I know it's been months (and months and months) but Real Life has been really kicking my ass. *Sigh*

Lately, I've been getting into dramas. There's SO many good ones out there. I recently finished "Oh! My Lady." It was really cute, but my favorite by far is "My Lovely Sam-soon." It's sooooooo good. It was pitched as "the Koren Bridget Jones" (I am obsessed with Bridget Jones, btw) but it was so different and so amazing. It's also the only drama where I didn't laugh out loud when they were speaking English, plus the actors actually fluctuated when speaking. Yay for them! Both dramas are available on Hulu, which is infinitely preferable to watching separate videos.

Oh! Thanks to everyone who reviewed. This story has over 100 review so far. Everyone who reads/likes this story is loved, no matter if you review or not!

Ino looked down at Sakura's sleeping face. In the absence of light, she could barely make out the dark patches of skin under her friend's eyes. Sakura's story had lasted for a while and no amount of energy could have kept her up for much time past the end. Indeed, Sakura had started to drift off towards the end and each of her final sentences was punctuated with a large yawn. After the conclusion of her tale, Sakura had wanted to stay up with Ino and talk about everything. A minute or so in, Ino left for the bathroom and came back to find Sakura's form slumped across the bed, fast asleep. She sighed and pulled up the blankets.

Quietly, she walked over to the door, slipped on a pair of shoes, and snuck out. The light from the outside briefly illuminated the bed. Once outside, Ino gazed down the hall, trying to decide what to do. Many of the doors were closed and, she guessed, locked. Shino was still at his post. He quickly glanced up as she came out. The quiet of the hallway didn't last long; a loud male voice boomed from one of the open doorways. She reversed the layout of the hallway in her mind and realized that the room was the one Tenten had pulled Sasuke out of. There had been someone else in that room. Naruto! Yes, that was it. She figured the loud voice to be his. Even if Sasuke was in the room, he would have probably died before resorting to such a decibel. Tenten had said the Sasuke was helping Naruto pack. They might still need help packing, Ino reasoned, and it would give her something to do while she waited.

A few seconds passed before either of the men noticed her pausing at the doorframe. Sasuke was sitting at a large desk, sorting files into cardboard boxes. The bottom half of another man stuck out from behind a filing cabinet. Eventually, Sasuke looked up and saw her. "Hi," said Ino when she noticed him looking at her.

"Hey," he replied.

Her voice had caught the attention of the other man. He snapped back up, grinned, and walked over.

"Hey there! I'm Naruto." Every sentence of this new man's speech seemed punctuated with exclamation marks. His grin encompassed half his face. Ino couldn't remember ever seeing a smile so genuine and intoxicating. "You're Ino, right? Shikamaru's case? Aren't you also, like, Sakura's soul sister?" She nodded at the questions. "Jeez, you've got connections all over this place. She and this guy"-indicating Sasuke-"all totally lovey-dovey all the time. It's gross."

Sasuke shot him a look. Deadly intentions were implied. With a look that was only fractionally warmer, he turned back to Ino. "So, where exactly is Sakura? I sent her to your room two hours ago."

"She fell asleep. I didn't want to disturb her, so I wandered a bit and ended up here. I was wondering if you guys needed any help cleaning up," replied Ino.

Sasuke hummed in response and glanced at the pile of yellow folders thoughtfully. One caught his interests. He reached over and handed it to Ino. She peeked at the top flap, labeled "Ring." Unwanted memories of the previous night popped up, so she squashed them and laid the folder at her side.

"Take that to Room Three and leave it on the desk," Sasuke ordered. "The door is probably closed, but it should be unlocked."

Ino nodded and left the room. The destination was located further down the hall, closer to the security booth than Naruto's room. She could make out the fuzzy shape of a person on the monitor behind Shino's head. He appeared to be unlocking the door to let them in.

She found the office, hoping the door was what Sasuke had said it to be. It was, and she flipped on the lights as she stepped in. The layout of the room was similar to Naruto's, but much less cluttered. The only object in it, besides the desk and metal filing cabinets, was an open box sitting on the desk. Ino walked over to it, set the file down, and turned to walk away. A flash of color from inside the box caught her attention and she turned back. On top of a box of various files and papers was a framed photograph. The bright color she had witnessed was a man's bright red hair. He stood next to another man with strange purple markings on his face. The second man had his arms wrapped around the redhead and a blonde woman. Ino gasped. The woman was the woman from the restaurant! Her hair was styled differently, and she wore the same type of loose, traditional robes as the men, but it was definitely the same woman.

"Hello?" A voice called from behind Ino. She quickly turned and discovered where it had come from. Sure enough, it was the woman from the picture and from the restaurant.

"Hi," Ino replied, rather weakly. "Um, Sasuke asked me to deliver that file to your office. Naruto had it."

A look of realization came over the woman's face. She walked over, past Ino, and picked up the file. "I swear," she said, "Every time Naruto picks something up, he accidentally grabs something else. Then he has to come back and pick up the correct one, but leaves the other file in his office. It's gotten so bad that the rest of us have to leave strictly confidential stuff in a separate cabinet, under lock and key. Honestly…" She had finished leafing through everything, so she looked back at Ino. Her brows knit together in confusion. "I'm sorry, but have we met? You look awfully familiar, but I just can't place you."

Ino wondered if she should reveal her name to the woman. In the city, an identity was a sacred thing, rarely given truthfully to strangers. However, as she thought about it, her name had been known by more strangers in the past day than at any other point in the recent past. Before going to the restaurant, she had never seen Chouji, Tenten, Sasuke, Naruto, or Shino before in her life, yet they all knew her. The woman seemed trustworthy enough. She was obviously trusted by this organization, or else she never would have been allowed in the building, let alone given her own office. She had also seemed on rather good terms with Shikamaru. Maybe if Ino got her talking, she would reveal a little bit more information on him.

She introduced herself with her name. The woman again appeared puzzled, but looked as though she was thinking the name through. "Oh!" she finally said, "You're Shikamaru's girl. You were at dinner the other night."

Ino wondered how on Earth the woman could have known that she was at the restaurant. They had never made eye contact during the entire time that Ino had been watching her. And, if the woman knew about her, then there was a chance that Shikamaru also knew. Ino voiced her question.

The woman chuckled. "There are other ways to observe someone than just downright staring at them," she said. Ino blushed, realizing the woman must have been aware of her gaze. "Besides," the woman continued, "Shikamaru reserved that table only because he knew you were going to be there that night."

Ino stared at the woman. Of all the nerve, Shikamaru! "He proposed to you on a stakeout? I get that I'm some sort of case or mission and all, but did he really have to overlap business with something so personal?" Ino still felt angry and betrayed at the proposal, but she just couldn't overlook this crime against all womankind!

The woman now was the one staring. She looked at Ino with a horrified expression, as though a third arm had sprouted from Ino's head. "Whoa, wait a minute. You think Shikamaru and I are getting married?" She began laughing; huge, infrequent puffs of air sprouted from her chest in the most unladylike way possible. "Oh God, you think we're engaged?"

Ino was a little miffed at the woman's reaction. "But he gave you a ring! You got emotional!"

The woman had calmed herself. "Ring?" she asked. Realization then dawned on her. "Oh, you mean this." From her pocket, she produced the very same box that Ino had seen Shikamaru give to her. The woman opened it up and inside rested a masterpiece of priceless gems set in tarnished gold. It was absolutely beautiful and looked to be a hundred years old, at least. "This is a priceless family heirloom. It was stolen during a raid on our family house fifty years ago. My younger brother, Gaara, is the one getting married. I hired Shikamaru to track the ring down for the wedding. That whole emotional scene was just the product of too much wine and too little food. Alcohol tends to bring out my weepy side."

Ino felt around for the desk. Her legs were weak with such giant relief that she thought she may collapse. Shikamaru wasn't getting married! Even if he didn't feel that way about her, the lack of concrete evidence to support the other side didn't exist anymore. Her heart loosed a bit from the previous tightness.

However, one thing nagged at her mind. "If it's so valuable, how come you're just carrying your brother's ring in your pocket? Aren't you afraid that it'll get stolen again?"

The woman snorted, once again amused. "Please, no thief would stand a chance against me. And, once this gets into my brother's hands, I'd pity anyone who even thinks about taking it away from him. Trust me, this ring will have a long time before it's stolen from our family again."

"Oh." Ino watched as the woman organized the contents of the box in order to accommodate the new folder. Once everything was set in place, the woman sealed the box with a lid and turned to Ino.

"I think that's it," she said, "But, before you go, I just have to say that, in all the years I've known Shikamaru, I've never seen him so dedicated to a case such as yours. That's quite a compliment, seeing as how he usually spends as little time as possible on his work."

Ino could feel the blood flow into her cheeks. She bowed her head, knowing it was a useless endeavor to try and hide from her companion's eagle eyes. The simple act of trying just made her feel better. "Um, thank you," she said. "I should be going now." She spoke as she retreated to the door. "Bye."

She stepped into the hall, closing the door behind her. Before the door was completely shut, she heard the woman say "Bye Ino," from back in the room. Ino realized that she had never learned the woman's name.

How the hell did everyone here know who Ino was, but she knew absolutely nothing about anyone of them? Oh sure, Sakura had opened up and there had been pleasant conversations with Chouji and Shikamaru, but, in reality, she was just like a child to them: a fucking kid who got spoon-fed some information, but was deemed too naïve for the rest.

She knew that she was working herself up, but damned if she was going to stop. Oh sure, this little…thing had to keep some information private. They apparently thought they were some ultra-important special agency, but she deserved to know about herself. About why these people knew so fucking much about her life and she knew squat. She stomped down the hallway. Who gave a crap if it disturbed Shino? He could just deal with it.

She originally intended to go back to the room. Maybe she would wake up and interrogate Sakura a bit. One look at the exhausted woman would probably kill her resolve, but Ino chose to ignore the rational for the time being. She glanced at the light coming from Naruto's office. Naruto seemed like the person to let things slip, she mused. Sure, Sasuke would stop him form revealing too much, but every little bit counted.

She heard a door close behind her. She ignored it. Shino was probably just letting another "agent" into the building. Another person full of lies and a secret agenda. Joy, oh joy. Just what Ino needed.

What she didn't expect was to hear her name. It was softly spoken, barely above a whisper, but the empty hallway magnified it so it seemed like thunder when it reached her. She knew the voice, which didn't help. She had memorized every pitch, every fall, and every decibel of strength it held. The dual syllables of her name brushed against her cheek, a leaf blowing in the breeze, and sank under her skin. Equal parts summer wind and winter chill. Her anger had been whisked away. She clung desperately to the scraps, knowing that they would give her strength to walk away, to not turn around. Her efforts were in vain. The pieces were pulled out of her fingers; she watched them fly away, knowing she now had no excuse. Ino turned to face the man who had spoken her name. She turned to face Shikamaru.

I'm trying to muster some hope about the timing of the next (and last) chapter! Hopehopehopehopehope