Ball and Chain
Note: This was originally supposed to be an addition to Cracks Whims, but it got long enough to stand alone as a oneshot. Inspired by the song "Brite Lights" by Lana Del Ray, and my imagined perceptions of Sasuke being an inept twit at relationships. Other fics are under construction and should be up very soon! Just had to get this out of my system, first. |D
Please enjoy, and remember that reviews are always love!
Ball and Chain
It was a funny thing, for all its self-righteousness and preaching, how Konoha scored so miserably low on the ethics scale. It shouldn't have come as a surprise from a place that had ordered the mass extermination of one of their most prominent clans and occasionally dabbled in human experimentation, but who was keeping count?
The only logical step to take next—before cloning, which was still in its developmental stages—was to reap the bounties of genetics. Kekkei genkai were the name of the game. Why consume resources and manpower when you were capable of controlling the genetic lottery and producing one-man armies?
It seemed especially like a good idea following the war since the shinobi population had taken such a hit. Thus, the decision was made that upon reaching their eighteenth birthdays, shinobi would be summoned to court and legally married off to their most genetically compatible match.
After the initial bout of screaming and raging had subsided, Naruto had been moodily silent about the whole thing. Pretty much everybody had reacted in more or less the same way.
Except for Sasuke. After returning to the village two years prior, he couldn't be bothered with seeking out a wife. Most of his concentration had gone into mending old relationships and redeeming himself so people would stop throwing eggs at him in the streets.
His efforts had paid off, somewhat. People he'd maimed or otherwise tried to kill were more or less indifferent towards him now. Not as good as being forgiven, but he wasn't about to complain. If anything, he thought this marriage decree would work out in his favour, since it would both spare him the need to search and guarantee him powerful progeny.
There were a bunch of legal clauses that were released as an addendum to the original decree, but he didn't bother reading those. As far as he was concerned, divorce was only an option if his new wife turned out to be infertile.
Nonetheless, he'd been a little intrigued when he was handed the profile of his future partner and found her to be none other than Yamanaka Ino. She'd been present at the briefing, too, and had looked briefly surprised by the result before sparing him a glance and leaving.
Sasuke had stared after her, nonplussed. That had been three months ago. The Konoha council had been gracious enough to give the candidates twelve weeks' time in which to get to know each other before they were supposed to move in together.
Ino hadn't bothered contacting him even once during that time, which had struck him as odd. But then again he hadn't bothered contacting her, either.
Granted, they hadn't talked even once in the two years since he'd been back, but last he remembered of the Yamanaka, she'd practically been in love with him. Maybe she was just doing some stupid girl thing like playing hard to get.
It didn't matter anymore, anyway. Three months had passed and he was expecting her to show up at his door any minute now. Sasuke idly tapped his fingers against the table and looked up at the kitchen clock.
He thought of Shikamaru's pitying expression after the results had been released and Chouji's advice to sleep with one eye open. He shifted in his seat. Surely they'd been exaggerating. Maybe it was their way of getting back at him for all the trouble he'd put them through over the years.
He was interrupted from his musings when he heard a knock at the door. Rising, he went over to answer it.
Ino stood on the doorstep, holding a duffle bag over her shoulder and a purse under one arm. She'd been examining her nails and looking bored until the door swung open.
Despite his unchanging expression, he couldn't help the flicker of appreciation he felt at the sight before him. Out of all the candidates, he'd easily landed the most beautiful one. Ino was the tallest of the girls and one of the shapeliest to boot. The platinum blonde hair and baby blue eyes were a little different, but in a way that made her distinctively pretty rather than freakish.
Overall, Sasuke thought he'd done pretty well for himself, considering how he'd done nothing at all.
He stepped aside to let her in, expecting her to say something to break the ice because he just didn't do that sort of thing. But she only stepped over the threshold without a word and glanced around disinterestedly.
He waited patiently while she looked around, but when it became clear he was going to have to initiate a conversation, he pointed to her bags.
"Is that everything?" he said brusquely.
It was all he could do to keep his eyes from widening when she spared him a look in disdain.
"Don't be stupid," she said. "The movers are bringing the rest of my stuff. I'm going to go find a room."
Sasuke stared after her, dumbfounded when she sauntered off down the hall without another word. Before he could reflect on the fact that his one-time fan girl had just insulted him in his own home, a sweating, bald man staggered through the door carrying more boxes.
Sasuke moved aside and let them bring in the rest, growing disillusioned as the boxes piled up near the ceiling and the movers left him with the bill. Annoyed, he paid it and decided Ino could move her crap on her own. That, and if she wanted to continue on this weird, playing-hard-to-get tangent, then two could play that game.
With that, he left the foyer and decided to spend the rest of the evening in the living room, knowing she'd have to come out sooner or later and drop the act.
Eventually, she did emerge, but not for the reasons he expected. He raised his head from the scroll he was reading, finding Ino standing in the foyer and taking the boxes back to her room one at a time. She kept at it for twenty minutes, never once looking his way or asking for his help.
Moments later, the foyer was empty and she'd disappeared back into whatever room she'd chosen. Sasuke found himself staring at the empty space and feeling oddly rejected. He slowly turned back to his scroll, scowling.
Well, this hadn't gone the way he'd anticipated. Not one bit. Perhaps this was her way of rebelling against the marriage decree, as he couldn't think of anything he'd done personally to make her behave this coldly. If it was something as juvenile as that, he was confident it would blow over sooner or later. Hopefully by morning.
He rolled the scroll closed and decided to head to bed. As he made his way down the hall, his eyes skirted along the cracks in the doors, stilling finally on a slice of light peeking through the third door on the right.
He wavered, pausing in the hallway. Despite himself, he listened curiously for any sounds coming from within.
A moment later, Ino's voice spilled through the cracks.
"Listening outside someone's bedroom door is creepy as hell, you freak. Go away."
Sasuke looked blankly at the door. He tried to muster anger—even indignation—but all he could do was stare in shock. No one had ever spoken to him that way before. Ever. And frankly, he didn't know how to react.
After a moment, it occurred to him that any response he made after such a prolonged silence would only come off as pathetic, so he said nothing and resentfully continued down the hall.
He entered the master bedroom and stopped at the foot of the bed. It was king-sized. He felt kind of silly sleeping in it alone, especially since he'd bought it specifically to share with his new wife. At that, he gritted his teeth and strode out of the room, heading back to his old room.
Until he figured out what the hell Ino's problem was, he would spare himself the embarrassment of sleeping alone in such a huge bed. Especially since the covers were purple.
He cast another resentful look in her room's direction before disappearing into his own.
True, he hadn't done much to welcome his new bride or make her feel comfortable, but he thought overhearing her conversation with Sakura and buying her bed sheets in her favourite colour would have at least counted for something.
Sasuke woke the next morning to find Ino missing.
He stood in her bedroom for a while after he'd searched the grounds, noting that all her belongings were still there. That was a good sign, as it at least removed the possibility that she'd run out on him.
Seconds later, he heard the front door open in the foyer. Annoyed, he left her room and found her removing her shoes in the hall. She was carrying two bags of groceries, completely ignoring his presence. Then she left for the kitchen.
Feeling oddly foolish, Sasuke stood there for a second before slowly following. She continued to ignore him when he entered the kitchen, busying herself with setting up a blender and chopping up some of the fruits and vegetables she'd bought.
This continued for the next ten minutes, with neither willing to break the tense silence. Sasuke fixed himself breakfast, veering between irritation at her behaviour and bewilderment as to why she was still doing it. He struggled with himself as he sat there at the table, his eyes fixed in a glare on the back of her head.
He'd never taken to the silent treatment very well, especially when he'd done nothing to deserve it. His decision to wait until her anger had blown over wasn't working out, either, and it pissed him off that the lack of communication was bothering him more than it was bothering her.
He fought against his reservations for another minute more, then finally pushed his plate away and raised his head.
She turned on the blender.
Sasuke stopped mid-sentence, staring incredulously at the back of her head as his voice was drowned out by the noise of masticating juice. She turned it off several seconds later. Then she rinsed out the blender and left to go have her drink on the backyard deck.
For a long moment, there was no sound or movement except for the loud, rhythmic ticking of the wall clock. Then Sasuke abruptly stood up and shoved his chair in. Aggravated, he dropped his plate in the sink and strode over to the living room, deciding to intercept her when she came in from the backyard.
She took her sweet time. By the time the backyard door slid open and she entered, Sasuke was already on his feet barring her way.
She finally looked at him, eyes cold. He glared back.
"Sit down, Ino."
There it was again, that look of disdain. But she didn't argue and leisurely took a seat in the living room. He didn't wait for her to speak and immediately cut to the chase.
"What's your problem?" he demanded.
She calmly arched a brow. "I thought it was obvious."
When he only glared in return, she smirked in an infuriating sort of way and crossed her arms. "I suppose if I tried to make you guess, we'd be here all day. This 'marriage' is the problem."
Sasuke ignored the jab and narrowed his eyes. "You only arrived here yesterday."
Sasuke closed his eyes and took a deep breath, mentally counting to ten. At last, he opened them and looked at her.
"What exactly do you want?" he said, voice clipped.
It was all Sasuke could do to keep his jaw from dropping. After staring at her in stunned silence for about ten seconds, he finally managed to speak. "Why?"
"Because I hate you," she said.
"...what?" he said blankly.
"I hate you," she repeated simply. "I can't stand you. The sight of you makes me want to projectile vomit. Do I need to say more?"
All his anger had evaporated in place of unadulterated shock. Her reasoning was so out of left field and contrary to everything he knew about her that for several seconds he found himself at a loss for words. She said she hated him. Nobody had ever said they hated him before. And for something like that to come from his new wife, who, last he'd checked, was still infatuated with him, made absolutely no sense.
He stood there a little longer before stiffly speaking.
She stared up at him expressionlessly. "Ask yourself that question. Slowly and carefully. If you still can't figure out the answer, then you deserve to have a lobotomy."
She stood up to stride past him, only to have Sasuke stand in her way again.
"According to the decree, divorce is not an option," he said icily. "And what makes you think I'll agree to one?"
She sneered. "You didn't read the addendums, did you?"
At his silence, she smirked maliciously and continued. "If the matched candidates find their arrangement to be emotionally incompatible, those candidates are eligible for divorce on the grounds that their relationship is unfit to produce healthy children."
Sasuke was taken aback, but not discouraged. "We were matched for a reason. I need to restore my clan and you're going to help me do it. We are not getting a divorce."
This time her smirk faded, and the glare she sent him was so vicious he had to make a subconscious effort not to step back.
"That's what you think," she said with deadly calm. "I am going to make you cry, Uchiha Sasuke. When that day comes, we'll see if you still want me for a wife."
He didn't stop her this time when she stormed out of the room. He knew true hate when he saw it, since he'd spent the better part of his life dedicating himself to it. And it was plain to see that when Ino said she hated him, she meant it.
She looked at him like he was scum and every one of her words dripped with venom. He had to have done something horrible to her to warrant such treatment.
Sasuke frowned to himself and wracked his brain. He couldn't think of anything he'd done to her in the past to deserve such hatred. The only thing he could possibly chalk it up to was her being frustrated with the decree and transferring her aggression onto him.
Maybe she already had someone she loved. Whatever her reason, it didn't matter. He was catching on to her game. She was trying to piss him off to the point where he agreed to a divorce the moment she proposed it.
Sasuke smirked to himself. If that was her intention, she had another thing coming. Like he'd said, they'd been matched based on genetic compatibility for a reason. Children borne of their union would be exceptional, and Sasuke would not tolerate anything less than exceptional.
If she thought cursing at him, ignoring him, and treating him poorly was enough to warrant a divorce, she was dead wrong. And frankly, if he couldn't even remember what he'd done to make her mad in the first place, then it couldn't have been serious enough to sustain her grudge for very long. Eventually, something would give.
Feeling considerably calmer, Sasuke decided to head out to train for a while. It wasn't like he needed to depend on her to take care of him, either. He could do his own cooking and cleaning. All he needed to do was endure her anger for as long as it lasted.
And really, he thought, stepping out into the sun and raising his head skyward. Just how long could one grudge last, anyway?
1 month later
"So, Shikamaru-kun, why don't you tell us how the first weeks went?"
Shikamaru rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. The therapist awaited an answer and the rest of the group stared at him in expectation. Kiba, in particular, was making him nervous. The Inuzuka was practically growling in his direction.
"Well," Shikamaru began carefully, "it was awkward. We kind of kept to our sides of the house. We didn't talk much."
"Did you initiate any contact?"
Shikamaru grimaced. ""I accidentally touched her hand and she burst into tears."
"You bastard," Kiba said heatedly, rising out of his seat. "You made Hinata cry? I'm gonna—"
"Kiba-kun, please," the therapist interjected, holding a hand up in front of him. "This is a support group. You are all in the same situation, so if anything, you should empathise with Shikamaru-kun."
"I didn't do it on purpose," Shikamaru added in his defense. "It was an accident."
Kiba bared his teeth but let it go after a while. He slumped back into his seat.
"You seem to be harbouring some aggression, Kiba-kun," the doctor continued gently. "Why don't you tell us how your relationship with Mrs. Haruno is progressing?"
Kiba sighed and scrubbed his hand over his face. "I dunno. It's kinda a hostile situation right now. Me and Sakura are—"
Kiba continued on, his voice fading into the back of Sasuke's mind. He sat there with his arms folded, detachedly surveying the others in the group. Now that Kiba was talking, Naruto was the one giving him dirty looks. Kiba looked miserable and Shikamaru just looked bored.
Sasuke's eyes drifted over to the clock. His turn had already come and gone. He'd said the first month had gone very well and that they'd progressed to sharing their meals and taking long walks.
That pleased the therapist immensely. Which was all well and good, Sasuke thought, even if it was a complete and utter lie.
The truth was that the first month had been absolute hell.
Ino was crazy. And frankly, terrifying. It wasn't like Sakura's brand of terrifying who got her reputation for her hair-trigger temper and ability to punch through walls. No, Ino's brand of terrifying was more on the side of cutting off your testicles while you were asleep and putting them in the blender.
He'd never seen this side of her before. The only things he could recall about Yamanaka Ino were her rivalry with Sakura and her sycophantic attitude when she was around him. No one had told him Yamanaka Ino could swear a blue streak that could reduce a lesser man to tears. Nobody had told him Yamanaka Ino would smile and put her fist through mirrors so the sheer insanity of such an act would ward off confrontation.
Nobody told him that Yamanaka Ino was the cruelest, most acrimonious girl he'd ever meet in his life.
She was deceptive and cunning on top of it. Sometimes she even gave him the impression that she was beginning to warm up to him. He grimaced inwardly when he thought back to a week ago, when she'd taken to feeding a nest of robins in the backyard after they'd lost their mother.
It had been a trap. A show of altruism to lull him into a false sense of security. Comforted by the fact that his wife was capable of empathy and not a complete psychopath, he'd assumed that the extra blended concoction she made for breakfast every day and left out on the table was for him.
Like an idiot, he'd picked it up the moment she stepped back into the kitchen and took a swig of it. It tasted like death.
It took all his effort to refrain from vomiting, and when he was halfway through trying to swallow, she smiled innocently and looked at him.
"How's the worm slurry?"
Sasuke had promptly sprayed the drink halfway across the room.
It had been a bad experience, but the things she did were nowhere near as bad as the things she said.
The way she spoke to him—no one had ever spoken to him that way in his life. Naruto, who swore at him on a daily basis, did it without any real malice or intention to hurt. Even his enemies, who'd called him a number of deplorable things, did it because he'd at least done something to deserve it. And even then they had never made digs at his intelligence or masculinity.
And now that someone was actually treating him this way and being mean as hell on top of it, he was finding that he just did not know how to react. He could've blown up at her in return, but that was exactly what she wanted.
And that was where the entire situation had started to get strange.
He was perturbed by her behaviour. Shocked, even. But for some reason he wasn't angry. Or, at least not as angry as he should have been. He wasn't even sure he was hurt.
His initial indignation at her treatment had subsided. Now, for some reason, he was just left feeling...morbidly intrigued.
Sasuke did not know what that revealed about his mental state or character, so he chose to keep that information to himself.
"Naruto-kun, if you please."
Sasuke let his mind drift back to the meeting as his friend scuffed his shoe on the floor and mumbled.
"It's okay, I guess. She's been really nice and understanding about the whole thing. I kinda feel bad, actually, because she's been trying to cheer me up and I've just been so moody..."
"That's understandable," the therapist said. "But your wife certainly sounds supportive! Why don't you try cooperating with her suggestions this week? Positive energy is contagious. If you go out and do something fun together, I'm sure your mood will improve. Ah, what was her name again?"
Naruto managed a small smile. "Tenten. And okay...I'll try."
The meeting ended somewhere around eight pm. Not wanting to head home right away, Sasuke decided to take Naruto up on his offer to go train.
His best friend seemed to be in a slightly better mood after the session, something Sasuke was admittedly jealous of because at least Tenten was making an effort. His mind drifted to his own wife and he nearly shuddered.
He stayed out for another two and a half hours before finally deciding to head home. The walk back was serene and quiet, and for a few blissful minutes, Sasuke fooled himself into thinking he could carry his semi-good mood through to bedtime.
Then the noise started a short distance from the Uchiha compound. Sasuke paused on the footpath, listening. It sounded like thumping. His brow furrowed and he walked a little nearer to the mansion. A few steps closer, and he realized it was music. Very loud music.
Sasuke clenched his jaw and continued forward onto the grounds. The floor was vibrating when he stepped into the foyer. It almost felt sacrilegious to have sensual club beats thrumming through his usually dead-silent house.
The bass echoed down the hall, reverberating off the walls. He strode towards her room and opened the door without knocking. One step in, and he stopped in his tracks.
Ino was lying in bed, wearing nothing but her bra and a pair of boxers.
His boxers. The new ones he hadn't even taken out of the plastic yet. Her legs were propped up against the adjoining wall and her hair was draping the edge of the bed, almost sweeping the floor. She was thumbing through the pages of a magazine, ignoring him.
He overcame his shock a moment later and entered the room, striding over to the sound system to turn the volume down. She seemed unperturbed by his presence, along with the fact that she was half-naked and he could see everything.
"What do you want?" she questioned without lowering the magazine.
Sasuke opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. There was a weird smell in the room. Then he realized that it was acetone and that she'd been painting her nails.
His eyes flitted to her hands. Her nails had been filed smooth into a shape that looked more pointed than rounded. She'd painted them a dark scarlet.
Contrary to popular opinion, Sasuke did pay attention to the group therapy sessions when it counted. After all, he still had his goal of restoring the clan, and he couldn't exactly do that with a perpetually pissed off wife. So he stood there and mulled over what he'd say, deciding it wouldn't help him if he berated her about playing loud music at unholy hours of the day in a room where one of his relatives had probably been slaughtered.
"I went to group therapy today," he finally said.
She ran those red nails over a column in the magazine before slowly and deliberately turning the page. She didn't respond.
Used to this by now, Sasuke continued. "Everyone else is having problems."
She made a noise of derision. "Do you find that encouraging?"
"No," he said. "Do you?"
"I don't need any encouragement to leave you."
Sasuke felt frustration burgeoning up inside of him. Couldn't she see that at least he was trying?
"Why are you doing this?" he asked finally.
"Because," she said, crossing one of those long, smooth legs over the other, "I'm too good for you."
"You're wearing my underwear."
"These are also too good for you."
"I don't know what I did to you," Sasuke said after a while, "but whatever it was, you can't stay mad at me forever."
She laughed darkly under her breath. "You don't know a single thing about girls, do you?"
Sasuke gave up and backed up towards the door. His voice dropped into a mutter. "You're going to let this go one day, Ino."
"I'm sure I will," she said with infuriating indifference. "Now get out."
That night, he had a disturbing dream. He couldn't see anything in it, but he could feel very clearly that he was lying in bed without a shirt on, and that something was scraping over the skin of his ribs.
Then he smelled a wave of familiar perfume and realized it was Ino using her red, red nails to carve her name into his skin.
That should have been enough to wake him up, as most nightmares were wont to do. It was definitely disturbing enough.
But for some reason he didn't wake, and more worryingly, he wasn't exactly sure that it was a nightmare.
The situation in the house persisted for the next two weeks. Sasuke was quickly discovering that the talking approach wasn't working. It would sometimes earn him a scathing remark in return, but most often, just silence. He realized he needed to take a more proactive approach.
It was just his luck that as he was finishing up training, he heard a shrill burst of laughter.
He raised his head, wiping sweat out of his face and scoping the grounds. At first he saw nothing, but suddenly there was an orange blur jumping out of a tree and another figure going after it in hot pursuit. Sasuke immediately recognized the orange one as Naruto.
He looked at the pursuer and blinked in surprise.
"Hah, I got you!" Tenten exclaimed, drenching Naruto with a spray of her water gun. "Use all the clones you want. I won't miss!"
"Damn it!" Naruto spluttered, shielding his face from the water. "You're ruthless! At least let me—"
He burst into a puff of smoke, and Tenten barely had time to leap out of the way when the real Naruto burst out of the thicket and made a lunge for her.
Tenten promptly shot him in the face. Naruto decided braving the spray was worth making a clear shot and caught her in the midsection. She yelped and staggered away, holding her stomach as though mortally wounded.
"Time..." she gasped, trying to catch her breath. "Time out! I'm out of ammo!"
"That's what I said ten minutes ago, and you shot me in the back!" Naruto said, advancing on her with a grin.
Tenten collapsed onto the ground in an exhausted heap and cringed, her hand drawing down to her side. Only an idiot would've missed the way she was reaching into her satchel, but then again it was Naruto she was dealing with.
Naruto let out a shocked curse and dropped the gun when Tenten suddenly lobbed a water balloon into his face. It exploded on impact, showering his face and hair. He stumbled a few times before he collapsed theatrically onto the grass.
"Cheater," he choked out, trying to sound hurt but laughing uncontrollably. "That was unfair!"
Tenten sat up, beaming. "See, I told you this would be fun."
Naruto ceased laughing long enough to blink in surprise, before giving into a genuine smile of his own. "Yeah...yeah, it was a lot of fun."
The two lapsed into a conversation, then, unaware of the dark eyes gazing meditatively over at them. Sasuke was both parts surprised and impressed. The dobe had made use of the therapist's suggestions and was actually getting results. And if Naruto could do it, then there was no reason the same tactic wouldn't work for him.
Smirking to himself, he turned away from the training field and started home.
Fortunately, Ino had grown tired of holing herself up in her room and had taken to nurturing the few plants that remained in the gardens. A few days ago, he'd even caught her planting some new ones. If the past few weeks were anything to go by, he knew she'd be out in the backyard right about now.
His estimation turned out to be right, and like always, she ignored him when he slid open the back door and stepped onto the deck. She was kneeling in front of the garden, wearing a loose, yellow sun dress. Her ponytail gleamed brightly in the light, resting between her shoulder blades. His fingers twitched.
He didn't know why, but lately he'd been overcome by the urge to take hold of it and give it a good yank. Just to see how she'd react.
He refrained from doing so and settled for watching her for a little while, knowing he couldn't just launch into the proactive approach without warming up a little. Keeping that in mind, he stepped off the deck and sauntered up to her.
"What do you want now?" she said without turning around.
Sasuke stared down at her as she crouched before a row of fledgling tomatoes. He was surprised to see her treating them so tenderly, especially since he'd planted them himself.
He floundered for a subject, then suddenly recalled something he'd heard shortly after returning to the village two years prior.
"I heard you cried when they signed my death warrant."
"Of course I cried," she said. "I was young and stupid back then."
"That was only two years ago."
"I was stupid," she repeated, clipping a dead stalk from the plant.
Sasuke blinked. She was actually responding with whole, decent sentences. Perhaps he was getting somewhere.
"Are you being like this because I never paid attention to you?" he questioned out of nowhere.
"Ugh, shut up," she said angrily. "Did you hit that chicken-ass head somewhere? Why are you talking so much?"
"You're my wife," he said.
"So? Get lost."
Sasuke lowered his eyes to the pool of water forming on the garden soil. He followed it back to the green coils of the hose.
"I saw Naruto and Tenten today," he mentioned, slowly backing up.
"Good for you."
"They seemed happy," he continued, picking up the hose.
"Good for them."
"What?" she snapped.
Sasuke squeezed the handle. A powerful jet of water shot out of the hose and hit Ino directly in the back. She let out half-gasp-half-scream and went completely stiff. Then she dropped the spade and very, very slowly rose to her feet, her shoulders hunched.
Just as slowly, she turned around, her expression livid. Just as she opened her mouth to speak, Sasuke shot another spray onto her face.
Ino stood there in stunned silence, open-mouthed and soaking wet. Then she released an inhuman shriek of rage and lunged for the pick-axe. Sasuke dropped the hose and ran.
"So, Kiba-kun, it's been two weeks since our last meeting. Any improvements thus far?"
Kiba smiled sheepishly. "Well, yeah, actually."
The therapist beamed. "Is that so? Do share with us."
"I guess we were just set in our ways in the beginning," Kiba admitted. "I mean, Sakura's not a bad girl or anything. She just didn't get our, uh, living style at first. And I guess I took that the wrong way and treated her like an outsider."
"And how did you overcome that obstacle?"
Kiba grinned a little. "I sorta took your advice from last time. We have this thing in our house where we play pranks on each other every week, with a scoring system and everything. I thought it'd be fun to get Sakura involved..."
"And how did that go?"
"She got pretty pissed off at first. I put a dog treat in her shorts and she got chased down the street by strays. But now she's into it." His grin widened. "She got me good yesterday."
With that, he pulled down the side of his pants and revealed his boxers. They'd been dyed neon pink.
Shikamaru smirked and Naruto burst out laughing. Sasuke tried not to frown.
"That's fantastic to hear," the doctor said, taking notes onto his clipboard. "Very encouraging so far. I hope something similar is happening in your household, Shikamaru-kun?"
Shikamaru scratched his cheek and appeared somewhat embarrassed. "Hinata's...better. We went shopping for groceries the other day for the first time."
"Not once so far." Shikamaru paused, shrugging. "She's still jumpy, so lately I've just been hanging out with her, doing stuff she likes. It's troublesome, but at least she's not that nervous around me anymore."
The therapist nodded. "Doing mundane, everyday things together is very important in establishing trust. That's wonderful to hear, Shikamaru-kun."
Naruto went next, sounding considerably more upbeat than last time. Sasuke tuned him out, put off for the fact that Naruto, of all people, was even doing better than he was. The stunt with the hose had only worsened things, and the first few nights following that had found him locking his bedroom door at night.
He schooled his features into a blank expression when the therapist turned away from Naruto and smiled in his direction.
"And how is married life treating you, Sasuke-kun?"
Sasuke stared at the floor in silence as the words he really wanted to say resounded dully in his head.
My wife is verbally and emotionally abusive. She's been trying to sabotage our marriage from day one. And I think she's planning to kill me in my sleep.
"Well?" the therapist prompted.
Sasuke raised his head and answered, straight-faced. "She loves me. We get along great."
The therapy session had left Sasuke in a pensive mood. He wasn't really sure what to try next, considering how disastrous his last attempt had been. But as much as he hated to admit it, listening to the others' experiences were the only guidelines he had.
It wasn't as though he could actually tell them the truth about what was going on between him and Ino. The therapist was liable to do something drastic like refer them to the divorce bureau. That was not a risk Sasuke was willing to take, so he decided to hazard a guess at what he should do next.
Kiba in particular seemed to have shared a volatile start with Sakura before there'd been improvement. What was it he said he'd done? Played pranks?
Sasuke mulled this over for a little while before deciding to give it a try.
He entered the house, finding it silent save for the sound of running water down the hall. Ino was taking a shower in the master bedroom. He wasn't surprised, considering it was the largest and most luxurious one in the house.
He stood there in the middle of the foyer for a while, considering his next move. This seemed like the perfect opportunity. He had her cornered in a vulnerable situation. There would be no way for her to avoid him.
Mind made up, he went into the kitchen and got a pitcher, filling it with the coldest water he could get from the tap. Then he strode over to the bathroom.
"Ino," he said, opening the door, "I'm coming in."
Her irritated voice floated through the curtain. "What, the twelve other bathrooms in this place weren't good enough for you?"
Sasuke decided not to answer that and instead stood facing the shower curtain. It nearly reached the ceiling, but there was enough of a gap to make this work. Ino seemed to detect something was amiss when she heard nothing but silence. Her voice turned suspicious.
"What the hell are you doing?"
Sasuke took a step back, lifted the pitcher, and flung its contents over the top of the curtain. A high-pitched scream shattered the silence, followed by the sounds of Ino slipping and hitting the bottom of the tub. By the time she'd scrambled to her feet and tore the curtain open, Sasuke was long gone.
Hours later, he didn't know what to make of the fact that Ino seemed to have gotten over the entire incident. She acted like nothing had happened, and when she encountered him in the kitchen that night, she ignored him like usual and took her meal into her room.
He felt a blend of both relief and unease, unsure whether the prank had worked in his favour. But when nothing else happened and Ino stayed in her room, he pegged his attempt as a success and decided to head to bed.
He walked past her room, slowing his gait long enough to listen for any noise. Upon hearing only silence, he continued onward.
His room was dark, looking exactly as he'd left it, but he still made sure to examine it for any suspicious changes. There were none.
Relaxing, he strolled over to his bed and pulled off his shirt, letting it fall to the floor. Then he dropped onto the mattress.
An instant later, he leapt back out of it, cursing in shock. His back throbbed in pain, feeling as though he'd been stung by fifty bees all at once. He reached forward and ripped his covers off the bed. There was nothing.
Confounded, he pulled the lamp switch and turned to look again. Something was poking through his bed sheet. Tearing it off, he stepped back at the metallic clatter that followed and lowered his eyes to the tiny object that dropped onto the floor near his foot.
His bed was full of thumbtacks.
The next day, Sasuke decided taking advice from the likes of Naruto and Kiba was likely to get him killed and instead shifted his focus to Shikamaru.
Hinata was a docile and relatively sane girl, based on what he knew of her, and Shikamaru was at least intelligent. Following the other boy's example by sharing in Ino's interests seemed like a viable option.
But Ino isolated herself in her room most of the time, and he didn't dare go near her in the garden after the incident with the hose. The only real chores she did were prepare her own meals and buy her own food, and even then he was sure she'd try to cut off his hands if he went anywhere near her groceries.
And he didn't know what her interests were outside of gardening. She read magazines and looked after herself a lot, but that wasn't exactly something he could participate in.
In the end, he came to the conclusion that if he dropped enough hints to show he was willing to share in her interests, she'd eventually demand to know what he was doing and he'd let things escalate from there.
So Sasuke stopped wearing clothes.
It was mid-July and the temperatures were soaring. Ino had taken to wearing nothing but her workout wear around the house—which were just a sports bra and spandex shorts. It was very distracting, so Sasuke decided he might as well do the same if it could get her attention.
To his annoyance, she hadn't seemed too bothered by his sudden decision to join her in the nudity campaign. It only seemed to encourage her, a fact made evident when he'd walked in on her doing stretches in the living room. He hadn't thought it possible to lie flat with one's legs stretched perpendicular to the body like that, but Ino was freakishly flexible.
And those shorts certainly helped, he reflected, tearing his eyes away when he realized he was staring at them intently.
He was no better, having shed everything but his boxers. But he stuck with it, finding himself feeling more comfortable being half-naked in the humid July heat.
It was nearing thirty-three degrees Celsius when he decided to get a cold drink from the kitchen, and he walked in on Ino standing at the counter preparing a fruit salad.
She stood with her back to him, dressed in her workout wear again. The majority of her back was covered by that ridiculously long plume of blonde hair. It swayed faintly with her every movement, the ends brushing against the dip of her spine.
Sasuke found his eyes following the movement subconsciously. It was slightly curled and damp from the humidity, clinging to her skin. It still looked very soft.
Without fully realizing it, he reached forward and gripped the end of it. She ceased moving. He gave a firm tug and felt the blonde strands slide between his fingers.
"Your hair is too long," he murmured. "Cut it."
She slowly turned, the end of her ponytail slipping from his fingers. When she faced him, he could see that she was smiling.
"Go to hell," she said. Then she grabbed her bowl of chopped fruit and strode past him, flipping her hair at him for good measure. It smacked him in the face.
He should have been angry, he thought, motionless as she walked away. He should have felt dejected.
But he was too busy being preoccupied with the stinging, tingling sensation resonating over every inch of his skin where her hair had whipped him. The movement had left a cloud of her perfume lingering around his head.
He reached up, touching his chest. He didn't know what to make of the fact that he had goosebumps.
The next therapy session found Sasuke in a foul mood. Everything he'd tried up until now had been a miserable failure, a fact that bothered him even more when he saw how happy everyone else was.
The only thing different in his house was how restless his nights had gotten.
He'd been having a series of very disturbing dreams, most of them involving Ino physically and verbally abusing him in one way or another. That wouldn't have been much different from the treatment he got in real life, except for the fact that he woke up feeling flushed and agitated for reasons he couldn't explain.
The last dream had found him pinned to the floor with Ino's foot planted in the middle of his chest. It was absurd simply for the fact that she would never in a million years be able to overpower him like that, but then he'd become distressingly aware of the fact that he hadn't been overpowered at all and she had no weapon on her other than the belt she was cracking between her hands.
When he woke up, he attributed his nerves to stress and not to the fact that he'd woken up sweating and biting into his pillow.
And now, the strain of having to listen to Naruto's enthusiastic recount combined with his own denial that he was developing a highly peculiar sexual fetish was putting Sasuke in a very dour mood.
The transformation in his best friend was something to behold. The blonde was practically bouncing in his seat, eyes bright and face shining.
"We're having so much fun," he blurted, hardly waiting for the therapist to finish talking. "And last night, she made me ramen! And not the cup stuff, either. I mean from scratch! Like, as good as Ichiraku even. And a few days earlier we went rock-climbing and swimming! She beat me in the hundred meter like, six times. And on Fridays we have movie night so last week it was her turn and she chose a bunch of horror movies and I'm kinda chicken when it comes to that stuff so she let me hide under the blanket with her and—"
He stopped, suddenly, pausing to take a breath. At the same moment, a red flush spread over his face and something like an epiphany flashed before his eyes.
"Guys," he said, voice hushed, "I think I'm in love with her."
"That's great news, Naruto-kun!" the therapist exclaimed, shaking his shoulder as Kiba elbowed him suggestively and Shikamaru gave a slow clap. "We're all very happy for you. Aren't we, Sasuke?"
Sasuke forced a thin smile. "Congratulations, dobe."
Naruto laughed embarrassedly and rubbed the back of his head. It was a testament to how happy he was that he didn't even get offended by the insult. "Aww, thanks guys."
Sasuke had to refrain from punching him.
He told his usual lie when his turn came and left the meeting as soon as it was over. His bad mood persisted all the way home, worsening when he caught a glimpse of the kitchen calendar and realized it was his birthday.
Not that he was expecting anything from Ino. But he'd at least hoped they would have progressed onto a talking basis by now.
Moody, he took a glass of water and sat down in the living room.
Twenty minutes later, he heard footsteps and raised his head. Ino strode into the room, carrying something in her hands.
He remained silent as she came up beside him and dropped it unceremoniously onto the table. It was a birthday cake. Sasuke stared at it.
"Happy birthday, you miserable bastard," she said.
One would think the gesture would seem like a sign of improvement, but he'd been with Ino long enough to realize she'd probably laced the cake with laxative. Or arsenic. There was no way of knowing with her.
"I don't like sweets," he said coldly.
"You don't like sweets," she echoed.
She made a humming sound as though this was news to her. Then she reached down and scooped some frosting onto her finger. Sasuke watched her from the corner of his eye, wary. She placed it in her mouth and made a noise of approval.
Then she planted her foot on the edge of the table and overturned it, sending it and its contents crashing to the floor. The cake splattered onto the carpet and part of Sasuke's left shin.
Sasuke made no immediate reaction. He just sat there, staring at the mess before lowering his eyes and steepling his fingers beneath his chin. His voice was eerily calm.
"Clean that up."
"No," she said simply.
There was a tense silence. Then Sasuke slowly rose to his feet and turned to face her. His voice was icy.
"Ino, clean it up."
She stared defiantly up at him and didn't budge. "Make me."
Sasuke took in the malicious gleam in her eyes and felt something give way in his head. All thoughts of playing the game and winning her over went out the window. Suddenly, all the frustrations he'd been keeping bottled up inside erupted.
He seized her arm, intending to drag her into the bathroom to get the carpet cleaner when she reached out with her other hand and shoved him, hard. He stumbled back a step, feeling his foot land in the remains of the cake. His eye twitched.
He shoved her back.
She staggered back, a look of shock briefly flitting over her face. Then her features contorted into a glare and she curled her fingers into fists.
"Ino," he said, his voice strained. "Clean this up right now or—"
She was already in front of him before he could finish the sentence. The next thing he knew, he was flat on his back in the cake, his chest throbbing from where she'd driven her elbow into his sternum.
Before she could spin around and leave, he seized her ankle and tripped her onto the floor. She yelped at the impact, following it with a growl of rage as she kicked him off and tried to scramble to her feet again.
Sasuke staggered upright and didn't give her the opportunity. He tackled her onto the carpet.
Then all hell broke loose.
He almost lost his grip from the sheer volume of her shrieks alone, his ears ringing as she fought him like a wild animal. They rolled across the floor and through the cake, tracking frosting over the carpet.
She swore at him with an unbroken string of profanity, struggling in his grip when he clambered off the floor and dragged her up with him.
"You son of a bitch!" she screeched, elbowing him hard in the ribs. When he buckled but didn't let go, she swung around and bit him on the neck. He swore out of shock more than pain since she hadn't broken skin, but the bite was far too close to his jugular for him to take any chances.
He threw her off of him. She landed through the coffee table, filling the room with the din of shattering wood. He was wrong to assume the fall would deter her. She immediately leapt to her feet, furious and holding the knife she'd brought along with the cake.
He barely managed to duck the flying blade when he felt her slender frame collide into his chest with the force of a raging bull. They tumbled to the ground again and struggled for a few minutes more, him shouting for her to stop and her shrieking unintelligibly about wanting him to rot in the depths of hell.
At some point, he managed to seize her around the waist and dragged her kicking and screaming into the master bedroom. Kicking the door shut behind him, he locked his arms around her swinging fists and threw them down on the bed in an attempt to muffle her voice.
"Ino!" he yelled over her shrieks. "Ino, would you—oof!"
She managed to get one of her arms loose and hit him upside the head with a pillow. She was screaming bloody murder and thrashing like a woman possessed. Sasuke was inwardly afraid the neighbours would hear and assume he was raping her or something.
He was about to consider just knocking her out when the fight suddenly seemed to leave her all at once. She went slack in his arms and curled into herself, voice dying into a low moan. He stared at the back of her head, stunned, when her shoulders shook and she muffled a whimper into the pillow.
Was she crying?
Grimacing, he eased his grip on her and drew his hand to his side. And like an idiot, he didn't move his head away in time when she stopped whimpering.
She reared her head back and hit him right in the nose. He fell back, holding his face, and Ino immediately leapt off the bed with a malevolent grin.
"I can't believe you fell for that, you jackass," she said, smearing cake off her forehead with the back of her hand. "What, you want some more? Come at me!"
Sasuke blinked open his eyes after the worst of the throbbing subsided, finding his vision blurred. When he lowered his hand from his nose, he felt blood on his fingers. Ino had suddenly gone silent in front of him, and it didn't occur to him to wonder why until he realized there was wetness on his face that wasn't blood.
Sasuke grimaced and wiped the tears off his cheek. He hated getting hit on the nose.
Ino gaped at the tears, momentarily dumbstruck. Then a grin split her face and she let out a hysterical laugh.
"See? I told you I'd make you cry. How do you like me now, Sasuke?"
The mirth was short-lived, as she didn't wait for an answer and angrily swiped the blood from beneath a cut in her lip. "This is nothing, you bastard. After what you did, I could do a hundred times worse—"
"What did I do?"
Ino stopped in the middle of her tirade and stared at him. He didn't even sound angry anymore. Just tired and miserable. He looked up at her questioningly, brow furrowed.
"What did I do to you to make you hate me this much?" he said.
"You still don't know?" she said blankly. "Are you retarded? How can you have not figured it out by now? What, did you forget—?"
"Yes," he interrupted.
She blinked. "What?"
"I don't remember what I did."
At that, Ino gritted her teeth and balled her fists. She looked as though she was about to have a conniption fit.
"You're a goddamn idiot!" she snarled. "How the hell can you not remember?"
"Because Naruto hit me on the head!" Sasuke finally shouted back, glaring up at her. "Two years ago, during the war. I know I fought against Konoha shinobi, but I don't know with who or what happened. The last thing I remember was getting hit, and then I woke up here. I don't remember anything I did before that."
There was a moment of stunned silence.
"You..." Ino began numbly, "don't remember."
"No," he said, exasperated. "There isn't anything else besides that that I can't account for."
She stared at him a little longer before suddenly raising her hands in a seal. Before he could react, she was inside his head, combing through his memories to see if what he said was really true. She didn't look for anything else beyond that, and after a minute she was left standing there in shock while he was left nursing a migraine.
"Do you believe me now?" he questioned through gritted teeth.
All the rage seemed to have seeped out of her. Her expression was unreadable as she watched him, making an absurd sight standing there covered in cake frosting and bleeding cuts. After a minute, she finally spoke, voice flat.
"You nearly killed Chouji and Shikamaru."
Sasuke slowly lowered his hand from the side of his head.
Oh, he thought, closing his eyes. Oh.
"Chouji nearly had to have his legs amputated," she continued in that disconcerting, emotionless voice. "Shikamaru had two seizures after you used your Mangekyou on him and was brain dead for two days. Only Tsunade-sama was able to revive him, and Sakura helped me heal Chouji. It took a year of physical therapy for him to get back on his feet."
Sasuke remained silent.
"There," she said after a while, voice bitter. "That's what my problem is."
With that, she turned to leave, only to stop halfway out the door when he raised his head.
She paused in the doorway and turned around.
Sasuke stared at the floor, jaw clenching and unclenching before he finally spoke. "Chouji and Shikamaru...after what I did, they..." he paused, swallowing hard, "they still forgave me. Why didn't you?"
"Because you're not sorry," she said. "And because they're not just my teammates. I grew up with them. They're like brothers to me."
At that, Sasuke fell silent. He gripped the bed sheets with one hand while wiping the blood from his upper lip with the other. She watched him from the doorway, saying nothing, and he raised his head despite the discomfort, shame, and pain the movement caused him.
"Ino..." he paused, biting the inside of his mouth before muttering the rest. "I'm sorry."
She didn't respond.
After a few seconds, Sasuke reached resignedly for the tissues on the nightstand and held them up to his nose to stem the bleeding. With his other hand, he began wiping off the cake frosting.
A minute later, he heard footsteps and looked up to see Ino circling around the bed and moving to stand in front of him. He didn't protest when she pulled the bloody tissues away from his face and tilted his head back, forcing him to lean back as she planted her knee next to his hip and brought her hand up to his face.
The healing glow of chakra pulsed over his nose and he felt himself relax, shoulders slackening as the pain ebbed. As she healed his nose, he reached out with his hand for another tissue and began wiping the frosting from her skin.
It relieved him greatly when she said nothing and let him.
When she was done, she lifted her knee off the bed and took a step back. They looked silently at each other.
"You can have the shower first," Sasuke said.
She didn't say anything in return before she left, but she returned a minute later with her towel and a change of clothes. He didn't know whether it was a good sign when she reached into the dresser and pulled out another pair of his boxers before disappearing into the bathroom.
He took the time she spent in the shower to throw the soiled, purple bed sheets in the wash and replace them with new white ones. Then he sat on the floor and waited, not wanting to get more frosting on his furniture.
Ino emerged a little while later, wearing an old t-shirt and his new boxers. Wordlessly, he got up and took the shower next. He remained pensive as he undressed and stepped under the spray, unsure where they stood now.
He was halfway hoping she'd still be there when he got out, and he was minutely relieved when he found her sitting on the edge of the bed, combing through her damp hair.
He had enough sense to refrain from asking if she'd forgiven him yet, because he knew far better than anyone how long it took for such hurts to heal. But he hoped she would. Eventually.
She stood up to leave a little while later and he raised his head before he could stop himself.
She stopped and glanced at him over her shoulder. He frowned at the floor when he felt her eyes on his face.
"Why don't you...stay here tonight?"
"Sasuke," she said in a gentle voice, as if he was mentally slow, "just because I patched you up doesn't mean I want to have sex with you."
He scowled at her. "I didn't mean it like that."
She pursed her lips and gave the room an assessing glance. Her gaze dropped to the bed and she lifted her chin imperiously.
"I want the right side. And the extra pillow."
"Fine," he said.
"Do you snore?"
She paused. "If you touch me in the middle of the night, I swear I'll knock your block off."
He frowned again. "I won't."
With that, Ino strolled up to the bed and crawled in on her side, taking the extra pillow with her. There was sizable gap between them considering the size of the bed, but Sasuke was too busy reveling in this miraculous turn of events to care.
He got in on the left side and pulled the chain on the lamp. Darkness descended on the room, diffused just enough by the moonlight streaming through the window for him to make out her shape on the other side of the bed.
He stayed awake for a good half hour, waiting, then edged a little closer to her.
Her hair pooled on the bed like liquid platinum. It was still a little damp and he could smell a blend of her shampoo and clean, unperfumed skin. He reached out from underneath the covers and touched the ends of it.
"I can feel that, you creep," she said.
Sasuke was not sorry for this. Instead, he curled his fingers around the ends and tugged gently. She took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. She didn't say anything. Sasuke closed his eyes with a smirk.
Six months later.
Naruto mopped the sweat off his face with a towel, humming to himself and smiling at the ring box in his bag before he zipped it closed.
"I don't get it," Sasuke said after a while, watching him as Naruto packed up from training. "Why are you proposing to her if you're already married?"
Naruto shrugged, grinning a little. "We were forced the first time. And she doesn't have a ring, so..."
"Hn," Sasuke muttered, pulling a fresh shirt out of his bag.
"How are things with you and Ino?" Naruto asked.
Sasuke fought a smirk. "They're fine."
Naruto raised an eyebrow sceptically. He'd called Sasuke out on his bullshit several months ago, scandalized that his friend would lie at group therapy, of all places. Sasuke had made him promise on pain of death to keep it a secret before confiding the hellish first months of his marriage.
Naruto had been stunned silent. He seemed appalled that Sasuke could tolerate the brutal punishment Ino had doled out over the two whole months before the relationship had seen any improvement.
And to be completely honest, Naruto didn't think there'd been much improvement.
He occasionally glimpsed mysterious scratches and bruises on Sasuke's body during training, and he had a feeling Sasuke's blushing new bride was to blame.
He thought it was kind of strange that Sasuke would say the relationship was on the mend when it looked like Ino was beating the crap out of him on a daily basis, but then he was beginning to think he didn't know everything about Sasuke. His best friend had spent three years in the company of Orochimaru, after all.
Naruto glanced at him from the corner of his eye, his gaze lingering on the strange, almost letter-shaped scratches above Sasuke's hip before his friend pulled on a fresh shirt and covered them. Naruto's brow furrowed in concern.
"What's with all the scratches?"
To his growing bewilderment, Sasuke didn't answer and just lowered his head. He almost looked like he was smiling.
"Training," he said after a while. "With Ino."
"Uh-huh," Naruto said dubiously. "That's...different."
Naruto bit his lip and frowned at his friend as Sasuke picked up his bag and turned to leave. He knew it wasn't really his business, but after reading about something similar in a particularly controversial—and banned—installment of Jiraiya's Icha Icha series, he couldn't contain his curiosity any longer.
"Sasuke," he called hesitantly.
His friend stopped and looked at him over his shoulder.
Naruto gave him an odd look in return. "Don't take this the wrong way. I'm just kinda curious is all, but, uh...well..."
"Spit it out," Sasuke said.
Naruto swallowed and scratched the back of his head. His face scrunched up. "Do you get off on being treated like shit, or something?"
Sasuke stared at him for a long moment.
"You're an idiot," he said at last. Then he turned around and left.
Naruto stared wonderingly after him and scratched his head again, realizing his friend hadn't really said 'no.'