Ino stood in front of the monument Naruto and Sakura had erected for Sasuke, a small arrangement of white flowers gripped tightly in her arm. For the past four months, she had struggled with whether she ought to mourn for the fallen Uchiha or not.
It wasn't as if she had been particularly close to him. Everything she knew about him, she had learned from observation or from someone else. Conversations between them had been an effort for the both of them. For her, she tried to get his attention and keep it. For him, it was to avoid her attention and cut short all attempts of small talk.
The wind blew roughly around her, turning her bangs into dangerous razors that attacked her eyes. She pulled an extra hair clip from her pocket and clipped them back, thankful for the distraction. If left unhindered, she would have continued down the road of self-pity. Down that well-worn path of wondering why Sasuke pushed her away when all she wanted to do was love him? Why was he more willing to let Sakura get close? Did he find Ino repulsive?
She asked herself those questions on nearly a daily basis the year after he left. Then, one day, she saw Sakura crying and thought maybe it was better that she didn't know him all that well. Sure, she cried, but her tears weren't nearly as gut-wrenching. She decided that day that she would be over Sasuke.
Besides, Ino's tears were more for herself. Sasuke not returning her affection was a blow to her pride and she had spent so much time making herself into something he'd find attractive. It wasn't love. It couldn't be real. It was baseless.
Yet, despite the countless times she thought her obsessive crush was silly, the fact that she couldn't convince herself to like anyone else led her to believe that maybe her draw towards him was something more substantial. Was it possible to be in love with someone you didn't know well?
Gah! What a waste of a life. When he died, she should have been freed. But, here she was. Standing at his grave marker that shouldn't even exist and thinking of him. He was the lowest of the low. Shinobi scum who betrayed his comrades and tried to kill him. She remembered Sakura slipping in through her window in the middle of the night, sliding next to her in the bed and clamping on to her. That night she had whispered that Sasuke had tried to kill her, and Ino had held her tight until she fell asleep. The next morning, Sakura had disappeared and they never spoke of the incident again.
That had scared Ino. Had Sasuke lost his mind? Why didn't this event turn her away from him? Why did she still care and worry about him, even after hearing the vile things he'd done?
Sasuke didn't care for anything, so why should she care for him? What a waste! She was wasting her life! When Shikamaru had pulled her away after the execution, she thought she was getting a new start at life. But, she dreamed every night about Sasuke looking at her. His eyes. His small smile. She woke every morning sweating and breathing heavily, her arm outstretched as she sought to save him from the fate he had brought upon himself.
She told Shikamaru that she didn't think of Sasuke anymore. She told him that she wanted to start a new chapter of her life and become her own person. She told him that Sasuke was nothing but a relic of her childhood. He didn't believe her. She could tell from the look in his eyes and the feel of his pat. She didn't believe herself either. But, she wanted her words to be true. So she tried.
Ino tried so hard to forget him. She was doing well. For three and a half months, she pushed the thoughts of him away. She tried to condition herself to think of her comrades instead. When she happened upon a spot she had often spotted Sasuke, she would point out why it was a place that Shikamaru might like to watch clouds. When she saw the training grounds Team 7 used to frequent, she would remind herself that she needed to visit Sakura.
She was doing such a good job. Until two weeks ago. Two weeks ago, Hokage-sama had called her into the office and sent her on an escort mission with Chouji and Rock Lee. The majority of the mission was uneventful and boring. The sort of mission she didn't remember in too great detail later on.
That ended, however, once the destination was in sight. There had been a break in the trees, and there it was, about half a mile ahead and down in the valley, when Shinobi began to suddenly rain from the sky. It was an ambush. Her ragtag team struggled with the sheer enormity of the number.
It wasn't long until they were all on their last dregs of chakra. Ino felt the last of her free chakra slip through her fingers as she sent an enemy Shinobi flying at his comrade. It scared her. She wanted to break the seal and gather the escaping chakra close to her.
She felt faint. Trying to avoid using anymore chakra, she deflected a kunai and hit a pressure point, sending a Shinobi crumpling to the ground. She successfully immobilized about ten more, before one used a substitution jutsu and attacked her from behind. Last minute, she formed the seals for her family jutsu and turned his sword into his own chest.
They fell together. Ino dimly heard Chouji scream her name before everything was white. It wasn't the white you saw when you passed out, though. It was more the sort you would see if you stood in a completely white room. It hurt her eyes; she had to slit them like when you stepped outside in the winter and the sun was glinting off the snow.
When her eyes adjusted, she noticed the suggestion of something. She moved closer and tried to figure out what it was. The more she stared at it, the sharper the blur became until she realized that she was standing in front of Sasuke unofficial grave marker. Wait…she was standing? She didn't remember getting back up. Puzzled, she moved closer still until she was directly at the base of the grave.
Blue flower petals began to float all around her, like genjutsu, and she recognized Sasuke's chakra signature. It was strong, like he was standing next to her. She looked wildly around, wondering where he could be. This isn't possible! He's dead. She saw him die with her own eyes. She had confirmed with Sakura that it was really his body before they buried it. There was no way he could…
Ino froze when she spotted a figure walking towards the grave. She relaxed – drooped, really- when she noticed that the figure was distinctly feminine. Why did she feel so disappointed? Sasuke had planned to destroy Konoha. She reminded herself it was a good thing he was dead.
The figure stared at the grave warily before kneeling and placing a bouquet of white flowers at the base. Ino couldn't figure out the identity of the woman and was bothered by how familiar she seemed. It wasn't until the woman murmured Sasuke's name and touched the carving of the fan that she knew who it was. It was her. It was Ino Yamanaka.
Vision Ino's body went rigid and her eyes glazed over. She didn't know what was going on, but she realized that this was a scene Sasuke had left in her brain at some point. Ino didn't know when he could possibly have done it, but she was impressed.
After that, she woke up, sobbing. Chouji was carrying her on his back and stopped at the sound of her tears. She didn't know how to explain, so when Chouji asked her what was wrong, she only shook her head. The rest of the mission was completed with awkward silence.
For two weeks she tried to forget the incident, but her dreams were stronger and more insistent than before. She knew that the vision had meaning. That Sasuke wanted her to visit his memorial for some reason. But, she was frightened. She had no clue what to expect and her personality didn't like that. She liked to be certain. That's why she liked being on a team with Shikamaru. He was always sure.
Finally, she gave into her growing curiosity and followed the vision's prompts. She knelt in front of the grave and carefully settled the flowers at the foot. Not giving herself a chance to chicken out, she quickly murmured his name and ran her fingers across the fan engraving.
Blue genjutsu flower petals rained down around her and her surroundings morphed. The sky turned blood red and the landscape was an inverted black. She looked down at her arms to see that her skin had turned black as well.
She looked up and saw him standing there. He was looking at her again. His attention fully hers once more.
"I was scared, Ino."