A/N: I'm back! Again. You guys must be getting tired of my long and frequent hiatuses. But if you're still here rocking with me then I appreciate you full-heartedly. I think I finally found a way to help me continue posting content on this site consistently, and more details of it can be found on my profile. But without further adieu, I hope you all enjoy the chapter, and keep being awesome. You rock. You really do.
Ino Yamanaka strode out of the front entrance of the Hokage tower and sighed upon seeing that she didn't make it twenty feet out of the door without someone chasing after her.
"Ino, wait up!" Naruto called. Ino rolled her eyes and didn't break her stride. He would be the one to do it, "Hey, I know you hear me!"
"Leave me alone, Naruto." Said Ino, picking up her pace, "Can't you see I'm not exactly in the mood to talk?"
Ino was forced to stop moving when Naruto landed directly in front of her path from out of the air above her. She sent him a glare and crossed her arms.
"I will once we talk."
Ino shook her head and attempted to walk around him, only for Naruto to block her by mirroring her steps. Ino's leer intensified.
"Naruto, move." Ino stated, about one hair away from opening the lid to her compressed rage, "I don't want to have to say it again."
"Or else what? You'll hurt me?" Naruto challenged, crossing his own arms. Ino grit her teeth. Now she was getting mad. Why was this fool being so damn insistent on getting in her way? Why would he care so much? It was not only starting to annoy her; it was pissing her off.
"Yes." She warned, "Whether or not it'll happen depends on you. I'm telling you and warning you as your superior in rank that I'm allowed to use force if I feel that I'm being harassed."
Naruto shook his head. What a low blow to call him out on his rank, "That's funny. Last time I checked, you aren't really a Chuunin unless you have this."
Ino leered at the headband in his hand. Moving her eyes back on the stubborn boy in front of her, Ino slapped the headband out of his hand, not even giving it so much of a glance as it dropped onto the sandy terrain a few meters away.
"You're being a real pest, you know that?" Ino grunted, "This is truly the last time I'm gonna say it, Naruto. Move. After this, I'm done talking."
Naruto said nothing and stood his ground. His blue eyes were staring directly into hers and they stood there in a complete stand-still for what seemed like eons.
"Okay. Have it your way." Ino stated before launching her fist at Naruto's jaw. Naruto caught the punch, and Ino growled as she fought against his strength. She sent another punch his way, and that one was caught as well. With Naruto having both of Ino's fists locked into place, he continued staring deep into her eyes, which was now filled with anger.
"Are you really this willing to assault me just because I want to talk to you?" Asked Naruto.
"Are you really this willing to be so adamant about talking to me to make me have to?!" She shot back. She then lifted both her feet off the ground and pressed them against Naruto's chest. She used her lower body strength to launch herself backward and free herself from his hold. Naruto staggered back a bit, but stood back up straight to glare at the woman who flipped and landed about fifteen feet in front of him.
"I'm leaving, Naruto. Do yourself a favor and stop wasting your time trying to talk to someone who isn't even a friend of yours."
Despite how deep her words tried to cut him, he took a deep breath and made a snap decision.
"Sakura... may still be around."
Ino was about two seconds away from using a shunshin. Naruto's words halted her in place, as she looked at Naruto meticulously.
Naruto looked her in her eyes, "Sakura may still be around. I was on that mission with her, and I know what really happened." He paused for a second, feeling guilty for roping her in like this. He deemed it necessary and walked over to her so that they were within murmuring distance, "Not even the Hokage knows the truth behind what happened."
Ino looked at her fellow blond analytically while she tried to mentally figure out what to do with this information.
"What do you mean by that?" Ino inquired, "Are you saying that Sakura didn't get killed by Orochimaru?"
"Then what happened to her?!" She demanded. Naruto motioned for her to keep her voice down, "You better not be bullshitting me, Naruto. If you're trying to plan some sick joke—"
"I'm serious." Naruto stated, crossing her arms and looking into her eyes, "I'll tell you everything. My only condition is that you let me talk to you about some things first."
Ino felt conflicted. On one hand, this could just be some false tactic to try and get his foot in the door to convince her not to quit as a kunoichi. If the Hokage couldn't do that, then why would he think he had that capability? Why did he even care? Ino had worked with him on a few occasions throughout their shinobi career, but there was no real inkling for him to believe they were friends, in her mind. Definitely not even close enough for him to care as to whether she wants to be a kunoichi or not.
However, on the other hand... why would Naruto lie? It is true that it could all be a façade for him to talk to her, but she couldn't detect any suspicious body language from him. He sounded and looked as though he was telling the truth. Considering her training with her father in the Torture and Interrogation organization of the village, she picked up on a few fail-proof ways to tell if someone is telling a lie while talking that are deeper than simply noting their eye contact. Naruto looked her in the eyes the whole time he talked and did not display even one of these lesser-known tells. If he is telling the truth, just what did he know that not even the Hokage knows about?
"Alright, I'll bite." Ino said, crossing her arms, "However, if you want a chance to talk to me about whatever it is you want to talk about, I have a condition myself. If it turns out that you're feeding me lies, I want permission to take my frustrations out on you. I—"
"Deal." Naruto agreed. Ino didn't expect this.
"A-Alright." She hesitated, "Let's go to the flower shop, then. We can talk there."
Naruto followed Ino down the roads of Konoha to her family-owned flower shop in silence. As she opened the door to the closed shop, she decided to give him one more warning.
"This is your last chance to back out now." She said, "If you lie after this point, I-"
"Yeah, yeah. You'll hurt me. Your threats don't scare me, Ino." Naruto interrupted passively. He was getting quite tired of the animosity. He understood she was angry, but he refused to let her scare him off. Either she was going to get in there and talk with him humanely, or there was going to be a fight. Her two punches were something he saw coming, but he knew it'd been a few years since he had seen her in action, and considering what Sakura learned from Tsunade in a little less than three years... maybe he should be at least a little apprehensive.
Ino sneered and opened the door. Naruto followed her inside and crossed his arms once Ino closed it.
"So I just wanted to say that-"
"I'm not changing my decision. Please know this before you go into some long speech like Tsunade-sama did." Ino interrupted, holding up her hand, "Whatever it is you want to talk about, just know that you won't be able to change my mind."
Of course, Naruto didn't believe that. He nevertheless nodded to show his understanding in order to at least earn him the gratitude of being heard out, "Okay, Ino. I would just like to know why, if that's okay. Why throw away the career that you've worked so hard on?"
Ino really didn't want to answer that question but knew that she had to honor her word, "If you're really that insistent on knowing, it's because after I heard about Sakura's death, and then later seeing my sensei die in my arms, I realized something... Being a kunoichi is too dangerous for me."
Naruto said nothing during Ino's pause, allowing her to elaborate, "I want to grow up, get married, have many kids, and start a family of my own someday. These are dreams of mine where every time I think about them, they put a smile on my face. So how can I expect to do that if I'm a kunoichi who risks her life on missions every day? How can I expect to live past twenty if I can die on a mission next week? How can I expect to live a peaceful life when death surrounds not only me, but my loved ones?" She looked Naruto in his eyes, her voice growing in volume with every word she spoke, "If you have an answer for me, Naruto, please enlighten me."
Naruto took a deep breath. Believe it or not, she had more valid points than he expected, "To be honest with you, Ino, I don't really have an answer to any of those questions."
"Then why are we even here right now?" She almost demanded, "Why are we having this conversation?"
"Because you're being unreasonable." He said simply. Ino's eyebrows lowered closer to her eyes, seemingly offended at that response.
"I'm being unreasonable?!" She exclaimed, pointing at herself, "I'm not the one disturbing someone's peace right now! I'm not the one trying to influence someone else's decisions for themselves! All I'm doing is trying to do what's best for me. You, on the other hand, seem to have this unreasonable thought process of thinking that I'm not supposed to be abandoning my shinobi career when you have absolutely NO idea what's meant for me. You don't even know me!"
Naruto simply stood there, taking in Ino's words with almost no type of external reaction, "I know that you're Sakura's best friend. And I know that she wouldn't want you to quit, either. Not like this."
The purple-wearing blonde woman scoffed, "Oh, so you're a mind-reader now? If you're secretly a member of my clan then we should be having a whole other discussion."
Naruto shook his head, "I'm no mind reader. And I'm no Yamanaka. But I'm a very close friend of Sakura's, too. I know that she has the Will of Fire in her, and I know that she would rather die for her village than to revoke her opportunity of being of service to one of the greatest nations to exist in the world."
Ino rubbed her forehead, seemingly trying hard to not get overly frustrated with this conversation, "You know, the Hokage told me something similar and it's only confirming that we'll be talking in circles at this point. Maybe I just don't have that Will of Fire everyone boasts so much about in this village. Maybe I just want to live a happy and long life without worrying about people wanting to kill me every time I step out beyond these gates. Did you ever think about that?"
"No, I didn't." Naruto said honestly, "And I didn't because I know that it isn't true. You do have the Will of Fire in you, Ino. Everyone in Konoha does. I think you're just scared."
Ino audibly groaned. She was tempted to just say 'screw it' and walk out, "Obviously I'm scared, Naruto. That's my whole point here. I'm scared of dying before I can make my dreams come true. I'm scared that I'll be next, and will be sent to the afterlife right after my sensei and best friend who I almost consider a sister. That terrifies me, Naruto, and that's the main reason I don't want to do this shit anymore!"
The young flower girl stepped forward upon exclaiming her last sentence, but Naruto stood his ground. There was a pregnant pause between the pair as they continued their stare-off, communicating strictly with their emotions. Ino was fired up, and Naruto was as stubborn as a mule.
"So you're just going to quit, huh? Like some sort of coward?" Naruto asked, holding onto his demeanor. Ino's immediate response was non-verbal, as she quickly threw her knuckles into the side of Naruto's cheek. The Uzumaki hadn't seen it coming this time, and she hit him hard enough to make him take a couple of steps back. He even had to make sure none of his teeth had cracked.
After ensuring that the punch did no real damage, Naruto slowly looked back at the tense woman, who was now starting to breathe heavy with rage.
Instead of getting angry with her, Naruto lightly chuckled, "Heh, so you're brave enough to punch a comrade in the face, but not brave enough to serve your village? Maybe you really should quit."
"Fuck you, Naruto." She spat at his tone, "You don't know a damn thing. You don't have any family, any friends... You don't know what it's like to have other plans for your life because all you know is being an annoying mediocre shinobi with a huge mouth. Just because you want to dedicate your life to going out screwing up missions and getting your ass kicked by enemies doesn't mean you should influence others to do the same."
"Is that what you think being a shinobi is all about?"
"That's what I think your life as a shinobi is about." She responded, "Sakura told me about all the times you screwed up missions, almost got yourself killed, hindered your team's success, or any combination of the three. Not to mention how you let Sasuke escape from the village, to top it all off. You're a complete and total screw up, Naruto. I can understand why Tsunade-sama, the leader of this village who also trained me these past few years, wouldn't want me to quit. But you? A shinobi who's failed for most of his life? If it wasn't for Iruka feeling bad for you all those years ago, you wouldn't have even made the cut to become a shinobi in the first place. I've been a witness to you dragging on behind the rest of us for years, constantly failing, being annoying, and just simply being the worst. And you think you have the right to question my actions as a kunoichi? I know I'm not cut out to be a shinobi anymore, but at least I made it to be a Chuunin like the rest of our graduating class, something you obviously haven't done. So please, Naruto, spare me from your bullshit. Things don't always revolve around the way you want to see them."
By this point, anyone witnessing this heated discussion would agree that Naruto had every right to be angry. Ino's words were as sharp as razor blades. They cut him, but he still remained unfazed. He knew that she was just trying to get him to back off more than anything.
"Does it make you feel good to be this hurtful?" He asked. Ino had to admit that she was hit with a small amount of guilt.
"Okay, maybe some of that was a bit uncalled for... But you're pissing me the hell off, Naruto. Can we just be finished with this talk so you can tell me what happened to Sakura? I held up my end of the bargain."
Figuring that any further discussion on the topic would simply make the blue-eyed woman more hostile than she already was, he decided that he'll leave the topic alone... for now.
"Fine. Let me just ask you one more question, okay?" Naruto requested. Ino took a deep inhale to calm herself before nodding, "If Sakura was still alive, would you change your mind about quitting?"
Ino stood there, letting his question marinate. She didn't really care for giving Naruto an answer to that question, as she was more interested in figuring out how that question applies to what actually happened to her best friend. She dissected all of the information Naruto gave her from the moment he called to her up to now and ultimately decided to answer his question with another question.
"Naruto... does what happened to Sakura have something to do with you?"
The Jinchuuriki was unable to hide his shock at such a question. Ino picked up on his body language and continued studying him as he tried to come up with an answer.
"I-I'll tell you what happened to her after you-"
"What did you do to her?!" Ino demanded, tired of answering his questions. Now it was her turn to get some answers.
Due to Naruto's hesitance to lie, his body became a bit tense, and he started avoiding eye contact. truth be told, he'd experienced nightmares of scenarios similar to this. This only confirmed that Naruto was involved in whatever happened on that mission. He clearly wasn't just a witness.
"I... I didn't do anything." He stated, using the Kyuubi as a scapegoat in his mind to coax himself into believing that it was the truth, "Sakura is my comrade. I would never hurt her."
Ino squinted her eyes. She didn't believe him.
Holding out her hands towards him, directly in front of his face, with her index finger, middle finger, and thumb on both hands pressing together to form an oval shape, she called out the name of a jutsu that reminded Naruto why the Yamanaka Clan was such a gifted group of shinobi.
"Shintenshin no Jutsu!"
Before Naruto could do much of anything, both he and Ino's bodies soon fell down to their knees, completely unconscious.
Due to the number of times Ino had performed this jutsu, it didn't take her long to discover the root of Naruto's subconsciousness. Usually, when performing the technique, she would be surrounded by darkness that felt like a void but would have access to her subject's thoughts and memories, even repressed ones. She would normally be able to comb through them as if she were in a library and go more in-depth to view and experience these memories to obtain whatever information she may need. This was the other half of the Shinrashin no Jutsu, compared to it's other ability to take over her target's mind and control them physically.
However... that wasn't the case this time. As soon as she arrived into Naruto's subconsciousness, she could instantly feel something was off. She could feel what she could only describe as evil. There was sinister chakra somewhere near her, and the feeling of it made her so uneasy, she wondered if Naruto was simply an evil being himself. However, this chakra felt nothing like Naruto's. It didn't even feel human.
Suddenly, Ino could feel herself standing ankle-deep in what she assumed was water. Visibility increased once the torches along the walls of whatever room she was in had ignited, revealing a very large cell with iron bars in front of her. She couldn't see anything amidst the darkness in the cell... until she found herself staring at a pair of illuminated red eyes. They stared back at her with a look that instantly increased her anxiety, leaving her frozen in place. Just what the hell was this place?!
"Ahaha... what good fortune. A Yamanaka, appearing right at my front door."
Ino was bug-eyed. That voice sounded nothing like Naruto's. Before she could even muster up a valid response, the water inside of the cell had started to bubble and shift into a sunset red color, spreading over into the section of water she was standing in. She wanted to run, but she couldn't. She closed her eyes and tried to eject out of the area, but she unable to do that as well. Once the bubbly substance reached her feet and ankles, her lower body began shaking. Chakra of such density and foulness instantly reacted with her body upon contact, and it didn't feel good.
"You will prove to be very useful for my plans, young one. This won't take very long."
As the Kyuubi's chakra crawled up higher and higher up her legs, she closed her eyes and tried everything she could to escape whatever was happening to her. She prayed that this was just a bad dream. But as the chakra had reached her stomach, it somehow seeped through into her body through her bellybutton and continued to slowly flow into her.
Ino could only stand there as it happened. What she thought would be a good idea to obtain information ended up turning into one of the worst experiences of her life.