Ino tried to avoid the marketplace that day.
She reorganized her shoes and clothes. She reread some medical scrolls. She did some superfluous paperwork for Tsunade-sama. Then, telling herself she was only going to restock her Shinobi supplies, she headed out to the marketplace.
The roads were congested; everyone was trudging out today to see the spectacle. Ino allowed herself to be swept up and carried down the street. She saw Shikamaru and Chouji up ahead, but she avoided being seen by them, embarrassed that she had allowed herself to pass the weapon shop and stay with the crowd.
Like a river, the currents of elbows and closely-pressed-together bodies brought her to the center of the marketplace, where people were filling up the open area and pushing against the barricades.
Ino saw Sasuke, standing higher up than her. He looked around at everyone with a cool indifference, as if he didn't really see them or notice the general buzz of many people talking at once. His eyes passed over her, then wandered back.
His direct gaze made her think about how much he had changed, and how much he had remained the same. His hair and eyes were the same shape and same color. He had grown taller, an obvious change that time brought, and more muscular. Everything about him had matured, but the look in his eyes resembled so much of his younger self, that Ino felt like crying.
She remembered the first time she had seen him, standing with his mom at the entrance of the academy. Her dad was lingering behind, talking with Shikaku on the lawn, leaving her to wait on the doorstep. His mom was making him promise that he would try to be as successful as Itachi. The look on his face was somewhere between envy, determination, and adoration when he declared that he would surpass Itachi.
His mom laughed, but from that moment, Ino had a strange fondness for him. He pulled her like a magnet, always attracting her attention. He was never around without her noticing. She liked the way he set his mouth when aiming. She liked the frustrated crease in his forehead when he didn't quite hit the mark. She liked to look at him.
Ino was still too young to understand the concepts of a crush, but she knew he was special. She tried to befriend him, asking him to play tag with her and giving him gifts of flowers. He would always sniff and say something about how flowers were for girls, and he didn't have time for girls. He had to train. He had to beat Itachi.
Then, Itachi did the unthinkable. He had betrayed Sasuke in the worst way possible and had changed him beyond recognition. The boy who used to take the flowers relunctantly would now turn away without more than a sneer of disdain. He dedicated even more time to training, and soon was the strongest in the class, though never quite as strong as Itachi had been.
Ino struggled to be strong, too. She thought, that if she could be recognized by everyone else, then he'd finally look at her. Then, maybe he'd like what he saw. Soon, she was the second best in the class.
When it came time to pick teams, she hoped that she would be on his team. Ino's parents had met and became close on a series of missions they were assigned together. If watching Sasuke's back and being in constant contact didn't worm her way into his heart, she didn't know what would.
She never had the chance to try it out, because she was placed on a team with Shikamaru and Chouji, and Sakura took her spot on team 7. Ino spent the next year training with her team and watching Sasuke from afar. He never seemed to return her gaze, but he never pushed her off when she hugged him.
With each passing day, she could see her opportunity to ever catch Sasuke's attention slipping away, as he began to notice Sakura more and more each day. It wasn't fair. That was supposed to be her. Sakura wouldn't even receive a second glance if Ino hadn't helped her all those years ago.
The final blow was when Sasuke left, only bothering to say goodbye to Sakura. The other Konoha Shinobi thought she was crying because he was gone, but she thought that maybe her teammates had more of an inkling to the truer reason deep down: that what she'd been working on for years, being noticed by him, was all void because of this one action.
She struggled with her identity after he left, wondering who she was. All the decisions she'd made up to that point, the Ino she was, were all based on him somehow. What a wasted life. She hated herself for being so dependent on someone who barely knew her name.
Even with this self-hatred, she continued to subconsciously live her life in a way that would make her appealing to him. She grew her hair out again, she trained harder, she continued to chase after Sakura in medic training.
And, now, he was finally looking at her. Really looking at her, his eyes unfaltering as they met hers. She reached a hand up out of reflex, wanting to touch him despite the hundreds of people who milled between them.
The corners of his lips turned up in semblance of a smile. Ino wanted to shout, "Wait! No!" But, she was too late. The board was removed, and the rope tightened around his neck. She forced her eyes away from his limp body, his life taken in the most dishonorable way for a Shinobi.
Ino knew he was strong enough to escape. Why didn't he? Why did he accept this death? A hand settled across her shoulder, and she looked up to see Shikamaru. He must have spotted her during the execution and crossed through the crowd.
"Come on, Ino. There's nothing left to see here."
This was an ending, Ino thought as she was walking, Shikamaru's hand guiding her through the departing crowd, but, also a beginning.