A/N: I really shouldn't have written this. I'm too far behind on my other stuff as it is. I'm sure the few fans of Dead On Arrival are howling for my blood. This was acutally written for a contest for a local Joseph-Beth bookstore, with the grand prize being a crapload of free anime and manga. I'm not satisfied at all with this fic. I wrote the first half two weeks before the due date, the last half the night before, and I'm afraid it shows. This probably won't win anything, but I figured I better post this and salvage a few decent reviews out of it. Make me happy, please??

Summary: He said, 'Naruto, if you're considered old enough to kill for your village, then you're old enough to drink whatever the hell you want.'

Disclaimer: l337 /\/\4573R K15H1 PVVN5 N4RU70!!!! (If you can speak l337, you have far too much time on your hands...)

The Forgetting Game
A Xenocide Production

It started, as most things do, as an innocent conversation between two acquaintances.

He was there to drown his sorrows in warm sake.

It was a poor substitute for ramen, but it was effective nonetheless.

She was there for the same reason as he, though he was an old pro by now, and she was only just beginning to learn the ropes. He had been introduced to the forgetting game by his teacher, who was far more versed in the game and its numerous rules.

She slumped down a few stools down from him, and he took note of her condition out of the corner of his eyes as he sipped ever so casually from the small sake cup.

Saying that she looked like hell was being more than generous.

Her lustrous hair, one of the few things that she took immense pride in, was dull and unkempt. It looked nauseatingly greasy, as if it hadn't been cared for in months.

Her uniform was likewise in horrible condition. It was ripped, torn, and covered in stains that raised questions best left unasked.

Unblemished, smooth skin, once the envy of every girl in a thirty-click radius, was covered in so much filth that little of the warm glow that was Yamanaka Ino shone through.

But the most disheartening feature was her eyes. Those twin orbs of cornflower blue, which had once burned with the mischievous intensity of a thousand suns, had now faded into a weak flicker of their former selves. She had been utterly and completely broken, and no force on this earth could make her whole again. Those eyes were far too familiar to the boy for comfort.

He had seen that look in the eyes of too many people than he cared to count.

Himself included.

He idly fiddled with his cup as he watched her call tiredly for sake.

She forwent the cup offered to her entirely and grabbed the entire bottle, closing her eyes as she greedily, desperately guzzled down a good third of the sake before she had to pause and gasp for air.

He decided to chance a few words, not entirely sure if he was doing the right thing.

"You're doing it all wrong, you know."

She paused in mid lift of the bottle and peered blearily through the hazy light to see the figure seated a few stools down from her.

"And what exactly am I doin' wrong?" She slurred slightly, irritated that someone had cut into her precious time. Her time could be better spent lowering the infuriatingly high level of sake in the bottle.

It was only when the figure stood and made his way closer, wobbling ever so slightly, to sit down to next to her that she realized that the stranger was in fact the one and only Uzumaki Naruto.

"If you drink that much at once, you'll end up overloading your liver and dying a very embarrassing death of choking on your own vomit." He noted wryly.

She blinked and brought the bottle from her lips down to the bartop.

"If you're going to play the game, you'd better make sure that you know the rules." His voice was almost monotone, far too reserved for the usual boisterousness the blonde showed.

Another blink from the confused kunoichi. "The game? What game?"

He took another small sip, not meeting her gaze and answered, "The forgetting game of course. What other game is there?"

She stared at him dazedly, wondering if Konoha's self-proclaimed Number One Ninja had finally cracked. Damn. That meant she owed Shikamaru 20 ryou.

He reached over, still not meeting her eyes, and gently pried the bottle out of her unresisting hand. He then poured a small amount into the cup the bartender had laid out for her, which she had abandoned in her haste. It was placed in front of her, the bottle well out of her reach.

"The trick is to keep a steady level of alcohol in your system," he explained. "You know, pace yourself." He refilled his empty cup with Ino's bottle. "It makes staying drunk longer a lot easier."

She squinted at him skeptically, reaching down for the cup as she did. "And when did you become the self-proclaimed master of binge drinking?" She downed her serving with one gulp, gritting her teeth at the bitter taste.

He noted her reaction, grinning mirthlessly but wisely choosing to remain silent.

She slammed the empty cup down with a loud clunk. "Well?"

He scooted the bottle towards her, and was somewhat surprised to see that she only filled the cup up. "For your information, it was ero-sennin who taught me a few things about drinking a few years back. The stupid idiot thought it was funny watching me puking up my guts a couple nights in a row." He grinned sourly.

"He let you drink? But you're underage!" Ino snorted in outrage. "I can't believe that one of the legendary Sannin would do that!"

Naruto raised an eyebrow and glanced pointedly at the cup in Ino's hand. She blushed and mumbled, "It's not the same."

"Oh? Coulda fooled me." There was a sarcastic bite to his words, another unusual first for the eternally cheerful shinobi. He took another sip from his cup. "You're right though."

Ino looked up sharply at his admission. "I asked him about that, why he was letting me drink even though I was so young." He swirled the clear liquid in his hand absentmindedly. "He said, 'Naruto, if you're considered old enough to kill for your village, then you're old enough to drink whatever the hell you want.' I couldn't believe what he was saying at first, but when I thought about it a little, I guess I he was right."

She nodded thoughtfully at that. "You're right, Naruto. I've never thought of it like that."

He grinned in a rather fox like way, allowing a little of the old Naruto to surface. "It's not like thinking's your strong point anyways, right?"

Ino's temple pulsed and she gritted her teeth. Hellish flames seemed to form in the background as she glared at him murderously.

Seeing the look in her eyes and the death grip she had on her cup, Naruto cowered comically, flailing his arms animatedly in a desperate attempt to ward off his impending death.

"Gah! It was just a joke, Ino! Just a joke, for Kami's sake!"

Her killing intent lessened somewhat, but it still hadn't dissipated completely as she reached once again for her bottle. "I think I liked you better when you were an angsty drunk." She grumbled good-naturedly.

He scratched the back of his head sheepishly. "Yeah well, I realized that I wasn't playing by the rules. I do that a lot."

"What did you call it again? The forgetting game?" She was curious. Who'd ever heard that there were rules to drinking?

He nodded. "Yep. It's this game that he came up with back when the Legendary Sannin were still a team. Ero-sennin told me that there's only one reason why ninja drink. To forget. Well, that's what I think he meant. He went through this whole complicated thing about trying to cope with living and all sorts of other crap, but I didn't really understand it."

"Naturally." The young kunoichi muttered under her breath as she snuck a sip.

Naruto was definitely back to normal, chattering on animatedly as if he hadn't heard her. "So when I begged him to let me try a little, he just ordered me a bottle and started to go over the rules."

"And what are the rules exactly?" She growled impatiently. She regretted wanting to see him lighten up a little. She had forgotten that irritating people is what Naruto practically lived for.

"Well, I was actually breaking the first one, before you came in." He laughed as Ino rolled her eyes. "No surprise there, I guess. There's so many rules, I can't keep count!"

He sat his cup down and turned to face her, looking directly in her eyes for the first time that night. He puffed himself up ridiculously and tried to adopt a dignified air.

He failed miserably but decided that the genuine smile and giggle that escaped the girl's lips were more than worth his dignity. "Rule number one, my dear apprentice—" Naruto rumbled in a somewhat passable mimicry of his sensei. "You must never drink alone. One person drinking alone will tend to dwell on the past, making forgetting that much harder. Having someone to talk with makes it so much easier. If you try to enjoy yourself, you'll forget why you had to pick up the bottle in the first place."

Naruto's attempt to be deep and serious had Ino smiling so hard that she felt her face would crack in two. She laughed outright at his erratic hand gestures, which seemed to somehow represent the Toad Hermit perfectly.

He dropped the act, finishing in his normal voice. "He also said a beautiful woman was best, though any friend will do. The pervert used any excuse to get along with the ladies." He grinned that trademark grin of his. "Though, I think I did pretty good on both, don't you think? I landed both a friend and a beauty!"

Ino froze in mid laugh, a second blush, much different in nature from the first one, blazed across her face, giving her a look that was surprisingly similar to one Hyuuga Hinata. She reached up and grabbed a handful of her hair, grimacing slightly at the grease that practically poured off of each strand. She was suddenly and very painfully aware of the horrible sight she must present. "You're just saying that," she murmured softly. "I look—"

Naruto, being his normal, denser than stone self, had no idea the effect his words were having on his companion. In his mind, he was only trying his hardest to cheer up someone who was probably feeling as lonely as he was. "You look great, Ino-chan!" He assured her, as she looked surprised but not opposed to the sudden addition to her name. "Everyone knows you're the most beautiful girl in the Rookie Nine!"

"I thought Sakura had that honor?" She asked amusedly.

Naruto shrugged and looked away, suddenly uncomfortable with the turn the conversation had taken. "It's just what everyone says."

"What? You don't think so too? " A coy grin was on her face, much like the one that she usually wore. She leaned forwards to attract his attention.

He fidgeted as he reluctantly faced her again. Her eyes were bright again after being dull for so long. That cornflower blue that was startlingly similar to his own blazed fiercely. "Of course I do!" He blurted out. "I think you're as pretty as Sakura-chan."

She frowned at that.

And you…Ino…don't ever lose to Sakura…in love or war.

A determined look came over her face.

Yes, Asuma-sensei.

"Naruto!" She snapped. "We're leaving!"

The poor boy jolted as if he'd been hit by lightning.

"Wh-why, Ino-chan!? We haven't even finished our sake!" He stuttered fearfully as her eyes gleamed with fiery determination. Somehow, she'd managed to project that inner fire that Maito Gai and his precious pupil were so fond of. The Hidden Village feared the day when she finally learned how to project meaningful backdrops out of nowhere, as Gai-sensei and his student were prone to do. Though most doubted that her backdrops would be as peaceful as the setting sun…

"Forget the sake!" She snarled, in full Righteous Wrath mode. "You're taking me to dinner!"

Naruto bolted upright in his stool. "What!?! Dinner? But—but—!"

She stood up and grabbed him by the arm, throwing down enough money to pay for the drinks, before she proceeded to drag him out. "No buts! I'm not going to let you sit here and drown yourself in sake. It's uncivilized!" She studiously ignored his outraged squawks of hypocrisy. "I'm going home to clean up and you'd better do the same. I expect you to pick me up at eight sharp! And don't you dare think of taking me to that….." Her voice faded into the distance as she drug a frantic and flailing Naruto out of the door and down the dusty streets, far away from the bar where they'd both spent far too much time.

They were lucky, in a way.

Many people play the forgetting game, and not all manage to win. Granted, forgetting isn't as easy as the two shinobi made it seem, but they did manage to take the first step.

They left behind their memories, in the bar with the grinning bartender and two lone bottles of sake. Memories of last words in the pouring rain and hypnotizing windmills set in a pair of blood red eyes.

And really, that's what the forgetting game is all about. It's not about escaping things momentarily, but learning to let them go, preferably with the help of a friend.