disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
It's been two months and things should be better. To a civilian two months sounds like one hell of a speedy grieving period, but a nin's life moves in a blink and grief can be stored as easily as chakra when push comes to shove. Things should be better, but they aren't. Not even a little, or even at all.
She eats on an empty stomach, sleeps on pills because she dreams (red dried on her hands, dripping still), and none of her team (just us now, she whispers to herself, by herself) really looks at each other because it hurts too fucking much.
She feels old.
Hinata eyes are more open now, warm and sweet with consideration, Tenten is awkward and sympathetic, Tsunade is wearyand aware she wants to drown herself in work and won't let her, Shizune does and Ino gets the graveyard shift constantly, and Sakura-
is popping up everywhere because the world is fucked up like that, it always gives you something different from what you want. She almost hates her friend/rival/senpai and words, hard, unforgiving words burn in her mouth every time Sakura is in close proximity. Asuma and Sasuke are both gone, but Asuma won't ever come back, and even though there is a snowball's chance in hell of Sasuke making Sakura's fairy fantasy of a return to childhoodcome true, Ino is jealous.
More jealous of anything she's ever been, because Sakura can still hope. Can still cling to the memory of a lost teammate.
Ino has to muffle screams from her under-medicated dreams when she imagines Asuma in them, whole, giant, laughing behind a puff of smoke, because happy haunts her more than horror.
She hates her tolerance for medication, hates how quiet her life is, (it always had some element of it, but now the silence blares, like a painful screech) she hates Akatsuki, and she almost hates her best friend, even though Sasuke being alive has nothing to do with her.
She''d hate herself for that too, but she doesn't think of herself as a person anymore. An image in a mirror and a sad nin with almost broken teammates.
Looking at her team, just knocks the breath out of her and if she stares at them too long, she's reminded of the man who held their lives in his hands and gave his life so they could live. They feel the same way, she feels it in her bones, because Shikamaru is always awake and Chouji never eats. But she can't lose them too, because if there's one thing she learned about the Rookie 9's most elusive sensei, it's that losing people never gets any easier.
She shoves Shkamaru out of bed, ignoring the fact that he is already awake, lying there and brings Chouji home cooked meals despite the facts he is never without a snack, and she thinks her promise isn't day by day, but hour by hour.
Her mother is painfully aware of her civilian status and her father looks at her like he hates himself. They want their daughter back, Ino knows. They want normalcy, so in between 9 hour shifts and solo training, she starts working in the flower shop again, on weekends or whenever she's not on missions.
She remembers Kurenai's flowers and she takes one home everyday without knowing why. She doesn't even put them in water, they shrivel after a day and she throws them away when they do.
Almost everyone has seen Kakashi at the memorial stone, but Ino can count the number of times he's bought flowers. Once every year, her father told her, for about as long as you were alive. She's only ever caught him twice, like clockwork, always the exact same week, same day most of the time.
Sure enough, he's here again, tall and lanky, dark in her family's bright shop, the blooms and green stems a contrast to the fabric he clothes himself with. He holds up four fingers and she nods, taking the exact number of the exact same flowers he always gets from the cooler.
They mean friendship, she notes.
He's leaving then, it's all done in a couple of seconds, the white tissue paper crinkles in his left hand, as his right pushes open the door and the bell makes a tinkling noise, light and high when he speaks, halfway out.
"It's alright to remember Ino."
Her nails dig into the soil. her back aches because she's been hunched in her family fields for hours now. Staring at Kurenai's flowers, young and still in the ground, Ino finally lets the same memory replay in her head.
Big hands handing her money, letting her keep the change, dark skin darkening some more, spluttered excuses, and fondness, happiness
Remembering is hard, it clenches her chest and she tries to breathe, because more memories are there, pressing against her closed eyelids, and she wonders how far along Kurenai is in her pregnancy.
Her lungs forget to work when she sees Kurenai. She's huge and there, and sensei is everywhere in this house. She's bawling, harder than when he died, the fresh flowers in her hand fall onto Kuernai's floor and she's too tired to make herself not feel.
Kurenai's pregnant belly presses up against her and slender arms pull her into a hug she refused to believe she needed.
She pats down the moist soil. The dirt clings to her fingertips and she breathes in the scent of clean air and dug up earth. her hand reaches up to tug in her earring and she finally opens her eyes to look.
This is the first time since the funeral that she has been here. Shikamaru comes every week with Kurenai and Chouji sometimes goes with them, but the lack of life in a cemetery is unsettling to her. But maybe, she ponders, tracing his name with her eyes, cemetaries are supposed to remind you about life.
She thinks of the tiny seeds in the ground, alive, and thinks Kurenai's belly and remembers life and how she's still here. And something finally settles in her soul and her stomach growls.
The baby kicked.
Life doesn't have to go on without people she believes, touching the skin where a little foot was, they go with you. Life is full of reminders that keep them with you, and she remembersthe memorial stone and Kakashi-sensei's flowers and how the memorial stone could use some color.
babies are a messy bloody, business, Ino shouldn't even be in the ward, but Kurenai insisted and Tsuande pulled some strings and so unlike the rest of the Rookie 9 and Team Gai, Ino gets to witness the entire miracle.
Childbirth is gruesome, she learns. The second the squirming baby is placed in her arms though, Kurenai doesn't even remember the pain she went through. Her eyes are soft and full of love. Ino is the second person to hold the tiny infant before the baby is sent to be cleaned and for a second it felt like Ino was cradling a soul.
There should only be three peoplin the room, but everyone crowds in anyways and Kurneai smiles a beautiful smile before promptly passingout from sheer exhaustion
Sanna, is the baby's name. Ino is so busy rolling the name off her tongue she misses Kurenai's question, but she hears her teammate draw in a quick breath.
Kurenai's lips quirk, amused and happy tired all at once, "You already said you would look for our baby," she reminds him, "I'm just making it official. Besides it's not all on you Shikamaru."
Ino shots him a look (what?) and he's too shocked to respond, so Chouji answers for her. Godparents, he mouths and tilts his head almost imperceptibly towards her and Shika.
Sorry for the wait. More to come I promise.