A/N: How is it that you guys always seem to enjoy the filler scenes most?
Ino stared at Gaara, not a little confused. "What?"
Gaara's reaction wasn't much, but there was the slightest of twitches that showed his irritation. "I have listened to her since I was born. Now, her voice is muffled, if it is present at all. What did you do to her?"
"I don't know!" The words flew from Ino's mouth without prompting. At Gaara's steadily increasing look of irritation, she stumbled over her words in an attempt to elaborate, or at least stall a while. "I just acted on instinct! I was inside your head, and there were opposing pressures, and there were things going on that didn't fit in with any of my training, and it just hurt, there was pain coming from everywhere, and I panicked, alright?" Ino curled in on herself, pulling her knees to her chest and trying to avoid Gaara's gaze by staring at the covers on the hospital bed instead.
"…I can't." Ino flinched, still refusing to look at Gaara. "I told you, I don't know what I did. I just… I just did it. And I don't want to go back in your head. It's terrifying."
Ino looked up, and froze at the look on Gaara's face… or what little she could see of it. She could see cracks, hair-thin lines running across what she had assumed was his skin, but now knew to be… armor, probably. A psychological response to internal cracking of some imagined mask? But it didn't matter, because she could see Gaara's eyes, and Gaara's eyes were wide, terrified, and desperate.
Ino knew those eyes.
All Yamanaka had to undergo stringent training in psychology before they were trusted with even the weakest of clan techniques. They needed to know what they could and couldn't do, needed to know how to analyze a person before jumping in, so that they'd be able to find what they were looking for as quickly as possible.
All Yamanaka had to sit in on at least three separate interrogations, three separate tortures, and three separate therapy sessions.
Ino knew the eyes of the terrified and desperate.
"I…" Ino gulped, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. Why wasn't anyone here to get rid of this kid? Never mind, she had to stall or play along, both, really. Right, right, what could she, but that wouldn't, not an issue if she could—
"I think I put up a mental block between your conscious and subconscious." Ino explained, dithering as she tried to remember. "Um… there were things there that were wrong, channels, I guess? I think… I think that there was a sort of… pressure build-up, maybe, because your mind was getting so cluttered for some reason. Er…"
She glanced up, not quite sure if she should ask, but… "The clutter that I noticed before panicking was… the pattern it presented, um… listen, do you have trouble sleeping?"
"I have slept three times in my life." Gaara growled. "Now tell me how to bring back mother."
Ino flinched, knowing that this boy could probably kill her without a thought. "I don't know how! I'd have to get back into your head, or someone else would, or you could meditate and figure it out on your own!"
Gaara stood up, coming closer, and Ino began to pulse her chakra in a fast pattern, repeating a distress signal that every Academy student learned as soon as they graduated. It was rare that it was needed, since most circumstances of distress weren't in a position where helpful shinobi were close enough to help, but so long as she was in the village…
"What are you?"
Ino blanched. That was the question that she should have been asking him!
Gaara folded his arms, glaring at her. Ino shifted uncomfortably, hoping that her chakra signal had been heard. "Wouldn't it be more polite to tell me what you are first?"
Ino felt a flash of irritation snap through her, and smothered it immediately. "I'm from the Yamanaka clan. Simply put, we're known as mind-readers." Not completely accurate, but that was why she had worded it as she had, rather than coming right out and saying anything. Moreover, she had kept it to the basics, to what was well-known, public information already. Her name had been given out at the prelims, and one could find out the Yamanaka specialty just by asking around.
Gaara frowned, opening his mouth to ask more, but was cut off as he suddenly found a wind-coated knuckle-blade at his throat.
"You have five seconds to explain what you're doing in my student's room before I cut through that defense you're so proud of." Asuma spoke around his unlit cigarette, an easy grin on his face, but his eyes were hard.
Gaara slowly turned his head to glare at Asuma, the loose sand that clung to his clothes detaching itself and shifting restlessly around his feet. "She needs to bring back mother."
Asuma raised one brow and turned to look at Ino.
"He refers to the voice in his head as his mother." Ino tried to explain, trying to avoid Gaara's gaze. He wasn't threatening to kill Asuma-sensei, though, so… maybe he thought the blade was actually a threat? Or maybe he thought that Ino would be more likely to 'fix' things if he avoided killing anyone she was close to, or… or something.
Unbeknownst to Ino, it was a mixture of the two, with the added knowledge that if Gaara killed someone now, then the invasion plans would be discovered, and thus he would lose the chance to kill even more people later on.
"Schizophrenia?" Asuma questioned, moving away from Gaara a little, causing the boy to become slightly less tense.
"No, because there's no way to separate that." Ino shook her head. "Gaara…" She looked at him again, and then back at Asuma. "It's either DID, or there's genuinely something in his head with him."
Asuma blinked. He thought back to what he'd heard while watching the First Exam. He thought back to what the Uzumaki girl tagging along with Kakashi's team had informed them of. He thought back to what he'd seen Gaara doing through the Exams so far.
Oh yeah… this was the Jinchuuriki, wasn't it?
"I… I think I can undo it." Ino spoke, and Asuma's head snapped around to stare at her. No! Bad plan! Ino wasn't reading his mind, though, even if she could, so she didn't hear his warning. "I mean, I'd prefer it if my dad or another experienced clan member did it, but this is something that would be really interesting to look at, since we could do it under a controlled situation, and—"
"No." Asuma broke in before she went any further. "Ino, there are things that you aren't—"
"This has nothing to do with you." Gaara spoke lowly, glaring at the Konoha Jounin. "If she wishes to—"
"I am her sensei. It has everything to do with me." Asuma grit his teeth. It wasn't a good idea to irritate a Jinchuuriki, especially one that was this unstable, but he couldn't let this happen. He sighed, angry but… "Compromise, then. If Inoichi approves and is present during the… event… then…"
"Fine." Gaara turned on his heel and left the room.
Asuma turned to Ino, who had collapsed back onto her pillows, pale as death. "Oh Kami…"
"Ino…" Asuma approached her, quite ready to lay into her for agreeing to something so ridiculously stupid.
"I can't fix him." Ino's voice was shaking. "Whatever it is that I pushed away, it was hurting him. To release it back to him would be…"
Asuma's words died on his lips, realizing that Ino knew perfectly well what she had been doing. "So…"
"I'm going to see if I can get rid of it for good instead."
Bad plan, Ino. Asuma shook his head. But better than anything else you could do to survive.
Hinata and Neji exited Hiashi's study together, and rather than immediately parting ways, as was usual for them, they paused just outside the door, standing in silence. Then Hinata turned and ran off down the corridor.
Neji spent fifteen seconds, far too long, deciding on whether to follow her or not. He didn't like Hinata, not at all after what happened when they were kids, but given what had just happened with Hiashi…
"Hinata-sama?" Neji came to stand several feet behind her, from where she was crouched at the edge of the pond in the back of the Hyuuga property.
"Not now, Neji-nii-san."
Neji flinched slightly at the appellation, but refused to leave. "He did not mean it as you believe."
"Then what did he mean?" Hinata turned her face toward her cousin, eyes becoming puffy and a little red.
"Your opponent was an unknown, and was likely the same level as my own." Neji did not want to admit that Hinata had done well, especially given that it would mean admitting how close he had come to losing, but Hinata showing too much weakness would cause her father to grow less tolerant, and the same would happen with the Elders, and if one of them was grumpy enough to trigger someone's Caged Bird seal…
"…Barely. But I was fated to win, just as you were fated to—"
"There is no fate, Neji-nii." The words did not come from Hinata, but from behind him.
Hanabi stood there, her hair hanging limply about her face, and then she looked at the wrappings around Neji's wrist. He shifted his arm, hiding the blood from further view. He'd spent a little too much time training that morning, and had made a mistake in his exhaustion later on.
Hanabi's eyes lingered on his sleeve after his wrist disappeared from her sight, hands twitching slightly. "What—"
"It is nothing you need to worry yourself over, Hanabi-sama." Neji spoke coldly, what little warmth he had managed to fake draining from his tone. "I believe I shall take my leave, now."
There is no fate.
The words echoed through Neji's head as he turned and left. But it wasn't Hanabi's voice that haunted him.
It was Robin's.
I have fought everything that has been thrown my way. Many have told me that it is my fate to die at their hands. That it is my fate to die before I cause more deaths. That it is my fate to pay for my supposed crimes. And yet… here I am. I have survived. I have fought, and I have survived, and I will continue to do so until such a time as I can no longer do so.
A/N: Sometimes, I can predict how a chapter is received. Sometimes, I can't. And sometimes, I just get confused.
I mean… seriously, don't people normally hate filler?
EDIT: Okay, seeing as people seem to have gotten confused, here's what I meant by my comments on filler: in the last chapter, people didn't comment on the meat and potatoes of the chapter (the spy revelations), but focused on the word-padding filler at the beginning and end (the Croc scene and the Ino & Gaara scene).