Disclaimer: Standard disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, because if I did, Jiraiya would be back by now. Or very close to coming back.

Title: Soft As Butterfly Wings

Pairing: Choji/Ino. Shikamaru/Temari (implied, at least). Jiraiya/Tsunade (implied, again). Set in Shippuden.

Summary Notes: Okay, SammyQuill, I know you were directing this at lovesrainscent in a review, but I couldn't help but take up the challenge of trying to find members of the younger generation and giving them even a small appreciation and identifying towards the love and understanding Jiraiya and Tsunade have. Now, I don't know if you're a Chouji/Ino lover or hater, but here's hoping you don't mind them, because this is partly dedicated to you.

Feet pelted against the pavement, long legs working a mile a minute as they carried the lithe blonde through the streets of Konoha with no apparent destination, and no concern for those who looked at her curiously, or frowned in disapproval.

Ino didn't give a damn what they thought, or where she was going at this point. She was simply running blindly, running away as fast as she could in a bid to get away from what was now exceedingly painful to think about, though she knew better than anyone as a Yamanaka that running from the mind was impossible.

Still, it hurt. Rejection hurt.

Yes. She, Yamanaka Ino, possibly the most beautiful, bold kunoichi of her generation, had been rejected. And the worst part was, she couldn't even kick the guy's ass for breaking her heart. Because it was Shikamaru.

And he hadn't even meant to do it.

Ino choked on an angry sob, ignoring the ache in her legs as she pushed herself faster. That lazy bastard - how could he betray her like that? Whether she liked him or not, they were still the best of friends, and didn't best friends share everything?

Apparently not.

She had simply turned up at his door, in true Ino fashion, intent on bugging him into coming out with her. And...and that...that...Temari had answered the door. In...in a towel. And then...and then that lazy son of a bitch had appeared beside her, and the look on his face when he'd seen Ino...

Ino choked on another sob, slamming her fists into the nearest log. A part of her mind told her she was in one of the training grounds - Team Asuma's favorite, to be exact - but the rest of her didn't care. It simply wanted to beat and rend and destroy until she stopped hurting, by any means possible.

Slam. Punch. Slam.

Stupid Shikamaru. The jerk doesn't know a good thing when he sees it.

Punch. Slam. Punch. There went a good chunk of bark, and with it, the skin off her knuckles.

"Stupid Shikamaru," she sobbed out loud, imagining his face with every punch, imagining that bitch from Suna's face with every kick. What was Shikamaru thinking, anyway, sleeping with someone from another village? Especially, especially that.

It was in this manner that her other team mate, one Akamichi Chouji, discovered the blonde. He'd been bored, and hungry, and had gone searching for his team mates in an attempt to drag them off to eat barbeque with him. Well, Ino at least...Shikamaru was out of the question, he knew, and though Ino was vain and tempestuous at best...

Said thoughts flew out of his head when he came across her, though. Training, at that. Well, not training...more like blindly pummelling that poor log, no doubt doing all kinds of damage to her hands.

What got Chouji the most, though, was the sound he heard coming from her. A sob...the most shocking sound you could ever hear from Ino, and the most heartbreaking sound Chouji could ever hear from her. Oh, Ino could be an emotional train wreck most days, but generally, it revolved around her yelling and beating them up as a means of venting her frustration.

Never crying, though.

"Ino..." he said softly, tentatively, immediately flinching when she slammed her fists into the log and rounded on him.

"Piss off, Chouji! I don't want to deal with you and your food fetish right now!"

Ouch. Chouji bit the inside of his cheek and frowned at the hurtful words. He was too gentle even when upset to retort, though, and made to turn for the village, thinking that perhaps that barbeque would be a better idea on his own after all.

But then he heard another slam, followed up by a choked sob.

"Stupid Nara..."

Chouji's frown deepened. Stupid Nara? What was she talking about? What had Shikamaru done now? He turned back, watching and cringing when she beat one of her fragile fists against the log yet again.

"Stupid Sand bitch..."

Stupid Sand bitch...oh. Oh.

Chouji bit the inside of his cheek again, this time in guilt. He'd been aware that Ino harboured slightly stronger feelings than friendship for Shikamaru, and he'd also been aware that Shikamaru's...er, interest lay in the Sand kunoichi, Temari. But he'd sworn to Shikamaru not to tell a soul...not yet, anyway.

Except he hadn't realised that Ino had been left in the dark, too.

That angered the large shinobi, just a bit. Shikamaru was his friend, for sure - his absolute best friend from the time they'd been in diapers. But this...this wasn't fair. And clearly, whatever way Ino had found out; it hadn't been pretty.

It angered him slightly more so, because Chouji cared deeply for Ino, even if he was too shy to admit to it. Of course he would be...what beautiful kunoichi like her, even at her worst, would go out with a guy like him? Be his friend, yes, but he often wondered if that was more out of pity...well, not so much anymore, but now and again, he still wondered.

The urge to go and tear Shikamaru a new one was forestalled, though, when he was alerted to the sound of splintering wood. Ino had outright punched a hole into the log, and Chouji winced when he saw how scuffed and bruised her fists now were. She was going to break her hands, if she didn't stop now.

Thus, when she went to hit it again, Chouji braved a punch to the face, and grabbed his team mate's wrists before she could do more damage.


"Let me go, you fa-"


The Yamanaka's tirade was brought short by the raised voice, and from Chouji none the less. Blinking dazedly, she turned a watery glare up to him, intent on tearing him a new one for daring to be so forceful with her.

The look on his face, though...the gentle concern and compassion despite her harsh treatment...it was too much for Ino. Thus, when Chouji gently tugged her forward, she didn't fight him, simply burrowing her face into his chest, the cold metal of his armour strangely comforting as she choked on a sob, before bursting into tears completely. Something she could only do around Chouji, really, though she'd never admit to it.

"It's not fair," she sobbed, "Nobody ever wants to take me seriously. Nobody."

Another round of incoherent sobs, and Chouji's heart broke just that little bit more. Still, he said nothing, simply rubbed her back soothingly as she continued to vent, though he felt a little hurt that she didn't seem to count him important enough to be taken seriously by.

"Nobody takes me seriously, Chouji," Ino whispered, "I just want to be special too, but they think I'm a joke. Even Forehead Girl and guys like Rock Lee are more special than I am these days."

"You are special," Chouji blirted out, and then paused, struggling to find the right words. Verbal finesse had never been Chouji's strong point, after all. Especially not with the girl he currently held.

After a moment though (in which he was rewarded with his heart twinging several times over with every sniffle from his friend), he settled on the right words, or what he hoped were the right words.

"You are special...you're special...because you're Ino. You're special because you're you, Ino. And..." he swallowed, "And one day, you'll find him. You'll find someone who will want to love and protect and look out for Ino."

Ino was silent, and for a second, Chouji feared he'd said the wrong thing after all. But then she gave a final sniffle and with a hiccup, pulled back slightly and looked up at him. And smiled. And darn it all; she was pink-nosed and dirty cheeked from tears, and racoon-eyed where her mascara had run, but that smile undid his insides like it always did.

"Thanks Chouji," she said softly.

The Akamichi boy blushed a bit and looked abashed, though he grinned slightly in response. "S'what I'm here for, Ino-chan. That and eatin' your food when we have barbeque."

She laughed a little at that. It was a shaky laugh, though, and when it faded into a frown again, all Chouji could do was sigh a little and smile wistfully at her. Clearly, it was going to take a while for Ino to get over the rejection and the hurt that had accompanied it, and yet, it made him love her that much more for allowing him to witness it.

So when she sniffled again, Chouji merely pulled her back into his arms, cuddling her close and pressing the lightest of kisses to her forehead. He felt her muffle a sob against him, though this time, her arms curled around him, clutching him to her like a child would a giant, stuffed teddy bear.

"I don't know what I'd do without you, you big goof," Ino mumbled into his chest, sniffling again. Chouji simply rubbed her back soothingly in response, though Ino would never see the slight, sad smile that crossed his broad features and further darkened his eyes.

You won't ever have to worry about that, Ino. Because I'll always be there to look out for you.