Summary: For her, she'd be willing to do anything... even give up her femininity. She'd be willing to be a guy... no matter what. All for her... Too bad Sasuke won't leave her be.

standard disclaimers apply

A/N: So... I've updated. I have this feeling that I should apologize. So I will. I can't say I haven't had time because, to be honest, I have. My quarter ended and I've been on break for the last three weeks. It's only on my last few days that I've decided to update this. I can't even really say I've been having a block because I've known how this battle would go since way back. Though, it was harder than I thought it'd be to actually write. D: So, basically, I've been lazy and thus the apology. I'm sorry. I don't even know how future updates will go since that'll largely depend on how hard my classes are going to be. At the very worst, I'll update sometime in the summer. Hopefully it won't ever get to that point since I'll have spring break but I just thought I'd put it out there. Ha ha... Fail.

recap: Through a small amount of skill and more than a small amount of luck, Sakura managed to trick Orochimaru into thinking she was Sasuke as he was about to give Sasuke his mark of doom. This then causes Sakura to obtain the cursed seal. Of course, before it could do any damage, inner-Sakura got a hold of things. Naruto, on the other hand, got a sword that magically seems to pop out of her hand and a voice in her head that she's convinced is Kakashi. The preliminaries have started and, this time, there's no Orochimaru and Kabuto to watch.

Key: "normal", 'thoughts', "telepathic convo", "Kyuubi/Inner Sakura"

No Matter What

Chapter 19

Staring into Ino's blue eyes, Sakura couldn't keep the memories of days long gone from flooding through her brain. Their initial meeting, the friendship that struck up, their break up and the subsequent rivalry that followed it. For a brief moment, she wondered whether or not Sasuke had even been worth it. After all, he was never going to be hers. Anyone with eyes could see he was infatuated with Naruto. Fangirl though she may be, even she knew when to give up. But, staring into her rival's eyes, she knew that their friendship wasn't gone, no matter what they may say. It had never broken. And she felt so utterly thankful.

'You were my goal, Ino-chan. I had always wanted to grow to become someone just like you. But... I think it's time that I give up that dream and become someone equal to you. Someone equal to my teammates! It's time to rise up and surpass you!'

Across from arguably her closest friend, Ino, seeing her rival's eyes and her actions, instantly received the message the pink haired genin had been trying to convey. Before she could help it, she felt an immeasurable amount of pride for the girl as well as a hint of sadness. That bud from so long ago was finally blossoming into a strong and beautiful flower. Smiling inwardly, Ino tensed her body, ready to move within a split second's notice.

Simultaneously both burst off the ground, speeding towards each other. Hands drawing together into a Bunshin no Jutsu, Sakura smirked, knowing that Ino was underestimating her. 'Time to bring her up to speed in the most fun way possible - violence!'

Sending a burst of controlled chakra to her feet, Sakura launched herself through the air, instructions on the perfect punch flying through her brain. Surprised at the painfully hard punch to her jaw, Ino flew through the air, just barely managing to land on her feet. "Get serious, Ino! I'm not the same brat from so long ago! I've grown up!"

Rubbing her jaw, Ino replied back. "I'm so glad you said that. I would have felt bad, beating up a wimpy brat. I don't enjoy being a bully, after all."

Up in the stands, all of Team Ten couldn't help but scoff at the lie. 'Don't enjoy being a bully my ass!' they all thought, remember various training sessions that she had, for lack of a better word, bullied them into doing.

"Yes! Go Sakura-chan!" Naruto cheered, stilling holding onto Sasuke's hand, not that she really noticed. "I knew she was amazing like that! Did you see that punch?" Beside her, her raven haired teammaate rolled his eyes.

"Calm down, dobe. The real battle hasn't even really started. Sakura's just barely warming up. That punch was more of a way to get Ino up to focus as opposed to the start of the battle."

Naruto scowled up at him, feeling slightly offended at having the battle explained to her. She had been watching Sakura for years, after all. One would think she'd be able to break down her actions just as well if not better than anyone other than experts in the field of people analyzing. "I know that, teme! It doesn't mean that wasn't a good punch! It was solid, had nice impact and sent her opponent flying, creating enough space so that she has the time and space to think and carry out strategies to beat her opponent. It was a good punch was all I was saying!"

"Sure, sure. Whatever you say." Sasuke smirked down mockingly at her. "If it makes you feel better, you can pretend that's what was going on."


"Now, now, brats. Calm down and watch the battle again. Support your teammate!" Kakashi interrupted, attempting to placate his team before any battles broke out. They looked so cute holding hands that it'd be a shame if they let go just to punch one another!

Sasuke raised an eyebrow in remote disbelief. "None of you were paying attention to my battle."

"Well, yes. But you're not a girl. Where's the fun in seeing to men fight?" he questioned, giggling pervertedly. "Two girls fighting, on the other hand... Now that's entertainment."

"Pedophile! You stay away from - Sakura-chan!"

In the arena, the battle between the two rivals had degenerated into a fist fight, no real jutsus having been used. Punch for punch they were evenly matched. Naruto turned back just in time to see both girls receive a punch that sent both flying away from the other. Ten minutes had passed by in this deadlocked battle.

'This is bad. We're dead even physically. Shit! I knew I should have trained more! I can't even use the genjutsus I learned since the Yamanakas are trained in the mind arts and are able to spot and avoid genjutsu! Even Ino could spot and avoid the repertoire of techniques that I've learned so far!'

Breathing heavily, Ino snapped. "Ugh! There's no way you could be even with me!"

"Heh." Sakura sighed mockingly, shaking her head from side to side. "Well, of course we're not even. I'm better, after all. How could I be even with someone who only cares about growing her hair and looking pretty?"

"Your hair is just as long, forehead-girl!" Ino taunted, flicking her bangs to the side briefly before it fell back in place.

Sakura looked picked up a strand of her hair and looked at it before raising an eyebrow. "Oh this? This isn't important." As if to prove just how unimportant it was, Sakura grabbed all of her hair and sliced through it with a kunai, giving herself a bob. "I've been meaning to get a haircut. It was getting in the way."

In the stands, Naruto stared in shock at the pink hair that littered the floor, vaguely reminded of that time so long ago when she had done just the same. Despite the nonchalance Sakura had displayed at her new haircut, Naruto knew it was as simple as she made it out to be. It was a message. One that she understood, though it wasn't necessarily directed at her or anyone, really. In her own way, Sakura was saying that she was independent now, able to stand on her own. She was ready to be a real shinobi. She was giving up on her childish ways. It was at that moment that Naruto finally accepted that Sakura had grown up. Naruto... was no longer needed and it scared her to death.

Beside her, Sasuke felt her trembling and squeezed, offering his comfort in the only way he knew how. He may not entirely know what was bothering her now but he would support her and be there for her, no matter what.

Ino's face contorted into a mask of rage. Unwilling to be beaten, she took out her own kunai and gave herself a haircut as well. "ORA! I DON'T NEED THIS!" she yelled, throwing the strands of hair in the space between the two of them.

Raising a taunting eyebrow, Sakura smirked. "Copying your opponent now? How pitiful!"

Growling, Ino let out a scream of rage. "Oh that is it, Forehead! I've had it! I'm going to end this right now! I'm going to make "I give up" come out of your mouth if it's the last thing I do!" she cried, drawing her hands together in a seal.

"Um... Hey... No way...!" Shikamaru muttered, unwilling to believe his teammate had lost it so much that she'd be that stupid. Did she really forget all those strategy sessions they'd had? As her fingers grew together in her family seal, the genius let out a groan. "I knew it! She's going to do Shintenshin! That idiot!"

Sakura let out a disbelieving laugh. "I can understand that you're desperate but... that's useless, Ino-pig."

The blond just smirked. "We'll see about that."

Sighing, Sakura rolled her eyes. "Ninpo, Shintenshin no Jutsu. By projecting your spiritual energy at your enemy, you're able to take control of their body for a few minutes. Unfortunately for you, if I dodge that, you're screwed since it's not only slow but also takes time for your spiritual energy to go back to your body. You'll be immobilized for a few minutes and in that time I'll have won the battle. If you're going to try that, then just give up, Ino-pig!"

"So what! We won't know until I try!"

Shikamaru gripped the railings harder. 'Idiot! It's only useful in battle combined with my Shadow no Jutsu! She's right! It's useless here!'

"Shintenshin no Jutsu!"

The next few moments shocked more than a few people. It turns out that Ino was paying attention to those strategy sessions. She had managed to trick everyone. With Sakura secured in place, Ino locked onto her target for real now. Smirking in assured victory, Ino gathered her chakra and called out her technique, this time actually performing.

"Shintenshin no Jutsu!"

Sakura's mindscape...

Looking around, Ino smiled. "Beat that, Sakura! You're mine now!" Secure in the knowledge that she would win, the blond metaphorically dived through her rival's mindscape looking for the motor controls she needed to find. More than ever, she was glad that Sakura was so smart since that meant her mind was organized and finding the main control station for her brain was easy. Before she could do anything, however, she heard a voice.

"Ino-pig? What are you doing here? No! Get out!"

Whipping around, Ino was surprised to see a large, black and white version of an armored Sakura wrestling with a snake, the words "Inner Sakura" emblazoned across her forehead. "What? Sakura? But... I've already taken over your mind! How's this possible!"

"Goddammit, Ino-pig! There's no time! For once in your life, listen to me! Get out! It's dangerous! The little fucker is tricky!"

"What? Sakura, what's up with snake? I know you're a woman but, honestly! A snake? What is going on?" Ino was utterly confused. This had never happened before. It wasn't supposed to happen! And what was with Sakura's language?

"Just get out!" Inner Sakura roared, whacking the snake's head against an invisible wall. "You're in the way!"

Biting her lips, Ino shook her head. "I... I can tell that somethings wrong. I don't know what that snake is but if you're fighting it then it can't be good. I can help! Let me help! Just tell me what to do! You're my friend, Sakura! Let me help you!"

"As good," she grunted, cursing slightly as a tail slammed against her midriff, "as I'm sure you're intentions are... I don't want it. You're in the way. Get out!"

Ignoring her words, Ino ran forward, determined to help her friend and rival. Cause, dammit, she was the only one allowed to do anything to Sakura! "Get away from Sakura!" she yelled, slamming her fist into the snakes tail. Hissing in anger, the snake whipped it's body across Sakura's arms, loosening her grip enough for it to heads towards Ino. It was only Inner Sakura's quick reactions that save Ino from getting swallowed whole by the snake.

In a moment of pure unrestrained rage, Inner Sakura roared at her. "DAMMIT! WILL YOU FUCKING LISTEN TO ME? IT'S DANGEROUS HERE! GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY MIND! YOU'RE DISTRACTING ME!"

It had only been a moment but that moment was all it had needed. She'd been distracted, yelling at Ino, and her grip had loosened just the slightest bit. Taking the chance it had, the snake twisted swiftly in her grasp and sank it's fangs into the nearest available piece of skin it had, its poison leaking even before it had pierced anything.

Time had paused for a second as everyone stared at the two holes that now pierced Inner Sakura's arm. "You bastard," she growled, advancing towards the snake. "I'll kill you!"

But the seal just snickered, it's eyes glittering a maliciously fierce purple. It'sss too late, brat. I've won. It's last words hissed, it shattered into thousands of pieces of purple dust, it's job done.

Inner Sakura stared in shock, unwilling to believe what had happened. The little fucker disappeared! Before she could get revenge! Clenching her fists, she growled. It was time to figure out the damage then. "Fuck."

Beside her, Ino shook, biting her lips and trying not too cry. She had screwed up. This was her fault. "I... I'm so sorry! I... I..."

As if brought to life by Ino's apologies, Inner Sakura rounded on her, glaring. "Shut up, Ino-pig. I don't need this. Get out. NOW!" she roared when she didn't see Ino move.

"I... I..."

"If you aren't going to get out yourself," she growled, picking up Ino, "then I'll just kick you out myself." Despite her words, however, Inner Sakura paused for a moment before throwing her out. "Ino."

Ino looked up, regret beaming through her. Staring straight into Inner Sakura's eyes, she nodded to show she was listening. "Yeah?"

"Save her." With those last cryptic words, Inner Sakura threw the blond out of her mind. Before coming back to reality, Ino was able to glimpse a spark of purple in the large girl's eyes.

Real world...

"What's going on? What happened? Is... Did Ino...?" Naruto leaned in closer almost falling over the railing.

"Careful, dobe," Sasuke muttered, pulling her back gently. "You'll fall over if you keep it up."

"But Sakura-chan!"

Turning his eyes back to the frozen battle, he frowned. "Just watch. Sakura's strong. She'll make it through."

Her eyebrows drew together for a moment before she nodded. "Yeah. Even if Ino managed to get through to her brain, Sakura's strong enough to kick her out! I just can't figure out why nothing is happening. I mean... they've been standing there for a while now..."

"Ino," Shikamaru muttered, staring at the two kunoichi down below. "What are you doing?"

As if spurred on by the impatience of those in the stands, several things happened at once. Ino fell back with a jerk, gasping desperately as she clutched at her chest. With eyes that only widen once they reached their destination, she stared at Sakura, unable to understand what had just happened and what was currently happening. Sakura, on the other hand, wasn't even paying attention to Ino. Screaming in pain, she fell to the floor only to burst out into laughter moments later. Vivid black markings ran across her face and over her arms.

Turning towards Ino, her eyes wide with insanity, Sakura smiled, cracking her neck. "Ino, Ino, Ino... Where were we? Oh yes. I was about to beat your large forehead into the ground."

"Sakura-chan...?" Breathing heavily, Naruto's grip on the railings tightened, her fangs unconsciously growing longer. Beside her, Kakashi let out a curse, jumping onto the railing. "What... That's not..."

Without even a second's notice, Sakura burst forward, slamming her fist repeatedly into Ino face and stomach, switching off in a blur so fast that few where able to tell just where she was hitting. Laughing wildly as she paused, Sakura examined her hand, clenching it into a fist as purple chakra burst out from her body in periodic spurts. "So this is what power feels like."

Staring at the wheezing and bloody blond, she brought her hands together in a seal, readying her chakra. Before she could do anything, however, several Konoha jounin moved at once, knocking her out even as Naruto threw herself over Ino with a cry of "No!", digging her fingers into the floor. Before darkness was able to claim her, Sakura's last view was of Naruto protecting her rival from her.

With a sigh of relief as the black marks retreated back into the seal, Kakashi picked up Sakura, running a hand through his hair. One student secure in his grasp, he walked over to Naruto, touching the jinchuuriki's shoulder. It was only as he leaned down to reassure her that he heard her mutters. "Not Sakura-chan... can't let you do this... regret... come back..."

Gripping the girl's shoulder ever tighter, he shook her. "Naruto, it's okay. Get up. I have her here. It's okay now."

Looking up sharply, Kakashi was surprised to see his student's slitted pupils. 'The Kyuubi?'

Jerking noticeably, Naruto's pupils rounded once more. "Sakura-chan...?"

"Is fine. See?" he reassured her, gesturing towards the girl in his arms. "Just unconscious. Now get off Yamanaka-san so that the medic nins can treat her."

Looking around, Naruto noticed the faces that were rapidly getting irritated. Eyes widening, she jumped up, face red. "Ah! Erm... Sorry, sorry!" Brushing the dust off her pants, she walked towards the stairs, wanting to rejoin her teammate. Noticing that Kakashi wasn't following her, she looked back questioningly. "Sensei?"

"Go ahead. Gotta take care of some things," he answered, gesturing towards the girl in his arms once more. "I might miss your match."

Staring at her teammate with clenched fists, she nodded. "Help her," she ordered.

Kakashi raised an eyebrow in amusement. "You aren't my superior, gaki. Now get your ass up there before I make you run around Konoha till sun down, upcoming match be damned."

"Due to complications, Haruno Sakura has been withdrawn and disqualified. Yamanaka Ino has been knocked out. The 4th preliminary match has no winner."

"WHAT?" Naruto shouted, unable to believe it. "How is that fair! Sakura-chan beat her! Yeah, things went out of hand but... but...!"

Frowning, Sasuke shook his head. "You saw her down there, Naruto. That wasn't Sakura beating Ino. It was something else. If it had gone on without whatever had happened, they both would have knocked each other out. They were too evenly matched."

"I know," the crossdresser muttered, looking away. "It doesn't mean I like it."

Rolling his eyes, he sighed. "Look at it this way. At least you don't have to fight your precious Sakura-chan, right?" he muttered wryly.

Naruto shrugged, staring back down at the two girls who were starting to fight. "She'd be strong enough to take it. I don't think I'm all that needed any more."

Surprised, Sasuke looked to stare at his blond teammate. "What?"

"She cut her hair," she explained. "A girl who needs protecting doesn't cut her hair carelessly like that. They do the fighting!" She laughed quietly, touching a short strand of hair. "I should know."

After staring at her for a moment, Sasuke turned his attention back to the battle as well. "Just because she's grown up doesn't mean that you aren't needed. Don't be so selfish."

"Eh?" Naruto gaped in disbelief. "Hey! How dare you criticize me for being selfish! You're the most selfish out of all of us!"

Sasuke smirked. "I thought I was the peacemaker and the most social out of you all. Not to mention I'm the least perverted. Face it. I'm the most normal." 'Eat that, Uzumaki!'

"I... That... that was Sakura-chan! Not me!" she sputtered, unable to think of a comeback.

"Sure," he snickered.

"You stare at my butt!"

"And you just want to touch me. You're still more perverted."

"Why you! Well, who wants to be normal anyway! Normal people don't get anywhere! By not being normal, I'm more powerful than you!"

"Oh please, I can beat you with my hands tied behind my back!" he taunted, flicking her on the forehead in a move eerily reminiscent to a man he hated. Not that he realized it.

"That's it, Uke! Let's fight!"

"I don't fight weaklings."

"I'm not-"

"So win."

Naruto stopped, confused. "What?"

"Win your match. Then we'll fight in the semi-finals or finals. Whichever. Win. Then we'll be able to fight." He smirked. "Or are you too weak?"

Growling, Naruto straightened her back. "I'll get there no problem! Just make sure you don't get disqualified in the mean time, teme! I'll meet you there and I'll beat you and your duck-butt hair!"

"Don't diss the hair."

She examined the hair in question closely. "You know... Now that Sakura-chan's cut her hair, I think you may actually have the longest hair out of all of us if you just let it go down. How womanly of you."

She patted the hair gently, earning a scowl as he slapped the hand away. "It doesn't go down, dumbass! Stop touching it!"

Kiba turned towards them, his face contorted in disgust. "Just what the hell are you two talking about?"

A/N: Okay, so I'm sure that there are a lot of mistakes. I apologize for that btw. But... I wrote half of this at like... 3-4 AM and the rest I rushed to get it out today. I'm sorry if it's OOC or bad quality. If you spot any mistakes or have some criticisms for it, I'd appreciate because... yeah. I suck and looking through my own work. I tend to just skim through it and always miss lots or won't add in something to make it better till way later. But yeah... A lot of important stuff happened this chapter. Which makes it worse because it's important and I definitely didn't take the time I should have. (sigh) hopefully it's not too bad!

Q: Wouldn't someone have recognized Kusanagi?

A: Let's just say that for every owner, Kusanagi changes form.

Q: Where was Lee in all this?

A: He... was in the bathroom. Believe me. He regrets it too.

R&R! :D