I woke up in a hospital bed. I hated hospitals. They were the most boring, unfun places ever invented, and thus hell for a shinobi. I flexed my right arm, satisfied that it felt normal. I did a quick sweep of my health with a diagnostic jutsu before hopping out of bed and checking the medical clipboard hanging nearby.

"Not bad. Looks like they took care of everything. I'm just going to give myself a clean bill of health and head out." I etched my initials on the doctor's signature line and returned the health chart to its place on the wall.

"I need some clothes and then I need to find the Kubikiribocho. I also gotta make sure they disposed of Kabuto's body properly. Don't want him coming back from the dead unexpectedly."

I wriggled some chakra into the lock on the window, making tiny strings of chakra to manipulate the tumblers. "Man, chakra strings are so useful. MacGyver, eat your heart out." They didn't put much effort into the lock on the ordinary hospital rooms, figuring that it would be impossible to keep obstinate shinobi in bed against their will if they were healthy enough. Eventually, the latch turned with a click and I was free, albeit dressed in a hospital gown.

Apparently the store owner was used to shinobi shopping in all states of dress. As long as I had my ninja headband, I could get my purchases deducted from my account while in Konoha. I found myself a cheap red men's kimono and a pair of hakama along with some sandals. In the mirror, I looked even more like the Battosai than when I was younger, only my hair was a darker red and instead of a scar on my cheek I had an eye patch over Sakura's eye.

"I guess they know I don't have a Sharingan. They would have checked." It didn't really matter anymore. The other eye was still hidden in my fridge although I had learned my lesson and put it in the mayonnaise jar instead. I didn't have any particular use for it but it was safer with me than with anyone else. "Maybe I should get Naruto a Rinnegan?"

If only I didn't have ANBU watching my every move at the moment.

"Hey, Ino. How are you?" I asked, popping my head into the Yamanaka flower shop.

"Haru! What are you doing here?" Ino asked from behind the front counter, looking up in surprise from her magazine.

"I was actually wondering if you wanted to get something to eat with me. I'm not a big fan of hospital food."

"Um, sure! Just let me ask my dad," she said happily. "Daddy, I'm going out with Haru for a little while. Watch the store, okay?" she shouted into the back of the store. Putting her magazine under the counter she exclaimed, "Okay, let's go."

"Wait a second. Did you say Haru was here?" Inoichi said as he passed through the curtain separating the storefront from the living quarters. "Haru! What are you doing here?"

"I kind of wanted to talk to Ino about something. Is that a big deal?"

Inoichi narrowed his eyes at me before turning to look at Ino who was beginning to become confused. "Haru, if something happens to Ino because of you..."

"Don't worry, Yamanaka-san. I'll make sure no harm comes to Ino. And I'll have her back to you soon." I gave him a reassuring smile.

He sighed deeply and said, "Alright, get lost you two."

Outside the store, Ino asked, "What was that about?"

"Who knows? Maybe he thinks we're going on a date?"

Ino suddenly blushed and turned away. "Is this a date, Haru?"

As we walked to the café, I considered my answer carefully. "If this were a date, I'd take you somewhere a lot better than lunch at Makoto's."

She seemed content with that explanation.

"Hello, ladies. What would you like to order today?" the waitress asked pleasantly, holding a pad of paper and a pen in hand.

I sighed and ignored the mistake. "Can I have some black tea and some plum onigiri please?" I ordered without looking up from the menu.

In a far more congenial tone, Ino said, "That sounds nice. I'll have the same thing." She gave the waitress one of her perfect smiles, as if making up for my lack of manners. "Thank you."

When the waitress was gone, Ino slapped me on the arm from across the table. "Would it kill you to have some manners, Haru?"

"Maybe. I didn't want to risk it," I said, cracking a small grin. "Say, Ino, do you think I look like a girl?"

She rubbed her chin in mock contemplation. "A little? Not really though. If someone were just looking at you, they'd say you were kind of...handsome. But sometimes your mannerisms and the way you talk can be kind of feminine. It's just...how you move and a lot of other little things. It doesn't help that your hair is almost as long as mine."

"Thanks for being brutally honest, Ino."

"Welcome, Miss Haru."

We both grinned at each other.

"How is your English coming along? Did you get through that notebook I lent you?"

"Yeah, it was a fun story. The whole Shinigami thing was interesting. Soul Society isn't a real place, is it?"

"Maybe somewhere far, far away, there could be a place like that. Who knows? Probably not on this world though."

There was a moment of quiet contemplation on both sides of the conversation.

"Haru, you killed that guy in the chunin exam, right?"

"Yeah. I'm pretty sure."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"Well, I need to make sure that his body gets properly disposed of. I'll ask Jiraiya about it later."

"No, I mean, are you okay, Haru?"

"Okay with what?"

"With killing someone for the first time."

"Oh. That was my second time or third? I'm not really keeping count. Is there something wrong with that?"

"Normally, people have a harder time with it."

"I don't see any problem with eliminating someone if it's necessary. It's not like I go out of the way to kill people."

"I suppose you have a point. We're supposed to be ninjas after all. I just feel like you've become kind of distant lately. Since we're on different teams, we don't see each other as much anymore."

"I'm the same person I've always been. And just because we aren't always together doesn't mean I'm going to forget about one of my best friends."

Ino looked downward, but smiled. I didn't really understand what that expression was supposed to mean. I only had a second to study it before the waitress returned with a large tray of food and tea.

I decided this was a good time to ask what was on my mind.

"Ino, are you in love with me?"

She immediately spit a mouthful of tea into my face and kimono at high pressure. "What? No! No. I mean, I thought we were just friends right?"

"Well, I admit that I'm fond of you. You're attractive and intelligent and have a vivacious personality and I feel like I can trust you."

"What? Why are you...that's nice and all but why are you bring this up now?" Ino asked, obviously flustered.

"I just can't always be there for you, Ino. That's why I can't ask anything more of you than friendship. I know I'm...different...from most people but you've stuck by me all these years and I just wanted to tell you this now in case I never get another chance to in the future."

"What's going on, Haru? Is there something wrong? You can just tell me! You don't have to keep secrets from me. I can help. I'm a ninja too."

The pickled plum rice balls were sweet and salty and I took a long time savoring my first bite. I couldn't bear to look at Ino at the moment. "I should probably go." I put down some ryo on the table and made to leave.

"Oh no you don't! If you leave without telling me what's going on, I'll never forgive you!"

"It's probably for the best that way," I said solemnly as I left without looking back.

Outside the restaurant, I spoke aloud, "Alright. Thanks for waiting. I'm ready to go now."

A pair of ANBU appeared in front of me. One of them nodded and I followed them without protest to the Hokage Tower.