Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any of its characters. Naruto belongs to Masashi Kishimoto. I am not making any money from this page.

AN: This is a piece about Ino and Tenten, expanding their friendship from Chapter 2 of "Stand in the Rain." You don't need to read "Stand in the Rain," Chapter 2 in order to understand this story, but it might be helpful. Or you could just read this story as a stand alone.

Reviews will be greatly appreciated.

Since she was child, Ino had been informed, sometimes several times a day, that she was vain, selfish, and self-absorbed.

Her parents told her this when they were impatient with her behavior. Asuma, her sensei, told her this when her actions bungled the team's training. Chouji told her this when she unintentionally prevented him from eating and he had to go hungry. Shikamaru, communicated this notion at every given opportunity, expressing his feelings by rolling his eyes or glancing at her in disgust just as much as he used words. Sakura had pointed out Ino's flaws during their friendship, and taunted her with them many times when their rivalry had begun. Ino could even recall when her Academy teachers had scolded her for being selfish. In fact, the only person Ino was close to who hadn't tactlessly informed her of her faults was Tenten, Ino's second cousin and closest friend.

If it had been anyone else, thought Ino, scowling as she shivered with cold, and pulled her sweater tighter around her torso, I wouldn't be doing this.

Carefully holding her umbrella upright so not to be splattered by the pouring rain, Ino glanced over at Tenten, perhaps fifteen meters away. Seeing that Tenten wasn't through yet, she returned to her musings.

Despite the amount of time people spent telling Ino her flaws, they didn't pay much attention when she deliberately tried to correct her faults. After all, she may have been vain, but she had sacrificed her hair to use as a trap in the Chunin exams. And although she was selfish, she and her teammates had helped Team Seven in the Forest of Death. And Ino hadn't been too self-absorbed to notice that Sakura had been lonely at the Academy, and had befriended her and given her that hair ribbon.

Self-absorbed. How Ino loathed the word. She wasn't self-absorbed. Ino wasn't so wrapped up in herself that she never paid attention to anyone but herself. Sakura was a living testament to that and Tenten more so.

Brought back into the present at the thought of Tenten, Ino glanced in her direction, and wondered if she would ever be done.

Ino didn't recall her first meeting with Tenten, but she did remember playing with her at family events, such as weddings and funerals. Ino's mother was Tenten's father's first cousin; it so happened that her mother's side of the family had given Ino her fair coloring. Ino bore greater resemblance to Tenten's father and twin brothers than she did, them with their platinum blonde hair and cornflower blue eyes, and Tenten with wavy dark brown hair and chocolate colored eyes. When she had been younger, Ino had wondered why Tenten didn't share the physical traits of her family; later, Ino learned from listening at the top of the stairs while the first generation of the Ino-Shika-Cho trio and their wives talked that Tenten was an illegitimate child. Sojiro had married Asai, his first wife, when he was merely nineteen, as part of an arranged marriage, then proceeded to commit adultery during the marriage. Tenten had been conceived when Sojiro was assigned to guard a noble in another nation, who later had become Tenten's mother.

The rain hammered down harder still, and Ino felt her impatience rising, but she still waited, determined to be there for Tenten.

Upon seeing Tenten at the Academy, Ino had quickly befriended her. Ino had decided when daydreaming about how much fun her Academy years would be that a best friend, one that she could always rely on, was essential. And because Tenten was related to her, and family was always loyal to one another, Tenten was the obvious choice.

To this day, Tenten had never accused Ino of possessing any faults, and for that Ino was enormously grateful. Tenten had never even given any indication that she thought Ino had faults. Tenten indulged Ino when she wanted to go shopping, listened to Ino wax poetic about Sasuke or rant about Sakura. Tenten had never been anything but amiable and beneficial to Ino, and often went out of her way to be nice to her. Ino took great pride in this, because she knew she was one of the few people Tenten trusted absolutely.

Of course, there was always the possibility that Tenten hadn't called Ino out on her faults because she didn't recognize such. Ino knew that Tenten's unconventional family situation had denied her a normal childhood. She also knew that Tenten believed since Ino did have a normal family situation, Ino was, therefore, normal. And so Tenten came to believe Ino's behavior was typical for a girl their age. After the first few months of the beginning of their friendship, Ino had noticed that Tenten didn't know how to act in certain situations. On one occasion she had accidentally tripped a boy of the hot-blooded Inuzuka clan, and he had angrily yelled and insulted her. Tenten had merely stood there and smiled in a friendly manner, but Ino had found the expression so out of place in the situation that she thought it was somewhat creepy. The boy had eventually become frustrated by the lack of response and stormed off.

And once while Ino and Tenten were playing dolls out by the playground, Ino had tripped and went sprawling, and her favorite doll soared out of her hands and landed on the hard-packed earth, shattering its porcelain head. Before she could even begin to cry, as most six-year-olds were wont to do when their playthings were ruined, Tenten had handed Ino her own doll, an exquisite and expensive toy that her father had bought for her on his travels. When Ino had questioned her friend's readiness to part with a gift from her father, Tenten had merely shrugged and replied that she owned plenty of dolls, and she wouldn't miss this one.

The doll probably hadn't meant anything to her, Ino realized. Glancing at Tenten once more, and decided to make her way towards her friend.

Tenten's father. Sojiro. Ino had never actually met the man, but she was fairly sure she didn't like him. The man had allowed Asai, his wife during his adulterous affair with Tenten's mother, to treat Tenten however she wanted. While Asai didn't openly abuse his daughter in front of him, Sojiro did nothing to prevent it from happening during the times he was away. This had begun when Tenten's paternal grandmother, Sojiro's mother, who had raised Tenten, passed away, leaving Tenten to Asai's abuse. Unable to rectify her husband's infidelity, the woman had focused her anger and bitterness on an easy target: Tenten, who had been eight years old when her grandmother died. When Ino had discovered that Tenten spent most nights sleeping in the flower garden of one of the several courtyards of her family's elaborate manor, she had begun to invite Tenten to sleep over at her house as often as possible.

Ino's foot splashed in a puddle, soaking the hem of her pants, and she groaned in frustration and annoyance. She would rather be at home, or at this point, she would even rather work in the flower shop.

Asai had died last year. And although she knew it was horrible of her, Ino wasn't sorry at all. On the few occasions she felt guilty about her lack respect for the dead, Ino recalled the number of times Tenten had shown up at her house, bruised and bleeding from Asai slapping or hurling projectiles at her, and even more damaged from the ugly obscenities and insults screamed at her back as she ran away. And when she thought of that, Ino just felt angry that a father had permitted his wife to terrorize his daughter in his own home, a place where by all means, she should be safe.

Sojiro had married again after Asai's death; his new wife was a gorgeous medical ninja named Mariko. Although the woman seemed some what cold, Ino didn't dislike her, and considering the family background, she doubted Mariko's lack of warmth would even be noticed by Tenten's family. She also appeared to be genuinely fond of Tenten, and that was what Ino liked best about her.

Finally, Ino arrived by Tenten's side. Tenten didn't glance at her any time during her approach, instead keeping her gaze focused on the headstone a few feet away from the two of them. Ino couldn't help but notice the contrast between her bright, pastel umbrella and Tenten's somber black one.

Neither of them spoke immediately, and Ino took the time to study her best friend. For the first time in a long time, she was wearing civilian clothing instead of her training gear. Tenten's signature hairstyle was absent; instead her long, brown hair had been pulled into a single bun on the back of her head. Her face seemed pale and drawn, and Ino wondered if this was the result of her most recent mission or the bad news she had received when she had arrived back home.

"What are you doing here?" Tenten acknowledged Ino for the first time since her arrival.

"Can't I be worried about my best friend?" Ino questioned in return.

Tenten didn't answer, but she sighed.

Ino swallowed. "Tenten . . . have you seen Lee?"

Something flickered in Tenten's normally expressionless brown eyes. "Yes. I saw him last night."

"And you know . . .?" Ino couldn't even speak the words, knowing how much it hurt her friend.


A monosyllabic response, yet it carried so much pain and grief that Ino could barely stand hearing her friend speak. Silence fell upon them, and it occurred to Ino that Tenten may not want to talk about the tragedy.

Ino shifted her weight from one foot to another. "Tenten . . . why did you leave on that mission so quickly? Did your father . . .?"

"It was his decision," Tenten replied, and although her voice was toneless, Ino could see the tension in her shoulders. "As soon as I arrived at the hospital, I was healed, given a few hours to rest, then sent out on the mission."

"The mission . . . was it difficult?" Ino was concerned for friend. She knew it couldn't have been easy to see for Tenten to fail the Chunin exams, have her spine broken then healed within the hour, be sent out to a distant city, then return and find Lee, her teammate and close friend, in such terrible condition.

"No." Tenten responded flatly. "It was an aristocrat who wanted us to guard her daughter's birthday party. She had connections to my father, so he wanted my brothers and I to go and represent the family. One of my first cousins, a Jounin, also went along with us. He was medical ninja, one who had taken instruction from Mariko." A caustic smirk twisted Tenten's lips. "Sometimes I wonder if my father married Mariko for the health care. Whatever the reason may be, I doubt it was love. If my father is capable of such a thing, I've never seen it."

Ino was surprised at Tenten's words. She normally never spoke of her family.

Tenten looked at the headstone and sighed. "Grandmother. She didn't have to care for me, and yet she did anyway. Hell, she even gave me my name so I didn't have to go by the ridiculous name my bastard father decided on."

"Tenten?" Ino stared at her friend. "Did something happen between you and your dad?"

There was only silence as a response.

"Tell me," ordered Ino, because she knew if Tenten didn't tell her, the closest friend and confidante she had, Tenten would never open up to anyone about this issue, whatever it might be.

Tenten looked away.

Anger boiled within Ino. "Oh, come on, Tenten! I'm your best friend! Don't you at least think that you owe me the truth?"

For a few moments Tenten stood as still as a statue and Ino had opened her mouth, ready to start on a tirade, but then Tenten at last responded.

"This is an issue between my father and I. It is none of your concern."

"Yeah, right!" Ino said forcefully. "Of course it's my concern. Something obviously happened, and you don't want to tell me what it is!"

Tenten didn't say anything, only looked at her with what Ino knew to be her expressionless mask designed to keep everyone else out.

"We're supposed to be best friends." Ino's voice shook. "You're supposed to tell me about this stuff and let me help you."

There was still no reply from Tenten. Ino saw that she was staring off into the distance.

"You're still trying to block me out. You were there for me every time I needed you. That time when my father was almost lost on a mission, when my doll broke, when Sakura ended our friendship over Sasuke," Ino countered, determined to hold her ground.

"You've reestablished your friendship with Sakura." Tenten returned impassively.

"That doesn't mean that she can replace you!" Ino replied vehemently. Despair seeped into Ino's voice. "Why won't you let me be there for you?"

Tenten glanced away, then spoke. "I don't want this to hurt you. By involving you in this I could destroy you. Not just you, but your parents and your innocence. I don't . . ." she sighed. "I don't have the heart to let this come to that."

"You can't always protect me from this!" Ino said angrily. "There will be other things Tenten! War, gory battles, criminals! You won't be able to always protect me!"

"You don't get it, do you?" Tenten asked softly, her voice calm. She locked eyes with Ino. "You were the first person to befriend me. Other students were afraid of me. They could sense that I was different; they thought I was a freak for my knowledge of weapons, or they were uncomfortable around me because of my Clan status. But you didn't care. You accepted me, and you didn't abandon me because of my birth or my interests. You never insulted me or mocked me, not even jokingly, and you always were furious with Asai and my father not matter how much I told you there was nothing that could be done. Your family accepted me as well, they sheltered me from Asai, and your parents called my father out on his behavior." Tenten shook her head. "Don't you understand how much that means to me? Do you know how I would feel if I willingly involved you in something as sordid as this?"

Ino noticed something about Tenten. The mask was gone, an expression of fierce determination in its place.

"I can't ever repay you or your family for that. I can't ever thank you enough for what you've done to help me. In return, I'll always do whatever I can protect you and your family from everything or anything that's a threat. And that's why I can't tell you about some things." Tenten stared at Ino, determination and conviction glinting in her eyes. "So don't ask me to do this. Don't ask me to endanger the people I love so much. I've already seen Lee's body and dreams shattered. I don't want to see anyone else injured if I can help it.

Tenten looked directly into Ino's eyes. "I know this is a lot to ask. But please, let me have this. Don't make me put anyone at risk. Especially not my best friend."

"Okay," Ino whispered, taken aback slightly by Tenten's conviction. Forget Naruto, Tenten's determination was unparallel.

Tenten exhaled. "Thank you."

The two girls stood , the silence between them not comfortable or uncomfortable, but understanding and reflective.

Beyond her parents, no one had ever paid Ino such a compliment as Tenten. Instead of focusing on Ino's flaws, Tenten saw completely different traits in Ino than anyone else, traits that inspired complete and total loyalty. Tenten may not have been willing to confide in her, but her best friend was determined to protect her no matter what the cost. The prospect of Tenten killing others just to protect her startled Ino, but it also brought her an odd feeling of happiness at the knowledge that she meant so much to her friend. Happy, because no matter what, Tenten was determined to be there for Ino.

Ino reached out and took Tenten's hand, giving it a squeeze, to let Tenten know that she was there for her as well.

A beat passed, and then Tenten returned the squeeze.

And even after that, Tenten didn't let go of her hand. Realizing this, Ino smiled at her friend.

Tenten smiled back.

The End

In Chapter 2 of "Stand in the Rain," I mistakenly wrote that Tenten and Ino were cousins by marriage. That was a total oversight on my part. I meant to say that they're second cousins. Sorry about any confusion.