Grin and Bear It
Summary: There are battles to be fought even in times of peace. How do you fight them when they're with yourself? Naruto x Ino.
Opening Notes: Just so you know, things in my stories tend to get, uh, interesting, for lack of a better word. If you're uncomfortable with questionable ideas and situations, you may want to look elsewhere. If you like being able to perfectly predict the direction a story is going to go in, get out. Now.
Disclaimer: Don't own Naruto.
A baby laughs at the funny face being made by its father, sending drool flying everywhere as it waves its chubby hands in the air. A mischievous young woman steals a tip from a recently deserted table. A fly buzzes quietly on the door to the restaurant, seemingly oblivious to the waitress approaching from behind with a rolled up magazine. Ordinary things that a person usually ignores, but Naruto was aware of all of them––mostly because he was trying to avoid staring at the green-eyed woman sitting across the table.
"Hard to believe it's been half a year, huh?" Sakura asked, chopsticks held lightly in her right hand. She and Naruto were currently grabbing dinner at a swanky new restaurant near the Hokage's mansion, relaxing after a grueling day of training with the Godaime.
Since the deaths of Sasuke and the Akatsuki, Tsunade had the two of them practically glued to her shapely hips, using whatever extra time she had available to teach them. More often than not, it involved the both of them reading old, musky books and writing research papers on what they'd learned.
Naruto smiled halfheartedly. He was used to this conversation. "Since Sasuke died, right?"
Sakura nodded her head, a faraway look on her face. "Do you think he really killed himself?"
The blond frowned. He didn't want to sound cruel, but he was sick of thinking about their wayward former teammate. After the initial news of his suicide, Naruto had refused to believe it. Sasuke may have been a lot of things––traitorous, evil, crazy, possibly gay––but suicidal wasn't one of them. As time wore on, though, he'd begun to question his initial opinion.
How much had he really known about Sasuke? Sure, he'd at one time considered the Uchiha one of his closest friends, but he'd only been around him for a little under a year; three months of which were spent completely ignoring the other. Besides, even when they had become actual friends, it wasn't like Sasuke had ever told him anything about his family––besides how much he wanted to kill Itachi, anyway.
No, he really didn't want to talk about him anymore. That part of his life was over. More importantly, he had something to ask the woman idly picking at her fish. He took a deep breath and slowly exhaled through his nose, deciding to take the plunge and get it over with.
"Ne, Sakura. If you're not doing anything tomorrow, you wanna go ice skating with me? The pond at the park's frozen over."
Naruto bit the inside of his lip, trying hard not to look too interested. He thought there was a good chance that she'd accept his offer, but as his perverted former sensei used to say, "Women are illogical and insane."
Sakura looked surprised for a couple of seconds, but to his relief, she smiled and nodded. "Sure. Oh, but we have to do it before six. I have a date tomorrow night."
The chopsticks in his hand clattered against the floor. His body suddenly went cold, and his ears burned with an intense fire. The plate in front of him began to blur in and out of focus, causing the recently eaten food to churn and rumble in his stomach. He felt sick.
"Naruto? You okay?"
"I have to go to the bathroom," Naruto said, standing up suddenly. The only emotion he could feel was shock.
The news had literally blindsided him. Although she was attractive, Sakura had always had an unapproachable air about her. In the Academy, she was too shy and withdrawn for anyone to notice her. When she became a genin, she was a crazed Sasuke fangirl. As a jounin medic-nin serving directly under the Hokage, she was just fucking scary. Who the hell had enough balls to ask her out? No, a better question might be who was suicidal enough.
He numbly pushed open the door to the bathroom. Luckily, it was empty. He could imagine what his face looked like at that moment. He walked up to the sink and stared into the mirror, confirming his assumption. He looked like shit. The blond tiredly lowered his head.
What did he expect? Did he really think that with Sasuke gone Sakura would suddenly look at him? He should've known better. Just when he'd begun to believe that she was developing feelings for him. Just when he thought he'd finally found someone who really understood him, and liked him for more than his social status or fighting ability.
Logically, he knew that she didn't belong to him. He'd never been able to work up the courage to ask her out, and she'd never said that she wouldn't date anyone else. Somehow, though, he still felt betrayed.
Naruto lifted his head to stare into the mirror again, remembering the words he'd been told by an ANBU officer when he was a child;
"Just grin and bear it. Things will be brighter tomorrow, kid."
He didn't know who said them or why those simple words made him feel better, but they did. That's right. Just grin and bear it. It's how he'd gotten through seventeen years of his life, and it hadn't failed him yet.
With that, he slowly began to piece together his mask. He cleared his throat and pasted on a smile, staring into the mirror to make sure it was correct. Since Sakura had been his friend for nearly five years now, his smile would have to be impeccable. Otherwise, she'd notice right away if something was bothering him.
Satisfied that she wouldn't see through his grin, he took a deep, calming breath and headed back out to the dining room. He eased himself into his seat, doing his best not to look her directly in the eye. It was easy to put on a smile to hide his frown, but it was much harder to hide the look of anger and betrayal in his eyes.
"Are you alright?" Sakura asked again, green eyes furrowed and concerned.
Naruto bit back his shock. He was surprised that she was able to see the crack in his smile so easily. After a little thought, though, he realized that she may just be asking because he'd left to suddenly. It was okay. She hadn't actually noticed anything.
"Yeah, just tired. I had a long day."
The medic-nin stared at him for a few seconds, trying to figure out exactly what was going on. He wouldn't look her directly in the eye, and his posture looked more slumped than usual. Giving up, Sakura leaned back and placed her chopsticks on the table.
"Why didn't you say so? We can go home if you'd like."
As if he'd been waiting for those words all night, Naruto quickly stood to his feet and reached for his wallet. "We probably should." He felt his voice waver. Not good. Wanting to get out of there as fast as he could, he tossed a few bills on the table and walked towards the door.
"Naruto, wait up!" Sakura called, digging through her purse for her wallet.
Unfortunately, the blond was already out of the restaurant, resisting the urge to run home. He didn't want to be around Sakura for another second. The feel of her hand on his shoulder almost made him vomit.
"Hey, what's the rush?"'
He paused momentarily, debating whether or not to turn around. If he didn't turn around she'd know for sure that something was up, but if he did turn around, he might not be able to keep his smile from crumbling. "I'm just really, really tired. I-I want to get some sleep," he said, cursing himself for stuttering.
Feeling his fatigue, she allowed her hand slip from his shoulder. "Well, goodnight then, Naruto," she said, jade eyes still furrowed with concern.
Unable to bring himself to answer, Naruto simply walked off towards his apartment, leaving a confused Sakura in his wake.
Naruto trudged up the wooden stairs to his apartment, feet making a hollow thumping sound with each step. He wanted nothing more than to fall face first onto his bed and forget everything. Forget about stupid Sakura, forget about her stupid date, and while he was at it, forget about his stupid life.
"It's about time you got here, Uzumaki."
Naruto snapped his head up to see an angry young woman standing in front of his apartment, arms crossed and travel pack hanging from her shoulders. A black duffel bag sat at her feet, spiking his curiosity as to her intentions. Finally finding his voice, he deepened his frown and leveled his gaze on the woman. "What do you want, Ino?"
The kunoichi averted her gaze, instantly putting her fellow blond on edge. That was never a good sign.
"Let me crash here for a couple of nights. You're the only one I know who has their own place, and my parents would never think to look for me here."
He thought about it for all of two milliseconds. "No." Shoving her out of the way, he jammed his key into the lock and opened the door. Just as he was about to close it behind him, Ino forced her foot in the doorway.
"Why not?! Sakura told me that you have two bedrooms in this place, so it's not like I'll be in your way!" She noticed his face crumble at the mention of Sakura and instantly felt a little bad for him. He looked like a lost puppy who'd just been separated from his mother. "Hey, you alright?"
"Go home. I'm not gonna take care of you." He kicked her foot out of the doorway and tried to close the door again, only to have Ino slide her torso halfway into his apartment. He was so shocked by her near suicidal move that he paused for a seocond, giving her a chance to get one final word in.
"Dinner," she said, looking him straight in the eyes.
A little caught of guard by the word, Naruto raised his eyebrows. "What?"
Seeing that she had his attention, she quickly continued. "I'll buy groceries and make you dinner every night for as long as I'm here."
"Can you even cook?"
Ino recoiled as if she'd been slapped, mouth opening in a shocked 'o.' "Are you serious? What makes you think that I can't cook?"
Naruto frowned. "You don't seem like the useful type."
"Move it." Ino forced the door open and elbowed him out of the way. She looked around his apartment with disdain, mouth screwing up in obvious disappointment. "It's smaller than I thought. And dirty. I guess it's better than those cheap motels on the south side of the village, though. Your kitchen's at the end of the hall, right?" Without waiting for his answer, she skipped around the corner to the kitchen. Once there, she opened his refrigerator and stuck her head inside, only to find little more than a carton of milk and a few eggs. "This is all you have?"
Naruto sighed loudly, feeling fatigue begin to claw at his body. After all he'd gone through that day, he didn't have the energy to argue with her. Letting the girl sleep in his place for the night wouldn't kill him. He closed the door and trudged down the hall towards his bedroom, loosening his clothing as he went.
Noticing his departure, Ino pulled her head out of the refrigerator. "So, can I stay?" she yelled.
"No!" He slammed the bedroom door behind him and fell limply on his bed just barely slipping out of his clothes. He faintly heard the front door open and close, signaling the girl's departure. It was a bit surprising that Ino had given up so easily, but judging by the look on her face when she'd first stepped into his apartment, she wasn't too keen on staying anyway.
He felt a little bad for not letting her stay since she had nowhere else to go, but hell, she was a shinobi. She could easily find a safe place to camp out in Konoha. Besides, the last thing he needed was a loudmouthed, spoiled princess hanging around when he was feeling so shitty.
Putting the Yamanaka out of his mind, Naruto slowly shut his eyes, silently praying to Kami-sama that tomorrow would be brighter.
Naruto woke with a start, body tense and wet with perspiration. His heart beat at a thousand miles per second, threatening to pop out of his chest.
He wasn't a stranger to waking up this way; not by a long shot. His childhood was filled with these kinds of mornings, and though they'd lessened over time, they had never completely gone away.
Unlike usual, though, he could barely remember what had happened in his dream. The only two things that had managed to stick with him were a scream and a pair of blood red eyes, both of which left him feeling more than a little sick to his stomach.
He took a few more minutes to catch his breath before slowly rolling out of bed to start his day. He didn't really have anything to do. His initial plan had been to go ice skating with Sakura since it was his day off, but there was no way he could face her after what had happened the night before. Not without breaking down in front of her.
Naruto slipped on a pair of loose brown shorts and a white t-shirt. He hadn't showered last night, but it didn't matter. It wasn't like he was planning on leaving his apartment.
Deciding that he'd better at least eat something, Naruto trudged into his kitchen to see what he could find. If he remembered correctly, he still had a few cups of ramen in the cupboard and a couple of eggs left in the fridge.
To his surprise, there was already someone standing in his kitchen. It took a few seconds, but he was eventually able to remember that Ino had asked to stay at his place for the night. Even though he thought he'd refused her, the woman apparently didn't know how to listen.
He watched as Ino worked over his stove, seemingly unaware of his presence. She wore a loose white tanktop over her torso and a pair of baggy grey sweatpants adorned her legs. Her long blond hair was pulled back in her usual ponytail, but unlike her usual hairstyle, the long bang that usually hung in front of her right eye seemed to also be pulled back away from her face.
"What do you think you're doing?" Naruto asked, eyes groggy and red as he stared at her.
She glanced over her shoulder and glared at him as if it was obvious. "Making breakfast. I went out and bought some groceries. I figured that since I couldn't make you dinner last night, I should make it up by cooking breakfast. Sit down."
He frowned in her direction, unsure of how to take her explanation. Her tone had been harsh and demeaning and she wasn't supposed to be here, but she was cooking him breakfast. Since it didn't smell too bad and he really wasn't in the mood for ramen at the moment (A rarity that he chalked up to his current emotional state), he decided to plop down in one of the two chairs sitting in the kitchen. He could kick her out after he finished eating.
Ino set the table, placing a variety of dishes he'd only ever had in restuarants in front of him. She poured them both a cup of tea before seating herself in the chair opposite him, clasping her hands together and bowing her head.
Picking up his chopsticks, Naruto dipped his utensils into his rice bowl and brought them up to his face, discreetly checking the food to make sure everything was in order. He didn't believe she'd actually poison him, but it was more of a habit than anything. He'd learned his lesson after a certain incident involving a certain perverted hermit and a certain hooker at a certain brothel in a certain Earth country town.
Yeah, that hadn't been very fun.
Deciding that the food was safe, he shoveled some rice and vegetables into his mouth. Surprisingly enough, it didn't taste half bad. He packed in another mouthful, finding that it was getting better and better with each bite. Still, although the food was good, he couldn't let Ino stay with him just because she could cook a little. Placing his chopsticks on the table, he leveled his gaze on the kunoichi.
"Why'd you run away from home?"
"Right to the point, aren't you?" She joked, smirking at him. When his face remained unamused, she sighed and answered his question. "Well, you know how my dad works in terror and interrogation?" Naruto didn't say anything, so she continued. "I asked him to help me get in, and he said that as long as I was under his roof he wouldn't allow me to apply! Apparently, it's too 'rough' for a young woman of my constituion. Can you believe that shit?! It's a total double standard!"
Naruto spared her a deadpan stare. "That's it?"
"That's it?! When someone tells you that you can't do something, don't you get upset?! I mean, where does he get off saying that it's too tough for me?!" Her eyes were angry and wide, and her mouth was twisted into a vicious scowl.
"He works in torture and interrogation and he's your father. I think he'd know."
Ino shot him a glare. "Shut up."
They ate in silence for a few minutes, neither of them all that interested in speaking with the other. Every now and then the kunoichi would glance up at Naruto, curiously studying him in an attempt to figure out why the village's loudest shinobi was so quiet. Unable to take it anymore, she slammed her chopsticks down on the table. "What's with you? You're not acting like Mr. Sunshine and Rainbows today."
He gave her a tired, sarcastic smile before going back to his food. He wasn't terribly hungry, but he had to admit that the girl could cook. Damn, could she cook. It almost amazed him that a headstrong, annoying girl like Ino knew anything about housework, and it wasn't long before he was wolfing the rest of his meal down.
Ino watched him eat with a knowing smile, more than a little pleased that he seemed to be enjoying himself. If the way to a man's heart was through his stomach, then she had a good chance of convincing him to put her up for more than the few days she'd initially suggested. She didn't know how long this cold war with her father would last, but she figured it'd be at least a couple of weeks before he finally caved. "Good?" she asked, trying as hard as she could not to sound smug.
Naruto glared at her from over his cup of tea, finishing the drink before setting it back down on the table. It briefly occurred to him that this was the first time he'd seen her right eye since he'd left for his three year training trip with Jiraiya. "It was okay." He stood from the table with his dishes, dropping them into the sink noisily.
The woman bit back a laugh. He was so dishonest that it was almost cute. "I'm glad you liked it."
He grunted a response and headed to the bathroom to wash up. Unfortunately, he wasn't quite prepared for the sight that met him. His sink was literally covered with different and strange looking bottles, most of the in funny shapes he hadn't known existed until now. It smelled distinctly of wildflowers, a scent he actually didn't mind too much. The thing that did bother him was how comfortable she'd gotten in his apartment in only one night. If he didn't know any better, he'd say that she was planning on staying longer than the few days she'd asked for.
He debated whether or not to confront her about it, but at the moment, he really didn't feel like dealing with it. He was still feeling depressed about Sakura's betrayal, and all he wanted to do was mope around his apartment until he felt better. Sure, it wasn't the most effective plan, but doing anything else seemed too troublesome. Maybe this was how Shikamaru used to feel before Asuma died.
After brushing his teeth and washing his face, he dragged himself out to the living room and flopped down on his couch, letting loose a heavy sigh.
"Seriously, what's up with you?" Ino asked from the kitchen. "I haven't seen you this upset since Jiraiya-sama..." She quickly shut her mouth, noticing the way Naruto's face took on an even darker look.
"It doesn't have anything to do with you."
Undeterred, Ino pressed on. "Is it Tsunade-sama? Kakashi? Sasuke? Sakura?" When Naruto's face soured, she rolled her eyes. "Sakura, huh? Should've known. It's always about Sakura."
She frowned in thought. What could Sakura have done to piss Naruto off so much? The only thing she could think of that would make him this upset is if Sakura went back to Sasuke after all that had happened. Since Sasuke was dead, it had to mean that he'd found about––
"Ah, the date." Ino said, not realizing that she was speaking out loud.
Naruto snapped his head around to stare at her, shock prevalent on his face. "You know about it?!"
"Sakura's like my best friend. Of course I know about it."
"Do you...do you know who she's going on a date with?"
The girl smirked inwardly. This was it. This was the exact situation she'd been waiting for. A situation that could give her leverage. "Well, I could tell you, but..."
Not realizing that he was falling into her trap, Naruto leaned forward with wide eyes. "But what?"
"In exchange you have to let me stay here for a week."
Naruto blinked. A week? Living with Ino? The thought alone sent shudders down his spine. She'd already conquered his bathroom. What else would she take over before she was satisfied? His kitchen? His living room? Still, the curiosity was killing him, and he usually only came home to eat and sleep anyway. It wasn't like he'd be running into her very often. Sighing in resignation, he glared at the bossy kunoichi.
"Do I still get dinner?" If he was gonna admit defeat, he wouldn't let her feel the satisfaction of completely getting one over on him.
The woman smirked and nodded, smelling victory. "Of course!"
"Fine, but only a week. After that, you're gone. No exceptions."
The woman rolled her eyes. "I know, I know."
Ino's grin dropped slightly, and her face took on a mildly apologetic look. "She's going on a date with Sai." She furrowed her brows when Naruto's mouth dropped open. Perhaps telling him was a little more than he could handle.
After a few silent seconds, the young man was finally able to find his voice again. "Sai?! The Sai on our team?!"
"It surprised me too."
Naruto's lip curled angrily, baring his fanged teeth for Ino to see. "That backstabbing--"
"So, what are you gonna do? Find him and beat him up for going on a date with a single, available girl?"
He felt his anger deflate slightly. She had a point. "But...but this is different! He knows how I feel about Sakura-chan!"
"If you felt that strongly about her, you would've asked her out already." Ino snorted when his face fell. He was starting to look pathetic. However, she really didn't want to stay with a guy who moped around about one stupid girl. Sighing loudly, she crossed her arms and cocked her hip.
"Look, it's just a date. I've been on two dates with the guy, and trust me, he doesn't have much to offer besides a pretty face."
"What, and you didn't marry him?" Naruto bitterly asked.
Ino frowned. "Despite what you may think about me, looks aren't the only thing I look for in a guy. They have to have ambition, a personality, and treat me like I'm the only girl in their world. Settling for less isn't an option."
"So you want to be a princess."
"I'm trying to cheer you up and you're throwing it back in my face."
"No one asked you to cheer me up."
Ino bit her lip harder than she ever had in her life. Every bone in her body was screaming for her to rip into him, demeaning and insulting him until there was nothing left of his small, pathetic ego. However, since she was living in his apartment for the time being and had no other friends to stay with, she decided to simply turn around and walk away before she said or did something she'd regret.
Naruto watched her leave with a sigh. She just happened to choose the worst possible time to show up at his doorstep. He didn't feel particularly bad about snapping at her. It was her fault for poking her nose where it didn't belong, and if it kept her out of his business (And if he was lucky, apartment), then he was alright with playing the bad guy.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ino, fully dressed in her usual shinobi garb, leave the apartment. She didn't bother to even glance his way, something that suited him fine. He leaned back on the couch and sighed again. Now he had to figure out what to do about Sakura.
AN: I've had this idea for awhile, and after years of reading fanfiction, I've decided to officially throw my hat into the writing ring. Let me know what you think!