The world has died and Ino keeps the anguished scream locked tightly in her voice box as she clutches onto Sakura’s rapidly cooling form.
She has always believed herself strong—not physically like Sakura. Never since she gained the Strength of a Hundred seal. Her mind is an impenetrable fortress, though, her ultimate sword and shield proven true by the fact she’s the only one of the two still breathing inside the little cave they’ve taken temporary shelter in.
Her trembling hands lay Sakura down among jutting rocks. She wants to give her best friend and rival a proper burial—wants to clean off all the dirt and gore, close open wounds and dress her in her best. Wants Sakura to have warmth back in her seafoam eyes, wants Sakura to return her hug, wants Sakura back when the world had more peace despite wars threatening to take place every day.
Ino can’t stop her tears when she closes Sakura’s eyes. She blinks them away rapidly, trying to keep this last memory as clear as possible. The pink-haired shinobi appears unburdened, lines and creases from stress and tension smoothened out—almost asleep if not for the blood covering her face saying otherwise. Ino inhales, hearing the laughter of a deranged moon goddess as it travels with the winds, feeling the familiar signatures of White Zetsu entering her chakra sensory range.
There’s never time for a proper burial anymore and Ino knows this will be the last of her as well. Their chances of winning decreases with each comrade they lose, beginning with a ninety-nine percent chance of winning while at full force and ending with a one percent chance with one last person standing.
But, strong as Ino is, she is not Sakura. She is not Naruto. Not Sasuke. She is only Yamanaka Ino, whose mind is her ultimate sword and shield, and that means nothing when the enemy can destroy the body that enshrines it with brute force.
She doesn’t turn away from Sakura, keeps her gaze locked onto the other’s face as she retreats into her mind. Holds tightly onto Sakura’s visage and pulls the trigger, a suicide technique that the Yamanaka clan have held close to their hearts since they were more than a little nuclear family.
This is her last fight.
Ino blinks at the bundle, confused at the sleeping babe in her arms because there is no one else around anymore. The world has died and the last memory she recalls is Sakura’s face before she triggered the death of her brain.
“This is your brother, Ichika-chan.” A man with a kind smile appears before her. She gives him a puzzled look and he responds with a fond chuckle, hand reaching out to gently ruffle her hair.
“His name is Katsuki. You’ll take good care of him, won't you?”
“Okay, daddy.” The answer slips out before Ino can even think about it, and somehow it feels right. This man is her father and this baby is her brother.
( “Ino-chan! My darling little blossom,” Inoichi beams as he sweeps a young Ino into his arms. His precious daughter had come running the moment he stepped into their home, arms wide for a hug that he’ll never tire of giving.
“Daddy, daddy, welcome home!” She shouts, clinging hard until he sets her down. Ino has learnt not to pout over this, instead she grabs her father’s hand and pulls him to their kitchen where mother is waiting for them with dinner.)
Katsuki is the loudest toddler Ino has ever taken care of, which makes sense considering that their mother is just as loud. Right now, her little brother is screaming for her, angry at having been separated because she needed to pee and Ino can’t help but sigh.
“Katsuki, no,” she frowns as she reenters the living room. He stops screaming the moment he hears her but doubles his efforts to squirm out of their father’s arms.
“He loves you a lot, Ichika-chan.” Masaru laughs and lets the little boy go. At once, Katsuki crawls to Ino, going as fast as his pudgy hands and feet can bring him. Before he reaches her, she widens her stance, bracing for the impact of a clumsy baby wrapping her into a tight hug.
“But, he’s loud,” Ino complains. Though, her arms are going under Katsuki’s armpits so she can heave him up into a more comfortable hug.
“You were just as loud when you were his age.”
“Nu-uh!” She denies and Katsuki voices his agreement by shouting a ‘No!’ right next to her ear. Lightly wincing, she tries to shift her brother so his mouth is further away but the little devil is stronger than her. Ino nearly falls over as Katsuki forcefully pushes back and lands slobbery, open-mouth kisses all over her face.
“NO!! STOP IT, DADDY MAKE HIM STOP!!!”
However, their father doesn’t come to her rescue, choosing instead to laugh at her while snapping photos for his wife. It takes more effort than Ino would like to admit to free herself from her little brother ( she wasn’t this weak before, right? ), but by the time she’s worked up enough sweat, she easily slips out of Katsuki’s grasp and escapes to the safety of her bedroom, slamming the door shut and locking it.
Ino spends the rest of the day in there while Katsuki screams outside her door, ignoring their father’s occasional pleas and apologies for not helping earlier as he tries to placate the youngest Bakugou. Even so, the sulk that she has worked herself into only lasts for a few minutes. She’s not that disgruntled about being slobbered over and there are worse things to be covered in, after all. Instead, Ino uses the privacy of her room to work on chakra exercises and katas from another world. Holds close the precious memories she has of another life, another time, and forcibly pays no mind to the tackiness of her sweat—the quirk she has inherited from her mother.
( “Do I have to, Kaa-san?” Ino whines as she trails after her mother. She had been led to believe that today would be a day of private lessons between mother and child on the properties of plants in the clan’s greenhouse. On how to utilise them in everyday settings, both civilian and shinobi, and she had been eager to learn. To become the pride of her entire clan.
However, they’re making their way to the Nara compound where Auntie Yoshino has invited them and both Auntie Chou and Chouji over, heading in the opposite direction of where they should’ve been going instead. If Ino were allowed to remain by the sides of the aunties, it would still be fine. But, knowing their mothers, she would be shunted off with the boys instead, forced to mingle with a Nara who’d only rather three things and none of them included training, and an Akimichi who prefers the company of the aforementioned Nara instead of a Yamanaka like Ino.
“Yes,” her mother hums, expertly dodging Ino’s swipes for the sleeves of her sky blue homongi. Her daughter is a precocious one and had long realised — though, a little later than Shikamaru but that was a given — that the tea parties they have with the aunties of the other clans are not just that. It had made her all the more unwilling to spend time with Chouji and Shikamaru when she could be sitting by the sides of the ladies of the clans, gossiping and planning, learning the skills often attributed to kunoichi.
A put-upon sigh explodes out of Ino’s mouth and her mother turns the other way, just out of her daughter’s line of sight to hide the amused smile her lips are curving up into. To be so young and free, those are times that should be held dear for as long as possible.)
“Kacchan, Chika-neechan!” Izuku calls as he runs toward them, arms waving wildly as though he’s someone who’s easy to miss. Ino can’t help her fond smile as the green-haired child closes the distance between them. In some ways, he reminds her of some people from the other world. The way he’s studious and timid, the way he regards his friendship with Katsuki so dearly.
“IZUKU!” Katsuki calls back in a much louder volume. It’s only due to many ( combined ) years of practice that Ino doesn’t flinch at the sudden shout. Her little brother also reminds her of some people—what with the way he acts like a little tsundere despite how much he openly clung to her while they were younger. The way he secretly studies and practices hard for a dream he wants to turn into reality in the future. Ino can do without some of the traits that make up Katsuki, but that doesn’t mean that she loves him less.
( “You’re so good at flower arrangement, Ino-chan!” There’s genuine admiration in Sakura’s seafoam eyes but underneath that, there’s uncertainty and a little envy as well. )
“IZUKU! I GOT MY QUIRK!”
( “Of course! We of the Yamanaka clan pride ourselves in our knowledge of plants, you know!” Ino laughs. She’s delighted that she’s excelling in all that her clan specialises in, and she’s delighted to have a proper girl friend beside her too. Sakura may be a diamond in the rough, but she’s Ino’s and Ino will do her best to help her shine. “But, your arrangement today was beautiful too! You’re improving so quickly, Sakura-chan!” )
A series of small explosions immediately follows that declaration and Ino moves quick enough to pull Izuku away from getting the brunt of one in the face as Katsuki continues to show off. Her brother’s friend pays no mind, though, attention entirely focused on the other boy’s show instead.
( A pleased smile blooms on Sakura’s face and Ino saves that moment into her heart. She pulls the pink-haired girl closer and points to the sky. )
“That’s so cool Kacchan!! You’re gonna be a great hero!” Izuku cheers as the explosions die down. Katsuki’s grinning from ear to ear and he swings an arm around the other boy.
“Your quirk’s gonna be great too! We’re gonna be the best heroes ever!”
( “We’re gonna be the best kunoichi Konoha has ever produced! Watch out for us, world!”
But, as the seasons change and Ino’s current body adapts, becoming more and more like the one she had before. As Izuku’s fourth birthday passes and both he and Katsuki become five the same year as Ino’s ninth in this world, Izuku’s quirk doesn’t show up. He goes for tests and tests, coming back with the same negative results and the reassurances that he’s a late bloomer is no longer as unwavering as they were the first few times. Katsuki is growing impatient and it all comes to a head in spring the following year.
An irritated huff escapes Ino’s lips as she rounds the corner, striding quickly into the park her brother would, without doubt, be playing in with Izuku and the other two kindergarten kids he’s recently befriended. Father had informed them earlier that they would be heading out for dinner and Katsuki has yet to return home. Knowing her brother, he must’ve lost track of time, caught up in the excitement of playing with friends.
“You’re nothing but a quirkless idiot!”
Ino freezes only for a second, eyes widening as her brain registers the owner of the angry voice, before she speeds up. Running in the direction of her brother’s shouts and reaching just in time to hear: “You’re useless, DEKU!”
(“ Ino-chan...I heard you also like Sasuke-kun.” )
A trembling and crying Izuku on the ground. “I—I’m not useless, Kacchan!”
(“ We can’t both like Sasuke-kun!” )
“My quirk will come, just wait!”
Fire bursts into life and a weak water release douses it.
“BAKUGOU KATSUKI, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”
(“ If you’re not giving him up for me, then we’re no longer friends!” )
A petulant Katsuki stands before Ino, sulking as she glares down at him while Izuku does his best to convince her that they were just playing. The other two kids had run off home, sent cowering by Ino’s less-than-pleased expression.
“Why are quirks so important?”
Silence as Katsuki continues to pout while Izuku is momentarily thrown by her question, putting his stream of excuses and reassurances on hold.
“I’m asking you a question, why are quirks so important, Katsuki?”
“...Because everyone has one.”
“That doesn’t make it important,” Ino crosses her arms. “Give me a better answer.”
“Uh, umm...Chika-neechan, I—”
“I’m not asking you, Izuku, not yet. Let Katsuki answer.”
“O-okay,” Izuku gulps.
There’s another pause as Katsuki shifts under the weight of Ino’s gaze before he finally spits out, “Only the greatest heroes have powerful quirks. Deku can’t be one cause he’s got none!”
Izuku flinches at that and Ino raises an unimpressed eyebrow. In a dangerous tone, she asks another question, “So, you’re saying I can’t be a hero cause my quirk is weak?”
“Are you gonna call me Deku too cause mine’s practically nothing too? You gonna call mom and dad that too?”
Now, Katsuki flinches as well.
The atmosphere is tense and the boys can’t help but draw their shoulders up as Ino releases an explosive sigh. She turns around and marches off to the closest tree, telling the boys to keep an eye on her as she gradually walks up the trunk and ends up standing upside down on a branch. The way Katsuki’s and Izuku’s eyes widen and jaws drop causes a delighted flutter in Ino’s chest, reflected by the growing grin on her lips.
It takes a beat before the boys explode into action and noise, both rushing towards her tree and clamouring for answers. With a graceful flip, Ino lands on her feet, waiting for the boys to calm down before she begins her lesson.
The path diverges that day, but the world doesn’t die again.