Grin and Bear It


Bouquet of flowers in hand, Ino pulled her jacket up around her cheeks and lowered her head to protect herself against the wind as she headed out the door of her parents' flower shop. It was absolutely freezing outside. She blew a small puff of air, and delighting in the smoke that appeared, she blew a few more as though she were smoking a cigarette. She laughed slightly to herself, amazed at how something so simple could amuse her.

Winter in Konoha was her favorite time of year. Sure, she couldn't wear short shorts and skirts, but the snow was just so beautiful. That, and since less people wanted to be outside, she was left alone a lot more.

Her smile fell slightly as she thought about where she'd been this time last year–Freezing her ass off and waiting for Naruto to come to his apartment to ask if she could stay with him for awhile, which was an insane request considering there were barely friends back then. It was hard to believe that it was just over twelve months ago that she'd thought of him as a nice but dim guy, and now she couldn't imagine life without him.

She noticed a toddler being carried as by her mother on the sidewalk in front of her, watching her pretend to smoke with wide eyes. Smiling, she plucked one of the smaller carnations from the bouquet in her arms and stuck it into her own mouth, breathing in as though taking a drag. She then let it loose, leaning forward and gently blowing the cool air in the child's face. The little girl giggled and held out her hands for the flower to which Ino amusedly gave to her.

She laughed quietly as the girl performed the same action, slipping the flower between her lips and taking a deep breath before blowing it all out in Ino's face as a puff of smoke. They blew smoke towards each other as they continued to walk, her mother none the wiser about what was going on right behind her back. Unfortunately Ino had reached her destination, so she waved to the girl and turned to head through the doors of the hospital. Hopefully she wouldn't grow up into a chain smoker because of her.

"Here again, Ino?" the nurse at the front desk asked, smiling at her over the low countertop.

She wrote her name on the guest sign-in sheet. Her name dominated the piece of paper, especially since she stopped by sometimes twice times a day. "Just for a short while. I have to head back to work in half an hour." She waved at the woman and headed towards the stairs leading to the long term patient ward.

She smiled at a few of the orderlies she'd grown accustomed to seeing on her daily trips to the hospital. They were still making eyes at her despite knowing she was only interested in one man, but she didn't mind letting them think that they had a chance. She continued on down the hall and stopped in front of the room that held Naruto. Taking a deep breath, she steeled herself for what awaited her inside.

"Hey, Naruto! I brought you some more flowers!" She exclaimed happily, opening the door and striding into the room. She set up about throwing out the old flowers, emptying the vase of its contents to refill it with fresh water. She then placed the new flowers in the small vase and rearranged them so that his favorites were closer to his line of sight.

She sat down on the bed next to him and reached into her purse, digging around a bit until she found what she was looking for. She pulled the cap off of the small tube and leaned over him, her long blond hair falling onto his neck. Being careful, she applied the chapstick to his lips in a thin, even coat. She used her fingers to wipe away the excess and then leaned forward to peck him on the lips.

"Nice and soft, just the way I like them," she joked, more to herself than to him. She stuck her hand back into her bag and pulled out a comb. "I know how much you hate to comb your hair, but no boyfriend of mine can be seen looking like a hobo." As she ran it through his hair a few times–easily, because she took pretty good care of it–she tilted her head and looked down at him thoughtfully. "I kind of like you with long hair. You look just like your dad with it."

She took the moment to study his features more thoroughly as she often did during her visits to make sure that he was still okay. His skin was much paler from being indoors all day and his face was a little gaunt, but overall, he looked to be in perfect health. She and the staff were doing their very best to keep him that way, and it showed.

If only he would wake up.

After she'd 'killed' him she too had fallen into a brief coma. It took her a full week to wake up, and shortly after getting back on her feet, she'd had to actually stand trial to defend her actions in front of the shinobi world while at the same time being berated by everyone she knew for nearly killing herself in the process.

Naruto's friends from all around had made the trip to listen to her plead her case, even from places as small as the Snow Country. Rumors flew through the world that it was all an elaborate internal plan. For weeks the Yamanaka were put under intense scrutiny because according to those who didn't know anything, it was too much of a coincidence that a Yamanaka had poisoned his mind and a Yamanaka–girlfriend or not–had ultimately killed him. Never mind that he was still alive, albeit a vegetable.

It had been nerve-wracking being watched by so many people all the time, but she didn't have anything to hide. She made it clear that she didn't regret any of it–she'd done what she had to do to save his life.

She'd waited until his brain was dead–completely devoid of all bioelectric activity and thus killing the virus–before bringing him back to life. It was a first in the medical world and extremely dangerous to her own well-being since she was in his mind at the time of his death, but it was because of that risk that he'd lived. If she had been even a second too late in jumpstarting his brain, she could have died too, or worse, the virus could have also infected her. Luckily whatever Yamanaki Tamaki had done seemed to only affect its original target, but unfortunately, her plan had left Naruto severely brain damaged, most of his cells being killed from lack of blood and oxygen.

A normal person wouldn't have survived the process, but Naruto wasn't a normal person. He had the Kyuubi. She'd been counting on his healing factor to restore his cells and the pathways of his mind, because if he could come back from a broken neck, he could survive this. It had been a huge gamble, but she'd refused to accept the alternative of just letting him die without a fight.

After hearing her reasoning for what she'd done, not one of Naruto's friends faulted her for her actions. They all knew how insanely fast he could heal, and they also knew exactly how much she cared for him to put herself at risk like that. There were a few strangers who demanded that she still be thrown into prison for turning the hero of the shinobi world into a vegetable, but her supporters thankfully far outweighed her detractors.

Even when the trial had ended she was busy for weeks explaining and documenting the experience in detail to the other members of her clan as she was the first to survive such a thing. What she'd done was unprecedented, and at the behest of her father, Tsunade had officially labelled it as an S-ranked kinjutsu that was never to be performed again. It wasn't all bad since now everyone in the clan looked at her like she was some sort of goddess. Well, more than they used to.

The biggest highlight of the whole ordeal was seeing Yamanaka Tamaki's expression after she'd personally told him about what she'd done. When his face had gone ghost white, she knew she'd beaten him. He was scheduled for execution in the coming months, for not only had he deserted the village, but he'd attacked one of his own and nearly killed them. It didn't help that Naruto was the world's golden boy and practically family to the Hokage. He'd tried to get off on an insanity plea, but the judge and jury had shot it down minutes after he'd made it.

She smiled remembering his trial. If she thought the amount of people who'd attended hers was great, the amount that appeared at Tamaki's trial was staggering. The activity in the village during the trial was reminiscent of her first Chuunin Exam. Nearly all of the ANBU and a large number of jounin had to be called in for security and to prevent Tamaki from being killed, especially with so many insanely powerful visitors waiting for the smallest chance to slit his throat. Turns out he'd been right all along. Hundreds of shinobi wanted him, but not in the way he'd anticipated.

There had been multiple break in attempts of the prison, and on the one successful attempt, there had reportedly been small amounts of sand found in the corners of Tamaki's cell and in his body. After that, the man had never been quite the same. Whatever had happened him after the last 'visit' seemed to have traumatized him in a way that his mind couldn't handle.

It had filled her heart with joy to see how many people cared for Naruto. He wasn't alone anymore. He had a worldwide network of supporters, many of whom made regular visits to the hospital to check up on him. There was talk of him being made an honorary Hokage to acknowledge his lifelong dream if he died, and a day didn't go by that she didn't receive a dozen get well cards or letters in the mail from some of his friends or fans. He'd be overjoyed to see how much people cared.

If only he would wake up.

Ino sighed and lie down next to him, tucking her head beneath his chin. Dozens of times she'd considered giving up hope, but the quiet thumping of his heartbeat and gentle rise and fall of his chest kept her going. Naruto never gave up, so neither would she. Against her will, she yawned. His body was warm, and she still had time for a quick nap before work. Tsunade had told her speaking and being near him would help in his recovery, so she took every chance she could find to do just that. She fell asleep in seconds, dreaming of him waking up and tightening his arms around her. The dream felt almost real.

Too real.

Her eyes shot open, and she cautiously tilted her head up to look at him. Though it was slight, his eyes were open and staring back at her.

She could feel her heart threatening to pound out of her chest as she watched him struggle to speak, and keeping her eyes trained on his as if it would keep him from slipping back into a coma, she clumsily felt around for the water pitcher on his side table. she shakily poured a small amount into his glass and leaned the cup up to his lips, letting him have just the slightest amount of water to wet his throat. When his eyes opened a little more and she saw his lips twitch upwards, and against her will, tears began to roll down her face.

"Don't cry," he rasped. His voice was barely audible over the beeping of the many machines monitoring his condition, but she'd heard him loud and clear.

She sobbed loudly into his chest, completely ignoring his request. she felt his fingers weakly attempt to rub her back to calm her down, however it only made her bawl harder. It took her a few minutes to calm down, but she was eventually able to sit up and really look at him, almost as if she couldn't believe he was there. "I bet I look pretty gross right now," she breathed, nose red as she sniffled.

His smirk widened. "A little."

Scowling playfully, she lightly hit his shoulder and wiped her nose with the end of her sleeve. He was back. Her Naruto was back.

"What the hell have you done to my apartment?!" Naruto shouted, slowly limping through the doorway of his home on a thin, metal walker. His eyes wide were wide with shock as he took in the new furniture and decorations in the living room. Everything was rearranged, and if he hadn't seen himself walk through the door, he might not have believed he was in the right place.

"I gave it style. And it's our apartment now; I've been paying rent this entire time." She had his hospital bag slung over her shoulder that contained the things he'd need until he was back at full strength. One side effect of being in a coma for nearly six months was that your muscles tended to atrophy to the point where your body became too weak to support itself. He'd need at least two weeks of daily physical therapy before he could walk around unassisted, and even longer to get back to full strength. He had a long road to recovery ahead of him, but with his healing factor and determination, she couldn't help but feel it'd be cut to half that time.

For the first few days he could barely move or speak, and she'd taken a few weeks off from work to stay with him. She'd spent her time telling him about what he'd missed and what she'd been up to in an effort to keep him from possibly slipping back into a coma even though Tsunade had assured her that he would be fine. The Kyuubi had regenerated the cells in his brain, and astoundingly, he'd retained most of his memories. Every now and then he'd forget a word or his speech would slur, but these occasions were becoming less and less frequent as time went on and somehow she always knew exactly what he wanted to say.

Once he'd been cleared to eat some solids again, predictably the first thing he'd demanded was Ichiraku Ramen which Teuchi and Ayame delivered themselves to his bedside. That was the moment when she officially knew that her Naruto was back.

Naruto looked at her incredulously. "Style?!" he repeated, pointing his head towards his kitchen table. "There's a on my table!" He squinted his eyes and tilted his head, looking closer at the piece of furniture. "Hey, that's not even my table!"

Ino rolled her eyes and gripped his walker, pulling him further into the apartment. "It's called a tablecloth and I bought us a new one, now shut up and sit down. You're not supposed to be on your feet so much yet."

Still shaking his head, he eased himself onto his couch with a groan. At least that was still the same, even though it had a cover on it. "So you've been living here the entire time?"

"Hey, someone had to keep the place up for your return."

"How did you know I'd even..." his eyebrows furrowed slightly as he struggled to form the correct words, and noticing this, Ino quickly stepped in to help him.

She smiled cheekily, setting his things down on the aforementioned table. "Wake up? Come on, what guy could leave this," she said, gesturing to her body, "behind?"

Naruto's eyes raked over her, and he absentmindedly licked his lips. Even in her winter clothing she looked stunning. "Good point."

Laughing, Ino walked over to answer the knock at the door. "Hey, Sakura. Come on in, Naruto's just getting settled."

Sakura smiled and stepped into the apartment with some more equipment, shedding her jacket and folding it over one of the kitchen chairs. "I'm only going to stay for a few minutes. I know how much you two want to be alone," she grinned, nudging her best friend to the confusion of Naruto.

She walked into the living room and began to check Naruto over to make sure that he really was okay to be on his own at home again. She was well aware of her longtime friend's eyes watching her every move, and rolling her eyes, she finished the check up and placed her supplies back into her bag. Even though they'd hashed out their problems with each other over Naruto and were once again best friends, it seemed as if Ino was still a little wary. "You're recovering really quickly, but try not to engage in too much strenuous activity," she stressed, staring pointedly at Ino. Her words were innocent, but both her tone and expression clearly told them what she meant.

The blonde only shrugged noncommittally and smiled, drawing an even more confused stare from Naruto. "Bye, Sakura."

The pink-haired kunoichi rolled her eyes and grabbed her coat as she was being shoved rather rudely out of the door. "Well, you can't say I didn't try. I'll see you two whenever you decide to rejoin society."

When the door clicked shut behind her, Naruto turned his curious gaze on his girlfriend. "Why does she think we're gonna jump each other?"

Ino rushed over and straddled his lap, laughing at the way his eyes widened. "Probably because I've been complaining about being horny ever since you went into a coma."

Naruto swallowed heavily. The way her hips were slowly rubbing against him was almost painful. "Oh. And what if I say that I don't wanna sleep with you?"

His body obviously didn't share the same opinion, a fact that didn't go missed by Ino. "Well, too bad. You're just gonna have to grin and bear it."

The End

AN: Tried to get this out as soon as possible, felt bad about that last cliffhanger. Seriously glad that you all stuck with this story through it's extremely long hiatuses and somewhat awkward transitions as I struggled to put this thing together. I'm actually really sad about this since this is probably my last Naruto story ever (I haven't read/watched the series in years, don't even know how it ends). It's the end of an era.

You've all been the greatest, reviewing and telling me what you liked and didn't like. I only finished it because you all kept reminding me that it existed!

I feel like now is a funny time to reveal that my old/main account is actually Jetslinger. You can read Naruto stories I started when I was in HIGH SCHOOL there and see exactly how much worse I was at writing. Really, check out the first chapter of Melody. So bad. Thanks for reading!