A/N: Written for urei-sachi for the December round at Naruto flashfic. So basically, this is what I think Naruto would look like if it suddenly got mind-melded with When Harry Met Sally and Utopia of Homosexuality (a ridiculous manga about a homosexual girl and boy who are best friends and help each other with their love lives, and then realize they fallen in love with each other).
That should give you a pretty good idea of how goddamn ridiculous this fic is. Not even joking.
That said, I hope you enjoy it. XD
If anyone had asked the fifteen-year-old Yamanaka Ino who she thought she'd be sitting in a bar having commiseration drinks with five years in the future, she would have looked around to make sure no one was listening and said Sakura.
They were lifelong friends, after all, the kind that could never fully separate from each other despite rough patches that span years. Like the one over Sasuke, for example. Eventually they would give up and accept that he would never love either of them, Sakura would understand that Ino had never really loved him in the first place, and then they would be friends again.
So fifteen-Ino's answer would make sense. It would be perfectly logical and easy and expected, even.
She would not have answered correctly.
Of all the people aside from Sakura that Ino could go commiseration-drinking with over her latest failed love affair-- Ten-Ten, Shikamaru, Chouji, Kiba, the Godaime Hokage herself-- she would never have even thought about this possibility.
"Fill 'er up!" crowed Naruto, who was a) also getting over his own recent crash-and-burn and b) already well on his way to a truly spectacular level of intoxication. "I don't want to remember that bastard's name by midnight."
"Amen!" shouted Ino, fairly far along the road herself. "Who gives a shit if her eyes are 'cerulean?' What the hell kind of colour is that anyway?" she continued resentfully.
Naruto held up his enormous mug of beer to clink cheerily against her own. "Here's to forgetting," he said. "Kanpai."
"Kanpai," she echoed, and downed half the mug in three swallows.
This was the second time they'd found themselves sitting together in this dingy little bar, agonizing over newly and painfully ended relationships. That time, they had happened on each other by accident. This time it was intentional.
"It's weird," she said. "It's like we're psychically connected or something. Our relationships always seem to end at exactly the same time, conveniently, so we can go drinking together to get over them."
"Oh hey, you're right," Naruto mused blurrily. "I didn't notice."
"So, logically, when one of us finds a good relationship that'll actually last longer than two months, the other one should too. Right?"
"S'pose so, yeah."
Ino stuck her finger into Naruto's face, making him go adorably cross-eyed. "That settles it, then. You know what you have to do, right?"
He stared at her. "Uh. No. Not really."
She didn't continue right away, choosing instead to order sake and drink a large amount of that to fortify her nerves. What she was going to say wasn't going to go over well, she could feel it already, but damn it, someone had to say it. If Sakura didn't have the guts anymore, Ino would just have to do it for her.
Naruto waited expectantly.
Ino poured more alcohol down her throat, and then on second thought, refilled Naruto's cup with sake too and made him drink it. The drunker they both were, the less likely they would end up tearing the bar down around them in a true, dirty-tactic ninja battle.
"You need to...uh... oh, fuck it, if you want to beat me up you're welcome to try. You need to go talk to Sasuke."
Naruto's reaction was not what she'd predicted. He slumped in his stool and rested his chin gloomily on the bar, staring off into the racks of colourful bottles. "I know," he said quietly.
Ino stared at him in mute shock. "You know? Then why the heck haven't you?"
"I can't," he answered after a minute. "I just... I can't face him. I put that scar there, and everytime I see his face I'm reminded of how far past the line I went to make him come back. I don't think he'll ever forgive me, and I don't blame him, because I'm pretty sure I'm never going to forgive myself."
She punched him reproachfully in the shoulder. "You did what you had to, you dumbass. And of course he's never going to forgive you if you keep acting like you need it. Just... go talk to him. Go beat each other up for a while, that always helps with the tension."
Naruto didn't crack a grin. "That's what got me into this mess in the first place, Ino. I'll talk to him when I'm good and ready, and not before. And what about you? When exactly do you plan to talk to Sakura? At this rate you're going to--"
"Don't talk to me about Sakura," Ino said dangerously, then forced herself to relax. It wasn't fair of her to shut Naruto down on this topic when she'd just poked his own sore spot. "Okay, fine, talk to me about Sakura. What exactly am I supposed to say?"
"Uh, the truth?" Naruto said blankly. "You love her, you miss her, you only went after Sasuke to keep him away from her because it was her you wanted all along?"
"How did you know that?" Ino screeched, horrified. "I never told anyone that!"
"Well, actually," Naruto said with an evil grin, "you told me. Last time we did this, just before I put you to bed. You were so drunk I don't think you remembered your own name, but you said 'I won't lose her to him, I won't,' and it was pretty obvious who you meant."
"Damn," moaned Ino, "and I thought I had at least one deep dark secret left."
They sat in silence for a few moments, drinking as though the world were going to end at midnight.
"I kind of screwed that one up, didn't I," Ino said reflectively at last.
"What one?" Naruto asked, confused. His short term memory was infamously bad when he was drunk.
"The one with Sakura," Ino reminded him. "I was trying to keep her for myself by holding Sasuke away from her, but it turns out I couldn't do both at the same time. I screwed up and lost her."
"Yeah, well, she wouldn't have stayed lost if you'd just admitted the truth."
"Like you can talk," she snapped.
Naruto shrugged. "I know. I'm aware that I was an idiot, and that I'm still an idiot, and I plan on admitting that in full detail to him at some point in the near future and asking forgiveness for it. The least you could do is the same."
"Okay, okay! I'll... talk to Sakura."
"Promise. And you'll talk to Sasuke?"
"Great. I think this is what people who know things about psychology usually call 'progress.' Bottoms up!"
They drank themselves into happy oblivion, or at least Ino did. Naruto healed from drunkenness as quickly as he healed from everything else, so she was fairly sure at one point he carried her back across town to her apartment and put her to bed, but it was fuzzy at best.
She definitely imagined the fond hand on her cheek as she drifted off.
In a fit of bitter irony, when Ino awoke she couldn't remember a thing she'd said the night before.
Naruto did, but when he realized that Ino didn't, he annoyingly kept his mouth shut and refused to tell her.
A month later, they were at the bar again.
"Is it just me, or are our relationships getting even shorter? By next year we'll be reduced to one-hour stands."
Naruto laughed. "It's our own dumb fault."
"No, it's not!" Ino protested loudly. "It's their fault! She-of-the-glorious-red-hair and... whatever his name was that you were so taken with, the pretty boy with the earring. They're stupid and selfish and had unrealistic expectations on the time of two hardworking, busy shinobi. It was unfair of them to expect us to spend every waking moment not spent on a mission with them. We need alone time sometimes too, y'know. They're jerks and it's all their fault."
"Ino, we barely spoke to them," Naruto reminded her glumly. "We came home sometimes when we needed to... uh, relieve the tension... and then we ran away again. We hardly even remember their names half the time, as you just demonstrated. You can't blame them."
"Sure I can, it's easy. It's all their fault."
"You're not being fair, Ino."
"Screw fair. I want to be happy."
Naruto had no answer to that. Instead, he just filled her glass-- he was holding the liquor this time, Ino's aim was getting steadily worse as the night went on-- and then his own. Alcohol didn't fix anything, but it helped temporarily with forgetting that there were things that needed fixing in the first place.
Ino did a lot of thinking in the next few minutes. The knot in her belly tightened until she felt nearly sober, and that just wasn't acceptable at all. "Naruto," she said suddenly, making him jump.
"Do me a favour."
"Uh, sure. Like what?"
"Can you be here again tomorrow night? I have a feeling I'm going to need some company."
Naruto regarded her with unnerving intensity for a moment. Sometimes she forgot that he was twenty years old and a very good shinobi, with all the shrewd intelligence that went with everything he'd experienced to get there. He acted like an idiot much of the time, and she tended to forget that he only did it out of habit and because it was more fun to be dumb that responsible, not because he was actually stupid.
"You're going to talk to Sakura, aren't you," he said.
Ino felt slightly punched in the gut. Nobody should be able to see through her like that. It wasn't fair. "Yeah," she croaked. "Yeah, I think I am."
"Okay. Well, if you do, then I'll... I'll... try and talk to Sasuke."
Ino didn't miss the slight emphasis on 'talk,' implying that Naruto would also be trying not to punch his face in like usual.
"Tomorrow could be either the best day of our lives, or the worst," she said thoughtfully.
"I'll put my money on the former," said Naruto with his customary optimism.
"You don't have any," Ino reminded him.
He grinned, unfazed. "I'll break open my froggy-bank."
"You still have a froggy-bank?"
"It's cute," he said defensively. "I've had it since I was little."
Ino went off into peals of unrepentant laughter until Naruto threatened to kiss her to shut her up, which made her laugh so hard she nearly cried. "What about the whole gay thing?" she teased.
"I'm only half gay," he said sulkily, "and all of that is Sasuke's fault."
"Well, I'm only half-gay too, so careful with those threats. I might end up calling your bluff one of these days."
"Doubt it," said Naruto mischievously, "because tomorrow is going to go well and you'll have someone else to kiss to your heart's content."
Ino sighed and felt the laughter leave her. "God, I hope so."
After a few more drinks, they got up and left, Ino miraculously still able to walk. They didn't speak a word all the way home, until Naruto had made sure she was secure in her bed with lots of water on the bedtable. Then he paused on his way out the door and looked back. "Good luck," he said softly, and was gone.
You too, Ino tried to say, but she was already asleep.
They had been sitting at the bar for an hour, completely silent, working their way through drink after drink after drink until the dim lights swam dizzyingly and the music receded off into the distance.
"Well, that was... unexpected," Ino finally said near midnight.
"You can say that again."
"Really unexpected," she obliged.
"Sakura and Sasuke, huh."
"Huh. Never would have guessed they'd actually..."
"Sakura I can understand, she's been mooning after him since we were kids. But Sasuke? Last I checked he didn't even like her."
"I guess we've been kind of preoccupied, huh," Ino said ruefully.
Naruto sank his head to rest his chin on the bar, his customary woebegone position. "I can't decide whether to laugh or cry."
"I'm kind of tempted to see whether it's possible to do both at once," Ino said. True to her word, there were giggles rising from her throat and tears welling in her eyes. She'd known that Sakura really did love Sasuke, and in her own way Ino had loved him too, but she had never, ever dreamed that he would love one of them back. She'd figured that as long as she could convince Sakura that she really loved her and that it was okay they were both girls, she wouldn't have any other real competition. She had never wished harder that she weren't wrong about something.
"I don't know about you, but I don't feel like crying in a room full of people," Naruto said uncomfortably, looking decidedly watery himself.
Ino grabbed his hand and dragged him out of the bar. "Me neither. I have more booze at home. Pity party for two, yes, no?"
"Hell yes," answered Naruto fervently, dragging a hand through his bright forest of hair. "Please."
"I have a TV, so let's go to my place and watch movies."
"No chick flicks," he said quickly.
Ino snorted. "Uh, that's kind of a given. Something with big gory battles and blood everywhere sounds good to me right now. How about you?"
"Sure. Even better if it's a comedy."
A few minutes later, they were ensconced on Ino's tiny decorative couch, an array of alcohol on the table in front of them along with liberal amounts of chocolate and munchies, and two large glasses of water. The movie played obliviously on the screen as they stared fixedly at it, concentrating so hard on it and not on anything else that there were enormous furrows between their brows.
The movie ended. They watched the credits roll.
"...That didn't work, did it," Naruto said.
Ino shook her head and burst into tears, leaning into him and sticking her face into his shoulder. "I just... don't... get it!" she sobbed.
"Yeah, me neither," said Naruto thickly, and wrapped his arms around her until she was practically sitting on his lap.
Giving up on any pretense of composure, she turned her face into his chest and bawled. She could feel his shoulders shaking and knew that he wasn't really doing any better. They had spent most of their lives in love with these people-- it would take more than a couple of drinks and a ridiculous movie to help them move forward past this gigantic, horrifying wall of wrongness.
It wasn't right. It wasn't right that Sasuke had turned to the one person he had sworn he wouldn't, abandoning in the process the one he'd sworn he would go to. It wasn't right that Sakura had finally gotten what she'd always wanted and left Ino, who'd cared about her more than anything, to stare and gape at her retreating back. Sasuke-and-Sakura in general just... wasn't right, and Ino could not stop that thought from circulating endlessly through her mind. Wrong. Wrong. So painfully, awfully not right.
The alcohol sat on the table, untouched.
"Got a new one," Naruto said cheerfully, waving something through the air as he walked in to her apartment. "It's got your favourite in it, whatsisname."
"Yamashita Kimihiro," she supplied, snatching what she'd now identified as a movie from his hands and tearing the plastic wrap off it. "Fantastic. Naruto, you're a star."
"No problem," he said cheekily, snapping a salute before collapsing onto her couch with a bag of chips under his arm.
Ino went to the kitchen and poured them some water. Neither of them had had anything remotely alcoholic to drink since the last time several months ago, when Ino had covered Naruto's shirt in snot and he'd gotten his all over her hair. It hadn't been a verbal agreement of any kind-- they'd just... stopped. It wasn't helping.
This, however, was.
'This' being their weekly ritual of movie-watching at Ino's apartment, complete with munchies and snarky commentary and each other's warm presence on the silly little couch. It really helped, being able to burrow into his side and feel his arm around her shoulder, keeping the world that contained Sasuke-and-Sakura out. She was pretty sure it helped him too, in some way, or he wouldn't keep coming back.
"What is this, the seventh time?" he asked during a particular mindless battle sequence in which Yamashita Kimihiro wielded his absurdly long sword with flashy, entertaining style.
"The ninth. Not that I'm counting or anything."
"Really. Shut up, he's about to say something heroic."
On screen, Yamashita Kimihiro raised his sword and yelled something that was truly epically heroic. Ino shifted and clapped her hands gleefully.
The ending was also epically heroic, causing Ino to flail again until Naruto caught hold of her hands and held them still. "You're going to take my eye out one of these days," he muttered, but good-naturedly. "I like my eyes."
"Don't blame you," she said, "they're pretty killer."
"Did you just tell me I have nice eyes?" he asked her disbelievingly.
"Uh. Yes. I suppose."
"Oh please, I say that to everyone."
"But you meant it with me."
She opened her mouth to retort, but realized at the last second that she had nothing to say because this was, in fact, true. He did have beautiful eyes. "Um," she said, for lack of a better word.
Naruto whooped and threw his arms in the air, missing her nose by a perilously close margin. "Yes! She admitted to flirting with me!"
"Shut up or I'll kiss you," she grouched, an amusing echo of a time in the pleasantly distant past.
Then, in a truly unexpected move, Naruto grinned even wider and sat back. "Go for it," he said, spreading his arms open in welcome.
She stared at him, off-balance. "What, really?"
"Are you sure?"
"Really really sure?"
He sighed in exasperation. "Should I be signing a waiver form? Is kissing you some kind of hazardous sport? Yes, I'm sure."
Ino was at a loss. "But... Sasuke..."
Naruto sighed patiently. "Is in love with Sakura, as you well know. They're going strong. I let him go, I'm moving on, all that jazz."
"So I'm the rebound girl?" she said, mock-hurt.
He made a sound that was closer to a growl than anything. "For the love of-- no, Ino, you're not the rebound girl. You're where I've moved on to, if that makes any sense at all."
"Uh," said Ino, feeling sadly inarticulate despite all the things she wanted to say. "Okay. Well, good. I guess."
"Is that an okay, yes, you can kiss me now? Or a 'that was weird, here's to hoping he drops it' okay?"
There was a feeling bubbling up in Ino from deep within her, and for a long surreal moment she couldn't figure out what it was. Then it hit her, and she laughed out loud. It was joy. She was happy.
"That was an 'okay, now he's trapped, he is never going to leave this apartment again, insert evil laugh here.'"
"Oh. As in, 'okay, please stay?'" He was looking at her, his eyes solemn despite the grin playing around the corners of his mouth.
"Yeah. Okay. Let's give it a try. It can't possibly be as bad as the last time, and if it doesn't work, we can always go to the bar and commiseration-drink, right?"
She wasn't sure which one of them moved first, but a moment later they met each other halfway in a gentle, unexpectedly sweet kiss. It felt strangely nostalgic, like she'd been homesick for this for years and hadn't known where to go to find it. She sighed into his mouth and curled her arms around his neck lazily, settling in for the long run in more ways than one.
If anyone had asked the twenty-one-year-old Yamanaka Ino who she thought she'd be kissing in ten year's time, she would have answered Uzumaki Naruto.
She would have been right.
A/N: WTF, crack, ridiculous, augh.