kiba.

He isn't unintelligent, nowhere near so…just kind of unobservant when it comes to anything not related to a mission.

All that being said, he does notice (eventually.) And, right now, Inuzuka Kiba has finally noticed that he is being stalked, and by a laugh without a body at that.

oOo

Konoha is at its greenest. The trees are practically luxuriating in their cloaks of thick, green leaves and the ground itself is dark with dappled, shifting shadows. This is his excuse for not seeing the owner of the laugh that distracts him from his training (well, gamboling in the undergrowth with Akamaru under the pretense of training.)

It is liquid, like sunshine, with a wicked edge to it that makes him stop and tilt his head to the side…

…but only for a moment because Akamaru soon drops a stick at his feet and he dismisses the jovial sound as a nameless, faceless person enjoying a forest in summer.

It's only after he's heard it another three times, all in different locations around Konoha and all seemingly empty of its source, that he stops writing it off as coincidence.

oOo

He hears it at the convenience store when he's buying milk and hamburgers. He hears it in the corridors of the Hokage's tower when he swings by to drop off his redone mission report (too many toothmarks, according to Iruka, and is it his fault that the latest batch of pups are chew-happy?) He even hears it in the stillness of twilight as he strolls through the streets with Akamaru.

It is now a mystery and one that is driving Kiba wild. But however fast he turns, however quickly he rushes to where he could have sworn that mocking fae laughter originated, he never finds the perpetrator.

He starts to wonder if it's a ghost.

oOo

If it is a ghost, it's one that haunts his sleep.

Kiba dreams of laughter like the feel of water running seductively over skin.

It does not make things…peaceful.

oOo

He doesn't even bother telling his friends. He is Inuzuka Kiba, acknowledged tough guy among his agemates and proud of it. He isn't going to admit that he's being stalked by a laugh.

…he also has a sneaking suspicion that it's all a figment of his imagination because it never happens where anyone else can hear it.

Kiba thinks that, maybe, he's going crazy. He is glumly resigned to this.

oOo

In fact, he is so glumly resigned that, on a day when he spent a fruitless hour chasing that laugh through Konoha's trees, he decides he is in dire need of a drink.

This is how he comes to be at The Drunken Leaf, a well-known shinobi spot that does cheap (if awful) beer on tap, but the best cider in all of the Fire Nation. He orders two pints right off and is looking to down the first one speedily when – quelle surprise! – he hears it, all silver bells and dark chocolate and glorious.

The laugh comes from behind him and all he can think is 'Great, I'm hallucinating in public now.'

He turns around half-heartedly, expecting nothing.

Except that, instead of nothing, he sees Yamanaka Ino.

Inelegantly, his jaw drops and he spills cider all over his lap.

She's sitting at a table with Tenten, Lee and Chouji. She's long-limbed, blond-haired and all sleek and svelte in a little black number. She's also laughing and the achingly familiar noise is like a slap in the face. A good one.

Kiba is staring and he doesn't know how to stop. He doesn't think it's even possible after he spots the trace of green in that white-blond mane of hers. Yamanaka Ino has a leaf in her hair – the same Yamanaka Ino who manages to remain immaculate, even when on missions.

Slowly, Kiba starts to grin like a fool because he thinks he's just found the owner of the laugh that's led him on a merry dance through the verdant green of Konoha's forest.

She's still chuckling when Kiba walks over to the group, but she treats him to a languid, lazy smile when he taps her on the shoulder.

"What's the joke?" he asks her casually, trying not to stare at the elegant curve of her shoulder or her full lower lip.

Ino smirks at him and props her chin in her hand. Those blue eyes of hers are knowing and endlessly, endlessly amused – they are eyes in which a secret little joke is always dancing. "It's a long one."

Kiba grins and leans down to put his face on a level with hers. "Then why don't you tell it to me over a drink."

She raises an eyebrow at him, but she looks a little pleased and a lot smug. She offers him her hand and Kiba, skin thrilling at the contact, helps her down from her high bar stool. As she smoothes her dress down around her thighs, Ino looks up at him with a satisfied gleam in her eyes.

"Took you long enough," is all she says.

oOo

Lell says…

I saw James McAvoy on stage in 'Three Days of Rain', not three hours ago. This story is in no way related to that beautiful, intense, exhausting play, but I thought I'd boast a little anyway. :)

More Ino. What a surprise.