A Xenocide Production
AN: Cry Havoc and let loose the Hounds of War. The War Machine creaks and groans in ecstasy. The Initial Offensive shall continue.
Summary: Ino had already made the first move. She had the advantage.
Disclaimer: Don't own Naruto. I do, however, have plans to kidnap Kishimoto-sensei, drug him with Dr. Pepper, and force him to do an ecchi laden Naruto harem manga. I know that deep, deep, deep down, he wants to do it. Despite that little thing he calls a conscience.
It is to my deep dismay that I report, to those of you who haven't heard already, that the illustrious JohnnyG has retired from fanfiction. This means he is no longer operating in beta capacity. However, for those of you who wish to apply as my beta, please apply via email or mention it in a postscript in your review.
Chapter 6: Sneak Attack
Ino took a deep breath and lifted her hand to knock on the Haruno's door. Her hand was shaking slightly, hard as she tried to suppress it. She was scared out her mind and certainly not eager to face the pink haired kunoichi so soon. At the last moment, she hesitated and lowered her hand back to her side.
Though she had intended to be here bright and early, her nerves, in combination with her imagination, conspired to convince her that it would not be a good idea to face Sakura so soon after their altercation. So, she had ended up walking very slowly to the more suburban part of Konoha, almost to the point of dragging her feet.
She took a deep breath.
Steady, Ino. You're doing the right thing. Just calm down and get it over with.
She adjusted her indigo sundress nervously, trying to find any excuse to keep from knocking on the wooden door.
The sundress had been an impulsive decision. On any other day she would have scoffed at finding the thing in her closet and tossed it in the trash bin for being too conservative. Ino preferred clothes that enhanced her feminine beauty. A dress, in her own opinion, did nothing to accentuate her features. As she had held the dress in her hands, she recognized it as the dress her father had bought for her on her birthday last year, and she hadn't had the heart throw it away or sell it to a second-hand store. Instead, she had stowed it haphazardly into her closet and left it there, forgotten and forlorn.
But when she held it in her grasp, she suddenly felt on impulse that wearing this dress was absolutely imperative. Maybe if she wore something less…revealing than her usual attire, it would help convince Sakura that she was being sincere and not superficial. Making an effort to repair the extensive damage that they had both wrought on each other would most certainly not be an easy task, but nothing was impossible.
So, leaving aside her usual purple outfit, she slipped into the dress and was surprised to find that, while indeed not as flashy as her shinobi attire, the dress was beautiful and elegant. While it did not show a great deal of skin, except for baring her shoulders, the dress made it very obvious that she was a woman, defining her curves wonderfully and gliding over her body like a second skin.
Conservative yet sexy.
Ever an oxymoron if she had heard one.
Besides, she had to look good for this evening's dinner date with Naruto. No matter what the outcome of her talk with Sakura.
If she hadiven in to her fear and uncertainty, she would already be at Naruto's abode, having passed Sakura by completely. There was even still a part of her that suggested that Sakura did not deserve an apology or her friendship. There were some unforgivable acts committed by both parties, but the only way things were going to get better is if one of them had the strength to swallow her pride and apologize. Of course, thinking of a noble ideal and actually executing it were two very different things.
She truly did not want to be here. And at the same time, she did.
She wanted to sit down and talk with her best friend, air out every last hateful feeling Sakura and herself had for each other, and try to salvage some sliver of a bond that had been there since early childhood.
And yes, she would admit it. Most of this whole fiasco was her own fault. She had been so desperate to win Naruto that she was blind to the consequences of her actions. If she had continued on with her plans, she would have destroyed not one, but two bonds between the three of them. She doubted that Sakura would ever forgive Naruto if indeed he did choose Ino over Sakura. For all of her power and apparent inner fortitude, Sakura was as fragile as her namesake, and it would not take much to wither the bloom upon the tree.
She wanted Naruto almost more than anything else in the world, but she also wanted Sakura to be her friend.
And damn if she wasn't going to find away to have them both.
Apologizing would be hard, but it would also be the right thing to do. Yes, Sakura had hurt her deeply with her words, but Ino had invited them with her actions. The only thing that she would demand an apology for was the slight against Asuma-sensei.
Kami, but this was a tangled mess.
Both girls were in the wrong, but their pride would make it hard for them to admit it to each other. Sakura probably hated her guts with a cold, undying fury that made the traitor's hatred for his brother look like a schoolyard squabble. Ino had let herself be blinded by her self-pity, her despair, and her desperation to the people around her. To make matters even worse, she had tried to find an escape in Naruto, recognizing that the boy would be an easy escape from reality, much like the alcohol had been.
And poor Naruto probably had no idea what the hell was going on.
But the time for worrying about the past was over.
She was here to make amends, and that's all that really mattered.
In a perfect world, Sakura would open the door, remorseful and teary-eyed, and both girls would fling their arms around each other and gasp out apologies in between joyful sobs. Then they would discuss Naruto. In great, embarrassing, and extremely wicked detail. Sakura would reluctantly give in and allow Ino to pursue him, and even offer bits of advice on how to woo him.
If this were a perfect world, that is.
"I'll be lucky if I get through this with my arms and legs still attached to my body." Ino murmured wryly.
One last deep breath, and then before she could regret it, flung out her arm and knocked a rapid staccato beat against the wood door.
She immediately put both hands behind her back, lowered her head a bit, and tensed ever so slightly, trying to look as meek as possible but still ready for fight or flight.
A few moments pause and then the door creaked open slightly. A jade eye peered between the cracks and narrowed slightly. It seemed to widen when it took in Ino.
The door opened fully, and Haruno Sayaka, the matriarch of the small Haruno household, stepped out onto the threshold with a gentle smile, her shoulder length pink hair and white summer yukata fluttering gently with her passage.
"Ah, Ino-chan! It's been so long since you've stopped by to visit us." She stepped aside and gestured to the entrance. "Please, won't you come in? I've been dying to practice my forms in chado. This batch of green tea is truly excellent."
Ino relaxed and brought her hands out from behind her and to her side, smiling slightly. She and Sakura's mother had always been great friends and the same held true for Sakura and her own mother. When Sayaka and Sayuri were together, the two of them would joke that they just had to be long lost twins, because couldn't you tell? They were identical, of course. Things like hair color weren't important in the least.
"Thank you, but no, Haruno-san. I'm in a bit of a hurry today."
The older woman put her hands on her hips and pouted mockingly. "Now, now, Ino-chan. How many times have I told you to call me Auntie Sayaka? We've known each other too long for that."
Ino rolled her eyes. "I know, Auntie. But you know that Mother doesn't like it when I'm so informal with others, especially my elders." She grimaced.
"Well, your mother is far too traditionalist. Always stuck in the past, she is. If she had her way, people would bow to each other as they passed on the street, every stall vendor would have a smile on their face, and enemy shinobi would politely announce their intentions of attacking before they actually did so." Sayaka shook her head. "I love that woman dearly, but quite frankly, she's an idiot at times."
Ino nodded in agreement, smiling broadly.
Sayaka then leveled a steady look at Ino. "And I'm quite sure that you just didn't refer to me as elderly did you? Not even my own daughter can get away with that."
Ino felt the blood drain from her face.
Harunos were quite touchy about their age, especially the females. Sayaka's husband had made the offhand joke that after all of their many years together, the stress had only given his wife one gray hair while he had a head full.
To this very day, he still walks with a limp. And he flinches instinctively whenever he sees his wife in high heels.
"Ah, n-no Auntie. I just misspoke." She smiled nervously. "I still mistake you as Sakura from time to time!"
There's no way she's going to buy that lame excuse. Man, I'm an idiot!
Sayaka beamed brighter than the sun, barely outstripping Maito Gai for the title of 'Most Cringe Worthy Smile'. "Why thank you, Ino-chan! I hardly ever recognize myself in mirror as well."
Ino could only stare in disbelief, mouth gaping open slightly.
As often as Ino had seen her aunt act oblivious to the facts of life, she'd never seen her so blatantly ignore them. Well, whatever kept Ino's ass out of range of Sayaka's high heels was fine with her.
"Now then," the elder Haruno chirped happily, "I assume that you're looking for Sakura?"
Ino nodded, still not trusting her voice.
"She must have worked a terribly long shift last night. She was out all of last night and didn't come home till early this morning. She took a shower, changed clothes, and then she headed right back out." Sayaka frowned slightly, a crease forming on her forehead. "I thought that maybe she was pulling a double shift, but she didn't leave in her spare medic outfit."
"And she didn't say where she was going?" Ino queried.
Sayaka shook her head. "Sorry, Ino-chan. She didn't really seem to be all there this morning. She kept muttering to herself and staring into space." She sighed with annoyance. "She didn't even sit down to have breakfast with us, her beloved parents!"
A solid chunk of freezing ice lodged itself in Ino's stomach over the course of her aunt's explanation.
Sayaka shrugged her shoulders in a 'what can you do?' manner, shaking her head yet again. "I'm beginning to worry about that girl. She stretches herself too thin these days."
Ino nodded woodenly in agreement, mind racing down avenues she really didn't want to consider. Surely Sakura wouldn't……
Of course she would. Sakura wouldn't lay down and cry, like I would.
Sayaka was chattering on cheerily, but Ino couldn't seem to focus on her adoptive aunt at all. All she could do was nod in the appropriate places and offer the occasional murmur of agreement.
"—no? Are you all right, dear?"
The blonde snapped out of her daze, her eyes coming to focus on Sayaka, who was wearing a concerned look on her face. Instantly, she smiled brightly and waved her hand airily, saying,
"Sorry, Auntie! I was lost in my own little world, there. I'm fine!"
The older woman folded her arms across her chest and eyed Ino skeptically.
She had been very careful not to bring up Ino's circumstances these last few months whenever the girl came over to visit, but she couldn't help but worry whenever she saw Ino's pale face and dull eyes. Sayaka had been ecstatic when Sakura joyfully informed her mother that Ino had finally come out of her depression, and all because of a boy it seemed. It was quite fortunate for Ino that she had recovered on her lonesome. Another month or so, and Sayaka would have bound and gagged her, and carted her off to the nearest rehabilitation center. Ino's own mother was so worried that she had agreed instantly to the plan, something that Sayaka thought would have been near to impossible.
These last few weeks had seen a great change in her daughter's best friend, and she was overjoyed to see it. But still, even though Ino seemed to be on the mend, Sayaka was not about to relax any time soon. Having a psychologist and master of mind manipulation for a best friend came in handy from time to time. Sayaka knew enough to know that Ino was not out of the woods yet. Getting over a trauma as damaging as seeing someone you love die in front of you would not be done in months, or even years. Ino was a strong girl, but she was also more fragile than she realized. The blonde's descent into alcohol and despair was testament to that.
There was no doubt that Ino was healing, but there were still some times that Sayaka worried for her. For instance, these instances of "blank outs", where Ino would essentially become numb to the world for short periods of time, was most troubling. Her psyche was still struggling to heal the immense blow it was wrought, and it seemed that the occasional bout of apathy was the best it could come up with on such short notice for situations that were particularly distressing for Ino. To make matters worse, Ino was skilled in masking her distress behind a façade, as all competent shinobi should be. While Sayaka was not a shinobi, she was a mother.
She had a sixth sense about these sorts of things.
Even so, it took all of her skill to recognize when Ino was faking it, so to speak. She had plenty of practice with her own daughter.
Though she was quite worried for Ino, who she considered another daughter, she knew that no good would come of her trying to force Ino to talk to her or Sayuri. It might very well make things worse. The best she could do was offer her encouragement and be there for Ino whenever she needed help.
And pray that her daughter would be there for her as well.
Sayaka forced a smile onto her face, one that was as painfully fake as Ino's, but not quite so obvious. She had merely had the opportunity to practice hers more often.
"If you're sure, dear." She stood aside and gestured once more to the interior of the house. "Are you sure I can't convince you to come in? I'm sure that Ichinose would be pleased to see you."
Ino shook her head in the negative. "No thanks, auntie. I've got things to do today." Ino smirked slightly, a little bit of her old, confident self resurfacing. "I've got to go shopping for my date as well."
Ino posed proudly with one hand behind her head and the other splayed across her hip, while Sayaka laughed lightly at Ino's antics.
"Does that boy of yours know what he's getting into?"
Ino ran a hand through her ponytail, flipping it arrogantly over her shoulder. "Of course he doesn't, auntie. That's what makes it so fun."
Sayaka smiled, genuinely this time. "Well, I wouldn't want you to be late, then. Run along." She made a shooing motion. "I'll keep an eye out for Sakura and let her know you were looking for her." Ino thanked her, but she waved it off. "You just bring that boy around one of these days. I need to know if he's worthy of you, after all."
Ino bowed slightly in thanks, smiled, and then turned to leave, making her way down the short path from the front door to the waist high gate in front of the Haruno's home. She shut the gate behind her, and was nearly a dozen feet down the cobbled street when the Haruno matriarch's voice called loudly,
"BE SURE AND USE PROTECTION! I DON'T WANT TO BE A GREAT AUNT ANYTIME SOON!"
Ino stumbled in place, nearly catching her sandals in the raised stone and falling flat on her face. Face and ears burning, she looked around to see an old couple on their veranda glaring at her disapprovingly, a group of academy youngsters snickering loudly as they passed her by, and a middle aged man looked up from trimming his rosebushes and snorted with the effort of holding his laughter in.
Ino thought it merely made him look constipated.
Ino whirled around, intending to verbally cut the older woman into a pile of quivering, bleeding, and wailing flesh, but found that the blasted woman was already inside.
Still flushed crimson, all Ino could do was curse loudly, glare at the gardener and the old couple, and stomp down the rest of the street in a huff.
Some merchants were really going to wish they had staid in bed that day.
Naruto was dumbfounded.
Sakura had never come to his place before, much less shown interest at all. Yet here she was on his doorstep, hands clasped demurely behind her back, and looking for all the world as if her arrival was an everyday occurrence.
While Sakura's demeanor may have been casual, her attire certainly was not. His eyes took in the form fitting blouse that showed a hint of cleavage and the extremely short skirt that more than accentuated her slim, tan legs. He swallowed noisily, his throat somehow having become dry in an instant.
Sakura, having noticed Naruto's blatant appreciation, smirked slightly to herself.
Hell yeah! Now didn't I tell you this was a good idea? Inner Sakura crowed in victory. No man can resist the lure of the miniskirt!
Sakura's smirk only widened to a grin as she noted the lingering gaze on her hips. She brought her hands to her hips, swaying them to the side and raising her eyebrow in a questioning manner. Naruto could only stare dumbly. His thought processes had come to a shuddering, twitching halt. All deductive reasoning had fled south for the winter, and was having a damn fun time of it. Who knew it was so handy to have two heads to think with?
"Well?" She said, soundly slightly triumphant for some reason.
Naruto shook himself out of his daze. "Ah—well what, Sakura-chan?"
She sighed and Naruto swallowed noisily yet again. "Aren't you going to let me in?"
Now Naruto was in the middle of a moral dilemma. On the one hand, standing before him was the ravishing visage of his sexy, damningly beautiful teammate, and she actually desired to enter his apartment, something that would have sent him into fits of joyous epilepsy not a scant two weeks earlier. On the other, there was Ino, the girl that he was definitely developing feelings for, and was due in not too very long for their dinner date.
Naruto being Naruto, he came to the most logical conclusion that he could.
He stepped back into the apartment, performing an exaggerated bow. "Come on in, Sakura-chan! Ino should be due fairly soon with some food, so we can all eat together!"
He beamed happily, sure that he'd come up with the solution best suited to keep everybody happy and keep him from getting his ass beat. While Naruto understood that a date was important method of relating to your significant other but he could not for the life of him think of a way to turn Sakura away without inviting some serious pain to be heaped upon his person or hurting her feelings. At least this way, he could spend time with two of his favorite girls. Besides, the two of them were friends, right? Ino wouldn't mind just this once.
Sakura bristled at Naruto's unconscious informal use of Ino's name but could only sigh and shake her head slightly as she made her way inside.
Come on, Sakura. Did you really think that Naruto would make it that easy?
No, Inner Sakura chimed in sullenly, but why does he have to be such a nice guy? Asshole.
Naruto swiftly closed the door and then turned to see Sakura sitting down on that Smug Bastard of a leather couch, artfully arranging her clothes and crossing her legs in a way that made him swallow all the harder.
He squared his shoulders and stalked into the room, looking all the world a soldier determined to meet his doom on the frontline.
"So Sakura, what in the world are you doing here?"
Long time no see, True Believers. Think of this as my Christmas gift to you. Three-way interaction coming up next chapter………….which hopefully won't take me as long.
Lend me your thoughts and opinions.