The Good Wife
Everything was white.
Yamanaka Ino's eyes fluttered as she regained consciousness, and flinched at the bright white light that invaded her senses. She huffed and tried again, this time opening her eyes slowly. She sat up, expecting to find herself in bed, Naruto asleep next to her, but she was not in bed at all.
An endless void surrounded her. All around, there was nothing but an expanse of white that continued on infinitely.
Where was she?
She stood up slowly, stretching her legs and rolling her shoulders. It was eerily quiet, and the feeling of weightlessness reminded her of when she was Mind Walking. However, this place was empty. This was no brain, filled to the brim with memories and knowledge.
She took a step forward, and winced at the loud echo of her own footsteps. That was not at all pleasant. She stopped.
The echo continued.
She was not alone.
Tense, she slowly turned around, her heart beating furiously in her chest. She had no idea where she was, and thus had no idea who or what to expect. The person came to a stop once their eyes met. Ino's eyes widened.
She was looking at herself.
Platinum blonde hair cropped beneath the chin, eyes as blue as seafoam, signs of aging around the eyes and mouth. It was the appearance of thirty-seven-year-old Ino. The wife and mother.
Confused, Ino looked down at her own hands. The wrinkles and calluses she had come to know the last few months were gone, and in its place were her youthful and supple skin. Wanting to confirm her suspicion, she lifted her arms to touch her head, and brush her fingers to the back. She met resistance, and further movement confirmed her thoughts.
She was back in her own body. She was a sixteen-year-old in her sixteen-year-old body.
She looked back up at the other Ino. Older Ino.
Uzumaki Ino smiled. "Hello, Ino."
Ino blinked. Well, this was weird.
"This is…" Ino began.
Older Ino laughed. "Confusing, right?"
Older Ino shook her head, the smile still lingering on her lips. "I can't hold the jutsu for long. But, I felt it would be prudent we speak before I reverse the Five Dimensions to Heaven."
Ino blinked. "You figured it out?"
"Yes," was the reply. "Or, well, Gaara figured it out."
Ino chuckled. "Of course he did."
Older Ino also chuckled, but then her expression sobered and she grew serious. "I must reverse the Five Dimensions to Heaven. It is an unstable jutsu, even with the tweaks. And I'm pregnant…"
Ino cut her off. "I know."
Older Ino looked startled, but it quickly faded. "You have also experienced symptoms?"
Ino nodded. "Yes, but the foetus is not physically with me."
Older Ino sighed. "Severe displacement then. Usually with a jutsu like this - that encompasses a form of teleportation- it is possible to leave behind a limb or injure yourself, but to transfer a foetus from one body to another? Yikes."
"We don't do things by half-measure," Ino snorted.
Older Ino chuckled. "No, clearly not."
Ino took a deep breath and released it. "Regardless, it is not safe. So, I get it. You need to reverse it. And immediately."
Older Ino nodded slowly. "Yes."
Ino worried her bottom lip, her heart suddenly feeling heavy. "Will you let me say goodbye?"
Older Ino's gaze softened and she smiled warmly. "He got you too, huh?"
"Naruto is a very difficult man to not love," Ino replied.
"He is a dork," Older Ino snorted. "But, he is a special dork. Even as a teenager he already had that...spark."
"...I guess you want to say goodbye too, then."
Older Ino smiled wistfully. "I already have. Do I want to see him again? Yes, but I cannot. He is in Konoha. I'm in Sunagakure."
Ino frowned. "Suna?"
"I did say Gaara fixed the problem, no?"
"Oh," Ino said flabbergasted. "I'm sorry."
Older Ino brushed it off. "No matter. I've had my time. Besides, dorky teenager Naruto belongs to you."
Ino felt her cheeks grow warm. "We're the same person, so he is ours."
Older Ino rolled her eyes. "Yes, yes, alright."
Ino smirked, then straightened and placed her hands on her hips. "How long?"
"I will give you twenty-four hours."
Ino nodded. She could work with that. "I guess I'll wake up in Suna tomorrow, then. As a teenager again."
"Yes," Older Ino hummed. "You should be prepared for some surprises. Konoha was attacked."
Ino gasped, her eyes widening. Attacked? Panic washed through her. Oh god, how bad was it? Who was wounded? Who was dead? And why? Why has Konoha been attacked again? Was it another war?
"W-who-" Ino began, but Older Ino cut her off.
Dread pooled in her gut. Oh god. Naruto.
"He is fine. The seal probably nearly broke, if things went the same, but his father would have stopped it."
Ino blinked. What? She shook her head. That was a lot of shocking information to take in. She opened her mouth to ask more questions, but the world around them suddenly shook under their feet. Ino stumbled, and with a small shriek quickly moved to regain her footing.
Older Ino frowned. "Ah, the jutsu is fading. I'm afraid we don't have long. You'll have to ask Naruto for the full story, when you return to Konoha."
Ino sighed. "Okay. Thank you for the warning, I suppose."
Older Ino nodded.
Suddenly, a thought occurred to Ino. "Wait...do you think, due to the displacement, when you reverse the Five Dimensions to Heaven, will we even retain memories of the last few months?"
Older Ino blinked, opened her mouth to respond, then closed it again when she could not form a response. Another tremor shook the void. Ino stumbled again, but this time lost her footing and fell over onto her knees. She groaned. That really hurt.
Older Ino rushed forward and held out her hand to help Ino up. She took the older, wrinkled hand gratefully and allowed herself to be pulled up. Once she was stable on her feet again, she stepped back and returned her gaze to the older version of herself.
Uzumaki Ino looked crestfallen. Well, she supposed that was her answer then. She closed her eyes in resignation and allowed reality to settle over her.
"I'm sorry, Ino," Older Ino whispered.
Ino shook her head. "Whatever will happen, will happen. We can't stay like this. Nor delay the reversal. Even if I desperately want to."
She opened her eyes to look at her older self one last time. She smiled.
"It was nice to meet you," Ino said wistfully. "It was an honour to love your husband."
Older Ino returned the smile. "And the same to you."
The next time she opened her eyes, Yamanaka Ino came face-to-face with the beamed ceiling of the Hokage Manor. She was back in bed - the one she shared with thirty-seven-year-old Naruto.
Said man was next to her, curled up on his side, facing her and snoring away. She turned her head to look at him, and had to stifle her laughter. His blonde hair was a mess, and drool was dribbling down his cheek to the pillow.
A dork, indeed.
The thought of not remembering this tugged painfully at her heart. Ino turned fully onto her side, fully facing the man she had come to love beyond measure. He shifted slightly, moving his arm to tug it below his pillow. She smiled as he snuggled into the pillow with a dreamy sigh.
A strand of hair fell over his eyes, and even though he was asleep, Ino could not stop herself from reaching out and gently brushing it aside. She let her fingers linger for a moment, then let them slide down his cheek before she pulled back her hand towards her chest.
Her chest felt heavy, and she could feel the tears threatening to spill. She sniffled and moved closer, pushing herself against Naruto as close as possible without waking him. She curled up, tucked her head under his chin and buried her face in his chest. His elbow was slightly in the way, but she paid it no mind.
She closed her eyes and listened to his breathing.
She must have dozed off a bit, because next thing she knew an arm wrapped around her waist. She jumped at the sudden movement, knocking her head against something hard and sharp.
"Ow!" Naruto groaned. "That's my chin."
Ino blushed. "Sorry!"
The arm around her waist tightened, and Naruto buried his nose in her hair. "Hmm, no, it's fine. Your head okay?"
"Yes," Ino whispered.
"Why so cuddly this morning?"
Ino bit her bottom lip and sighed. "We have twenty-four hours."
Naruto pulled away abruptly, alarm on his face. "What?"
Ino looked into his sky blue eyes and smiled sadly. "She figured it out. Twenty-four hours and you'll have your wife back."
The Hokage blinked. "Oh."
His brows furrowed before he shifted forward again, moving his other arm from under the pillow and stuffing it beneath her. Ino yelped as his strong arms pulled her closer against him. He tucked her head under his chin again.
"Okay," he whispered. "Twenty-four hours."
Naruto insisted on spending the day together, as a family. Shikamaru was to be Hokage for the day (which he pointed out multiple times over the phone was incredibly troublesome). Kaguya was excused from training, and luckily it was the weekend, so Minato did not have school anyway.
"Have a seat," Naruto said as he pulled out one of the dining chairs.
Ino chuckled. "Aren't I making breakfast?"
"No," Naruto said seriously. "I am."
Ino quirked an eyebrow. "Really? You can cook something other than instant ramen, right?"
Naruto looked offended. "Of course!"
Ino laughed, but sat down as instructed. Minato came skipping down the stairs and practically stormed into the open living space and kitchen.
"Daddy! I want to help!" he exclaimed.
Naruto looked at his son and smiled. "Okay, buddy."
Kaguya came strolling in next, arms crossed and sleep still heavy in her eyes. "What's going on?"
"We're making breakfast!" Minato yelled loudly at his sister. Kaguya cringed.
"You are way too loud," she huffed. She looked up at her parents, saw her father's amusement, and her mother's own laughter, but there was something sad in their eyes...
She frowned, turning her head to look between them. What weren't they saying?
"Sit with your mother, Kaguya," Naruto said as he walked to the refrigerator. "The men of the house will cook this morning."
Kaguya stared at her father suspiciously, but he ignored her and went about preparing some eggs. She huffed and pulled out a chair to sit down next to her mother. Minato pulled over his stool, then hopped up next to Naruto so he could help.
"Seriously, what's going on?" Kaguya asked her mother.
Ino simply continued to smile: "Nothing. Just a family day."
That night, Ino made sure to tuck in both of the children. To Minato, it was nothing unusual, and he insisted that they read a story. Naruto had to do voices for the characters and everything. Minato's laughs were loud and adorable as his father imitated various animals.
Once the little boy faded into the world of dreams, Ino made sure he was tucked in properly before leaning down and planting a kiss on his forehead. She pulled back and watched his adorable sleeping face.
No words could describe what she felt.
She scrunched her nose and eyes shut, hoping to deter the tears. With a deep sigh, she leaned back down and gave the boy another kiss, before she brushed some hair out of his face.
"Goodnight, little wombat," she whispered.
Kaguya was sitting cross-legged on her bed, nose buried in a book. When Ino entered, she looked up, her blue eyes questioning.
"You don't often tuck me in, anymore," Kaguya said.
Ino shifted uncomfortably. "So?"
"So," Kaguya huffed. "You and dad have been acting weird all day. He makes breakfast, both of you looking sad. He does not go to work all day, instead stays glued to your side. You both insist we do things as a family."
Ino smiled. "What's wrong with that? Movie night was fun!"
"Well, yes," Kaguya relented. "But, still! You were smiling all day, but I can see the sadness in your eyes. What's going on?"
Ino sighed and sat down next to her daughter on the bed. "It's complicated. But, tomorrow things will be back to normal again."
Kaguya was not satisfied, and Ino could see it. She shook her head and wrapped her arm around the teenage girl's shoulders and pulled her closer.
"Don't question it," Ino whispered. "Just enjoy it. Everything will be fine."
"Why does it sound like you are saying goodbye?" Kaguya asked, her voice cracking.
Ino simply shook her head again and held her daughter even more tightly against her. "I'm not. Not really."
Naruto and Ino curled up in each other's arms. The light had been switched off, and the room was plunged in darkness. They could barely see each other, but it did not matter.
"And so the day ends," Ino whispered.
"Indeed," Naruto whispered in return.
"Twenty-four hours goes by too fast," Ino mumbled, her voice heavy. She had been biting back the tears all day, using all her willpower to stay strong, to stay happy. But now, here in the darkness, in Naruto's arms, she did not have much willpower left.
Ino closed her eyes, and a tear slipped down her cheek. She sniffled, but it did nothing to stop the tears that followed. She buried her face in Naruto's chest and let out a wail. His arms tightened around her.
"I got you," he whispered, his own voice cracking. "I got you."
Yamanaka Ino opened her eyes, and the ceiling that met her was not her own. It was brown and domed, and the air around her was hot and dry. She blinked, then sat up to scan her surroundings.
For a moment, her head felt foggy, like she had been asleep for a very, very long time. She had no idea where she was - the room and its furnishings unfamiliar. Panic washed over her as she tried to sift through her last memories. What had she been doing? How did she get here?
And where is here?
Okay, first thing. Figure out where she was. She kicked her legs over the edge of the bed and quickly jogged to the window. The sun was bright, and was baking down on a vast desert village. She gaped at the sight.
What on earth was she doing in Suna?
She racked her brain, trying to remember if perhaps she was assigned a mission to come here. Nothing. She could not remember being assigned such a mission at all. In fact, the last thing she could remember was finishing training with Shikamaru and Chouji. She had gone to Ichiraku's for some ramen, but had felt sick…
...nothing after that.
She could hear her blood rushing in her ears, feel her erratic heartbeat in her chest. Oh good lord. Did she have amnesia?
"Ah, you are awake," a voice came from behind her. Ino jumped, and whirled around, eyes wide. Instinctively she reached for her weapon pouch, but brushed nothing but her clothed leg. Drat! She was unarmed.
She met the piercing gaze of a pair of seafoam eyes.
Oh. It was just Gaara. A wave of calm washed over her, abrupt and seemingly out of nowhere.
Wait...just Gaara? Why was she so relieved to see him? She frowned. She barely knew him! Sure, they had met in the past, she was aware he was Kazekage and not at all like the boy he used to be. But, it definitely did not mean they were friends or anything.
Gaara frowned, then shook his head. "She was right. You overthink things."
Ino furrowed her brows and narrowed her eyes at him suspiciously. She? Who was she?
Gaara sighed and pulled out a flat object out of his pants pocket. He held it out to her, a neutral expression on his face. Ino glanced at his hand warily.
It was a note, folded. She squinted, hoping to see what the writing on it said, but could not see anything from this distance. She looked back up at Gaara's face, still wary.
He sighed, looking slightly miffed. "When you were four, you snuck into your mother's room to play with her makeup. You got lipstick everywhere, and when you realised you had broken one of her favourite colours, you knew you would be in a lot of trouble."
Ino's eyes widened as his words sunk in.
Gaara continued: "But, when your mother found you she wasn't angry at all. She laughed, then helped you clean the mess. Afterwards she gave you the broken lipstick, and insisted that next time you ask for your own."
Ino gaped. How…?
"I heard you," Gaara said. "I hear everything."
Ino frowned. What did that mean? Was he like her? A Mind Walker?
"No," Gaara replied. "My abilities are similar to yours, but it's not the same."
Ino had no idea what to say to that, so she simply continued to stare at him.
Gaara sighed again and motioned to his hand with his head. "The note is for you. Take it."
Ino hesitated. The note was for her? From whom? She took a deep breath and slowly shifted closer. She took the note from Gaara, and indeed saw her name scribbled on it.
Oddly, it looked like her own handwriting.
She glanced at Gaara once more, then moved away and unfolded the note.
First of all, Gaara is a dear friend, so stop staring at him warily.
Second, by the time you read this, the Five Dimensions to Heaven will have been reversed. You should be back in your own body, in your own dimension and time period. If not, then Gaara lied and I ask that you punch him in the face for me.
If all things went as planned, you probably have no idea how you came to be in Sunagakure. Or have a clue about anything I am even talking about. You were right. Displacement, and the laws of the universe (or universes now, I suppose) would probably mean our memories of what has transpired will be supressed.
To be honest, I never really listened to the universe.
Gaara is a telepath. A powerful one. He has capabilities far beyond our family jutsu's scope. After our telepathic meeting, I went to him and asked that he help you, should you wish to remember.
Remember what, you ask? Being teleported to another dimension, into another body, into a completely different time period. For several months you lived as me, a thirty-seven-year-old kunoichi from Konohagakure.
Who am I? I'm an idiot. A woman who felt inadequate, and with a thirst to prove herself. I tried to push the boundaries of our family's jutsu, make mind reading more than what it is. It backfired, and we ended up in a multi-dimensional mess. I broke my husband's heart, nearly killed my unborn child...really. I'm an idiot.
I must warn you: there is no guarantee that Gaara can recover your lost memories. There is also a risk of brain injury, so consider it carefully. And, if the reversal suppresses others' memories of the events too, that will probably also be undone.
I have already said it, but I will say it again. It was an honour. And thank you for loving my husband when I was too stupid to do it myself.
Ino looked up at Gaara, eyes wide. He simply looked back, passive as ever.
She wanted to doubt it. All of it. But, she knew her own handwriting. She had no recollection of writing this, so even if what the letter says is bogus, the part of her memory being wiped was not.
And like this Uzumaki Ino said.
She never listened to the universe.
With thirty-seven-year-old Ino…
"Minato, slow down!" Uzumaki Ino yelled as she waddled up the stairs. The young boy giggled and disappeared beyond the stairs, far down the hall ahead. Ino groaned and tried to climb faster but her swollen belly made it difficult.
"He has far too much energy," Kaguya muttered. Ino glanced at her daughter next to her and smiled.
"He gets it from your father," Ino insisted. "You were also like that, once."
Kaguya looked scandalised. "No, I was not!"
Ino laughed and grasped her daughter's hand and squeezed. "You were an adorable toddler."
Kaguya huffed. "Whatever."
They reached the top, and found Naruto standing by the door to his office, Minato in his arms talking loudly and flailing his arms.
Ino smiled at the sight. Nothing made her happier than seeing her family together, happy and whole.
Naruto's eyes landed on her, and he smiled - one of those sexy smiles that made her toes curl. Once the two Uzumaki women reached him, Naruto leaned in and planted a kiss on her cheek.
"Hello, beautiful," he greeted.
Ino huffed. "I'm fat, not beautiful."
Naruto blinked, glanced at her swollen belly, then back up at her face. "Are we going to have this argument every single time you are pregnant?"
Ino's eyebrow twitched. "Every single time? Are you saying you're going to plant more in me after this?"
Naruto's eyes widened and he gaped like a fish. "Uh, well, I…."
Kaguya made a gagging noise. "Gross. Can we not talk about you making more siblings for me? Thank you."
Naruto laughed nervously. "Right, yes, um." He scratched the back of his neck.
Ino chuckled. "I'm pulling your leg, husband."
Naruto huffed. "Right. Let's go, shall we?"
He held out his free hand. Ino linked their fingers and nodded with a smile.
"Yes, let's go."
Ino had never seen so much emotion on Hyuuga Masahiro's face before. He looked ready to burst into tears. Hinata, dressed in her travel gear, with a new flat stomach, tutted as she caressed his cheeks lovingly.
"My son," she hummed, a smile on her face. "Do not cry. Suna is not that far."
Masahiro furrowed his brows. "I won't cry. Don't be silly, woman."
Hinata chuckled. "Of course not. The head of the Hyuuga clan does not cry over his mother leaving."
Masahiro nodded seriously. His pale eyes shifted to Gaara, who was standing nearby, a wrapped bundle in his arms. The Kazekage was cooing at the bundle, smiling and radiating happiness.
"I'm glad you found him," Masahiro whispered to his mother. Hinata glanced at her husband and smiled.
"So am I," she whispered back.
"Oi, Gaara," Masahiro called out. The Kazekage looked up, a curious expression on his face.
"If anything happens to my mother, you're dead," Masahiro said, his tone serious.
"Masahiro!" Hinata gasped.
Gaara snorted. "Son, we had this discussion years ago. When I married her."
Masahiro crossed his arms, pretending to still be serious, but he was smiling. "Just making sure…father."
Gaara's gaze softened, while Hinata had to fight back her tears.
Masahiro had never called Gaara 'father' before.
"I'm hungry!" a small voice suddenly interrupted the moment. All eyes turned to little Daisuke, who was standing next to his father and sister. Misako elbowed him in the ribs and rolled her eyes. Gaara and Hinata laughed.
Hinata moved to her youngest son and knelt before him. "I have some snacks in my bag. We'll eat them soon, okay?"
Daisuke pouted. "Okay."
Hinata stood and held out her arms, waiting for her husband to transfer their newborn daughter back into her arms. Gaara did so, but first he planted a kiss on Madoka's forehead.
Once that was done, they turned to the Uzumaki family, who had been observing things quietly.
"Well," Gaara said. "I do not know how you convinced the Hyuuga Elders, Naruto. But, convince you did."
Naruto shrugged. "Eh, I'm charming."
Gaara snorted, while Hinata chuckled and shook her head.
"We are grateful, Naruto," Hinata said warmly. "I never thought I'd be able to move to Suna. Especially not without the seal."
Naruto smiled. "The world has changed. We are all allies now. May as well be the same village. This secret-keeping thing is getting old and stupid. Besides, your kids might have the Byakugan and they are Suna citizens by birth, so honestly we avoided a diplomatic mess here."
"Regardless, we thank you," Gaara insisted.
A loud whistle echoed through the station.
"Ah, sounds like our train is ready to depart," Gaara observed. Hinata turned to her young children.
"Got your bags?" she asked them. Misako and Daisuke both nodded.
Gaara placed his hand on Masahiro's shoulder. "Take good care of the Hyuuga family, son."
"I will," Masahiro replied.
Gaara nodded with a smile, then turned to Naruto. They shook hands, after which Gaara gave Ino a brief embrace, then ruffled Minato's hair. The boy giggled. Kaguya also received a handshake.
Hinata hugged everyone, and planted a kiss on Minato' cheek. He groaned and very obviously wiped at his cheek. The adults laughed. The children also said goodbye to each other, before Gaara, Hinata and their children boarded the train.
As the train started slowly moving, the family waved from their compartment. Masahiro and the Uzumakis waved back. Ino could see the tears flowing down Hinata's cheeks. As promised, Masahiro did not shed tears, but Ino could tell he was fighting them back with great difficulty.
For years he had been by his mother's side, unyielding and ever her trusty companion. This was new, and it would be difficult. But, Ino knew he would make a great leader.
Things were settling down now. Masahiro was adjusting to his new position. New council members had been elected, this time democratically. Shimura Ayaka was rotting in prison. Hyuga Hoshiko was still in the hospital. Karin was healthy and safe. Jugo was thriving under Naruto's tutelage.
Ino glanced at her husband, who was standing with his hands on his hips, smiling. He looked so handsome, with the sun shining and brightening his already bright blonde hair.
They were happier. Her notebook, the one with everything on the Five Dimensions to Heaven was gone now. Tossed into a fire and burned to a crisp.
Oh, yes. And, of course, Ino remembers.
There was a Gaara in this universe too, after all.
With sixteen-year-old Ino…
She had no words.
Ino stood, flabbergasted by what was supposed to be the gates that lead to Konoha. The gates were not there, instead there was nothing but rubble and dirt, mountains of it piled high.
People were scurrying about, all of them busy. Some were moving the rubble, clearing buildings. Others were setting up scaffolding, hammering down as they rebuilt what was lost. Tents were set up everywhere, with even more activity happening around them.
And above them all, the five Hokage watched over the village in their stone cold silence.
Gaara had not lied. Konoha had been flattened.
Ino gulped. God, she hoped her parents were alright. Gaara had little to tell her about the aftermath of the attack. All she knew was that the Akatsuki had attacked, Naruto had lost control and nearly sprouted all nine of Kurama's tails, and that Tsunade was in a coma.
If only Older Ino could have told her more. Ino was not at all prepared for this.
"Ino!" a familiar voice called out. Ino turned to her right, and gasped as she saw Chouji in the distance, bag of chips in hand. Where on earth had he managed to get a bag of chips?
Never mind, seeing him was...she bit her lip to stop the tears. He was dead in the other dimension. Seeing him alive and whole was...it was shocking. And a relief. She nearly ran to him and flung herself into his arms, but managed to control herself. Instead, she slowly made her way to him.
"Hey, Chouji," she greeted.
"You're…our Ino, right?" Chouji asked.
Ino laughed. "Yeah, it's me."
He grinned. "Great! This must be quite a shock to you, huh?"
Ino looked around. "Yeah. I was warned, but…"
"Seeing it is different?" Chouji asked.
Ino nodded. She returned her gaze to her teammate. "My parents…?"
She intentionally trailed off, feeling a bit nervous about saying it out loud. Chouji understood.
Ino sighed in relief. "Thank god. And everyone else?"
Chouji nodded. "All accounted for. Hinata and Naruto have made a full recovery following the battle. Did you hear? He, um…"
Ino interrupted: "Yes, I heard." She had not known about Hinata, though. The girl had been injured?
"Everyone is helping with rebuilding now. Except Sakura, she's permanently in the medical tent."
"I figured," Ino said. Her heart clenched at the mention of Sakura. Another friend who had died in the other dimension. Ino had missed her. She would have to make sure to catch up with the girl soon.
An awkward silence fell, but luckily it was broken by the interruption of a certain man with a ridiculous ponytail that resembled a pineapple.
Nara Shikamaru looked tired and bored. As always. He was slouching and had his hands in his pockets. He did, however, smile upon making eye contact with Ino.
"You're back," he said. "Hello, Ino."
She smiled. "Hey."
Shikamaru turned to Chouji. "Oi, as troublesome as it is, we need to get back."
Chouji munched on some chips and nodded. "Right."
Shikamaru turned to Ino. "You better check in with my dad. He'll probably want you to help Ibiki or Sakura."
Ino nodded. "Of course, I'll go do that."
Ino shifted her feet, and worried her lip. She knew she should report in, but honestly there was something else she wanted to do first. Shikamaru frowned at her, then snorted and shook his head.
"The idiot is helping out in the southern part of the village," he said. "Already back on his feet, the bastard."
Chouji grunted. "I always wondered why he never got sick or healed so fast. Now I get it."
Shikamaru rolled his eyes. "It took you this long to figure it out?"
"Oi!" Chouji huffed. "We can't all be as smart as you!"
Ino laughed boisterously. "I missed you two!"
"Yeah, yeah, go already, woman!" Shikamaru huffed and waved her off. Ino chuckled again and waved as she ran off, excitement coursing through her.
Running through Konoha now was strange. Everything was gone, but the rebuilding was well underway. Ino slowed when she reached what was once the southern suburbs, hoping to find who she was looking for amongst all the rubble and business.
"You alright there, girlie?" an elderly man carrying some lumber asked.
"Yes," she answered. "I'm just looking for someone."
"Who you lookin' for?" the man asked.
"Um," Ino hummed. "A boy my age. Not much taller, also blonde. Wears orange, despite it being the most ridiculous colour choice for a ninja."
The elderly man's eyes lit up. "Oh! You're looking for Naruto!"
Ino blinked. "Um, yes. You know him?"
The man laughed. "Know him? Girl, the whole village knows of him! He's a hero."
Ino gaped. Okay, that she had not expected. She really needed to find the blonde and speak to him. It was high time she was caught up with everything that had happened.
"Hey, old man Gorou, I got you tea!" a familiar voice called out. The elderly man turned to the voice, while Ino stood frozen, butterflies suddenly in her stomach.
His footsteps were getting closer.
"Oh!" Gorou exclaimed. "Speak of the devil."
She did not know why she was so nervous. He was not a stranger, after all. And she was not the type to get tongue-tied like this. But, things were different now, weren't they? Due to everything that had happened.
Ino took a deep breath, then turned around.
It had only been a few months, but it was almost as if she hadn't seen him in years. Or, perhaps, Ino had just never paid enough attention to him in the past. Because he was breathtaking.
Her face flushed as she stared, wide-eyed, as Uzumaki Naruto came to a standstill before her. Teenage Naruto was not as bulky as adult Naruto. His hair was shorter, and his skin lacked the wrinkles she had grown accustomed to. But, it was still Naruto. In his ridiculous orange tracksuit, and the wide goofy smile. He had two cups of tea in his hands.
"Ino!" Naruto exclaimed when his blue eyes landed on her, wonder in his voice. He blushed a deep red, then glanced at the old man.
Gorou looked between them, observing the flushed faces, then smirked. "I'll take the tea, boy. Give it here."
Naruto wordlessly handed over the tea. Gorou turned on his heel and sauntered off, cacking softly.
"Ah, young love," the old man whispered to himself.
An awkward silence fell over the two blondes. Ino was not sure what to say. She had no idea how much Naruto knew. What had Older Ino shared with him? How could she possibly explain things to him?
She took another deep breath and looked him right in the eyes, determined. She opened her mouth, ready to start, but before she could even get a word out, Naruto suddenly stepped forward, cupped her cheeks and pulled her into a searing kiss.
She gasped into the kiss, not having expected it, at all. But, his lips were warm, slightly chapped and the passion sent shivers down her spine. The good kind. She melted into it, closing her eyes and returned the kiss with full fervour.
It did not last long, as Naruto pulled away far too soon. Ino whined as he did so, her eyes fluttering open. His right hand moved from her cheek to her neck, digging into the base of her ponytail.
His blush seemed even more red than before, if that was possible. Not that she could talk, Ino's cheeks felt like they were on fire. He looked nervous, but also had a small smile on his face.
"Um, sorry," he whispered. "I've kind of wanted to do that for a while now."
Ino whimpered. "Really?"
He leaned in closer and bumped his forehead against hers. "Yeah."
Ino swallowed thickly. "You are aware I am…?" She trailed off, not sure how to put it into words.
Naruto grinned. "That you are sixteen and that this is very uncharted territory for these versions of us?"
Ino nodded. Okay. At least, he was not completely clueless. She pulled her arms back in, letting her hands settle on his shoulders. "And we are just going to…?"
His grin did not fade. "Yeah. I mean, if you want to…."
Ino vigorously nodded her head. "Yes! Of course I want to! We'll just…take it slow, yeah?"
"Yeah," he whispered back.
A/N: I promised, did I not? It may take time, but update I shall. Phew! What a journey! This fic took me what? Nine years to finish? LMAO. I'd be a nightmare to publishers if I ever went professional. Anyway, thank you to everyone who read this fic! Especially those that stuck around since the beginning. We got there! Woo!
Honestly, The Good Wife could really do with a serious edit. Maybe even chapter rewrites. This fic has content written by a nine years younger me. Some of it is cringeworthy. XD Maybe one day I'll tackle the big job of editing and polishing this first super long fic of mine. Maybe I'll even write a sequel of some kind (it will probably be something shorter or a one-shot). Who knows? For now, I must return to my study for the medical school admission test.