Chapter 4

A few days later, Ino arranged to have Naruto and Sakura meet with her. Neither Naruto or Sakura knew that they would be meeting the other - Ino had asked both to meet her outside of school individually, without telling the other. The thought made her smile deviously. It was one of the ways she was going to pay Naruto back for being so kind to her the other day.

The bell signaling the end of the day rang then, sharp and clear, freedom on a Thursday afternoon. Ino had left her classroom early and was waiting for the two 'lovebirds' outside. It brought bile into her mouth when she thought of Naruto with Sakura, but she swore to do anything to make Naruto happy. If Naruto was happy, then Ino was happy. That was that.

Naruto showed up first, not having anyone to hinder him on his way out. People avoided him, blatantly claimed their hatred of him. And because she was always with him, people started spreading rumors about Ino. That she was a slut who would sleep with anyone for a single ryo, a whore who didn't care who she hurt to get what she wanted. Of course, none of this was true. People were really adept at their cruel ways.

"Ino-chan!" Naruto called as he ran up to her and hugged her hello. "So you wanted to hang out today, right?" He seemed really excited, which was always the case with Naruto. Anything anyone did with him made him overly happy. But Ino, and Ino alone, understood why, so she didn't mind.

In perfect timing, Sakura showed up, just as Naruto finished his sentence. "Hi, Ino-chan," she called with a smile. They hugged hello. Then she noticed Naruto's presence. The corners of her mouth began to fall into a frown, but she managed to keep the smile up. "Oh, hello, Naruto-san. I didn't know you'd be here today." She glanced back to Ino with a questioning, and disapproving, gaze. Sakura was one of the people who did not approve of Naruto's existence, either, but she was better at disguising it. She knew that Naruto liked her, so she wasn't as bad as she wanted to be, as everyone else was.

Naruto was far pinker than Sakura's hair. "H-hi, Sakura-chan," he stammered. "I, uh, wasn't expecting you here, either..." His voice drifted off weakly.

Both victims turned to look at Ino expectantly. She smirked, then explained, "Well, I just thought the three of us could do something together for a change, instead of me being pulled in different directions by you two. We could go to my house and hang out, since my dad's never there. Sakura, you could sleep over if you wanted to." Ino tried her best to make it sound appealing to the cherry blossom, but she could tell she wasn't getting very far.

Naruto was the one to light up with excitement. "Yeah, that sounds like fun, Sakura-chan! C'mon, come with us to Ino-chan's house! We could...uh, I stuff..." he fell back into his embarrassed mode.

Cornered, Sakura finally acquiesced to traveling to Ino's house. She was rather dour the entire trip the way, though Naruto didn't seem to notice. He was too amazed by the fact the he was going to the same place as she, that they finally had some sort of thing in common.

It was a drag. Sakura's patience only lasted and hour and a half before she decided to take her leave. Ino couldn't help but mentally thank her, considering she hated the thought of Naruto liking her. Her situation was definitely a fickle one.

But Naruto must never know. Their friendship would never be the same if he knew she liked him more than a friend. Aside from that, Naruto might think that she had only become friends with him because she was attracted to him. And this was simply not so. She had wanted to be his friend because of the great pity she felt for him, because no one else would be his friend. His isolation made him more unique in an odd way.

When Sakura left, Naruto and Ino were free to spend time together and talk of secret, only-between-them things. Naruto told her more about life before he had met her, how he had to depend on himself for what he needed. He told her how cruel people had been to him, and how they seemed to be getting a little nicer now that they were friends.

What he didn't realize was that Ino was the one being bullied. She voiced none of this, though; what would be the point of that? He was her friend, anyway, so it was no trouble for her to stand up for him. This brought hatred and violence from the girls, abrasive stoicism from the boys. But it was of no importance; for Naruto, Ino was infinitely stronger.

Ino minutely mentioned the bullying by the people around her, though she was sure to make it seem of no importance. If Naruto worried about her...Well, things just weren't right that way, were they? She was supposed to be the one worrying about and protecting he, not the other way around.

They conversed late into the night, over Ramen. Their conversation lasted so long that it was impossible for Ino to send Naruto away for the night. Almost midnight. What friend in their right mind would make their friend go home at such a late hour, alone? Thus, without much conscious thought, Ino invited Naruto to sleep over for the night, on the floor in her room. This space was opportune because, in the case that her father returned, Naruto would be able to make his escape out her window, unseen.

Naruto thanked her, grateful, and they retired for the night shortly after. For the first time in a very long time, Ino slept soundly the entire night.

Ino awoke the next morning to the scent of Ramen on the boil. She half-smiled, half-groaned at the prospect. Was there anything else that Naruto ever ate? Surely it was impossible for him to survive off of Ramen alone. He would have suffered a heart attack by now.

The Yamanaka had no choice but to smile as Naruto greeted her happily in her kitchen. She had been right; Naruto was standing above a boiling pot of water on the stove, stirring it occasionally. Undoubtedly, it was Ramen.

"So what are you going to do today, Naruto-kun?" Ino asked as she took a seat at her kitchen table. "Mm...Friday. Our only day off..." She mused.

Naruto shrugged as he set a bowl of Ramen, flavoring and chopsticks included, in front of her. "I don't know. I'll probably end up going back to my house pretty soon, dattebayo. Your dad might come back."

Ino nodded sadly, as if in apologies. In fact, she did apologize. "I'm sorry about my father. And I'm sorry about everyone else in the damned village. They all act like you're so horrible...But you're not. You know that, right?" She looked to him from her bowl.

"Mmhm," Naruto barely responded as he slurped up some of the noodles. He failed to look at her.

Something about that action told Ino that he thought she was wrong.

She let it drop, and they ate in silence.

When Naruto finished and washed his bowl, he turned to Ino and murmured, "You know, I really like Sakura-chan. I was, uh, thinking about asking her on a date, or something..."

It was a good thing Ino was so adept at acting. "Then ask her. The worst she can do is say no." She took more Ramen into her mouth, focused on her bowl. Inside, her heart was racing with rage and her palms were sweating. It felt as though the real Ino would burst out at any moment and scream against Naruto's motions.

She kept it inside, though. Naruto was her best friend; if he wanted to date her worst enemy, then let him.

She couldn't help but feel a strong need to protect him, though. Suddenly, telling Naruto how she felt meant more than anything. But she knew, more than she knew anything else, that she must never reveal her true feelings to him. It would ruin everything she had worked so hard to build. She couldn't let that happen.

Naruto chewed on his bottom lip at her words. "But...She's not like you, Ino-chan." He looked up to her from his bowl. "And you're not like everyone else. Everyone else hates me. But you are my friend. And Sakura-chan...I don't think she likes me much, either."

"Well, then, why do you like her so much? If you think she's like everyone else, you should try and not like her. You know?"

Naruto, still chewing on his lip, nodded. "But I can't help it. You like Sasuke-kun, right?" Ino held back the urge to scowl and nodded. "Well, everyone else likes him too. And you can't help but like him, right? No matter what you do?"

She nodded. It was true, though the Sasuke part wasn't. She liked Naruto, and couldn't help it. "Yes, I suppose I can understand your reasoning." The sudden urge to cry nearly overwhelmed her. She choked it down by suggesting, "Alright, then, if you ask Sakura out, I'll ask Sasuke-kun out. Then we can go on double-dates and it won't be so awkward, right?"

The Uzumaki smiled. "Ino-chan, you're the best!" He walked around the table and forced a hug with her. She couldn't help but hug back. He smelled so good...And if he was happy with Sakura as a girlfriend, then she would be happy with Sasuke as a boyfriend.

They exchanged goodbyes, and Naruto left. Anger bubbled together with happiness, and she didn't know how to act. Silent tears fell down her cheek as she cleaned up the place before her father returned.

Ino slept through the rest of Friday, then woke up Saturday and got ready for school like a drone. Anger was the emotion controlling her, making the rest of her senses numb. Although she was conscious throughout the day, she remembered nothing of what Iruka-sensei taught.

She did remember, though, what Iruka had announced, "Today is the last day we'll see each other as classmates. We'll take the genin tests, and tomorrow I will announce your new teams!"

Everyone in the class took the test, which consisted of making Shadow Clones, using jutsu to turn into someone else, and other things. Ino passed as the top female of her class, with Sakura just below. Sasuke passed as the top male.

Naruto failed.

This made more anger surge through Ino as she watched her best friend fail, and everyone laugh. She punched the people around her and hissed at them to stop, though her efforts were in vain. Of course, everyone laughed at him, because everyone hated him. Even Sakura snickered at his failing attempts to make himself into the Third Hokage.

When class was over, Naruto ran outside to the swing just outside the Academy's gates and sat on it sideways, facing the tree it hung off of. Everyone stood around him, keeping a safe ten feet away, and laughed at how he was the only student to fail the test.

The anger began to boil over then. Ignoring the people, Ino ran over to Naruto, sheilding him from them with her back.

He was crying.

"Oh, Naruto-kun..." Ino whispered, gently rubbing his back. "Naruto, don't cry...You can always try again..."

He sniffled loudly, then whispered, "They're all laughing at me again...Why won't this stop? Why do they all hate me, Ino-chan?"

Her father's words came back to her, then, from a time not so long ago, "Within him is a demon called the Kyuubi. That monster killed your mother. I don't want you ever even thinking about talking to him."

The words echoing throughout her mind made her throat stick. Tears welled in her eyes, but she fought them back and murmured, "Don't mind them. They're jealous of you. C'mon, why don't we go back to my house?"

Naruto shook his head quickly. "Sorry, Ino-chan, but I want to be alone."

This made Ino's throat even more constricted, the tears even more acidic behind her eyes. She nodded once, weakly, and walked away. When she was out of Naruto's sight, she ran as fast as she could to her house.


Sensei - Teacher

Kyuubi - 'Nine Tails' One of the many names for the demon within Naruto.


I know this is short, but I wanted to get something up, and I couldn't think of a way to make this longer without it seeming like two chapters in one -_-' So hopefully I'll have chapter five up faster than this one. Review, please! X3