Grin and Bear It

Chapter 11

Disclaimer: Don't own Naruto.

"Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shi–"

"Something wrong?" Anko drawled, eyes following the blonde currently pacing in front her.

"I'm not ready for this. I am so not ready for this," Ino mumbled. She chewed nervously on her thumbnail, not slowing her gait in the slightest.

The snake jounin breathed heavily through her nose. "Listen, Yamanaka, you've been studying under me. You're ready for this."

Stopping in front of the one way mirror, Ino peeked through the glass of the interrogation room at the man sitting inside. He was a chuunin, but he looked like he'd eaten a horse. His hair was greasy and loose, and a snarl seemed to be etched into his large, square face. "I can't interrogate him! He'd eat me and use my bones as a toothpick to clean his teeth!"

Anko leaned her head back and sighed again. "Are you afraid of me?"

Ino paused, trying to understand what she was getting at. "I wouldn't say afraid–"

"Cut the shit. Are you afraid of me?"

"...Yes," she admitted reluctantly, shoulders dropping. The only thing that kept her pride somewhat intact was the fact that she knew at least half of the shinobi felt exactly the same way.

A smirk popped up on the older woman's face. "Good. Why?"

The blonde swallowed and averted her gaze. "Well..."

"You won't hurt my feelings, trust me. Why are you afraid of me?"

"Because you're crazy." She cringed as the words left her mouth, almost as if she were afraid the woman would jump out of her seat and attack her.

"No, I'm unpredictable." At Ino's confused stare, she sighed. "Look, we're pretty women. We're not going to scare a man with our looks. That's why we have to use the one thing everyone fears." The blonde blinked, still not understanding. "The unknown."

"How do we do that?"

"You keep them guessing. One minute you're sweet, the next you're seductive, and then you're fucking nuts. They can't handle such a sudden change of emotion. You need to be brutal. Shut down everything. While you're in that room, your sole purpose is to get the information. Nothing else matters."

She nodded, though her face still held an expression of disbelief. "I'm not sure if I can do this."

"I'll tell you a little secret. Read his file." she said, pushing a beige folder across the table. She waited a couple of minutes for Ino to look over it before speaking again. "What do you see? Anything that?"

"He has no family, and doesn't seem close enough to any other shinobi to call them friends. No pets, nothing of value that we can hold over him..."

"And?" asked, smirking at the slight widening of the girl's eyes.

"His nose was recently broken."

"Exactly. Look, you have all the tools you need to break him. Just get in there. Despite the way he looks, he's only a chuunin."

Ino took a deep breath and nodded one more time. Whether she was ready or not, if she didn't do this, she'd never be able to move forward. Besides, she was doing this for Naruto, too. He'd believed in her so much, and having to tell him that she'd wimped out on what was supposed to be her dream wasn't an option.

Placing her hand on the cool metal doorknob, she nearly threw the door open and strode into the room, forcing herself to assume an air of someone who'd done this countless times before. The worst thing she could do is show her greenness; he'd eat her up alive. Possibly literally.

The man raised his eyes to meet hers as she approached the slim wooden table separating them. She could see the amused glint in his near black orbs and forced herself not to react. "Oi, oi, they're letting little girls in now? So much for Konoha being the strongest village. What a fucking joke." He raised his head and looked around the room, completely ignoring her presence. "Hey, can I get a real interrogator in here?" he yelled, baring his yellowed teeth while trying not to laugh.

She quickly clenched her fist in an attempt to force herself to calm down.

"Mushashi Kito. It says here that you stole the register of Konoha shinobi currently on mission outside of the village. Care to tell me where you stashed them?"

"Huh? Did you say something, dollface?" he yawned, jamming a pinky up his nose.

Ino tightened her jaw. Her first reaction was to haul off and jam her heel into his nose. Based on what she'd read in his file, she could probably kick his ass fairly easily. Especially when he was in handcuffs. Still, she decided that restraining herself was probably smarter in the current situation. If she let him get under her skin too easily, he'd won.

"As a matter of fact I did." She slid onto the table in front of him, arching her back in the way she knew men loved. She wasn't new to using this particular technique, but it was her first time breaking it out an interrogation. She'd played the 'Tough Guy' during the practice runs with her fellow interns until now, but somehow, she knew that alone wouldn't cut it. "How about if I give you a little something, you give me the information I need in return?" she whispered, smiling sultrily.

The man leaned back with a wide grin, eyes running up and down her body with unhidden lust. "Well, well, that's more like it. I take back the thing about wanting a new interrogator." He stood up and moved forward as if to kiss her, face lighting up when she did the same. That is, until, she slammed her forehead against his nose. Blood gushed from his nostrils, and he howled in pain. "You fucking crazy bitch! You broke my nose again!"

"I'm sorry. Here, let me take a look at it," she cooed, leaning in. She fought down a smirk as she saw the very beginnings of fear begin to creep into his expression. She saw why Anko did it; it was sort of fun. She gently cupped his face and examined his nose. "It's definitely broken."

"No fucking shit," he spat. "If my hands weren't chained, I'd–" A roar of pain erupted from his throat when she once again slammed her forehead into his nose. He fell from his chair to the floor, rolling around as if it'd lessen the pain at all.

Ino stood up and walked back around the table, lifting a hand to her forehead to wipe away the blood from his wound. As much as wanted to maintain her crazy act, she couldn't stop her nose from wrinkling a bit. "So, where are the documents?" she asked casually. "They're not very important, but we really do need them back."

Tears began to form at the corners of his eyes. "Fuck you."

Ino smiled at him. "Please?" She was enjoying this. A lot. Probably more than she should have been. She glanced meaningfully at the one sided mirror, practically feeling the pride welling off of Anko.

The man's eyes widened the closer she got, and his entire body tensed up when he felt her fingertips on his shoulder. "I don't like doing this, but it's my job," she lied, schooling her face into a remorseful frown. "These documents don't mean anything to you. They paid you, what, 25,000 yen? 50,000 yen? Is that really worth ten years locked up down here? If you turn them over now, I guarantee they won't hold you longer than two. With good behavior, you could be out in a year with probation. You didn't hurt anyone, after all."

His silence told her that he was thinking about it. Just a little more and she'd break him. She leaned down in front of him again and smiled, moving her hand to gently rub his neck. "Won't you tell me where you hid the documents?" she whispered. She cocked her head and furrowed her eyebrows slightly, looking like the very picture of naive innocence. The real reason she'd moved her hand was so that she could feel his pulse through the fingers on his neck.

"Would you suck my cock?" he returned, snarling angrily. His eyes widened when he saw her head lean back, "Wait!" he shouted, stopping her movement.

"Yes?"

"They're...they're five miles southeast of the village. There's a tree marked with a kunai at its base. Just...just please don't-" the words weren't even out of his mouth before she slammed her forehead against his nose again, wincing slightly when she heard something pop. He was openly crying now, and she actually felt a little bad. His face was a complete mess, but hey, they medic-nins for that.

"Next time tell me what I want to know from the beginning and you won't have to go through any of this," she spat angrily. She started to walk out of the door, but quickly turned around to look down at him. After a second of thought, she slammed her knee into his nose, just hard enough for him to black out from the pain.

"How was that?" She asked, shaking as she exited the interrogation room. She'd never done anything so brutal, but if the huge smile on Anko's face was to be believed, her first job had been a huge success.

"You're a natural. Prisoners talk, and believe me, it won't be long until you're known as the second craziest bitch in the department."

Ino rolled her eyes. "You're the only other female interrogator."

"Details," Anko shrugged, waving her hand. "Hey, want to try another one? I've got a genin in a holding cell who thinks he's tough shit. It'll be easy, but you can think of him as sort of a cool down."

The blonde glanced at the clock on the wall and shook her head. "I need to leave soon."

Anko arched an eyebrow. She'd been certain that the girl would want to go another round after getting a taste of real interrogation. "Why?"

"I have to meet Naruto for his doctor's appointment." She wiped her face, making sure to get rid of the blood and sweat that had accumulated from her interrogation. Showing up covered in blood was never a good way to enter a hospital.

"...Why?" the woman asked again.

Ino blinked. "Because Naruto needs me," she said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

"So?"

"So...I need to be there for him."

Not liking that answer, Anko narrowed her eyes. "I thought you wanted to become an interrogator."

"I do!"

"Then you need to get your priorities straight. Your little boy toy can survive without you."

Ino sighed. She knew better than to keep arguing. She was going to his appointment regardless of what Anko thought, so there was no point in even humoring her. "I'm done for the day. See you tomorrow." Turning on her heel, she strode out of the building without taking a second look back.

He hated hospitals. Always had, and always would. That said, he just couldn't muster up his usual hatred towards the impersonal white walls and overpoweringly sterile scent surrounding him.

It was strange. He couldn't feel anything bad. Anger, sadness, loneliness–which was actually very different from sadness as he'd learned in life–and fear were nonexistent to him. It was part of the reason why the Godaime wouldn't clear him for active duty. A shinobi without fear was a danger to both himself and to his teammates. Fear was what made a shinobi a shinobi; fear of death, fear of pain, fear of losing someone close to you. Personally, he thought that she was overreacting since it wasn't like didn't know what he should feel.

If Ino bitched at him about him leaving the toilet seat up, he knew he should be annoyed. If his brain was going to explode because of whatever that rouge Yamanaka had done to him, he knew he should be afraid. He just...wasn't. He wondered if his aloofness towards his new condition was because of the gentusu or because he was just happy to have a reprieve from the pain he felt every day of his life.

He no longer felt sad when he saw Haku's cold, dead eyes flash across his mind. He no longer felt anger towards himself for the many people he'd killed since becoming a shinobi. He wished he could forget, but he saw everyone who'd died by his hands when he went to bed at night, and he was sure that it was true for everyone. How could you forget that look of shock, anger, and ultimately acceptance on a person's face as their lives left their body? That deep ache in your chest as you realized that, in the end, the person on the other end of your weapon wasn't that much different from you. They were a child once, too. They'd had friends, family, dreams...

The clicking of Tsunade's pen snapped him back to attention, and he grinned fondly at the woman who'd become sort of a mother to him. He was always happy to see her alive since she wasn't exactly a spring chicken anymore, and it took every ounce of control in his body not to pounce on her with a hug; another unfortunate side effect of the genjutsu.

"How have you been feeling?" she asked, sitting across from him on the small stool in front of her desk. She wasn't facing him, instead continuing to scribble away on her clipboard.

Almost against his will, he felt the corners of his lips lift even higher. "Great! Never better!"

Tsunade turned around, finally looking at him with an arched eyebrow. "Really?"

"Yup!" And it was true, for once. He had a slight headache lurking behind his eyes, but other than that, he felt perfectly fine.

The woman breathed through her nose, exasperated with his rambunctiousness. "Well, we got your blood work back. Thanks to the rise of endorphins in your system, your brain has had to work overtime to compensate. Your brain's temperature is higher than most, but it hasn't reached a point where it's dangerous yet."

"Yet?"

"If it keeps rising, sooner or later, your brain will be unable to take the strain. It will eventually become inflamed and begin to swell."

"And then what?" He saw the pained look on her face and smiled, putting the pieces together to spare her from having to say it. "Oh. How long before that happens?" he asked.

Tsunade sighed and leaned her head on her hands. "It's hard to say. You should be fine for awhile, but it's safe to say that you should try your best to kep your anger and stress levels to a minimum. That's why I still can't clear you for active duty."

Naruto's eyes widened. He didn't feel disappointed, but he did know that he should be. Being a shinobi and protecting his friends made him happy, and if he wasn't allowed to do that, well...what was the point of being alive? "Aw, what?! But, Baa-chan–"

She slammed his file closed and glared at him. "No buts, that's my final decision. You can continue to work in the torture and interrogation department for the time being and no more."

The blond pouted playfully, wishing he could feel upset. It was a weird sort of grey area where his brain knew what he should be feeling based on previous experience with similar situations yet it wasn't allowing him to. "But that's boring!"

"I said no buts. Get out of here, and come back next week for another check up."

Naruto, still smiling, couldn't stop himself from hugging her. She awkwardly returned it, not quite expecting the action. It'd been awhile since she'd been hugged. Being the leader of the arguably strongest village in the world meant that most were too afraid or intimidated to touch her. It was somewhat lonely being the Hokage, but she doubted Naruto would have the same problem when he took over the position. If he took over position.

She watched him bounce out of the room with a smile. It was short lived, however, when a tired looking Shizune came in from the door leading to her office shortly afterwards. She'd been listening in the entire time, which she'd allowed since she was hoping her assistant would pick up on anything she herself missed.

"Tsunade-sama..."

The woman leaned more heavily on her hands. "I know. Where's Ibiki at with the prisoner?"

Shizune frowned. "He's still not talking. Inoichi's working on him now, but there's unfortunately been little progress. All we know is that all of this was pre-planned especially for Naruto. It wasn't a coincidence like we originally hypothesized, and Inoichi is reccomending that we refer to whatever he did as a kinjutsu."

Tsunade sighed again. That made things harder. There was absolutely no reason for him to reverse whatever he'd done, so they were on their own in figuring out how to save Naruto's life. "We're in trouble."

"How was it?" Ino asked, standing from the bench she'd been sitting on when Naruto exited the office. Her face reddened when he suddenly wrapped her up in a big hug, lifting her into the air and spinning her around a couple of times. It was the same way he usually greeted her, but she still wasn't used to it. He supposedly couldn't help it, but it didn't make her any less embarrassed.

"I'm totally fine!" he exclaimed, setting her back down in front of him. "I still have to take it easy until I'm cured, though."

She was normally a master at reading people, but annoyingly, the genjutsu made it extremely tough to pin down his real emotions. She'd realized, after being around Naruto so much, that his affliction wasn't actually making him happy but rather supressing all of his negative ones. She'd shared this theory with the Hokage, and grudgingly her father had admitted that she was most likely right.

"Well...that's great! It's only a matter of time before you're back to normal." She heard Naruto's stomach growl and laughed. "Do you want to get lunch?"

Before he could answer, the smell of cigarette smoke and a familiar slow shuffle caught his attention. "Oi, Naruto."

"Hey, Shikamaru! What's up?" Naruto shouted, grinning widely to greet his friend as he approached from behind Ino.

The strategist winced. Naruto's overly excited voice was still tough to get used to even though he knew all about his condition. "Everything check out with the Hokage?"

Naruto's smile fell a bit as he saw the expression on Shikamaru's face. He could tell that he still felt guilty for what had happened even though it was in no way his fault. "Yup, good to go! Still can't go on missions, though, so you're on your own for now."

His friend nodded, but the crease in his forehead didn't lessen one bit. "Where are you two off to?" he asked, shifting his attention to Ino more than Naruto.

Rumors had been flying about Ino's sudden closeness with him ever since Naruto's accident. She rarely left his side, and it was getting to the point where people were beginning to think that it was more than just concern that she felt for the jinchuuriki. At first he thought they'd never work since they were both loud, flamboyant, and stubborn, but they amazingly hadn't managed to kill each other so far. They were just rumors, of course, but watching them interact...there was no way they were only friends.

Ignoring his scrutinizing gaze, Ino frowned and answered. "We're getting lunch."

"Actually, Ino, your dad wants to speak with you."

"With me? Why?"

"It's about the prisoner."

Her face changed from confusion to one of determination. "I'll see you at home, Naruto." Leaving a very confused Naruto behind, she lead the way to the interrogation department. Since his incarceration, she hadn't been able to even see what the guy looked like. Despite working there, the higher ups had been very hush hush about the whole thing. Apparently, they were getting desperate if they were willing to let she and Shikamaru in on what was happening.

"You and Naruto?" he asked as soon as they were out of earshot of anyone else. As much as he didn't want to come off as nosy, he couldn't deny that he was extremely curious about how their relationship worked. It made no sense, even to his supposedly genius mind. Two loud, opinionated, stubborn blonds dating? It was a recipe for disaster if he ever saw one.

"It's not what you think."

Shikamaru snorted. "Right. Listen, Ino, I feel it's only fair to warn you that your dad knows."

Her heart jumped into her chest. "Knows what?" she asked, already knowing exactly what he was referring.

He leveled her with a serious gaze, clearly telling her that it was time to drop the bullshit. "Ino."

Well, shit. After a week of nothing happening, she'd allowed herself to relax and trust that her mother hadn't told her father about her living situation.

The girl's shoulders noticeably deflated. "How?"

"You have to admit that it was sort of obvious. I figured it out after a couple of weeks." Noticing her confusion, Shikamaru shrugged. "You suddenly run away from home and a week later you and Naruto are acting like best friends. It wasn't hard to put the pieces together. If it makes you feel any better, he didn't come looking for you and Naruto right away. At least he can still think somewhat rationally."

Ino groaned loudly. He had a point. From that angle, anyone would've been able to figure out what was going on. Hell, that was probably how her mother knew where to find her. She knew the jig would be up eventually, but she was hoping it'd have been on her terms and not so soon.

They reached the interrogation department far too soon, and she followed her former teammate into one of the rooms she knew was only reserved for S-ranked criminals. Her father was glaring into the one way glass, watching as Anko and Ibiki worked to pump the man for information. It was her first look at both the prisoner and her mentor's interrogation techniques at work, and what she saw made her cringe.

Even though she was holding back, Anko was still brutal. She bent his fingers back, stomped on his genitals, and used some sort of flaming device to burn him on the most sensitive parts of his body. She was glad for the sound dampening of the room they were in since she was sure the man's screams weren't very pleasant to listen to. Ibiki approached a moment later, pulling Anko back and speaking lowly to the prisoner. They weren't playing good cop bad cop; they were playing bad cop worse cop.

Unable to watch as Ibiki began to work him over, her eyes slowly shifted back to her father. She could tell by the way his hands were raised that waiting for the prisoner's mind to lapse by even the slightest amount so that he could pull some information from him. The Yamanaka were notoriously steel minded, and though her father was arguably the best, even he couldn't perform miracles.

"You wanted to see me, daddy?" she asked, trying to sound as innocent as possible. She knew that her father sometimes still saw her as his little girl, and as much as it annoyed her, she was well prepared to take full advantage of it.

It seemed to work as his shoulders loosened by the slightest amount. "Sit."

Ino wasted no time in doing as he asked. The more obedient she was, the less upset he'd be. She waited for him to say something, and wasn't disappointed when he turned to look at her. "How long have you been staying with Uzumaki?"

Sensing that she wasn't going to be able to dance around it this time, she sighed. "Since the night I left."

He growled angrily and she cringed. She'd always thought he'd never hit her, but in this situation, she wasn't so sure. "We're not doing anything, I swear! He's just being a nice guy and letting me crash there for awhile!"

Inoichi scoffed. "A nice guy. I'll bet."

Shikamaru uncomfortably cleared his throat from the corner of the room. It certainly wasn't the first time he'd seen Ino arguing with her dad since he'd grown up with her, but it never felt any less awkward. Luckily, he could actually interject before it became a full blown fight. "Maybe you should tell her why she's here, sir."

The man glared at the boy and tightened his lips before turning back to Ino. "Right. The main reason I've brought you here is that based on current intel, we've determined that Naruto's life is in danger."

In one brief moment, it felt like all of the air had been sucked out of the room. Ino's stomach tightened uncomfortably, and if she weren't so used to news like this, she might have actually vomited. "But Naruto said that everything's okay!"

"Then he lied to you." She noticed that his lips quirked upwards at this, undoubtedly pleased to have found a crack in the 'perfect' Naruto's armor. It was sort of childish, really. "We've been able to skim some information from the traitor. Like you hypothesized, the increased dopamine levels are a result of the genjutsu repressing his negative emotions. This is putting constant stress on his brain, and eventually, it won't be able to take the strain."

She felt panic build in the back of her throat, constricting the pathways that normally gave her the ability to speak. She'd known it was too good to be true. "Why are you telling me this?"

"Since you're already shacking up with him," he ground out, "we need you to relieve it. Normally, he's able to express his negative emotions, but he can't do this at the moment. You'll have to take some of the pain onto yourself."

Ino blinked. She didn't mind being given the task and would do almost anything to help Naruto, but it was strange that he was even allowing her be in the same village as Naruto after learning about their secret. "Why can't you do it?"

Inoichi frowned deeply. "Believe me, if I could, I would. It needs to be someone he trusts and is willing to open his mind to, and unfortunately, you're the only person with both the skills and closeness to pull it off. If I tried to force it I might end up doing more harm that good."

Ino nodded. It made sense. Jutsu of the mind were complicated and required a delicate touch that not many could pull off even within the Yamanaka clan. Contrary to popular belief, only around half could use mind jutsus at all despite the overall size of the clan. Out of that half, very, very few had the skill or natural ability to do what she and her father could do. Her dad was considered a genius and had pioneered many of the new techniques they used today, including the one that had allowed her to link the minds of hundreds of men together during the war. She herself had only come up with one so far, and it wasn't very useful.

"So, let me get this straight. I need to step into Naruto's mind, find his pain, and then...absorb it?"

Her father grunted in reply. "I've worked out a variation of the Shindensen no Jutsu that will allow you to navigate his mind. I'll understand if you don't want to–"

"I'll do it."

Inoichi grimaced, obviously displeased that she'd agreed. "This is only temporary and is meant as a way to buy time. Once we figure out a way to reverse the effects of the jutsu you will leave his apartment and come home. Am I clear?"

As much as she wanted to puff out her chest and refuse on the spot, angering him further probably wasn't the smartest idea at the moment. Still, she wasn't about to make a promise that she had no intention of keeping. Especially when avoidance worked just as well. "Teach me the jutsu. I'll use it tonight."

––

She couldn't stop herself from staring at him. He was shoveling mouthful after mouthful of noodles down his throat and getting soup everywhere, but it was weirdly cute. A sure sign that she was losing her mind.

She'd stopped at Ichiraku's on the way home and gotten some ramen to go since she was far too tired to make anything for dinner. Even though it was fairly similar to the Shintensin, learning the jutsu had still taken hours.

"Are you gonna finish that?" Naruto asked, gesturing towards her half eaten container of ramen. His grin widened when she pushed it across the table, and it only took another minute or so for him to polish off what was left of her dinner.

Ino rolled her eyes at his exuberance and tried not to smile. "You're such a pig." She tossed the empty containers into the garbage and wiped down the table.

Finally sated, Naruto leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, looking very much like a satisfied fox. "What did your dad want?"

The girl froze. She didn't want to lie, but she definitely couldn't tell him exactly what had happened. "For me to come home, obviously," she smiled tightly, deciding a half truth would be good enough. Sighing tiredly, she plopped down on the couch. Now that he was relaxed, it was as good of a time as any to try it out on him. "Come watch a movie with me," she said, patting the empty space next to her.

Naruto stared at her curiously from the kitchen table, cocking his head a bit at her sudden niceness. Well, that wasn't exactly true. She'd been a lot nicer since his accident, and even before then, she was never really mean. It wasn't that strange for her to ask him to hang out with her. Shrugging, he stood up and headed in her direction. "Okay!"

He jumped over the back of the couch and landed on the cushion next to her, eyes instantly glued to the television. He didn't notice her scoot a little closer, nor the fact that Ino was staring a hole into the side of his head.

He did notice, however, that the movie they were watching wasn't really his cup of tea. It was a romance involving a normal girl and a demon, and the acting was boring and wooden to say the least. Altogether it was a pretty terrible movie, so it was no wonder that his eyelids began to grow heavy as the minutes wore on.

As his head dropped into his chest, Ino saw her chance. She reached her hand up and rested it on his head, gently pulling it into her lap.

"What are you doing?" he asked, looking up at her through half lidded eyes as he steadily descended into what many would refer to as the promised land.

"You look tired, so I'm letting you lean on me. Most guys would kill for this opportunity, you know." She was only half joking about that. She'd had guys fight over her, and a stabbing had even occurred. She felt guilty since she had, admittedly, instigated it.

Naruto looked suspicious but slowly allowed his head to fully fall into her lap. Her thighs were soft, smooth, and warm, lulling him into an even deeper sleep. He came to the realization that it was the first time he'd ever felt such closeness with another person and smiled. Who knew a woman's lap could feel so comfortable? That said, he momentarily tensed up when he felt her hands began to stroke his hair, the foreign feeling causing his chest to tingle with an emotion he wasn't prepared to confront. "That feels funny!"

"It's supposed to calm you down. Is it working?" Ino asked, fingers gently massaging his scalp.

"Mmmhm." He yawned widely, and it didn't take much longer after that for his eyelids to slide shut all the way.

She felt terrible that she was manipulating him like she was. Sure, it was to help him, but it didn't make her feel any better. He trusted her so much, and it made her chest ache as she stared at his relaxed, innocent face. When he was sleeping, he looked so...quiet, almost like he was a completely different person.

She waited half an hour until the movie ended before taking a deep breath and turning off the television. It was as good of a time as any to get started, and hopefully he was already in the REM stage of his sleep cycle and wouldn't wake up too easily. She formed the necessary hand signs and took another breath. Her father had trained her on what she needed to do and even let her use it on him a couple of times, but this was her first official try. Hopefully she wouldn't fuck anything up.

"Nouhokou no Jutsu."

The familiar feeling of her consciousness being sucked out of her body was a welcome sensation, and the next thing she knew, she was standing in what looked like some sort of sewer. It was surprisingly bright inside of Naruto's mind, though it was possible that it was a result of whatever had been done to him.

The deeper she walked into the tunnel the darker the hallway become, so she accurately hypothesized that it was where she needed to be. Bad things didn't tend to like the light very much. Eventually she reached a large room with a dozen or so doors. The doors had chains on them–something she'd never seen before in a person's mind. Either Naruto was very good at repressing his own memories, or it was another result of the jutsu.

Still, when a person naturally repressed their memories, at most the door was locked. It'd be annoying but not too hard to break through if that were the case, but getting through the chains would be impossible.

She remembered what her father had told her earlier and took a deep breath. This was the true test. If he really trusted her, she'd have no problem getting through the door. Otherwise she'd either have to try to force the chains away from the door or give up. Closing her eyes, she stepped forward to press her hand against the cold metal surface. To her surprise, the chains fell into a pile at her feet with a loud clank. It was much easier than she thought.

Smiling, she opened the door and stepped inside. A second later, the door slammed shut behind her, causing her to jump. She could easily get out if she wanted to, but it was still disconcerting. A lone boy that she quickly recognized as Naruto was in the middle of the dark room.

"Hey there," She said, bending down next to the child with a smile.

He looked up at her with wide blue eyes but didn't speak. He lacked pupils, something that sort of freaked her out, but otherwise he looked harmless.

"Naruto? Are you okay?"

"Leave," a voice said from somewhere in the darkness surrounding her. silhouettes of people began to appear around her, and it was through sheer force of will that she didn't cancel the jutsu and get out of his mind at that very moment.

She quickly hopped to her feet, pulling him with her. She placed herself in between the faceless crowd and Naruto. Her father had told her to take the pain onto herself, but she didn't know what that meant, exactly.

She didn't know what to expect, but she certainly wasn't expecting the searing pain that exploded behind her eyes as she was struck in the side of the head with a rock. It was quickly followed by another one, and it was then that she realized they were aiming at Naruto. Thinking quickly, she hugged him to her chest and turned her back to the crowd.

This didn't curb their efforts in the least as they continued their assault, but she continued to stand between them, sobbing as pain wracked every inch of her body. At some point it stopped, and she opened her eyes to find only the young Naruto staring at her, smiling. The dark room was now a field of fresh green grass, and the crowd that had been attacking them were nowhere to be seen. He wrapped his thin arms around her neck and pulled her close.

"Thank you," he whispered.

Despite the ache in her head, and despite the naseousness she felt at what she'd experienced, she found herself smiling at the relief she saw in his eyes. "Anytime."

She felt herself being pushed out of his mind and her eyes popped open. She was only vaguely aware that she was crying, a throbbing headache pounding behind her eyes. She wiped the tears away with the back of her hand. God, was that his memory? Had he really endured that much? She knew about the loneliness, but if they actually beat him...

She stroked his hair. She hadn't known it'd be so hard. She felt every ache and pain in her body she'd felt in his mind. There wouldn't be a physical bruise, but the mind was a powerful thing. Phantom pain wasn't uncommon even among regular people. Since this was for Naruto, she'd endure whatever pain she had to in order to save his life.

The thought made her laugh quietly to herself. She was willingly torturing herself just so that he would be okay. Maybe she actually loved him.

"Ino?" he whispered, bright blue eyes staring up at her.

The blonde started and looked down at him. She hadn't known that he was awake. She was most surprised by the fact that he wasn't shouting for once, so whatever she'd done seemed to be working. "Hey."

Concerned, Naruto furrowed his eyebrows, noticing the tear stains on her cheeks. "Are you okay? You're crying."

"I just...I saw something really sad." As much as she wanted to ask him about his memories, and as much as she wanted to tell him what was going on, she couldn't. Not yet. If he closed his mind to her, she wouldn't be able to get back in. She saw his eyes flicker over to the television, which she'd turned off much earlier in order to concentrate.

"In the movie?"

She smiled and nodded. "Yeah, in the movie."
AN: Sorry for any errors, barely proofed!