Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Kishimoto Masashi.
A/N: Am totally still working on a Lighter Logic, so don't worry... just wanted to figure out if I could really write without the bells and whistles, and what better than a porny fic? You know the drill: reading is not simply a spectator sport. Enjoy!
Summary: The important rite of passage for kunoichi was an ancient, time-honored tradition, and the culmination of their learned arts of seduction. This was all very good and well...
Ino just really, really wished they could switch partners.
Chapter 1 - The Lottery
Today, there was going to be a meeting in Konoha.
The notice had been sent down through the lessening ranks of nin, spiraling out like a web away from its place of origin: Tsunade’s slightly cluttered desk. For reasons of secrecy, paper had never been a big thing with shinobi, but Konoha had natural resources enough to make use of it, so the notice – in blotchy ink on green paper – was posted on the bulletin board at that month’s jounin rank meeting.
It had been a Tuesday; Ino remembered it as the worst day of her life. The announcement of their final kunoichi rite, the last art of seduction.
“I’m seeing things, right?” Ino was squinting at the two columns of adjacent names as though they’d disappear from the strength of her glare.
“Nope,” replied Sakura, also staring at it despondently. “That’s one hundred percent bonafide lime-green reality.”
In all fairness, the two of them had a good reason for not really anticipating it until now, several of them actually. For starters, the… subject matter of the ritual meant that any older ninja had unsurprisingly little to say on the topic. Ino’s father had suddenly developed a profound interest in sharpening his kunai. Sakura, with no nin-parents in residence, had asked Kakashi-sensei. Despite the fact that she was twenty-two, he smiled awkwardly under his mask and patted her on the head.
So, no help there.
Secondly, there was the fact that some had tried to rally the rite, saying that the modern-day kunoichi had plenty of other skills at her behest. The whole seduction card was hardly ever played; alternative methods of infiltration were far better, cleaner and quicker. Plus, they required marginally less planning and lot less alcohol. Seeing as the current Hokage was a woman, there was some debate as to whether or not it would get the go-ahead for that year but evidently, it had. Ino trusted that there were a lot of good reasons for this, all of which went above and beyond the whole ‘it’s a tradition’ thing. Tsunade would never have okayed something so blatantly sexist.
“Bye Sakura-chan!” Naruto gave the two a wave as he walked through the door.
“Hey, Forehead,” said Ino, gesturing at his orange-clad back. “Shouldn’t we tell him about the meeting?”
Sakura crossed her arms over her chest. “Oh, don’t worry – it’ll just take him a second.”
Ino shrugged. “Um…
“Ah!” Naruto raced back. “What’s that?” He asked, pointing at the sheet of paper.
Ino counted the days mentally; it would be three days before the ritual. She’d have to wring some information out of someone, or else head into unknown waters. The likely question on everyone’s lips would be: who was getting who?
“It’s a ritual, Naruto,” Sakura explained, totally deadpan. “A stupid, sexist ritual where the girls get to do horribly archaic things and the boys get to get rid of their untoward yearnings.”
Naruto blinked largely. “Um… What?”
“So,” Sakura went on, ignoring Naruto’s questioning gaze. “That’ll make it about three days, then.”
Ino hated to admit it, but she was pretty sure that they had had ample warning. They probably were alerted of this at the jounin inauguration, for god’s sake. But the idea of it being so close and imminent… well, sort of sucked.
And here it was, their pale green impending doom, scheduled neatly for the next Friday. Three days, Ino thought. In the meantime, she’d have to do a little information gathering.
Naruto was still confused. “Wait – what’s going on this Friday? What’s the meeting about? Why are you guys acting so weird?”
“Three days,” Sakura repeated glumly.
Ino swallowed hard. “I guess so.”
“Wait, are you serious?”
Tenten nodded grimly. Ino had managed to get a hold of her the very next day – Tenten, being a year older than them, had participated in the event the year prior, and her review wasn’t exactly scintillating.
“Yep,” the older girl said, rolling her eyes. “You’re so lucky that you’re the rookie nine. I was part of the rookie three.” At this, she gave Ino a meaningful look.
Neji and Lee. Ino felt sympathetic. “But I’m sure Tsunade was trying to get rid of – ”
Tenten rolled her eyes. “Well, I guess that didn’t fall through. Neji was participating, so obviously House Hyuuga would never let it slide. You know what that means, right?”
Ino felt her heart drop into her stomach. There went her possible petition. “Right. Hinata.”
“Oh cheer up,” Tenten soothed, sipping from her glass of water. “At least you get to draw names, right?”
Ino raised an eyebrow. “Something like that.” Frankly, she had no idea.
“That means you could get anybody. Even Sasuke.”
It wasn’t nearly as consoling as Tenten had intended; drop-dead gorgeous or not, Sasuke was still pretty much socially-retarded. A night with him would be uncomfortable as hell. Ino sighed. “But that also means I could get anyone else. Like Chouji, or Shikamaru, or Naruto. Oh god, I could get Naruto.”
Tenten laughed, a light, silvery sound that probably had nothing to do with how she felt at this exact time last year. Ino glared daggers at her. “Oh don’t worry, Ino! It might be fun.” She gave her a hopeful smile.
Fun, right. “Well,” toasted Ino, raising her glass. “Here’s to randomly sleeping with two people I pretty much grew up with.”
Tenten grinned evilly. “Cheers!”
The worst thing about time, Ino was convinced, was the crappy fact that it only moved forward.
Rounding the corner, Sakura greeted her friend with a depressing and uneasy smile. “So… I guess today’s the day, huh?”
“Oh,” said Ino, turning around. “It’s just you.”
Truthfully, there was no need for the reminder – Ino had spent the last night in an apprehensive, sleepless daze and the majority of the pas three days making flowers wilt wherever she walked. Shikamaru and Chouji had been on high red-alert for any sign of Ino and used all their cunning to evade her warpath; only Sakura’s similarly violent funk helped offset Ino’s wrath. Still, the two of them hadn’t seen each other much during then, trying to occupy their time with sundry chores about the village. Their conversations of late had a nasty tendency of curving to one very depressing and inevitable topic.
But there was no avoiding it; Friday had come like clockwork and well, here they were.
It's not like Ino didn't have her reservations -- the likelihood of drawing anyone she actually wanted to sleep with out of the drum was insanely low. The whole generation of participating jounin this year were people she had practically grown up with her entire life, meaning that whatever happened after Ino drew her pick heralded a very, very awkward encounter.
"Say," said Sakura suddenly, worrying her bottom lip in thought. "Don't you wonder how this is going to work out? Like, are we just getting paired off and a choice few get to bang boots with the same sex?"
"Somehow,” replied Ino. “I really don't think any part of 'old' and 'traditional' covers forced homosexuality."
Sakura squinted suspiciously at nothing in particular. "I guess... But somehow this gives me a really bad feeling."
“Hey,” Ino asked. “I don’t suppose you spoke to Tsunade-sama about this at all?”
“Of course. She agreed that it was archaic and stupid and – most of all – totally sexist, but apparently the Hyuuga household is on her ass about it, so we’ll have to grin and bear it.”
Naturally. Ino didn’t think Tsunade had a whole section of her heart partitioned off for sympathy. “Well,” she said dryly. “I don’t suppose she intentionally set out to kill the modern woman. Just to break her kneecaps and stuff.”
She glanced down the hallway, counting doors as she went. The room was approaching closely, and with it, the dreaded meeting. "Ahem. So, Forehead." She turned towards Sakura with a mock pout. "Think you're going to cry when you pull Naruto from the hat?"
The girl gave her a look that would likely have killed lesser beings. "Oh no, no, no. Don't even, Ino-pig. If you jinx me, I'll never forgive you, so long as I live."
Hinata was rounding the corner just as Ino flashed her friend a terribly evil grin, her usually light pallor bordering on sheer unhealthy. She looked beside herself with worry.
"Hinata," Sakura waved her over unenthusiastically. "Hinata, over here."
She gave a jump at her name, looking around her in a bewildered daze before spotting them. "Oh… hello. A-are you going to t-the..." She pointed in the direction of the meeting room.
Ino grinned grimly. ”Yeah, we are. Want to come with?" Truthfully, the Hyuuga girl wasn’t looking so well, her hands were trembling lightly. Ino didn’t want her collapsing anywhere alone.
Sakura was in bitch-mode, and totally oblivious. "We're going in the same direction, Ino. It's not like she's going to walk behind us."
"Well, excuse me for breathing, Forehead. Anyway, Hinata. Anyone in there that you'd like to pull out of the hat?"
Hinata turned a bright red. "N-no! Of course not. I m-mean… All our friends are very n-nice and everything, b-but this is just…"
Sakura gave a bitter laugh. She really was acting rather strange. "Is there something wrong with you?" Prompted Ino. "I mean, other than the usual?"
Hinata gave Ino a panicked look. Wrong move: now she was insanely curious.
"Oh hilarious, Ino." Sakura glanced at her watch testily. "Great, we're late. All the good ones are probably gone."
Ino blinked singly. "I don’t think that’ll be a problem, Sakura, seeing as this is a random draw.”
"Oh, shut up.”
Sakura had crossed both arms mulishly over her chest; Hinata’s lip was quivering nervously. At this rate, Ino was sure she was on the brink of insanity. “Oh, cheer up guys,” she offered, feigning cheeriness. “Who knows? One of us could get Sasuke, right?”
Hinata smiled weakly; Sakura exhaled a little.
Ino grinned, tugging back the door. “Even though we know that it’s going to be me.”
Shikamaru was cloud-gazing.
His morning had definitely been one for the dogs. First of all, his alarm clock read 8:30 when it rung that morning, meaning that he was despairingly late for his scheduled meeting with the Hokage. Leaping out of bed like a man possessed, he had attempted to dress and brush his teeth at the same time, before making a very bad judgment call and asking his mother why she hadn’t woken him up earlier.
Big, big mistake there. Shikamaru swore the bruises would likely never fade.
Next, there had been the meeting itself. Suffice to say Tsunade had never, ever been tolerant of tardiness and chewed him out thoroughly – thoroughly as in bone-crushing-ass-whopping; inevitably professing going ‘easy on him’ due to the fact that he wasn’t a serial offender. Easy must have been the relative term, Shikamaru figured. He had no idea how Kakashi-sensei any remaining limbs at this point.
And finally, to add insult to injury, he had just been assigned another A-class mission, departure date: that very night. This, in addition to the mission he had just returned from two days ago, would sum up to fifteen days away from the village, enduring outdoor stealth missions and more blood than he wanted to encounter for the rest of the year. It seemed as though Tsunade merely wanted to run him to the ground for the fun of it. Shikamaru figured this wasn't an unreasonable stretch of her character.
A voice knocked him from his thoughts. “Hey! Shikamaru!”
Adding a ruined nap to his tally of fortunes. Would the good karma ever end?
Shikamaru sat up slowly, glimpsing a black-orange blur race towards him. “Naruto,” he greeted dully, stretching both arms languidly over his head for a joint-popping stretch. “What’s your hurry?”
Naruto slowed down, trotting up and down on the spot beside him. "The meeting... this morning – huff – but I think I might – huff – make it in time…" He jogged past him with a half wave.
Shikamaru glanced at his watch: the meeting had started ten minutes ago. How on earth Naruto ever passed academy math was wonder to him. But then again, he really wasn't one to talk.
"Ah! Wait a second!" Naruto jogged back to the bench.
Shikamaru sighed. "What is it?"
"Why aren't you at the meeting yet? We're going to be late!"
"Naruto,” said Shikamaru dryly. “We're already late. We’ve been late for the past ten – wait, eleven – minutes. There's no way either of us will make it to that meeting on time now." He leaned back on the bench. "Better luck next time, okay?"
"Huh?" Naruto glanced at his watch, taking a second to read the time before switching to wide-eyed panic. "Oh no! There's no way I can miss this! If I don't get there fast enough, someone will pick Sakura-chan. It might even be Sasuke! See you later, Shikamaru!"
If he had the energy and the speed to keep up with his hyperactive friend, then Shikamaru might have felt compelled to enlighten him to the fact that it was a random draw, so being late wouldn't affect his chances of getting Sakura at all. But then his guilty conscience would feel compelled to tell him about the subsequent broken ribs he'd get in the off chance that he did get Sakura, and then back to the fact that as a random draw, there was still nothing Naruto could do about it. And that sort of circular logic just made Shikamaru tired.
Admittedly, the grim purpose of the said meeting did not rank particularly high on his list of exciting prospects. The whole thing seemed excessive, to say the least, and didn't really make much logical sense. There were plenty of situations involving the seduction and capture of men who participated in acts involving other males (among other things) and those weren't part of the roster. In fact, Shikamaru was under the distinct impression that the above was still just another age-old shinobi tradition: anachronistic and troublesome beyond all compare.
So, nothing lost in a little well-direct truancy. At least until his mission tonight, Shikamaru was determined to enjoy a few hours of undisturbed peace.
There was one thing wrong with bluffing: it never worked.
Hinata, first up to the plate, had descended the terraced seats looking faint with worry. Iruka had given her a sympathetic smile – his task of raffling off the group was equally awkward, given that he had practically raised all those in attendance.
Earlier in the class he had explained that each year had differing protocol for the ritual -- given the uneven gender ratios and unpredictable number of successful teams. This year, the girls would draw two names, cycling them through the entire amount of males in the class. Ino felt distinctly queasy; Sakura was livid. She turned back towards her friend, mouthing a very obvious: 'like bicycles'. Ino flashed her a weak smile -- the girl had a point.
But then again, many facets of shinobi-dom struck a harsh chord with her -- murder by contract, brutal training hours, wilderness stealth missions and, least of all, the tacky headbands -- so Ino supposed protesting this mid-level atrocity would be a fairly pointless. Yeah, it sucked. It sucked supremely, and the next month would probably be rife with awkwardness beyond all compare, but she'd suck it up and move on. After Asuma's death, it had sort of been the team 10 modus operandi.
Hinata had reached into the tumbler, carefully choosing one of the topmost balls before handing it to Iruka.
"Ahem," he said, affecting an expression that suspiciously resembled pity. "You'll need to read it."
Hinata glanced over, eyes wide, and lost all colour.
Ino considered -- Hinata would have taken first place for most obvious crush ever, so Ino figured she would have likely fainted if she pulled someone she wanted from the drum. Making Naruto a definite out. There were the two on her team, but it was more likely that she'd be blushing madly for that. What else? The curiosity was going to kill her; she'd have to ask Hinata the moment the meeting was through.
But there were still two choices to be made.
"Yamanaka Ino," called Iruka, looking up at her from the podium. "Your turn."
Ino carefully smoothed down her skirt, standing up decisively. A sudden coldness flared in her stomach at the sound of her name, and the trek down the ten or so steps to the front felt like a long mile. Her mind flicked through the options; was there anyone she wouldn't mind receiving? Sasuke would be the obvious choice, but she had a feeling that any experience with him would just be slightly cold and very awkward. Shikamaru and Chouji were totally out, but she supposed it wouldn't be so bad with one member of the other teams. Kiba was sort of cute and marginally less hyperactive than Naruto. And Shino had the whole silent-type thing going on.
"Ino, you have to choose a ball."
Oh right. She finally moved from where she was standing aimlessly by the drum and reached inside, fumbling about for a deeper ball. Kiba or Shino, Ino cheered mentally. Her fingers closed around one near the bottom; she withdrew her hand slowly, feeling apprehension well up at the base of her throat. Ino swallowed. Opening her palm, she took a nervous look at the name.
Then everything went quiet in Ino's head.
"Wait." She turned to Iruka. "This must be a mistake. I'm going to redraw."
Iruka looked at her uneasily. "You don't get to redraw, Ino. At least not until the next round."
"Oh no, I understand. It's just that this… can't possibly count." She held out the ball. "See? There would be so many things wrong with this, I don't know enough words to cover them all."
Iruka frowned at her. "Um… no. Rules are rules." He bent to write the name down.
Ino freaked. "What?! No, Iruka-sensei… there must be rules about this." She gestured at the ball like it had sprouted wings. "Can't you see that there are, like, special, extenuating circumstances involved here? Like my dignity and stuff?"
"Please don't make this awkward, Ino," Iruka soothed in a hushed voice.
"Like my sanity and stuff?"
"No. I'm sorry. You can return to your seat now." Iruka had already written the name down – possibly because he was evil – and Ino stared at it limply, her stomach having risen to the level of her tonsils. She gave a few half-hearted mouth flaps before her legs started to woodenly move underneath her, carrying her back to her seat.
This, clearly, was a joke. It had to be a joke. Any moment now, she'd wake up and it would be this very morning, and she'd realize that maybe she shouldn't have eaten that last piece of falafel because it sometimes gave her nightmares, especially when she was under a lot of stress, and, oh no, she was late for that stupid meeting today.
But it was sure taking a hell of a while to end.
Returning to her seat, Ino was determined to wait out the remainder of the nightmare – bracing herself for the axe-murderers and the falls that should have marked the end. And sat. And sat. Somewhere, in the periphery of her consciousness, she heard Sakura kick up a similar fuss about her assigned partner. Ino counted slow breaths to measure the time.
Nothing. Iruka finished up with a brief notice that he would verbally notify the students participating in this round. Ino counted forty breaths; fifty. The people around her began to thin and disperse. Sakura had come over to her seat.
"So,” she offered, not noticing Ino’s state of catatonia. “Guess who's going to drown herself in the shower tonight?" She held up her ball as Ino looked up glumly. It read Uzumaki Naruto like some sort of blood-written curse.
Somehow, Ino could only feel mildly sympathetic. “Oh spare me the theatrics.” She held up her own ball, where tiny black letters spelled Nara Shikamaru. “Because I’m clearly going to need a grave plot right. Next. To. Yours.”
Hinata, however, did not need to propose a gruesome way to die. She had toddled over worriedly -- still the same deathly shade of pale -- and placed her ball solemnly on Ino's desk. The other two practically butt heads trying to read the name written there. It said: Uchiha Sasuke.
Ino gave a heavy gulp on Hinata's behalf. Clearly, the three had a terrible, terrible month ahead of them.