"If I were to be remembered, Forehead, I wouldn't want to be remembered for my beauty – and I know I have that in spades."

"Humility has always been your greatest quality."

"Shut up."

"All right, all right. Continue, you gorgeous, fabulous Ino, you."

"Ch, I know. Anyway… If I were to be remembered, I would want to be remembered as a girl who was fierce, loyal, and never backed down from a fight. I would want to be remembered as the greatest spy and interrogator that ever lived. I want to be remembered as the woman who wasn't ashamed to clothe herself in the shadows or run out under the sun…."

"Such a grand speech, Pig; I wouldn't have thought you'd had it in you."

"… I will move past that."

"Okaaay."

"But, seriously, Sakura, above all, I don't want to be remembered for my true self. At all."

"Why not?"

"'Cos that'd mean I didn't do a good enough job."

-

-

-

-

-

-

perchance to fly

-

-

-

-

-

-

She danced.

She was gorgeous and delicate and absolute perfection. Her hair, rivulets of sunshine, styled down her back and spun as she moved and gazed out under golden eyelashes with forget-me-not eyes. Her pale kimono glided along with every flick of the wrist, entrancing, captivating.

Seduction.

Her target grinned sleazily, downing glass after glass of fine liquor. He was not an attractive man (they never are, she reflected wryly ), but she had a job to do.

And when Yamanaka Ino had a job, she did not just do it.

She did it well.

So she halted her movements and proceeded to sink into the most graceful bow any man had ever seen. Once she had sunken into the lowest point of her bow, she looked up at the daimyo to give him a wink.

His grin only widened.

He did not know that with that wink, she had cast a jutsu so powerful he would be putty in her hands. She had taken down all of his mental walls with that dance, left him open and vulnerable, so it was so easy, so easy to implant a shadow in his mind to dig out all the secrets.

Her mission was over. That little shadow would continue to get the secrets she needed, return to her, even over miles and miles of distance, and the man would be left insane.

It was quite the misconception that, on these seduction missions, Ino would have to give herself over and over to the enemy, and that would explain the tears that ran down like fountains after every mission.

That was false.

Ino won through her own skill, and she did not need her beauty to be powerful. Ino had never ever given her body to an enemy.

Not on any mission.

Ino cried for the insanity she left behind.

-

I want to be free.

-

Ino was known in Konoha for her beauty and brilliance with seduction.

She wished it weren't so, but she was happy for it.

She did her jobs well, as always.

A select few knew that Ino was the greatest spy and interrogator among the ninja nations.

A select few knew of the guilt that left behind.

-

"My job, Naruto?"

"Yes, Ino; I'd like to know what you think of what you do."

"… If Hinata is your Queen, Sakura is your Goddess, and Tenten is your Warrior, then I… I am your Shadow. I am your Siren. I am the filthy dog that gets the deeds done under the cover of nightmares."

"… Strange, Ino, you're rather poetic."

"Honestly, I'm just a drama queen."

"You're actually pretty accurate, Ino. Except I don't think you're filthy."

"If only you knew."

-

"Oh, oh! Did you hear?"

"What?"

"Sakura-sama and the Uchiha are… you know."

"Oh my gosh! I totally thought she'd go for Lee-san!"

"God, woman, where have you been? Under a rock?"

Ino scoffed every time she heard women gossip, even when she was much younger.

True, Ino was supposedly the gossip central of Konoha. She knew everything about everyone.

But that was not because she spoke of others behind their backs.

Ino walked down Konoha, intent on finding Shikamaru and getting him to spar with her. It was always a challenge, trying to work her way around his complex strategies.

Inuzuka Kiba came into view. His hair was adorably ruffled that day, so Ino graced him with a wink.

He grinned back, but he did not respond so eagerly to her flirtations as usual.

"Hey, Kiba," she tried again, flipping her long hair back.

"Ino," he said curtly, though not without humour. He swiftly moved past her.

Interesting.

Ino quickly set about to deduction.

His hair was more ruffled than usual – that meant he'd been running his hands through it. Either his mother had been more pushy than usual, or…

Come to think of it, Hinata's eyes had been exceptionally red when Ino had last seen her, hadn't she? And the blush on the Hyuuga's cheeks had been more prominent than usual.

Ah, and Neji had been in a foul mood, too. Ino was sure it wasn't because of pregnant Tenten's mood swings. Neji rather enjoyed caring for his wife; Tenten was so rarely vulnerable…

In a matter of seconds, Ino had figured out the problem.

The Hyuuga's are going through another leadership problem. Hinata's always run to Kiba for these things, and thus he's very concerned. It's probably a major internal conflict. Taking into account Neji's mood, it's most likely about her efforts in abolishing the Branch system. I'll have to see Hanabi to be sure…

A week later, women gossiped about "yet another Hyuuga issue!".

-

"It's funny how you're rarely sent out to spy, Ino. And yet you always know the other nation's next moves…"

"Heh, Shika, don't you know? I hardly need to get out of here to find anything out."

-

I don't need chakra or proximity to steal away people's freedom, do I?

-

Sakura helped Ino out a lot with her medical ninjutsu. But, both knew, that Ino had not really gone into medical ninjutsu to heal bones and mend wounds.

Ino wanted to save minds.

"I'LL KILL YOU! I'LL KILL EVERYONE! ALL I SEE IS BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD—"

Ino sent a burst of soothing chakra through the man's system. The section of the psych ward reserved for shinobi was… infinitely darker and more violent than the rest of the place.

The shinobi crumpled into Ino's arms.

Ino recognized the symptoms the man was showing. From the violent nature of his hallucinations, it was most likely a mind entrance technique gone wrong. Jutsu meant to leave people insane were rarely used. They were more often than not unnecessary, and usually acts of malevolence or correction. Malevolence, when revenge was in order, and correction, when people were so far down in their own darkness that it was best for all parties involved that their very essences be taken away.

There were some mind techniques that were not meant to leave people insane, but insanity was a vital side effect. When information is taken without consent, for example, the mind cannot deal with the manhandling properly. That was why so much equipment was used in order to mind-read. In espionage missions, such luxuries could not be afforded.

Ino did not continue that line of thought, –

She could hear the brokenness of their consciousness before the connection finally died down.

'AH! AHHHH! WHO AM I?! WHAT AM I?! ALL I SEE IS---'

'You filthy, filthy dog---' –

And those jutsu were far too complex for anyone out of the Yamanaka clan.

Definitely a mind technique gone wrong. The walls of the mind were touchy things. Yamanaka, from birth, were raised to figure out how to disassemble the pieces. But for such jutsu to be attempted by someone with insufficient training…

The consequences were dire.

But she could save him, unravel the pieces and set things right.

Redemption for the men I've left this way.

Sighing, Ino laid her hands on the man's head and entered his mind.

-

But I want to set people free.

-

Ino was on the way to another of her special missions.

But she was taking her time. It wasn't too urgent or consequential. But the pay was big; Sakura's birthday was coming up, and Ino would show the clan she did not need to rely on them for money.

The clan. Oh, how they constantly underestimated her. They knew nothing. They were not even brave enough to use mind-violating jutsu on missions, feeling that they would be unable to take the guilt later on. They chose the sanctity of their minds above the safety of their people.

The trees thinned out, and eventually, Ino saw a vast field of sunflowers ahead.

Warmth. Happiness. Adoration. Longetivity.

Her spirits were lifted slightly. Ino was always comforted by flowers. They spoke to her, and they whispered their messages to her. They were loyal to her and believed in her and not once had they ever failed her.

Ino took her first step onto the field.

And then the rain came pouring down.

Ino did not know how it was scientifically possible that the blue sky had instantaneously turned gray and dreary, crying out for all it was worth, but it did not matter.

In those moments, the sunflowers lost their color, turning a flat gray without the blue of the sky or the light of the sun.

And everything came rushing back.

-

"Sakura, Sakura, Sakura!"

"It's okay, Ino, just let it out."

"It's not okay! I tore him apart. I didn't even kill him! I ruined him. I broke him from the inside."

"Ino, please…"

"No! NO! I took away his one sanctuary, his mind. Everyone feels safe there, and I constantly, constantly violate that one last place."

"Cry it out, Ino; cry it out."

"I do it everyday! I don't even mean to! I unravel people without using a hint of chakra! I get all their secrets, and not even consensually! And when I spy, interrogate… Oh god, Sakura, I violate every kind of privacy people have!"

"It's going to be okay. It's going to be okay."

"It'd.. be… so much easier… if I just killed them…"

"Shh, Ino. Shh."

-

The screams of the broken constantly echo in my mind.

'Ino, oh, Ino, why didn't you set me free?'

-

Ino ran.

The rain dripped down her back, soaked her bag, ruined the costume within…

It doesn't matter, you could break him so many other ways, couldn't you? Filth! Scoundrel! Lowest of the low!

Tears mingled with rain. Shallow breaths were taken. Lungs strained.

Gasping, she came to a standstill.

"Talk to me, flowers! Who am I; who am I?!"

A piercing scream.

"I want to be free! I WANT TO BE FREE!"

She spread her arms wide, eyes turned to the sky.

perchance to fly, fly, fly

-

Ino crashed into the Uchiha compound, eyes wide and wild.

"Sakura," she wheezed out to Sasuke, before collapsing into his arms.

Gently, he carried Ino over to his wife, who had hurriedly come after sensing Ino's faint chakra.

"Oh, no, not again," Sakura breathed out. Nervously, she motioned for Sasuke to take the Yamanaka into the guest room.

He laid her down on the bed as Sakura fussed over her form, green chakra faintly flaring. Knowing Sakura needed the comfort, he left a hand on the small of her back.

"She's beautiful even like that," Sasuke said softly.

Sakura sighed. "I know."

-

"Eat, Ino. You haven't eaten since Sakura force fed you the other day."

"…"

"Eat."

"Chouji, that's the last slice of the apple pie Kurenai baked us."

"I know."

"Chouji, it's the last."

"I know."

"…"

"Thank god, Ino, thank god."

-

"Mission accomplished, Naruto."

Naruto fixed his deep blue eyes on the other blonde, pondering.

"Ino, I think you need a vacation."

Her eyebrows furrowed.

"Excuse me?"

Naruto sighed. "You're working too hard."

Ino's gaze was out the glass walls, out at Konoha. "No, it's okay."

"You have nothing to prove, you know," Naruto said. He held up her mission report. "You've given me ten of these this week, Ino. Ten missions in a week."

Ino exhaled sharply. "Yes."

Naruto put her report down, sighing again. "You have nothing to prove."

She smiled wryly. "I know."

"Take a leave. Anything. I don't want to see you in the interrogations unit, or the hospital, or even the psych ward."

"Naruto, it's okay."

"… I'll have Sakura write up a prescription or something. Something that would prohibit even me from sending you on missions or allowing you to work."

Ino turned to him, eyes wide and angry. "No."

Naruto met her gaze evenly. Unwavering.

Fists trembling, Ino haughtily stormed out of the Hokage Tower.

-

"Thanks for coming with me, Tenten."

"No problem. Neji's been dying for the chance to be the one to nurture the baby."

"Ha, I swear, that man is such a hen, deep down."

"I know. "

"You know, I can see why Shika likes cloud-gazing so much."

"Ahh, me, too."

"Tenten…"

"Mm?"

"What does it feel like? To fly?"

"To fly?"

"When you're on top of your weapon-dragons…"

"… Seriously?"

"Yeah."

"Well… it feels like freedom."

"… Tenten, can I ask another favor?"

"Yes, Ino?"

"Could you… perform that jutsu now? And… let me stand atop your dragons with you?"

"…"

"Please."

"… Okay, Ino. Okay."

-

The guilt. The clan. The heartache.

And maybe someday I'll fly.

Maybe someday I'll be free.

-

Ino and Sakura were at the park.

Ino had severely insisted on playing on the swings.

"Come on, Forehead, it'll feel like flying!"

Sakura did not have the heart to refuse the desperation Ino so valiantly tried to hide.

So she pushed for Ino, and they laughed together. They painted a beautiful picture: a nymph teaching her queen to fly without wings.

After thirty minutes, though, Sakura felt it was time for Ino to just talk.

"Ino, I'm tired."

Ino, still seated on the swing, ceased laughing. "So am I, Sakura. So very tired."

"Oh, Ino," Sakura breathed. Tenderly, she pulled Ino's long, silky hair out of its ponytail and ran her hands through it. It was not as lustrous as it usually was, in fact, and even a little greasy from neglect.

"Sakura, I want to be free."

Gently, Ino rose from the swing, and turned to Sakura. Wisps of gold slipped away easily from tiny hands. Slowly, with the swing in between them, Ino reached over and pressed her lips over Sakura's.

It was nothing romantic. But, both knew, a touch of lips registered very intimately in the psyche. It was one intimate connection Ino could have that did not violate privacy. She and Sakura were close enough for that.

It was comfort.

"Set me free," Ino whispered brokenly, forehead resting against forehead.

Sakura pulled Ino's head away from her own, and laid it on her shoulder.

Tears ran down freely.

-

The next morning, Ino took her usual shift at the flower shop.

The sight and smell of flowers comforted her greatly, and she smiled softly as she headed towards her desk.

She was surprised to see a bouquet of tiny, pale flowers. There was no note attached.

These are hard to keep alive away from the water!, Ino noted, and examined the flowers with her chakra. True enough, someone had gone through the effort of keeping the flowers alive… Rather, people had gone through the effort.

Imbued in the flowers were the chakra of… Ino breathed out, trying to make sense of them all.

Sakura, Sasuke, Naruto, Shika, Chouji, Tenten, Neji, Hinata, Kiba, Shino, Lee… Tou-san….

There were so many chakra signatures; it was dizzying to examine them all.

Ino laughed out breathily, before finally realizing what she held in her hands.

"Water-willows," she recited from memory. "For freedom."

-

"You're going to be remembered for more than your beauty and seduction, Pig."

"No, I'm not. I am that good at my profession. I am that good of a spy. The public won't even know."

"Naruto or me or someone is bound to announce what you've done after your death."

"… Well, when you put it that way… But I want to be the best spy, the best shadow 'til the very end, Sakura."

"No, Pig. We'll set you free."

-

Ino stood at Team 7's bridge, watching down at the body of water it crossed over.

That was the only place in Konoha the water-willows grew.

Ino jumped off.

And for one precious second, the bridge was not Team 7's. It was hers.

She wasn't suicidal – she'd definitely survive the leap.

But for that precious second, she was –

Flying, flying, never falling because I am Yamanaka Ino and I never fall –

free.

fin.

One day, I will always be.