Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any characters affiliated with Naruto.

Notes: This story will start off lighthearted, but it will get serious later on. Especially when the battles and fight scenes come around. It should also be noted that this story takes place sometime after the Chuunin Exam saga. Also, for the sake of flexibility and originality, this story does not adhere strictly to the manga storyline.


Sakura and Ino were sprawled out on the cashier counter of Ino's family's flower shop, staring wistfully and vacantly out into empty space. Both of them had their heads on the counter, letting the cool plywood surface soothe their young troubled minds. Business was slow today, thus they were allowed to remain that way for the next fifteen minutes, motionless and silent...

A listless Ino finally sighed, and raised her head to ask, "So why did Sasuke-kun leave the village?"

A gloomy Sakura replied, "He left to go search for his brother. Again."

"Again?!" Ino groaned and plopped her head back onto the counter with a thud. "My dear Sasuke. He can be so spontaneous sometimes - "

Sakura roused herself from her lethargy, just so she could shoot a nasty glare at Ino. "Your Sasuke?! He's MY Sasuke!"

Ino seemed somewhat galvanized by Sakura's reaction, and she sat up now. "Oh, poo poo, Sakura-chan, you might as well give up. Everyone knows that gentlemen prefer blondes."

"What a bunch of hooey," Sakura muttered under her breath. "There's no way I'm going to lose Sasuke to you."

"We'll just have to wait and see, won't we?" Ino fluffed back her hair, supremely confident in her sex appeal, as always. "We'll see what Sasuke does when he comes back."

"We'll see," Sakura grunted in response, not in the mood to argue any more with her friend over this endless battle for Sasuke's heart. But she was still worried about her relationship with Sasuke-kun, nonetheless. She had been teammates with him for so long, and she had done everything she could to express how much she liked him, and yet... he rebuffed her every single time, without fail.

He obviously cared for her as a friend. But beyond that? She did not know. And she wanted to know, she wanted him to say it. But he never revealed anything to her. It bothered her, and it nagged her, and it tore at her heart. Knowing that they had been through so much together, and that they were in the perfect situation to become close, and yet, after all this time, they were still so far apart...

She knew that Sasuke was a troubled boy, and that he had so many issues to resolve. Silly things like teenage crushes and romance were nothing more than irritating distractions to him, she was sure of that. That was why he had kept her at bay for so long. He simply did not have the time for those sort of things.

Or was it something else? Did he just not find her all that attractive? Was he just biding his time, waiting for the perfect girl to come around? Or maybe he was still making up his mind between Ino and Sakura, carefully evaluating as to which girl he liked more. If so, Sakura thought to herself, maybe she should just patiently wait and let him decide between her and Ino. And when Sasuke made his decision, whomever he decided upon, Sakura would be all right with it. Yes, maybe she should just patiently wait and let him decide...

"HELL NO," Inner Sakura shouted at the top of her imaginary lungs. "Love is war, damn it, and I am going to make sure Sasuke realizes that I am the only one for him!"

Outer Sakura then closed her eyes, as her formidable mind started to come up with a plan. She needed a plan to make sure that Sasuke would be hers, and hers only... she opened her eyes and suddenly asked, "Ino, I was just wondering. Why do you like Sasuke?"

The blond kuniochi stared strangely at Sakura, wondering why her incredibly smart friend was asking such an incredibly stupid question. "Because he's cute. Duh!"

Sakura's broad forehead rankled at her friend's condescending tone, but she kept her cool as she patiently said, "Okay, let me rephrase my question. What kind of boys do you like?"

"I like Sasuke-type boys. Duh!"

Argh! Inner Sakura wanted to bonk Ino over the head, but Outer Sakura resisted the urge as she carefully prodded Ino into elaborating further. "What is it about those boys that you like? You like dark hair? Dark eyes? What?"

"Ohh, you want to talk about THAT stuff." Ino nodded in understanding. "I see what you mean! Well, I do like dark hair, because dark hair makes a man look more mysterious, you know. Oh, and I love the dark brooding type, too! It's so sexy when a dark handsome man just sits there, brooding and moping! He's just inviting you to come over and brighten his day, and then when you do, he'll smile and be happy. Then love will blossom in the air - "

"Okay, okay, I get the idea. You like dark and mysterious guys."

"Exactamundo! But don't forget handsome! And don't forget the hair! He has to be a handome, dark, and mysterious guy with nice hair!" Ino paused, then added, "He has to be a sharp dresser, too. And he has to have a sexy deep voice. And he has to have nice teeth. And he has to have trimmed nosehairs, because I can't stand guys who have bushes poking out of their nostrils. Oh, and I hate smokers. If he smokes, no WAY is he getting close to me. You know how much I complain about Asuma-sensei's stinky cigarette smell! Anyway, that reminds me, my perfect boy would also smell good. It's not absolutely necessary, but it would be nice if he wore a dab of cologne. Nothing too expensive, mind you. Maybe something by Calvin Klein. Does Sasuke wear cologne? I think he does, doesn't he? He smells pretty good..."

One hour later, Sakura was walking down the street, tiredly rubbing her forehead and stretching her neck. Geez, Ino sure did have a lot of expectations when it came to men. But basically, it all boiled down to one thing: Ino liked dark and mysterious men. And that was the key to Sakura's plan for claiming Sasuke-kun all to herself: Sakura had to find a guy who was Ino's type, and somehow, someway, she had to get Ino to fall in love with that guy.

She could already tell that this plan would be difficult to implement. Although she lived in a shinobi village full of dark and mysterious people, it would not be easy to find a guy as dark, mysterious, and handsome as Sasuke-kun. And even if she found such a guy, she somehow had to get Ino to notice him. Which was easier said than done, considering Ino's tunnel vision when it came to boys and Sasuke Uchiha.

But still, if she could pull this off, the reward would be more than worth the effort. She had to give it an earnest shot! She just had to! For love, damn it!

"Dark and mysterious... dark and mysterious..." Sakura sat down on a bench, leaned back to relax, and lightly closed her eyes. Then, with her immense mental faculties, she quickly ran an analysis on potential candidates.

Ideally, it would be best if Ino fell for one of her teammates. Unfortunately, Sakura knew there was no chance in hell that Ino would ever be attracted to Shikamaru or Choji. Well, maybe there was a slight chance with Shikamaru. After all, he was insanely intelligent, and he also wasn't all that bad-looking (unlike poor Choji). However, Ino had privately complained many times to Sakura about Shika's slacker attitude and misogynistic tendencies. And he wasn't really dark or mysterious, either. Poop. He just wouldn't do.

Okay, so the guys on Team 10 weren't suitable prospects. What about the guys on Team 9? Rock Lee and Neji Hyuuga. Hmmm. Rock was a sweet boy, but unfortunately, he was a bit too "unique" (to put it nicely). However, Neji was an intriguing possibility. He was certainly the mysterious and brooding type, and he was rather good-looking. But his attitude was the absolute pits, as far as Sakura was concerned. Then again, Sasuke wasn't exactly Mr. Congenial, either, so maybe Ino would be able to tolerate Neji's surliness. Those Hyuuga eyes were rather creepy, but they were also somewhat mesmerizing. And he had nice hair, as far as she could tell from underneath that cap he always wore.

Sakura nodded to herself as she placed a mental checkmark next to a mental image of a frowning Neji Hyuuga. Okay, moving on down to Team 8. Kiba Inuzuka and Shino Aburame. Hmm, Kiba was probably a bad choice, since he was the polar opposite of Sasuke. The dog boy was incredibly noisy and excitable, compared to Sasuke's unflappable calm and coolness. As for that Shino guy? Well, he was certainly the dark and mysterious type. As a matter of fact, Sakura barely knew anything about him at all. Unfortunately, the one thing that she did know about him... bugs! Ewww! That whole bug thing was a big mark against him, for sure. She was already shivering from just thinking about the grossness of bugs and spiders and all those creepy crawly critters. But still, Shino was dark and mysterious. He was tall, too, for whatever that was worth. And he didn't seem too ugly, at least from what little she could tell from behind his sunglasses, the genin headband, and the perpetually upturned collar of his coat.

Okay, it was settled. A mental checkmark next to a mental image of a stonefaced Shino. Bug Boy would be her #2 target behind Neji. Now, who else was left? Oh yeah. Naruto.

Hmm, could Ino ever find him attractive?


Sakura had to wipe away tears of mirth as she stood up from the bench, well-rested and ready to carry out her plan. Okay, it was decided. The targets were Neji Hyuuga and Shino Aburame. And it wasn't even 1 o'clock yet in the afternoon. Plenty of time to hunt down those two!

She took a deep breath and whispered to herself, "This is an A-class mission, Sakura! Your relationship with Sasuke may hinge on the very success of this mission! Your future happiness may depend on the outcome of today's efforts!" She looked up to the bright blue sky high above. "Sakura! You must not fail!"

Inner Sakura agreed with a shout and a fist in the air: "Hell yeah!"

Everyone knew where the Hyuugas lived, of course, since the Hyuugas were the closest thing to royalty in the Konoha Village. However, not everyone was welcome to enter beyond the walls of Hyuuga estate. Thus, it was with a hint of trepidation that Sakura tentatively knocked on the walls' main gate.

Much to Sakura's surprise, however, the one who opened the gate was not a Hyuuga family member. Rather, it was one of Neji's teammates, Tenten. The cute perky weapons specialist stuck her head out of the gate, and she smiled warmly at the sight of Sakura. "Hello, Sakura! How are you doing?"

Sakura smiled back. "Hi, Tenten. I'm doing great, you?"

"I'm doing wonderful! Hey, are you here to see Hinata?"

"Actually, I'm here to see Neji. Is Neji home?"

Tenten's face suddenly became curiously tense, and she said rather hastily, "Neji and I are busy training. Maybe you can come back some other time."

"Oh, I see. Can I talk to him for just a little bit? It won't take too long."

"Sorry, Sakura, we're busy."

"Okay, is Hinata home? I want to ask her if she's seen Shino - "

"She's out training with her group, bye bye, have a nice day!"

Tenten abruptly slammed the door shut on her fellow Genin, leaving a puzzled Sakura in the dust. The pink-haired kuniochi scratched her head at Tenten's odd behaviour, then shrugged as she walked off. "They must be doing some top-secret training, or something. Oh well, for now, I guess I should go look for Shino..."

Meanwhile, Tenten was walking back to the Hyuuga branch family's building, thinking to herself, "That nasty Sakura, coming here to flirt with Neji! She had better stay away from my precious darling Neji, because Neji is mine! All mine!" The girl laughed maniacally now, raising her hands to the suddenly dark and cloudy sky as a thunderclap boomed high above. "He's mine, all mine! Hahahaha!"

Neji called out from the courtyard, "Hey Tenten, who was at the door?!"

Evil Tenten immediately reverted back to Sweet Normal Tenten, and the sky became a bright crystal blue once again. "Oh, it was nobody important! Hey, you want to practice Kaiten again?"

Roughly an hour later, Sakura poked her head out of a poofy leafy bush and finally made visual contact with her second target: Shino Aburame.

He was sitting on the edge of a large flat-topped rock overlooking a small thin creek, his hands resting easily by his sides, his feet dangling over the edge. Although his head was pointed right at her, she was not sure if he had noticed her yet because he had not reacted at all to her appearance. He was deathly still, staring straight ahead and ignoring her. Maybe his eyes were closed, and he was asleep or meditating? She could not tell, because those sunglasses of his were plenty opaque, not revealing anything behind them.

She raised a hand in greeting, and his facial expression changed from behind the glasses and coat collar. Then he briefly nodded in acknowledgement. Yes, he was definitely awake. Buoyed by his response, Sakura emerged fully from the bush, and called out, "Hello, Shino-san! How are you?"

"Hello, Sakura-san."

That was it. A taciturn monotone reply. Hmm, she would have to do most of the talking, it seemed. Oh well, that was to be expected. She knew that Shino didn't talk much, whether he was being addressed by cute girls, rude boys, jounin instructors, murderous puppet masters, etc etc.

The creek was a shallow one, with numerous rocks poking out from the surface of the water. And she started talking as she hopped across the creek, from rock to rock. "Hey Shino, I've been looking for you! Luckily for me, I ran into Hinata-san just outside her home, and she told me that you were probably at this training area!"

Shino was now turning his head to watch her hop, as she continued to talk. "Anyway, I wanted to talk you about something! I'm not interrupting anything, am I? Hinata said that you were searching for Kikai bugs out here, but it seems like you're done?"

"Yes, I am done searching."

"Oh, okay, cool!" Sakura had successfully traversed the creek now, and with a playful hop, she ended up on the rock with him. She didn't want to give him the wrong idea, though, and she maintained a comfortable distance betweeen the two as she sat down on the opposite end of the rock, wrapping her arms around her jackknifed legs. "Just curious, how did your search go? Did you find lots of those bugs?"

"I found a good number of them."

He now reached for something beside him, and Sakura noticed that a backpack and a lunch pail were also lying on the rock. Shino was opening the pail, and she said, "Ooooh, yummy! What's inside?!"


Sakura's excitement promptly took a nosedive into the ground. "Ugh. I see."

She then watched with morbid fascination as he inserted a hand into the pail, and bugs began to slowly creep out of the pail and into his coat sleeves. He just sat there, as more and more bugs made the trek from the pail to his coat, and after a few seconds of silence, Sakura's academic curiosity got the better of her.

Stomach doing flips and somersaults inside her belly, she couldn't help but ask, "What are you doing? Are those the bugs you collected just now?"

"Yes, they are. I am now establishing communication with these bugs from the wilderness, so that we can form our symbiotic relationship."

"Wow, you can talk to them?"

"Yes, I talk to them. And they talk to me." He looked up from the pail, pitch black sunglass lenses now focusing on her. "And as for you, Sakura-san, what did you want to talk about?"

Sakura was a little weirded out by his utter nonchalance concerning the swarm of insects traveling up his coat sleeves, but she did her best to hide it. "Oh yeah, Shino, I wanted to talk to you about a friend of mine. You know Ino, right?"

"Not really. I know who she is, though."

"Hmm, that's good enough." Sakura waved a dismissive hand . "Anyways, I was just wondering, what do you think of her?"

He paused, apparently surprised by her question. Then he said, "She seems like a nice person. She is also a talented ninja." Another pause of hesitation, then he asked, "Why do you ask?"

"Ino and I have been friends for a long time now, you know, and I have gotten to know her so well, I can pretty much tell when Ino has a crush on a boy." Sakura lowered her voice to a clandestine whisper. "And, well, I think there's a good chance that she might like you, Shino!"

If the bug ninja was surprised, his face didn't show it. But he took another long pause before asking, "Are you sure?"

"Nope, I'm not sure." Sakura put on a face of distress now. "You see, that's the problem with Ino. She has always had this problem where she is just too darned shy around guys she has crushes on. She's too shy to talk to them. She's too shy to even talk about them!"

Shino tilted his head at that. "Odd. She does not seem to be shy around Sasuke Uchiha."

"Sasuke-kun?! Hahaha!" Sakura laughed heartily at Shino's ignorance. "Ino doesn't have a crush on him! She's just pretending that she likes him!"

Shino had a strange look on his face now. "She is?"

"Oh yeah, she told me a while ago that she flirts with Sasuke-kun only to make the other boys jealous. You know, to make herself seem more desirable."

"I don't understand."

"Don't try to understand the mind of a teenage girl in love, Shino-san. Anyways, believe me, although Sasuke-kun is cute, I've been suspecting for a while that she may have her heart set on someone else."

"And you're saying that person is me. Did she tell you this?"

"No, no, I told you, she's too shy to talk about this sort of stuff! But she has dropped hints that she thinks you are - " Sakura paused for dramatic effect. "Dark and mysterious!"

Shino stared out over the river now, as he commented, "How interesting."

"It is, isn't it?" She was standing up now, dusting off her rear end. "Now, I can't guarantee she feels that way about you, because I'm only guessing. But still, I thought I should give you a heads up. Just in case!"

"I see. Thank you for the information, Sakura-san."

"No problem, Shino-san!" Sakura then frowned, as she took a good look at his hair. "And really, you should try to do something with your hair. It's so big and poofy and all over the place. You should try combing it back or down or something. It would look much nicer, I think."

Shino reached up with a bug-laced hand to feel his wild hair. "I will take your advice into consideration, Sakura-san."

"That's all I ask for, Shino-san! Okay, see you later!"

She cheerfully waved goodbye, then skipped off, leaving behind a sitting, silent, and pensive Shino. He remained motionless for two full minutes, absorbing what had just happened. Even the bugs on his sleeves were at a standstill now, just sitting with their abdomens gently waving in rhythm, apparently in tune with their master's mood.

Then he leaned over to stare at his reflection's hair in the creek water. "It would look much nicer? Hmm."


Notes: Don't ask why I added Evil Tenten in there. I just felt like it!