A/N: This is my 'novel' for NaNoWriMo. Will I finish by the end of the month? Not sure, but I'm hoping to at least have a basis for this idea! After all, in the end it's about producing a novel - not necessarily about winning. Characters might be a bit OOC, but I can assure you it's for the purpose of the story!
I am not affiliated with the creators or producers of Naruto. No profit is made from this.
Ino Yamanaka could still remember her wedding day, as if it had taken place just yesterday. She was twenty-two at the time, beautiful, young and madly in love. As she walked down that aisle, a bouquet of tulips in her hands, her blue eyes focused on the person she was going to spend her life with. He smiled brightly at her, with that very same goofy smile he always had. She glanced at her father, who was in tears.
A cloud passed by, and Ino watched it, then something started to beep. Not sure what it was, Ino looked around as continued to walk down the aisle. The music was still playing and everyone was still watching her with wide smiles. So where was the beeping coming from? Ino stopped, causing her father to halt with her. He looked her in the eye and frowned.
"Ino?" he asked, "Is something wrong?"
Ino ignored him and turned her attention to the altar again. It was empty. Her fiancé wasn't there. Ino's eyes widened. Where did he go? Ino's father's gaze followed hers and he too noticed the empty altar. He gaped. And then everyone in the church started laughing. Ino looked around her frantically, the laughter echoing around her and sending shivers down her spine. Face red from embarrassment and tears in her eyes, Ino turned to her father, expecting him to comfort her, but he was laughing too. The music playing, the beeping noise and the laughter got louder and louder to the point where Ino had to cover her ears.
Feeling abandoned, Ino woke up.
With a cry, Ino sat up in her bed. Her alarm clock was beeping violently beside her bed, which explained the beeping in her dream. She slammed the alarm's button, effectively shutting the device up. Ino stared at her hands for several seconds, and then turned her head to her left, expecting to see a familiar blonde sleeping beside her.
He wasn't there.
With a sigh and a heavy heart, Ino lay back down and stared at the ceiling. She wasn't sure when it started, but her marriage with Naruto was falling apart. When she woke up, he was gone, when she got home, he still wasn't back. She rarely saw him, and when she did see him, he barely spoke to her at all. It was strange, and very unusual. Naruto was not the type to keep to himself. He was far too cheery, and bubbly and open-hearted. How could such a ray of sunshine suddenly become a dark shadow?
Ino had tried talking to him, but he merely brushed her off. She had tried talking to his teammate, Sakura, but she didn't know what was wrong either.
Ino didn't know what to do anymore. Her marriage was shattered, and there was nothing she could do to mend the pieces back together. After all, one could not fix a marriage alone.
Sakura Haruno was to this day, Ino's rival and best friend. With bright pink hair, deep green eyes and a knack for medicine, the young woman was everything Ino wanted to be. Although Ino had also trained in the art of medical ninjutsu, she was nowhere near as skilled as Sakura.
But what really challenged the girls was their affection for boys. Both women had been madly in love with the idea of Sasuke Uchiha as children. Sakura's love for Sasuke had grown over the years, while Ino's remained that of infatuation. Regardless, they argued over it and when the time came that Ino realised she was actually in love with Naruto, she thought things would finally become peaceful.
She was wrong. Sakura was furious. Naruto's affections for Sakura was not a secret, he had loved her for most of his life and held onto that. Of course, Sakura had been aware of his feeling as well, but she never acted on them. Rather, she revelled in them and used them to her advantage from time to time. An action she regretted to this very day. However, that did not erase the fact that she used Naruto to get to Sasuke. Ino, who had befriended Naruto at the age of sixteen, had tried to approach Sakura, and it ended in a gruelled and bloody battle between women. Ino confessed her feelings to Naruto in the hospital, and he surprisingly accepted to try.
Sakura's jealousy was not hard to miss. All of a sudden Naruto's attention was no longer on her. Sasuke was lost to the darkness, and not being used to feeling alone, Sakura moped for several weeks. It wasn't until Ino beat some sense into her that Sakura changed.
Naruto and Ino had been together ever since. And now…their marriage was falling apart.
"Ino?" a voice shook Ino from her reverie. She looked up into her best friend's green eyes.
"Oh, Sakura," Ino muttered, "can I help you?"
"You've been spacing out for ages," Sakura pointed out, "are you alright?"
"I'm fine," Ino sighed, "just tired."
Sakura was not convinced. She knew her friend well. Ino was amongst the most dedicated people Sakura knew. Every morning Ino went for a run, followed by a healthy breakfast. Dinner was also healthy and balanced, followed by at least eight hours of sleep. Ino being tired was not normal, unless her routine had been disturbed.
"What's bothering you?" Sakura asked, sitting down opposite her friend. They were both going through paperwork for the hospital, since the archives was an absolute mess.
"Nothing," Ino said quickly, irritated, "like I said, I'm just tired."
"Is it Naruto?" Sakura asked, "Is he not getting it up?"
A blush crept on Ino's cheeks. She wasn't usually shy when it came to talking about sex, but she liked to keep her own bedroom experiences to herself – after all, Naruto and Ino were very traditional when it came to the act of sex. At least when compared to what Ino has heard of what Sakura and Lee do when they are alone…
"No!" Ino exclaimed, "It's nothing like that. We're just…going through a phase, that's all."
Sakura raised an eyebrow. "A phase?"
"I don't know," Ino sighed, "he's been…distant lately."
"Maybe he's frustrated," Sakura suggested with a wink.
Ino narrowed her eyes. "No, this is not sex related. Seriously, is it all you think about?"
"Of course not," Sakura deadpanned, "I only think about sex five times a day."
"I did not need to know that," Ino grumbled.
"Have you tried talking to him?" Sakura asked. Ino nodded. "And?"
"No use, he won't even listen to me."
"That's strange. Naruto is never like that."
"I know, that's what worries me," Ino sighed, a feeling of dread suddenly setting in. "Oh god, what if he wants to divorce?"
Sakura looked aghast at the suggestion. She gave her friend a very stern gaze, and then she sat back and sighed. "Don't jump to conclusions, Ino. He might just need some time for himself. He has a lot on his plate, after all."
Ino bit her lip. Yes, she knew he had a lot on his plate. As Hokage, he had the burden of carrying an entire village on his back. He was their anchor, their pillar, their leader. Without Naruto, Konohagakure would crumble into pieces. But that didn't mean he could let his marriage crumble instead.
"What do I do?" Ino asked, still confused.
Sakura smiled. "Support him. Make him feel loved. Give him a person to confide him. Help him relax."
"How? I've tried everything!"
"Well, they say that sex…"
"Don't even go there! This is serious Sakura!"
Sakura laughed, "I know, I know. Sorry, I just love teasing you. Honestly Ino, I can't answer that question. He is your husband, you know him better than I do."
Sometimes Ino wondered if that was true.
It was way past eight when Naruto finally returned home. Ino was silently waiting for him at the dining table, her hands neatly folded together in front of her. She looked up expectedly at Naruto when he walked in, but he moved right past her and opened the fridge. Ino watched him pour himself a glass of milk, and then he walked straight past her again towards the study.
"Aren't you even going to greet me?" Ino asked, not daring to look at him, "Am I no longer considered important enough to be even acknowledged?"
"I'm tired," was the reply.
"That's no excuse!" Ino exclaimed, standing up, the chair clattering to the floor. "I'm still your wife Naruto!"
"Fine," Naruto growled, turning around, "hello, Ino. Happy now?"
"No," Ino crossed her arms, "we need to talk. Sit down."
Naruto stared at his wife for several minutes, and then shook his head. "There's nothing to talk about."
Ino could not believe what she was hearing. Fuming, she marched over to Naruto, effectively pressing herself against him. He raised an eyebrow at her gesture.
"Where were you?" Ino asked.
"That's a lie. You never used to work this late."
"Well, things came up."
"Why didn't you send a message? You always send a message when you work late."
"Didn't have the time."
"Bullshit. You're just running away, aren't you? Is that what I am now? Not important?"
Naruto sighed and rubbed his temple. Ino glared at him coldly, her anger boiling inside of her. Naruto stepped backwards, effectively distancing himself from Ino.
"You know the village is always my top priority," Naruto pointed out, "I am the Hokage, Ino."
Ino could not believe it. The village was his top priority? The village was more important than her? How dare he! Fuming, Ino raised her arm to slap him, but he caught her wrist halfway down and narrowed his eyes dangerously.
"You've changed, Ino," he pointed out, "you've never raised your fist at me. What happened to the woman I married?"
Tears stung in Ino's eyes as she violently pulled away from Naruto's grasp. She looked down, her hair hiding her eyes in shame. "That's my question. What happened to the man I married?"
Naruto did not answer.
"You look like shit," Sakura pointed out the next morning. Ino looked up from her work and sighed. She had cried herself to sleep the previous night after her argument with Naruto. She had woken up in an empty bed again, but his side had been neat. He never even bothered to come to bed.
"I had an argument with Naruto," Ino pointed out, once again returning her attention to her work. Sakura frowned and sat down.
"So, you tried talking to him?" Sakura asked. Ino nodded. "Didn't work?" Ino sighed.
"What am I going to do, Sakura?" Ino asked, "I…I don't know if I even love him."
Sakura gave her friend a pitiful look. "That bad, huh?"
"Yeah. I don't think he loves me anymore, either. He said the village was more important than me."
"In those words?"
"Well," Ino trailed off, "no. He said the village was his top priority."
Sakura sighed. "He has a point, Ino. He is the Hokage. The village's safety and reputation will always have to come first. I thought you knew that."
"I know! I just…are you taking his side on this?" Ino asked, annoyed.
"I'm not taking anyone's side here," Sakura pointed out, "you are my best friend, and Naruto my team mate. I'm just trying to help."
"Ugh," Ino groaned, "I know the village is important and will always come first, but can't I come first at least a few times…and if not first at least second? I'm his wife! His equal!"
Sakura smiled weakly. "Have you told him that?"
"Then I suggest you do."
Ino waited for Naruto again. He arrived at ten. He had never worked so late before, and of course, he didn't bother to send her a message.
"Your dinner is in the fridge," Ino told him when he entered the dining room. Naruto gave her a quick glance, and then headed for the fridge. While he heated his food, Ino watched him, waiting for the right moment to start talking.
"Naruto," Ino called out to him, he did not acknowledge her. "Naruto, do you love me?"
"I don't know," was the curt reply.
Ino looked down at her hands. "Where were you?"
"Work." Another curt reply.
"Then why do you smell like alcohol? And perfume?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Don't bullshit with me!" Ino shouted angrily, standing up. "I can smell the evidence! Were you with a woman? Are you having an affair now? Should I pack my bags and make room for her in our bed?"
Naruto turned around, anger evident on his face as well, "I'm not having an affair!"
"Then explain yourself!"
"It's none of your business Ino!"
"Of course it's my business!" Ino yelled, "I'm your wife! Your equal! You're supposed to tell me things!"
"I can't tell you this," Naruto yelled back, "as Hokage I have responsibilities!"
Ino slammed her hands on the dining table. The wrenching noise echoed through the room.
"Hokage this, Hokage that," Ino mocked, "it's just work work work work. You have no time for me anymore, is that it? Are you married to your work now? You don't do anything else!"
"Of course I do!" Naruto objected.
"Then why must I always cook? Why do I always clean the house? Why do I wash the dishes? Why do I have to do your laundry? Do you know how horrible your socks smell? Do you?"
Naruto's lips pursed into a thin line. "What, do you want me to wash my own socks? When did you become so selfish Ino?"
Ino's face turned red and the accusation felt like a punch to the gut. Anger boiling within her like magma in a volcano, Ino stepped closer to Naruto and raised her hand to slap him, but he caught her wrist on the way down. He narrowed his eyes dangerously.
"Is that what you've been reduced to now?" Naruto asked, "Violently reacting to something I say?"
Ino's face turned red and she pulled away from his grasp, shame washing over her. What had possessed her to even attempt that? Tears threatening to spill, Ino pushed past Naruto and stormed out of the room. She ran to their bedroom and slammed the door behind her, collapsing in a heap on the floor. She cried loudly, her entire form shaking. Her crying got heavier and louder when she heard Naruto slam a door too. He had locked himself in the study again. He always did, and she had no idea what he did in there. Whatever it was, it wasn't a good thing. Ever since he started to lock himself away, he had never been the same.
Ino felt like a wreck.
It was midnight when Ino decided to leave. Naruto had not moved from the study and Ino was tired from the cold shoulder she was receiving. With her bag packed, Ino stepped into the night.
The night sky was dark and cloudy, the air chilly. A cold breeze swept through Konoha, which sent a shiver down Ino's spine. Determined, she turned in the direction of Sakura's house, however she stopped when she realised there was no way she could stay with her.
Sakura was a very busy woman, being in charge of the hospital, getting married in two months and also having a bat shit crazy fiancé. Okay, Lee really wasn't that bad, but he still scared Ino sometimes. No, Ino could not disturb Sakura when she was so busy.
She thought of crashing at Kurenai's place, but she couldn't bear stressing the single mother. So, turned in the opposite direction and headed for the Nara Estate instead. Shikamaru and Temari would welcome her with open arms. At least, that's what she hoped.
Ino considered leaving Naruto a note, but in the end decided against it. If he wasn't giving her the time of day, why should she give it back?
Ino felt guilty as she knocked on the Nara family's door. It was way past midnight, and she knew they would be in bed. But she had nowhere to go, and she needed someone to comfort her. She knew Shikamaru and Temari could provide that, without her feeling like she's taking too much from them.
Shikamaru opened the door with a large yawn. He was naked, except for his boxer shorts. His long hair hung loose down his shoulders. In the past decade, he had matured into a very attractive man. He even took more after his father now, especially with the goatee.
"Ino?" Shikamaru grumbled sleepily as he blinked rapidly, obviously trying to fight back the sleep.
"I'm sorry…I…"Ino trailed off, not sure what to say. Shikamaru glanced at her bag, then up at her face. He frowned, then stepped aside and let her in. Ino stepped inside, grateful. Leave it to Shikamaru to deduce what was wrong and not say a word about it.
"I'll take that to the spare bedroom," Shikamaru said as he took her bag, "sit down, I'll wake Temari."
"You don't have to," Ino quickly said, but Shikamaru shook his head.
"She'll kill me in the morning if I don't," he shrugged, "just don't make too much noise, Asuma is asleep."
Ino nodded and smiled weakly. Asuma was Shikamaru and Temari's four year old son.
Shikamaru disappeared upstairs. Ino made her way to the kitchen where she sat down at the dining table, her mind blank. How did it get to this?
Temari had appeared not much later, dressed in a cream coloured nightie. She put on the kettle for tea, and did not say a word, patiently waiting for Ino to speak first. Ino admired that about Temari, she always knew what to do in a sticky situation.
"I think our marriage is over," Ino finally said. Temari did not show any sign of shock. Instead, she merely nodded while pouring the tea. With the tea done, Temari handed Ino a cup, then sat down opposite the blonde kunoichi.
"What happened?" Temari asked after taking a sip of her tea.
"He's changed," Ino sighed, "I don't recognise him anymore. He's never home, and when he is he locks himself in his study. He rarely speaks to me…he barely eats. I was worried at first, but now I'm tired of it all. He's treating me like shit, Temari."
"How long has this been going on for?"
"I don't know," Ino admitted, "awhile. I mean, he's always been hush hush over what he does in his study, but he never lost himself in there. He used to have time for me."
Temari took another sip of her tea. "Why didn't you go to Sakura?"
"She's planning her wedding," Ino replied, "I can't stand in the way of that."
Temari smiled weakly. "You are such a great friend, putting her needs before your own, despite the fact that yours is greater at this point in time."
"And yet Naruto claimed I was selfish," Ino sighed.
Ino didn't know whether to laugh or cry at that comment. Feeling slightly better for talking to Temari, Ino took a sip of her tea and closed her eyes. She needed some time to herself, perhaps then she could work this out. Shikamaru joined the two women.
"The bed is ready for you, Ino," Shikamaru stated.
"Thanks," Ino smiled as she stood up and excused herself. She was tired, so sleep sounded very welcoming.
"Oh," Temari suddenly said, "Asuma wakes up at seven usually, so just be warned Ino. He makes a lot of noise."
Ino laughed and nodded, disappearing into the hallway. Temari sighed and glanced at her husband. He gave his wife the same look in return.
What on earth were they going to do?
Ino cried herself to sleep that night. She could feel it, the tragic end looming over the horizon. The happy halcyon days were over.