She doesn't get around to hunting down Shikamaru and Choji until the next day. It's raining, so she finds them in Choji's favorite barbecue place instead of Shikamaru's favorite cloud-watching place.
"Hey guys!" she calls as she picks her way around empty tables. It's early; the restaurant is nearly empty. Choji happily waves back. Shikamaru turns to look at her, but makes no other movement. Lazy ass, she thinks.
She slinks into the booth next to said lazy ass.
"What ever it is," he says to her, "the answer is no."
"I don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about," she answers, smiling winningly. Usually, when graced with such a smile, men turn to putty in her hands. Shikamaru, however, simply turns to stare out the rain-streaked window.
"You have that look in your eyes again," he observes, examining a particular rain drop race down the window, "and I don't want to have anything to do with it."
"You don't even know what it is!" Ino protests.
Choji, sitting across from them and watching the argument with a bemused grin on his round face, laughs. "No, but it's always bad." And with that he calls a waitress over and orders enough food to feed a normal three-man cell for a week.
They eat with out conversing. As Choji stuffs his face, Ino sends small glares over toward Shikamaru. He ignores her and chews slowly.
When both she and Shikamaru are full (and Choji is still plowing through the pile of food between them), she makes an announcement.
"I need one of you to help me."
Shikamaru raises an eyebrow. "I already said no."
"This is completely different," Ino snaps back. This is, of course, a lie.
Shikamaru groans. "If it makes you happy, I'll let you explain it. But my answers is still no."
Ino scowls, then smiles over at her other teammate. "Choji?" she asks hopefully.
"Wha eef eht?" he asks through a mouthful of food.
"I need to practice a mind-transferring jutsu," she says, smiling winningly again. In response, Choji momentarily stops chewing and the two males exchange glances.
"Not in a million years," Shikamaru finally answers.
Choji swallows and asks uneasily, "What exactly do you want from us?"
"Guinea pigs," Shikamaru says before Ino can reply and she kicks him under the table.
"I just need a body to practice with," she clarifies. "I'd just have a couple gos at being you and seeing if I can convince people properly. It's no big deal."
I don't suggest fully explaining what you'll be doing with it.
She flashes her winning smile again.
"No," Shikamaru repeats in a deadpan.
Choji wrinkles his forehead in a worried way as he piles more food onto his plate. "Ino, I don't think that's a very good idea," he says. "You'll probably be tempted to do something devious, and then I'd get in trouble."
"You're both babies," Ino whines, but she supposes they have precedent for being worried. When her first boyfriend had broken up with her, she had possessed him while he was meditating in a park, striped off his clothes and run naked through the town. A year later she had sabotaged his attempt to court another girl by possessing various employees at the restaurant they had been eating at and spilling things on her. She had never done anything so malicious to her teammates, but she frequently dropped hints she'd one day get back at them for mistreating her body while her soul was elsewhere.
She doesn't bring it up for the rest of the meal. There are other people she can ask, and if that fails, she knows if she truly worked at pestering them about it, one would eventually give in.
They make plans to start up regular training sessions again tomorrow (Choji has some sort of clan meeting that afternoon, and Shikamaru is supposed to work on something confidential with the cryptography department) and break up to go their own ways. Ino has the rest of the day free after pitching a fit about not wanting to work the flower shop that morning, and so with the rain stopped but the sky still overcast, she wonders about Konoha, debating which boy she should track down to ask about her practice boy.
One of her cousins would probably agree to it. Then again, other male Yamanakas would probably be wary of her, knowing exactly what the purpose of the exercise was for and moreover, being familiar with Ino's personality in general. "Devious" tendencies aside, she's been known to make a public spectacle of herself on more than one occasion, usually yelling at rude or annoying people, and she did not always take whatever body she happened to be using into account.
Her mind turns toward old schoolmates. Shino is definitely out; those bugs freak her out. She might be able to persuade Kiba to agree, but she'd also have to deal with all those annoying dogs…
There is screaming up ahead, and Ino turns a corner to a girl being thrown out of a public bath. She has curly red hair and is dressed in a simple blue sundress. An elderly woman is yelling at her and smacking her bottom with a broom as the redhead stomps out of the building, scowling.
"How many times must I kick you out?!" the elderly woman screams and slams the door shut.
There is a puff of smoke and the girl suddenly becomes a certain orange-clad blond boy.
"WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU DOING?" Ino yells, indignant on behalf of the bathhouse.
Naruto turns and grins sheepishly at her approaching, livid form. "Uh, hey Ino, I know this looks bad, but– WHOA." He barely dodges a punch she had aimed at his nose. Her knee connects with his stomach and he winces backwards.
She crosses her arms and glares at him as he stumbles backward, hunching over his stomach.
"Okay," he mumbles, "I guess I deserved that. But you don't know the full situation!"
She raises and eyebrow at that. "Really? So there's more to using a modified version of your pervert jutsu than just spying on women as they bathe?"
"Well, I mean, no– yes– but–" he sputters. "Konohamaru bet me seven hundred ryo I couldn't sneak in there again!"
Ino groans and lets her arms fall to her sides. "Naruto, you're just a stupid as you were at the academy."
He chuckles at that. "You have no idea how often people tell me that."
"I don't know…" Ino walks around him, sizing him up. He seems to no longer be in pain. His body also seems to be in good condition, with no creepy bugs living in it. "How often do you get caught trying to sneak in to bathhouses?"
Naruto's face falls. "I almost always get caught," he admits. "How can they TELL I'm not a girl? My jutsu is perfect," he whines.
Ino giggles. "There's a lot more to it than sporting boobs and a vagina," she informs him.
He seems surprised. "Really? How do you know?"
She slaps him lightly on the back. "You know I do a lot of spy work."
"Oooh," Naruto seems thoughtful as he gives her an appraising one-over. "So you're pretty much an expert on being other people and stuff?"
She shrugs. "I try."
His eyes light up at her, and she is reminded of the little prankster outcast back at the academy. "Think you could give me some pointers?"
Inwardly, Ino smirks. She puts her hands on her hips and incredulously asks him, "You want me to help you be a better peeping tom?"
Naruto looks dismayed but tries again, "To help me win my money back from Konohamaru."
She narrows her eyes at him, and he responds with puppy dog eyes.
"Pleeease?" He pleads.
"Well…" she pretends to think it over, watching the hopeful look on his face become more and more earnest with every second she lets go by. Some evil part of her brain is crowing.
"Okay," she agrees finally and almost thinks that Naruto is going to hug her. "But you have to swear to do me a certain little favor."
His joy is not in the least affected by her ominous provision. "Sure! Whatever you want!" He hoots.
And just like that, Ino has a practice body. She doesn't tell him that though. Not yet.
He takes a few bouncing steps away from her, then turns on his heel and walks back toward her. "Hey, Ino," his says with a perfectly sincere smile. "Do you want to come spar with us?"
Having nothing better to do, she agrees.
There was once a time when Ino had the best taijutsu of any of any kunoichi in her age group. Now she can barely block anything Sakura throws at her.
She tries to ignore the sounds of Naruto and Sai facing off somewhere to the left of them (she has no idea where Kakashi is). Even without chakra behind her fists, Sakura can still punch harder than someone twice her size. Ino can feel bruises forming on her arms where she had been forced over and over to block instead of dodge. Sakura has grown to be quite a petite woman, and at close quarters she has much more freedom to move about than Ino and her longer limbs.
Ino berates herself for letting Sakura get this close in the first place, and tries to widen the gap between them. Sakura follows her relentlessly and, finding a hole in Ino's defense, sends the blonde flying.
Well, at least now I have some distance, Ino thinks as her face connects with the muddy ground. She draws a kunai as she gets back to her feet, using chakra to keep from sliding in the mud too much, and Sakura is on her again as soon as she's completely upright. And there it goes.
But Ino is more dangerous with a weapon in her hand, and when she makes to match one of Sakura's punches with her blade, the pink haired kunoichi backs away of her own accord.
"You sure are determined to smash up everything you see, forehead girl," Ino teases and throws two shuriken with her free hand. Sakura grins and dodges them easily, but the kunai Ino sends immediately after them grazes her shoulder.
Sakura decides that's she safer relying on hand-to-hand combat, and draws her own kunai and barrels towards Ino again. Not wanting to relive the barrage of fists and kicks, Ino flees into a more heavily foliaged area.
After about ten minutes of cat-and-mouse, Ino manages to catch Sakura in a blast from an exploding tag. Sakura is thrown into a tree with a loud thud but immediately gets back up. Sakura's determination to keep going with everything she tries had doubled since the second time she had Naruto and failed to bring Sasuke back. Ino can't decide if she admires her resilience or pities the emotional turmoil behind her friend's drive for improvement.
Ino is currently hidden in the branches in one of the giant trees Fire Country is famous for, camouflaged with a simple genjutsu. Moisture from the rain earlier seeps into her clothes and hair. She allows herself a moment to mourn for the fizzy mass her hair is bound to become by the end of this before focusing on her opponent again.
Sakura is below, searching for her. Ino can't attack without revealing her position, and she has no intention of going back out and getting her ass handed to her by her friend. But she reasons it's only a matter of time before Sakura finds her– it's her team's training ground, after all, and she should be very familiar with the area. Besides, had she not become a medic-nin, Sakura's natural talents would have been put to work as a sensor type or a genjutsu specialist, so hiding behind an illusion is not exactly secure.
Ino surveys the area, keeping tabs on Sakura as she does so. Since no moves in her normal repertoire seem immediately applicable, she'll have to improvise.
A huge and heavily muscled wild boar has wondered over to a bush near the base of her tree, now that shinobi weren't tearing up the forest anymore. It was sniffing around at the base of the bush, standing fairly still. Ino considers it from her hiding place.
Under normal circumstances, what she is thinking about doing would be completely stupid and very likely to get her killed. But she sees no other option besides fleeing some more or taking another beating from the fist-happy Sakura (who, to her relief, is moving away from her tree), So she settles into a squat on her tree branch and aims her jutsu at the bore.
Her body slumps over on the broad branch and the genjutsu drops as she accustoms herself to the new body. Pigs were the first animal she ever practiced with, something that Sakura and teased her for for months. She'd probably get teased some more after this fight was over.
If Sakura finds her now helpless body, she will lose. But she does not intend to go down without a fight.
Ino takes a few testing steps in the boar's body. She does fight the natural instincts of the animal, and this makes walking with four legs as easy as with two. She shakes her new head and its sharp twin tusks and charges off in Sakura's direction.
She's not exactly stealthy as an animal, and Sakura steps out of the way without turning around, frowning in confusion. Ino charges her again, and Sakura squawks in an undignified way and scuttles away. When Ino goes for her a third time, Sakura turns and runs.
After being chased into the clearing where they had started the spar in the first place, Sakura whirls around, turns and grabs the boar by the tusks. To Sakura's credit, she keeps her promise not to use chakra to enhance her strength, and Ino easily pushes her back several meters. Her feet leave ruts in the mud.
"Ino," Sakura grunts, still with a firm grip on the tusks, "If that's you, I will never let you live this down."
Ino shakes the boar's head violently and sends Sakura soaring through the air. Not without effort, Sakura twists her body around and manages to land on her feet. She cracks her knuckles, panting heavily.
"Don't think a new body will give you an advantage," Sakura warns, and in a glow of green chakra, she begins to heal herself. Wounds close and bruises fade, and so Ino wastes no time in rushing at her again. In a flash, Sakura redirects all the chakra she'd summoned to heal herself to her legs and leaps over Ino, sprinting back into the forest and twice her normal speed.
Inside the head of the boar, Ino tsks. She wonders if she should call that "strength-enhancing" and accuse Sakura of cheating, but winning that way would do nothing for her pride and possessing a boar was already pushing the limits of the spar they'd set out earlier.
So she chases after her. Sakura zigzags around tree, and to her horror Ino realizes she is dangerously close to her body. She tries to catch up to her by enhancing her own speed, but it's difficult to reroute chakra in an animal and she only gets a minimal amount to the boar's legs.
In the exact moment that Sakura spies Ino's body, Ino releases her jutsu. The boar stumbles and trips mid-run and her soul tries to reunite with her body. Sakura is almost up to the branch when Ino snaps open her own eyes. Sakura tackles her, and they both fall to the ground.
Luckily for Ino, her fall is broken by the bush where she had found the boar. Even more luckily for Sakura, her fall is broken by the bush and as well as Ino. Sakura and Ino wrestle in the bush for a while before Sakura manages to put Ino in a hold, and she smirks pleasantly at her victory.
"Well, Ino-pig," she starts in the same manner Ino had used to start her story to Sakura about her first kiss. "You fought bravely, but I– HWARK."
Someone had grabbed Sakura under her arm pits and thrown her to the side. Kakashi smiles down at Ino.
"Ino! Nice to see you. Thanks for standing in for me. I was distracted by a child who asks me to help him find his mommy…" The copy-nin trails off, turning from Ino's stunned face to Sakura's angry fist, which connects with his face. The bunshin disappears with a poof.
"Kakashi-sensei!" Sakura screams in frustration at her teacher, whose real body leaning against the tree they had fallen from. She points an accusing finger. "You're LATE!"
Ino pulls herself out of the bush. Her back is now in an incredible amount of pain, and she winces as she shakily stands. She also probably looks like a complete mess.
"So are we going to keep going or what?" She asks.
Kakashi's mask wrinkles in a way that indicates his smile has broadened. "Naruto and Sai have already beaten themselves bloody enough. And anyway," he nods toward her, "you're in no condition to continue."
Ino makes a show of pouting, but she knows it's true. Sakura smiles guiltily at her. "Sorry. I don't know what I was thinking with the whole diving off a tree thing…"
Ino laughs. "Whatever, forehead-girl. You can make it up for me by putting my spine back together."
They meet back up with the boys and Sakura fixes up Ino's back and then turns to Sai's fractured arm. Ino takes it upon herself to examine Naruto. He has several nasty cuts which he explains are from Sai's ink monsters.
Ino whistles. "Damn, you two play hard."
Naruto chuckles and winks at her. "I like it rough."
Ino snorts and is unnecessarily rough with her examination of the deep cuts down his arm.
"Ooow," he complains. "Even Sakura's nice to me when I'm injured."
She responds by placing her hand just over the cut and focusing on healing chakras. She's not as quick or efficient as Sakura, but she can get the job done.
Naruto sobers from his childish whining. "You don't have to bother," he says. "I'll be all healed up in a few hours."
Ino pauses and looks him in the eye. "There's ink in the wound. You're well on your way to an infection." She turns back to healing and before he can protest anymore, she continues, "It's also an excuse to talk to you about this favor I want."
Naruto looks confused for a moment, then brightens up and leans closer to her. "Oh yeah! In exchange for teaching me to be a chick, right?"
She frowns in annoyance with the sudden proximity of his face to hers. He has little regard for personal space, it seems. His breath smells like miso, and she vaguely wonders if he had ramen for lunch.
What is she thinking? He's Naruto; of course he did.
"Yes, in exchange for teaching you how to be a girl," she answers and makes a show of rolling her eyes.
"I thought we could talk about it over dinner!" Naruto exclaims happily. "We always go out for ramen… well, almost always. Sometimes someone insists we have to go somewhere besides Ichiraku, but today we're definitely going for ramen." He wrenches his arm away from her ministrations and pumps the air. "I WANT PORK RAMEN TONIGHT!"
Had they been in public, Ino would have been mortified. Instead, the rest of Team 7 pointedly ignores him and she tries not to laugh.
"Did you get all the ink out?" Naruto asks and pokes and the angry pink lines that his wounds have become.
"Yes, but they'll scar if–"
"I said don't worry about it," Naruto beams and grabs her arm, pulling her to her feet as he stands. He then bounds of to pester the rest of his team to hurry up and come along before Ichiraku gets crowded.
As it turns out, Sakura has hospital duties and Kakashi claims her has a mission brief to attend to, although no one is quite sure if he's making it up or not. And so Ino finds herself sitting between Naruto and Sai and the infamous ramen stand. She is still fostering a shallow sort of crush on Sai's pretty face and finds nothing to complain about, except for perhaps that she's still covered in mud and the walk over did not give her sufficient time to fix her still damp hair.
Naruto, who is even muddier, turns to her as she take her first dainty bite of food and says quite cheerfully, "You've gotten kind of weak, Ino."
She nearly chokes on her noodles and Sai pounds her back helpfully. She turns red at her embarrassment in front of her crush, and she turns lividly on Naruto.
"What the HELL does that mean?" she demands, glaring at him with the force of a half-drunk and wholly angry godaime hokage. Naruto shrivels before her.
"Well, I mean," he stutters, "it's just– you used to be a challenge for Sakura, right? And now she'd totally flatten you in a real fight–"
"What do you mean, 'a real fight'?" Ino demands, glare hardening.
"W–w–well," Naruto's mind flails, and he digs himself in deeper. "I mean– you're still pretty good and all, but there are people out there who are better, and you could be so much stronger–"
Ino grips her wooden chopsticks so hard they start to splinter. "And what if I have other talents than just fighting?" She hisses between gritted teeth.
"What, like ikebana?" Naruto asks blankly.
Sai intervenes before Naruto says something truly stupid (even Sai can sense Ino's rapidly growing rage). "I think what Ino's trying to say is," he reasons, "that she'd never encounter a fight like that in the sorts of missions she takes."
Ino deflates a bit and turns to give Sai a diluted glare, which he doesn't react to. He's more or less right, but it was not phrased in quite the flattering way she would have liked.
Naruto makes an "oooh" sound as if he understands. "So she'd never have to get into a real fight because they don't give missions like that to weak shinobi?"
Later upon reflection Ino will realize there was not a hint of an intent to insult her in anything Naruto had said at dinner. However at the moment all she feels is hurt and anger and so, without a word, she upturns her steaming bowl of ramen over his head and storms off toward her home.
Ino is mildly surprised when Naruto shows up in the Yamanaka Flower Shop the next morning. After her fit the previous day, her mother has required her to fit in a few extra hours before she goes off with her team.
"Hey," Naruto greets, dragging his feet and looking all over the shop, not because he's interested but because he's embarrassed.
"Welcome to the Yamanaka Flower Shop. How may I help you?" Ino answers boredly, leaning her cheek against her hand on the counter.
"I came to apologize," Naruto starts, looking her in the eyes and scratching his ear. "Sai's book said I should bring you flowers, but that seemed… pointless…" His eyes wonder back around the shop a bit and then come to rest on her again.
Ino is not one to let people off the hook. "You don't think of me as a serious ninja," she accuses.
"Of course I do!" Naruto protests. "You're always the one who gets people to do things, and you know medical jutsu for when we get ourselves beat up, and you went along to face Hidan and Kakuzu." He smiles at her, looking her dead in the eyes. "You've done a lot, Ino."
For a moment, Ino is stunned because despite her firm belief that Naruto is a total geek, his smile has the ability to make her feel like she's the only one in the room.
Then she remembers she is the only one in the room and in reply she simply rolls her eyes. "I still think you're missing the point a bit," she says. "You're going to have to do me a really big favor now." She smirks impishly then, and Naruto relaxes, realizing he's been forgiven.
"I'm always up for a challenge," he answers. "You're still going to teach me how to sneak into bathhouses?"
Ino walks out from behind the counter and frowns at him. "I wish you wouldn't say it like that," she says. He shrugs in reply.
"Well, that's what it is. What favor do you want anyway?"
The corners of Ino's mouth twist upward and her eyes sparkle mischievously. Naruto momentarily finds himself a bit disturbed, but he brushes it off. It's just Ino after all– how bad could it be?
"I just need to practice some jutsu with someone," she says brightly as she begins to remove her green work smock.
"Sure," Naruto agrees. "Hey, I'm getting off easy," he jokes.
The smile of pure evil she send back at him causes the smile to melt from his face.
What follows is an argument over whether he should do her favor first or if she should teach him to be a girl first. It is in the midst of their argument that Shikamaru and Choji find them.
"My work is actually important to the village! You're just a pervert!" Ino bellows, shoving Naruto back. He scowls and brandishes a daffodil back at her (no one is quite sure why he had picked it up at all).
"I don't want to be your punching bag just so you can give me bad advice! How do I know this isn't just some scam to get me to be your slave for a while?"
Shikamaru clears his throat and Choji coughs. They pause and Ino turns to glare at him while Naruto waves happily in greeting. Neither have the grace to be embarrassed about arguing in front of them.
"So did you get Naruto to be your guinea pig?" Choji asks.
"Yeah, I'm going to help Ino with her jutsu," Naruto answers cheerfully and waves his daffodil vaguely at Ino, argument forgotten.
Shikamaru stares at him. "You don't know yet, do you?" he asks. Naruto is confused.
Ino butts in before her teammates can say anything too incriminating. She's not sure Naruto is actually serious enough about this to let his body be taken over by her.
"We have to get going," she says, grabbing her kunai pouch from behind the counter. She ushers her teammates out the door as Choji begins to say something about mind-transferring. "Naruto," she calls loudly over her shoulder, "I'll track you down tonight for your first lesson."
And all of a sudden Naruto finds himself alone in the flower shop. He wonders if he should get something for Sakura but knows nothing about what she would like. When Mrs. Yamanaka appears in the shop a few seconds later, she demands he pay for the daffodil he'd been brandishing earlier.
Hey guys, hope you enjoyed this. It was my first "real" fight scene and we get some NaruIno interaction! Yay! But it's not very friendly yet. Boo! But it will pick up in the next chapter! Yay again!
For those of you with time to leave a review– what do you think of my Naruto? For some reason I find him hard to write. D: Also, how was the fight scene? I've heard fights are difficult to write, so I'm suspicious that it came so easily to me, haha.
Thank you to all who read and reviewed last chapter. Hope you enjoyed this one!