Foxhound Chapter 2: Part 4
Ino stretched out on the couch in Naruto’s hospital room, idly reading a scroll she had picked up from her house earlier. It wasn’t very late in the day, still only around three or four, so she didn’t feel like going home yet. Gai had mentioned that Tsunade would drop by again early in the evening to do a check-up and Ino wanted to be present and ask the Legendary medic some questions. She glanced up at the clock, then to Naruto’s still form, and over to Kakashi silently snoozing in his chair. The only sound was the rustle of paper and the light beeping of the heart monitor.
‘Ahhhh…’ Ino thought, savoring the absence of the bowl-cuts. Lee had wanted to stay, but Kakashi had suggested that he go and alert the rest of their circle to Naruto’s present condition. The boy had taken that as a personal quest and rushed from the room in search of the assorted genin and chuunin. Some of them were probably on missions right now, so it would be awhile before he returned. Gai also had a mission (that he’d held up because he’d taken off when he heard the news) and he’d vacated soon after his prize student left. In the blessed silence that followed their absence, Kakashi had dozed off again. He did wake up long enough to thank Ino when she scrounged up another crutch for him, but he was out again before she even sat back down on the couch.
‘Chakra depletion is nothing to laugh at,’ The blonde thought. She really didn’t know, having never totally burned herself out of chakra. Then again, she was usually cautious about it since she lacked the large reserves that people like Naruto seemed to have in spades. Well, had. Who knew what long term damage had been done to him? Anyways, after seeing Kakashi’s exhaustion and the effects it had on him, Ino had been curious enough to dig up a couple of her old scrolls from her academy days. She had done well on the exams, but some of the basic knowledge had slipped over the years as an active genin. She figured refreshing her memory might help her find her niche. Her near fight earlier with her rival had rubbed at least one point in. She was weaker than everyone else and it was about damn time she did something about.
Ino envied Sakura and the other chuunins not only for their superior strength and rank, but also because each of them seemed to have something that felt right. Each had a certain style or a combination of abilities and knowledge that fit them perfectly. Sakura had her medical skills and a good talent in gen-jutsu, Neji had the Byakugan and all the Hyuuga techniques, Hinata also bore the Hyuuga Bloodline and had medical talent as well, Ten-ten had her weapons, that Shino guy could do all sorts of things with his bugs, hell her own teammate Shikamaru had his family’s jutsu and his powerful mind, and her other teammate Chouji had all of his family skills to work with.
Even among those still genin everyone had something that they did well and suited them. Kiba had his dual style of fighting with his dog, Lee knew more advanced tai-jutsu than nine out of ten jounins, and even the traitor Sasuke had the Sharingan. The only person who didn’t have a specialization besides Ino was Naruto. He didn’t excel in tai-jutsu or gen-jutsu, nor did he know many nin-jutsu (though what nin-jutsu he did know were very powerful.) Then again, that also seemed to suit him. Naruto held no specialization, so he played the wild card role very well. His main skill, the Kage Bunshin, granted him incredible adaptability and let him go anywhere he needed to in a fight. He had his niche. Ino still didn’t have hers.
Looking over her scroll and the generalized paths to take as a shinobi, Ino still couldn’t find something to suit her. Her family’s jutsu was only useful in conjunction with the Nara and Akimichi techniques. Not only did that limit her in a one-on-one fight or a solo mission, but she had never worked well with Shikamaru and Chouji to begin with. Even those two, despite being best friends, didn’t work seamlessly together. Part of the problem was that their team had been forced together by their parents, who had all been on the same team in their genin days. Though the InoShikaCho formation had worked exceptionally for them, it hadn’t served their children very well. So her family’s skill was a bust. Well…the Shintenshin was out, though there might be more that she’d yet to learn. Her father had an incredibly powerful jutsu that let him take over enemy minds from a distance, but he had yet to teach it to her, much to her annoyance. Whenever she asked, he always made up some excuse and changed the topic.
Still, there might be more that even he didn’t know.
Ino had a strange feeling there was far more to her family than just a couple abilities, but her father had never mentioned it nor had he demonstrated any other mental skill. Part of her curiosity was the strange, foreboding dreams she had occasionally. Though she hadn’t realized it at the time, the reason she had run to the hospital earlier this morning was the dream she’d had the night before. Both the wobbly feeling and the smell of blood had actually happened to her. Perhaps it was foresight of some sort. Or maybe not. She could have been seeing the events as they were happening. Naruto would have been attacked sometime while she was asleep after all. What if she could develop her family skill into a full-blown Bloodline Limit?
But what could Ino use it with? It’s all well and good to be able to brag you have a Bloodline, but unless you had other skills to back it up, the Limit would be useless. The Byakugan was just a built in telescope without the Hyuuga fighting style to back it. Hell, even the Sharingan couldn’t actually teach you how to fight, no matter how many skills you copied. So what could she merge with a potential psychic ability?
Well, using the Limit with nin-jutsu wouldn’t really be helpful unless you were countering your opponent. Tai-jutsu… Well, on the surface it didn’t seem like it would mesh well, but if you could somehow read your opponent’s mind and anticipate their next move, you could dominate an enemy, even if they were stronger than you. Although tai-jutsu wasn’t much good if your body lacked the talent for it. Ino ruefully looked at her thin arms and legs. What good was sensing your opponent’s next move if you couldn’t move fast enough to dodge it? Even if she was psychic, it wouldn’t do a thing against someone like Lee. That left either ninja tools or gen-jutsu. Ino was uncomfortable relying too heavily on a weapon or a tool of some sort. Kiba was an example of over-depending on a tool. He relied on the soldier pills to pull off his best maneuvers with Akimaru and that hadn’t gotten him far against Naruto or that Sound-nin he fought on the Sasuke recapture mission. So that left gen-jutsu.
Ino stared long and hard at the kanji for ‘gen’ on the scroll in front of her. Perhaps…Gen-jutsu was often overlooked by younger shinobi, but in the right hands it was deadly even to experienced jounins. Granted, that was usually only if someone was caught by the illusion. A psychic ability might be able to entrap an opponent with ease and make the illusion itself far more intense. It would also be a total bitch to break out of. Yes, that felt… right.
Ino stood and quietly walked to the cabinets on the far side of the room. It took a little while, but she managed to find a thin brush and an inkwell to use. The genin glanced at Kakashi, who apparently slept with both eyes covered. The jounin hadn’t even flinched when passed him. He slept like most ninja, deeply and quickly, but able to rouse themselves at a moment’s notice when a threat was detected. Her movements wouldn’t disturb him unless she was standing above him with a scalpel or something. Watching the dozing copy-nin, Ino’s resolve only increased. Remaining aware of the surrounding environment while sleeping was a little thing to a ninja of Kakashi’s caliber, but it was something Ino had yet to even brush. Even if he did have over a decade more experience than her, it was still a reminder that she wasn’t at the level she wanted or needed to be at.
Ino sat on the couch with her legs stretched out in front of her. She carefully propped the inkwell on the armrest next to her and spread the scroll out on her lap. She found a large blank space after the gen-jutsu section and dunked the brush in the ink. Carefully, she drew out a pentagon and added five lines that ran from each point to the center. She leaned back and blew on the ink to dry it. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a reasonable rendition of the cards that gray-haired guy with the glasses had shown them at their first chuunin exam. She frowned slightly. Come to think of it, she hadn’t seen him at any of the other exams, even though she knew he had failed again. Ino shrugged, brushing the thought off. It wasn’t her business if Four-Eyes quit being a ninja (she hadn’t even bothered to learn his name.)
Like Four-Eye’s cards, she put a careful kanji mark outside each point: nin, gen, tai, tool, and blood. First of course was the gen-jutsu specialty she wanted to develop. She shaded the gen point all the way. Even if she never became a gen-jutsu master, it was good to have a high goal to work towards. Naruto wanted to be Hokage, but even if he never did he could still end up as high as ANBU Commander or something (though she doubted Naruto would ever settle and he’d likely make life a complete and utter hell for whoever got the Hokage title over him.) Even if she never pulled it off, it would be good to at least train like she intended to be a master. Ino skipped over tools entirely, and marked about a quarter of the way up on tai and halfway up on nin. As far as she knew, even the best gen-jutsu couldn’t totally defeat an opponent, so she would need to have other skills to rely on. She’d never be able to compare even to the other genins of their group in those fields, but they were necessary skills to have if she wanted to survive in the shinobi world. Eyeing the diagram, her attention fell to the point marked ‘blood.’
Ino sighed and drew a small question mark there. Of course, all of this assumed that she even had a Bloodline Limit to awaken. Even if she did, the odds weren’t exactly in her favor that it would be what she wanted. Her weird dreams could be just that: weird dreams. They seemed real enough, but did she know for sure? They could just be a side-effect of the Shintenshin, like she’d originally thought. And of course, if she did have a Bloodline Limit and it was a useful psychic ability, she didn’t know any way of awakening it. It was unlikely that she’d just be walking along one day and have blaze to life in her head.
Ino set the brush and inkwell on the floor and leaned back further on the couch. What on earth could she do to awaken a Bloodline? If she was honest with herself, any Limit would be welcome, even if it wasn’t one she expected. Who could she ask? The Nara and Akimichi clans had family styles of fighting, but they weren’t Bloodlines, so she couldn’t ask Shikamaru and Chouji’s dads for help. Her own father was the same scenario and she wasn’t really close enough to him anyways. The Aburame clan had a Bloodline, but it was more like a permanent summoning contract than a Limit. The Hyuuga clan was a good choice, except none of the members had to actually awaken the Byakugan. They all had it, at least to a certain degree. Now the Uchiha clan might have been helpful as the Sharingan needed to be activated (she knew that much from her Sasuke fan-girl days), except the whole lot of them were either dead or traitors.
…But, speaking of the Sharingan…
Ino looked up at the snoozing Kakashi. She weighed the pros and cons of bothering him about this. Despite his lazy attitude, the copy-nin was a busy man normally. Their shared concern over Naruto was the only real connection they had to each other. Ino already had a sensei (even if he sucked at teaching) and Kakashi had other things to attend to. It really wasn’t her place to impose on the man. Although… As long as he was down with chakra depletion, he probably wouldn’t mind answering a few questions about Bloodlines. Maybe she could even weasel out how he got the Sharingan without being an Uchiha. Well, she’d save that for after he answered her questions, in case it was a sensitive subject (which it probably was considering he’d never told anyone about it.) For now the genin would let him sleep though. The man was exhausted after all and it would be pretty rude of her to wake him up (read: she didn’t want to piss him off and never get her questions answered.) Nah, she’d bug Kakashi about it later.
Setting her scroll to one side, Ino stood and stretched her back. Looking around the spacey room, the genin idly noted that Tsunade was doing something nice with Konoha’s medical program. The room was large, at least twenty by fifteen feet and was well stocked with the usual set of counters, cupboards, sink, and large bathroom (for a hospital anyways.) A large window ran the length of Naruto’s bed and he would have great view of the trees outside whenever he got around to waking up. Naruto’s actual bed was one of those fancy mechanical things that could raise, lower, and change shape with the push of a button. It was currently in a slightly raised position, so the boy looked like he was reclining. There was the couch she’d been sitting on (which she discovered was actually a small foldout bed when she dropped her scroll in between the cushions earlier) and also several light-weight, reclining chairs that looked cheap, but seemed to be pretty comfortable.
Kakashi’s steady slumber implied a moderate level of comfort, at least.
There were even a few tasteful modern lamps scattered about that could be used instead of the harsher fluorescent lights. All in all, pretty nice for an IC room. Although, she had yet to see a single nurse come in. Didn’t someone so heavily injured need to have constant supervision? The boy had nearly died about twelve hours ago. If she was on the nursing staff, she’d be pretty damn worried about his status.
A frown marred her pretty features as Ino walked to the side of Naruto’s bed closest to the window. Damn… What little she could see of his face was white as his hospital sheet. The boy was pale and sweaty, as though suffering a fever. Naruto’s face twitched slightly, a faint grimace of pain apparent even through his bandages. Without realizing what she was doing, Ino reached out and brushed at the tufts of hair that stuck out from the gauze strips. The texture surprised her as her fingers ran through the blonde mess. Fuzz-ball indeed. The golden blonde strands felt fuzzy and soft, yet had a subtle coarseness to them. It was oddly familiar, yet weird, like it shouldn’t be on a human.
What the heck did it remind her of?
A memory came to her, one of a young cat that she’d brought home once. The kitten’s fur had been soft and coarse at the same time, similar to Naruto’s, though his felt far less downy. Fur…Naruto’s hair felt like soft animal fur. How strange. The genin gently rubbed a tuft between her thumb and forefinger, liking the feel of it. Though, it did annoy her that a boy had better hair than hers naturally, when she used half a dozen products on her own lemon blonde locks at home. It suddenly occurred to Ino that she was standing over a near-stranger’s bed playing with his hair and anyone could walk in the door.
Or worse, Kakashi could wake up.
Ino withdrew her hand with a sigh. Not really wanting to sit back down, the genin settled for leaning against the plastic rail on the side of the bed. What the hell was she doing? Why was she even here?
‘I don’t even know you…’ The genin thought, staring at the unconscious boy’s face. ‘Why the hell do I even care? I made a fool of myself running around today, fought with my parents and my best friend, and had to deal with the creepy bowl-cut squad all because you decided to come back to town.’
The dream had spurred Ino into chasing after Naruto the first time. She’d waited three hours because she had to know if he’d live after seeing how terrible his injuries were. She could have left after leaving Kakashi here as his former-sensei/current-guard, but why didn’t she? Why did she get him flowers that she knew he would love? Why did she even come back at all?
Damn, that might be it. Sakura had managed to set that part of Ino’s personality off. It burned like hell to see the medic brush off a teammate like he was a mere acquaintance rather than a comrade that had always stood by her. Ino had her problems with Shikamaru and Chouji, but one thing they always did was stick with each other. They might not work well together and they might argue all the time, but they always cared about each other. Even when she thought Shikamaru was a useless bum and Chouji a fat idiot, she never turned her back on them if they were in trouble. To see Sakura act like that… Well, it made her furious to see her dismiss a comrade. It just wasn’t right to blow off someone who’d saved your life. Sakura would have run people over in her rush to see Sasuke, even after all the shit he put the Rookie 9 through. And people thought Ino was the shallow one. The genin sighed out loud, relaxing her suddenly clenched hands.
Perhaps Sakura herself was part of this little riddle. All her life Ino found things other people ignored or dismissed as useless, cleaned them up, and showed them off. Maybe it was a rebellion from being her parents’ little girl or maybe she just liked showing people up. Whatever the reason, every now and then she’d bring home another piece of junk (as her mother called it) and spend weeks fiddling with it. Broken toys, ripped up old scrolls, rusty kunai, stray cats and dogs (though her parents always took those to the Inuzuka vet office/pound after she brought them home)…You name it, she found it and fixed it. Strangely, almost everything thing that caught her eye turned out to be a diamond in the rough.
One dog she brought home turned out to be a rare pedigree after she’d given it a bath. Kiba’s mother had even paid her a decent fee for the animal when her parents made her give it up. A scroll she cleaned and patched up turned out to have part of a forgotten tai-jutsu style on it. It wasn’t useful to her, but she’d shown it to Iruka-sensei and he’d been delighted. He had taken her to show it to the Sandaime himself and the kind old man had been so impressed with the repair job that he asked her to seriously consider restoration as a side job in the future. The only part of her hobby that she disliked was that almost everything she’d ever fixed up wound up with someone else, either through her parents or because someone else would make better use of it. She wasn’t allowed to keep the stray animals, the kunai and scrolls went to other ninja, and the other odds and ends were usually given to her friends. She had finally tried to break the cycle when she met Sakura.
Sakura… She’d been Ino’s gamble. Just once she had wanted something for herself. The skills she learned at school and from her parents were nice, but they were given to her. Birthday presents, odd gifts, love letters and Valentines… Just stuff was just handed to her. Ino had kept looking for something she could play a part in making and keep that for herself. She had hoped it would be Sakura. When Ino first laid eyes on her, she didn’t see tears, dirt, and snot… She saw beautiful pale skin, bright green eyes, and sugary-pink hair that she half expected to smell like cotton candy or bubblegum. Sakura was the prettiest flower Ino had ever seen in her life, even when the girl was bawling her eyes out.
So Ino had given her a ribbon and became her friend, while spending most of her academy days building the girl’s confidence. She wanted Sakura to become even more beautiful and she’d figured getting the girl to believe in herself and become a strong kunoichi would help. Part of her was jubilant that she’d cleaned off Sakura’s crusty exterior and revealed just how beautiful she really was for the world to see. Part of Ino wanted to keep the pale girl locked up forever, so nobody would ever steal her away. And another part of her was just happy to have someone close to her. Then Ino got a crush on Sasuke and warbled on about him to his other fan-girls, forgetting that she had someone far more beautiful already. Then Sakura got a crush on Sasuke too. That made Ino nervous, but she didn’t really think much of it because at the time she figured only an idiot wouldn’t like Sasuke. And then came one of the most painful days in her life. Sakura gave back the ribbon and walked away.
Ino hadn’t stopped her.
It was Sakura’s choice after all. Even though it hurt like hell, Ino didn’t fight it. Sakura was just one more thing that would never belong to her. The pain from that day still burned her though. Their early rivalry had sprung from Ino’s resentment and Sakura’s urge to prove herself to Sasuke. The blonde girl had accepted over time that not only was Sakura not hers, but she was never going to be. Unfortunately, Ino’s feelings hadn’t gone away over the years. They had merely changed from a child’s admiration to a teenager’s desire. It didn’t help that Sakura’s beauty grew almost daily. In the end though, it didn’t really matter. Sakura had walked away from her and she seriously doubted the girl would suddenly drop to her knees in front of her and declare her undying love. And if Ino was honest with herself, she could admit that it was probably for the best. Sakura could be a real bitch sometimes and having two in the same relationship was just asking for trouble.
Ino had stopped her hobby after Sakura, not wanting to go through that pain ever again. But when Sakura had called Naruto ‘Dead-last’ and dismissed him like nothing, Ino had felt the old urge come back. She could see how the boy would set it off. The fuzz-ball fit her mold almost perfectly.
Naruto was the poster boy for diamond in the rough. On the surface he was a near worthless idiot, who made stupid boasts and dumb mistakes. He was rude, ignorant, and had a fashion sense that could make a clothing designer commit suicide. But that was just the surface. Underneath was a ninja who was insanely dedicated, had raw potential out the ass, and cared a lot about other people. The last part sounded corny, but it was true. Ino hadn’t lied when she said Naruto would die for his friends. The boy wouldn’t even hesitate. Ino barely knew him, but the hyper genin just seemed like the person to fight for other people and not budge an inch. Underneath his idiotic exterior, Naruto was the embodiment of every major trait a Hokage should have. More than that, he was a good person and would grow into a good man. Very, very few people saw that. Naruto fit the profile for every single thing that Ino had ever claimed before. It was perfect.
…Except for one detail.
Naruto didn’t need Ino. Everything else that she had ever fixed up (Sakura especially) would have withered away without her. Each trinket, animal, and person had needed Ino, even if only for a little while. Naruto didn’t. The hyper boy was growing just fine without her. Hell, he grew just fine without anyone. He grew better with other people and he treasured them above everything else, but in the end he’d survive and flourish by himself. He was like a tree seedling slowly forcing its way up through pavement. Ino didn’t want to interfere with that. She couldn’t clean off Naruto’s exterior like she had with Sakura. There was nothing about him that she could improve that wouldn’t change naturally with age and experience.
Something about him still called to her, though. He didn’t need her, but if she were brutally honest then maybe that’s what she needed. Someone who could be an equal. Neither given to her nor made by her, but still near her. Not necessarily as a boyfriend or a comrade (though she wasn’t really adverse to either possibility), but just someone to be around. A friend. Was that why she was here? Did she want that? Did Naruto offer something Shikamaru, Chouji, and Sakura didn’t? Ino honestly didn’t know.
She did want to find out though.
Perhaps that was why. Naruto was a possibility, of what she wasn’t sure. Maybe she wanted to change this part of her life as much as she wanted to change her fighting style. Maybe…Maybe she wanted to take another gamble. For all she knew, Naruto could wake up the next day, thank her for the flowers, and forget all about her. But maybe he wouldn’t. Ino still didn’t know much about him, but one thing she did know for certain was that Naruto had a way of surprising the hell out of people.
She doubted she’d be an exception.
Ino shook her head out of her daze. Glancing up at the clock, she was surprised to note that she had been standing beside the boy for almost forty minutes. It was getting late and she was getting hungry. Not to mention the Hokage would be here soon and she’d better wake Kakashi up.
The genin walked around the bed and towards the still sleeping copy-nin. Not surprisingly, the jounin moved almost the instant Ino touched his shoulder. Kakashi lazily stretched for a long moment, before sliding his forehead protector up from his right eye.
“Ah… Ino-san. What’s the problem?” He drawled out in a relaxed voice.
“Nothing. I just thought you might want to be awake when the Hokage shows up,” Ino replied, standing up straight. The jounin nodded.
“Yes, I would. Thanks, you probably saved me from getting my head pounded,” Kakashi said with a cheerful, upturned eye.
Ino snorted at the sight and walked over towards the bathroom door.
“You better not fall asleep again,” She growled.
“Hai, hai,” The copy-nin replied, looking around the room to find something to do while he waited for Tsunade to show up.
Ino shrugged and closed the door to take care of business. She closed it moments before Kakashi’s eye fell on the opened scroll on the couch.
A few minutes later, Ino stepped out of the bathroom while still drying her hands with a paper towel. She nearly dropped it in surprise when she saw the Copy-Ninja calmly reading through her scroll in his chair. The genin’s lip curled in annoyance. Stupid curious jounins.
“Hey, you mind not reading that? That happens to be mine, you know,” She snapped, tossing her crumpled paper towel in the garbage can.
“Hmm… You say something Ino-san?” Kakashi replied as he glanced up at her.
Ino’s vision turned red and she cracked her knuckles. She was two seconds from demonstrating just what happened to rude ninjas who snooped through her things, when the door opened.
“-be sure to keep the wall patrols alert,” Tsunade was saying to an ANBU behind her. The ANBU replied something inaudible, to which the Hokage nodded, before the ninja walked away. The Godaime opened the door further and walked in with Shizune. She glanced at Kakashi and Ino a moment before moving to Naruto to check him over.
“How’s he been?” Tsunade asked. Kakashi ignored the question, still glancing over the pilfered scroll.
“The same, I guess. I don’t really know,” Ino answered when she saw that the copy-nin wasn’t going to reply. Tsunade’s hands glowed as she ran a diagnostic jutsu over Naruto’s prone form.
“Did the nurses mention anything?” She asked, not really expecting a change in the boy’s condition so soon.
“Uh, what nurses?” The genin asked, not really sure how to answer.
“The ones that came in every twenty minutes,” Tsunade said, looking up at the girl with a hint of annoyance on her face.
Ino glanced over to Kakashi a moment, before looking back at the Godaime. She cautiously answered, “Hokage-sama, no one’s come in here all day except for Lee-san and Gai-sensei.”
“What?” The Sannin asked, rather incredulously. She gave Kakashi a sharp look, “Is this true?”
“No one’s been in here aside from myself, Ino-san, and those two,” The copy-nin lazily answered. He had taken out a small brush and was writing something on the scroll. He had yet to look up at anyone in the room.
Tsunade stared at him for a moment, before storming over to the foot of the bed. It moved a couple feet to the side as she forcefully ripped the chart off of it. She glared at it and flipped through several pages. Finally she tore the pages off the metal backing and shoved them into one of her robe’s large pockets.
“I’ll be dealing with this soon,” The Godaime growled, looking every bit the Legendary Sannin infamous for her temper. Shizune gave a little shudder at the thought of what was in store for the nurses who’d deliberately ignored the Kyuubi-vessel. Despite the cold shiver crawling up her spine, the dark-haired medic found very little sympathy for such unprofessional conduct. Social stigma had no place in a hospital, especially in an IC ward.
“Uh, Hokage-sama…?” Ino asked hesitantly. Now she knew why Sakura looked like a nervous wreck after some training sessions.
“Yes?” Tsunade said, looking over at the slim blonde girl. A hint of familiarity flickered through her eyes. “You’re the Yamanakas’ girl, right?”
“Yeah,” Ino replied, the flare of annoyance at being the daughter of a famous clan killing her nervousness.
“What is it?” The Hokage asked, moving over to the monitoring machines next to the bed.
“Naruto… Is he going to be…?” The genin asked.
Tsunade sighed and glanced over at the smaller blonde.
“I assume Kakashi gave you the details?” She said.
“Just in general. He couldn’t give me the specifics,” Ino replied. The copy-nin in question didn’t even blink when his name was mentioned. He was still scribbling something down on the scroll he’d swiped.