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A/N: A finale to the story. There's no sequel planned yet. Thanks to all the readers and reviewers!
Chapter 10: And the winner is...?
The Kohona 12's Poker Night was winding down. The final table consisted of Naruto, Shikamaru, Ino, Neji, Shino and Lee. This was not a surprising end to the night. Usually the core group of the winner's table was Naruto, Shikamaru and Lee. Ino was the only kunoichi to make it to the final table tonight. Usually one of the others joined her because the other three were actually decent players, despite Sakura's poor luck, Tenten's impatience and Hinata's shyness.
Ino wanted to win tonight. She had no interest in hosting the next night, but she wanted to win because she had a bet with Sakura that if she won tonight, Sakura would wear one of Naruto's old jumpsuits at work for a week. If she lost, then she would have to wear Chouji's spare armor for a week. This is one game she could not afford to lose.
Naruto was just playing for fun as usual. He knew about the bet between his girlfriend and her best friend, but would not let her win easily, despite his desire to see Sakura wear his clothes in public. (In private was a different story.) However, he had already won a significant amount from the two bets being settled tonight and had won more at the previous table. A loss here would not hurt his finances in the least, but his nindo was to never give up.
Shikamaru was dealing once again. Although he was far too subborn to admit it he loved both the game of poker and Temari no Suna. A lifetime of knowing him gave her an excellent advantage over him while playing, but he was still a genius and a tough competitor.
Neji was another genius at the table. He rarely made it this far because he did not enjoy the game as much as many of the others did. Her suspision was he came to see the weapons mistress of his old genin/chunin team, the same one he bought flowers from her family's shop for on her birthday, after every successful promotion and whenever they came back from a particularly tough mission. He was also fairly thrifty with his money. Once he lost more than he had won, he would quit and most likely join Tenten and Hinata on the couch.
Shino, the bug-user still freaked her out a little. He was a good friend of the guys, but he also covered his skin from his nose to his feet. After over a decade of knowing him, she did not even know the color of his eyes. His personality, however, she knew well. He was calm and stoic with no impulsive or reckless streaks and played the game practically. He would fold only when he realized he could not win.
Lee was the final member of the table and one of the best players. His hardworking nature had led him to read-up on the game a lot when they first started playing. His "training" had payed-off and his only real rivals at the table were her and Naruto. He was another that she would have to play skillfully against and ignore her own impulsive streak.
"I fold. Deal me out," said a familar voice, bringing her out of her pensive state. Neji had folded early and as expected he joined his girlfriend and his cousin.
"One down, four to go," she thought to herself.
Sakura watched the final table in awe. It was down to Shikamaru, Shino, Lee, her boyfriend and her best friend. Why had she agreed to the bet. She could already see herself in the horrid orange and black jumpsuit Naruto wore as an older teen.
"You're worried about the bet, are you not," asked Sai, who was sitting beside her. He had been the final person to be eliminated from the first table, claiming that he was still literally in pain from the earlier double date. Sakura had checked his ribs to make sure they had been healed. There were only a few bruises that could heal naturally without affecting him since he had just come back from a long mission and Tsunade-sama had given him a few days to recover.
"What bet," asked Chouji, who had joined them after folding earlier. He had decided to fold once he lost 50 ryo. He mostly came to watch Ino play anyway.
"Ino and I have a bet that if she can actually win tonight, I'll wear Naruto's old jumpsuit to work for a week and if she does not I get the honors of picking out an equally horrid outfit for the week," the Fifth's apprentice answered. Chouji responded with a good-natured laugh.
"If any of my clothes will do, you're more than welcome to them," he commented.
"Or mine," commented Shikamaru who had just joined them.
"You're done already," asked Sakura.
"Yeah, it's too troublesome to win tonight. Ino really wants to win. Based on what I heard, I think she wants to see you wearing Naruto's old clothes," he said. "Anyone want to start a game of shogi," he asked. Despite his talent for poker, shogi was still his favorite game.
"I'll take you up on the offer," replied Neji who was sitting across from the lazy ninja with his former teammate and his cousin on Lee's couch.
"A battle of the geniuses begins," commented Kiba from his perch on Lee's loveseat. The hound-nin user had developed a dry sense of humor as he had matured. Akamaru barked in agreement as Shino nodded.
"Two to go," Ino thought as she began another round with Naruto and Lee. After Neji, Shikamaru had folded quickly. If she didn't know better, she would think that he did it so she could win her bet more easily. More than likely, he was just in the mood to play shogi which he currently was doing, playing against Neji. It was time for her final push.
"I'm all in," she said as she put all of her winnings into the pot. Bluffing was second nature to her. Her seduction training back at the Academy had prepared her well for her bluff. A mix of equal parts innocent, clueless and seductress confused her opponents. However, the key to a successful bluff was to once in a while have all the cards and she currently held a royal flush.
"I fold. Deal me out," replied Naruto. His good instincts must be kicking-in. Either that or he wanted her to win too, which was at least somewhat likely.
"I'll match," responded Lee. He was a good player and probably had another good hand. She would simply have to defeat him.
"You sure," she asked. He nodded.
"Show your cards," he said. She revealed her hand, the royal flush, and he showed his full house, Aces over Kings.
"Good game, Ino-san," he said, offering her his hand.
"Thank you, Lee-san," she replied. Chouji came up behind her and gave her a hug.
"Congrats," he told her and then kissed her. She then turned to Naruto.
"You know the terms of my bet with Sakura, right?" The male blond nodded as her boyfriend laughed.
"She already has one. She wears it as PJs in the winter," Naruto retorted.
"If anyone wants to see Naruto's old jumpsuit once again, Sakura will be wearing one at the hospital next week and everyone's welcome at my place for next time, including any Sand nin present," she added for Shikamaru's benefit.
"I need to learn to not gamble," commented Sakura. Naruto took her into his arms and told her "No you need to learn to not gamble like your master."
The Fifth's apprentice responded by slapping him. It was the first time in years her temper got the better of her like that. He should know better than to disrespect Sakura's teacher in front of her. He wondered if he could survive long enough to propose to her, let alone marry her.
"No, I need to learn to gamble like you," she commented. "You still won the most tonight between the two pools and the poker."
" I cannot be taught. It's a gift."