intraspective: (yeah whatever)
[personal profile] intraspective
Ino had managed to get back to their room with only minimal having to look pathetic and frazzled and adorably dim. Once there, she'd cleaned the blood off her arm and inspected it. Fine, of course, but Potions still weren't her first thing to want to trust when it came to healing.

But no, there was no need to give away anything like that right now.

She glanced at the clock and bit her lip. Reno had said Zack would be okay, but she could be forgiven for--being a worried girlfriend, couldn't she?

And an angry one. That he'd been keeping something like that from her after all their talks about trying to be more honest with each other. Which was unfair of her, perhaps, but really...

Still, as midnight ticked by and still no sign of Zack, even Ino couldn't keep from being tired. Their normal schedule had them up early but that also meant to bed fairly early and she was determined to stay up. She was just going to read until he came back and sleep in.

For all her efforts, though, by half-past one, Ino had passed out on the bed, still in her pink dress, though sans the heels. Sleep wasn't something she'd been able to deny. Not after being angry for hours on end. Worried for hours on end.

Anger tired her out. Worry did moreso.

And it was about quarter after two that Zack finally made his way into his room, cracking the door open quietly and dragging his way in.

He looked, for all intents and purposes, like he'd just been to Hell and had crawled out by the skin of his teeth. His armor was banged up, his uniform was speckled with blood, and if he had his way, he probably would have just collapsed on his bed to sleep it off as-is. Only Ino was on the bed, and... probably wouldn't appreciate him falling over caked in mud and blood and all sorts of other fun things.

It had been a very, very long evening. But at least now, it was over. No more Wutai grudge. Or... At least... No more Crescent Unit, cornering him around dark corners, trying to herd him into the plate, under the plate, underground, to overpower him and take him down.

Revenge against Zack Fair wasn't worth the cost.

He watched Ino sleep for a moment, and then tried to work his way out of his armor, clasps and buckles and all, as quietly as possible.

Probably not, no. Ino was tolerant of many things but her tolerance would probably have been stretched by blood and mud and sudden influx of heavy man sharing the space she was curled up on.

He tried to be silent and, for the most part, it worked. She was familiar enough with the sounds of him moving about that it took a few minutes before blue eyes opened sleepily to stare at the source of the familiar noise/presence in the room.

And by that point, Zack had managed to work his way out of most of his armor from his shoulders down to his waist, and he was working on belt number two.

This uniform had way too many buckles and things.

It took Zack a few more careful, slightly sore moments of wrestling with his gear before he became dimly aware that he was being watched, and cast another glance Ino's way.

"Oh... Uh... I'm sorry if I woke you," he murmured, frowning slightly. "I can be quieter. You can go back to sleep."

"Are you hurt?" she asked, a bit drowsily, but having noted the fact he wasn't moving quite the way she was used to. "What time is it?"

She pushed herself up, making a face when she realized she'd fallen asleep in her clothes. Ew.

"It's... late," Zack replied, pulling his phone from his pocket to check. "It's after two."

Which completely avoided her first question, yes. He'd down a few potions in a bit. Once he felt up to rummaging for them. That took effort, or something.

Even sleepy it was amazing the fact that she didn't miss that.

"And you're hurt."


"I'm tired," Zack protested, lightly. "It's nothing serious, anyhow. I'll take a few potions as soon as I'm cleaned up."

Yeah. A few. The Crescents were Wutai's elite for a reason, after all.

"A few?" Ino repeated, more wide-awake with every word. "Let me get a look at you."

That was not exactly a question as she slipped off the bed.

Zack sighed, pocketing his phone again and giving his shoulders a shrug.

"Alright, but it's really not as bad as it looks," he replied, peeling his way out of his shirt. His shirt, which got a momentary glance, complete with slightly wrinkled nose, before he tossed it in the corner. He'd worry about the stains later. "SOLDIER, remember?"

Which meant that a few stab wounds and a bullet hole or four really weren't as big a deal as they might be for somebody else. Honest, Ino!


Ino wasn't going to make much of a fuss, even if she was visibly distressed at his injuries--she knew he could take it, but it still twisted her heart into pieces all the same--and she really didn't think he'd object when she went and found several of her Potions for him.

Would he?

Ino silently offered the first of them to him. Trying to figure out how to word her lecture. It seemed almost unfair with him hurt and exhausted to yell.

He wouldn't object, no. Zack knew way better than to object to a gesture like that one.

He'd just sneak a few of his Potions over into her stash the moment he could find a chance to.

He took the first Potion, and he downed it, too tired and maybe even a little too shaken up by the events of the evening to really make much of a face at the taste.

"Thanks, Ino."

She offered him another one, studying the wounds as they closed and healed.

"It's the least I could do, all things considered, really."

And she couldn't quite help the bit of stress that leaked out over that. Zack could be in danger, sure. But she didn't often know for a fact that he was in danger and there had been something--quite different about sitting all alone in a room knowing that Zack was facing people who wanted to kill him, personally, for hours on end.

It was the reality of the job, wasn't it? Monsters were one thing, right up there with haywire mechs, and even Genesis copies. They didn't have minds. They just did what they were made to do.

But the Wutai... They were people, with their own minds and their own sense of purpose, and instead of attacking anything that moved at random, they'd had a name to go with their target. They had that drive. Which was exactly why Zack hadn't told Ino. Not a word, not in the year since the victory at Fort Tamblin.

He downed the next potion, sighing a little as he looked at the empty bottle. One more would probably do it, really. Maybe two.

"All things...?"

She offered him the next Potion. Once he was healed, she'd feel better surely. Something to take away the sting of being lied to, of being omitted to.

Of not being trusted.

"Oh," she said, her eyes flicking up to meet his then away. "Had an interestin' encounter with a few Wutai, that's all."

Zack accepted Potion number three, holding it numbly in his hands for a moment, just looking at it quietly while her words sank in.

"... Are you okay?"

He'd drink this one in a moment. She was still standing here, but interesting encounters took on all sorts of forms.

"I'm not hurt," she said, which was honest now. She'd never even been badly hurt in the first place.

And now he was lowering the potion, looking at her with concern etched into his expression.

"... Aren't you?"

There were different kinds of hurt, after all.

"Drink the Potion," she flared, temper flashing before she reigned it in. "You're the injured one here!"

Which did nothing to answer his question, no.

The outburst barely earned a flinch out of Zack, though he only hesitated a moment before downing the third potion. All that seemed to be left once it had done its work were bruises, here and there. A few lacerations that would probably lead to a bit of scarring, but nothing particularly serious.

Three was enough. He turned and made his way to his dresser, pulling it open and digging through it for something clean to wear. All motions. All numb gestures. He was fine.

"What happened?"

She crossed her arms defensively over her chest. Not happy with how he'd turned away from her and knowing it was ridiculous.

"Just go shower," she said huffily. Not caring if that wasn't fair. He'd feel better with a shower and she was--resisting the urge to throttle him.

There was a clean shirt in one hand. There were clean pants in the other. And Zack found himself just standing there, clutching to both, staring blankly at nothing in particular.

"What happened?"

He'd ask again. And again. And again.

"Go shower," she repeated, firmly. Less huffily. "I'll tell you then."

Because she was stubborn as well.

The reality of it sort of managed to seep in sideways, like a fog rolling in off the water. There he was, still caked in blood and dirt and aching head to toe. The lives of a massive number of Wutaian men were on his head, though they hadn't afforded him with much of a choice. And somehow, it had touched Ino.

And she wouldn't tell him how.


He wasn't going to let this one drop. Not by a long shot.

See, that got a slight softening in her eyes.

"Promise," she said, brushing her fingers along his arm. "Go wash up. You'll feel better after that. I ain't hurt."

Well, not physically. But what hurt she was wasn't the fault of the Wutai.

Zack nodded a tiny bit, his gaze shifting from the clean clothing down to her hand, and then to her face, her eyes. Holding her gaze would have been so much easier if he wasn't so inclined to keep looking away, himself.

"I won't be long," he mumbled, right about the point where his eyes hit his toes. His mouth was smiling again. Force of habit. Nothing else about him was.

Fifteen minutes later, when he returned from the showers, the only thing that had really changed was the fact that he was much, much cleaner. And his hair was wet.

Here was where he proceeded to stand in the doorway. Awkwardly.

Ino had used the time he'd been showering, to change into her jammies--an over-sized shirt which was far more comfortable than the dress she'd fallen asleep in--and was sitting on his bed, one leg under her, and brushing out her long long hair with her eyes closed.

It was, almost, meditation. It certainly had some of the same qualities of such, in that it helped soothed her tangled emotions. Put them in order. Lay them straight.

"Are you coming in?" It was his room, after all.

Zack glanced up at that for all of a moment. Nodded a little. Pulled the door shut behind him. And then made his way across the room to the bed, dumping the rest of his dirty laundry into the pile he'd started earlier with his shirt and then taking a seat on the edge.

"What happened?"

He was going to keep asking, Ino. Seriously.

She kept her eyes closed, focused on the hairbrush working the way through her hair.

"Was out shoppin'," Ino began, her voice seeming loud to her ears in the quiet room. "And heard these Wutai talkin' 'bout ShinRa and a Crescent Unit and you."

"Oh." Zack still wasn't looking up. The floor was so, so interesting, right now. Really. "I'm sorry, Ino. You shouldn't have been dragged into that..."

Just hearing it was enough for him to apologize. Oh, just wait until the conversation pressed on.

Her eyes opened though she didn't look at him. Didn't look any further than her lap.

"And then they started talkin' 'bout how they hoped the Crescent left enough of you alive that they could get a piece of you," she continued on, "and I decided that I was going to take care of that."

A long pause.

"And did."


... Oh.

"I'm sorry," Zack said again, as though that would somehow... maybe make this better. Apparently since repeating himself before had worked, that was going to be his strategy of choice while dealing with what was rapidly turning into one of the crappiest days he'd had in weeks. "I mean, I dealt with the Crescent, but there was no way for you to know that, and..."


"I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what?" Ino asked, lowering her hairbrush. "My gettin' rid of people who wanted to kill you? That don't need an apology, I did it 'cause I could."

"I'm sorry that you had to get tangled up in this mess at all," Zack sighed, shaking his head a little. "Stuff between me and the Wutai, that's..."

There had to be a good word here for that.


"So complicated you couldn't tell me 'bout it?"

Flat. Flat.

"I wouldn't have known what to say," was Zack's reply, nearly as flat as hers had been. "I was the SOLDIER who took down Fort Tamblin last year. I'm the guy who lost them their war. It just... Hasn't really come up since."

Until, you know, Friday afternoon, when he'd frowned at his mission list.

Ino's eyes burned.

"So I don't get to know there's a whole nation of people who want you dead?"

Zack winced.

He'd deserved that.

"Not the whole nation," he murmured. "Just the ones who know it was me. I left one of the Crescent alive in Tamblin, but most of the media reports placed the victory on Sephiroth's shoulders. Talking about some second-rate 2nd Class doesn't sell newspapers, I guess."

Wasn't that reassuring?

"The four people I killed knew 'bout you," she said, toying with her hairbrush. "The people you killed tonight knew 'bout you. You think the truth don't spread?"

"It's Wutai," Zack replied, his tone dropping a little deeper now, a little more solemn. "They've been mostly occupied by ShinRa by now. And the company's got tabs on what's going on there... Their media, their military. They're not even allowed to keep their own Materia there, anymore. Whatever... Whatever that was, that was just from word of mouth, between remnants from the war gone underground. Most of Wutai won't ever know I was there."

"And that means it's okay not to talk 'bout it?" Ino asked, her voice clipped. "When I've been comin' to Midgar and hanging around you? They've got to know who I am and you had to know that--I still don't get to know?"

"I swear, Ino, If I'd known that they were going to try something like this, I would have told you," Zack sighed. And then frowned. No, that wasn't quite right. He'd known about the Wutai spies. He remembered as plain as day when the Captain of the Crescent Unit swore he would have Zack's head for what happened to Wutai.

He shook his head.

"You didn't do anything to them. They have their honor."

Ino was... pretty sure their honour wasn't going to stop them now. Not when she'd killed several of their own.

"You really think honour'll protect me?"

Not that she needed protection, thanks.

"Well, if that won't, then I will," Zack replied, looking up a little. "We just... don't split up again while we're in Midgar, that's all."

Because that made everything better, right?

"Do you want to take a few moments to rephrase that?" Ino asked chillily.

Nope. That totally hadn't made anything better. Zack winced and found himself staring down at his toes again.

"... Not that you need somebody keeping an eye on you, of course."


Not good, but better.

"What I don't get," Ino said, ignoring his point for now. "Is that after all our discussion 'bout honesty that I don't get to hear about something like this?"

Zack fell quiet for a very, very long time, at that.

"It's... It's classified. Information that the Turks dug up. I can't just..." He couldn't actually finish the statement. It sounded lame, even to him. And yet... "Monsters are one thing. But... This was war."

She wanted to object to that. Protest that it wasn't fair, because it wasn't, but a lifetime of growing up military meant that she couldn't argue with that.

How many times had her father told her he couldn't say where he was going but that he'd be back? How young had she been when she'd learnt to never let a conversation end on a fight if they were going off on a mission?

"I'm mad at you," she said, but now she just sounded tired. She was mad at him.

But she couldn't argue with that reason either.

"I feel like it didn't matter and so you just--didn't say anything." She toyed with her hairbrush for a moment. "Or it is a lack of trust. Or--"

Ino shrugged. A bit miserable and hating that she was miserable.

How was she supposed to save Gaia if she didn't know enough of what was going on?

"I know."

Zack nodded a little, still tired, still sore, biting his lip and having no idea where to go from here.

"I have some missions out of town that you can come with me on in the morning, if you want," he said instead. What else was he supposed to do? She was mad, and he had apologized, and... He couldn't grovel. Not for following company policy. Not for doing his job. "I think you'll like these ones."

He could try a hug. She could try a hug, for that matter, so Ino went up on her knees, leaving the hairbrush behind, to move over to where he was.

She was still mad. Still going to be mad at him for awhile.

She was still going to lean in and, carefully mindful of the fact he'd been hurt, wrap her arms around him. That helped and hurt her at the same time.

It sucked having to relearn lessons she'd learnt once before all over again.

"I don't know," she murmured, still a touch too serious. "Are they going to have anything more dangerous than a Hedgehog Pie?"

There was a sigh, just a soft, tired exhale, as he leaned sideways a little and snaked his arms around her in turn. Sure, the hug ached a bit. He'd felt way, way worse. And Zack Fair would never turn down a hug.

"Worms, probably," he noted, thoughtfully. "I'll let you borrow something that's Stop-proof before we head out."

Because Stop sucked.

"Okay," she said, wriggling closer. Even mad at him, she wanted to be close to him.

The fear she'd felt at knowing someone was after him and then the hours spent with only Reno's words that he'd be fine had meant far too long worried. Fearing. Hoping.

Who said the future turned out the same every time? Wasn't that what they'd what they were trying to change?

"Sorry," she said, ducking her head and blinking hard. Why was she apologizing?

"Yeah," Zack sighed, leaning forward to press a kiss to the top of her head. "Me too."

And then, after a moment, he gave her a little tug to the side. They were both tired. Even just laying down would do them both a world of good. And the best part about it was, they didn't even have to let go.

And down they went, Ino not resisting a bit, and she studied his face.

"I was worried," she replied, then leaned forward to kiss him very seriously.

She was still worried, still mad, still about a hundred million other things. But right now she was just going to kiss him. She was glad he was back, could he tell?

[NFB, NFI and preplayed with the awesome [ profile] puppy_fair!]


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Yamanaka Ino

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