Sakura and Ino stood facing each other. Ino didn't change, having already worn her usual clothing which was versatile enough for any occasion. Sakura, however…
Naruto couldn't help but gawk as Saukura unzipped her hoodie. Underneath she wore a red sports bra that hugged tight to her modest bosom and stopped right under it, revealing her tight midsection.
He blushed. It was…a lot more skin than his Sakura usually showed…like ever. She didn't seem to notice his gaze though, almost as if she expected no one to be looking at her the way he did.
The seal twinged again, a small reminder that it was doing its job,
Then the fight started.
It went on…
…for about 8 minutes.
Naruto really couldn't tell what he was looking at.
He really couldn't.
He'd expected that two future kunoichi prospects who'd just finished the second year of the academy would at least stick to foundational taijutsu principles.
But this was…
This was what they called a cat fight.
There was hair pulling, slapping, scratching…even a bit of biting?!
Just as Ino went in for another slap and Sakura for another kick, Naruto jumped between the two, catching both strikes with his hands. "That's enough!"
His voice sent shivers down both the future genin's spines. Powerful and commanding as it was.
"Wh–what is it, Naru-kun?" Ino asked, her cheek having scratch marks and her lip a bit swollen on the right side.
Sakura was also in bad shape with one of her eyes turning purple. "I would've gotten her!"
"No, you wouldn't," Naruto said firmly, "neither of you would. I'm calling this fight off."
"But the bet–" they both said.
"The bet can go to hell," Naruto said, his voice disappointed. "Maybe it was stupid of me to expect a clean fight with proper Taijutsu techniques. It seems I was mistaken."
The two looked away in shame.
Naruto sighed. "It's my fault for suggesting this."
He then looked at the two, and to their surprise, he made two clones.
One of them headed towards Ino, and picked her up. "What're you–Naru-kun!"
The other headed towards Sakura and did the same thing. "Hey–Wha–"
Then they shunshin'ed away from each other.
The original Naruto rubbed his forehead in frustration.
"Well that didn't go as planned…"
'Girls are so weird…'
"Eep!" She said as Naruto's shunshin landed on the grassy hill near the roots of a tree. "Oh Kami! That was weird!"
Naruto's clone shook his head. "You get used to it after a while."
Ino looked at him astonished. "You're—you're rather talented, Naru-kun. You look the same age as me but you can make solid clones and even know how to shunshin already!"
Naruto shook his head. "It isn't anything special. It's something people can learn with time if they set their minds to it. Now, let me look at your injuries."
From the instructions of his former teammate, Naruto had learnt how to heal basic cuts and surface wounds. He wouldn't know how to attach a limb or transplant a heart, but he could handle what he currently saw in front of him. The mystic palm jutsu had always been hard for him to perform due to the level of control needed of his chakra but he found that now, surprisingly, it was easier to control.
Light green chakra lit the tip of his fingertips as he held it above the few wounds Ino had taken over the fight.
"You even know medical ninjutsu!" Ino said, "That's amazing!"
Naruto gave a sad smile. "I was never really good at it, but even with my lack of talent in the field, I was taught by one of the best. I know enough to heal this much."
Ino closed her eyes as Naruto got to work, numbing, disinfecting and stitching the wounds back together.
"It's Naruto," Naruto said, choosing to throw caution to the wind. He'd already done it with Hinata and couldn't see the point in withholding his real first name any longer. "My real name is Naruto. I just shortened it for…Hokage's orders related purposes."
"Naru..to?" Ino questioned, "Like…fish cake topping, Naruto?"
Naruto rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, I get that all the time."
Ino giggled. "It's such a cute name."
Naruto only continued to work, patching her up. He was surprised at the damage two girls can do to each other after only 8 minutes. Then again, few fights between shinobi really last that long, unless they are of similar skill or quite durable.
"Again, I can't divulge why I've been undercover, but I assume that the Hokage would sort it all out soon."
Ino nodded, understanding. "That's great! And once you're here permanently, we can go on a real date!"
There was a pause.
As second after second passed, Ino's hopeful smile turned into one of uncertainty. "R–right, Naru-kun?"
"Look, Ino…" Naruto said, not knowing what to say to her advances. He sat down beside her as she felt her heart drop. The lack of response didn't bode well for her success. "I really appreciate that someone as incredible as you would take notice of me but…I don't think we're ready to be in that type of relationship yet."
"Wh-what do you mean?" Ino asked.
"You're…sort of green," Naruto said, sighing, "you've yet to even be on your first mission, you've yet to see the world for what it truly is, you've yet to even take your first kill."
Ino just stared at him.
Naruto continued. "It seems that you favour me, but despite my age, I've been through things that you can't even imagine. Until you get that semblance and understanding of the ninja life, I'd like for you to reserve your judgement until then."
He looked at her apologetically. "Can you do that for me?"
Ino continued looking at him, through his henged eyes to see whether he was being genuine. "I…see. So you're saying I'm not good enough for you?"
"No!" Naruto protested immediately. "That's not what I'm saying at all! It's just…you know."
Naruto thought about it for a moment. "Do you ever wonder why there aren't many shinobi and civilian marriages?"
Ino shook her head. "Now that I think about it, I don't know any at all. Wait…are you saying that I seem like a civilian to you?"
Naruto winced and nodded. "I think you have the potential to be one of Konoha's top shinobi but…right now…to ninja, civilians are only ever good for a one night stand, and I respect you too much for that."
Then Ino did something that surprised Naruto. She giggled.
Naruto took an exhale of relief. "Are–are we okay? I didn't mean to hurt you in any way…"
Ino shook her head. "You let me down easy…and thanks for that."
Naruto shook his head to clear the clump of thoughts in his mind. "What made you even want to try dating me of all people anyway?"
Ino looked at him like he was stupid.
"What?" He asked. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
Ino rolled her eyes. "I think you're cute. What other reason do I need?"
Naruto scrunched his brows. "I'm…cute? I guess my cheeks can be a tad chubby but–"
Ino burst out laughing. "No! Not like that! Cute is just what girls call boys who are handsome."
Naruto tilted his head in confusion. "Isn't that a bit counterintuitive? I mean guys call girls cute all the time…most of the time they mean it literally…"
Ino felt like she was truly looking at an innocent soul for the first time, at least in terms of romance and…dirty deeds.
"By the way Naruto-kun," Ino said, and the sultry way she said his name sent shivers down his spine, "when exactly will you see me as a fully fledged kunoichi?"
Naruto thought of it. Then shrugged. "It depends on what you've seen and done, but when you are, I'll know."
Ino smirked then muttered. "So it's only a matter of time, huh?"
"Fuck! Put me down!" Sakura screeched as Naruto landed at the base of another tree away from where his other fellow clone and Ino were.
"Alright! Alright! Sorry!" Naruto said, doing just that. He gently placed Sakura on the grass.
She let out another volley of curses that would even make sailors blush. "I can't believe that bitch! First she dumps dirt water on me when I tried confessing to Sasuke and now she has the gall to pretend like she did nothing wrong and I'm the harlot who ruined her date?! Bitch, please! As. If. You. Deserve. Anything. You. Stupid. Pig!"
She punctuated her final words by punching the stump of the tree. By the end of it, her hands were shaking and tears were forming from her teal eyes.
"I can't believe I agreed to get into this stupid fight in the first place…" she said finally before slumping to the grassy ground. Small sobs came out of her despite her attempt at holding them in.
"Sakura-cha–Sakura…" Naruto said, regretting his suggestion that they duke it out like…like he did. Now that he thought about it, Sasuke never saw his side of the argument after they tried to kill each other…then there was Gaara so perhaps his way of doing things worked out only…half of the time.
Naruto approached the crying girl slowly, as if afraid of scaring her away. When he got close enough he asked: "Hey…may I sit here?" He gestured to the ground next to her.
She didn't say anything in response, too lost in her thoughts. Naruto decided to go with his gut and sat down next to his former teammate.
His presence must've startled her out of her reverie. "Wh–what do you want?"
"I wanted…to apologise," Naruto said after thinking for a moment, "It was my fault this all happened."
Sakura wiped the tears from her eyes and shook her head.
"It's not…your fault. This was a…long time coming," She said pausing in between the swipes.
"Here, let me heal you," Naruto said as he proceeded to do the same thing his other clone was doing to Ino.
Sakura watched him do it, looking at him incredulously. "You can't be much older than me and yet…"
Naruto shook his head. "We grew up in different circumstances. Don't compare yourself to a person who got a bit of a head start. It means nothing and does nothing other than make you feel worse about yourself."
Sakura bit her lip, preventing what she wanted to say next. Yet it still came out.
"I'm just a 'dirty pathetic whore who doesn't know a man's dick from an animal's' anyway…" She muttered under her breath, reciting the hurtful words Sasuke spoke to her some time ago.
Naruto's hairs prickled on end. "Excuse me?"
Sakura blushed, embarrassed. "It's nothing…"
"No," Naruto disagreed, "It clearly wasn't nothing. For a second there I thought I heard you debase yourself in a manner that was very much unbefitting for someone whose potential is as high as yours."
Sakura laughed though it was full of contempt, "you're just saying empty words to try and make me feel better…just like my parents."
Naruto was in disbelief as he continued healing her. "What made you think of yourself like this?"
Sakura didn't answer.
Naruto decided to take a guess. "Does it have anything to do with Sasuke?"
He saw her fists clench,
"How do you know that?" She accused, her tone scathing.
"Ino was talking about the history behind you two before you came along," Naruto answered.
"Should have known that bitch would spill in front of any pretty face she sees," Sakura said, sighing.
Naruto arched an eyebrow. "So that's a yes?"
"It's none of your business, pretty boy," Sakura spat.
'Pretty boy?' Naruto had never felt more sure that this world had it backwards as compared to his up until right this moment. Sakura calling him a pretty boy.
The world must be flipped on its head.
"I…see," Naruto responded, putting the final touches to his work on her arms before lifting her chin to work on the bruises on her face. "I just think you're putting yourself down for no reason. The girl I see in front me isn't useless or anything even close to a…whore. I see someone who's fierce, passionate, drop-dead pretty and capable of being one of the strongest kunoichi in the world…should she just put some faith in herself, even just a tiny bit."
Sakura seemed stunned at his words. Her expression morphed from one of downcast to one of uncertainty and…hope. "Wh–what do you know about me?"
"I saw you fight," Naruto said.
"Psh," Sakura scoffed, "That was a bullshit fight and you and I both know it."
Though she kept her eyes on him like she was still wishing that he said something more of what he did…something that didn't make her feel like shit but would rather lift her spirits.
Naruto chuckled. "You're right, the fight was…unprofessional…but I have an eye for talent. You have that talent in spades."
Sakura turned away disappointed. "Yeah right. I'm terrible at taijutsu, terrible at ninjutsu, I don't even know where to even start with genjutsu. The only thing I know how to do is memorise words from a book."
She spat the last sentence out as if the words personally offended her. Then she muttered: "Stupid Sasuke…"
Naruto knew that whatever it was that Sasuke said to her, it was very much in the realm of being uncalled for, seeing as to how much his words affected her.
"I even have shit chakra capacity," She continued, "Maybe I should just give up–"
"--Don't say that," Naruto cut in, catching her attention once again. "Did you join the academy in the first place because of Sasuke?"
Sakura took a moment to think about it before shaking her head. "No…I did it because I wanted a better life for my parents. To…I don't know, honour the Haruno name by becoming a strong enough Kunoichi to establish a clan? For money? For power?"
She shook her head. "I didn't know what I was thinking."
"On the contrary, I believe that you were thinking quite clearly," Naruto said, smiling, "Just like everyone, you had a goal when you started. Did it ever change?"
"But you got distracted?" Naruto offered. Sakura didn't say anything. "Whatever happened between you and this boy, Sasuke. Would you really allow him to have power over you?"
"He doesn't have power over me!" Sakura retorted.
"And yet you let him change you. Let him make you think you are worthless when you are clearly not."
Sakura had her mouth open, as if she couldn't believe what he was saying. "How–how can you say things like that? It's as if–as if…"
"As if I believe in you? Believe that you can be better?" Naruto smiled again. "You seem surprised that someone would even bother to do so. Much less a stranger you only met today."
"Do you think my judgement is flawed?" He asked.
Sakura looked down and didn't respond.
"Then I will just have to prove that you are more than the person you make yourself out to be," Naruto said.
Sakura arched an eyebrow at him quizzically.
Naruto smiled. "Ever heard of the tree climbing exercise?"
"How are you doing that?" Sakura gasped as she watched him hang upside down from a tree branch.
Naruto explained the concept to her. She…she looked like a puppy that was afraid of getting in the water for the first time. Her hands shook, as Naruto got back down.
He grabbed her shaking hand, to her surprise, and placed the butt of a kunai into it. "Use this to mark your progress."
Sakura looked unsure as she stared at the blade, then she heard Naruto say something.
"You may not believe in yourself, Sakura, but I do," Naruto said, "you have more than what it takes to be great, you just have to be bold…and don't worry, I will catch you if you fall."
As if his words were the wind to her sails, she clenched her fist right around the handle. Determination flowed through her, and for the first time in a long while…she began to hope…and she began to believe.
She took the first step on the tree…
"Incredible…" Naruto muttered. No matter how many times he saw it, it was ridiculous that Sakura could catch on to the technique so quickly. He realised that she got the hang of it even faster than her younger self from his world, succeeding over just the second try.
Sakura, herself, looked like she couldn't believe what she was seeing. "Yuki–san!" She screamed. "I–I did it!"
Naruto laughed at her surprise, and that was enough to break her concentration.
She yelped as she unlatched herself from the tree…though she hadn't needed to worry for she fell straight into Naruto's waiting arms.
Naruto was still laughing at her stunned reaction. "Didn't I tell you? You have talent in spades!"
Sakura almost couldn't believe it but she'd just—she'd just walked up a tree! Horizontally! Without falling to her doom and breaking her hip!
So much was going on in her mind that it took her a moment to realise where she was.
…in the arms of a shinobi. A shinobi who, in her time of vulnerability, she called pretty boy…
She felt like jumping into a volcano and letting the universe decide her fate.
"Uh–uhmm, thanks for catching me but…" Sakura said.
As if thinking nothing of it at all, he set her back on her feet gently. "It's no big deal! See? I knew you could do it!"
Sakura blushed. "H-how?"
Naruto thought of the best way to put it. "Even though you said that your chakra capacity is low, I had the feeling that your control of it was top notch. Maybe because of your slight use of it to enhance your punches in your fight against Ino."
"Y–you noticed that?" Sakura said, twiddling with her hair.
The motion caused Naruto to look at her. Her long cherry blossom hair, so unlike the short one of his Sakura. The blush on her face. The sports bra that showed her toned midriff.
The words slipped out before he could catch it. "You're as beautiful as always…"
The two froze.
"Uhh…" Naruto murmured. "Did I say that out loud?"
Sakura gave a tiny, blushing and shaky nod as if unsure she'd heard him right.
"Sorry," Naruto said instinctively, "I–uh…you remind me of the Sakura that I know. Oddly, you two look kind of alike and had the same name as well so I was a bit…confused."
Sakura gave another shaky nod. "I–I see…"
"I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable–"
"--No, it's fine," Sakura interrupted, "just didn't expect it, that's all…"
The two let the silence between them linger for a while longer.
Then Sakura twiddled her thumbs and spoke up. "D-did you mean it? Or–or was it just a slip of the tongue?"
"Eh?" Naruto dumbly responded.
"Th-that I'm beautiful," Sakura clarified, kicking a small rock near her feet.
"Of course!" Naruto said, "what, you don't know that you're gorgeous or something? That would be a crime against nature…and other women!"
Sakura went crimson, her face was hotter than she'd ever felt it had been before.
Naruto continued, oblivious. "Some guy Sasuke must've been, huh? To refute someone like you…wait a moment, how come I've never thought of this before?"
Naruto looked at her, leaning in and making her even more flustered than she already was, as if intending to initiate the biggest gossip of the century. "Do…do you think he's gay?"
Sakura just looked at him.
Then she burst out laughing. She almost fell on her backside, as she clasped her mouth with both hands, trying to contain herself. "Th–That's!"
"Hey, that was a serious question, dattebayo!" Naruto said, "if he's rejecting advances left and right, from what I've heard, least of all from you of all people, there must be…something off about him right?"
Sakura guffawed, unable to hold on for any longer.
The sound was like pure serotonin to him. He smiled a big, goofy smile. It seemed that despite how different she acted and dressed, at least her raw, unrestrained laughter was the same. It made him feel like he could take Kaguya's place and become a god himself when he heard it.
"You're–You're ridiculous!" Sakura said. "But–but you might even be right!"
Naruto shrugged, a smug expression on his face. "Like I said…I got a good read on people, ya know?"
That brought Sakura back to what she was originally doing. "I–I don't know what to say for all this. Thank you. It means a lot to me. More than you know…"
Naruto humbly shook his head. "It's nothing. All that's left is for you to mend your bridges with Ino, yeah?"
Sakura chose to remain silent in that regard.
Naruto rolled his eyes.
"Say," Sakura enquired, changing the topic, "if you don't mind me asking, what happened between you and your Sakura? You speak of her so…fondly."
Naruto had a wistful smile on his face when he answered. "All my life, I've liked her. When I got to know her as a teammate and a friend, that feeling slowly turned into a slight crush, perhaps even love if I had more time with her…but she loved another…and now…well I don't think we'll ever see each other again."
Sakura looked at the sadness on Naruto's face. She could tell that there was so much that he felt for this woman that perhaps, he never had the chance to tell her how he truly and deeply felt. It was that longing, and…acceptance of reality that made him seem all the more sadder.
Sakura placed her hand in his, bringing his attention back to her. "I'm sorry for bringing it up…"
Naruto smiled, his sadness evaporating like mist in a summer's morning, "It was nice to air out some of my memories of her with you. You just remind me so much of her, yet I know that you are very much different in some ways. Though, like her, you are just, if not more, talented. You just got to go for it, dattebayo!"
Sakura shyly turned her gaze away from him, unable to handle the sheer amount of belief in his eyes. It was so…empowering. It made her feel like she could really do anything if she just set her mind to it.
"I can tell you aren't fully convinced," Naruto chuckled, "So why don't you come back tomorrow and we can take the chakra control exercises up a notch, hm?"
Sakura couldn't help but feel elated that this…stranger that she'd only met today would go out of his way to help her to this extent. "Th–thank you, Yuki-san."
"It's Naruto, dattebayo," Naruto said.
"Sorry?" Sakura said.
"My given name, it's Naruto. I'd prefer it if you call me that instead."
Sakura blushed at the relationship boundary she'd just leaped. "Alright…"
Then it struck her. "Naruto…as in like fish cake toppings?"
Naruto rolled his eyes.