[ 03 ✩ Alstroemeria ]

When she is twelve, Ino is often exasperated with Shikamaru and Chōji. 

(when she is seventeen and holding a blade between her hands, they are the brothers she never knew she had)

"Nara Shikamaru," she says, hands on her hips and blue eyes glaring at the sleeping Nara, "get up!"

"Okaa-san, just let me sleep a little longer..." Shikamaru mumbles, hand covering his eyes as he turns around on his back, leaving Ino fuming by his side. 

(she wishes that she had someone to call okaa-san)

"Shikamaru!" She growls as she jabs him in the stomach with her elbow, "Asuma-sensei is nearly here!"

"Ino," Chōji munches on his chips, the crackle each piece makes when it lands in his mouth making Ino twitch, "his okaa-san made him stay up late to do the dishes yesterday..."

"She's so troublesome... all girls are..." Shikamaru winces as Ino slaps his arm, fingers curled around his wrist as she tugs him up, "so troublesome..."

"Well, too bad!" Ino tosses her hair, making Shikamaru eat a handful of sunshine and lilacs before straightening her back as she senses Asuma-sensei's arrival.

"This early and you're already arguing?" Asuma-sensei chuckles, a thin line of smoke slithering up into the sky, black ashes crumpling under his feet, "c'mon, Shikamaru  Shōgi game tonight?"

"Mhm, but what's the catch?" Shikamaru finally opens his eyes, head lolling back as he stares at the clouds absent-mindedly. He stretches his arms as he touches the red welt made by Ino's slap, a brief flash of pain passing through his eyes.

"Well, you've got to catch me today," Asuma-sensei shrugs as he puts another cigarette between his lips, spark catching as smoke trails out, lighting the blue sky up with grey, "think you can do it?"

"Who'd you think you're talking to, sensei! Of course we can do it!" Ino smiles, pointing a finger at Shikamaru, "we'll just have to drag along Shikamaru though!"

"... this is such a drag," Shikamaru groans as he takes a chip out from Chōji's bag, the kindhearted boy remaining silent as Ino starts yelling at Shikamaru.

"... you never take this... and that... will you ever take training seriously, Shikamaru?!" Ino finishes her tirade, feet stomping as she notices the amused look Asuma-sensei gives her.

"Let's start, Shikamaru," Chōji interjects, seeing his best friend prepare to fall asleep on Ino's watch, which always leads to unpleasant circumstances for Shikamaru; usually involving Shikamaru using his Kekkei Hiden to stop Ino from bashing his head in.

"Such a drag," Shikamaru places his hands in his pockets and yawns, ambling off with Chōji to their preferred training ground, located beside the border of the forest.

Ino feels her chest squeeze as she watches Shikamaru and Chōji walk away, leaving her all alone. When they were little, Sakura was always by her side. Sakura with her wide eyes and books scattered across her room. Sakura with her smiles and twenty two definitions of love. Sakura  her best friend.

But Ino is the one left behind now. 

Ino is the one watching best friends move on without her.

Ino is the one that is clenching her fists and locking her heart down so that she doesn't cry because she is supposed to be a shinobi and shinobi do not cry.

"Ino, are you okay?" Asuma-sensei says, his hand ruffling her hair as he looks down at her with concerned eyes. Fake, Ino thinks, because Asuma-sensei has always had a soft spot for Shikamaru and Ino can see it as clear as the loss of Sakura. 

She's being silly, and she knows it because Asuma-sensei cares for her too, just like he cares for Chōji, but all Ino has ever wanted is to be number one in someone's life. 

Her father loves her but he loves Konoha more. 

Her mother loved her but she loved herself more. 

Shikamaru likes her but he loves Chōji. 

Chōji likes her but he loves Shikamaru.

Asuma-sensei likes her but he loves Kurenai.

Sakura loved her and Sakura loved her the most.

But Sakura doesn't love her anymore.

(hey, we'll be best friends forever, right, Sakura?

o-of course, Ino!)

"What are you talking about, sensei? I'm always fine," Ino says and she runs off after Shikamaru and Chōji, intent on saying what exactly Shikamaru needs to do because this exercise is important and Shikamaru can't keep slacking off.

"... we're always fine." Asuma laughs as he watches his kids -they're his team, his kids too  run away and he wishes that he could take them and they could run. Run far, far away from the village that stole their innocence and made them all into monsters. 

(because that is what shinobi are, in the end.

they are all monsters and it is only that some are better at hiding it then others.)

After they complete the exercise that takes them six hours on account of how Shikamaru dozes off after Asuma-sensei disappears, Shikamaru is laid down on the forest floor, popping tomatoes into his mouth. There are hard-boiled eggs sitting in his bento and he wrinkles his nose at them, pushing them to the side.

"Okaa-san, thinking that I'll eat that. She knows how much I hate them, but she puts them in anyway because they're apparently healthy. But when I don't finish them, she gets really mad and I have to hide out in the forest to stop her from chasing me." Shikamaru complains, Chōji nodding his head thoughtfully as he shovels onigiri into his mouth.

Ino sits by the side of a tree, hair unbound and streaks of sweat poring down her forehead, scrapes on her knees and chakra-exhustation that makes her head swim. She bites down hard on her onigiri, which she made by herself in the morning because her father was busy with talking to the Hokage.

She hears Shikamaru talk on and on about how his mother is horrible and so very scary, carrying a pot in her hand whenever he does something wrong. She looks at Chōji, who is listening attentively, occasionally pointing out an interesting cloud that floats by.

She listens to her heart splinter and ache because that is what Ino should have. That is Sakura and Ino, best friends and matching flower crowns with alstroemeria flowers exchanging hands. 

Shikamaru and Chōji are what Sakura and Ino used to be and that is why she stands up, a burning feeling scorching her entire being as she trembles.

"Shut up, Shikamaru! You don't-you don't even know what you have! It isn't fairwhy do you get this? Do I notdo I not deserve this?" Ino splutters, her eyes hot and face damp as she stares at Shikamaru's shocked face and Chōji narrowing his eyes with worry. 

She doesn't even know what she is saying because the tangle of thoughts and lost dreams and wishes that is Ino needs to get out and  who is she anyway?

Who is Ino without Sakura?

"Ino..." Shikamaru is at a loss of words because he is smart, he is so very smart  but this is Ino, the one that yells at him with a confident smile on her face, blonde hair blue eyes swishing back and forth. 

(intelligence has never helped him with Ino because Ino is Ino and he has never tried to see what is under the three-lettered name  and maybe that was his mistake)

"Is something wrong?" Chōji asks as he approaches Ino like he would a frightened animal and Ino startles, running away from her teammates, her cousins, her brothers because they are too much like Sakura and Ino that it hurts but not enough like Sakura and Ino that she can smile.

When Ino runs, she runs and runs until she is panting at the creek she used to skip stones in with a women that smelled like lilacs and called Ino precious.

Ino sits down by the stone that used to be too big for her to wade across to but is now a easy hop, dirtied blonde hair staring back at her from the rippling river water.

The river sways like a gentle rock of her father's arms when she was a child and thought that her father's arms were the safest place to be. The water flows and in it she feels as if all of her memories have spilled out and she can see the passing of time fly across the water, tiny glows of sparks embedded within the rushing dragons that twist and turn under the crystal mirror.

She dips a finger in the water that sends a shock throughout her body as she thinks of Shikamaru and Chōji, who must have told Asuma-sensei by now about her disappearance. She thinks about how Shikamaru and Chōji always spend time together, knowing each other's movements by heart and when they spar against Ino, it is like watching two halves of the same mind.

She tries pretending that it was their fault because they have never really tried to get to know her — Ino is the heiress of the Yamanaka clan that will work together with them because their ancestors have always worked together, and that is all they have really ever bothered to find out.

(Ino is good at lying to herself but even she knows that she cannot lie to herself this time)

Ino is jealous and it is just as simple as that.

She is jealous because Ino is a petty person that likes holding meaningless grudges and Ino is nothing like Sakura, who loves and gives with all of heart.

Ino loves by shackling her heart and storing it in the deepest recesses of her body; she gives only part of her love yet she wants someone to love her with all of their heart.

She doesn't need the prince that can sweep her off her feet she needs the pink-haired girl that loves reading with a torchlight, staying up until dusk to memorize battle techniques, dancing in the garden with birds flocking to her call. 

(it's just a pity that the girl left her behind)

"Ino," Shikamaru shouts, "Ino, you troublesome girl, we've been looking for you for two hours now!" 

"Ino? Are you okay?" Chōji says, chubby cheeks bright red with exertion as he kneels down by her side.

"Let's go to Yahiko-Q tonight, yes?" Asuma-sensei bends down, whispering into Ino's ear, "but you can't let Chōji empty my wallet this time, okay?"

"O-okay," Ino says, hauling herself up from the creek's edge as the water laps at her bare feet, as if wanting her to stay. She looks at Asuma-sensei and Shikamaru and Chōji, all who came and looked for her even though they had no real obligation to. 

She is a shinobi and she should be able to take care of herself, but she lets them take her to Yahiko-Q where Chōji empties Asuma's wallet anyway even when Ino shouts about him gaining more and more weight.

They are not Sakura and will never be Sakura, but maybe they can be someone precious all the same.


────── ⋆⋅☆⋅⋆ ──────


"Sakura," Ino says, "how have you been doing?" Ino is balancing her hands on the railing of the bridge, Sakura's annoyed exhale making her heart strings snap.

"Why would you want to know, Ino-pig? Still jealous that I'm on a team with Sasuke?" Ino says nothing to Sakura's vicious comeback, her blue eyes staring down at the river and she wonders what it would be like to fall.

(Ino thinks that it would be easier to fall, sometimes)

"Sakura-chan!" Naruto comes sprinting over and Ino blinks as she sees the shock of bright blonde hair crash into Sakura, who pushes him away with an indulgent smile. 

"Naruto!" Sakura yells but it is in good humor to Ino's practiced eyes, who knows what every single tone of Sakura's voice means. She backs away, back hitting the metal railing as she stares at Sakura's team Sakura's team which feels like family. Sakura's team which is made up of ambition and love and respect, smirks and smiles and laughs.

Ino watches Sakura say hello to Sasuke and she realizes that she doesn't know what this Sakura's voice means.

(where has her best friend gone?)

"Forehead, you'll see! I'll beat you to getting Sasuke!" Ino says because she wants Sakura to stop talking to Sasuke and laughing at Naruto's antics. She wants the Sakura that hung onto her every word and hid behind a thin shield of self-protection from her self-esteem.

She wants the Sakura she used to know.

"He's mine already, Ino-pig!" Sakura shoots back as she glances at Sasuke, waiting for his reaction and shrugging when he looks away with a slight tint to his otherwise pale skin. Sakura starts yelling at Naruto again for accidentally chopping off one of her locks of hair in training and Ino wants to get rid of the block of stone that lodges in her throat, not allowing her to speak.

Ino runs to her team that is nothing like Sakura's, and perhaps running is all that Ino has ever known because Ino is a coward

(Sakura doesn't need her anymore)

"Ino, you troublesome girl, what are you doing?" Shikamaru grits his teeth as he avoids the kunai Ino throws with unnerving accuracy, trying to maneuver his shadow so that it traps her throwing arm to no avail; the dance-like movements Ino escapes in making his shadow twisted and ineffective.

"Ino!" Asuma-sensei says, fists tightened as Ino lungs forward at Shikamaru, explosion tag in her hand and killing intent radiating off her body, "Ino, stop!"

"Shikamaru!" Chōji cries as he rushes forward, and it is never Ino that he will say because he loves Shikamaru much more then he will ever love Ino.

"Why did you stop the match?" Ino rips her arm out of Asuma-sensei's grip, stalking angrily to the corner of the clearing, "I could have won!"

"It was a friendly match," Asuma-sensei corrects her, "you were trying to kill Shikamaru." Shikamaru lies on the ground, Chōji splashing water on Shikamaru's burnt throat.

"You said use whatever tools we had on hand." Ino digs her fingers into the dirt and finds a squashed alstroemeria flower buried, it's bright colors dulled.

(just like every friendship Ino's ever had)

"It's fine, Asuma-sensei." Shikamaru says as he gets up, hand on his neck as he stares at Ino's form, "we should do something else, like learn about how Ino-Shika-Cho originally came to be."

"You of all people want to learn? Shikamaru, did Ino make that brain of yours melt?" Shikamaru scowls as he hobbles over to sit beside Ino, Chōji on Ino's other side with his brown eyes fixed upon Ino's curled up body.

"Come on, Asuma-sensei. You're not going to turn into Kakashi, are you? The jōnin sensei that's always late, according to Naruto." Asuma sighs, cigarette extinguished as he grinds the remains with his boots.

"Fine." Asuma tilts his head as Ino's eyes stay shut, "did you know that your names have to start with Ino for the Yamanaka, Shika for the Nara and Cho for the Akimichi?"

"Really? I never knew!" Chōji asks, hand under his chin as he thinks about his father and grandfather, all whose names start by Cho.

"Yeah, for the team." Shikamaru nods, coal-black eyes sharp and awake for once, "you, Ino?"

"... why?" Ino mumbles, "why?"

"Why? For the team name  Ino-Shika-Cho," Asuma-sensei remarks, "Shikamaru just"

"No. Why? So you mean... even my name isn't mine," Ino lifts her head up and weary midnight eyes stare out at the people that are not Sakura.

"... Ino... why would you..." Asuma-sensei hesitates before putting a hand on her back, brown eyes pained, "you are your own person." Shikamaru and Chōji nod, the former with his hands pressed onto the ground, fingernails ripping the dirt into shreds, the latter with his bitten lip and heaving shoulders.

"No, I'm not!" Ino explodes as she lashes out, "Shikamaru has the 'Shika' in his name but the 'maru' belongs to him! Chōji has the 'ji,' but I don't have anything! My name is Ino and it doesn't even belong to me! It's just a symbol even my name... everything is planned out for me! My life, who I am, my team!" 

"So what? Ino, your name might be history but you can make it your own. Your life might have been planned out for you you know that's the same for us as well, but at least you get to live it. Your team... do you hate us?" Chōji clasps Ino's hand and Ino shudders, her breathing slowing down as she starts shaking.

"I'm sorry that's not what I meant... I..."

"You saw Sakura, didn't you?" Shikamaru says and his eyes are a volley of shuriken that pierce every wall that Ino has ever put up, one after the other, "her team, the way they... they get along."

Asuma says nothing because he can't help this is something that his team needs to work out by themselves. He won't can't — be here forever to help them, no matter how much he might wish to and so this is the only thing that he can offer to them. 

Their bond as a team.

"It isn't... we're expected to work together perfectly, you know? Because we're Ino-Shika-Cho, the new generation of many, many generations past. We're supposed to all be best friends and take up our father's mantles as commanders, and I don't — I can't do that! Shikamaru... you and Chōji are best friends and I'm always standing by the side! And Sakura, she doesn't care..." 

Ino places her head in her hands, blood oozing out of her cuts and matted hair trailing down from a tired girl it's only then does Shikamaru realize that he's never seen her truly defeated before. In his mind, Ino never gives up and — Shikamaru used to say to Chōji that her determination wasn't human. 

(but now, when he finally sees her giving up, Shikamaru wonders how he could have missed that Yamanaka Ino was just the mask of a broken girl trying to cling onto life)

"We'll eat more at Yahiko-Q, okay?" Chōji turns around and rummages in his satchel, taking out a slice of custard pudding and offering it to Ino, who shakes her head, "and, and Shikamaru can play shōgi with you!"

"I-if we eat more at Yahiko-Q, Asuma-sensei isn't going to have any money left to treat Kurenai-san, and y-you're going to be really f-fat, Chōji. A-and Shikamaru's going to destroy the shōgi set because I can play better then he c-can."

Even though Ino says the word Chōji hates the most, he smiles softly and takes Ino's small, small form in his arms and makes her mumble a few words about his overweight-ness before she relaxes, brilliant blue eyes shutting as she lets herself sleep.

"We're going to take care of her, okay?" Chōji says fiercely, brown eyes narrowed as he adjusts his sitting on the rough forest ground.

"She's so troublesome," Shikamaru says, looking at how thin Ino is, the way she shivers in her sleep and the purple veins that are stark clear on her wrists. She's too thin, Shikamaru thinks, frowning as he realizes this, and... it's hard to believe that she's so fragile, Yamanaka Ino.

(he's startled to think that he's concerned for her but then again, Ino is his, his teammate and his friend...

no matter how troublesome she might be)

"She's been tired recently." Asuma says and feels his heart tighten at the image of Ino who is only twelve, hands wrapped around Chōji's arm and curled on his lap. Sometimes he forgets just how tiny Ino is, because she is so young and already so good at putting up a mask.

(he doesn't know how he can bear throwing her to the wolves)

And they are still not Sakura, and will still never be Sakura, but maybe they can be something more.


────── ⋆⋅☆⋅⋆ ──────


"Otou-san," Ino watches her father walk away, back hunched as he opens the door and nothing like the proud, regal man whom all the shinobi of the village respect.

"Is something wrong, hana?" The lines on his face make him seem older then he really is and Ino feels her nails cut into the palm of her hands as she wonders how long it's been since they have talked. 

The days have drifted past like the water that comes dripping down outside the house, uncountable and infinite.

"For my birthday... the Yamanaka do it our way." When she becomes a genin, Ino learns that torture is a tradition and that all Yamanaka clan heirs have to uphold the tradition. 

(it's always about the clan, about Konoha.

but what about them?)

"...yes..." Inoichi says, a smile pasted on his face as he rests his hand on the doorknob. 

(he's always gone, these days)

"Why is it only the Yamanaka?" Ino asks and her father's face freezes, the harsh set of his jaw in the dull light of dawn making Ino take a step back.

(she loves him but she knows as well as he does that sometimes

love just isn't enough)

"Have you ever watched them?" Her father says and he takes a stuttering step forward, the look on his face imploring, "watched Shikamaru and Chōji?"

"In training?" Ino flinches at the sadness swimming in her father's eyes and she thinks bitterly that this is what they have become. A daughter and her father that are afraid to love each other.

What happened to hands clutching each other and promises that they'd be there forever?

They can never go back and that is why Ino tries not to love him anymore because she once thought that he loved her more then Konoha but she was so very wrong.

(she still loves him. because he is her father and every beat of her heart lives because of him)

"No... spend time with them. You'll see, hanaIno." Inoichi slams his heart shut as he turns away from his daughter the daughter that he swore to protect and cherish forever and forever.

(he's broken so many promises.... what's one more?)

As he leaves, he knows that each step he takes away from Ino's half-hoping form makes his heart tear and maybe her mother had the right idea after all, because he can't take this much longer. 

(he wants to love Ino but he loves himself more)

"Otou-san" Ino stares at a door swinging shut and a fading shadow, wondering where her father went. Wondering where she went wrong. Wondering where she had failed her father.

(wondering where her childhood went)

At training, she asks Shikamaru if she can play shōgi with him that afternoon, since her father is busy. He raises an eyebrow but makes no protests, leading her to his house after he says goodbye to Chōji. 

(she sees Sakura everywhere and it makes her head hurt and eyes blur

and there's an alstroemeria flower growing in her room)

"Do you even know how to play?" Shikamaru flips a piece off the shōgi board and sighs as he sees Ino's shake of the head, "fine, here's how. But I'm not going to repeat myself, you troublesome girl."

"Shikamaru! I'm not troublesome!" Ino sticks her tongue out as she folds her legs, sitting on the tatami mat and sipping tea that Yoshino had brought in. Shikamaru had complained, saying that he didn't even like tea and who cared about what Ino wanted? But Yoshino profusely getting angrier and angrier every second until she dragged him off to his room made Ino stare at the soldiers awaiting on a battlefield, trying to ignore the way her heart throbbed.

(after all this time, she still wishes that her okaa-san would come back)

"Like this, see?" Ino nods as she keeps up with Shikamaru's explanation, beginning to grasp the way shōgi was played, "you start."

"This?" Shikamaru grins as she places her first piece correctly and a warm feeling blooms from within Ino's chest. 

(it feels like the way she felt when Sakura smiled when Ino made her a flower braid, nimble fingers deftly tracing roses into Sakura's hair)

As they play, Ino thinks about what her father said. 

Watch. Watch, Ino. 

And so she does. She watches Shikamaru play, fingers pushed together as he glances at her previous move, a click of his tongue making her narrow her eyes. She watches him sentence his soldiers to death and when he is checkmating her king, he smiles.

"Not bad for a first game." Shikamaru says and sweeps the pieces off to start again. Dazedly, Ino begins again, watching Shikamaru play, decisions whirling through his head as he sacrifices pieces to win and she nearly slams a hand down when he checkmates her again, victorious smile  making Ino want to scream.

"Again?" She nods and plays as best as she can, but not even giving Shikamaru the slightest bit of trouble as he moves to checkmate.

"Shikamaru!" Yoshino shouts from the kitchen, "hurry up and get Ino a plate of pudding!" Shikamaru rolls his eyes as he gets up, stretching his arms as he walks slowly to the kitchen.

Ino thinks about how easily Shikamaru sacrifices his soldiers, his pieces his shinobi. She thinks about how he smiles when he wins a match a war. She thinks about a boy with cunning eyes and a mind rivaling Kages a leader.

(the Nara clan raises puppeteers that will dangle the world's strings from their hands, manipulating the shadows from their thrones)

The next day, she asks for Chōji to take her butterfly watching. She brings chips and watches Chōji point out all the different parts of a butterfly. They're blue with green spots and they flutter around, landing everywhere on Chōji's arms.

(they can sense kindness, Ino thinks

it's probably why there are none on her)

"Hey, Chōji, how do you know so much about them anyway?" Ino says and Chōji shrugs, motioning for her to pass him the bag of chips.

"Well, when I was little, seven or so," he says between munches, "otou-san took me to practice my partial-expansion jutsu." 

"Really?" Ino swallows, throat dry as she gulps down a bottle of water, "when you were seven?" 

(she was seven too)

"Yeah, he practiced with me for ages. And then, he took me to this very clearing and said that in order to make sure that I had mastered it, I would have to take a butterfly by its wings with my jutsu without damaging it." Chōji sighs, face forlorn as he carries on speaking, chip bag dropped to the ground, "he didn't let me leave 'till I managed it though."

"... oh." Ino murmurs, face going pale as she listens if the wings of a butterfly are clipped, they will die because they are unable to fly. It takes extreme precision for someone to take them by the wings...

(how many had he killed?)

"Yeah, but otou-san said that he'd help them get better with medical ninjutsu, so the ones that had their wings accidentally bended otou-san fixed, after I got home." Chōji grins as another butterfly lands on his hair, laughing as one tickles him on the arm.

"Y-you didn't see him use medical ninjutsu?" Ino clenches her hands and turns her head, stomach swirling and head pounding.

"No, but otou-san's never broken a promise before, so." Crumpling the fallen chip bag into a small ball, Chōji rolls it on the ground, lying on his back as the butterflies fly onto his face.

Ino stares at the flying butterflies and imagines ones with their wings torn out from their backs, a sliver of themselves remaining as they die, slowly and painfully, losing the ability to soar.

(losing the ability to be free)

Scraping her knees as she sits down, she starts laughing. Ino laughs and laughs because nothing makes sense anymore, with Chōji turning towards her and asking her what's so funny. 

Akimichi are kind and the joke is on her.

(such loyal shinobi comes out of the Akimichi, and really

the Akimichi are the cruelest of all)

(and she needs Sakura, Sakura who isn't part of a clan that drenches their hands in lies and blood and war. 

Sakura, who doesn't understand who truly Ino is.

Team Ten isn't Sakura but  — they know Ino as well as themselves.

and maybe it's time to let go)


────── ⋆⋅☆⋅⋆ ──────


"Ino!" Shikamaru gapes at the flower crown that adorns his head and spins towards Ino, "why can't I get it off?"

"You were late again, Shikamaru! I said that I'd do this and you never listened!" Ino dances around the question smoothly, brightening up as Chōji arrives, bag of chips dropped to the floor as he stares, gob-smacked at Shikamaru who has alstroemeria flowers on top of his head.

"How did you" Chōji's jaw is hanging as he looks at Ino, then back at Shikamaru who's trying to take the flower crown off his head.

(Sakura used to do that too, saying that she didn't deserve such a beautiful crown)

"Sak-Shikamaru, didn't I tell you?" Ino slips and Shikamaru's eyes immediately zero in on her mistake, hands stilling as he walks closer. 

"This has been happening for three weeks by now." He states and Ino feels red climbing her tendrils of skin and wrapping themselves around her neck.

"It's not what I meant... I don't..." Ino stops as Shikamaru takes her hand with a flustered look, an alstroemeria clutched in his hand as he offers it to her.

"Ino," he says, and Ino pushes him away before Shikamaru locks their hands together.

"Shikamaru, stop!" Ino grabs at her hand, trying to tug it away, blue eyes watery as she tries turning away.

"Ino," Shikamaru clutches her hand tighter and Ino struggles futilely, his grip a chain on her heart.

"D-don't, Shikamaru, please!" Ino pleads and tries to cover her ears, Shikamaru taking her other hand and making her face him, his eyes flinty and he he's tired too.

 Ino's eyes dart to where Chōji is standing and she mouths for him to help, but Chōji's brown eyes are sorrowful and uncertain as he looks at Ino. He stands in his place rigidly, eyes inclining towards Shikamaru who shakes his head, Chōji's hands extended in a mock effort to help.

"Shikamaru"

"Ino," Shikamaru says gently, "we're not Sakura."


────── ⋆⋅☆⋅⋆ ──────


Ino dangles her legs off a tree, back scraping the bark as she watches rain come pouring down.

(Ino, we're not Sakura)

"Stupid, stupid Shikamaru," Ino says, drinking in raindrops that splatter against her bandages, "of course I know that!" She feels the dirt crunch under her grip and she releases her hold on the branch, rain twirling in patterns that Sakura and Ino once danced in too.

(Ino, we're not Sakura)

"They're not Sakura..." Ino feels her clothes drag her down as she slumps on the gritty surface of the tree, "they're not Sakura."

(Ino, we're not Sakura)

"Sakura's left," Ino laughs as she proclaims what she would have once never dared to say aloud, "Sakura's left me for her true friends." And the admittance that Sakura is never coming back, pink-hair bowed and arms full of alstroemeria flowers with tumbling words of apology, makes something inside Ino snap.

(Ino, we're not Sakura)

Sakura is the memory of her childhood Sakura is her childhood, ravens cawing as they stayed in Ino's garden until late at night, torches shining as they told stories, sleeping in a field of flowers that meant friendship and love and forgiveness, the stars lighting Sakura's cheeks up as she told Ino that she wanted to be a great kunoichi.

(Sakura deserves someone that sees her for who she is rather then who she was... and Ino

Ino cannot give her that)

"She's gone." Ino inhales shakily, a scream ripping from her throat as she tears her mind about thinking about it, "she's really gone." 

Ino has lived with the belief that Sakura would come back to her some day for so long that it feels as if some part of Ino is missing as she digs her nails deeper and deeper in her skin, whole body dripping with regret and denial and acceptance, the rain limping off her porcelain skin with backward glances, fingertips softly tracing over Ino's body.

Ino scrubs at her eyes, dirt smudged on her face and thunder rumbling, rain looping through the sky like dragons and she she still wants to hope, but Sakura... Sakura isn't coming back and it's time that Ino stop living in dreams.

"Yamanaka?" Her hands shake at the familiar voice, head raising and she sees Uchiha Sasuke looking at her with mystified eyes, "it's raining."

"Of course it's raining! Do you think I can't tell that I'm soaked?" Ino snaps back, because Sasuke is part of Sakura's family now and Ino has always claimed that spot for herself, always believing that Sakura only ever needed Ino.

(she never wanted Sakura to be on his squad and that is why she requested to change squads with Iruka-sensei. she knows full well how clans in Konoha work and the Uchiha are not an exception Ino never wanted Sakura to be involved in clan politics because Sasuke is the head of the Uchiha Clan and he is a valuable asset.

Sakura... isn't)

"You..." Sasuke blinks at the girl in front of him, clothes in tatters and hair damp and he can't see any bit of the girl that used to leave him flowers on his desk with notes that said 'have a good day.'

"Go away." Ino jumps off the branch and turns away from Uchiha Sasuke there are no tomatoes left on windowsills this time because Ino isn't the same person anymore.

(she isn't a person that is willing to get her heart crushed over and over again she's tired of helping others because...

 she needs to be saved too) 

"Aren't you supposed to..." Sasuke looks at the girl that he used to despise because she had never known what true pain felt like, hadn't seen the way the throat bled crimson and stained the floor with a shuriken through the shoulder and broken promises but he looks at her now and wonders how he ever could have missed the shattered look in her eyes.

"... Sakura mentions you sometimes," Ino stiffens and Sasuke moves closer, dark hair dripping with water as he stares down at the blonde girl, so full of cracks and holes and he thinks that maybe, this once, he'll be the hero.

(because he will never be the hero again)

"She misses you, Yamanaka. She talks about it every day and it makes my head hurt. So hurry up and stop her." Sasuke says curtly, shunshin'ing away from Ino and he sees her crumple to the ground, face in her hands as her shoulders shake.

(they never speak about it again, but sometimes when they both stop by the tomato stand, he sees Ino smile at him and he'd never admit it but it makes him happy, to know that he made a friendship bloom back to life.

he just wishes that someone could have done that for his aniki and him)


────── ⋆⋅☆⋅⋆ ──────


They are standing by the bridge and Sakura looks towards Ino, biting down on her lip because Ino was once her best friend... but she is looking at a stranger.

"Hey, Sakura?" Ino puts a hand on her arm and Sakura grips the railing,"you know... I'm sorry." 

"Sorry? What for?" Sakura asks because if anything, Sakura should be the one thanking Ino. Ino has done everything for Sakura, even giving up on passing the Chunin Exams and — Sakura has never been worth anything that Ino has done.

(Sakura knows how ruthless Ino can be and Ino smiled when Sakura sent her flying back to the wall)

"Well, I've never..." Ino trails off, and Sakura, seeing that Ino doesn't know what to say , is suddenly struck by a realization that Ino is human too.

Ino is the definition of perfect, in Sakura's mind and it's jarring for her to think of Ino anything but such. Ino is her role model, the person that she has always aspired to be like, and it feels like cold water has been poured on Sakura's face when she realizes that Ino makes mistakes too.

Because Ino doesn't always know what to say, and maybe she needs Sakura, just like how Sakura needs Ino.

(maybe Sakura was wrong for letting go of her friendship because she didn't feel as if she deserved Ino)

"It's just that I've always taken you for granted," Ino says, blue eyes clear as the sky as she looks at Sakura, "and... I've kept on living in the past."

"W-what?" Sakura stares at Ino with a perplexed expression and Ino laughs, a true, tinkling Ino-laugh and she takes her hands from behind her back, revealing a flower crown made up of alstroemeria flowers.

"Here!" Ino says as she fastens the flower crown on Sakura's bewildered self, "you're so pretty with this on!"

"I-Ino?"

"Yeah?"

"Can we be friends forever, from now on?"

"Silly, we already are!"


━━━━━━ ◦ ❖ ◦ ━━━━━━

[A/N]: PFT. the writing has probably dropped several levels in quality and everyone is ooc in this.  I'm so sorry... but, thank you to DashofYouTube that managed to salvage shikamaru & chōji's characters, at least. alstroemeria flower mean friendship and also this chapter is 6.1K... okay, im terrified of the next chapter's length then. 

this chapter sucks, I'm pretty sure and I'm so glad if you actually made it past all that... <3 

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