Dedication: To Paige, Rhea, Jen and Ino herself.
Summary: I'm hungry from an anorexic heart.
Notes: If you don't know that I have the most craziest love for Ino, then you must be new around my block. Ino is my favorite female character and I just... I love her so much. So you can only imagine how I felt at the latest chapter. Granted, this is NOT about said chapter; rather, it simply inspired me to write. Also something to fascinate you: this is like a prequel to Snake Charmer. Chew on that ;D
It's not a matter of can or can't. I'm doing it.
—Yamanaka Ino, Chapter 630
The war is over with a silent bang.
Ino tries to sit up from the ground, hair a tangled mess and a leg bleeding more than it should. She lifts her head up with all the energy her body has left and looks around at all the bodies and all the shinobi still standing and she finds them.
She wants to run to them, hold them and smile and laugh because they are her friends.
There's Sasuke, kneeling on the ground with both his hands on one of his eyes, blood seeping through the spaces in between his fingers. There's Naruto, grinning and looking up at the sky, like sunshine on a picture perfect day. There's Sakura, rocking on the heels of her boots, knees wobbly and ready to give up.
There's Chouji and Shikamaru and Kiba and Hinata and Lee and Tenten and Shino and she smiles, she grins at them, whether they see her or not, throws them two shaky, bloody thumbs-up and drops to the ground. There's a feeling over-taking her. Like emancipation—like being freed, even if just for a little while.
She feels light, like a feather, ready to float up and disappear, let it take her to someplace—wherever, maybe to all the places she's held dear, maybe to where her father took his last breath, maybe to nowhere at all.
Maybe she's already gone.
Her smile broadens, takes a deep breath and salvages the taste of blood in her mouth.
The war is over.
Ino coughs, hugs the ground below her, and sleeps.
She's in chains when she wakes up. She feels it deep inside her—she's in chains, being suffocated as the buzzing feeling of victory settles into the spaces in between her bones, leaving her vulnerable for everything she had pushed aside during the battle because she had people to protect and a fight to win.
Ino feels like she's running out of air and she gasps, loud and acute, sits up from her makeshift cot and claws at her chest.
She's not wearing her vest—she's not wearing her shirt. Her chest is wrapped with binds, short biker-shorts riding low on her hips. She slaps at her limbs, crying out in pain, but she continues to pat at herself aggressively, trying to remember—get it inside her head—that she's alive.
Everything plays in her head like a flashback.
Her father is dead.
She has proved herself not just to herself but to everyone else.
Her father is dead.
Sasuke is back.
Her father is dead.
Shikamaru's father is dead.
Her father... Is dead.
Her father is dead.
She screams, dropping to the ground and curling into herself, convulsing as a thick wave of panic and denial wrap themselves around her. The tent's front is pushed open and medics she does not know come to her aid, grabbing at her shoulders in their attempts to stabilize her.
But no, no, no.
Where is Sakura?
Where is Sakura?!
Sakura should be here, soothing her, running her hands through her hair, hugging her, murmuring that everything would be okay even if it wouldn't because her father is dead and where… Where is Sakura? Where is Shikamaru? Chouji?
She is sedated.
Her world slowly turns black and she dreams about a field of cosmos.
They march into Konoha with their wounds still healing.
Soldiers returning home—toy soldiers come marching home, a pack of pride thrown behind their shoulders and a helmet of grief covering their heads. Ino walks with her eyes downcast, blond hair shadowing half her face. Long blond hair, smooth and soft like cornsilk, down and out of its restraints.
Her arms are wrapped around herself, mind pumping words to say to her mother when only a Yamanaka heiress returns and no clan leader to set any order.
A small laugh bubbles her up her throat but she swallows it down.
Ino looks up, a soft smile on her lips as Team Seven—infamous, dysfunctional, amazingly supportive—Team Seven walks in front of her, whole again. She unwinds her arms from their caging-state, grabs the hand of either of her boys and closes her eyes.
The war is over, but a new one is starting.
She doesn't know who wagered it, but it is happening and her mind is the battlefield.
Days pass by.
Days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months. With that, Konoha regains stability. Like a pop-up book, everything bursts up with a turn of a page and suddenly everything is okay.
Ino pretends to be okay, too.
That's the thing about pushing everything back to be dealt with another time. It comes back ten times worse, all at once, when you least expect it and it knocks the wind out of you, drops you to the ground all dead weight with no capability of standing back up.
And suddenly, Ino thinks she can understand Uchiha Sasuke a little better.
Living in the past is not an option. It's the very breath you take.
And Ino swears she had been okay. Had shed the tears for her father, dying in action, with at least being able to give her his last words. Let her know he had always been so proud.
And she swears she had been okay, pushing it all back after a few tears.
She'd done her part; had done more than it, too.
But suddenly it became hard to breathe and she's been trying to catch her breath since the day she woke up, after the war. And no such thing, because every little intake she is able to take tastes like loss.
It happens on a Thursday.
Funny, she has never considered Thursdays to be her days, before.
She wakes up from bed, a new title as Clan Head setting her shoulders straight. She walks around her room, preparing her getup for a short mission the Rokudaime is sending her on.
It happens when she passes her mirror.
She's passed her mirror more than once, practices her smile in front of him, and stares at her eyes until she's positive they reflect nothing of the broken girl she hides inside.
But it happens this day, where the mirror wakes up the dream she's had of sitting in a field filled with flowers. She's small, again, seven and innocent, kneeled down and making a bouquet. And then there are two hands, too big and tanned to be her own; her father crouches in front of her, grinning as he grabs her bouquet, tying them up with a ribbon before handing them back.
Her eyes had been on his swaying long hair.
But now, in front of her mirror, this person isn't her. The long hair is darker, messier, skin tanner, scarred with years of battle, eyes a green-blue with crinkles at the edge. This isn't her, standing in front of her and she's frozen in place at the cruel similarities bursting out and using themselves against her.
She doesn't want to be a reminder to herself—a trigger, ready to set herself off just by the reflection staring back at her.
So she cuts her hair.
Choppy and uneven; a spiky bob-cut with longer strands falling over her eyes.
Ino looks down at the golden locks on the ground and laughs.
Life goes on.
Team Seven, Team Eight, Team Ten and Lee and Tenten. They've grown up in ways the newer generation won't; they're all jagged and jaded, broken and sloppily put back together. There are demons dancing in their eyes, but it's a matter of playing the music for them or not.
Ino goes on, being the face of the Yamanaka clan with the elders murmuring their help into her ears. She cuts her hair, repeatedly, giving no other reason but the desire for a change, when asked.
She squares her shoulders, straightens her back and laughs when she walks, grits her teeth and growls when she trains, cries and loses herself when she isn't paying attention.
She's seventeen and hungry for a way to exorcise her demons. But she gives herself the credit—the strength—to not drop to the ground and let her issues rule her.
Yamanaka Ino is better than that.
She's nineteen when she joins the interrogation unit.
Three years have passed since the Fourth Shinobi war and everything is stable—really stable, with nothing lurking in the shadows. Life is about peace and moving on, going on missions, killing threats that disturb what the Alliance has worked for.
Sasuke has left the village, again, to rule over another. Naruto's dreams have come true and she sees him, sometimes, standing at the tallest tower with his Hokage hat and robes swaying in the breeze. Sakura has become head medic, best medical kunoichi in the world, and the rest of them have met their goals with nothing left but continue to push at them for a bigger challenge.
Ino looks at herself, in her new uniform; memories flood her mind but they don't cripple her. She's passed it; the stinging and emptiness is still there, but she likes to think she's grown into an excellent kunoichi and she's been able to look away from the past and stare at the upcoming future.
Memories are memories, fond and sweet. Saying goodbye hadn't been the hardest part, but the flashbacks that soon followed, never ending and powerful, are the ones that had managed to destroy her.
But she's nineteen and an interrogator and she's okay.
She swears she is okay.
She curls the ends of her long blond hair around her finger and laughs.