I was having a lovely dream. I was on a beautiful mountainside, with one notable difference - everything was made of food. The boulders were steaming loaves of bread, and the trees grew dango and pocky. Flowers sprouted with onigiri and naruto, and taiyaki swam through the ramen broth. Mochi grew instead of grass, and I had never been happier. I could almost die of joy.
Well. Die again.
I pulled up an onigiri flower and ate half of it in one bite. Moaning in pleasure, I scooped the taiyaki from the stream and shook off the excess broth before taking a bite. The taste was exquisite . Beyond exquisite.
My eyes slowly widened as I saw the ultimate prize - a gigantic plate of sushi. Drool trickled out the corner of my mouth. I reached forward, almost not daring to touch such perfection. The moment I touched the first piece, I knew that this was going to be the best sushi I had ever had. The fish was clearly caught this morning, if not a few hours ago, and the rice was just the right texture. And the seaweed must have been crafted by the gods themselves, because there was no way any mortal man could reach such perfection. I moved it towards my mouth and closed my eyes. It was in the opening of my mouth, and -
“Yamanaka!” A sharp pain hit me in the forehead and smacked me into the back of my seat. I blinked a couple times as the classroom came into focus. “And Nara!” A chalkboard eraser flew through the air and smacked one of my seatmates in the forehead. Clearly a repeat of what happened to me. My other seatmate was unperturbed by the violence, content to eat his chips as the rest of the class laughed. My sister merely pinched the bridge of her nose. “I devote my time to teaching you day after day, and you repay me by sleeping all the time?!”
I blinked sleepily at Iruka-sensei, still disoriented from my dream.
“But…” I said softly. He sighed before humoring me.
“The… the sushi… I was so close, Sensei,” I stared at him with plaintive eyes. His eye twitched.
“You really are a pig girl, Inoko,” Ami smirked from her seat across the aisle. Chōji stirred beside me, munching on his chips faster. “A stupid lazy pig girl.”
“Hey, leave my baby sister alone,” Ino frowned.
“She may sleep all the time, but her grades are still high above yours, Ami,” Iruka-sensei replied shortly as he shuffled some papers on his desk. She flushed as Kiba loudly whispered, “Burn…” A few other students snickered amongst themselves.
“You are five minutes older,” I leaned forward and growled in Ino’s ear as Sensei resumed his lecture. I lightly pulled on her ponytail, just to make sure she was paying attention. “Stop calling me your baby sister. You know it pisses me off.” She merely gave me the same smile that usually got her out of trouble with Dad.
“Really? I had no idea.” I pulled her ponytail a bit harder in return. Glancing around the classroom, I leaned into Chōji and whispered, “What did I miss?”
“Not much,” he whispered back, offering me some of his chips. I gladly accepted one. Yum, barbeque. “We’ve been going over our final exam. There’s a written test, and then a practical exam.”
“Joy,” I muttered. I stole another chip, munching thoughtfully.
“I’m handing out your papers now,” our sensei announced. “When I call your name, come up and get it.” He began to list out names, and being a horrible person, I relished the looks on my fellow students as they saw their harshly graded exams. Heh.
“Yamanaka, Ino and Inoko,” he called. Ino waved me to stay in my seat as she skipped to the front. I settled back onto my desk, still tired despite my impromptu nap.
“I just want you to know that I hate you,” my twin pouted as she handed me my paper. “Two wrong? Out of a hundred very hard questions? I thought I was supposed to be the smart one.”
“Nah, you’re the pretty one. I’m the smart one,” I teased, glancing over my paper. One I had left blank because I had no idea how to solve it, and the other I used the wrong formula. Oh well. “I have to have something going for me.”
Ino gave me a look. “We’re identical twins.”
I was saved from replying by Sensei calling, “Uzumaki, Naruto.” Silence. “Naruto?” The entire class stared at his empty seat. He must have snuck out while I was napping. A blood vessel pulsed near Iruka’s temple. I had to admit, I was curious to know how this would turn out.
At that moment, we heard Suzume-sensei scream. “The Hokage-monument!” The vein pulsed harder, and Sensei was doing his very best to keep a smile on his face. “Class, study chapter fourteen of your anatomy textbooks until I return.” He spun on his heel and left the room. The moment the door closed, I clearly heard him shout, “Mizuki!” I managed to keep a straight face for all of eight seconds before losing it.
“Chōji, can you give me a boost?” I managed after I caught my breath. Absolutely no one was studying, except for maybe Sakura. Oh, and Sasuke, but that was because he had ‘the Uchiha honor to uphold’. Translation: ‘I’m a stick in the mud that has no idea how to have fun’. Gossiping and goofing off seemed to be the main priorities, particularly next to Sasuke. His usual impassive face had just a hint of suffering on it. Ha. “I wanna see what Naruto did.”
Chōji was a darling as usual and let me stand on his shoulders so I could reach the window. Still, I tried to pull most of my weight onto the windowsill. Covering my eyes from the bright sun, I gave a low whistle as I beheld the graffitied heads. A small figure was hanging in front of the Yondaime and slowly creating a white stream from the nose. Figures.
I glanced over my shoulder back into the classroom. Absolutely no one was paying attention to me except for Chōji and Shikamaru. I grinned, a plot forming in my head.
“I’m getting some food,” I announced. “Anyone want to come with?” Shika groaned, but drifted over to us anyway. Kiba gave me a suspicious look.
“Who’s paying?” he asked.
“My treat,” I said, rolling my eyes. Akamaru barked, and his partner gave me a grin.
“Sounds like fun!”
“Wait just a minute,” Ino growled. I gave her a lazy blink. I guess someone else was paying attention after all. “I’m not going to let you play hooky on our last day of school.”
“I’m not playing hooky,” I drawled. “I’ll be back before Sensei is.” I pushed the window open and jumped out, breaking out into a run the moment I touched the ground. My companions caught up pretty quickly, and we were sent off with Ino’s annoyed, “ Inoko !”
“Ah, the joys of being her sister,” I sighed as we slowed a decent distance from the Academy. “Anyway, who wants what?” I ended up buying more chips for Chōji, smoked mackerel for Shika, and beef jerky for Kiba and Akamaru. I also got some pudding for Ino as a peace offering. As for myself, I bought a sushi bento. Because sushi.
“Inoko, any man who gets you as a wife would be so lucky,” Kiba sighed happily. Akamaru made an agreeable noise muffled by jerky.
“Oh yeah, dog breath,” I snorted, amused. “Marrying someone is totally my entire goal in life. I only exist to buy you men food.”
Kiba gasped dramatically. “You mean you aren’t?” I glared at him for a moment before punching him in the arm.
“Troublesome,” Shikamaru sighed, looking vaguely amused as Kiba and I engaged in a friendly shoving match.
Ino was fuming when we got back. The moment I passed through the window, she grabbed my ponytail and dragged me to my seat.
“Ow ow ow ow.”
“Do you know how much trouble you could have been in if Sensei had come back first?” she snapped. She was way too much like Mother at times for my liking.
“But he didn’t, so I’m not,” I protested. What was the point of being a ninja if you couldn’t sneak out of boring places and get food? “If you keep being mean to me, I won’t give you the pudding I bought.” She blinked in surprise, then frowned.
“If you think that I’m going to let you bribe me, then -”
“Chocolate,” I interrupted, waving it in front of her face. I could see her starting to waver. “From an Akimichi place, no less. But, if you don’t want it, I’ll be more than happy to eat it myself…?” I trailed off, grinning at her. The pudding disappeared from my hand.
“Just this once,” she warned. Funny, that was what she said last time. And the time before that.
Iruka-sensei came in then, with Naruto in tow. He was tied up pretty tightly, and had a determined unrepentant look on his face. Basically the same look he had whenever he got caught at his pranks. Sensei himself gave me a look as I ate another piece of sushi. He knows , I thought while sweating a little.
“Well, Naruto, since you have completely thrown off the rest of the lesson plan for today, the entire class can practice their henge.” Everyone around me groaned. Ino smacked her forehead into her desk.
“Well, it’s not like some of us can’t use the extra practice,” I said. I winked at Naruto. He beamed at me, recognizing the backhanded support. Shika looked like he wanted to elbow me, but was as always too lazy to bother.
Sasuke, the little show-off, was one of the first to go, and did a henge of Sensei. Sakura copied him, of course - I loved that girl to bits, but my god, her fangirl tendencies drove me insane - as did Ino. My eye was twitching by the time it was my turn. Just to screw with everyone, I henged as Sasuke.
“Told you she’s in denial,” Ami smirked to her friend Kasumi. I turned to her and made the stupidest face that human muscles could create, then went a bit further. The boys all laughed. Dropping the henge, I returned to my seat.
“Nice henge, owl,” Sasuke said sarcastically. I scowled at the nickname Ami had given me a couple years earlier. They think they’re soo clever, just because I have insomnia.
“Thanks,” I deadpanned. “You didn’t do too bad yourself, duck boy.” If looks could kill, I would have likely dropped dead there. I gave him a bland smile, the kind I knew infuriated him. Well you know what, Sasuke, if I bother you that much you could fight me, and then we’ll see.
“Sexy Jutsu!” I heard behind me. Another twitch developed on my face. If I’ve told him once, I’ve told him a thousand times…
After Iruka-sensei was done yelling at him and sent him back to his seat, the rest of the day went smoothly. It usually did after one of Naruto’s pranks, especially a large scale one like that.
“I think that the monument was your best work yet,” I said as I packed up my things at the end of the day. My bag had gotten heavier over the years, both with school books and things I read for fun between classes. And homework. Good grief, the homework. “You definitely topped covering the markets with catnip, and I think that was my favorite one.”
That had been pure, unmitigated chaos . An entire hoard of super high cats, all super cuddly and affectionate. I still had the ultimate blackmail in the form of seeing Sasuke veritably covered in cats, giving all the pets and skritches he could. The look on his face when we made eye contact was one I would treasure for the rest of my days.
“I know, right?” Naruto said excitedly. “But Iruka-sensei’s making me clean it off, dattebayo.” I patted his shoulder sympathetically.
“I’d help, you know, but Ino and I have a meeting with the clan elders right after dinner. Graduation is tomorrow, after all, and they have to tell us how disappointed they are with my current life choices and what they expect of me in the future.” He made a face. It more or less matched my feelings on the matter.
“I do not envy you,” he said, making an X with his arms. I rolled my eyes. He’s so dramatic. “Hanging out with those old coots.”
Elbowing him and laughing, I said, “Hey! Those ‘old coots’ are my family.” I raised my voice in a snotty mimicry of a noble. “‘And we all know how important the old coots are. You see, if it weren’t for them, who else would tell you how disappointed they are in all of your life choices?’” Naruto burst out laughing, some of his good mood restored. My mission accomplished, I pulled my backpack on and smiled at him. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Naruto.”
“Bye!” he said cheerfully, but I could feel his chakra become sad after I left the room. Stop it, I scolded myself. You can’t keep him company every second of every day. You have clan things to do.
Mother was getting dinner started when we shuffled around in the entryway, pulling our shoes off. “Tadaima,” Ino and I called out.
“Welcome back,” came distantly from the kitchen. I could smell something frying, and heard oil beginning to pop. I wasn’t drooling.
… ok, I was a little bit.
“Go ahead and take a shower before dinner, girls,” Mother continued. “You have a meeting with the elders tonight, remember.”
“Yes, Mother,” we chorused. We glanced at each other.
“Dibs on first shower!” I shouted, bolting up the stairs.
“Hey! That’s not fair! Mother!”
I made it into the bathroom first and tried to shut the door behind me. Ino body slammed into it, almost pushing it open. I dug my heels into the rug and forced the door to shut with a click, then twisted the lock.
“No fair!” she hollered.
“You snooze, you lose!” I cackled, already shrugging off my top. She smacked the door one final time before leaving me to my business.
I didn’t take too long, even if I did love long hot showers. Ino was waiting for me, after all, and Mother’s cooking was to die for.
I skipped downstairs, inhaling the wonderful smells. Chicken karaage with rice and miso. I tried to steal a little bit, just a bite before dinner, but Mother smacked my hand with the spoon.
“Wait until dinner,” she said in a bemused tone, watching me nurse my hand. “Why don’t you set the table? Your father will be home soon.”
I sighed dramatically as I grabbed the bowls. “I guess .”
Once I was done setting the table, I sat on one of the stools and watched as Mother worked. In my opinion, Mother was the pinnacle of elegance and grace. Her cooking rivaled even Setsuko-baa’s. Basically, she was amazing, and I’d fight anyone who said otherwise.
“I’m starving,” Ino announced, bouncing downstairs with her hair wrapped in a towel. “What’s for dinner, Mother?”
“Mother. What kind of food?”
Ino shot me a dirty look as I snickered. I pretended that I didn’t see it, instead grabbing the plate of karaage. A piece might have gone missing between the kitchen and the dining room table. I would deny everything until the day I died.
“How was school?” Mother asked as she took off her apron. Underneath she was wearing an elegant kimono, which was unsullied by her dinner preparations as usual. One day I’d manage to also not get flour and stuff all over myself, even when I had an apron on.
“Not bad,” I said. “Naruto graffitied the Hokage monument, so that was fun.” Mother gave me a look. “I didn’t help this time!” I protested. “Honest, you can ask Sensei.”
“She fell asleep in the middle of Sensei’s lecture,” Ino pipped in, raising an eyebrow.
“In my defense, I already knew it,” I said, very much not making eye contact as I ran back to the kitchen to grab napkins. I could hear the front door close, muffled against the clattering of dishes.
I could hear the frown in Mother’s voice. “That’s not a valid excuse.”
“What’s going on?” Dad asked as he came in. He looked tired, but he usually looked kind of tired when he first came home.
“Nothing!” I said cheerfully, throwing myself at him and hugging him tightly. Dad swung me into the air.
“Whoa! I won’t be able to do that for much longer,” he laughed, grunting a little with the effort. To say that I was a cuddle bug and a daddy’s girl were both understatements. Mother would often tell how as a baby I only wanted to be with Dad, and could generally not care less about everyone else who wanted to hold me.
I didn’t remember that, being a baby and all, but considering she wasn’t the first mother who had told me that, I was willing to believe it.
“Which is why you should do it while you can,” I reasoned, wriggling free and dropping to the ground. I gave him my best sad eyes. “Also, do we really have to go to that meeting? They’re boring.” He was sadly immune this time.
“Yes, you do.” Ignoring my groan, Dad continued, “You’re both going to be full members of the clan, with all the responsibilities of a clan member. And because you’re both children of the clan head, that has a few more responsibilities tacked on at the end.”
“... I just want to be a psychologist,” I muttered, flopping onto my seat. “The ninja thing is just to see if I can.”
“Dear, you may not be the heir,” Mother began, reaching out to smooth my hair.
“I’m just the backup heir,” I snorted. “But yes, I know. Dad’s the head, so I need to be able to know whose butt to kiss to make the clan happy.” Dad’s cough sounded suspiciously like a laugh. “I’m right, aren’t I? Crap.”
He gave Mother a quick kiss before sitting down at the table. “Noriko, this looks delicious, thank you.”
“Itadakimasu,” I echoed Ino, and then dug in. I gave a happy sigh. I swear, my mother must have taken cooking lessons from a god. It was over all too soon, though, and then I had to get ready for the meeting.
“Stop picking out my clothes!” I shouted once I went into our room and saw the kimono on my bed. “I can do it myself!
“It’s not my fault you have bad fashion taste! You’d wear a t-shirt and pajama pants all the time if you could!” I mean. She wasn’t wrong.
“Because they’re comfortable,” I grouched, and reluctantly pulled on the kimono. They were appropriate for the occasion, but all the same, I hated them. I could barely move in them. I swear, all of her outfit choices had either too much fabric or not enough fabric. I half heartedly twisted my hair up and stuck a chopstick through it.
Ino pat the seat of her vanity, beaming at me. “Thank the Three,” I muttered, sitting down. Don’t get me wrong, I liked having my face all pretty and made up. But for the most part, it was way too much effort to do on anything but a special occasion. As a result, though, I wasn’t too great at it. Ino? She had been doing makeup since we turned ten and our parents allowed us to do anything other than a bit of lip gloss outside of class. She was incredibly good at it, and I was more than happy to let her do it for me.
“You need to put more effort into your hair,” Ino muttered, removing the chopstick and letting my admittedly weak work fall apart. “It’s so thick and pretty.”
“That’s exactly why I don’t. It’s easier to just braid it on the rare times I need it out of my face.”
Ino hummed as she brushed my hair. “I guess. Your bangs need a trim, by the way, they’re getting a bit long.”
“Yeah, I know,” I sighed. “I’ll ask Mother to trim them when we get back.” I kept procrastinating it, and now they were hanging in my eyes.
“Good plan.” She twisted my hair up into a bun and thoughtfully pushed a different pair of chopsticks through my hair. “Mine look nicer. Just return them when we come home.”
“Will do, sister dearest.”
“Girls, we’re going to be late!” Dad called up the stairs.
“Coming!” we both shouted back. Eyes met in the vanity mirror and we both burst into a fit of giggles.
Once we had both carefully picked our way downstairs, I drawled, “Now, on to the execution.”
“I do wish you’d dress nicely more often,” Mother said as she straightened my obi. “You look so pretty when you put effort into your appearance.”
“Why do that when I have Ino?” I asked. “I’m before, and she’s after.”
“Very funny,” Ino said, poking me in the side.
“You both look very nice,” Dad approved. “Shall we go to the slaughter?”
“See? Dad agrees with me.”
On the way to the meeting house, we were met with the occasional inclined head and advanced congratulations on our graduation tomorrow. It was practically unthinkable that the child of a clan head wouldn’t pass with their peers, and we were both determined to not disappoint. Mainly out of pettiness on my part.
“You’re late, Inoichi-sama,” Akio, one of the elders, said. He didn’t like me very much, which was fair because I didn’t like him either. Twins were rare and generally thought to be bad luck. I’d overheard him talking to his daughter once when I was younger, blaming my parents for the Kyuubi attack because they hadn’t gotten rid of me and maybe even Ino.
So yeah. Screw him.
“Sorry about that,” Dad shrugged, taking a seat. He didn’t like Akio either. I think he also caught wind of the elder’s mutterings, but there wasn’t much he could do aside from give him a firm talking to. Dad gestured for us to sit on either side of him. The meeting hadn’t even started and I was already bored. My only solace was that Shikamaru and Chōji had to go through this too, and we could all complain together in the morning. “I got held up on the way over.”
The meeting began, and I amused myself by singing songs from another time. She wants to dance like Uma Thurman, bury me till I confess. It was mostly about Ino and her stepping up as the official clan heir, and lecturing her on her responsibilities from here on out, and other boring stuff that didn’t concern me at all. Bah. Budgets. I wish I had brought one of the textbooks I checked out from the clan library. At least that stuff was interesting.
I didn’t even need to be here. None of this concerned me. Honestly, there were so much more important things that I could be doing right now. I stopped singing in my head and frowned a little.
Ino would always tease me and call me a book worm for spending most of my non sleeping time reading. However, there was method to my madness. Learning as much as I could before I graduated was necessary. Yes, I was anticipating failing the second test. But even then, I’d have the knowledge to survive when…
My stomach turned as I thought on the future. The Fourth Shinobi war that killed so many, including Yamanaka Inoichi.
I swallowed bile and focused on a knot in the wood. That was by far one of the worst things about being reincarnated: knowing who would live and who would die. And there was next to nothing I could do.
“Inoko!” I jumped a little in my seat to see everyone staring at me. “Pay attention. This is important.” I nodded sullenly and settled in for the long run.