Author's Note: Well, here we are, the last date in this saga of Sakura's dare to Ino. Before I go on, I would like to thank everyone who reviewed "Like Ramen" and/ or put it in their favorite stories––– it has been a great encouragement to me as an author. All right, all right, I'll save the emotional stuff for the end. Anyways, please enjoy the SasukexIno chapter of "Like Ramen: A Dating Story!" Oh, and also, there are a few MILD Phantom of the Opera (which I don't own)spoilers in here, so beware of those.
Disclaimer: So I don't own Naruto… However, I do own Kishimoto-sensei's lawyer.
Ino: You just don't get it, do you?Me: Aren't you supposed to be sleeping or something?
"Mmn… Sasuke… -kun?" The blonde girl rolled over lazily, pulling the covers off of her head and coming face to face with–– "Sakura!" She almost fell out of bed.
"Rise and shine, morning glory!" The pink-haired girl exclaimed, holding up a calendar and pointing to a date that had been circled several times in different colors. "Today's the day!"
"What're you…?" Ino began, rubbing her eyes groggily. "Who let you in?"
"Please, we're ninja. Breaking and entering's part of the job description?"
"You're not a ninja, Sakura," Ino yawned, stretching, her light purple nightgown slipping down a bit. "Why're you so chipper anyways? Last time I checked, we had a rivalry?" Sakura blinked, then suddenly sank into gloom in a corner of Ino's room.
"…oh… right…" she muttered, and Hinata scampered over instantly, nervously trying to soothe the girl.
"Anyways!" Tenten said, popping up out of nowhere and picking up where Sakura had left off. "We're all here to prep you and get you dressed… and stuff." She smiled and then continued. "By the way, your dad let us in."
"Yeah, I figured," Ino yawned once more, rubbing at her eyes. "I don't suppose you guys brought me breakfast or something…?"
"I can't believe this day has finally come!" Ino sighed, punching the air and grinning. "Sasuke-kun, all mine. On a date–– a whole date! This is amazing! And totally worth all the dates I had to go through up to this point!" Ino turned and kicked the air, nearly clipping Hinata in the side of the head.
"Hey, watch it!" Sakura snapped, pushing Ino down so that she was sitting, or rather, bouncing happily on her bed. "What happened to your half-awake…ness?"
"Food is a good thing." Ino grinned at Hinata. "Thanks for the omelet. D'you really make that yourself?" The shy girl blushed, clutching the ribbon that she happened to have in her hands.
"Oh, um… Y-yes, I d-did," she stammered, looking down.
"It was amazing. Teach me the recipe sometime, 'kay?" Hinata could only manage an embarrassed but obviously pleased nod in response.
"Okay, this is not cooking class, kids!" Sakura interrupted. But even she seemed to have picked up her energy from earlier. "It's already ten-thirty, and we haven't even gotten your dress!"
"Or done your hair!" Tenten added. "And then there's your makeup!" Ino blinked, confused.
"Dress? What is this? I thought I was going on a simple date… Y'know?" Tenten and Sakura gave her a look that made her feel somewhat naïve and stupid.
"What? Why're you looking at me like that?" she asked defensively.
"Ino, has that blonde head of yours suddenly filled with air? We're talking about one of the richest bachelors in Konoha! He's totally gonna blow cash on this!" Sakura exclaimed, not bothering to hide the jealousy in her voice.
"Plus he's got an ego the size of the Land of Fire, so chances are he's going to make it into a production!" At this Sakura and Ino shot Tenten a scary look that they had perfected, having been Sasuke's fangirls for a while. "What? It's true!"
"Anyways," Sakura cleared her throat. "I hope you haven't been starving yourself recently because I kind of guessed on your size."
"I do not starve myself, Sakura," Ino growled, giving her a dirty look. "It's you that eats everything in sight."
"Funny, because you're the one that has 'pig' for a name!"
"Well, at least I don't have a giant fore––!"
"LADIES!" Tenten exclaimed, quieting everyone with her patient and slightly frightening smile. "This is Ino's day. Let's not get into petty arguments."
"She started it…" Ino muttered.
"I heard that."
"Oi, this is getting nowhere…" Tenten sighed, massaging her temple with her fingers. "They're worse than Neji and Lee–– Oh!" Tenten spun around suddenly. "Hinata!" The dark-haired girl looked up immediately, her eyes wide with alarm.
"Ino's dress! We need to pick it up from Sasuke. Could you go do that while I try to keep these two from killing each other?" Hinata nodded silently and resolutely.
"U-um, what… wh-what should I s-say… to Sasuke-kun?" Hinata ventured timidly.
"Sasuke…" Tenten paused, thinking. "Crap. They'll all be over there, won't they? And Neji said it's a big place." Tenten looked over her shoulder at the pink and blonde-haired girls, already back in another argument over Sasuke. "You know what? I think I'll go with you to, uh, protect you. Or something." She clapped her hands together as if that settled the matter. "Hey, Sakura? We're going to pick up the dress. Help Ino figure out how she wants her hair or whatever." The result was some sort of affirmation, but the two went right back to fighting not more than a moment later.
"Ugh… Let's get out of here, Hinata. This is hard to deal with first thing in the morning…"
Uchiha Sasuke had always prided himself (privately, of course) on his dashing good looks and smug, yet stoic attitude that had girls killing each other just to breathe the same air as him. His hair was always immaculately groomed so that it looked particularly disheveled (something females found wildly attractive), his mood swung from a smirk to an impatient scowl (all practiced at one point in front of the mirror), and sure, his attire could use a word of advice or two from the fashion police, but he had to have something for all those ladies who needed something to fix in a boy. All in all, he was well deserving not only of the title of Konoha's richest bachelor, but richest and sexiest bachelor. All of this at just the tender age of twelve; yeah, he had his future with women set before him on a shining, golden pedestal.
Then why the heck, Sasuke thought as he sat on his bed in the midst of his huge, luxurious room, are they here!
"We just wanted to come over to wish you luck!" Kiba had exclaimed over the phone yesterday. "'cause, y'know, Ino's Ex-Dates Club? Kinda our job." If Sasuke had known what "wishing him luck" would have entailed, he would have barred all the doors and windows of not only his particular mansion, but all the living quarters of the Uchiha compound. Not to mention, from what he'd heard, it was like Kiba had even actually gone out with Ino.
"Don't touch that!" The dark-haired boy snapped currently as Chouji bent to investigate something on his vast dresser. "That's expensive cologne, you might–––" Crash! "…break it."
"Sorry!" Kiba grinned, tugging Akamaru away from the broken bottle. "Seriously, though, what is that stuff anyways? My eyes are watering… Agh! My nose is on fire!" Sasuke sighed angrily, clutching the comb in his hand so hard it was about to split in two.
"It was one of the last birthday gifts I received from my mother…" He muttered darkly. It didn't help that right beside him Shikamaru was stretched out comically, snoring as if it were his own bed.
"Uchiha, are you serious?" Neji peeked from the bathroom, a horrified look on his face as he held up an empty bottle of gel. "How many of these do you use a day?"
"Neji, get out of my stuff!" Sasuke snapped, getting up threateningly. The pale-eyed boy blinked, then shrugged, tossing the bottle back into the wastebasket.
"What is this?" Sasuke did not like the sound of the noise that had just come from his huge walk-in closet. When the doors burst open, he knew why. "I implore all of you to look upon my youthful glow as I strive to imitate our gracious host!" Standing before everyone was Rock Lee clothed in Sasuke's normal attire exactly, even to the point where he had taken Sasuke's headband and fastened it around his forehead.
"Surely now my beautiful cherry blossom in the sun can not refuse me?" Lee asked hopefully, his trademark caterpillar eyebrows rising with excitement. Sasuke had to stop himself from twitching and/or using a flame jutsu on the other boy.
"Ha ha, you look just like him!" Kiba cried, laughing heartily and pointing while Akamaru barked with amusement. Lee struck a Sasuke-like pose, frowning and crossing his arms.
"How is that?"
"Good, good!" Kiba encouraged. "Do that model turn thing––– y'know, like this?" Kiba demonstrated his imitation of a runway model, which was made even more humorous by Lee following his example.
"…it would seem–––"
"GYAH!" Sasuke cried, turning to see Shino standing there. He was so rapped up in making sure no one broke anything/ the spectacle before him that he hadn't even noticed the Aburame boy come up next to him.
"Sorry," Sasuke quickly apologized, pulling back on his mask of uncaring. "What were you saying?" Shino pushed up his dark glasses and nodded to the front of them, where even Chouji had joined in the "modeling," chuckling embarrassedly as he spun.
"…it would seem… we are surrounded by idiots," Shino replied blankly.
"Tell me about it," Sasuke sighed when just then, the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it!" Kiba declared, rushing to the door that was a good jog away. When he finally got there, the giant door swung open heavily.
"Hinata!" Kiba's eyes glittered with happiness, then turned to the girl beside her. "Oh, hey, Tenten! What're you guys doing here?"
"Well, we were originally here for the dress Sasuke picked out," Tenten smiled back, "But we picked up a present on the way?" Kiba was about to ask what when none other than Naruto appeared behind them, looking a little more tired than usual.
"Hey! You're late!" Kiba said with a mischievous grin as he let everyone into Sasuke's manor. "By the way, Sasuke's room is a left, then a right, then two more lefts, then the 12th door on your right." Tenten blinked in alarm. "Or you could just follow the signs." He pointed to the paper tacked on the wall that had a variety of color-coded arrows for things like the closest bathroom and, of course, Sasuke's room.
"So," Kiba said as soon as the two girls were out of earshot. "What kept you?"
"Couldn't sleep," Naruto yawned, shrugging.
"You still like her, don't you?" Kiba asked at last. Naruto's eyes nearly bugged out of his head.
"What kind of stupid question is that?" He smiled, pushing Kiba playfully. But Kiba's face was serious.
"Look, Naruto, you don't have to go through this. I mean, feelings can change… people can change, right? I've seen it. And you've experienced it firsthand." Naruto frowned a little, adjusting his arms folded behind his head.
"What's that smell?" He said instead, making a very disgusted face. "It's really… strong."
"Ah, crap! I got the cologne on me!" Kiba growled, wiping at his shirt. "I thought it was you."
"Dude, I don't smell like wet dog."
"Very funny, Naruto."
"We're back!" Tenten announced half an hour or so later as she and Hinata walked through Ino's bedroom door. "Man, it's like a frat party over there or something. Oh, and if you're dad asks why you need a dress for polka lessons, just play along with it." As if to back up her statement, Tenten held up the shimmering piece of material.
"Wow, I can't believe Sasuke actually went out and bought me a dress," Ino sighed as she modeled it (and by model, I mean far more gracefully then Lee or Kiba) "It's so romantic… I mean, come on, he knows my size!" Ino squealed and blushed, swishing the beautiful fabric around her legs as she did so.
"Hey, hey! Let's not forget who Sasuke-kun came to so he could ask about your size and tastes?" Sakura hinted, zipping her up in the back. Before Ino could comment how it was funny that the only reason Sasuke talked to Sakura was for her, Tenten cleared her throat and brought over hair supplies.
"It is gorgeous evening wear, though. I'm jealous," Tenten smiled. "But anyways, hair and makeup time!" Hinata held in her arms what Tenten didn't need and produced what she did when ordered. Soon, hours had flown by (with a little junk food snacking in between) and Ino stood in front of the full-length mirror in her room, spinning around, but unable to hide the glow of happiness from her face.
"Wow, I guess it's true what they say," Sakura smirked, waving the now cooled curling iron. "Makeup fixes everything."
"I think what Sakura means is, you're definitely a match for Mr. Uchiha now, if not in a league of your own," Tenten smiled warmly. Hinata blushed slightly from where she stood next to the blonde girl.
"You… you look beautiful," she murmured nervously.
"Oh, you guys are great," Ino laughed, taking everyone into a group hug.
"Oh, did I say all of you? I meant except Sakura."
"Hey!" But Sakura fought the urge to retort because she knew Ino was just kidding… hopefully. Suddenly a call went up from downstairs.
"Ino!" Everyone in the room jumped visibly, and Ino sighed.
"Yes, daddy?" She called back down.
"Don't forget you have to mind the store for an hour before you go to polka lessons!"
"Um… Okay, daddy!" Ino called back down, then turned to the group with an odd look on her face.
"Hey, I figured your dad wasn't the type to let his girl go on a date with someone without grilling the guy first. And I figured that would only deter Sasuke, right?" Tenten replied innocently.
"Polka lessons…" Ino repeated, shaking her head. "But I don't like lying to him."
"You're not!" Sakura said suddenly. "We are. Now get down there and mind that shop or all this effort will be for nothing."
"Well, good luck," Tenten smiled, hugging Ino once more. "And be honest, okay? You know, this all did start with a comparison."
"Yeah," Ino smiled, knowing full well her decision already. Hinata merely waved shyly as she left the room, and Sakura followed but paused for a moment by the doorframe.
"By the way, Kakashi-sensei told me to remind you about some sort of bet you had with him…?" An eyebrow was raised at this. Ino didn't know what she was talking about until a few seconds passed.
"Oh! Oh, yeah. Yeah, I totally know…" In truth, she had completely forgotten about making up with Naruto, she had been so consumed with thoughts of Sasuke. But she was determined that she would do it later–––after the date, of course.
"This is so lame!" Ino whined, trying not to lean on the counter so as to avoid getting potting soil on her dress. "It's almost been an hour already! Seriously, who makes their child work in evening wear?" She sighed, pressing her chin into her hand, a tress of her blonde hair falling into her eyes. She blew it out of her face and turned to the mirror behind her to fix it. That was when she spotted him, a reflection beside her face. It wasn't… But it was! What was he doing here? Ino turned, but he was already leaving.
"Naruto!" Ino cried out, nearly tripping over herself in her dress and heels. "Naruto, wait!" Unsure of himself the boy paused in the entrance of the Yamanaka flower shop, clutching red blooms to his chest protectively. Wait were those…roses? Red roses? Why was he…?
"Ino…." he managed with a smile. But when he looked her up and down, his smile seemed to echo sadness. "So…you're going with him tonight, right?"
"Ah… Yeah." She closed her eyes briefly, breathing slowly, then opened them. "What… what are you doing here?"
"Um…" He rubbed the back of his neck, and then without warning shoved the flowers at her. "Uh, here!"
"Um…?" She counted them in her head, her flower language skills working away. "Thirteen?" She glanced up. "They're bound differently, but still…"
"Well, they sold those in doz–––" he began, but Ino cut him off by catching him in a hug. "Whoa! Aren't you… mad at me?" Ino released him and gave the blonde boy a quizzical look.
"Mad? I couldn't be happier! Of course I want to stay 'friends forever!'" Naruto frowned for a second, then smiled.
"Of course." She held the roses gently and grinned. "I wanted to… apologize for the way I treated you the other day. I hope we are friends." Naruto reflected her smile with his.
"Of course." Then he nodded at the clock, "Sasuke should be here any moment."
"Oh, you're right! Do I look okay?"
"Beautiful. He'll be floored; he seemed excited when we left him."
"Yeah. He has a funny way of showing it. You should see how many times he went to the mirror to adjust something," Naruto snickered.
"Yeah…" But something didn't feel right. Ino didn't know what. Could it be the relief that felt so weird? She decided to ignore it. "So, what are you going to do now?"
"Me? Well, Sakura and I were, uh, gonna go somewhere…" He blushed and looked away, but it did nothing to hide the prideful glow on his face.
"Oh, you are not! That's so cool," Ino laughed, poking him. "Hope that turns out okay."
"Yeah, well–––" A sudden knock on the front door startled the two. There was Sasuke, dressed smartly in a suit waiting outside the glass doors, hesitant as to whether he should interrupt them or not.
"Coming!" Ino signaled, then turned to Naruto. "Well, here goes nothing. The evening I've been waiting for has finally come!"
"You're going to be fine, Ino," Naruto grinned. Impulsively she hugged him again, but this time he hugged her back, tightly. And then she was gone. Naruto watched her departing form as it entered the dark of the limousine that Sasuke must have rented for the night with his gobs of Uchiha funds. Ino, he thought, leaning his forehead against the cool of the glass door. I just hope you're happy.
"You look… nice," Sasuke offered quietly once the limo began to drive once more. Ino's eyes brightened.
"Thanks. You don't look so bad yourself, you know," she laughed, and then realized he was giving her a strange look. "Sorry." He didn't say anything, but returned to looking out of the window. Great. Not ten words come out of my mouth and the ride is awkward…, Ino thought with a hint of bitterness.
"Oh! Hey, I was, um, wondering…" Ino tried again, "I mean, how was it exactly you decided to do this? 'Cause we had to convince Lee and I figured, you know, since you, uh…" Shut up, shut up, shut up! Ino screamed to her mouth inwardly. I cannot believe you just compared him to Lee. Sasuke-kun––– to Lee! He shifted in his seat, but his gaze didn't move from the outside world. Is the window really so much more interesting than me? Ino thought, a little hurt.
"Naruto," he said at last, making the girl jump.
"I–I beg your pardon?"
"Naruto and Kiba… and all of them. Let's just say," he paused. "They convinced me."
"Oh." I wish he'd just be convinced by me! Ino sighed. But she was a little pleasantly surprised that her "Ex-Dates Club" had come through for her. It almost made her smile. But what was she thinking? She was in the presence of the great Uchiha Sasuke! And he had (somewhat?) willingly agreed to take her on a date! She should be crying with joy. But she couldn't help but be relieved when the car rolled to a stop and he offered her his hand so she could get out of the vehicle. Now she knew the true meaning of a thick silence!
"Sasuke-kun…" Ino began, but then shook her head. "So… where are we going?"
"Phantom of the Opera." Was he blushing? No, that pink tint was Ino's imagination, right?
"Sakura suggested it," he added quickly. "If you don't like it–––"
"Oh, no!" Ino interrupted. "I've heard good things about the performance!" She hoped she didn't sound too eager. He nodded, as if checking something off in his head.
"Oh. Yeah," he said suddenly, reaching into his pocket. "This is also for you." Sasuke produced a velvet lined box, and on the inside was the most gorgeous diamond necklace Ino had ever seen. Not to mention the biggest.
"Wow…" Ino breathed, her eyes taking in the splendor. "This is… this is… Oh, wow…"
"May I?" Sasuke ventured, holding it out.
"Huh? Oh, yeah, yes, definitely." Ino turned and held up her hair as Sasuke placed the gleaming gemstone around her neck. "Thank you so much!" At this Sasuke actually smiled a little. He's relaxing. Maybe he was just… nervous? The possibility made Ino simply want to shriek with happiness… but she knew she better not. He offered her his arm and she took it, a radiant smile upon her face.
Of course, knowing the kind of person he was and what family he came from, she shouldn't have been surprised he had his own private box. But she was.
"Holy cow! This view is amazing!" Ino cried once he had led her to her seat. She had a hard time resisting the urge to lean over the railing as far as she could and stare at all the people below.
"My parents used to take me to plays when I was little," Sasuke remarked, taking his seat and drinking from the glass of sparkling juice set there. "Something about exposing me to culture."
"Wow," Ino said for what felt like the twentieth time that night. "Wow." Twenty-one. She couldn't stop gawking, but at last the lights began to dim and she was forced to settle down in her seat. Not that she minded sitting next to the hottest guy that she knew. No, make that ever.
"Whoa…" Whatever Ino had imagined it would be like, this far outshone her expectations. The set was amazing, the outfits were gorgeous, and the singing–– Oh, Ino was blown away! Well, okay, that chandelier had scared the crap out of her and made her reach for the kunai in her purse, but when she sensed there was no danger she was able to relax. Okay, so the pyrotechnics scared her, too. But it was still an incredible experience. In fact, she was still sniffling long after the lights were up and people were leaving their seats.
"Ino?" Sasuke asked cautiously, snapping her out of the magic of the musical.
"Huh? Oh! Oh, I'm sorry," Ino said, blowing her nose into the tissue he had offered her. "Thanks. Sorry, I, uh…" She felt flustered for getting so emotional in front of her. "It's just that…"
"I understand," he nodded. "I don't think it was fair, either. The ending, I mean."
"Really?" Ino asked as she picked up her purse. "I mean, yeah, it was sad, but don't you think that she should end up with the guy she loves? It wouldn't be fair otherwise…"
"I suppose," Sasuke agreed, but Ino felt that she had said something wrong.
"So what now?" Ino asked quickly, hitching up her enthusiastic smile.
"Dinner," he replied. "I made reservations to this place my family always went to after plays. Sort of… tradition…" He looked at her, gauging her reaction.
"That sounds wonderful," Ino smiled. "I feel so honored to be apart of that. I know it must be tough…" She trailed off, but her meaning was left hanging in the air. It must be tough not being able to do that with them anymore. He didn't respond and instead held the door open for her, the warm night air whipping about her.
"Ino?" She looked up as they waited for the limousine.
"Look, I know I'm not good at this. It's become… painfully obvious," he muttered with a sigh. "Um… Are you happy?" Ino's face broke into a genuine smile that seemed to brighten all her features.
"Very," she answered. He seemed to loosen up and smiled a little back.
Surprise after surprise––– it was no wonder she had a huge crush on him. Okay, so she admitted to expecting something a little fancy, but this was the fanciest place in town! The instant they had walked in the door, everyone seemed to turn to stare (or was that her imagination again?), and the eyes of the maitre d' seemed to light up as soon as he glimpsed the pair.
"Sasuke-sama! It had been so long!" The small man then caught sight of Ino. "But who is this? A most beautiful girl––– and if I am not mistaken, the first that Sasuke-sama has brought to my humble restaurant." Sasuke snorted at this, but Ino introduced herself and bowed nonetheless.
"Reizo-kun!" The man suddenly called, snapping his fingers. A boy that seemed to be only a few years older than Ino appeared, and she noticed that both he and the maitre d' were dressed lavishly.
"Reizo-kun, escort this young couple to the finest table in the house." Amazement and uncertainty could be seen to pass across the boy's face, but he bowed and smiled at them, gesturing for them to follow him.
"He must be new here," Sasuke deduced.
"If not Konoha," Ino giggled. Her date smirked appreciatively. When they arrived at the table, Ino glanced down the menu only to discover most of it was in a foreign script.
"Italian," Sasuke explained.
"Oh." He then went on to suggest a couple of things, and although they all sounded delicious (or at the least interesting), she couldn't help but notice that they were all the most expensive things on the menu! She felt so pampered that she could barely speak. Could this get better? As if reading her mind, a piano player began to play a soothing, yet romantic melody. It got even better once the food arrived. The girl had forgotten what it was, exactly, she was eating, but whatever it was, it was divine. Not to mention that chocolate cake they had later! (So what were several hundred calories compared to sharing cake with Sasuke? Honestly!)
Now Ino glanced around blissfully, Sasuke's deep voice causing her to smile without thinking. It was wonderful… The play, a candlelit, Italian dinner for two, the atmosphere… Granted, there had been a rocky start but… It's nothing like all those other dates I had to go through, she thought with an inner smirk of disgust. But then it faded as another thought occurred to her. Would it be so bad if it was like her other dates? Ino's mind wandered back to all the time she had spent with those boys, the fun they'd had…
What about that time at the movies with Shikamaru, when they'd all blacked out and then picnicked on the hill? Or what about the aquarium with Chouji, or the field of flowers she'd romped about in with Akamaru and wished on a star with Shino? What about the bowling alley with Lee, or discussing shampoo with Neji? What about finding "fun" with Gaara and that memorable puppet performance and relay with Kankuro? What about…? She almost stopped breathing as another thought came to her. What about Naruto?
And with horror, as Ino sat there with her smile plastered across her face as she gazed at her date, she realized one thing: this was the perfect date. Ino's grin almost broke at the thought. And that meant that he was perfect, too. Even if things did work out, even if they did manage to fall in love and he wanted to be with her forever… How could she begin to compete with that? Weren't couples supposed to be equal? How long did Ino think she could possibly go on chasing the Uchiha boy and trying to meet his standards? The girl could hardly think straight, but she had never thought clearer in her life. She didn't want to date someone stoic and unattainable, she wanted someone who showered her with affection, gave her attention, made her laugh, for crying out loud! What she wanted was someone who made mistakes, but was strong enough to go on afterwards. Sure having him spend cash on her was great, but that wasn't the real her. That wasn't what she wanted. She wanted–––! Suddenly Ino turned away, and Sasuke frowned as he realized that Ino wasn't listening to him at all.
"Ino, is something wrong?" She quickly shook her head, placing a manicured hand on her mouth to keep from whimpering and breaking down in front of him. How would he feel? But Ino couldn't hold it in. Sasuke grew more worried by the second; what was going on?
"Are you sure? Can I get you something? More dessert, coffee, water, what?" Ino nodded and murmured quietly, "water." Sasuke signaled the waiter in an instant.
"Water for the lady," he almost barked in his confusion. The boy left right away.
"Ino, are you…?" He stopped. She looked at him, tears spilling out of her eyes, and for the first time in his life Sasuke was terrified that he had hurt this girl.
"I'm… " She choked on the words, and then dabbed quickly at her eyes with the napkin. "I'm fine, I just…" I need to see him… "Sasuke-kun, I…" It may be too late… "I just…" Why am I realizing this now?
"I'm sorry, Sasuke-kun, but I… I can't do this…" She was surprised to hear her own voice so clear and strong, throwing out those words at the boy she had claimed to love for years. Sasuke almost looked hurt, but he retrieved his normal mask of indifference in time.
"I see," he replied, but there was a pang of bitterness in his voice.
"I'm sorry," Ino repeated, beginning to cry again. "I didn't mean for things to be this way, but…" And suddenly Ino felt intense relief. "I'm sorry, I must seem so ungrateful, but I have to go. Thank you for a wonderful time." She got up to leave, ruffling her dress. As she passed Sasuke, however, he reached out and grabbed her hand. With a small gasp she was pulled back to him.
"Will… you be okay?" Sasuke asked, frowning and trying not to look away.
"Yes," Ino said and smiling, she kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you." And then she was gone. Sasuke watched her departing form as it disappeared down the stairs and into the night outside. Ino, he thought, pressing his mouth into his hand with a sigh. I just hope you're happy.
"Where is he?" Ino was running aimlessly, it seemed, through the streets of Konoha, checking this café and that restaurant, and what about that store…? She had wasted fifteen minutes banging at his door, but he wasn't there either. At last she found herself at Sakura's door.
"Sakura!" She was pounding crazily at the red door in front of her. She didn't even care if her parents were home and asleep––– who slept this early on a weekend anyways? "Sakura! Sakura, open up!"
"All right, I'm coming!" With relief Ino beheld the tired-looking face of her ex-best friend, rubbing her eyes. "What're you doing here, Ino? It thought you were with Sasuke-kun. Don't tell me you're here to request my chaperone services again…"
"Sakura…" It was then that the girl realized that the girl in the doorway was crying.
"Hey, Ino, are you okay?"
"Sakura, where's Naruto?"
"Naruto…?" She gave Ino a look that clearly questioned what she had been consuming that night and how much exactly she had consumed, but she felt enough compassion to say nothing.
"Yes! He said you two were on a date or something–––"
"Date?" Sakura tried not to laugh. "Me and Naruto?"
"That's what he told me. Something about going out?"
"Well, it's not true." She paused. "Wait, why are you looking for him if you were on a date with Sasuke? Doesn't that mean you rejected him?"
"Rejected?" Ino asked, looking confused. "No, he said he wanted to be friends again and I–––"
"And you just weren't thinking, flower girl," Sakura sighed, pretending to knock on Ino's head. "What did he give you?"
"Roses. Red roses," Ino replied. "And there were thirteen, so…"
"That idiot." Sakura shook her head. "Look, it's a long story but we ran into the 'Ino's Ex-Dates Club' on the way from your place, and since I'm kinda your best friend and Kiba's kinda Naruto's best friend we started talking and, well, next thing I knew I had this stupid plan for the poor guy. And just like I should've known he would, Naruto botched it."
"But I still don't get it," Ino pressed. Sakura took a breath.
"I told him to get you one red rose, or a dozen. Those were the only ones that came to mind. I guess he didn't understand and got both?" Ino's eyes widened suddenly. A dozen red roses meant "be mine," and one red rose…
"I still love you," Ino repeated from memory, her mouth agape. And she had stupidly thought it was about friendship!
"Sakura, I need to find him… I couldn't find him anywhere and I just don't know where to look anymore…"
"Okay, okay. Um…" Sakura seemed to be thinking hard, hugging her pajama-ed arms to herself. "Did you try Ichiraku?"
"There's a ramen stand not far from here. I can't believe you've never seen it before. Then again, you don't really ea…" The pink-haired kunoichi sighed. "Look, that's the first place I would check, okay?"
"Sakura… Thank you…" Ino wiped her hand across her face, smearing her makeup further. Sakura rolled her eyes and smiled, hugging the girl.
"Don't mention it. Oh, and Ino?" She added as the blonde girl started to run off.
"Is…?" She hesitated. "Does that mean Sasuke's open?" Ino almost wanted to laugh.
"Maybe!" Ino called back. Maybe, thought Sakura with a half-grin. Well, that's progress…
"Urgh! This is so stupid."
"Naruto-kun, at least try to eat," Ayame, the daughter of the Ichiraku owner, implored.
"I told you, I don't want any," he sighed, pushing away the bowl.
"But you love our ramen!"
"And she doesn't love me. So what else is new?" The girl behind the counter frowned, leaning over. He was the only customer that night, and although she felt sorry for him, it was getting late.
"Oh, cheer up, now. I'm sure Sakura-chan will change her mind?" The blonde boy looked up, almost wanting to laugh.
"It's not Sakura. It never felt this painful with Sakura." Ayame was shocked.
"Then… who could it be?" She began when suddenly a girl running towards them caught her eye.
"Welcome!" Ayame smiled, but she could see urgency on the girl's face.
"Excuse me, have you seen––– Naruto!"
"Ino?" Naruto looked up from where he had been sulking on his folded arms. "What're you….? I mean, what about your date with Sasuke?" He spoke this warily, as if reminding the girl, but Ino merely shook her head.
"I couldn't continue," she replied, out of breath from trying to run in heels. Naruto pulled out a stool for her and she sat down gratefully.
"What? His attitude get to you?" Naruto asked with a bitter smirk. Ino shook her head and frowned at his childishness. "Y'know, there's a trick to that–––"
"Naruto!" Ino exclaimed, which got his attention immediately. "I couldn't do it because I missed you!" She paused to regain her breath. "I wanted to be with you, okay?"
"What?" Both of them looked up at Ayame, leaning curiously over the counter. She blushed and backed up. "Um… I mean, I'm gonna go… clean some dishes! Yup, yup!" Naruto turned back to Ino when she had left.
"But I thought you loved him! I thought, y'know, Sasuke fanclub and stuff? What happened to that?" Ino was starting to feel a little frustrated.
"You happened to that, stupid!" She cried. "That's why I couldn't! Because… because, well, I like you now. I'm in your fanclub." Naruto blinked.
"You're not tricking me, are you?"
"No!" Ino exclaimed, about to lose her patience, then she stopped. "Unless, of course, y'know… You still like Sakura or something…" Naruto's face broke out into a huge grin. Suddenly he was hugging her tightly, and her heartbeat must have spiked to some unhealthy degree because she was sure he could hear it, too.
"No," he laughed into her hair. "No, I like you, too. I still do." Ino sighed with relief.
"Okay, you two," Ayame sniffled, suddenly reappearing and causing Ino and Naruto to push each other away in embarrassment. "I'm loving every moment of this, but I've got a ramen shop to close, and it's really late as it is." The two blondes smiled apologetically.
"C'mon," Ino declared suddenly, tugging the boy's hand behind her as she ran into the night air.
"Wait, where are we going?" Naruto asked, confusion on his face. "I mean, everything's closed now…" Ino turned and smiled then, her evening gown fluttering around her in the moonlight, making her, in Naruto's mind, look like some kind of angel. He stopped breathing for a moment.
"What does it matter?" Ino asked with laugh. "As long as I'm with you?" She hesitated, then her grin widened. "My favorite flavor of ramen after all." It was a weird thing to say, but somehow Ino felt it was fitting to the end of this crazy dating adventure she had been put through. And as Naruto slipped his arms around the girl and kissed her softly, she could tell that, somehow, he understood exactly what she meant.
Did you like the ending? You guys can't see, but I'm getting really emotional over here (this is the first fic I've finished on I hope everyone enjoyed this story as much as I did writing it. Sorry for all the drama in the end (it was very fluffy, wasn't it?), but I think it fit, don't you? I can't believe it's over! Thank you to all my reviewers, again! You encouraged me to continue and made me a stronger author! So saying, please review and let me know what you thought! Until we meet again! Labbess