Disclaimer: Still don't own Naruto; that's why I'm writing a fanfic instead of sleeping on top of a pile of money with many beautiful, naked women.

Author's Note: Well, after pretty much every single review I got asked for a follow-up that covered Naruto and Sakura's date, I got a bit of inspiration on what to do with them and before I knew I'd cranked out another chapter.

Alright, so Naruto tricked me into agreeing to go on a date with him. After spending an appropriate amount of time being moderately horrified by this fact, Sakura had finally calmed down enough to consider the matter rationally. Well, there's no reason I have to go along with it; the next time I see him I can just it doesn't count if he tricked me into going out with him, and that'll be the end of it.

Or you could just go on the date; maybe it'll be fun! A rather treacherous voice in the back of her mind suggested.

With a grimace, Sakura shook her head. No, I can't be that blunt with him; he might have forgiven me for everything I had to do to make him fight back in the preliminaries, but just flat out refusing to go out with him after I said yes to a date could ruin things all over again. Maybe I can find some way to give Naruto a couple subtle hints that I'd really rather not go out with him and he'll just drop it.

It didn't take Sakura long to see the flaws with that plan. Naruto and subtle just don't go together. I don't think there's much room to warn him off in a way that's subtle enough to not hurt his feelings but direct enough effectively communicate.

Sakura wasn't about to give up just because her first two ideas wouldn't work. I could just say I'm still hurt from the fight, or that I don't want to distract him from his training for the finals … but those are just a delaying tactic, and knowing Naruto he'd train himself half to death then say he's in fine condition for a date anyway. That idiot really needs to learn not to push himself so hard all the time. There's no point in just delaying the inevitable.

A new line of thought presented itself to Sakura's mind. Hmm, Naruto's not exactly smart, so maybe I can figure out some way to trick him into dropping the date. This idea had a certain appeal, especially since managing to trick Naruto would reaffirm that his earlier success at outsmarting her was a fluke. Whatever I come up with, I'll have to do it fast; knowing my luck Naruto's running around telling people I finally agreed to go out on a date with him…

"Hey Hinata, guess what?" Naruto barreled into the girl's hospital room while speaking just a little too loudly for someone inside a hospital.

Naruto-kun's visiting me in the hospital. Maybe after my fight with Brother Neji he's finally noticed me; he did cheer for me during the fight. Plus, Kiba-kun and Shino-kun said he had a very nasty fight with Sakura-san when he drew her as an opponent, so maybe he's given up on her now. "W-what is it Naruto-kun?" Hinata asked shakily, quietly hoping that her dreams were finally going to come true.

"Sakura-chan finally agreed to go out on a date with me!" Naruto practically shouted in glee.

"Oh," Hinata said softly, trying not to show how badly the news hurt her.

"Naruto." Kakashi called out from the hallway. "We really need to meet up with your temporary sensei for finals; are you going to stop and tell every single person we meet about your date with Sakura?"

"Nah, just everyone that I know." Naruto answered. "You are gonna tell Sasuke for me, right?"

"Sure, sure." Kakashi assured the genin. If I don't tell him yes he'll just keep bothering me until I promise him anyway.

"Great, thanks Kakashi-sensei." Naruto paused for a moment of consideration, then asked, "Hey Kakashi-sensei, do you know what room that girl on Bushy-Brows's team is in? I wanna make sure Bushy Brows knows Sakura-chan's going out with me now."

"I'll see if I can find out." Kakashi responded with a tone of weary resignation. If I don't help Naruto he'll just run randomly around the hospital by himself causing trouble, and everyone will probably blame me for it. At least by going along with him I can keep the damage to minimum.

The hyperactive genin and lazy jonin made their exit, leaving a broken-hearted Hinata behind.

Several hours later, one of the medic-nins released Sakura from the hospital after confirming that her injuries had healed properly and there did not appear to be any unexpected complications. She also happened to mention an interesting bit of news making the rounds of the hospital. "Yeah, the Uzumaki kid was practically telling everyone he met that you agreed to go on a date with him."

"Everyone?" Sakura asked in despair.

"Well, not literally everyone, but as you might have noticed he tends to shout a lot when he gets excited, and he was obviously very excited about the date." The woman gave an amused smile. "It was kind of cute, actually; he must really like you."

Sakura barely repressed the urge to groan in front of the medic, and dutifully ignored the obviously insane little voice in the back of her mind that agreed with the medic's assertion that Naruto's immature idiotic excitement was cute at times. Then a truly dreadful thought occurred to the girl. If everyone at the hospital knows about my date with Naruto then somebody's probably told Sasuke-kun already! Oh no! He'll probably be so disappointed when he hears.

"Kakashi-sensei, how did Naruto and Sakura's fights go anyway?" Sasuke asked.

"It was interesting." Kakashi answered distractedly, his nose buried deep in Makeout Paradise. Sensing his student's less than amused glare, he decided to offer a slightly more detailed explanation. "They got each other as opponents. Naruto won, and somehow that led to the two of them dating."

"Hn." Maybe now Sakura will stop bugging me and Naruto will stop trying to make everything into some sort of competition in an effort to impress Sakura. Pondering the potential consequences of his teammates dating, Sasuke frowned and quietly muttered under his breath. "Don't screw up, Naruto."

Naruto wasn't sure what to make of the events of the last few hours; once Naruto had finished announcing his upcoming date with Sakura to almost everyone at the hospital Kakashi-sensei had pawned him off on the closet-perv Ebisu. After a bit of training the closet-perv had been beaten up by some guy called Jiraiya, who both was an obviously superior ninja and much, much bigger pervert than Ebisu (and unlike Ebisu, completely open about his pervy nature). The man Naruto quickly dubbed Pervy Sage had taken over Naruto's training, and after Naruto quickly mastered water-walking with Pervy Sage's help the two had called it a day.

With training done for the day, Naruto's mind turned once more to the matter of his upcoming date with Sakura. Shortly after his euphoria about getting a date faded Naruto had realized that he really didn't know too much about what exactly was involved in a date; pretty much all he knew was that you were supposed go eat at a nice restaurant, but he was pretty sure there was a lot more to it than that.

Unfortunately, Naruto had spent pretty much the entire day in the company of a pervert who read porn novels in public, a closet pervert, and a self-confessed super pervert, none of whom Naruto was about to considered approaching for advice on his romantic dilemma. Iruka-sensei had unfortunately been busy teaching a group of Academy students that included Konohamaru when Naruto went looking for him, and Naruto wasn't about to admit he had no idea what was involved in dating a girl in front of the boy who idolized him. In the end, Naruto decided he was on his own and he would just have to make the best of it; dating couldn't be that hard or complicated after all. He did remember hearing something about flowers being involved, so he decided to stop by the nearest flower shop first.

"Naruto? What are you doing here?" The unexpectedly familiar voice of Ino asked from behind the counter.

"Eh? Oh, hi Ino." Naruto gave a rueful chuckle and rubbed the back of his head nervously. "Forgot your family owns this flower shop."

Why doesn't it surprise me that Naruto can walk right past the sign that says Yamanaka Flowers and not realize it must mean my family owns the place. "Figures." Ino responded with a slight smirk. "So, you didn't answer my question. What are you doing here?"

"I need to get some flowers for Sakura-chan." Naruto answered happily.

"You WHAT?!" Ino asked, her voice rising several octaves as she immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion. "Honestly Naruto, have a little bit of self respect. Billboard Brow was a total bitch, you shouldn't be getting her flowers just because you feel bad for beating her up; she deserved everything she got."

"Eh … well the thing is Ino…" Naruto began.

"You don't have to apologize to her, she should be the one apologizing to you!" Ino's rant continued right over Naruto's attempt to explain the situation to her. "And it better be a damn good apology too! In fact, forget her! There's no apology in the world that's good enough for that bitch! I don't know why you waste so much of your time on Billboard Brow anyway, especially when Hinata…"

"Sakura didn't mean any of it!" Naruto shouted her down. Ino frowned, and seemed entirely prepared to re-launch her rant against her rival when Naruto quickly explained. "She told me she didn't really mean any of those nasty things she said, she was just doing all that to keep from dropping out of the match, and then to make me actually fight her properly."

"Really?" Ino asked, sounding a little skeptical. Makes sense, Yeah, Naruto gets on Sakura's nerves, but being that nasty about it was pretty weird for her.

"Yeah, she felt really bad about all the stuff she said." Naruto smiled and added the best news of all. "She even said she'd go out on a date with me, that's why I need the flowers."

"Oh." Ino muttered in surprise as she took a moment to consider Naruto's words. Sounds like it's an apology date rather than the real thing. Still, if Sakura starts properly dating Naruto then she won't be chasing Sasuke-kun any more. A broad smile made its way onto Ino's face. Naruto, you just made a new best friend. "So…where are you taking her for your date?"

"Um … somewhere nice?" Naruto offered hesitantly. He hadn't really had the time to figure out a good restaurant; he pretty much only ever ate at Ichiraku Ramen when he was eating out, and he'd planned to just let Sakura pick where they went for the date.

Figures that Naruto would be a little clueless about dating. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to help him out a bit; it's a small price to pay for clearing out the competition. "I know a couple good places, and Sakura probably still likes the same sort of food she used to back when we were friends." Ino suggested. "When is your date with her anyway?"

"We didn't really decide on a time, but, she should be out of the hospital by now so I was planning to go by her house and then I remembered that I should probably get her some flowers." Naruto answered.

"You were just planning to show up with no warning and without giving Sakura any time to get herself ready for the date?" Ino asked, less than pleased by the boy's lack of consideration. She then gave Naruto's damp and somewhat stinky jumpsuit a look of mild disdain, and then took in the boy's damp hair and generally disheveled appearance. "Did you just finish training? You're a mess."

"Yeah, I learned how to walk on water." Naruto answered with a proud smile.

Well, at least that explains how he got so wet. "Don't you have anything nicer to wear? You do want to look your best for your date, right?"

"Eh? These clothes are fine, and Sakura-chan already knows what I look like anyway." Naruto responded in obvious confusion.

Alright, maybe Naruto needs more than a little help.

"Could you explain why you want to drag me into this?" Shikamaru asked.

Ino sighed, silently wishing that she could have recruited someone a little more energetic as her partner in this scheme. "I've been hammering as much dating etiquette as I can into Naruto's head, but there's only so much I can manage before he has to go out on his date with Sakura." At least we're making some progress; at first I was afraid I'd have to take over his body and just do it myself if I didn't want the date to be a total disaster. "Since we can't count on Naruto doing things right by himself, we need to do a couple other little things to help him along."

"But why do I have to be involved?" Shikamaru complained. "I can already tell this is going to be a massive pain in the ass."

"Because the plan I'm working on right now needs a second person, and you're my best option." Ino explained.

With a resigned sigh, Shikamaru reluctantly conceded. "I suppose I am a better choice than Choji for helping you manipulate a fellow Konoha shinobi as part of some convoluted romantic scheme to remove one of your rivals for Sasuke's attention, but really I don't think your plan's going to work."

Ino shot her teammate a predatory smile. "Trust me, I know how Billboard Brow's mind works; if you don't mess things up this will work."

"Why am I always getting dragged into your crazy schemes?" Shikamaru complained.

"Because, as troublesome as getting involved with my 'crazy schemes' is, you know I'll find all kinds of ways of creative ways to make your life a living hell if you don't help me." Ino answered with a deceptively sweet smile. "Asuma-sensei would just love a nice long list of all your favorite cloud-watching locations."

"What a drag." Shikamaru grumbled.

"You barely even have to do anything." Ino assured the lazy boy. "Just complain a lot and act like you don't want to be involved or even be having the conversation."

"That shouldn't be hard." Shikamaru deadpanned.

After a messenger bird flying over her head briefly distracted her, Sakura grimaced down at her half-eaten lunch, which she had been picking at for the last fifteen minutes. Naruto had surprised by showing up at her house last night and suggesting that they go to her favorite restaurant later that week; she had almost expected him to drag her down to his favorite ramen stand five seconds after she got out the hospital even though she'd specifically told him no ramen when being tricked into the date. Maybe this won't be so bad after all. Even if it is, at least while he was running around telling people about our date he also explained what happened at the preliminaries, so now everyone won't think I'm a total bitch.

As the shock of her sudden date with Naruto began to wear off, Sakura also had the time to consider the other big shock Naruto's visit at the hospital had produced; the fact that he had the Nine-Tailed Fox sealed inside of him. Her first instinct had been to do a little research on the matter, but any information on the Nine-Tailed Fox beyond accounts of the attack on Konoha had been scarce and she couldn't find anything that would tell her more about what would happen to Naruto as a result of having the Fox sealed in him. She'd tried to find Kakashi-sensei in the hopes of getting more information from him, but he and Sasuke-kun had both disappeared shortly before she'd gotten out the hospital.

Without any additional information to work with, Sakura just had to trust her instincts, which told her that she could trust Naruto. He might be an annoying hyperactive brat, but he was also a fundamentally good person and she had no reason to believe that the Fox posed any sort of threat.

Naruto … you were so much less complicated before I got to know you. It had been easy to dismiss the boy as unimportant when all she knew about him was his stupid pranks, her parents' vague warnings, and the fact that he was constantly asking her out on dates as loudly and publicly as possible. She still hadn't figured out what the deal with his constant chasing after a date was; until recently she'd been certain the date requests some sort of joke at her expense. For the year before they graduated Sakura had been convinced that Naruto spent his every waking moment finding new ways to torment her and cackling maliciously every time things went badly for her.

After they'd ended up on Team 7 and she'd actually been forced to interact with him on a regular basis Sakura's original conception of Naruto had fallen apart; once she'd spent a few days in the boy's company it became clear that he wasn't actually devoting his every waking moment to finding new ways to make her miserable. Unfortunately, Sakura still hadn't managed to come to a conclusion about what Naruto was now; it seemed like every time she started to get the boy figured out he came up with some new surprise that threw her into new round of confused pondering. Who would've thought someone who seemed like a simple-minded fool would end up being so complicated?

Any further contemplation of the confusing boy came to an end when Sakura heard a familiar voice raised in conversation on the other side of the park, and a quick glance confirmed that Ino was walking down one of the park's paths while chatting with Shikamaru. "I just don't buy it Shikamaru; she's obviously playing with Naruto." Ino declared. Realizing that she was the topic of Ino's conversation, Sakura quickly hid behind the nearest tree to listen in. "You were there, you heard what she said and you could tell she meant every word of it, and now she thinks that stupid excuse and a pity date will make everything better?"

"Why do I have to listen to this?" Shikamaru complained.

"I mean, everyone knows she can barely stand the guy; she can't go five minutes without trying to beat the crap out of him." Ino continued, heedless of her companion's indifference to her ongoing rant.

"You know, maybe if Sakura wasn't always hitting Naruto in the head and killing his braincells he'd be smarter." Shikamaru idly commented. "Let's just hope she stops while he still remembers more words than 'believe it' and 'I'm gonna be Hokage.'"

That got a laugh out of Ino. "Nice one Shikamaru." Once Ino's amusement faded, she went back to her favorite pastime of ranting about Sakura. "So what do you think she said that finally pushed him over the edge anyway? After all the insults he just took from without doing anything about it she must have said something really nasty to set him off like that…"

"Who cares?" Shikamaru groaned.

"You know, Naruto's not such a bad guy really; yeah, he's an annoying little moron, but he certainly never did anything to deserve everything Sakura said to him." Ino paused in thought for a moment, and then said. "I really need to come up with a new nickname for her; Billboard Brow was good when that was her worst feature, but now it feels just a little lacking. I suppose I could always just add bitch onto the end of it…"

"Choji is so much less of a drag than you are."

"You know, you can tell Naruto doesn't really buy Sakura's story." Ino declared. "Sure, he's smiling and acting like his usual self, but you can tell that deep down he's still hurting. And the worst part is that Sakura's going to get away with it all, and all it took her was a story nobody really believes and a fake pity date. He really deserves better, but I guess he feels like he doesn't have any other friends so he has to put up with her, no matter how bad she is."

"Are you even listening to anything I say?" Shikamaru complained.

"Not a bit." Ino replied cheerfully. By this point the two genin had moved well past Sakura's concealed position; Shikamaru's response was just a bit too soft for Sakura to understand, and she only caught one or two words of Ino's next remark.

Sakura slumpeddown to the ground against the tree, overwhelmed with doubt and guilt. Naruto didn't believe me? He seemed alright, he even tricked me into going out on a date with him, and he wouldn't do that if I thought I'd actually meant all those things I said. Unless … what if Ino was right? He doesn't really have close friends because of the Nine-Tailed Fox … what if he's so alone he'll pretend to believe me just so he can have something like a friend? That's … that's just…

She pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, dropping her head down to rest against her legs. That way, nobody would see her tears.

"Thanks Shikamaru." Ino said once she was reasonably certain they were past the point where Sakura could hear them. Sakura doesn't know I learned how to mind transfer into animals, so it was too easy to possess a bird and use it to figure exactly where she was and set her up to overhear our conversation.

"Just don't ask me to do anything like this again. Ever." Shikamaru grumbled. The genius was about to walk away with that, but paused and asked with a frown. "What was the point of all that anyway?" Dealing with women when they get all crazy and romance-obsessed is such a drag, and I can never understand what's going through their heads.

"You'd think someone as smart as you could figure it out Shikamaru." Ino scoffed. "Naruto's almost certainly going to screw up at some point during his date with Sakura, it's practically a law of the universe. We have to make sure she won't just clobber him and walk away when that happens, and the best way to do that is to really guilt her over the prelims; if she feels bad for treating Naruto like crap she'll have to forgive him when he makes a mess of things."

"Right … sorry I asked." Shikamaru frowned, and then added. "Not that I care, but doesn't messing with her head like that seem really twisted to you?"

"Yeah." Ino admitted reluctantly. "But all's fair in love and war."

"Whatever." Shikamaru grumbled. "You're not going to want to me to do anything else, are you?" Why do troublesome women always have to bother me?

"No, I can handle the next step by myself." Ino assured him.

"Eh … I don't know about that Ino." Naruto responded after finishing off his fourth bowl of Ichiraku ramen, making Ino regret her suggestion of holding their impromptu date etiquette class at the ramen stand and really regret offering to pay for Naruto's food. "Sakura-chan usually doesn't like it when I try to say nice stuff about her, so I kinda quit doing it."

"Really?" Ino asked. "That's odd, usually she likes compliments; probably because she's not very self-confident." The girl paused in thought, and then asked. "Was Sasuke-kun around when you were complimenting her?"

"Yeah." Naruto grumbled, not pleased to be reminded of the boy Sakura had a massive crush on.

"Well, that probably explains it then." Ino answered. "She's probably worried that if she acts like she likes getting compliments from you it'll make Sasuke-kun think she's lost interest in him."

"I don't think he'd really care either way." Naruto offered. "And that still doesn't explain why she punches me so much."

"Well, you can get pretty annoying." Ino told him with a smile that took most of the bite out of her comment. "If I had to spend all day around you I'd probably start punching you too." Still, Sakura's not usually that violent. I wonder what could be causing her to act like that…

"Oh, oh, and the weirdest thing is, she just acts so strange sometimes." Naruto continued to babble. "Like, when there's fighting going on and things are getting really bad, then she's a lot nicer than usual." Naruto thought about it a bit more, and then chuckled. "And she got really worried when Kakashi-sensei was about to use the Thousand Years of Death on me; it looks a lot like a tiger seal and that's used for some nasty jutsus. She actually broke cover during Kakashi-sensei's test just to warn me. Oh, and that reminds me of this other time when…"

Ino was only half listening to Naruto's ongoing list of various times when Sakura was a bit nicer than normal to him. Unusually violent when he tries to ask her out … but nice when he's in trouble, and she finally agreed to go out on a date with him. Maybe she actually does… "No way!" Ino exclaimed, shocked by her own conclusion.

"Yeah, she totally gave me tips and didn't tell Sasuke a thing!" Naruto agreed enthusiastically, naturally assuming that the girl's reaction had been in response to his story. Much to Ino's relief, any further discussion of Sakura's behavior came to a temporary halt when Naruto's next bowl of ramen arrived.

Lucky … I was afraid I'd have to be constantly pushing these two together, but if she actually does like him, even if it's only a little bit, then this might actually work. But … how can she like Naruto and Sasuke at the same time?

Ino was no genius like Shikamaru, nor even unusually bright like Sakura, but she was fairly intelligent in her own way. Moreover, she'd had to study the workings of the human mind as part of learning her clan's mental jutsus, and years of being Sakura's best friend gave her a great deal of insight into how the other girl's mind worked. It didn't hurt that she also might have a lot to gain from solving this particular puzzle.

So, painfully shy kunoichi-in-training Sakura Haruno only has one real friend (me) who is better looking, more popular, and more skilled at the ninja arts. Naturally she felt like she was second best compared to me, but as she gained more confidence that changrd and she wanted to prove that she could be just as good as me. She went out of her way to compete with me in academics, kunoichi training, and maybe even … love. I had a crush on Sasuke-kun before she did, and what better way to prove that she's surpassed me than to win a romantic competition?

I like where this is going … so she never really liked Sasuke-kun, it was just another way to carry on her rivalry with me. She probably doesn't even know it; the human mind can play all kinds of tricks on itself. Meanwhile, she's far too desperate for the acceptance of her peers to go after an outcast like Naruto, so she hid her natural attraction to him, and now she massively overcompensates every time he's nice to her to try and cover it up, but her real feelings still slip out in extreme situations when she's really worried about him...

And if all that's true, then it means Sakura will be a lot happier once she realizes she likes Naruto instead of constantly denying it, and without Sasuke-kun as an issue maybe we can finally get our friendship put back together. I never really wanted to lose her as a friend in the first place, I just had to make a choice and picked love over friendship; now it looks like I can have both again! Ino's victorious smile widened further as the next thought came to her. And now I'm not an evil remorseless hag tearing apart Sakura's life just to win Sasuke, I'm actually doing her a massive favor by helping her straighten out her life and feelings!

Speaking of which… Ino smiled as she saw a familiar head of pink hair bob into view. It had been all too easy to lure Sakura into the area just by starting a rumor that the still-missing Sasuke had been seen nearby, and now it was time for the second phase of the pre-date preparations. A quick nudge and a finger in Sakura's direction was all it took to set Naruto off, and half a second later he was waving his arms wildly (even though the half-curtain at Ichiraku's meant Sakura wouldn't be able to see them) and shouting. "Hey! Hey! Sakura-chan! Over here!"

The pink-haired girl made her way towards the ramen stand, shaking her head and giving a slight chuckle. "Why am I not surprised you're at a ramen stand Naruto? Anyway, have you seen…" Sakura trailed off as she noticed that Naruto was not eating alone. "Ino-pig? What're you doing here?"

"I felt like eating ramen, Billboard Brow." Ino responded with a slight smirk. "And Naruto looked like he could use the company."

Sakura dimly wondered why she had a stronger urge than usual urge to start hitting Naruto and especially Ino. "You don't even like ramen … or Naruto."

"Don't try to tell me what I do and don't like, Billboard Brow!" Ino snapped.

Naruto remained silent shrunk down slightly in his seat while Sakura and Ino began one of the nastier arguments he'd seen them have. Sakura-chan and Ino are getting really scarymaybe if I stay quiet they won't notice I'm here.

Naruto's hopes proved to be in vain as he suddenly felt a rather painful grip on his right arm and was nearly dragged off his seat by Sakura. "Well, for your information, Ino-PIG, Naruto's going out on a date with ME! So stay the hell away from him!" Sakura yanked on the poor boy's arm again, clearly planning to drag him bodily away from Ino.

"But … the ramen…" Naruto whined, looking plaintively at his unfinished bowl.

"Come on Naruto! We have a mission to go on, remember?" Sakura snapped, forcing the boy out of his seat and further away from his precious bowl of delicious ramen.

"But Sakura-chan, we don't have any missions this month because of…" Naruto's explanation came to an abrupt end when Sakura's foot slammed down on top of his. "OW! Sakura-chaaaan! What'd you do that for?" Sakura-chan's face is scary; she looks like she's gonna kill me! Maybe I better just agree with whatever she wants! "Uh … I mean … oh right, that mission. Hehe … I forgot about it." Naruto lied unconvincingly as he reluctantly allowed himself to be dragged away from the unfinished ramen.

Ino smirked as she watched Sakura drag Naruto away from Ichiraku's in a jealous rage,; everything had gone exactly according to plan. It's just too easy to get Billboard Brow riled up. Too bad I couldn't warn Naruto, but he probably would have messed things up if he'd actually been trying to act instead of just being himself.

Once they'd gotten a fair distance from Ichiraku's Sakura seemed to calm down a bit, and Naruto began to squirm against the death grip she was still maintaining on his arm. "Sakura-chan, you're hurting my arm and people are staring at us."

"Huh?" Sakura said, realizing that she was still dragging Naruto along with her. "Oh, right." The kunoichi said, releasing his arm. I can't believe Ino-Pig is so petty she'd try to steal Naruto from me just because I'm going on one date with him!

"S'okay." Naruto said, rubbing his sore arm and wondering how bad the no doubt rapidly forming bruise on his arm was and how much it was going to end up looking exactly like Sakura's hand. "What was all that about anyway? I was just talking with Ino 'cause she bought me ramen and then…"

"Naruto…" Sakura began. "Don't hang out with Ino, even if … no, especially if she offers to buy you ramen."

"But … free ramen." Naruto whined.

Why am I not surprised Naruto had no idea what Ino-Pig was up to? "I mean it Naruto." Sakura growled, slamming a fist into the arm she hadn't spent the last five minutes crushing to emphasize her point.

"Sorry Sakura-chan." Naruto apologized, looking crestfallen and distressed. How am I gonna figure out how to date Sakura-chan without Ino's help. I can barely keep all the stuff she told me straight! Wait … if Sakura-chan's this mad at me … "Um … Sakura-chan … does this mean you don't wanna go on our date any more?"

"What?" Sakura asked, taken off guard by the question, and feeling a little hurt for some reason she couldn't quite figure out. "Why? Do you want to date Ino-pig instead?" She asked bitterly. "Fine. Go ahead. I don't care. I hope you two have fun." Just as she was about to stalk off and find something appropriately squishable to start pounding (like Ino's head) Naruto grabbed her arm.

"I don't wanna date Ino, I just thought you were mad at me and so you wouldn't wanna ... you know … go on the date." Naruto babbled.

"Oh." Sakura said, turning back around to face him and seeming a little embarrassed by the way she had jumped to conclusions. "Um … right. That's not what's going on, I still want to do our date. It was just … Ino-pig is such a … such a … such a PIG!" You're lucky you're too stupid to realize what Ino-pig was up to Naruto, or I would give you such a beating…


"Come on Shikamaru." Ino pleaded. "After all the time I've spent getting Naruto ready and making sure Sakura's going to be as receptive as possible I have to be there to see the actual date, and that means I need your help again. You don't even have to do anything except keep an eye on…"

"I told you not to ask me to help you with your twisted mind games again." Shikamaru grumbled, making a valiant effort to just ignore the girl and go back to watching clouds. "So stop asking and just go away."

"You don't get it Shikamaru!" Ino declared. "Sakura actually likes Naruto."

"Huh." Shikamaru pondered this piece of information for a bit, and then shrugged. "What makes you think that?"

"Oh please, it's obvious from the way she acts." Ino snapped, glaring down at her lazy teammate. "It's the only possible explanation for her behavior."

"So … you're saying the reason she hits him is because she loves him so much?" Shikamaru deadpanned. "Right … that sounds like the foundation of a healthy relationship." Then again, women do think in strange and troublesome ways.

Ino groaned, exasperated with Shikamaru's less than helpful attitude. "Will you just stop wasting my time and help me already? We both you're going to end up doing what I want in the end anyway; you always do."

"Not this time." Shikamaru said.

"Oh really?" Ino snapped.

"Yeah. I don't like what you're doing; it's weird and wrong." Shikamaru asked, abandoning his usual listless tone of disinterest. "I'm not helping you, and there's nothing you can say or do that will change my mind."

"Sasuke, we're doing something a bit different for training tonight." Kakashi informed his pupil. "You've been making good progress with taijutsu and learning how use lightning nature chakra, but tonight I think we need to work on stealth and infiltration."

"Hn. What did you have in mind?"

"Well, I was thinking we could try observing a pair of trained ninjas for a few hours without them ever becoming aware of our presence." Kakashi offered.

"In other words, you want us to spy on Naruto and Sakura's date." Sasuke translated.

"Did I say that?" The jonin asked, his tone suspiciously innocent. "Of course, now that you've suggested it I suppose we could do that … Naruto and Sakura are ninjas so they would work for your training, but I didn't expect you to come up with such a perverse idea as spying on your teammates while they're on a date. Just so you know, if they get too intimate we're leaving, no matter how much you want to watch them. I just hope you don't end up being such a big pervert that you start peeking at girls in the baths or using your sharingan in inappropriate ways; I would like to think I'm a better influence than that."

Sasuke glared at his sensei.

"You don't have a well-developed sense of humor, do you?" Kakashi asked rhetorically.

Naruto and Sakura had agreed to meet up at the restaurant for their date; Sakura didn't wan to deal with the family drama that would inevitably accompany Naruto showing up at her house and telling her parents he was there to take her out on a date. At best her father would try to scare Naruto to death and her mother would make a huge fuss over the both of them, and the worst case scenario was too horrible to imagine; she knew her parents weren't exactly fond of the Nine-Tails' container, especially after he'd put her in the hospital in the prelims. Even though she had explained what happened at the preliminaries and told them that they shouldn't blame Naruto for her injuries they still seemed a bit wary of him.

When he'd first tricked her into the date and Sakura had realized she didn't have any way out of it, she'd briefly considered making it the most horrifically awful date Naruto Uzumaki would ever experience. However, doing that might have made staying friends impossible, and after that conversation she'd overheard between Ino and Shikamaru that option had gone out the window. Even if she didn't like Naruto that way and he'd only gotten this date through trickery he was a decent person, and after everything she'd put him through during the preliminaries that she couldn't hurt him more. She was determined to treat this date seriously and do everything she could to ensure that both of them had a good time. And there's no way I'd give Ino-pig the satisfaction of having a disastrous date! If she thinks she can grab Naruto because I can't give him a good date I'll show her! CHA!

Naruto had surprised her by actually coming up with a pretty good plan for the date; it was a far cry from the elaborate romantic fantasy she'd always envisioned Sasuke carrying out, but it was much better than she expected. They were eating at a fairly nice open air restaurant that Sakura had eaten at a few times before on special occasions (the last time she had gone there was to celebrate passing the genin exam), and the food was still as good as she remembered. Neither one of them had bothered to dress up, but Sakura did still make sure she was in her nicest casual outfit and her appearance was in perfect order, and Naruto had gone to the effort of cleaning himself up after a day of training. It was … comfortable.

Once they'd arrived at the restaurant and taken the time to look over their menus and decide what to get, they started chatting. "So, Naruto, what've you been doing to get ready for the finals?" Sakura asked, a little curious about how he was training.

"Pervy-Sage showed me how to do water walking, and now I'm learning how to summon toads." The boy answered. It's kinda hard, but I'm sure I'm getting better at it; the last tadpole actually had legs!"

"Do I even want to know who Pervy Sage is?"

"Eh … his actual name's Jiraiya, and he's some sort of toad sage from mount Mobokan or something; he had a really long introduction with lotsa big words so I don't remember it all."

"Jiraiya … toad sage … You're being trained by the Jiraiya of the Sannin?" Sakura asked in shock. "You should be more respectful Naruto! I can't believe you call one of the greatest living Konoha ninjas something like Pervy Sage!"

"But he is!" Naruto said in his own defense. "He's always peeking at women; sometimes I can barely get him to stop peeking long enough to actually train me!" Naruto frowned as he recalled one of the many pieces of advice Ino had pounded into his head, and decided to shift the topic of conversation away from himself. "So Sakura-chan, what've you been up to while I'm training?"

Wondering where Sasuke-kun is. Worrying about whether or not you've really forgiven me for everything that happened at the preliminaries. Trying to research information on the Nine Tailed Fox that you've got sealed in you. Crying once or twice because I've realized you're so damn alone. Trying to train by myself because after the Forest of Death I've realized that you and Sasuke are stronger than me and I don't want to be left behind. Worrying about our date. Worrying that Ino-pig was going to steal you away from me before our date. And most of all, trying to figure out what the deal is with you because you confuse the hell out of me and I don't like it! "Oh, not much." Sakura answered. You know … maybe getting tricked into going out on a date with Naruto wasn't such a bad thing after all. When he's trying he can really be quite charming.

"Aw man, I gotta go pee. I'll be back in a bit, Sakura-chan."

Never mind.

Naruto quickly made his way to bathroom and finished his business, and was about to head back out to the table when an exasperated male voice said. "Naruto, did you remember to wash your hands?" Naruto turned to regard the speaker and saw an unfamiliar looking man in his mid-30's. Noting the boy's confusion, the man smirked, put a hand on his hip, and said, "I'm Ino."

"Huh?" Naruto exclaimed. "But, but Ino's like, twelve! And a girl!"

"You do remember what my best ninja skill is, right Naruto?" Ino asked, rolling her eyes. "It's not like I could watch your date in my real body; Billboard Brow would go nuts. You're not doing too bad so far, but next time say 'I need to go to the bathroom,' not, 'I gotta go pee.' It sounds more civilized." Ino declared primly.

"They both mean the same thing." Naruto countered, then frowned and amended. "Well, unless I've gotta … you know, take a shi-"

"Why do I even bother?" Ino groaned in despair. Well, I must be making some progress; she probably would have just punched him and walked away for that if I hadn't been working on the rest of his dating skills. "Anyway, I think Sakura could use a good compliment after that, so give her one when you go back out there."

"Alright." Naruto nodded. "Eh … anything I specific oughta compliment?"

Ino waved a hand dismissively. "Her hair, her clothes, her humongous forehead, it doesn't really matter what you compliment, just give her one."

"Alright, thanks Ino!" Naruto frowned, then asked. "Hey by the way, while you're doing your mind-switch thing who's keeping an eye on your body anyway?"

Shikamaru checked that his teammate was still unconscious but otherwise alright, then went back to watching the nighttime clouds. "What a drag."

So … compliment … I can think of something. Naruto made his way back to the table. Hmm … what'd Ino say? Hair, clothes, forehead? I can't just say they look nice, that'd sound dumb, it's gotta be something really good! Aww … why does this have to be so complicated!

"Hey Naruto." Sakura said, still a bit put out with her date over his crudeness.

Uh oh … she doesn't sound happy. Gotta think gotta think gotta THINK! In desperation, Naruto made a virtue of simplicity. "Uh … you hair looks nice, Sakura-chan." Idiot! That was so stupid, there's no way she'll…

"Really?" Sakura asked, blushing slightly and raising a hand to her hair. "I wasn't quite sure about it after it got cut…"

"It looks great!" Naruto assured her, delighted that she actually seemed to like getting complimented by him.

"Thanks Naruto." She said, favoring the boy with a warm smile. "So," The girl said with a grin, "tell me more nice stuff about me."

The next couple minutes consisted of Naruto unleashing a barrage of compliments, and Sakura eagerly eating them up. Wow, Ino was right … this is really working. Time to bring out my best material. "Y'know Sakura-chan," Naruto said with a wide grin. "You have a wide and charming forehead." The boy gave a nervous chuckle, then added, "Makes me want to kiss it."

Sakura froze in shock when the words left his mouth, and after a few awkward seconds of silence she asked in shaky voice. "W … what did you just say?"

Wait … that was the compliment I used that time I was disguised as Sasuke and trying to find out what she thought of me. Crap. "Uh … um…" Naruto desperately tried to find some way out of the dilemma he'd placed himself in.

Sakura, in the meantime, was trying to figure out how Naruto could have perfectly repeated something Sasuke had said to her months ago. She remembered the incident quite well; not only had Sasuke complimented her, he'd complimented her forehead. After years of being teased over her forehead she'd grown to hate it, and even Ino's efforts to boost her self-confidence hadn't completely eliminated her insecurity. For someone, anyone, to actually say that her forehead was attractive … it was probably the best compliment she'd ever gotten in her life.

Then Sasuke had ruined the moment by laughing it off as something Naruto would say. Then he asked her what she thought about Naruto; thinking back on the matter the entire conversation had been pretty unusual. Sasuke just hadn't been acting like his normal self; the way he'd looked at her, the way he talked to her, everything about him had been so … atypical. Then right when she was about to kiss him he ran off, only to come back a minute later acting exactly like Sasuke always did and asking if she'd seen Naruto.

Wait … Sasuke acting weird, and he wants to talk about what I think of Naruto … then Sasuke turns up again, acting normal and looking for Naruto. A horrifying thought entered her mind. No. No no no no no no no no NO! "Naruto." Sakura hissed, her voice filled with tightly controlled rage.

"Crap." I'm gonna die.

"Why?" Sakura demanded.

"Well … y'see Sakura-chan … um … the thing is…" Every time Naruto tried to explain the situation he found his ability to speak coherently disrupted by visions of his impending horrific death at Sakura's hands.

"Why?!" Sakura shouted, grabbing a handful of Naruto's shirt and dragging him halfway over the table so she could glare directly into his eyes. "Why would you do something like that to me? You think it's funny to play with a girl's feelings like that? You know, I started to think you might actually be a decent guy, but now … you … you …" Suddenly tears were spilling down Sakura's cheeks. "Why do you always do things like this to me? What did I do to deserve this treatment? Why do you have to take me out on a nice date, and just when things are really going well you decide to rub my nose in the fact that you got away with pulling a prank on me months ago!"

"It's not like that Sakura-chan!" Naruto cried out desperately.

"Then what is it?!" Sakura shrieked.

"I really like you!" Naruto confessed. "And I didn't know what you thought of me and the only way I could think of to find was to have Sasuke ask you and I know I shouldn't have and I'm sorry and please don't kill me or hate me!"

"He … likes me?" Sakura muttered under her breath.

Naruto missed Sakura's words due to the stream of distressed babble coming out of his mouth. "I'm sorry, I never should have asked you out on this date after that 'cause now you hate me and I'm sorry and I probably screwed everything up and I wouldn't have even done half the stuff I did right except that Ino kept giving me advice and…"

"Naruto likes me?" Sakura repeated, slightly louder but still far too quiet to be heard over Naruto's voice.

"And I'm sorry and I know you probably hate me 'cause I completely ruined everything and you're right about all the times you called me stupid and worthless and an idiot 'cause I am 'cause I messed this up and maybe if Ino'd had more time to help me I wouldn't've but I did and it's all my fault and…"

"SHUT UP NARUTO!" Sakura shouted the boy down, yanking on his shirt and pulling him even closer to emphasize her point. All conversation in the restaurant came to an abrupt end, and soon everyone there was staring at the couple. Returning to her normal volume, Sakura asked. "Could you repeat the first part of that?"

"Um …" Naruto began, trying not to speak slowly and clearly so that he wouldn't babble and enrage the kunoichi even further. "I said that I like you, but since I didn't know how you felt about me I turned into Sasuke to find out."

"Right." Sakura said, her expression unreadable. "Could you say those first three words again? I'm not sure I heard them right."

"I like you." Naruto hesitantly repeated.

"One more time." Sakura ordered.

"I like you!" Naruto declared confidently, having managed to dispel most of his nervousness through forced repetition.

"Oh." Sakura said dully. "Huh. That's what I thought you said" Sakura's mind was a jumble as she tried to process this new piece of information; it was just too massive and too unexpected for her to figure out how to respond to it. Sakura simply didn't know what to think.

So she didn't.

She didn't think about the fact that she had spent the last couple years convinced that she was in love with Sasuke. She didn't think about what Ino and all the other girls would think of her, and how she had to prove them wrong. She didn't think about what her parents or teachers would say. She didn't think about the Nine-Tailed Fox, or the preliminaries, or everything that had happened in the Forest of Death. She didn't think about anything.

She just acted.

The kiss was fumbling, hesitant, and awkward, but all of those facts paled in comparison to the fact that it was a kiss. Once the kiss ended the girl pulled back and the two genins hesitantly met each other's eyes, then immediately blushed brightly and looked away. Their embarrassment increased when they realized that the audience Sakura's shout had attracted offered an almost universal response of, "Awwww," and then fell to discussing how cute young love was.

Once Naruto regained the ability to speak coherently, he hesitantly asked. "Um … Sakura-chan … does that mean you like me too?"

"I wouldn't have kissed you otherwise, idiot." Sakura commented fondly.

"Oh." Naruto slowly began to grin triumphantly. "Awesome."

Ino returned to her own body, and at Shikamaru's questioning gaze offered him a proud grin. "I totally called it. Naruto and Sakura make a cute couple."

"Yeah, great." Shikamaru replied unenthusiastically. "At least you didn't end up screwing up their lives with all your interference."

"Love always triumphs in the end, Shikamaru." Ino declared with a fanatical gleam in her eye. "If this date hadn't worked out I would've just had to start fighting dirty."

That's what scares me about this girl … after all the things she's done, she still says she hasn't even started to fight dirty. "Whatever."

"You just have appreciation for a good romance." Ino criticized, making her way out of the alley beside the restaurant where Shikamaru had been guarding her body . "Well, I'm done being a drag for the night, so let's go home and … is that Sasuke-kun?"

Meanwhile, on the roof of the restaurant a jonin and his apprentice were discussing the aftermath of the date. "Alright, I think we've seen enough." Kakashi informed his other student. "Have to say, that's not quite how I expected things to go."

"Maybe now they'll bug me less." Sasuke idly commented.

"Probably." Kakashi agreed. "I suppose it depends on whether having your teammates constantly sucking each others' faces will bug you more than having them constantly try to compete with you or ask you out on dates did." With a chuckle, the jonin slid off the roof and smoothly landed in the street.

"Hn." Sasuke offered in response, following his sensei down to the ground. If nothing else, I won't have to worry about having a fangirl trying hug me every five minutes. At last, after all the years of fangirls in the Academy, and then having to deal with Sakura on Team 7, I'm finally, finally, free of them!

Then the Uchiha noticed a purple and blond blur approaching him at high speed while eagerly shrieking "Sasuke-kun!" As Ino Yamanaka initiated her 527th attempt to glomp him to death, Sasuke quietly despaired. It's just not fair…

Endnote: Sadly, there's definitely not going to be any more for this fic after this chapter; there's not really anywhere left to go with the story at this point; Naruto and Sakura have hooked up, and aside from that the story is essentially still very much within the realm of cannon. There's really just no room for further expanding the tale, and it works fine as it is; a reasonably compact story that covers the big divergence from cannon and its most important consequences. For what its worth, I enjoyed writing this so much that I'll almost certainly try writing out some of the other Naruto plot ideas that have been bouncing around my skull.