Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ Training for the Job ❯ Volume 1 Chapter 3 ( Chapter 3 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
Volume I
Chapter 3 Notes: Just for the curious, last chapter may wind up being Gaara's last appearance in this fic (in person). I say 'may,' because I decided to leave the fate of his continued existance in the hands of the manga – if he survives the current story arc, I'm going to let him show up again in volume 4. If he doesn't, well... then he's dead as of Volume 3, so he won't be making an appearance. I mention this because it is the ONLY major even I have planned which may still be effected by the manga with regards to this fic. (minor events, such as certain people gaining or losing certain fighting techniques, I may figure out a way to work into the story after all. However, I have two subplot ideas for Vol. 4, one which would take place if Gaara was alive... and the other if he was dead. Both subplots allow for the same conclusion and niether could co-exist with the other, so I figured I'd put his fate in Kishimoto's hands.) Now, on with the story.
Ino realized, as she quietly pushed the food around her dinner plate, that she had definitely lost something when she went inside Naruto's head. She'd lost the respect and pride she held in her parents -- her parents, who seemed so kind and decent, had treated the poor boy as bad as some of the worst of his tormentors. She was actually ashamed of them, for once. Ignorance may be bliss, she thought, but I think I'm a better person for it, now that I know. It still hurts, though.
"Honey?" her mother said, as soft-spoken and kindly as usual. There was no hint, from that voice, of her being one of the rock-throwers who tormented Naruto. "Are you feeling okay?"
Ino contemplated that question for a moment, drawing the attention of her father as well. "Ino-chan?" he said.
"I don't know," Ino admitted, finally. "I... feel as if my whole world has been turned upside down, and I don't know what's going on."
Her parents looked at each other in silent communication. It hurt to see how caring they were of her, knowing the things she now did. She still loved them, but they and just about everyone else in Konoha had taken a deep drop in her esteem. She needed time to come to terms with it all, but she knew she didn't have that time.
"What happened?" Her father asked, sounding quite protective of her.
Ino sighed, stirring her food around again. "What would you say if you found out someone you thought was the happiest person in the world had lead such a hard life that, at one time, he believed his entire reason for existing was, and I quote, 'so that others can hate me so much they don't have to hate anyone else or be sad any more?' How would you react?"
That stopped both her parents cold. "That... how horrible!" her mother exclaimed. "Who is it? What happened to them?"
Her father, however, had his own suspicions raised. In a dangerous, wary voice, he said, "Yes, who was it? And just how did you find this out?"
Ino glared at her father, knowing he knew exactly who it was. "It was..." She paused, uncertain quite how to address this situation. She needed to explain just what she felt, and in such a way that it let her parents know how serious she was. "It was Naruto-dono."
The honorific gave both parents pause. "He is not to be discussed in this house, young lady," her father snapped.
"Are you dating that boy?" Her mother asked, instead.
Ino choked on bitter laughter. "Me? Dating him? I wish I stood a shot, now that I know him better, but I don't. His heart is set on someone else... and I don't think he'd give up on her, even if she were dead or married to another. He is absolutely devoted, and I just wish I could get someone that devoted in me." She paused. "And father, I know you probably know already, but... I took the mission you refused."
Her mother looked genuinely confused. "What mission? What are you talking about?"
"Oh, it was simple enough," Ino explained acidly. "A mission rated c-class in difficulty, but paying A-P rates? I'd be a fool to pass it up. Funny that my father passed it up, isn't it? I never thought of him as a fool, after all. Are you a fool, daddy, or is there another excuse for you turning down that job?”
“Ino!” her mother protested. “Don't talk to your father like that!”
Narrowing her eyes at her mother, Ino snapped, “Or what? You'll throw rocks at me like you do at Naruto?” At the shocked look her mother gave her, Ino nodded. “See, the mission was to go through Naruto's childhood memories and see just how the hell he stayed sane, instead of turning into someone who just wanted to kill us all like Gaara did. Surprise, surprise – I look through his memories and find out that, well, my parents were throwing stones at him when he was five years old. And for what reason? Why, because he was unwittingly saving all our lives from the kyuubi, that's why! Certainly a good enough reason for ostracizing a child who had no knowledge of why he was being shunned, and hated, by every adult and child in a city like Konoha, which prides itself on treating people fairly, and granting mercy where it is warranted, and so forth. What a great lesson for future generations!”
“You... you don't know what you're talking about,” her father stammered. “You didn't see the kyuubi... you don't know what it was like living with the knowledge that the goddamned creature which had killed half of your friends and family was left alive, and was walking around your town. You don't know what--”
“Naruto isn't the kyuubi, father,” Ino snapped. “That's something you should have figured out years ago and never did.”
“That monster should have been killed the moment the Fourth died!”
Ino gaped at her parents, then finally recovered. Closing her mouth – and her eyes – she slowly stood up from the table. “If you really feel he's such a monster, father, then I suppose nothing I can say will change your mind. Not even the fact that he's gone toe to toe with Orochimaru and a crazed Uchiha Sasuke, not even the fact that he's saved all of our lives when Gaara attacked, because he was the only one who could stand up to a real monster. Not even the fact that he's been favored by the Third and the Fifth hokage, and Jiraiya of the legendary sannin. Not even the fact that I'm fairly certain he will obtain his goal of being hokage one day, because after having seen just how he's struggled through life and come out as he has now I'm never going to underestimate him again. So go ahead, think of Naruto as a monster.” She turned and headed towards her room. “But now that I know who you really are, I'm not going to be staying under the same roof as you. I'm taking my A-P rank commission and leaving. Good bye.”
With that final statement, she stormed off. Her parents looked at each other in shock, both thinking the same thing.
Why is she so angry at us... just for protecting her from that monster?
* * * * *
Ino didn't go far. After all, even though she packed all of her possessions already and was carrying her travel gear and pack with her, she didn't have anywhere to go once leaving her house. So, she went just a couple doors down... to Sakura's house.
She's Naruto's teammate, Ino thought. Her parents have never, to my knowledge, protested against the two of them working together, so obviously they don't treat him like most of the rest of this town does. I certainly didn't recognize them as one of the rock-throwers, that's for sure. Sakura herself has worked with him, and he loves her. I think I could stand to stay with them until I can find my own place... if they'll let me.
So, taking a deep and nervous breath, and holding the four bags of clothes she'd brought with her from her house, she knocked on the door hoping for a kind welcome.
“Just a minute,” Sakura's mother called, her voice muffled by the door. She sounded sweet... although Ino was still well aware of how certain people who may appear kind might not be when they are confronted by something they don't understand. Hopefully, however, Haruno-san was really as nice as she remembered.
For just a moment, Ino wondered if maybe she was underpaid for her mission through Naruto's mind. If she didn't find some place to recover from all the shocks to her system, soon, she'd go crazy. Now, she was imagining everyone she remembered as 'nice' as a cruel tormentor of innocent five year old boys. Naruto seemed willing to forgive the village of Konoha... she had to learn to do the same.
Ino spent the minute waiting for Sakura's mother nervously contemplating her newfound paranoia, wondering if maybe she was taking her defense of Naruto too far. She did still love her parents -- after all, they weren't the only people to treat Naruto that way. Sure, the boy didn't deserve it, but... she wasn't Naruto, herself, and Naruto didn't seem to mind. Should she really be taking offense to this extreme for him when even he didn't?
Her thoughts were broken, however, when the door finally opened. "Oh, Ino-chan!" Sakura's mother cried, her own pink hair bouncing in front of her face. Ino usually would wonder at how, with bloodline abilities like the sharingan and the byakugan running around the village, the Haruno clan had developed instead the bloodline trait of unnaturally pink hair. Now, however, she was too disturbed about other things to even think about it... and apparently it showed. "What's wrong, dear?"
"I... I left home, Haruno-san. I can't stand to live in the same house as my parents right now. Can I... can I stay here until I find somewhere else to live?"
The middle-aged Haruno woman's eyes were sympathetic, but she didn't answer right away. "Come in, come in, dear. Bring your things. We'll talk about it and see what we can do, shall we?"
"Thank you, Haruno-san," Ino said, stepping inside.
"Just set your things down, there. I haven't said yes, yet, mind -- I'd like to talk with you about all this, first."
Ino sighed. Of course she would want to know why she'd left home -- while ninjas were allowed to leave their parent or guardian and live on their own from the time they enter the academy, it was still a rare occurance for someone with two living parents to move out before they turn twenty. And so, she'd have to talk about the town's treatment of Naruto, and how that had lead to her needing some time and space away from everyone to deal with it all. And Sakura's mother was an adult who lived in Konoha when the Kyuubi had attacked, so of course she would be unable to understand Ino's fierce determination to avoid those attacking Naruto. After all, she might not actively attack Naruto, and might be willing to allow him to work with her daughter, but nothing said she liked the boy at all. And so she'd just be sent back to her parents... where Ino was starting to realize she couldn't stay without losing her sanity.
She finally realized why it meant so much to her -- because of her mindwalk, she now felt as if the town had been treating her that way. It would take some time to become just 'Ino' again, instead of this odd fusion of Ino and Naruto's psyches and history. As of right now, she thought of herself as 'Naruto' as much as she did as 'Ino.' Her father, while teaching her the technique, had warned that something like this just might happen, and the way to deal with it. She needed to meditate away from whatever would cause her 'Naruto' psyche stress (such as her parents, for example) until she'd finally managed to isolate the 'Naruto' parts of her into a small corner of her brain. Apparently, if these 'isolated' psyches were harmful enough, there was a way to use them offensively -- a sort of genjutsu technique, from what she'd been told -- but she'd never gotten around to learning that part of it. She'd need her father to teach her... and at the moment, she wasn't speaking with her father. Being around him, in fact, would be harmful for her... and so it looked like she'd have to find somewhere in the wooded areas of Konoha to camp in, since she wouldn't be able to go back home once she was thrown out of the Haruno home, as well.
When offered a seat in the living room, Ino collapsed into it. She needed to relax, but she somehow doubted she would get any relief here.
"Why do you look so down, dear?" Sakura's mother asked. "I said I haven't said yes yet. I didn't say I said no. Now, tell me, just why can't you stay with your parents, anyway?"
"I had a mission," Ino sighed. "I can't say much about it, but... I got to look at the childhood life of Naruto with my mindwalking technique." She paused, looking down. "Haruno-san, just what do you think of Naruto?"
There was a very long pause before she heard a big sigh. "I suppose you learned Konoha's secret about that boy, right?"
"Yeah," Ino nodded. She had a pretty good idea that sigh meant this woman was no different from any of the others, and hated Naruto because of the kyuubi, too. Perhaps staying in this house was a bad idea, after all.
"Well, the kyuubi hurt a lot of people," Sakura's mother explained. "Many people were afraid of Naruto, and still are. Your parents are some of those people."
"They threw stones at him!" Ino protested angrilly, tears in her eyes. "And even when I told them some of what I saw, they still called him a monster! I... I can't deal with it."
"Let me guess -- you're having problems with your psyche because of the mindwalking, right? I remember when your father had a hard time dealing with what he'd retrieved from the head of an insane daimyo he had to assassinate, back during the war against the Rock. Your parent's anger towards Naruto can't be helping you."
Ino nodded, sniffling. "Yeah. But if you hate him, too, then maybe this isn't a very good place for me to be, either."
The Haruno woman cocked her head at Ino. "Who said I hate him? I never said that. I actually kind of like the kid."
Ino blinked, looking up. "You... you do?"
"Well, I didn't at first," she explained. "I felt sorry for him, though. I didn't know if he was really the kyuubi or not, but I knew that the way he was being treated was wrong. He never let himself look sad, though, except whenever he saw a parent showing love to their own children. I started to notice that he and the Third were constantly talking, though, several years ago. I asked the Third why he was spending so much time with an outcast, and he said, 'That boy will have my job, one day. It'll be a long, hard path, but he'll do it. He just needs someone to take an interest in training him, and he'll thrive.' He apparently was having problems with his teachers at school, and the hokage was trying to find a teacher who would actually teach him. I quickly realized just why that boy was so hyperactive... and why he was so fiercely protective of my daughter. I couldn't believe the 'kyuubi boy' was going around, beating up the people who were bullying Sakura, but the Third told me his pledge to become the hokage was inspired because he saw her crying in the gardens one day."
Ino's jaw dropped. "You knew that Naruto was the 'ninja' who was beating up the bullies? We both thought it was Sasuke!"
That inspired a snort from the Haruno woman. "The Uchiha brat? Hardly. I never understood what you girls saw in him. I suppose he must look cute at your age, but I know enough about the Uchihas to know that they follow one of two paths -- they either become great protectors, or dark murderers. Insanity runs in that bloodline, I'm afraid. And Sasuke was heading down the darker path, that was easy enough to see...."
"But everyone -- and I don't just mean us girls -- praised Sasuke! He was supposed to be a brilliant ninja, top in his class, with a tragic past but a loyal heart!"
"Well, yes, most people would say that. But most people never worked alongside them in the police, like I did before I quit to become a mother." Sakura's mother exclaimed. "I was sort of hoping that, if he and Sakura worked together long enough, she'd see what he was really like... but no, simply because he was one of the 'great Uchihas,' my daughter committed herself without even noticing how he really acted and who he really was. But no, now he's defected and Sakura's heartbroken."
"So... you didn't like Sasuke being with Sakura's team? But..." Ino was confused. Very confused. "Then... what do you think of her and Naruto working together?"
"Safe. If there is one person in this world who can keep my daughter alive when things get dangerous, it would be someone like him," she proclaimed. "I think he truly loves her... and the desire to protect someone you love can be a powerful weapon in dangerous times."
"He does," Ino agreed, remembering Naruto's emotions. "So much so that he couldn't kill Sasuke because he knew that would distress her, even though it almost cost him his own life."
"Oops!" Ino gasped. "I... I'm not supposed to have said that."
"What happened? You might as well say -- you've already broken the secret."
Ino sighed. "An inch higher, and Sasuke loses his scalp and dies. An inch lower, and Sasuke's face is torn off. Naruto-dono controlled his last punch so that all it would do was scratch Sasuke's forehead protector, using the last of his strength to do it. He was hoping it would shock him to his senses, because he couldn't kill Sasuke -- Sakura made him promise that he'd bring him back, and he couldn't do that if he killed him."
"Sakura made him promise? And he failed?" The Haruno woman got up and started pacing. "This... isn't good. He's going to try again, and again, until he brings him back alive... or gets himself killed. Where is he, now?"
"Recovering from surgery," Ino explained. "The fight with Sasuke was... brutal. I felt the arm piercing my own lung, my ribs shattering, my hands burning with chakra, my back snapping into the rocks behind me... oh, god!"
She broke down into tears, but Sakura's mother rushed to her side to take care of her. "Don't worry, dear... everything will be alright. It'll take some time, but you'll be all right. Your father was, when he had the same problem, and you will too, in time."
When Ino had finally cried herself out, she looked up. "You see why I can't stay in my parents' house, don't you?" she asked plaintively. "I can stay here, right?"
"Yes, you can," came the answer at last. "For tonight, definitely. But for the immediate future, well, dear, I've got a bit of an idea about that...."
* * * * *
"Naruto! You're awake!" Sakura exclaimed, entering the recovery room with the small flower she intended to use to replace the one in the vase. In point of fact, Naruto looked healthier then he had since they had brought him in. The mummy-like bandaging was gone, the chakra burns had faded away, and he was grinning as naturally as the old Naruto used to grin. If Sakura hadn't known about him having an 'emerging bloodline limit' that seemed to deal with healing, she would have been astounded... and even with that knowledge, she was still a bit surprised.
"Better then that!" he replied, smiling at her. "I'm ready to leave. Tomorrow, I'm headed off with Jiraiya. Don't worry, Sakura-chan -- we'll get Sasuke back for you."
Sakura's eyes widened. "Uh, thank you, Naruto, but I'm not ready to go yet... and I want to be certain to go with you when you do."
"Sure! I wasn't going to head straight for him, anyway," Naruto agreed. "Jiraiya was here a while ago -- before I had the surgery, even. He said that Sasuke'll be safe for about three years or so... and then he won't be. I don't know all the details, but I gather Orochimaru wants to use him as a sort of 'container' or something. I... I couldn't beat Sasuke, so I probably can't now. But I'm going to take the next two and a half years and go off and train... Jiraiya will come with me, and he'll help. And then I'll come back here... and when you're ready, we'll go rescue Sasuke. Deal?"
"You're going away?" Sakura whispered, a lump forming in her stomache at his words. "Can't you train here?"
Naruto sighed. "Yeah, I'll miss everybody. But, It's... probably not safe for me to train here." He gave a cheesy fox-like grin. "I don't want to accidentally blow up Konoha training, you know? Probably wouldn't help me become hokage, would it?"
Sakura grinned slightly, hearing that silly hokage line of his. Sometimes, she actually thought he might manage it... and so she'd do what she could to help him win his dream. Hadn't she said something like that during the chuunin exam, after all?
"No, it wouldn't. But you aren't the only one who'll be training with a Sannin!" she exclaimed.
Naruto's face fell. "Yeah... Orochimaru was one, too, wasn't he? And Kabuto -- he's still there, too."
"Kabuto?" Sakura said, startled.
Naruto blinked. "Didn't I tell you? I found out only when I went to find the old hag and make her hokage, myself, but he was a spy." His eyes narrowed, flashing red briefly. "A spy, a traitor, and a lost friend. That's three enemies I have to be ready for."
"I'll help," Sakura assured him. "And I wasn't talking about Sasuke-ku... about Sasuke, either, when I said you weren't the only one training with a Sannin. I am, too! Meet the hokage's new apprentice!"
Naruto clapped his hands as she curtsied. "Wow, Sakura -- congratulations. The old bag's tough -- she might actually have something decent to teach you." He paused. "And see if she has any suggestions about what to do against those cursed seal thingies. All the badguys had them, and they were tough... and Sasuke had one, and he used it."
"Naruto?" Sakura asked, unnerved as the person appropriately nicknamed 'The Noisy Ninja' fell silent.
"Yeah," he replied, shaking his head clear of darker thoughts. "When I get back... you and me? We'll get Sasuke, together, alright?"
"Alright, Naruto," Sakura agreed, smiling gently. "We'll get him, together."
* * * * *
"They're going after Sasuke again, you know."
"Yeah, I know."
"I think I've bought us some time to train them," Jiraiya sighed. "But only a couple years. You need to get that girl toughened up by then -- she's going to want to go, and she won't survive the trip as she is."
"She'll do well," Tsunade sighed. "After agreeing to train her, I sent her home with nothing more than a bunch of medical texts to read. Today, I brought her back, and she got everything I tried to teach her right on just about the first try. Even kept a fish from dying when out of the water, which was better then I could do at her age. In three months, she'll be as good as any medi-nin. In six months, I'll have her medical training approaching my level. That, alone, would put her near... what was his name? Kabuto's level. Then we'll start giving her a bit of 'punch' to go with all that medical training."
"And what am I supposed to do during all this?" Kakashi, the last member of the little conference, asked.
"You," Tsunade said, glaring at him. "You need to make up for your mistakes. It was your chidori that was punched through Naruto's lung. I admit, it was probably better that Jiraiya found Naruto and trained him instead of leaving him to you -- he was probably about the only one who could have fixed that seal -- but you really shouldn't have tried foisting him off on Ebisu-san and concentrated all your attention on Sasuke. And, by the way, did you even remember your third charge that time? You know, the one who became my apprentice? She might not have been in the tournament, but surely you might have arranged for her to have some training each day."
Kakashi winced. "Yes, I know. My goal was to make Sasuke believe he could grow strong enough without turning to Orochimaru by staying here while still giving Naruto an instructor who could prepare him for the tournament, but my plans backfired when we had to go against Itachi before I was ready. I think it might have worked, if we'd only had to worry about Orochimaru, but with Itachi and the rest of Akatsuki to worry about...."
Tsunade sat back in her chair and sighed. "Yes, yes, I know. And it was probably the right decision, too, with what information you had available. I don't think anyone in Konoha knew about the Akatsuki at the time, nor about their intention to get the kyuubi. It was a critical oversight on our parts -- we should constantly be trying to locate missing nin such as Itachi and Orochimaru, and if we had then maybe we'd be in a better situation right now. Well, that's one thing we're going to have to change, once we've stabilized things here in Konoha."
"Kakashi," Jiraiya interjected, finally reminding the bickering pair of his presence. "The rumors are you've got thousands of techniques, but I've also heard that most of them were obtained by the sharingan. Do you have any original moves?"
"A few," he admitted. "Chidori was one, raikiri is another. Both lethal moves with a very similar effect. I'd just reached jounin level before I got the sharingan, after all, so I've got everything I knew which brought me up to that level. It's not enough to beat a true sharingan user, however, as Itachi taught me not too long ago."
"Learn more," Jiraiya said. "And study your own sharingan for weaknesses. Itachi is still out there, and I suspect that we'll have to deal with him again whether the kids retrieve Sasuke or not. Hell... you'll probably need to know just to fight Sasuke, by the time Orochimaru is done with him."
Kakashi sighed. "Yes, learn new moves. Got it. But I think I'd be better off learning new moves if I had to use them in battlefield situations, so... what do I do?"
There was a long pause before Jiraiya said something. "I'm taking Naruto to neutral countries. He'll be meeting a lot of Rock nin, there, and there'll be plenty of time for espionage. Perhaps it would be good for you to investigate the other kage-rated power we still are on hostile terms with."
"Good idea," Tsunade agreed. "Although I think we'll make it more official than that. Kakashi... I'm going to draft a dispatch to the Raikage, and you will be our messenger. It's been a long time since we last fought a war with the Cloud, so maybe they'd finally agree to a treaty of neutrality allowing us to share in the chuunin exam system. Then, I'd like you to take a seperate message to the Land of Waves, which I understand you're in good standing with. I have a proposal which should interest them, and just might buy us a little more time with Naruto and Sakura...."
* * * * *
"I'm home!" Sakura called as she came through the doorway. She almost immediately stumbled over a bag in the hallway, catching herself only because of the balance training she'd had as a ninja. "What the--"
"In here," her mother called back. "And keep your voice down -- we have a guest."
"I can see that," Sakura muttered, dodging several unidentified bags -- and some vaguely familiar ones -- as she made her way into the kitchen. "It looks like we've got a number of guests, in fact."
"No, just the one," the elder Haruno said, seeing her daughter arrive out of the corner of her eye. "Ino-chan got into a fight with her parents and decided to move out. I decided to let her stay here for a few days until she can get settled somewhere else."
Sakura winced. "Ino? Mom, I know Ino's probably my closest girl friend at the moment, especially since we no longer have Sasuke-kun to fight over, but she and I rarely get along. We're going to be fighting like cats and dogs all the time she's staying her, I know it."
"Not if you want to eat my cooking, you won't," her mother warned. "Ino-chan said she'd told you about a mission she was about to go on?"
"Oh, yeah. She was supposed to examine some of Naruto's memories...."
"Well, she took the mission, but she's having a few problems because of it. The technique she used can be quite damaging to a person's psyche, if they aren't allowed a little time away from stressful things to recover from it, and Ino wasn't prepared for what she saw." Sakura's mother paused. "I've heard it said, once, that everyone in Konoha has had at least one personal tragedy in their lives, and everyone here has had a dark past. I think Naruto's was darker then most, however, and right now... well, Ino-chan experienced all of it in a very compressed period of time. She needs rest, and time to sort through what she saw, and she does not need her best friend's petty bickering."
Sakura looked down, ashamed. "Sorry, mother. If Ino-chan needs time to rest, I'd better try and treat her nice, huh? I'll go and talk to her. Hokage-sama has had me learning to be a medi-nin for months, now, and while I lack practical experience I have read a lot of scrolls on various things. Maybe I could try applying what I learn to help her out a bit?"
"Not a bad idea, but I'd be cautious about it. Don't try anything too complicated -- you don't want to make things worse. Really, the best thing for her is time and an understanding ear, like it is with many people dealing with psychological traumas."
Sakura shrugged. "I'm not sure there's anything I can do, anyway, but it's worth a try."
"By the way, Ino-chan and I talked about something after she got here -- a way to help her get the isolation she needs. I want you to know, in case she asks you about it, that you have my permission either way."
"Uh, okay, mom," Sakura said, leaving the kitchen in the direction of the stairs. Okay, that was a bit cryptic for mom. I wonder what this idea of hers is?
"Sakura-chan!" Ino exclaimed as soon as she saw her. She'd been waiting in Sakura's room for her, and was glad the wait was finally over. "I guess your mother told you that I was going to stay here a while, right?"
"Yeah," Sakura replied sympathetically. "I heard your technique backfired a bit, huh?"
"Not exactly," Ino said. "I did it right, I've just got a few... side-effects common with difficult cases. Have you gone to see Naruto-dono today? How is he?"
"Naruto-dono?" Sakura repeated incredulously. "I've never heard anyone call him something like that, before. I did see him, though. He's better then he's been in months -- in fact, he's leaving on a multi-year training journey soon -- possibly tonight. He didn't say exactly when."
"I call him Naruto-dono because, after what I've seen, I have a hard time calling him anything else," Ino sighed.
"So you want to date him, then? Is he that interesting?" Sakura teased. A slight, unexplainable twinge raced through her stomache, though, at the thought.
"Yes, he's that interesting," Ino replied. "But there is no way he would ever date me. None. I'm not even going to try. You stand a pretty good chance, though, and if I were you I'd take it in a heartbeat."
Sakura shook her head grimly. "Sorry, but no. Naruto's sweet, and kind, and a lot stronger then I ever believed he could be... but he's not my type. He's too immature."
"I think he'll grow out of it," Ino shot back. "I wouldn't rule him out, if I were you, Sakura-chan. He is absolutely, unalterably devoted to you... and I don't think there's any chance of that changing, even if he does go away for a few years. He'd die if he really thought it would make you happier."
Sakura was trying to keep her temper in check, but she was reaching her limit. It was one thing to tease someone about a boy, it was another to just sit there and matter-of-factly state that she shouldn't 'rule him out.' Besides, remembering both his promise and the medical report Ino had read to her the other day, those words hit too close to home. She had to diffuse it, now, before she lost it and really hurt Ino -- one thing she didn't think was proper to do as an apprentice medi-nin was to traumatize the trauma patients.
"Look, when he comes back, maybe I'll think differently," she finally said. "But he needs to mature some, first."
Ino grinned. "Just give him a chance, that's all I ask."
Sakura shook her head. "Why are you so interested in all this, anyway? What did you learn from that mindwalk?" The look of horror she recieved made her wish she'd never asked that question. "I'm sorry, I--"
"Sakura, which is worse. Torture or death?"
Sakura blinked. "I... well, what kind of death?"
Ino shook her head. "Okay, maybe that's not quite the right way to put this. Sasuke's entire family was slaughtered by his own brother, right?"
Sakura nodded. "Right."
"Well, what happened after that?" Ino asked. "To Sasuke, I mean. How was he treated?"
"Well, how would you expect a boy who just lost his entire family to a horrible massacre like that to be treated?" Sakura asked incredulously. "I mean, really."
"And how do you think he would have been treated if the massacre had happened when he was still just a newborn baby?"
Sakura shook her head, unable to understand these questions. "About the same, though he probably would have been put with a foster family instead of allowed to live on his own, why?"
"Despite the fact that his brother was the one who committed the massacre?"
"Of course!" Sakura cried, starting to get angry. "Why wouldn't he?"
"Even though -- and this is what your mother told me, herself -- insanity runs in the Uchiha bloodline?"
"Sasuke would have been a baby! He should have been given a chance, at least!" By this point, Sakura was just about shouting.
"Naruto-dono wasn't," Ino stated softly, taking the wind out of the other girl's sails.
There was a long pause before Sakura even took another breath, in fact. "What?" she asked, chills running through her.
"Naruto was orphaned as a baby, after a violent massacre throughout the village," Ino explained. "Naruto, even as an infant, was involved in ending that massacre -- they needed an infant born that day for something I am forbidden from discussing with you. His sacrifice made him just about as 'risky' of a danger as, say, someone with a history of insanity running in the bloodline. So, he wasn't sent to any sort of foster home, he was shunned by just about every adult most of his life, and there were some people..."
Sakura waited patiently for Ino to continue, before noticing that she had completely brokent down. "Ino?"
"There were some people, like my parents, who threw stones at him to keep him away from their own children," Ino finished angrilly. "His first day in the ninja academy, his textbook was stolen by a classmate and when Naruto tried to let the teacher know, said teacher threw him out of a second story window for daring to say anything! None of his teachers actually taught him anything, except for Iruka-sensei... and by then Naruto was so jaded he couldn't trust him. Did you know that the only way he could learn his ninja techniques and practice them was to become a prankster? We all thought he was a wierd little screw-up too stupid to do anything other than play practical jokes, but in truth he was just being screwed over and could only learn things by playing practical jokes!"
"I... how awful!" Sakura said. "Why didn't someone do something?"
"Because no-one cared!" Ino replied. "No-one! After all, Naruto was nothing more than a 'monster,' so of course he deserved it all. Well, I take that back -- the Third seemed to like him. And apparently, so did your mother. After all, he was protecting you even before you knew him."
"Huh?" That one really confused the pink-haired girl.
"Remember your 'mystery ninja,' the one who kept fighting off your bullies? You always thought he was Sasuke... but really, given what you know about Sasuke, do you really think it was him?"
"I didn't know," Sakura admitted. "I began to doubt it, myself, after a while... but I couldn't give up on the illusion..."
Ino smirked gently. "I thought you were supposed to be a genjutsu specialist. I guess that doesn't help you see through your own illusions, huh?"
"No," Sakura agreed, sighing. "I'm not ready to give up on Sasuke, yet--"
"I am," Ino commented wryly.
"But I think maybe I've been doing a great injustice to Naruto for a very long time." Sakura paused. "Why are you ready to give up on Sasuke?"
"Let's just say experiencing what it's like to have a potential boyfriend's fist rip through your lung is enough to discourage you from wanting to take him as a boyfriend," Ino answered dryly.
There was little Sakura could say to that. After a long, awkward pause, She straightened up and decided to change the subject. "So... mom said she had a suggestion to help you come to grips with everything?"
"Oh, yeah," Ino said. "I'm not planning on staying here for long -- I'm going apartment-hunting tomorrow. But your mother doesn't think it's a good idea for me to live completely alone for a while yet. She also said she knows you're not entirely comfortable living here, because you think she 'smothers' you a bit. She admits you might be right, and thought it would be a good idea if I ask you to be my, uh, roommate."
Sakura's eyes widened. "Your roommate? You mean... my mom would allow me to move out?"
"Yeah," Ino replied, grinning.
"Are you sure that's a good idea? We don't always get along so well, do we, Ino-pig?" she teased.
Ino shrugged, ignoring the insult. "Well, no. But I suspect we'll be returning more to the way we were in the old days, now that Sasuke isn't coming between us... and I understand you've got training every day with the hokage-sama from now on. We won't be together too much, I don't think -- just at breakfast and dinner sometimes."
Sakura looked pleased, then frowned. "But how can we afford it? I mean, we're both only getting a genin's salary. In your condition, I doubt you'll be able to take missions for a while, so you're going to be on half-pay. I'm going to be on half-pay, too, thanks to my being on training duty for the next few years. How in the world can we afford an apartment together that would be even half-decent?"
"We can't," Ino admitted. "But, if your mother contributes a bit -- like she said she would -- and I devote all of my savings into it, I think I might be able to buy a small, two-bedroom condominium." She grinned. "Between us, I think we can afford to pay for food and the utilities, don't you?"
"I..." Sakura couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Just how do you have that much in savings? I mean, I've got a bit saved up, but not even close to enough for something like that."
Ino grinned slightly. "Well, it's a bit surprising what a class A-P mission pays, isn't it? And your mother is contributing a savings account she was planning to use to help you buy your own place some day, anyway, so she can just about match it in your name. It'll be just enough we can afford a small condo." She paused. "Or you can just live here for the next ten years or so, when that account becomes large enough to buy your own place." Ino held out her hand. "So... what do you say?"
Sakura grinned, and took that hand. "Deal."
Notes: Well, as I said, this is the end of Vol. 1. (This chapter is also about double the normal chapter length I write, so maybe I underestimated how long this volume would be). Volume 2 will be starting when I get around to it, and should be even shorter then this one (but might not). And then the preliminaries will be out of the way, and Volumes 3-4 (which are supposed to be the real story) will be clear to write. Hope you enjoy this one.