A/N: Written to celebrate the birth of the naruto_yuri community but includes quite a lot o' yaoi, all things considered. This fic contains major spoilers for Ino and Sakura's fight in the preliminaries of the chuunin exam's third test and minor spoilers for those of you who don't know the specifics of their backstory. Begins narration a bit before Sasuke tries the disappearing act and would basically be an alternate timeline from then on.

Anyway, the narration was a bit of a challenge to pull off, but basically the story mirrors itself in construction. As it currently appears on my computer, all of the Sakura bits end at the same place as the Ino bit that came before them and take up the same amount of lines. No doubt the formatting will go to hell once it's up, but for now that's the way it is, and every other paragraph is a parallel of the previous one's contents.

Pairings are: InoSaku, ShikaChou, teeny bit o' implied NejiLee. Also, NaruSasu friendship (as in not NaruSasu romance, though if you insist, you can probably pretend real hard and get it).

. . . you know, I was shooting for something a little longer than a drabble when I started this fic. -_-;; It evolved into a bit of a monster on me.



"The Journey Between This and That"



When Ino was little, her favorite story was the one about the beautiful kunochi who disguised herself as a man and helped lead her entire country to freedom, back before kunochi even existed and only boys could be shinobi.

When Sakura was little, her favorite story was the one about the red thread that ties together soulmates for their entire lives, stretching from one to the other and never breaking or tangling or being wrong about anything at all.

Ino thought that the kunochi story was the most amazing thing she'd ever heard of. She wanted to be just like that fearless woman someday.

Sakura thought that the red thread story was the most romantic thing she'd ever heard of. She wanted to find the end of that thread someday.

Sometimes, Ino would find herself sneaking away from the village to pick flowers and play in the fields by herself where no one would ever, ever be able to find her, pretending that she was a real ninja or a hunter or (sometimes, sometimes, when she was sure no one was around) that she was having an adventure with the smartest, cutest, prettiest boy in the village.

Sometimes, Sakura would end up forgotten and often lost somewhere away from the village, so she'd play by herself so that she wouldn't be scared while she waited for someone to find her, pretending that she was a bride or a mom or (sometimes, sometimes, when she was sure no one else was around) that she was on a date with the smartest, cutest, prettiest boy in the village.

Ino usually played with a lot of other children, but she never really found anyone who was just like her, who could share all of her secrets and dreams and wouldn't laugh at her because they'd feel the same way. Then she met Sakura and realized that she didn't need a person who was just like her to be her true friend.

Sakura never really played too much with her friends, because they always seemed to end up teasing her about her forehead or forgetting about her or coming up with some excuse to exclude her or something equally unpleasant. Then she met Ino and realized that the real friends don't make you feel bad about yourself.

The first time Ino liked a boy was when she first saw Sasuke. He was pretty and smart and strong and silent and everything that the stories said the perfect guy should be. He was from a great family and everything he did seemed to come off cool. She'd always wanted to have a boyfriend who knew when to be quiet and how to be a good accessory. He was perfect.

The first time Sakura liked a boy was when she first met Sasuke. He was pretty and smart and strong and maybe not as talkative as she would have liked but still everything she'd ever thought the perfect guy would be. He was as cool as Ino. She'd always thought she'd like to marry a boy who was as smart and as cool as Ino always was. He was perfect.

When Ino found out that Sakura liked Sasuke too, she got a funny tight feeling in her stomach. Not because Sakura liked Sasuke, because a little competition never really hurt anyone, and besides, he was just a boy, no matter how pretty he was. Boys weren't as special as Sakura. But the way Sakura looked at her so coldly and said "We are now rivals" . . . that made Ino's stomach hurt.

When Sakura found out that Ino liked Sasuke too, she suddenly felt really cold and really angry. Because Ino always seemed to beat her to these things and she didn't want to lose him- he was beautiful and strong and hers, because she liked him better anyway! The funny look in Ino's eyes when Sakura told her that, however, made the cold and the anger turn into her worst headache ever.

Having the ribbon back was depressing, Ino thought. It just sat on her dresser all the time (it wasn't like anyone was ever going to see it, after all: Sakura had been the only one who ever came into her room) and gathered dust until she got angry and threw it around a bit. Afterwards, though, she'd always pick it up again and cry a little, and then she'd go fight with Sakura over Sasuke because that was the only way to get Sakura's attention anymore.

Being by herself again was depressing, Sakura thought. And her forehead protector wasn't as comfortable as the ribbon that Ino had given her had been, which she could sleep in (not that anyone knew she'd slept in it, because no one besides Ino had ever slept over) without worrying about how she laid because nothing got in the way. But she ignored that thought and ignored Ino unless the other was threatening to steal Sasuke from right under her.

In the chuunin exam, when Ino fought Sakura, she knew she was the one coming off as a pale imitation to most of the watchers, but that was okay because she'd been planning that. From the beginning of the fight she'd been looking for a way to get Sakura stuck in one place, and the crack about her hair had given her the perfect opportunity to do it. Sakura had been sloppy- hadn't wondered why Ino threw the hair down where they were fighting and not off to the side where it couldn't have been slipped on or tripped over or anything inconvenient like that.

In the chuunin exam, when Sakura fought Ino, she let herself get too confident just because Ino's special skill was so slow and not really intended for fighting with. She had to wonder how long Ino had been planning that move- if it had been something Ino had had prepared since they'd promised to fight that day or a moment's brilliant insight born of the sight of her own shorn hair and Sakura's vulnerable legs. She knew she'd been sloppy- she shouldn't have been standing right on the hair anyway. She could have slipped and made herself vulnerable that way.

Finding out that she and Sakura were equals made Ino so proud. She thought that Sakura had become so beautiful and brilliant and was definitely better than even Sasuke or whatever flower she could find no matter what kind of garden, even if the inside of her mind got a bit scary.

Finding out that Ino hadn't really been so stupid as to use her special jutsu in a situation where it was useless left Sakura terribly relieved. She'd had the awful thought that Ino would do something that foolish on a mission and get herself hurt, even if they weren't actually friends anymore.

Things changed again when Ino went back to the training ground to grab a forgotten kunai after practice one day and found Shikamaru and Chouji still there and holding hands. Not holding hands in a "we've worn ourselves down to the bone practicing and must lean on each other so we won't pass out on our faces" kind of way, but in a "we're kind of on a date here, Ino, could you please bug off until tomorrow?" kind of way. This was surprising.

Things changed again when Sakura started to understand her teammates. How much Sasuke had suffered and how much suffering he had yet to go through- how he felt like he'd accomplished nothing in all this time. How much Naruto had suffered despite his bright smile and playful nature, how hard the path he'd chosen really was going to be. How much people pitied Sasuke and ignored Naruto: the two reactions that each boy hated more than anything.

Before, Ino had never actually realized how romantic relationships actually worked. She'd just kind of assumed they were things you had for fun, not forever. Something you got all dressed up for and spent most of getting UNdressed. Not something that friends did, just something brief with a mostly- stranger. But when she watched Shikamaru and Chouji together, it wasn't really like that. It was just Shikamaru being Shikamaru and Chouji being Chouji. They didn't dress up or snuggle all the time or do anything but be themselves and be together.

Before, Sakura had never realized how much pain her teammates had actually experienced. She'd just kind of assumed that they both had parents at home to spoil and dote on them and occasionally yell at them. It was the default setting of her family image. Then she'd learned they were orphans, and for a while she'd thought they didn't care. That Naruto was just a brat because he had no one to discipline him and that Sasuke was just so cool and mature for living all by himself and taking care of his own home, when she thought the exact opposite of Naruto.

Ino remembers when she finally knew that Sasuke was not her most precious person. One day, she just met his eyes, totally by accident, and realized that she would never understand him, no matter what. And he would probably never understand her either. How was she supposed to be with a guy who couldn't figure out why she was feeling down? How was she supposed to be with a guy that she couldn't figure out herself? They could never be happy together when they didn't even KNOW each other.

Sakura remembers when she finally knew that Sasuke wasn't who she thought he was. The time he tried to run away and go with Orochimaru and the Sound, if he had been who she'd believed, he would have stayed and swept her up and told her that he loved her, or at least swept her up and told her that he loved her and taken her with him. If he'd really been who she thought, though, he never would have considered going at all. Only he wasn't. He wasn't perfect or invincible or incorruptible. He was just Sasuke.

Ino never cries. It's not because she doesn't feel sadness, it's just that she isn't the kind of person who does much crying. So when Sakura rejected her friendship back then, she got angry. Defensive. Possessive.

Sakura always seems to cry. It's not because she's a weak person, it's just that she tends to feel things a bit too strongly not to. So when Sasuke rejected her love so finally, she cried and begged to make him stay.

To Ino, losing Sakura was one of the absolute worst things that had ever happened to her.

To Sakura, losing Sasuke was one of the most frustrating things that had ever happened to her.

But Ino was not the kind of person who let go of precious things. So she managed to "keep" Sakura by taunting her and provoking her and being almost as bad as the old bullies- but never quite. Never quite that cruel. Some lines she would not so easily cross.

But Sakura was the kind of person who could give up on precious things, because she knew there were usually replacements to be had close at hand. Cut your hair? Fine, she'd have the satisfaction of being a better ninja. Forget a friend? Then her crush instead.

Ino still thinks it's funny the way Shikamaru and Chouji haven't changed. She's not sure how long they've been "more-than" friends, but she's known them all of her life, and they've always been this way together. If they changed at all, she supposes that it's kept private. Neither ever liked to make a fuss.

Sakura still thinks it's unfair that Naruto managed to stop Sasuke. She poured her heart out to the boy, but he wasn't even moved. All Naruto had done was accidentally show up at the right time and said that he'd teach Sasuke how to do his Rasengan if he stayed. How could that stupid promise change his mind?

Eventually, Ino did see where Shikamaru and Chouji had changed a little. The way simple gestures meant a little more and how they were happiest together.

Eventually, Sakura did start to understand why Naruto's promise meant so much. It meant, "We'll be stronger together." It meant, "I won't leave you behind."

But Shikamaru was still Shikamaru, and Chouji was still Chouji. They didn't truly change. They smiled the same and laughed the same and grieved the same and were the same. And that was all.

But Naruto and Sasuke weren't the same after that promise. Whatever it was that had before meant they disliked each other was simply gone, like it had never been. They still bickered, but . . .

Ino secretly thought that what she really wanted was a relationship like Shikamaru's and Chouji's. They seemed so perfect together. Just so good, so right: so exactly how love should always be.

Sakura secretly thought that she hated Naruto for the way he managed to get through to Sasuke with his friendship when she, who offered an even stronger emotion, could never truly touch him.

Ino was so happy for them.

Sakura was so jealous of him.

That Shikamaru and Chouji could so easily find the thing that Ino had been chasing all this time said a lot, Ino felt, about the way that love was really supposed to work.

That Naruto and Sasuke were suddenly so much closer and she was rejected said a lot, Sakura felt, about the universe's personal opinion of her. It just wasn't fair at all.

After a while, Ino started wondering how to achieve that goal again: to find her most precious person and figure them out. Shikamaru and Chouji understood each other so perfectly, after all. She still wanted that, even if she didn't want Sasuke.

After a while, Sakura started wondering if she was ever going to get over Sasuke. He and Naruto seemed so much better off without her in the way, after all. But she still wanted him, even knowing that he cared more for Naruto's feelings.

Ino supposed that she was going to have to try making friends again first, though.

Sakura supposed that Sasuke could just understand Naruto better than he did her.

The next time Sakura went to the hospital to visit Lee, Ino followed her. She cornered Sakura outside his room and said that she wanted to be friends again, that their friendship had always meant more to her than Sasuke ever could. She said that Sakura had become such an amazing person and Ino didn't want to miss out on that by fighting over some stupid boy that she didn't even really want to date anymore and couldn't understand at all.

The next time Ino was helping her parents out at the flower shop, Sakura came in and bought four daffodils. She said Lee's operation was coming up and that his team was trying to pretend that they weren't scared. She said that she didn't like Sasuke anymore, so could they please be friends like Ino had asked? She said she didn't want to wake up someday and find out that Ino was dead and they'd wasted their lives hating each other.

When Ino said sorry, Sakura didn't cry at all.

When Sakura said sorry, Ino flat-out sobbed.

Ino apologized.

Sakura laughed.

Ino told her that she was sorry again, because she was making such a fuss, and she knew a strong kunochi shouldn't be crying over such a thing.

Sakura told her that it was okay, because Naruto always said that people shouldn't whine but it was definitely okay to cry when you were happy.

So Ino took that as permission to have a breakdown right before the busy part of the day.

So Sakura spent the next hour proving just how terrible she really was at flower arrangement.

The customers were irritated, but Ino had never been happier, and that only made her cry harder.

The customers were furious, but Sakura felt better than she had in years, and she continued to try.

The next time Ino saw Shikamaru and Chouji, they were kissing. They were a bit awkward about it, but in the "not had much practice" way, not the "uncomfortable with it" way.

The next time Sakura saw Naruto and Sasuke, they were talking. They were a bit awkward about it, but in the "more used to hitting you" way, not the "uncomfortable with it" way.

Ino thought that Shikamaru and Chouji should get married someday.

Sakura thought that Naruto and Sasuke should be teammates forever.

The restoration of their past camaraderie did not take as long as Ino had thought it would. Or perhaps it had been happening ever since it had first been lost.

The restoration of their past camaraderie did not come as quickly as Sakura had hoped it would. She had worried that Ino would betray her in revenge.

In the end, it came as it wanted to. Ino was just glad it stuck. She'd been worried.

In the end, it came as it wanted to. Sakura was just glad it did. She'd been scared.

Once, Ino asked Sakura if she still liked the same things she always had. Sakura told her about the red thread story and about getting over Sasuke. Ino said that Sakura might have bloomed, but she was still as silly as always, and Sakura said that Ino might have grown up too, but she'd never change either.

Once, Sakura asked Ino if keeping their friendship was really more important than falling in love with someone. Ino told her about Shikamaru and Chouji and why people have to understand the ones they love. Sakura said that she thought that was romantic, and Ino said that she was missing the point again.

The first time Sakura kissed Ino, it was quick and on the cheek as she rushed out and made Ino's whole face turn as red as the roses Sakura had just bought for Lee. The operation was the next day.

The first time Ino kissed Sakura, it was slow and on the mouth as Sakura cried, her watery eyes and nose as red as the roses sitting in Lee's room, waiting for him. The operation was halfway through.

Ino read her kunochi book aloud for the first time in years to remind Lee to survive and prove that ninja way of his.

Sakura read her red thread story out loud for the first time ever to remind Lee that he also had a soulmate to find.

In the morning Ino woke up to Ten Ten and Gai crying and Neji nowhere to be found.

In the morning Sakura woke up to Ino tying the old ribbon back into her hair and smiling.

Ino had never believed in the red thread story. It seemed too silly, too bright-eyed and dreamy to be real. It didn't mean anything, it was just a lie people told themselves while they suffered through unhappy times. It didn't make things better.

Sakura had always believed in the red thread story, because there was an entire hair ribbon's worth of such a thread between herself and Ino, and that made everything that had ever gone wrong with that fumbling, stumbling relationship better.

Ino thought it was nice how Neji came in to the flower shop the next day and asked specially for green flowers.

Sakura thought it was nice how Lee was so happy now and even seemed to be getting along better with Neji.

Ino was supposed to work most of the day. After she finished training, Sakura took a bath so she could go visit her and see if she was off yet.

Sakura was supposed to train most of the day. After she got off work, Ino went to see if Sakura was done with it yet and caught her in the bath.

Ino reflected, as she watched Sakura blush, that the other girl was really and absolutely the most precious flower of a person that she had ever seen.

Sakura reflected, as she watched Ino grin, that she was going to have to remember to lock the bathroom door from now on or risk deflowerment.



* final *



. : these threads are strongest when woven together : .