Ino had always looked down on the stupid boys who thought they could solve every problem with their fists, but now she was starting to understand them. Ino/Sakura
So she tailored the abilities she chose to learn almost entirely towards espionage, dead set on becoming the best spy in her graduating class. Or at least second best; she was at self-aware enough to admit that a Hyuuga was hard for somebody without a bloodline limit of their own to beat in that field. And she never once second-guessed her decision not to move beyond the basic fighting skills all ninja needed to learn to hold their own in a fight, even when it seemed like almost all of her classmates were trying to figure out every possible way to reduce an opponent to a bloody smear.
At least she didn't until her teacher was killed, and she was unable to even throw a single punch in the fight to avenge him.
She'd always looked down on the stupid boys who thought that they could solve every problem with their fists if they just hit the right thing hard enough, but now she was starting to understand them. As the days passed after the fight she could feel something deep inside of herself begin twisting with unspent aggression, and even in sleep she couldn't escape from it. Her dreams were filled with red clouds on black cloaks that turned as insubstantial as fog whenever she tried lashing out at them.
Which was why she was now standing at the entrance to one of Konoha's training grounds at two in the morning, waiting for Sakura and hoping that nobody else whose opinion she cared about would come by at that hour to see how far she'd fallen off of her high horse.
She heard Sakura's grumbling long before the other girl got close enough to be seen. Ino had readied herself by the time she jumped by from a nearby rooftop, saying in a tone as close to a yell as respect for the people sleeping nearby would allow, "I swear, Ino-pig, you'd better have killed someone and need help disposing of the body, because that's the only reason I can think of that you'd think you could get away with waking me up this early!"
"That's just fine, Sakura," she said, flashing a smile that had nothing to do with happiness. "I didn't think you would let me get away with it." And then she threw a punch, so suddenly that for a moment she thought Sakura wouldn't see it in time to dodge.
But that was underestimating someone who had been the Hokage's apprentice for over two years. Just as it was a hair away from connecting, Sakura threw herself backwards, squawking with surprise as she did so.
"What do you think you're doing?" she asked as she blocked a kick with her arm and backed away again, this time moving into the training ground itself. "I knew you must have been insane to want to be up right now, but I didn't think you'd gone this crazy!"
"Fight back and maybe I'll tell you what I'm doing," Ino said through clenched teeth. She was beginning to think this was a mistake; just attacking wasn't doing anything to relieve the nagging hostility inside of her, not as long as Sakura remained just as elusive as the Akatsuki members in her dreams.
For a long moment Sakura stared at her as steadily as her constant movement would allow, until she apparently decided that Ino was completely serious. "Fine, if that will make you cut it out sooner. But I'm telling you, Ino, you'd better not make a habit of this. I had enough of this sort of thing back when Naruto and Sasuke were the ones doing it." Finally she threw a punch of her own.
For a moment Ino felt satisfied, but it passed quickly when she noticed that Sakura was matching her strike for strike, strength for strength. Once, years before, the two of them had been so perfectly matched that they could have fought at full strength forever without either of them ever striking the decisive blow. But that was before Sakura learned how to channel her chakra to make herself as strong as a rampaging rhino. If she was really being serious her fist would smash straight through Ino's jaw when a punch connected.
"Come /on/, Forehead-girl. Just for tonight, let's pretend I hate you and you hate me," she said, wrenching off her hitai-ate and tying it into place around her forehead. "Is this what I need to do to make you use all that strength against me?"
Sakura's eyes narrowed and she lunged forward so quickly that she was able to catch Ino by the wrists and drive her to the ground. When Ino felt the strength behind the action she thought for a second that Sakura was finally fighting back the way she wanted. Then she realized that she wasn't feeling the tiniest bit of pain. Though Sakura was pushing down hard enough to drive her fingers into the ground up to her second knuckles, she was shackling Ino with her hands so gently that it felt like she might have just been trying to hold her hand and missed.
"Ino," she hissed, and Ino's eyes widened. She'd never heard Sakura sound so angry before. "I swear, if you're trying to kill yourself through me, I'll never forgive you. And I'm going to go to Tsunade-shishou now and advise her to discharge you and force you into a psychiatric evaluation the second she stops trying to kill me for waking her up this early. Then I'll remind her again once she's past her morning hangover."
It was Ino's turn to stare at Sakura as if she'd gone insane. "/Kill myself/? You can't possibly think I'd do that to myself. Or to you. You know me better than that!" She studied Sakura's face closely, looking for any hint that she'd been making a terrible joke, but found none. "I don't want to die, Sakura. I want to /win/."
Slowly Sakura relaxed, easily recognizing the sincerity in Ino's tone after all their years of friendship. She sank down so she was straddling Ino's waist instead of hovering over her and pulling her hands back a bit so Ino had enough room to twist her wrists if she wanted, but still keeping her as completely pinned as before. "I-I'm sorry," she said, the look on her face making it clear that she understood what a huge insult she'd just given her friend. "But, just look at it from my side for a minute. You made me come out here in the middle of the night, when nobody's around to witness it, ask me to use my full strength when you've seen me break boulders with my fists, refuse to tell me why you're acting like this, and you did it just after going through a really bad time. Will you just tell me what it is you want so I can understand the truth?"
Ino closed her eyes, surrendering to Sakura. "...It was supposed to be our revenge. The three of us winning or falling as a group, for Asuma-sensei. Then Kakashi-sensei joined us and... I'm glad we all lived Sakura, I still can't believe you'd think I wasn't and I know that it wouldn't have turned out that way without him, but when Shikamaru rewrote his plans to include him he wrote me out of the fight. He wouldn't even let me be a distraction." Experimentally she tugged at her hands and found that Sakura let them go easily enough. She brought her fingers to Sakura's knee and slowly pulled them up the outside of her thighs, then along her sides and back down her arms, pressing hard enough to feel the tight muscles underneath her hands and picturing all of the immense strength Sakura could call into them. She didn't even notice the way Sakura's eyes widened at the touch.
"I just need to know that I could have helped, if I'd had a chance," she continued, returning her hands to where they'd been. After a moment Sakura loosely curled her fingers around her wrists once more. "I don't even need to win. If I could just hold my own against that freakish strength of yours for even a few minutes it would be enough to let me know that I didn't need to be completely useless against enemies that powerful."
"Ino-pig... next time just tell me that instead of scaring me senseless. Didn't you know that I'd understand?" Sakura dropped a comforting kiss onto Ino's forehead protector, then thought twice about it and added another one to Ino's cheek where she could actually feel it. Then she pulled her face just far enough back to look Ino in the eyes, biting her lower lip and frowning slightly, her forehead furrowing.
Ino felt Sakura's hands shift once more, leaving her wrists to cover her own hands, then slowly, giving Ino all the time in the world to yank away if she wanted to, entwined their fingers.
"Just never, ever, frighten me like that again," Sakura whispered before she slowly, not looking at all certain about what she was doing, closed the gap between their mouths.
As Sakura's body pressed her's against the ground more firmly than ever, Ino thought that maybe she would find some release that night at last after all. And then she finally stopped trying to think anything at all.