REVISED AS OF 8/30/15

Well, there's no surprise that this chapter went by rather easily. I'd actually call this just correcting a few mistakes instead of actually revising. I suspect the same for the next chapter, but Chapter 22 will likely be the last one to receive actual revising, since there's a part in there I didn't like and wanted to change extensively.

Expect Chapter 21 to be done tonight, and I'll probably spend a couple day extensively changing Chapter 22 before posting it. Then I'll just skim 23 and 24 for any obvious mistakes. After that, I'll replace the Chapter 25 A/N with an omake to sorta announce to everyone that I'm back to writing new content.

Hope you enjoy this chapter's slightly cleaner look.


Whew...this has been a horrible chapter. I don't mean in quality and I certainly hope this latest chapter is up to the usual standards the readers expect so far from this story. What I meant is how this fought me every single step of the way. There were writer's blocks, life getting in the way, a couple lost hard drives, family, illnesses, and many other things. I was already extremely exhausted with this one by the time I finally managed to type out the final word. Here's hoping the next chapter will be easier to get out after this.

This chapter will be mostly Ino-centric. Not going to be a lot of action in this one. Sorry to disappoint. There's a bit of drama but the humor and fluff should balance that out well enough. I really like Kana. :-)

As usual, thanks goes to LoverofLemons for his help on this and often having to pull me back on track with finishing writing this chapter. I have no idea how he puts up with me. Thank you...seriously.


WARNING: This story has mature language, sexual themes, and graphic depictions of violence and gore.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Naruto or any of its characters.


Chapter 20: Blossoming into a Beautiful Flower

Konohagakure - Eight Years Ago

It was a beautiful and sunny day, with only few clouds peppering the crisp blue sky. In Konohagakure's busy central market district, its villagers and merchants regularly greeted each other with pleasant expressions and well-wishes for each other's good day. Some of them ended up chatting happily about news and rumors. As this normal everyday activity went on, a tall man, who had his long pale blond hair tied up in a high ponytail with a simple outfit consisting of a white long-sleeved shirt, black pants, and a comfortable pair of loafers, appeared out of a side street to walk through the market toward a certain destination. At his left side walked an adorable little girl nervously gripping on to the man's large hand with both of her tiny hands as if it was her lifeline while she took in the strange new sights and sounds. The cute sight made even the most hardened hearts melt easily.

She had short platinum blond hair that went down to the nape of her neck and it was styled with several hairpins. She had on a pair of white spaghetti strap sandals and a pale blue sleeveless sundress that matched her eyes perfectly. As this little girl nervously smiled in greeting at a waving villager walking by, she wondered where her father was taking her through this unfamiliar part of the village, since she rarely ventured this far from her family's flower shop-slash-home in her short life. If she ever did, it was only to go into the clans' district to see her two playmates, Shikamaru and Choji.

This young Yamanaka Ino thought about how her father, Inoichi, suddenly brought up the subject of a play date with a new boy the night before. After quipping for a moment about needing to find more girls to play with, she was surprised to see an odd mixture of pain and grief flash through her father's eyes as he explained how this boy needed friends, and that he thought she would at least like to meet him and see how that went. Being a smart and curious girl, she knew there was something he was hiding from her but decided not to press it. Having been born to parents who trained to be shinobi, she understood the importance of keeping some secrets, despite her cat-like curiosity that sometimes got her in trouble.

"Hello! What a cute little girl you are!" a woman's childishly high-pitched voice broke into Ino's thoughts. She hated that kind of condensing voice and wanted to make it known, but somehow managed to keep it all in. She barely showed a strained smile toward a plump middle-aged woman who walked up and bent down at her hips to get an uncomfortably close look at her face. She almost gagged on this woman's overpowering perfume and really wanted to run all the way back home at that very moment.

At this point, Inoichi would have just chuckled and exchanged a few words with whoever this woman was about how smart and beautiful his 'little princess' was, like he always did with any other villager. However, she was surprised to feel her father's grip tighten a little around her hand as if he was preparing to yank her away from this woman for her own safety.

"Hello. I'm sorry, ma'am, but we're running late for a meeting and we need to move on. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, however." Inoichi's voice was calm, but Ino knew there was cold rage behind his polite expression. She had already seen that face many times due to his work in the Torture and Intelligence department.

"Oh! Forgive me! Please do carry on with your business, Yamanaka-sama! I hope you'll bring your adorable little daughter around here often!" the woman simpered before going back to her vendor station. Ino almost scoffed as that annoying women didn't catch on to her father's hidden emotions at all. She then stared up at him as he continued onward, gently leading her along. He had been never like that to any villager they met until now, and wondered what happened recently. As they exited the market district into a side street, Inoichi let out a deep sigh as if to expel some foul emotions, and she overheard some quiet muttering.

"How dare she act like that after what she did…his memories…I know otherwise…"

Ino deduced that her father saw something that woman did while mind-walking through someone else's memories. However, she would rather not pry. It was taboo in the Yamanaka clan to even jokingly ask about another's mind-walking experiences unless offered. She quickly learned this after having her father scold her sternly the first, and also the last time, she tactlessly prodded him about what he had seen in others' minds. After another minute of walking, the side street opened up to a small public park with a large playground sitting in its center. It looked empty to her for the moment.

"Let's see…he should've been here already." Inoichi muttered to himself as he moved his gaze around the park. Ino helped out as well and nearly missed a flash of bright yellow as she searched the swing set. Blinking, she focused her vision to find a small boy sitting on a swing, not moving at all. His spiky and untamed sun-kissed blond hair shadowed his eyes as he stared down at the ground so she wasn't able to see what color they were yet. His white t-shirt and blue shorts looked like they were way too large for his small and weak-looking frame. What of his face she could see was blank and emotionless and it reminded her of a puppet. He had almost no presence at all which was apparently why they didn't see him right away at first, despite his blindingly bright blond hair.

"Is that him?" Ino whispered as she pointed. Inoichi looked where she gestured, and his eyes tightened. The same mixture of pain and grief from last night flashed through them at that moment. Letting out a sigh, he slowly crouched down next to Ino to level his eyes with hers.

"Ino-chan… my little princess…I'm not going to force you to become his friend. If it doesn't work out, then it can't be helped. However, I want you to keep an open mind with this young child. Right now he's never had a friend before, but he really is kind and I think you can get him to open up to you if you're patient with him. I honestly believe you two will get along well enough soon. It is up to you two to make this work, however." he whispered gently as he put his hands on his daughter's shoulders for assurance.

Ino nodded, not quite sure what to say yet. She knew something was wrong when her notoriously overprotective father was actively encouraging her to make friend with another boy. She often wondered what was so dangerous about boys that he would rather throw kunai at them than let them get within twenty meters of her. He was fine with Shikamaru and Choji only because he was best friends with their fathers.

For him to willingly encourage her to play with this unknown boy…something was going on.

"Daddy, is there something I need to know?" she asked hesitantly as her gaze occasionally flickered to the boy on the swing. He hadn't made any indication that he noticed their presence; in fact, he hadn't moved a single inch since they found him. Inoichi's eyes narrowed and he seemed to be contemplating something for a silent moment, before his lips curved upward into a sad smile.

"No, my little princess. He is just a normal child like you and your other friends. And, like any other normal child, he needs at least one friend to play with." he whispered. Truthfully, it took all he had to say this with a calm expression. He was surprised his voice didn't break as he remembered mind-walking through that boy's memories the other day in the hospital after his suicide attempt. All he remembered was the crushing loneliness and despair that young boy felt as he dealt with the villagers' cruel and constant denial of his very existence every single day ever since he was born. No child deserved that.

"Ok. I'll play with him." Ino asserted with a bright smile, trusting her father's words. She then began walking toward the listless boy. Inoichi stood up out of his crouch to move to a nearby bench and took a steadying breath as he watched his precious little girl step up in front of the boy who still hadn't noticed her. He would watch this from afar and hope for the best between these two.

"Hello." Ino said carefully as she stood in front of the blond boy still sitting listlessly on the swing. As she now got a good up-close view of him, she had to admit she was envious of his beautiful blond hair color, and also found those odd whisker marks on his cheeks cute. She wondered what would happen if she reached out and petted them. However, as she thought this, she realized the boy didn't seem to have heard her. Feeling a little annoyed, she tried again.

"Hi!" she called out a little forcefully. That finally jolted the boy out of whatever he was thinking. As she finally saw his eyes for the first time when he looked up in surprise, she had to hold back a surprised gasp. Dead and dull dark blue eyes locked with her pale blue ones and it made her shiver. It reminded her of the rare times her father came home from work after a particularly awful day. He had the same look in his eyes, and it took her mother several days to console him back to normal each time. This time it was only for an instant as the boy's eyes cleared up into the lively and beautiful cerulean blue color they usually were, and she briefly wondered if what she saw was an illusion.

The boy cocked his head in confusion as he stared for a long moment at this cute but strange girl that just came out of nowhere. Finally, he suddenly swiveled his head from side to side as he searched the entire playground to see if she was calling out to someone else. Finding none, he turned back to this girl and pointed at himself uncertainly.

"Um…w-were you talking to me?" he said this as if it was the most unlikely thing in the world.

"Of course! I called out to you, didn't I?" the girl cocked her head to match his confusion. Was he that bad with people? The boy nervously reached behind his neck with a hand.

"Sorry, I was just surprised."

"Don't you remember seeing a man recently and arranging to meet up here at this time?"

The boy's face lit up in realization, and he glanced around the playground again to find a familiar ponytailed man sitting on a bench at the edge of the park. Inoichi waved with a reassuring smile. Ino had to wonder why this boy was so surprised at seeing her and her father if he was already here waiting for them.

The boy was shocked because he honestly wasn't expecting anyone to show up. He expected to have his existence forgotten and ignored like usual. He didn't even know why he got himself out of bed and let his feet take him here. Until just a moment ago, it was preposterous to him for that man to even contemplate coming here with his daughter like he said he would.

"I'll introduce myself. My name's Yamanaka Ino, and that's my dad. It's a pleasure to meet you. I hope we'll get along." the young blond girl greeted with a friendly smile as she pointed at herself and then her father. The boy stared at her with a dumbfounded expression for a moment until she fidgeted uncomfortably.

"So…what's your name?" she prodded and that seemed to jolt the boy out of his thoughts.

"Oh…uh…Uzumaki Naruto. Nice to meet you too." he answered quietly with a blush and an unsure smile.

"Fishcake?" Ino blurted out before she caught herself. She knew his given name's other meaning was maelstrom, and hoped the other blonde didn't take offense. She needn't have worried as she watched Naruto's face light up into a wide smile; she had to admit he was very cute when he smiled like that. It almost made her forget about those dead eyes…almost.

"Yeah! Ramen's my favorite thing in the whole world! Isn't it awesome to have the same name as one of its toppings?" he exclaimed as if it was his greatest joy ever. Ino giggled at her new playmate's enthusiasm and had to admit she liked his goofiness.

"Ok! It's decided!" she declared loudly as she pointed her right index finger straight at the boy, making him flinch a little.

"W-what?" he mumbled a little fearfully.

"You're goofy and I like you. So from now on, we're friends!" she announced as if he won the ultimate prize. There was silence for a moment until Naruto cocked his head and squinted his eyes foxlike in confusion.

"What do you mean goofy…wait, we're friends?"

"Yup! No getting out of this ever, no matter how much you beg!"

"Really? But…why me?"

"Do you not want to?" she suddenly mumbled, a little uncertain since Naruto was looking dubious. He jolted and frantically shook his head.

"No! It's just that…" he trailed off and stared down at the ground sadly. Ino found this sight a little heartbreaking. Was it really that hard for him to make friends? He apparently wasn't hard to talk to so she wondered why he wasn't able to make friends until now. She had enough of this gloomy atmosphere.

"Let's play, Naruto!" she suddenly announced as she reached out with her right hand for Naruto to take. The boy stared at the hand for a moment before looking up at Ino's bright expression.

"C'mon!" she encouraged. Naruto nodded slowly as he reached out carefully with his right hand to grasp Ino's. He noted she felt warm and soft as she pulled him off the swing and dragged him over to the large jungle gym to play for the next hour or so.

As Inoichi watched all of this unfold, he couldn't help but display a proud smile for his daughter the entire time they were there. He had a feeling things would turn out all right.

Before long, it was time for the Yamanaka duo to head on home.

"Sorry, but mommy's waiting for us with dinner." the little girl murmured regretfully. She honestly didn't want to leave Naruto yet. Despite his awkwardness, he was fun to get along with and was surprisingly capable around the playground despite his wimpy-looking stature. Naruto nodded sadly with a small smile that didn't reach his eyes at all. Inoichi reached down with a hand on his daughter's shoulder.

"I'm happy you came out here to play with my daughter, Naruto-san. I hope we'll get together again soon. If you want to play again anytime, just ask Hokage-sama for help on finding our flower shop. Otherwise, we look forward to seeing you again next week." he said with a smile. Naruto returned his smile and nodded again. Again, the smile didn't reach his eyes.

"Bye! Come by anytime!" Ino cheerfully waved a hand. Naruto silently returned her wave before turning to head home. However, she caught a glimpse of his eyes as he turned and icy dread filled her as she saw they have suddenly returned to the cold and dead-looking state they were in when she first met him. Before she could dwell on this, Inoichi gently pulled her along to begin their trek back home.

As Ino looked back over her shoulder, she easily saw Naruto's small frame already shrinking into almost nothingness and they weren't even that far away. She had this horrible feeling that it was the last time she would ever see him.

"Daddy, can I say something to him?" she suddenly blurted out. Inoichi looked down and was surprised to see what looked like urgency in her eyes. He wondered if she saw something he didn't notice. Letting her hand go, he nodded silently and she quickly ran back into the park. She easily caught up with Naruto and gently slapped a hand on his shoulder, making him flinch. He quickly turned, his surprised eyes locking with Ino's determined ones as she snatched both of his hands into hers.

"Promise me!"

"Wha-?"

"Make a promise that we'll meet to play again. Right now!"

"I don't-"

"Naruto… PROMISE. ME." she ground out slowly and forcefully.

"…"

"Please?" Ino's teary and imploring eyes as she desperately squeezed his hands was too much for Naruto. He sighed and nodded.

"Ok…I promise."

"Yay!" she hopped on him for a quick hug, not noticing him stiffen a little.

"You'd better come and find me soon, ok? Remember, you promised!" she called out as she turned and ran back to where her father was waiting. The blond boy silently watched her retreating back, a small defeated smile forming on his lips.

Ino had no idea she had just inadvertently distracted one Uzumaki Naruto from giving into his desire to end his own life for good with that binding promise she made with him. Even at his young age, he considered any promise he made to be unbreakable.

Since their first meeting, Ino would doggedly make sure Naruto promised to meet up again each time they left each other. Each time, she would notice her new friend's mood and demeanor improve a little. This went on for months until they were about to split up at the park one day.

"Oi! I'll see you soon." Naruto called out with a grin just when Ino was about to make her usual request for his promise. She blinked. He had never said that until now since she usually had to strong-arm a promise out of him each time. She recovered quickly.

"Sure! Meet you here like usual!" she said happily. Naruto nodded with a genuine grin and began walking toward his next destination. This time, it felt like she was going to see him again without worry as she watched his retreating form.

From that day onward, she never needed to force another promise from him.

Present time – Early in the morning at Yamanaka Flowers

Ino's eyes blinked open and she yawned in an unladylike manner. It felt to her like she hadn't slept at all since her mind was apparently going through some old memories. She stretched herself as much as she was able to from her sitting position on the living room's bay window that overlooked the currently empty and dark street in front of the entrance to her family's flower shop below. As she gazed out, she noted the black sky was beginning to have some tinges of pink and blue from the east, indicating the sunrise was coming. For a moment, she wondered why she was sleeping here in this living room on the bay window. Despite the generous collection of soft cushions covering the entire sitting surface, it wasn't where she normally slept.

She noticed a tuft of familiar blond hair sticking out a little from under a blanket on the living room's couch, and it all came back. Last night, the man she was falling in love with more each day was involved in a brief but high level battle that demolished a good chunk of the forest outside the clans' district. Afterward, her mother had outright ordered Naruto to come home with them to stay overnight since he still hadn't recovered the use of his arms.

As Ino somehow ended up getting Naruto all to herself for the night, she found Anko's and Hinata's envious expressions amusing, and noticed a small hint of envy from Hanabi as well. She had thought Anko would've fought for custody of Naruto since she was his close friend and neighbor. However, Kana's glare ended that argument before it even began. Ino completely understood how scary her mother could get sometimes, especially whenever she glared with her sharp hazel eyes.

The young Yamanaka let out a content sigh as she remembered last night. She and Naruto only spoke for a few minutes when they got home. Well, it was more like her fussing over him as he sweatdropped with an amused expression. She was somewhat disappointed he covered himself up in his blanket since he was still topless from losing his shirt in that battle. He then suddenly fell asleep from exhaustion with his head resting on the couch's backrest. He even left his eyepatch on. She then carefully, but gleefully, moved his head down to her lap where she was able to remove the eyepatch and then ran a hand through his soft hair for fifteen long minutes. She thought that was one of her best memories with him, as she remembered Naruto's peacefully sleeping face leaning into her touches.

Finally, she regretfully halted her ministrations and laid his head on a pillow since she needed to get some sleep. As she went to her room to get ready for bed, her mind kept going back to Naruto staying overnight under the same roof as her. She didn't remember him ever doing that in the past. As she was about to slip into bed, she stopped.

Just one more peek. she assured herself, not realizing she was dragging her blanket with her to the living room.

Just a quick peek turned into one of longing as Ino stared down at Naruto's sleeping form. She didn't know how long she stood there before she had to force herself to stop. She didn't want to leave him but she also didn't want to risk waking him by trying to cuddle up to him. She then decided she would at least fall asleep bundled up in her blanket in the nearby bay window as she watched Naruto.

That was how she ended up here. Considering it was barely sunrise now, she only slept a few hours as evidenced by another unladylike yawn.

Unwrapping herself from the blanket, Ino silently tip-toed over to kneel on the floor next to the couch by Naruto's head, and gently pulled down his blanket to reveal the same peacefully sleeping face that melted her heart last night. She smiled as she once again ran her fingers through his soft blond hair and had to stifle her giggle as he instinctively leaned into the touch like before.

Unnoticed by the young Yamanaka, her mother was standing at the living room's doorway in her robe watching all of this silently with a grin. Kana was happy to see Naruto respond well to affectionate touches now, and had to force down a growl as she remembered the day she first met Naruto as the adorable little boy he was back then.

Flashback – Soon after Naruto and Ino first met

"We're home!" Inoichi called out to the house as he was taking his shoes off along with Ino and a nervous Naruto at the front entranceway. It was his first time being invited into someone's house. There were some noises for a few seconds before a beautiful curly-haired brunette wearing a normal housewife outfit with an apron emerged from the living room. She smiled brightly as she waved at the new guest. Naruto was in awe of this young-looking woman's beauty, and he realized Ino looked a lot like her.

"Ino-chan, is she your older sister?" he suddenly blurted out. Kana was about to kiss her husband in greeting when she stopped in her track. She then blushed adorably at being considered that young looking as she bashfully twirled a strand of her curly hair with a finger. Inoichi chuckled knowingly, making her glare at him lightly.

"You're not the first to ask that, Naruto-san." he replied amusedly as Kana swatted him on the arm. Ino laughed at Naruto's confused face.

"She's my mommy." was all she explained before bursting out laughing again at her friend's shocked expression.

"What? No way! She doesn't look like any other mom I've seen! She's pretty and looks too young!" he denied this absurdness strongly while crossing his arms childishly with a pout, thinking he was being jested.

Kana suddenly wasn't able to resist his unintentional compliments and cute behavior. She let out a squeal of 'Kawaii!' before glomping him in an enveloping hug, surprising all around her. That was when she noticed him stiffen and struggle a little in confused panic from her unexpected action, and that shattered her insides completely. She knew what kind of treatment Naruto was getting with what Inoichi had told her, and did her best to prepare for him today. However, she honestly did not expect him to endear himself to her so easily in the first few minutes after meeting him, and to see he was so unused to physical contact made her absolutely furious with the village.

For now, she worked to keep herself calm for this boy's sake. Before Naruto could let his panic get out of control, she released him in a careful and nonchalant manner, then crouched down to his eye level and tried to assure him there was no harm with a beautiful and gentle smile. Seeing his slightly wary expression as he calmed down made her heart clench painfully.

"Hello, Naruto-chan. My husband and daughter have told me so much about you, and I've been looking forward to meeting you for a long time. I really am Ino-chan's mother, but thank you so much for your wonderful compliments. Please call me Kana." she spoke gently as she forced down the torrent of emotions running rampant inside her. She then carefully reached out with a hand to pat on this young boy's head and almost abandoned that action instinctively upon seeing Naruto flinch as she drew near, but pressed on and gently ran her fingers through his soft hair. She was relieved to feel the boy relax under her ministrations after a few seconds, and then choked down a sudden sob at seeing his brief expression of desperate longing when she removed her hand soon after. It was getting to be too much for her.

"Now, why don't you go and play? I'm sure your young friend would enjoy seeing the garden we have in the backyard, princess. Be careful not to step on any of the plants, you two." Inoichi said cheerfully, hiding his sadness at seeing the emotions his wife was experiencing over the past few minutes. Naruto and Ino didn't notice any of this as the young girl nodded excitedly and pulled her new friend into the back of the house, leaving a grim-faced Inoichi with his trembling wife.

After a few seconds when they heard the rear door open and close, the woman crashed into her husband's open arms and let out a loud sob as she clutched on to the front of his shirt with both hands.

"W-what h-have they d-done to that sweet little b-boy? He doesn't even know what a hug is supposed to mean! I hate this damn village!" Kana wailed out into his chest. Inoichi could do nothing but silently wrap his arms around her small frame. He then rested his chin on her head with some gentle shushing as she continued to quietly cry in his embrace for a long while.

Present

Kana sighed inwardly at the memory and was glad Naruto had come a long way since that tiny and defenseless boy he was when she first met him. Considering he just faced off against a presumed jounin-level shinobi and came away with only minor wounds that healed almost instantly thanks to his 'tenant', she could honestly say he wasn't defenseless any more.

Feeling a little mischievous, she used her old kunoichi training to silently sneak up behind Ino and gently laid a hand on her daughter's shoulder. She held back a giggle as she felt Ino jolt under her touch and watched her head robotically swivel around to see her own mother smirking down at her. Ino blushed prettily at being caught doting on Naruto so easily.

Kana indicated the kitchen's doorway with a hand gesture, and Ino understood. She rose from the floor and followed her mother into the kitchen to leave Naruto sleeping peacefully on the couch.

"So, you weren't able to sleep well, sweetie?" Kana asked gently as she retrieved three cups from a cabinet for coffee. Ino yawned as she sat quietly at the table in the small breakfast nook, before looking over at her mother.

"With all that went on last night, I guess I just didn't want to let Naruto-kun out of my sight yet." she muttered as she gazed longingly at the door to the living room.

"You've really got it bad for him, Yamanaka Ino." Kana bluntly spoke this as definite truth. She wasn't surprised when Ino smiled brightly.

"I'm in love with him, so of course!" she retorted unabashed. She was always upfront with her mother in those kinds of conversations. Kana grinned as she turned her attention to the coffeemaker.

"What made you decide that?" she asked in a somewhat challenging tone as she poured water in. She wanted to be sure this wasn't a relapse into those old 'fangirl' tendencies for her daughter.

"He brightens my day with his smiles and antics no matter how crappy it had been up to that point. When he spends his time training me to improve myself or to randomly stop by the shop whenever I'm working slow hours just to keep me company, I feel like I truly matter to him, even with what's going on between him and Hinata-chan lately. None of us would've blamed him for paying full attention to her but he still gives his other friends, including me, all the time we wanted with him like usual. That's why I'm absolutely sure he'll love me and treat me just as well as he would Hinata-chan and any other girl, if he returns my feelings." Ino spoke fondly before adopting a somewhat serious expression.

"I want nothing more than to be by his side all the time, but I won't drag him down too. Therefore, I'll always work to improve myself and make him and my friends proud of me for doing my best. I'd do anything to protect him if he ever was in trouble like how he would do the same for me. I'd die for him just as I know he'd do the same for me." she spoke with such conviction that Kana glanced at her in surprise for a moment. The young platinum blonde then stared down at her folded hands on the table with watery eyes.

"Like how Hinata-chan was absolutely devastated, my heart was completely crushed too when he was hurt badly and there was a chance he wasn't going to make it. I found myself praying fervently that I'd gladly give up everything, even my life, to save him. Even when he survived, I still got a huge and painful lump in my throat when I heard his heart stopped for just over a minute. The idea of my life without him alive in it in any capacity, even for just a minute, terrified me to no end. I hate that this had to happen because of that, but that was when I realized I cared so much for him and I've been in love with him without noticing for some time." Ino sniffled a little and blinked rapidly to fight back the tears threatening to get out due to the painful memory.

The silence settled in the kitchen for a long minute before Kana smiled gently.

"That sounds a lot like love. It's painful sometimes; especially whenever your most precious person was hurt, and at least some of those times can become so unbearable it would test your resolve at its limit. However, it also leads to many indescribable joys that you can't just help but feel it's easily worth taking the bad with the good. Are you sure you're absolutely fine with sharing him?" she knew about Naruto's parentage since the day he was born. After all, when she and Inoichi had known Minato and Kushina on a personal level since the time they were all children, it was impossible not to identify Naruto on first sight. They were the first to try to adopt him but were blocked at every avenue back then, and settled for trying to help him from afar. Kana was happy when Inoichi brought him home all these years ago since they were able to have a valid reason to take a more hands-on approach with his growth because of his friendship with Ino. It helped a lot more when the Nara and Akimichi joined in not too long later. They weren't able to adopt him, but they damned well made sure he got the education and experiences denied to him by the villagers when they blocked him from entering the civilian preschool and library.

Kana had been prepared for the fact Naruto would be encouraged to repopulate the Uzumaki lineage, and she was relieved to hear he was going to make sure he did this only with women he genuinely loved. With the way Naruto was looking at and treating her daughter lately, it was painfully apparent he had the same feelings for Ino as he did for Hinata, and it was only a matter of time.

"I love Hinata-chan like a sister, and I just know we'll be happier sharing him. Naruto-kun has that responsibility to restore the Uzumaki clan, so why fight over him when we can all love him and work together for all of our goals and happiness? We know he's capable of loving all of us back just as much." Ino replied quickly and assuredly.

"So that was why you had Naruto-kun 'reveal' his parentage to us. It was to soften us up for the possible announcement that you would be sharing him with others, since we all know the clan bylaws." Kana deduced with an amused smile and raised eyebrow over her shoulder at her suddenly blushing daughter. She chuckled upon remembering Naruto's and Ino's gobsmacked expressions when they sat down with her and Inoichi recently to 'reveal' his parentage, but instead it was them who revealed they already knew since day one. Ino huffed a little at being found out already.

"I just wanted to make sure you two would be prepared to approve of this if we get together, especially daddy. I know how he can get about men getting near his 'little princess'. Just how would we explain to him that I'd be sharing Naruto-kun with Hinata-chan and most likely more?" she murmured. Kana let out a giggle.

"I think it'll be fine. Even your hardheaded father knows Naruto-kun is different from others."

The women chuckled and then fell into a comfortable silence for a moment as Kana diligently prepared the coffee.

"I'm glad…you seem very sincere about this." she remarked suddenly as she finished grounding the coffee beans.

"Sincere?"

"Compared to when you were crushing on that Uchiha boy."

A dull thud came from behind Kana and she knew her daughter just thumped her forehead on the table in shame from the reminder. The mother smirked deviously as she poured the ground beans into the maker's filter.

Series of Flashbacks

One Day When They Were Eight

"Oi! C'mon…we're late meeting the others!" Naruto called out as he saw Ino had stopped dead in her track in the middle of the street. She was staring down a side street at a raven-haired boy their age. The boy was slouched over with his hands in his shorts' pockets as he walked down the street, barely sparing any passerby a glance. Naruto walked back to Ino to see what she was staring at, and frowned slightly.

"Who's he? Do you know?" she whispered. Naruto shrugged.

"No idea."

"He's kinda cool." she murmured. Naruto had to hold back a growl at seeing the odd expression on Ino's face before gently grabbing her wrist and tugging on it to move her along.

"We're now really late thanks to you!"

"Oi, don't put this all on me!" Ino snapped out of her thought and quickly followed after Naruto down the street.

"I'm not the one who just stopped dead in the middle of the street to stare at someone!"

"S-shut up!"

Another time just before enrolling into the academy

"Naruto!"

"Yeah?"

"Guess what? I finally found out his name!"

"Who?"

"That black-haired boy we saw on the streets a few months ago. His name's Uchiha Sasuke. How awful for him…his family and clan all lost in one night! I wonder if he needs a shoulder to cry on." Ino said sadly as she imagined the cool and stoic boy needing someone to be vulnerable with in private moments. Naruto scowled.

"And I don't?" he muttered under his breath.

"Did you say something?" she murmured distractedly as she was still deep in thought.

"…No. I'll see you later."

"Naruto?"

Age Eleven

"Naruto, I'm going to grow my hair out." Ino suddenly said decisively. Naruto perked his head up in surprise and blushed slightly at the thought of Ino with long hair.

"Wow, I think that's-"

"I heard rumors that Sasuke-kun likes long hair. It must be true because Forehead-chan is doing the same!"

Naruto was silent for a long moment.

"Is that the only reason?"

"I-I guess so. Why? Would I look ugly with long hair?"

"…No, I'm sure he'll think you'd be the prettiest girl around."

Ino had to blush at the sincerity in his voice.

"Th-thanks…." she glanced away shyly, missing the resigned expression on his face at that moment.

Present

Living room

Naruto's eyes blinked open and he noticed right away he was in an unfamiliar room. Rising to a sitting position, it took him a long moment to remember he was sleeping over at Ino's. Letting out a yawn, he noticed he didn't have his eyepatch on. A moment's glance around found it on the end table next to the couch. While he retrieved it, he blushed as he remembered falling asleep next to Ino and the vague feeling of being moved gently followed by a soft hand raking through his hair lovingly. He let out a happy sigh as many memories of Ino being cheerful and playful around him went through his mind.

"Even though I'm already seeing Hinata-chan, it doesn't feel weird to want to hold Ino-chan in my arms and give her all the kisses she'd ever want. It just feels right..and I can't wait." he whispered with a wide grin.

He winced when he heard a quiet mumble in his mind, hoping he hadn't woken up Kurama. She usually got cranky if woken up too early in the mornings for no reason. He sighed in relief when there was no further reaction and carefully cut the mental link to his tenant so she'd get her sleep. He then heard quiet chattering coming from the kitchen and the wonderful aroma of coffee hit his nose.

He tested his arms to find they regained full mobility, then rose himself to his feet from the couch. Hearing only the voices of Ino and Kana, he pocketed his eyepatch for the time being.

Kitchen

So she hadn't thought even one bit about that Uchiha throughout this entire conversation until I brought him up just now. Good, this kind of love's definitely real. Kana thought in triumph. Meanwhile, Ino finally stopped cringing over her memories.

"I can't believe I let myself get sucked into that princess-like fantasy of living happily in a mansion married to a rich and strong clansman. It was never going to be that simple, and I know nothing about Sasuke-san besides the fact I now realize he's cold, arrogant, and uncaring with even less emotional range than a teaspoon."

She blew out a sigh and shifted her head so her chin rested on the table's edge instead of her forehead.

"I didn't think of Naruto-kun as anything other than a runty 'little brother' for years simply because I was competing with Sakura-chan, and too stubborn to admit Sasuke-san would never work out no matter how often he had been cold to me and the others. It took all the patience Hinata-chan had to convince me that Naruto-kun wouldn't shun me just because I pined for a different boy in front of him, and she made sure I at least gave this a shot. I'm glad I listened to her." she murmured quietly with her chin still on the table.

Kana raised an eyebrow. Wasn't Naruto born from a clan just as storied and powerful as the Uchiha? He would end up being incredibly strong, too. She also knew for a fact Minato and Kushina had built up a sizeable wealth they would have set aside for their son to inherit soon.

She decided not to point out to Ino that a 'princess-like' fantasy was staring her in the face all along. Her daughter would figure that out on her own eventually, and she hoped to be there to watch Ino kick herself for not seeing the obvious.

"You were just children, and he really was a little runt; an adorable one though. It's just that you two grew up into man and woman without realizing it. It was easy to forget you two were never going to stay in that 'sibling-like' relationship for long." she spoke kindly over her shoulder as she poured the hot coffee into two of the three cups.

"…I still feel utterly stupid."

"Nevertheless, you've become so much more mature now. Not to mention that, because you stopped being so focused on gaining the Uchiha's approval, you've also begun to understand what it truly means to be part of this village's military and took your training seriously. I was worried something terrible would have to happen for you to finally see the harsh truth of this world, but I'm happy you came to your senses in the safety of this village instead of out there. In this world, learning a lesson the hard way usually occurs just when it's too late for the person to do anything. It's doubly worse for any kunoichi who goes out there with flimsy motivations."

"I know you're right about that now. Thank you for putting up with this stupid and spoiled daughter until I've seen the light." Ino admitted as she raised her head from the table to watch her smiling mother walk over with a cup in each hand. She set one down in front of Ino and took her seat across the table. They each took a sip of their coffee and sighed contentedly as they began to feel revitalized from the hot liquid flowing through their bodies.

"Do a child have selective hearing? Because I don't remember you warning me about what's required to be a kunoichi since you used to be one." Ino suddenly inquired after finishing her sip. Kana chuckled.

"Sweetie…believe me when I say your father and I tried our damnedest to get you out of that stubborn streak."

"So in the end, Naruto-kun had to step in." Ino concluded with a sigh. She noticed her mother flinch slightly with a guilty expression when she mentioned Naruto. Just as she was about to ask what was up with that, a male voice cut in.

"Tell her, Kana-san."

The women jumped in their seats before snapping their heads to the kitchen's doorway, and promptly dropped their jaws.

Naruto was leaning against it cross-armed with a sleepy expression, still wearing just his dark blue shorts and his spiky blond hair was sticking out a little wildly all over from sleeping. Most of his highly developed muscles were on display and it was obvious he was working toward a cross between speed and power since his muscles easily bulged and flexed from slight movements even on his lean and athletic frame. His Sharingan was on display too as he opted to leave his eyepatch off. His cerulean blue right eye showed compassion, warmth, and amazing depth within, while his ice blue left eye was sharp, fierce, and looked like it would pierce deeply into anyone's soul; it was a wonderful combination on him, in Ino's opinion.

The young Yamanaka blushed scarlet at this sight even as she wondered how much of their conversation he heard. Then she felt like fainting. Perhaps it was because of the possibility that he overheard her passionate speech about her feelings for him. That, or this display of masculine sexiness by the one she loved was getting to be too much for her.

Kana snapped her mouth closed and smirked as she casually took in this pleasing sight. The blond male then walked over to the empty cup the older Yamanaka thoughtfully left out for him on the counter earlier, and poured himself some coffee.

"Aw…Naruto-kun, what happened to the 'chan' suffix you've been calling me for years? Also, isn't it rude to eavesdrop?" Kana pouted adorably, obviously trying to change subjects. Naruto shook his head with a smirk as he leaned back against the counter across the kitchen from the women and took a sip. The women briefly wondered how the hell they were going to talk civilly with his chiseled torso on display for all to see.

"First off, I wasn't eavesdropping." he defended, eliciting a quiet sigh of relief from Ino. She then went back to ogling his muscles not-quite-discreetly, her main concern now addressed.

"I only heard Ino-chan mention me 'stepping in' and knew what she was referring to. That guilt I saw on your face means you haven't told her. You're not getting out of this one, and I'll be addressing you respectfully until you reveal what you were hiding. You promised me you would tell her someday when I agreed to this, and it's been long enough, Lady Yamanaka." he warned with narrowed eyes, backing up his words by addressing the Yamanaka matriarch even more formally. Kana looked like he just butchered a litter of kittens in front of her; apparently she really enjoyed being addressed affectionately by him. That, or it was because she was being put on the spot in front of her daughter. Knowing Kana, it was definitely the former.

"What's he talking about, mom?" Ino finally cut in after tearing her gaze away from Naruto long enough to form conscious thoughts. Kana sighed in defeat.

"I get it...I'll talk now. Just put something on first, Honorable Son." she smirked when Naruto grumbled about her retaliating jab at his supposedly formal title. "We won't be able to think straight with those gorgeous and firm muscles in our sight." her smirk grew wider when the whiskered blonde blushed at her words.

"Mom!" her scandalized daughter shrieked.

"Oh, get off your high horse. You were staring and drooling too."

"MOM!"

"Aren't you happily married, Lady Yamanaka?" the blond male pointed out teasingly as he began moving around the kitchen and checking cabinets in search of something. Kana grinned as she took another sip with her hazel eyes firmly trained on Naruto's naked torso even with Ino glaring at her mother incredulously for such blatant ogling, despite the fact she was doing it herself not even a minute ago.

"I'll always be in love and happy with my darling forever even beyond death, Honorable Son, but it's perfectly fine to check out other merchandise once in a while, especially a fine specimen like you. I just don't feel the need to 'touch', that's all." Kana replied with a sexy little smirk, while Ino groaned loudly and face-palmed in embarrassment at her mother's frankness.

"And why is it that only women can complain about being objectified?" Naruto muttered in deadpan with a blush as he rummaged through the pastry closet, making the beautiful brunette giggle daintily. He seemed to have finally found what he was looking for and slipped it on just as Kana turned her attention back to Ino.

"Ino-chan, there's someth-iiiik!" she was about to begin her revelation before letting out a stunned squeak with wide eyes as she noticed Naruto's temporary top. Inoichi's old orange apron was now tightly wrapped around the young teen's torso, leaving only his muscular back, well-defined arms, strong neck, and a little of his firm chest exposed. Every single curve and contour on his front was still easily discernible through the fabric and his pectorals peeked out slightly over the top of the apron. For some reason, this made him even more attractive, luring just about any woman in with a tantalizing promise that these firm and sculpted muscles underneath would be revealed if the apron's strings were pulled loose. It also added to his image since putting on the apron showed he was confident in his cooking, which was a highly desired attribute that remained elusive to many men in this world.

Ino was struck completely speechless and Kana gazed away out the nook's window, hiding a tiny hint of pink on her cheeks. She was teasing for fun before, but she wasn't expecting Naruto to turn this around on her. It didn't help that his latest growth spurt now made him taller at 5'5 to her 5'4 and it was getting increasingly difficult to see him as the small and cute boy she met years ago. Especially whenever she remembered that he was half-responsible for rearranging a decent chunk of Konoha's landscape last night.

"What? You told me to put something on, and I wanted to cook breakfast for you ladies as thanks for having me stay over. I'm just killing two birds with one stone." Naruto innocently explained with a shrug and a knees-buckling smile as he expertly gathered some cookware and ingredients like he had been working in this particular kitchen all his life. A seal-less, and just as shirtless, shadow clone popped into existence to help its creator, making this 'double the hotness' for the Yamanaka heiress.

When they turned their backs on the women to begin cooking, a still-dazzled Ino squeaked when she was suddenly yanked across the table by her mother for a face-to-face so close their noses touched.

"Sweet, considerate, fun, strong, handsome, and can cook... if you don't get with him, I swear I'll kick your ass into the next century!" Kana hissed quietly before releasing her daughter with a forceful glare.

Not to mention the endless possibilities his clones would open up in the bedroom! she thought, almost in envy of her own daughter's luck.

Ino nodded dumbly; she didn't need to be told that as she stared longingly at the two Narutos' incredible bodies while they bickered quietly as they worked around the kitchen. Her mother snickered and allowed her a few seconds of staring before snapping fingers in her face to tear her attention away from the other blondes. Settling in, Kana let out a tired sigh.

"He's right. You deserve to know this, Ino-chan."

"Know what?"

"I…I'm the one who asked him to convince you to quit the academy back then." she bowed her head slightly with eyes closed, ready for any reaction.

The sounds and smell of breakfast cooking filled the kitchen as Ino's eyes widened in shock, and her jaw slowly dropped.

Flashback to shortly after Naruto's third training trip

Naruto's apartment

"Kana-chan, what're you saying?!" this wasn't what Naruto was expecting to hear when the Yamanaka matriarch appeared on his doorstep with a serious expression fifteen minutes ago. They were sitting across from each other at the kitchen table but the blonde stood up suddenly, making his chair clatter back noisily, and slammed his hands on the table to lean in over a calm Kana. She didn't seem to pay this any notice as her cool hazel eyes remained locked with Naruto's angry cerulean blue ones, never wavering.

"You heard me, Naruto-kun. I've tried my best to be patient and somewhat supportive of her, but her attitude has gotten worse over the past summer and I need to do something. I feel you're the best person for this." she replied evenly.

"Listen to yourself! You're asking me to crush Ino-chan's dream of becoming a kunoichi! She'll hate me, and then she'll resent you forever when she finds out you've made this request! This is your own daughter we're talking about!" he growled. He was angry at Kana for even suggesting this; he never thought that was possible since he admired and respected this beautiful woman so much. After all, she was the one who helped guide him the most with her advice in his early years, and he was forever grateful for her help.

He was surprised when Kana's usually gentle expression suddenly turned angry.

"Bullshit! That isn't her so-called 'dream', and if you truly believed that and is fully intent on allowing her to keep this up, then you don't deserve to consider yourself a true friend of my daughter!" Kana retorted just as fiercely. Naruto looked like he was physically slapped and all of his anger vanished instantly. He slumped backward into his chair with a stunned expression.

"You must've seen this for a long time. It's okay to be scared of the possibility at losing your friendship with Ino-chan, but a true friend wouldn't allow this to keep going without interfering, no matter how much it would hurt her feelings in the end. As long as it means she'd be safe, or at least better prepared, we need to do this for her sake." she continued in a calm voice just above a whisper, her expression changing back to one of calmness. However, her eyes were beginning to waver.

"I don't-" Naruto mumbled as he broke eye contact, guilt filling him as emotions and thoughts he suppressed long ago came back to the surface. He knew he could have helped nip this in the bud in the beginning if he hadn't been so cowardly about possibly losing a friend due to hurt feelings. When he tried to look away, he was surprised to feel soft and delicate fingers on his whiskered cheek as his head was gently pulled back to lock eyes again with Kana's now watery eyes. She had reached across the table to keep his attention focused on her.

"I know you see it clear as day. You've been burying these thoughts because it must've felt like you were betraying your first friend ever for even thinking about this one simple truth; Ino-chan will never reach her full potential as a kunoichi if she continues at this rate." she whispered, her calm facade breaking to show a concerned mother terrified for her daughter's well-being. The desperation Naruto was seeing on her face became almost too much for him.

Is this what it's like to have a mother love her child so unconditionally? Would my mom have done something like this if she was still alive?

After all you've heard about her, you know you have the answer already. Kurama cut in neutrally.

"That's…" Naruto tried to come up with even a weak defense for his longtime friend, but he knew Kana was right.

"Ino-chan's 'dream' right now is to earn that Uchiha boy's attention. I might've found that cute and silly for a while if she wasn't trying to do something extremely dangerous to achieve that: becoming a kunoichi in order to try to be near him. What's so sad about this is that this 'dream' didn't even require her to be one at all! What's your reason for training to be a shinobi?" she suddenly asked.

"To protect all the people I care about, and their home, with my life." Naruto instantly answered without any hint of hesitation. Kana nodded with an admiring expression.

"Do you think that's how you'll get so powerful? I've had Inoichi-kun tell me often you'll be the strongest of your generation."

"I'm happy he thinks that highly of me." he replied softly with some embarrassment. "I feel that's the reason. I just can't be satisfied with my current strength because there are much stronger people out there and I need to be one who can protect others from these people if needed, so I just can't stop training...ever."

Kana nodded with another admiring smile before thinking for a moment.

"Let's say you find a girl you like so much that you wanted nothing but to get her attention, so you train to be a shinobi to impress her. However she turns you away every time, no matter how much you think pestering her would change her mind about you. Meanwhile, your training suffers, because you didn't really care for being a shinobi other than to simply impress people and get attention, and you turn out to be subpar."

Naruto felt a deep chill go down his spine.

I just had this horrible feeling that I would've done something like that if things went differently for me.

I really hope there isn't an alternate version of you out there pining after such a pathetic female. I just know that I'd be so fucking pissed to be sealed in that little pest! Kurama growled at such an offensive thought.

Thank Kami I'm so damn awesome. Naruto seriously thought with relief, eliciting a deadpan expression from the demon fox.

"You keep this up until one day you finally see the girl being genuinely happy with another guy instead of you. You know there's nothing you can do because you can't just claim her as your own since she's been rejecting you forever. You watch them date, fall in love together, and get married. What do you think will happen to your motivation to be a shinobi? It probably didn't help when you realize you were totally outclassed in skills and experience by your peers because of your constant pining for that girl." Kana continued laying out her scenario.

"I'd want to just quit and probably live my life without a purpose for a long time, or force myself to keep doing missions until I get in deep over my head one day and get killed." Naruto spoke sadly.

"That's what'll likely happen to Ino-chan. All of her reasons for being a kunoichi are so dependent on that Uchiha boy that it'll all fall apart without him. The worst thing is, instead of being killed, she'd likely be captured and raped if she went out there completely unprepared, simply because she's female. The sad thing is only at that time would she see the horrible reality that being a kunoichi is so much more dangerous than she realized, and she brought this upon herself. She'd wish for death and it won't come to her anytime soon because they usually like to keep their 'toys' around for days, even weeks, and then whatever's left of her will finally be put out of misery like an infested livestock." Kana's blunt assessment made Naruto clench his fists so hard she heard knuckles cracking. She let out a sigh.

"I'm not saying that'll happen for certain with Ino-chan -only Kami knows how much I don't want that to happen- but what she's doing only makes this very likely in the future. If she's to be a kunoichi, she needs to be much stronger, smarter, and better trained than what she is right now to improve her chances in the future. Instead, she brushes off her own parents' concerns as nagging whenever we warn her about the dangers, and she rarely listens to any advice on how to be a proper kunoichi. She's all skin and bones, for Kami's sake! She shouldn't be starving herself for a useless 'diet', and we actually came close to force-feeding her several times. She just isn't applying herself as a kunoichi-to-be at all, instead acting like a silly lovesick maiden fantasizing about her 'strong shinobi' swooping in to save her whenever she finds herself in trouble." she muttered the last part in disgust. Naruto raised an eyebrow.

"I take it you don't have a high opinion of Sasuke-teme?" he commented. The brunette let out a dry chuckle with a dismissive wave.

"He isn't the only person in the world dealing with a tragedy. I'm sorry for his loss but I can't bring myself to sympathize with him any more than necessary, especially when he feels entitled to obtain anything possible to help with his useless revenge. He is using the massacre as an excuse to be angry at the world like a spoiled brat, and I have no clue what Ino-chan or any other girl sees in him. After all, there's someone else who's a thousand times more suited for any girl attending the same class as the Uchiha." her knowing smirk directed at Naruto made him blush slightly. He cleared his throat to move on.

"Why have me do this, though? Can't you just pull her out of the academy?"

"While the academy allows repeating a year, it does not allow re-enrollment at any point. If she quits, she'd have no choice but to be a civilian the rest of her life even if she wanted to get back in later. I'd rather she gets at least a chance to think over her previous actions and change her ways. Also, if we forced this, it'd just make her resentful and more determined. Don't underestimate a Yamanaka woman's stubbornness. She'd do something drastic."

Naruto could only chuckle mirthlessly at the truth of that statement.

"You have to crush her. Shatter her flimsy reason for being in the academy. Force her to look deep within herself and realize that she won't make it far as a kunoichi if she doesn't change her ways."

"And if she ends up quitting?"

"I won't regret it if it meant she would find a more suitable dream to follow as a result. She always did love flowers and it's not far-fetched to think of her pursuing a career in botany."

Naruto nodded with a fond smile. He could easily imagine her happily taking over management of Yamanaka Flowers in the future.

"You seem to believe I can do this. I'm just a regular academy student, though." he tried to play down his skills, not sure how much Kana knew about his secret training.

The woman's hazel eyes sharpened instantly, making the hair on the back of his neck stand up in alarm as he shot out of his chair.

As Kana sprang to her feet at the same time, she reached back with her right hand and effortlessly snatched a chef knife in reverse grip out of its block on the kitchen counter behind her without even looking. She then lunged around the table and struck out with her left hand that Naruto easily deflected on instinct. That was a distraction, since this was followed immediately by her right hand slashing the knife at his chest with speed much quicker than he expected from her.

However, it wasn't too fast for him.

A few seconds later had Kana gasping in surprise with her back pressed tightly against his still-unscathed chest. She had been also forced down on one knee to make it easier for the shorter boy to have a hold on her. His left arm was wrapped around her neck with his right hand holding the chef knife, its sharp edge half an inch from her delicate neck where the right external jugular was located.

Naruto had done all of this on instinct, and he was stupefied at what just happened.

"Wow, you're even more amazing than I realized, Naruto-kun." Kana breathed out in awe, not frightened at all. The shocked blonde immediately threw the knife aside and let go of the woman in panic. He then tried to bow in apology for handling her roughly but was stopped by her reassuring smile as she turned around.

"Don't worry; you did that so smoothly and softly that I didn't even feel any discomfort. Sorry for attacking you so suddenly, but I knew you've had some extra training. I used to be a chunin so I can tell you carry yourself more like a veteran than an academy student. That's why I believe you're more than capable enough to show Ino-chan just how big of a hole in her skillset her negligence created."

Naruto, still in shock at finding out that this beautiful and sweet housewife used to be a kunoichi, only nodded dumbly as they straightened themselves out and returned to their seats. Kana sighed dejectedly.

"Damn…I really let my skills go to waste lately, even though I've retired. I'm on reserve so I keep up my training to a degree, but I can tell I'm as weak as a genin now. I'm not too torn up about that since I work best as a sensor instead of a front-line soldier." she smiled in acceptance before frowning sadly.

"I just can't take watching Ino-chan waste away her true potential anymore, and that's why I'm coming to you for this. I'm really sorry I'm forcing this on you but I need to do whatever I can do to light some fire under her about training, or at least have her quit for her safety. I know you want her to be okay too. She'll listen to you the most out of all of us and…s-she'll take w-w-whatever you s-say or d-do to her to heart." she said softly, her voice trembling with tears threatening to spill from her eyes. She knew Naruto would have to get harsh with her daughter because of her request.

The blonde realized this was really hard on her. It was hurting her deeply to have to do this to her own daughter. He let out a sigh and wondered if he was going to lose his first friend, and unrequited crush, after this, even if it resulted in a better future for her. However, he knew he would have done anything for Kana at that moment, even if it meant turning into a villain.

"She'll be disillusioned." he warned. Kana's eyes tightened and more tears came, but she nodded resolutely.

"I won't hold back in showing her the truth." he insisted, his tone becoming cold. The tears began to spill down her cheeks as she nodded firmly again.

"When you see her again afterward, she may not be the same-" he continued with narrowed eyes before being interrupted by Kana slamming both fists on the table.

"Please don't say anymore! Just…just do it." she pleaded as she trembled all over, her hands white from clenching tightly. Tears were now splashing onto the table under her bowed head. Naruto's eyes softened.

"I'll do it, Kana-chan. For now, I'll take full responsibility. Don't tell her about your part in this until later." he spoke resignedly. Kana flinched.

"Wha- why?"

"It's better if she doesn't get any idea that her parents were 'interfering' with her 'romance' by force. Just promise me you'll tell her about this later when things get better for her, ok? Thank you for giving me the courage to finally do something about this, and I'm sorry for what I'll have to do to your daughter." he said softly.

Kana nodded shakily before a strangled sob escaped her. Frowning sadly, Naruto stepped around the table to gather the shaking brunette into a consoling hug. She hugged back tightly as she began to cry quietly while apologizing repeatedly, racked with guilt and pain over hurting two of her loved ones with this request.

Soon

Yamanaka Ino had no idea that her day was going to go so bad when she woke up today. It started out nicely as she woke up to a beautiful sunny morning and got dressed in a fashionable outfit, even spending some time on her beautiful long hair, to try to catch the eyes of a certain raven-haired boy. She still found no indication her day was going take a turn for worse when she arrived at the academy and greeted her friends: Shikamaru, Choji, Hinata, and...Naruto.

Like usual, he made her laugh with his antics and gave her that bright smile from time to time that made something deep within herself flutter just a tiny bit. She quickly forgot about that sensation as soon as she saw Sasuke enter the classroom followed by that pink-haired harlot. Like usual, she snarled and butted heads with Sakura for most of the morning's lecture as she discreetly tried to get Sasuke's attention sitting in between them.

During lunch break, she complained about her mother packing too much lunch for her like usual even though she insisted on dieting. She wondered how Hinata was able to look so beautiful and healthy when the Hyuuga heiress ate so much more than her, but chalked that up to some unique metabolism that she didn't have. She didn't notice Naruto's exasperated expression as she pointed this out to Hinata, who cocked an eyebrow in confusion and explained that she was just eating what was required for a kunoichi.

Ino did her best to ignore the painful hunger pangs throughout the afternoon, believing this to be a trial she needed to go through in order to get Sasuke's attention. It didn't help it was practical lessons today so she was feeling weak and distracted as she practiced the academy style kata with Hinata. It looked like even her kind and gentle friend was showing signs of boredom as she tried to keep up. At this point, things changed.

Naruto walked up to the girls with an annoyed expression and reprimanded Ino for not eating what was needed to have energy for the exercises. Her protestations about needing to diet were quickly ignored as he asked the instructor to make her sit out the rest of the lesson since she wasn't doing her practice partner any favor. Expecting Hinata to back her up, she was surprised and hurt when it was apparent her long-time friend agreed with Naruto's assessment. As she was forced to sit on the sideline, Naruto took over as Hinata's practice partner and they went through their exercises with much more vigor and earnestness than she was used to seeing from Hinata.

That was when it hit Ino; was her friend practicing at her much lower level for her sake? For how long was she doing this? For some reason, Naruto's rare annoyance with her made her insides feel so cold. It felt worse than whenever Sasuke made his irritation known with her and Sakura. She was terrified of letting Naruto down for any reason, and she had no idea why.

When the class was over for the day, Naruto approached her with a serious expression and asked her to come with him. Ino somehow knew this wasn't going to be a good thing as he led her to Training Ground Forty-Two.

Now alone together, he took out a bento box and shoved it into her hands for her to eat. When she protested once again about needing to diet, he actually got angry and firmly ordered her to eat, explaining she would need energy for what would come. Normally, Ino would have just ignored him and left, but for some reason, she felt compelled to follow his orders, afraid of what would happen if she disobeyed. She hated the thought of making him angry with her.

After eating, she was silently thankful these painful hunger pangs were gone and she felt energized, though she would never admit it to her friend. At this point, when Naruto began speaking again, she knew her day was officially bad.

"Ino-chan, with the way you right now, I think you should quit the academy." he simply said with no emotion. She was numb with shock as she processed exactly what he said. Then her shock changed to hurt and anger. Wasn't he supposed to support her in everything!? She lashed out at him.

"What the hell!? You know I want to become a kunoichi! Why're you saying this?!"

"You're dragging everyone down! You saw it today, didn't you? Hinata-chan has been practicing at your level for all this time when she's so much stronger than you!" he shot back with such sharpness that it made her flinch violently.

"The least you could have done to repay her kindness is to push yourself and try to reach her level instead of being content to stay where you are! Instead, she needed to train with me after academy most days just to keep improving herself because she wasn't getting anything done in class. You're not doing her any favor like this." he continued coldly. Ino's eyes were starting to become watery as she listened to his harsh words. Was she that worthless?

"But…I c-can't quit. I need…" she tried to speak.

"You need to what?" Naruto's voice was even, letting her know he knew exactly what she was going to say and was daring her to finish that statement. At that moment, Ino couldn't bring herself to say it was to impress Sasuke. Now that she had to seriously think about it, she realized it was a silly reason for something like this. At this moment, she felt completely lost. Was there another reason she was trying to be a kunoichi? It dawned on her that all of this completely hung on being around Sasuke, and she felt even more ridiculous.

After a long moment of silence between the two as Ino contemplated her sudden epiphany, Naruto let out a sharp exhale.

"I'm challenging you to a spar with my clone. If you manage to dispel it, you can continue to do whatever it is you want without any more word from me on this. Keep attending the academy and train however you want. If you cannot dispel my clone within thirty minutes, you'll listen to what I have to say. At least this way, you'll have a chance to prove me wrong." he laid out his offer. Ino was offended that he wouldn't bother to spar her himself. Just as she was about to voice this…

"Do you honestly think Uchiha Sasuke is stronger than me?"

That stopped her cold. Her normal reaction would have been an immediate 'Yes!' out of reflex, but as she stood face-to-face with her long-time friend, she instinctively knew he would have given Sasuke a run for his money as she felt his confidence and hidden strength radiating off him in waves. If she knew she couldn't beat the 'top student' of the class, how would she even match up to Naruto, whom she knew was hiding his true skills?

Suddenly, even the prospect of seriously fighting just one of his shadow clones felt intimidating now.

"That's why you're facing a clone. In this kind of spar, I wouldn't hold back and I don't want to hurt you too much. I'm going to make it about as strong as a third year academy student should be and it'll be restricted to academy style and throwing weapons. You'll be fighting it at the level you should have reached had you trained seriously." he explained as he formed a cross-shape with his fingers and a clone popped into existence.

Ino gulped. She somehow knew she still wasn't going to have an easy time.

Thirty Minutes Later

She was wrong. She was having a horrible time.

Ino cried out sharply in pain as she landed roughly from the overhead throw her opponent fluidly performed on her.

She rolled to a stop after several meters, panting heavily. Her nice outfit was ruined. Her beautiful hair was dirty, frayed, and in disarray. She was sweating, covered in grime, and multiple bruises began to show on her pale and previously flawless skin.

In short, she was as far from cute and girly as she wanted to be viewed as.

Yet, she didn't care about that as she glared up at the uninterested expression on the clone's face as it stared back down at her. She struggled to her feet slowly, glaring heatedly before dashing forward. She had resorted to using the few throwing weapons she had on her long ago and whatever dirty trick she could think up of just to even lay a finger on the clone. Yet, it was still looking as pristine as it did when Naruto brought it into existence. It wasn't even sweating one bit. She needed to get a hit in somehow! She didn't care if she won or lost in the end just as long she was able to wipe the insufferable bored expression off that face!

With a shout, she suddenly did a right roundhouse kick aimed directly for the clone's head and it was blocked easily with a raised forearm. As it danced around behind her to get away from the follow-through side kick she tried with the other leg, it was momentarily surprised when she suddenly kicked herself into a handstand to strike out with one of her legs at the clone while upside down. It scrambled back upon blocking the kick, allowing Ino to flip back onto her feet to continue her assault with fists.

She felt elation rising within her as she noticed her opponent had momentarily lost the rhythm and was finally looking nervous while dodging and blocking the incoming punches. After a few more seconds, the clone seemed to have lost control of its right arm for an instant after a close block, giving her an opening she needed to slip in a fist. Just as she was about to take advantage…

A loud chime stopped her just short.

She was stunned for a moment before despair slowly flooded her entire body. That was Naruto's alarm bell signaling the end of the spar, and she had failed. As she collapsed to her knees panting while the clone dispelled, she felt the real Naruto come up behind her as he got up from sitting under the shade of a nearby tree. He had been silently watching the spar, not offering any commentary at all. It made her feel like she was being judged, and she couldn't help but think she was coming up way short.

"Naruto…" she pleaded quietly as she turned to look up into the other blonde's emotionless expression. It felt to her like she was going to be executed by his next statement. They stared at each other for a long moment before Naruto exhaled sharply, making her flinch violently with eyes squeezed shut.

"To be honest, you surprised me, Ino-chan. As much as I hate to think this about my first friend ever, since I didn't want to hurt your feelings, I was thinking you'd have given up long before the spar was over. However, you did better than I expected." he commented with a small smile. Ino was startled for a moment before frowning in confusion. Wasn't he going to tell her to quit now? Knowing what she was confused about, Naruto continued.

"You didn't give in, even though you were outmatched. You kept changing your strategy every time you failed to land a hit, forcing my clone to stay on its toes around you. You didn't go for a straightforward approach anymore after the first few times you attacked, eventually resorting to whatever tactic you could think of; you even made my clone nervous a few times when you went right for the groin. That's how any nin would fight, and you have at least the basic mentality of a kunoichi; doing and using whatever you can to win, or survive and escape at the very least."

"But…I'm still too weak…" Ino muttered quietly as she glanced down at the ground, ashamed of herself for letting it get to this point. As she sparred, she realized the clone was somehow 'helping' her out by openly exploiting all the openings she had in her stance. She learned to plug these holes as the spar went on and made things a little more difficult for the clone. However, it was still too little, too late.

"You can change that yourself."

"How?"

"Try asking Hinata-chan for advice on how to train like a kunoichi. That's a good place to start. I'd be happy to help you out in any way possible too. You have good sense of balance and I think you'd do well with a taijutsu style that mainly uses kicks since you have good reach with those long and flexible legs."

"So you're not going to ask me to quit?" Ino blurted out, surprised by the change in his demeanor. He shook his head with a sad smile.

"My request was for you to listen to me, that's all. It was just a suggestion because I felt you've been going about this the wrong way but I can't force you to quit. I can only show you there's a lot more to being a nin. It's a dangerous occupation and I really care about you a lot, so I wanted to at least see you make yourself as safe as possible with preparation and skills. However, you weren't doing anything to make sure you would have had the best chance to come out of missions and battles unharmed. Not only that, but you would likely have to rely on your comrades to keep you safe, therefore putting them in more danger if they had to turn their backs on the enemy trying to keep an eye on you."

That struck Ino deep within. If she had somehow graduated as a genin the way she was now, it was possible she would have been a huge liability to her future team. That made her sick in the stomach.

As she was going over her past cringe-worthy choices in her mind, she almost missed Naruto extending a hand to help her get to her feet. After she got up, he kept a tight grip on her hand, making her blush slightly as she stared into his serious eyes.

"Only you can decide for yourself if you have the resolve to stay and improve yourself. I know you can be so much better than this, and I'd be happy to help you however I can if you would just ask." he said sincerely as he slowly let go of her hand. She didn't notice her hand had lingered just a slight bit longer before falling to her side, as if it was looking for more of that warmth.

Ino nodded silently, somewhat happy that Naruto was still willing to help her and that he still believed in her. For some reason, she suddenly didn't want to ever let him down again like she already did with her lackluster attitude about being a kunoichi.

"If you decide to get serious and keep this up, you'll catch up to Hinata-chan's level quicker than you'd think." he commented with a sincere grin, making Ino blush in slight embarrassment. Could she really be that strong if she pushed herself? She had to admit that even though she was still in pain from the spar, it felt good when she actually managed to meet some of his expectations, even if they were low to begin with. As she dusted herself off and smoothed down most of the frays in her hair, she noticed Naruto look down with a guilty expression.

"I'm sorry I had to be rough on you, Ino-chan." he muttered with pain evident in his eyes and tone.

"It's ok. I think I needed that." she smiled gently and easily saw relief flood him now that he knew his longtime friend wasn't going to hold any of this against him.

Nodding, he turned to walk her home.

"I was planning on taking you to see someone if things went differently today, but there's no need now. I'm still going to pay her a visit after I drop you off at your home, though." he said nonchalantly, and his fellow blonde frowned in curiosity.

"Her? Who's she, if I may ask?" she asked, not noticing the slight tinge of jealousy in her tone. He smiled sadly.

"Terauchi Sachi. Do you remember her?"

It took Ino a long moment to shift through her memories for that name.

"Oh! That nice black-haired senpai a couple years ahead of us! She was always friendly with anyone in the academy, even in the years below her, and I remember her to be pretty cute too. I wonder how's she doing as a new genin." she pondered with an index finger on her chin. She missed the flash of grief that filtered across Naruto's face.

"She's not one anymore." he sighed out. Ino snapped to him with wide eyes.

"Why?" she all but whispered. He shook his head.

"I shouldn't tell you this because you might change your mind about being a kunoichi just as we got a positive result from earlier. It was last resort if you were still being stubborn about remaining exactly where you were about training."

Things fell silent between the two for a moment as they made their way into the main part of the village.

"Naruto-" Ino finally began calmly. "-if this has something to do with what I need to know to be a kunoichi, then please show me. I want to say hello to Sachi-senpai as well." she had a bad feeling about this and needed to see how her senpai was doing. The older girl had been really kind to her and others.

Naruto stared over at her for a long moment before nodding resolutely with a sad look.

"Follow me."

Soon in Konoha Hospital's recovery ward

Ino was standing next to the hospital room's door, her entire body ramrod straight in horror. On the room's lone bed sat a cute young woman. She had straight shoulder-length black hair that used to shine brilliantly in the sunlight, but now seemed a bit dull. Her round face, cute button nose, and slightly full lips gave her the appearance of a 'girl from next-door'. This fit her former personality perfectly because of her friendly and outgoing nature back when she was in the academy. I

no noted the keyword 'former' as she watched Naruto sitting at the bedside smiling in a disarming and friendly way at Sachi, who seemed so small and withdrawn in her bed, as if she wanted to take up as little space as it was possible. She didn't have any sign of physical wounds, but Ino knew something traumatic had to have happened.

"Good afternoon, Sachi-chan. How're you doing?" Naruto spoke brightly, even though Ino could see clear sadness in his blue eyes. Sachi smiled back, but she seemed a bit out of it somewhat; as if she wasn't entirely all there.

"I'm doing great. It's good to see you again, Naruto-kun." she shyly replied in a voice just barely above a whisper. While Ino silently watched the interaction between the two, she couldn't help but think about what might have happened to her senpai. A few of the signs were there: the new withdrawn nature, her appearance having lost a little bit of its luster, and the way she flinched a little if there were sudden movement around her.

"Poor dear." a feminine voice brought her out of those thoughts. She looked to the right to see a middle-aged female nurse standing at the door watching the interaction with a sad expression. When they came into the hospital and Naruto requested to see Sachi, this brown-haired nurse had to accompany the two to the room as a rule for this particular kind of patient.

"When she was brought in two months ago, she only had her parents for visitors until Naruto-kun accidentally came across Sachi-chan when he was getting treated for training injuries a few weeks ago. Since then, he would visit her at least several times per week." she whispered to the younger female, who nodded. It was so like Naruto to be concerned about any person he knew, even if was just an acquaintance.

"Naruto-kun is still the only male, aside from her father, whom she allowed to get close from the onset. It was no surprise, since he's such a kind young man." the nurse continued in an admiring tone. Ino gulped. That was another clue for what might have happened to Sachi, and all the possibilities she was now coming up with were horrible.

"Who's she?"

She snapped out of her dark thoughts to notice Sachi was asking about her presence here in the room.

"Sachi-chan, this is one of my friends, Yamanaka Ino. Do you remember her?" Naruto introduced in a gentle tone as Ino stepped closer to the two and inclined her head with a small smile. Sachi seemed to be studying her very closely, as if to determine something, before smiling a little.

"I know you. You were hanging around Naruto-kun back then." she spoke softly. Ino nodded.

"I also remember you, Sachi-senpai. You were always getting along with everyone, even those not in your year." she replied with a smile. Sachi's black eyes clouded over slightly as if she seemed to be trying to recall something, before shaking her head sadly.

"Did I? I'm afraid I don't remember much of my old life before I woke up here."

There was a long pause as Ino seemed to struggle with a question she didn't want to ask. Naruto and the nurse knew what she was thinking but decided to let this play out.

"Sachi-senpai-" she was going to ask what happened for her senpai to end up here even though Sachi looked physically healthy, but she was interrupted.

"Are you a good girl?" Sachi suddenly asked almost childishly with a cocked head. Her black eyes looked to be out of focus.

"Wha?" Ino took a small step back. For some reason, she knew the context of that question wasn't as innocent as it sounded. Naruto gritted his teeth audibly.

"If you're a good girl, then I'm sure you've been given some rewards already. Good girls get rewards and bad girls are punished. That's what I remember being told. There were a lot of people waiting to reward me because I was a really good girl, but then I was taken away to here." Sachi murmured with an odd smile and dead eyes as if she was reciting something tedious from memory.

Ino had to bite her lips to hold back a sniffle and a shudder while Naruto shot her a worried expression. The patient didn't seem to have noticed any of this.

"I-I think it's a good thing you're back here, and I hope you'll make a full recovery." she spoke quickly. "I'm afraid I only dropped in to make sure you were alright and I'll have to leave. It was good seeing you again."

Sachi nodded with an uncaring smile, not at all bothered by the sudden change. She was more focused on Naruto's presence anyway. Ino bowed and just about sprinted out of the room. Naruto and the nurse sighed sadly.

"Is she okay? She left in a hurry." Sachi inquired airily as her slightly out-of-focus eyes turned to her male visitor. Naruto's eyes tightened before nodding slowly.

"She will be."

Thirty minutes later at an unused training ground

Naruto was greeted by the sound of flesh repeatedly hitting wood as he appeared in a clearing. The sun was setting and the area was beginning to become shrouded in darkness. It was just him and another person.

"Damn it!" Ino cursed each time one of her abused limbs hit against a thick training pole. Naruto's eyes narrowed as he wondered how long she had been doing this, and swiftly moved up behind her to easily grab ahold of her arms by the wrists. Ino yelled and struggled feebly against the grip for a moment before slumping against his chest. Naruto easily felt her entire body shake with sobs.

"Ino-chan, you need to take better care of yourself. You just about demolished your hands." he murmured sadly as he checked her ruined hands, and her shins began developing some nasty bruises too. Fortunately, there were no signs of bone damage. He turned her around to see her head was bowed, obscuring most of her face from his view, but he could tell she was crying heavily. He gently gripped her wrist and guided her slowly over to a nearby creek. He then had her kneel down at the water's edge so he could help her dunk her throbbing hands in the cool water.

As he gently massaged the hands underwater, being careful to watch for any sign of discomfort from Ino, his friend suddenly whispered.

"Why?"

"Just a combination of unpreparedness and bad luck." he answered without missing a beat, knowing exactly what she was asking. Ino then glanced up at him, clearly expecting to hear more. He blew out a sigh.

"From what I gathered, she was on her second C-ranked mission out of the village. She and her team completed it successfully and were on the way back when they were ambushed about ten kilometers from here."

"Why so close? There must've been patrols out there."

"As long as anyone knew the schedules and patrol patterns, it's easy to slip in and out. It's risky but they prefer to do this in order to ambush teams returning tired from their missions. They also wouldn't have been prepared for an ambush when all they were thinking about is home just down the road. Better chances of capture that way."

A flash of anger and dread filled Ino. "They were only after…?"

"They had no interest in fighting her sensei and male teammates. They wanted only her and they were successful with their distractions. Next thing the shinobi knew, Sachi-chan suddenly disappeared."

There was a long moment of thick silence between the two as Naruto continued to massage away some of the pain in Ino's hands. Only the sound of the running creek filled the air.

"They tracked her down ten days later to a 'training' camp in one of the small countries."

Ino allowed a violent shudder with nausea building within her.

"By training, do you mean…?"

"They were training her to be a sex slave." Naruto answered bluntly, not holding back any punches.

There was a loud retch and then splashing as Ino scrambled into deeper water on all fours, not caring about getting her clothes wet, and promptly vomited into the running water. He sighed and stared up at the darkening sky.

"It's been two months, and she still hasn't dropped some of the habits they beat into her, even with help from therapists. When I accidentally ran into her in the hospital, she tried to undo my pants as if it was normal. The staff told me I was the only male she didn't scream bloody murder around for even being in the same room as her. Apparently, she trusts me for some reason and believed it was okay to do all those stuff they 'taught' her only on me. It took a while to convince her otherwise." he scratched behind his neck with a small embarrassed blush.

"Apparently when she was trying to hold on to her sanity as they 'trained' her, she did her best to keep me firmly in her mind, like some sort of an anchor. I didn't realize I've made any kind of impression on her when she was still here. I just usually found her training after classes and gave her some tips. Sometimes we had fun chatting about random things too. Still, I can't imagine why she would want to think of me in such a horrible situation."

You have no idea just how much your mere presence affect people around you. Ino thought offhandedly, knowing exactly why Sachi thought of him. She knew she would have done the same in that situation. There was just something absolutely safe and comforting about being near one Uzumaki Naruto.

There was another period of silence as Ino's panting filled the air while she recovered from her vomiting, her stomach's contents now long since washed away down the creek.

"Why specifically her?" she finally asked as she just sat waist-deep in the creek, feeling somewhat soothed by the water flowing around her.

"Like I said, just bad luck. If there had been another team just ten minutes ahead of her, then they would have been ambushed instead and their female team members likely lost. They just want kunoichi."

"What?"

"Kunoichi are a 'rare commodity' for slavers. The rich and powerful are willing to pay millions for 'pure' kunoichi. That's why they're willing to risk their lives against trained nin just for a chance to grab young kunoichi."

"'Pure'? You don't mean Sachi-senpai is still…?"

"A virgin? In the strictest sense, yes she still is. However, it doesn't mean they didn't have many other ways of humiliating and breaking her. They wouldn't risk having these strong women having any idea of rebelling against their new 'masters' so they were in the process of psychologically stripping away everything that made Sachi-chan who she was, when they rescued her. She still remembers a bit of her old self, but she'll never be the same."

"W-why do you know so much about this?" Ino asked tearfully as she tried not to imagine what Sachi had gone through.

"Anko-chan and Ero-sennin thought it would be best for me to learn about the worst elements of this world so I would be better prepared. They didn't hold back at all."

"Is this common?"

"It didn't use to be since kunoichi were fewer and much stronger, making capturing them not worth it. Unfortunately, even a decade of peace brings many problems in this world. The standards for graduating became much more lax than they were even just ten years ago and there are more women in the shinobi force who didn't exactly join for noble reasons. That left many kunoichi undertrained to deal with this kind of danger."

Ino glared angrily at Naruto for his supposed insinuation about women being weak. He easily shrugged it off before continuing.

"That was Anko-chan's words, not mine. She picked out Hinata-chan as the only female out of our year prepared to deal with this, and that was because my training habits rubbed off on her."

"And this Anko? What right does she have to make such opinions about the rest of us?"

Ino shivered as Naruto glared at her fiercely in defense of his friend.

"I believe she's easily the strongest woman in this village in the absence of the Sannin's Tsunade. Even Kakashi the Copycat would be hard-pressed to win easily against her. So yeah…I'd listen to her on whatever she thinks about today's kunoichi if I were you."

The chastised blond girl mumbled out an apology and looked down sadly as she absentmindedly splashed some water around her. Naruto sighed.

"Today's likely the last time we'll have seen Sachi-chan."

"Why?"

"There's a nonprofit convent for victims like her to recover in peace and get specialized help. The secrecy of its location is so well guarded that not even the Kages know exactly where it is, or so I was told. Even Jiraiya of the Sannin, the best spy in the Nations, has no idea where it is. The only way to contact them is to watch for a group wearing unique outfits to randomly appear in the village square and then go up to them to hand them a written request with a picture. The Hokage will then be notified and the victim will disappear soon after; never to be seen again unless she recovers and decides to come back home to her relatives and friends. That likely won't be for years in many cases. I ran into her parents on the way out today and they told me they just made the request. They were stopping by to say their goodbyes before she's to be whisked away, likely tonight."

Ino scowled angrily.

"That's so cruel. Those bastards caused her so much pain that the family had to be torn apart for her sake! It's not fair they can get away with this!"

Naruto slowly stood up and strolled over to a nearby tree and Ino followed this movement with her head. She nearly jumped out of her skin as she watched him rear back a fist and punched the tree so hard a large chunk of the trunk simply splintered under the force. The tree wobbled for a few seconds before falling over and hitting the ground with a loud crash. While that scared her a little, what she saw on Naruto's face afterward terrified her to no end. It was a furious expression with both of his eyes now ice blue with a slightly red tint as he stared down at his slightly bleeding fist. It was apparent he had been holding in his anger lately.

"That's why I'm going to make every single one of them regret ever wanting to do this! Not just for Sachi-chan and her family, but for everyone else as well. There's nothing redeemable about these fucking bastards, who think of torturing women into insanity and submission and then auctioning them off as nothing but a mean of making money! When I graduate, I will destroy any group of slavers I come across, no matter how much they beg for their miserable lives. They'll see no mercy; only my WRATH!" Naruto roared out the last word as he hopped and brashly smashed the fallen tree in two with a powerful falling axe kick. As the two pieces bounced into the air from the impact, Naruto spun around and kicked one away, sending it crashing loudly into the forest and through several trees. The other piece was then blown away in a different direction by another kick, taking several more trees with it as well.

Before the enraged blonde could find more unfortunate trees…

"NARUTO!"

Two delicate but wet arms wrapped around him tightly from behind, stopping him cold in surprise.

"I-Ino-chan?"

"You're scaring me." she whispered into his back. That made whatever anger he still had left dissipate quickly.

"Sorry. It's just that…after seeing Sachi-chan like that for the past few weeks and not getting any better…" he mumbled guiltily. Ino nodded into his back.

"I know. It's okay."

They didn't know how long they stood there with her hugging him tightly from behind. Only the sound of her sniffles and water dripping from her wet clothes filled the air in the meantime. Finally, she let go and they faced each other. Nodding silently to each other, they headed on home with no words needing to be spoken.

At the doorstep of Yamanaka Flowers, Naruto smirked as he took in Ino's dirty appearance.

"You look like hell."

She glared at him before scoffing.

"No thanks to you, obviously."

He nodded with an apologetic grin before turning serious.

"Have you thought about what happened today?"

She glanced away with a guilty expression.

"I'm not sure what I want to do now, but I feel like I'd be a coward if I run away from this. After hearing what happened to Sachi-senpai, I feel like that's all I wanted to do now; to just make a beeline from the Academy into a nice and safe position here at the flower shop for the rest of my life."

"I can understand that."

"You're not going to think of me as a coward?"

"No. I won't ever think that of you. Even though I believe you can be a great kunoichi someday, I won't force it if you feel this life isn't for you. I can't speak for the others, but I'm pretty sure most of them will be fine with whatever you may decide too. Just think carefully about this. If you quit, you won't be allowed to reenroll ever. That's it. If you want to be trained again, it'll have to be somewhere else instead of Konoha."

"I understand. Can I ask you something?"

"Go ahead."

"What's your reason for becoming a shinobi?"

"That's easy. To protect all the people I care about and their home. That includes the possible future owner of a cute little flower shop." he replied easily with a foxy grin. Ino blushed and smiled beatifically.

"Thank you." she stepped in to give him a hug that he returned readily.

A week later in the Academy

Naruto sighed as he sulked in his seat in the classroom.

The last time he saw Ino was on that doorstep a week ago.

She hadn't come to class since then. Hinata was worried about his mood as of late but couldn't bring herself to ask what was wrong. She and the others noticed Ino's absence, but Naruto explained that away with a half-truth; that she hurt her hands and legs training. They were now waiting for class to begin.

Suddenly, Naruto heard a familiar voice outside. It was the third year instructor speaking to someone. He strained his ears some more, and a smile began to grow on his face as he watched the classroom's door slide open. The instructor stepped in first followed by Yamanaka Ino. She was wearing her normal outfit of a loose t-shirt and a pair of capri pants, but Naruto noticed a change in her demeanor. She looked more focused instead of happy-go-lucky.

He was stunned when he saw her pale blue eyes only merely linger on Sasuke's form for a moment before moving on to lock with his surprised cerulean blue eyes. She sent him a smirk.

"Let's welcome back Yamanaka Ino, who's been absent for the past week due to injuries from a training session." the instructor explained as Ino walked up to where Naruto was sitting. There was an empty seat on his right while Hinata sat to his left. She took the seat.

"Knock that stupid expression off your face, baka." she muttered in slight embarrassment as she watched Naruto stare at her with a massive smile.

"You came back." he breathed out, still unable to stop smiling. She shook her head in exasperation with a grin.

After a few minutes, while the instructor was still setting up today's lesson, Ino leaned in toward Naruto and Hinata.

"I've been thinking, and I've decided I want to be a strong kunoichi in order to protect my loved ones, and to try to help end human trafficking however I can." she explained shortly before bowing her head slightly.

"Naruto….Hinata-chan…please train me. I don't care if you have to beat me into the ground repeatedly, but make me better in the end." she whispered, her tone pleading for Naruto and Hinata to say yes.

They glanced at each other with happy grins before the blond boy answered.

"Of course we will!"

Present

The kitchen was silent except for Naruto's cooking as he prepared some bacon and scrambled eggs, and his shadow clone was moving between chopping up assorted fruits for a fruit salad and squeezing out some orange juice. Kana was sitting completely still, awaiting her daughter's reaction to what she revealed about her part that day.

No one spoke for a few minutes as Ino quietly contemplated all of this.

Kana almost wished for the expected reaction, an angry outburst, to happen already since this tense silence was getting to her. She flinched when Ino sighed harshly, but didn't do anything else as she glared lightly at her mother.

"So you were the reason for that." she said quietly. It took Kana a long moment to get over her surprise at Ino's somewhat calm reaction.

"Shouldn't you be angry with me, sweetie?" she didn't stop herself in time and winced. Ino closed her eyes and furrowed her brows deeply as she took a calming breath.

"I am, to be honest, but I have to remember that it was me being an idiot that forced you to take action. So, I can't say this was unexpected. I'm actually angrier about the fact you hurt Naruto-kun by asking him to do that. He was in pain the whole time he tore me apart physically and mentally, not knowing if our friendship would survive that day. I saw it in his eyes, mom." she spoke softly. Kana closed her eyes and sighed, guilt clear in her expression.

At this time, the two Narutos came over and set the plates and glasses of orange juice down on the table in front of the women before the clone popped. The original took his seat to the left of Ino with his own plate and glass. He put his right hand comfortingly on her left shoulder, and she smiled appreciatively as she moved her right hand across her chest to grip it tightly.

After a moment, they blushed slightly when they realized Kana was staring at their joined hands with a delighted grin, and reluctantly let go of each other while clearing their throats. The table's occupants then all nodded to each other; there was an unspoken agreement to take a break from the conversation and eat their meal.

Other than the occasional compliment about Naruto's cooking, the breakfast was a quiet affair.

With their plates empty, Ino suddenly stood up and walked around the table to stand next to Kana. The mother stared up at her daughter in confusion only for a moment before being surprised as she was wrapped up in a tight hug.

"Thank you for doing that, mom. It terrifies me to think about what I would've been like if you and Naruto-kun hadn't stepped in." Ino whispered almost tearfully. Kana smiled with misty eyes as she hugged back just as tightly. Naruto watched all of this with a happy grin. After a moment, they released and Ino began walking out of the kitchen.

"We have to get ready for class. You should go home and change, Naruto-kun. I'll meet you at the academy." she called out over her shoulder as she disappeared through the doorway, presumably to get ready. Naruto groaned as he stood up.

"Aw crap. I forgot about class today. I don't suppose I could excuse myself due to the fact I did just bust my ass fighting a jounin-level enemy last night?" he grumbled as Kana stood and moved to hug the slightly taller blonde from behind.

"I don't think Umino-sensei would believe that. Take my warm and love-filled hug as consolation." she whispered mischievously.

"I might've been convinced by that statement if you weren't blatantly sneaking your hands under this apron to feel up my muscles, Kana-chan." Naruto countered with a twitching eyebrow and a blush as he felt delicate fingers deftly explore every inch of his firm chest.

"Ara, my hands seem to have a mind of their own. My apologies, Naruto-kun." She didn't sound sorry at all and wasn't showing any sign of stopping her groping soon.

"Whatever happened to looking but not touching?"

"I just want to make sure my daughter's getting her merchandise in perfect condition. I can say I approve fully." Kana replied jokingly but did begin to slowly remove her hands from under the apron, making Naruto shake his head exasperatedly at his mother-figure's antics.

"I wonder about what goes on in your mind sometimes, Kana-hime." a new voice cut in, full of amusement. Kana and Naruto turned their heads to see Inoichi standing in the kitchen's doorway with a smirk and a raised eyebrow at what he presumably caught his wife doing to their pseudo-son.

"Yo! Good morning, pops." Naruto said cheerfully with a raised hand as he moved to retrieve another plate to reheat and prepare another portion of the breakfast for Inoichi. The older man nodded gratefully as he moved over to the table, pecking his wife on her temple as he passed, and sat down with an exhausted sigh.

Kana was still standing in place, upset at not getting to see what she was expecting.

"Wait a minute! Naruto-kun, I was expecting you to turn into a blushing and stammering mess when darling walked in on us! There's no way you could've just shrugged off being found with his wife's hands all over you like that! And you! You're supposed to be defending your wife's honor from this beastly man, darling!" she whined and stomped her foot like a child that didn't get her way. Naruto and Inoichi laughed at this childish display.

"I only needed to remember you can sense anyone coming and go with the margin of error only up to a meter off. You had to have known pops was coming and there was no way you could be truly caught off guard. So I figured you were planning that timing and I wasn't going to give you the satisfaction, Lady Yamanaka. He likely had the same thought." Naruto explained with a smirk at Kana's grouchy expression as he finished preparing Inoichi's portion of breakfast and set it down in front of the older blonde, who was still chuckling before exhaling.

"Whew…it's rare to see one of Kana-hime's little pranks end up a dud. I needed that laugh after a long night."

"Sorry for the inconvenience." Naruto replied with an apologetic smile while Kana grumbled in the background.

"Can't be helped, Naruto-kun." Inoichi waved it off before fixing him with a serious expression. "Are you feeling alright, though?"

"Perfectly fine. Just a few scratches that healed right away."

"What about being nearly blown to bits when you recklessly jumped headfirst into trees covered top to bottom in explosives? Or when you were playing chicken with his sword?!" Kana growled, not happy at all that Naruto could've been hurt badly, even if he said it was a 'test'. She knew exactly what happened in the battle because Naruto made a full report to the cat-masked ANBU in front of her and the others.

"I was trying to run away at first, you know. It's not like I wanted to fight against such odds. At least I copied a pretty useful doton jutsu in the process." Naruto muttered defensively as he took the apron off.

"That was due to having said jutsu fired at you, nearly turning you into a human kebab! You're not helping your case at all, mister." Kana said lowly with narrowed eyes. Naruto was getting a little irritated, and Inoichi saw this so he decided to step in before hurtful words could be said.

"Naruto, you should understand our princesses were quite worried about you last night, especially since this likely brought up memories of when you came back to the village nearly dead a few months ago." he cut in while eating.

The younger blonde fell silent with visible guilt and Kana stiffened at the memory of seeing a frail and defenseless Naruto in that hospital bed. The brunette silently walked up to her pseudo-son with watery eyes and clutched him into a crushing hug. There was no fooling around this time. The young blonde smiled sadly as he returned the hug with a whispered apology. After a long moment, a demure Kana let go of him and moved to sit next to Inoichi, and rested her head on her husband's shoulder. Naruto let out a hum as he leaned against the counter with his arms crossed.

"'Our princesses'?" he quizzed with a raised eyebrow. Inoichi smirked as he drank from his orange juice.

"Oh? Am I wrong about your budding relationship with our daughter?"

Naruto blushed slightly and grumbled something incomprehensible for a moment, before fixing the older blonde with a steady gaze.

"No, I'd say you're correct, pops. However, I'd think you'd have an issue with that, since you do know I'm dating Hinata-chan right now."

"I don't see why that's a problem, Mr. last heir of Uzumaki and son of a Hokage. Ino-hime is good friends with Hinata-san, and she can decide for herself who she wants to be with. Just be happy I actually like and trust the one she's likely chosen." Inoichi replied and nearly laughed at Naruto's stunned expression. Kana had no such reservations as she giggled loudly.

"The hell?! I was expecting lots of crying and gnashing teeth when we'd tell you that she and Hinata-chan would be seeing me at the same time!"

"I can imagine Ino-hime doing that if I was feeling especially mean about approving this." Inoichi chuckled lightly as Kana lightly swatted him on the arm.

"Um…I was talking about you, pops." Naruto shot back with a foxy grin. Inoichi face-planted on the table while Kana snickered.

"Am I that bad?" the older blonde muttered.

"When we were seven, you threw kunai at Shika just because he happened to be staring in Ino-chan's direction for three seconds. He was trying to see around her at a particularly interesting cloud behind her." Naruto retorted in deadpan, and Kana giggled again.

"He's got you there, darling."

Inoichi grumbled with a resigned grin. He then was shocked along with his wife when they watched Naruto suddenly bow deeply at the hips.

"Lord and Lady Yamanaka, I, Uzumaki Naruto, formally request permission to court your wonderful daughter with full intention toward marriage some day. I humbly regret to say that she will not be the only woman for me but I promise she will get all the love she deserves, and even more than that. I will also protect her from anything with my life." he spoke firmly, his head still down in front of the stunned Yamanaka couple. They knew Naruto rarely bowed to anyone and for him to do this so deeply and sincerely spoke to them a lot about how much he wanted this to work out with Ino.

Inoichi had to smile. He couldn't deny this young man even if he wanted to. He exchanged glances with Kana before replying.

"Of course. Protect and treat her well. Now please raise your head; it's not like you at all."

Naruto straightened up with a grateful smile.

"Thank you."

"So when're you finally going out?" Kana inquired excitedly, unable to wait for her daughter's time to come. Naruto did his usual sheepish pose.

"I'm not exactly sure when, but it'll be soon."

"What's stopping you?"

"Not me. Her. She set some sort of a milestone in her training and I have a feeling when she reaches it, she'll feel like she'd be ready to go out with me."

"What if she couldn't reach that milestone?" Kana asked worriedly. Naruto smiled fondly.

"To be truthful, she already did a while ago."

"What?! Why didn't she notice? Haven't you told her?!"

"I strongly believe she could go even higher so I changed things around without her knowing. She'll kick my ass when she finds out, but she'll be so much stronger for it. That I promise." Naruto explained with a sure expression. Kana sighed.

"The first thing you need to know about Yamanaka women is that we do not like to be kept from our 'prizes' any longer than absolutely necessary, even if it was for that reason. You can expect lots of making up to do whenever this goes down." she muttered as she pinched her brow. Inoichi nodded his confirmation as he was eating some bacon. Naruto shrugged.

"I'll deal with it when it happens. For now, I need to go home and get ready for class today. Thanks for letting me stay over and I'll see you around. Thank you again for giving me and Ino-chan a chance." he spoke as he put on his eyepatch and turned with a wave over his shoulder before making his way out through the rear door.

The kitchen was silent for a moment as Inoichi contentedly finished eating this delicious breakfast.

"Should we have told him he's still shirtless and he's walking out into full view of the store's garden where many of our female clan members usually work in the early mornings before their kunoichi duties?" Kana commented innocently with an index finger on her chin.

"KYAA! WHAT A HOTTIE!"

"MARRY ME, NARUTO-KUN!"

"NO, ME! I'M A F-CUP AND I HAVE A GREAT ASS!"

"PLEASE TAKE ME AS YOURS, MASTER!"

"HOLY SHIT!" Naruto's terrified voice faded as he was apparently running away from a horde of beautiful and amorous Yamanaka women.

"OOI! HE'S OFF-LIMIT TO ALL OF YOU! AND TAKE YOUR HUGE JUGS AND SHOVE THEM UP YOUR 'GREAT ASS', YAEKO-BAKA!" Ino's voice roared from an open window upstairs. She apparently had heard the commotion.

"Too late, hime." Inoichi chuckled, knowing Kana let him go out like that on purpose. The Yamanaka matriarch giggled with a vicious smile as the shouting continued outside. She then frowned in thought.

"Who knew our uptight little cousin Risa-chan was hiding some sub tendencies?" she remarked, making her husband sweatdrop.

A few days later in the village's shopping district

"It's too loud here, mom." Ino winced, before opening her eyes after concentrating hard for a few long minutes. She was sitting across from Kana at a patio table, and they were eating and 'training' just outside a busy dessert shop on a beautiful day.

"The noise is messing with my sensing; like it's jamming everything." she described to her smiling mother, who took a sip of her tea. Kana nodded in understanding.

"You'll have to learn to tune out the noise from now on. Not only will this help you clear your head to sense anything easily, but it also has the added benefit of making you more alert for any foreign noise that shouldn't be there, no matter how small it sounded. With these benefits and many others, you'll become more skilled at detection overall even without your sensing ability."

"That sounds useful! I wonder why there aren't so many sensors around if there are benefits like that." Ino pondered thoughtfully.

"Most can get this ability with extensive training, but they usually don't think the amount of time involved would be worth it. I was born with this, and you apparently inherited it. Even if you were to meet someone who trained to have this ability, you would still have the advantage since this'll be second nature to you. We're just that much better." her mother replied with a prideful smile. Ino beamed at the future possibilities for her new ability.

"Now...close your eyes. Tell me everything you should sense within twenty meters around us when I say now. "

Ino obeyed and exhaled deeply as she closed her eyes. Immediately, the noisy environment around them invaded her mind and it took her a moment to clear most of it away. Suddenly, she felt many ghostly presences around her and an enormous one some distance away that she couldn't ignore no matter what, even when she had restricted her senses to twenty meters.

"Now."

She snapped her eyes open.

"Twelve patrons sitting out here and inside. Five standing, all inside the shop, and two more were moving around frantically in the back of the shop. I'm guessing the bakers. I also sensed five pedestrians moving on the street within range at that precise moment. So, there were twenty-four presences within twenty meters of us at the moment you said 'now'." she answered confidently. Kana smiled happily.

"You did good! I sensed twenty-four human presences too."

Ino beamed for a moment before frowning in confusion at something specific her mother said. Kana's smile then turned mischievous.

"However, note that I said 'human presences'. I asked for 'everything'."

"What? What else could I have felt?"

Kana pointed into an alley next to the dessert shop.

"There are three rats skittering around in there."

She moved her finger to the shop's rooftop.

"Two cats are apparently lying in the sunlight up there and another one's about to pounce down on the aforementioned rats from the roof. "

The women then easily made out the faint sounds of a metal garbage can clanging and a cat's yowl from the alley at that moment. Kana then thumbed toward the street next to the patio area.

"A dog is wandering around on the street."

Ino checked to see a black stray dog going around whining for food from the passing pedestrians. Finally, Kana pointed skyward.

"Two birds were flying within range when I said 'now'."

Ino just stared gobsmacked at her mother.

"Mom, you're so amazing!"

Kana blushed slightly at the praise before clearing her throat.

"You'll be able to sense those smaller presences sooner or later. It'll be a big help because some shinobi use animals to attack and it'll be important to keep alert for all these different presences around you. Even the supposedly innocent birds flying high in the sky above."

After a few minutes of discussion, Kana noticed a goofy smile slowly growing wider and wider on her daughter's face. She wondered what was up with that, and got her answer when she finally noted an overwhelmingly massive chakra signature next to another familiar one coming toward them from elsewhere in the village. She was distracted with training Ino and didn't really pay attention to this signature until now. Spending close to fourteen years feeling that signature all the time around the village made it easy for her to tune it out. However, her daughter apparently had been keeping this signature in mind even as she trained.

Kana smiled teasingly upon seeing Naruto and Hinata come into view down the street. Ino, who didn't see them because they were walking up from behind, began to giggle drunkenly as if something was affecting her somehow, and it was an amusing sight for the mother. It was Hinata who saw them first and pointed her discovery out to Naruto, who brightened up upon seeing them. He then made his way into the shop's patio area and silently walked up behind Ino, who was now looking positively giddy. He then put a hand gently on her shoulder, making her shiver visibly in obvious bliss.

"Guess who."

"Naruto-kun." she practically purred with closed eyes and a very goofy grin as she leaned her head back against his abdomen; exactly where the source of his nearly endless chakra was located.

"H-hello, ladies!" Naruto greeted a little distractedly because of Ino's strange reaction. Hinata bowed slightly at his side with a smile.

"Hello to you two as well. What brings you here?" Kana asked since she had to take over for her daughter, who seemed to be in la-la land for the moment as she sensually rubbed the back of her head against Naruto's abdomen and basked in the intoxicating chakra radiating out of him in waves.

"We were on our way home after going out together, when we noticed you. We wanted to see how you were doing." Hinata answered, watching her concerned boyfriend gently poke the nearly catatonic Ino on her forehead as she continued to rub against his stomach with a blissful smile. Kana laughed in amusement.

"We've been developing her new sensory ability and it's already reached a fairly decent level after only a few days. Because of that, she's really feeling more of Naruto-kun's overwhelming presence than usual now that he's so close. It certainly would explain why she's like this. It's like drug to most new sensors, though the effect is temporary and should occur only one time in a lifetime. Good thing it's now and here with you."

Naruto did his sheepish pose.

"Ah, sorry. Should I keep my distance or something?"

"Noooo!" Ino whined with a childish pout as soon as she heard that and reached behind to grab two fistfuls of Naruto's pants to keep him stuck in place behind her, making him stammer. The other two women chuckled.

"I reacted the same way when I truly felt the Fourth's powerful presence up close for the first time, but it only took me a few minutes to get over it. She'll get used to it soon and should be fine except for some embarrassment." Kana explained.

It was only a few minutes later as predicted when Ino recovered from her 'drugged' state with a dark red blush.

"Sorry about that. I have no idea what just came over me. It's like my body was slowly getting soaked through to my bones in your chakra, which was so warm and tingly, and I couldn't get enough of it." she spoke shyly. Naruto shrugged it off and grinned wide as he sat down between her and Kana with Hinata sitting opposite him.

"Kana-chan was saying that you're developing your new ability quickly. You're going to be awesome!"

Ino blushed.

"Do you really think so? You're still so much stronger."

"Well, I might be a little strong-"

"Little?" the three women echoed disbelievingly.

"-and I might know a couple jutsu-"

"Couple?!" they retorted incredulously.

"-but I can't do some things, like sensing!" he finished a little forcefully with a twitching eyebrow, daring them to cut in again. The women laughed at his expense for a moment.

"But don't you get help from 'her' on that part?" Ino pointed out, her gaze shifting subtly to his stomach to indicate Kurama.

"Yeah, but it benefits only me most of the time. You at least can go with just about any team and help them get through a lot of missions possibly unscathed. At the end of the day, that's more valuable than strength or any flashy jutsu." he replied sincerely.

Ino beamed at his words and felt like she gained a little more confidence in herself.

Kana hid a smile at how easily Naruto made her daughter feel less insecure about her self-worth without even realizing it. She always knew Ino deserved no one but this young man sitting at the table with them, and this only added to her steadily growing belief.

"Naruto-kun, can we spar?" the young Yamanaka suddenly asked after a few minutes of idle chatter between all four. The blond jinchuuriki studied her for a moment and smirked.

"That challenge, huh? Why do I have this feeling today would be different from before?"

"Because I know I'll do it this time!"

"I still won't go easy on you, but it'll be fun. I should walk Hinata-chan home first, though."

"Actually...why don't you go ahead, Naruto-kun? I feel like having a snack here." Hinata offered with a smile as she gestured for a waitress to bring her a menu.

"I'll keep her company." Kana piped up. Ino nodded vigorously before grabbing a sputtering Naruto to drag him away from the two smirking women toward the direction of the training grounds.

"Something tells me things will change between these two today." Kana suddenly commented with a content grin. Hinata wasn't surprised at all by that statement since she was feeling the same thing.

"I know, Kana-san. I was getting impatient for them to finally get together. It was nice having Naruto-kun all to myself for the past few months, but I've been feeling like Ino-chan should've been there with us lately, considering how much she loves him."

Kana gazed over at her younger companion's sincere expression, and sighed.

"You really are a saint, Hinata-chan. If he had ended up with any other girl, aside from Ino-chan, first instead of you, I honestly don't think she would be so understanding about his situation. Any of them would have selfishly kept him to herself, especially with his future fame and his parents being who they were. If I had been your age and single, I can't even truthfully say I wouldn't be tempted to lord it over the rest of the women that I got my claws in him and won't share. Many of us women are just that vicious when it comes to our men."

Hinata blushed.

"Ano…I watched him as we grew up together and all I've seen is how he has never taken each of his cherished bonds for granted like many others would have. I just know I can trust him not to forget me or anyone else. Even now, if Naruto-kun and Ino-chan were to kiss passionately in front of me, all I can imagine is how happy they were making each other, not that he was pushing me aside for someone else. That's because I know he'll continue to make me feel loved and cherished alongside Ino-chan, and whoever else might fall for Naruto-kun in the future, and I have no reason to feel insecure. It's just how I feel about this."

Kana nodded, in awe of this young woman's maturity. She then stared over at where Ino and Naruto disappeared down the street for a few minutes while Hinata made her order with the waitress.

"Oi, think you can check and find out how this particular 'spar' ends?" she suddenly asked playfully after asking for a refill for her tea. Hinata smiled impishly.

"Where are they exactly?"

Kana pointed in a certain direction.

"Two-point-three kilometers that way."

Hinata's beautiful lavender-tinted white eyes focused in that direction, and the veins bulged around them with a whisper of 'Byakugan!'.

Meanwhile at Training Ground Forty-Two

Naruto's back slammed against a tree trunk after spending the last few seconds backpedaling from his opponent's furious attacks. He gulped as he watched a very determined Ino throw out a vicious thrust kick that would've skewered a lesser man's stomach if he hadn't slipped out of the way. The kick landed with a loud crack on the tree instead. He shivered slightly, noting a good-sized dent in the trunk, before backflipping out of the way of his opponent's high kick threatening to knock his head off. As he landed on his feet a small distance away toward the center of the small clearing they were sparring in, he had to smile proudly as he took in Ino's slightly panting form.

She became so much stronger and even more beautiful compared to before when she began training properly. Now that she was eating and exercising like normal, she was filling out nicely with well-developed muscles and curves easily visible through her tight shirt and pants, making her out to be just as beautiful as Hinata in her own way. Not that he would ever dare compare them. Simply put, Ino was Ino, and Hinata was Hinata. He refused to think beyond that.

He loved Hinata's gentle nature and found it relaxing to be around her but he also enjoyed Ino's cheerful nature that blew away his rare bad moods without fail. Hinata was more reserved in public but playful in private, and Ino was usually more outgoing in public but somewhat bashful in private. He kept discovering so many different things to like between the two of them that he was beginning to truly get into the idea of dating them together and perhaps more in the future. He had to wonder what else he'd discover about Anko if what he learned about her hidden feelings for him turned out to be true in the future. Would he also somehow manage to find even more women to love beyond Anko?

Getting back to the spar at hand, he absentmindedly blocked an overhead axe kick from Ino. Kami, he was beginning to believe he had a fetish for strong women, since this determined woman in front of him was making him want to just brush aside her self-imposed 'milestone' and take her lips right now. Ino's slightly flustered expression as her eyes lingered on his lips whenever she looked at him showed she was thinking the same thing. Sadly, he also knew it would be disrespectful to the last two years of hard work she put herself through to catch up if he did just that or let her win, no matter how achingly close she was to reaching that milestone.

With that thought, he grabbed her ankle in a vice-like grip when her leg lingered on his blocking arm for a second too long. Ino let out a surprised yelp when he yanked on the leg in order to try to swing her around before tossing her into a tree; try being the keyword here. Ino had recovered quickly and twisted her body around in his grip to lash out with another kick toward his head using her free leg. Naruto had to release her prematurely to dodge that kick to the side and she recovered in mid-air and landed gracefully on her feet. He let out an impressed whistle as she smirked almost sensually at him.

"You've really come a long way since that day, Ino-chan."

"Either that, or maybe you've been slacking off lately." she shot back as she took up a stance. Her pale blue eyes lingered on Naruto's inviting lips again and her body heated up like usual as she imagined those on hers. It was all she was thinking about lately.

"Now just let me hit you so we can get this over with." she growled out in impatience as she started things off with a flurry of punches and kicks, all which Naruto parried though he was being forced back little by little.

"What's got you in a rush?" he said almost conversationally as he ducked under a high kick.

"I was feeling your chakra all day ever since I woke up this morning. How could I not? It's the biggest and brightest signature in the village." she replied just as casually as she parried a vicious haymaker before continuing.

"That also meant I felt you with Hinata-chan's signature for several hours before you found us at that shop. It was just the two of you together for most of that time and it's making me jealous and impatient, especially since I want the same thing."

"What do you mean?" Naruto replied dumbly, knowing exactly what she was saying. He wanted to hear it directly from her, though. He then shoved her away a bit when she got too close. She skidded to a stop before glaring at him with an embarrassed blush.

"Kami! Are you seriously going to make me say it out loud?" she growled as she dashed in and threw out a fast forward kick that Naruto barely slipped past.

"I LOVE YOU, you baka! I have for a long time! I want the same thing Hinata-chan's been getting from you for the past few months, and I'll get my prize now!" she declared forcefully as she fluidly transitioned her leg into a side kick at the midsection of Naruto, who was a little taken aback by her intense confession. He recovered quickly enough to get ready to block the incoming kick but was fooled when she suddenly canceled into stepping closer to his body and grabbed two fistfuls of his shirt.

She shouted in triumph as she locked a leg behind one of his and jerked him to the side. He was promptly tripped and slammed to the ground with her on top of him. He let out a grunt of discomfort upon landing, before flinching upon hearing a loud thud on the ground next to his head.

After a long moment of hearing Ino's panting above him, Naruto slowly opened his eyes, and moved his gaze over to the side to see her fist embedded halfway into the ground just millimeters from his left ear. From the way her body felt on him, he deduced she was straddling his torso. His eyes followed the slender arm all the way up to her heaving chest. They lingered on its attractive curves for a second, before moving up her long neck to search the tired but exhilarated expression on her beautiful face. They finally locked with her eyes after a few seconds of exploration. She looked absolutely glorious.

"I did it." she muttered, but there was some uncertainty in her voice.

Naruto smiled proudly up at her as he moved his left hand to gently touch Ino's fist still next to his head. She shivered in pleasure as his fingertips slowly trailed their way up her arm onto her shoulder and neck, nearly forcing a pleased moan out of her, before ending up on her right cheek. Her eyes fluttered closed as she hungrily leaned into the touch with a heavenly sigh, as if she had been awaiting that gesture for so long.

"You did it." he whispered in affirmation. She smiled brilliantly before leaning back to let out a whoop of victory with her arms up in the air as she still straddled the chuckling Naruto. After letting it all out, she bent back down to get face-to-face with her love, eyes smoldering with need. She looked like she wanted to do something but hesitated slightly.

Naruto knew what she was waiting for.

"I love you too. I actually had a tiny crush on you ever since we first met, and it slowly grew stronger since then." he answered her unspoken question. Ino was shocked at that revelation. That long ago?! Why hadn't she noticed? That meant he had been watching his crush foolishly pine for someone else for so long. She began to feel horrible, but Naruto wouldn't let her dwell on those dark thoughts.

"I'm just good at hiding my emotions if I needed to, so you didn't do anything wrong. I just wanted you to be happy, even if you thought it was with someone else for a little while." he explained with a sincere smile before being surprised by Ino suddenly removing his eyepatch.

"I want you to forget that time, and remember this for the rest of your life." she spoke lowly as she stared intensely into his wide eyes before pressing her lips onto his.

The first thing Naruto thought was that her lips felt and tasted different from Hinata's, but it was equally just as good. He kissed back eagerly in order to taste more of her, making her moan happily as he carefully wrapped his arms around her waist. What felt like hours, but only minutes in reality, passed before they finally broke apart and she rested her forehead on his with a goofy grin.

"That was to show you that I've decided only you can make me this happy. No one else can." she whispered as she playfully pecked him on his lips several times.

"You sure showed me." he joked with a lopsided grin, making her giggle happily. They spent a few more minutes staying in that position, just playfully pecking lips and staring into each other's eyes, before they reluctantly decided to get to their feet.

"So I finally managed to get a hit on you while you were using resistance level one. I suppose the next rational step would be to catch up to your natural speed and strength now." Ino remarked as she dusted herself off. She almost missed Naruto flinching.

"What's wrong?"

Naruto sweated buckets as he was feeling quite nervous. He knew he was doing his own way of helping Ino, and had been prepared for any retribution. But now that it was time for him to fess up, he suddenly got cold feet.

Ino narrowed her eyes as she noticed his guilty demeanor.

"That wasn't you using level one, was it?"

"Um…"

"Were you using level two?" she asked dejectedly. She didn't want to think she was still so far from her goal. What was all that hard work for?

"No! I wouldn't do that to you!"

"Then what is it?!"

"It was off!"

"W-wh-what was off?" she sputtered. She almost didn't want to believe what he was implying.

"The seal! You've been fighting me at my natural speed and strength. You've caught up and likely can give Hinata-chan fits now!"

"Y-you had better not be fucking kidding me!" Ino was completely shocked that she had reached such a level so soon. She wondered why her progression seemed to have suddenly plateaued, and actually fell back for a short while, a few months ago when she was doing so well up till that point. It took a lot of encouragement from Naruto for her to ignore her depression at the lack of progress and managed to get past that 'wall'. This explained everything.

"I wouldn't do that to you, Ino-chan! I always knew you could be so much stronger than you believed yourself to be. I've been sparring you without my seal on for the past few months after you've already reached your original goal."

That made her freeze.

"What." she growled lowly as she began to glare at her new soon-to-be dead boyfriend fiercely with an ominous aura forming around her. He stepped back nervously.

"A-a-aren't you happy you're already much stronger and more skilled than planned now?" he tried to deflect. It failed miserably.

"You mean to tell me…" Ino stomped closer; each heavy footstep sounding like doom was slowly descending upon the poor terrified jinchuuriki. He quickly backpedalled up against a tree with nowhere to go.

"…that I could've had your wonderful kisses and caresses a few months early instead of just NOW!?" she snarled as she got up right in his face with her chest pressing tightly into his, making him blush despite the scary situation.

"I-uh-" he stammered before flinching upon seeing her move her hands up to his face. He was surprised to feel them gently cup his cheeks before being yanked down suddenly into a heated kiss. He returned it on instinct.

He had no idea how many minutes passed before they broke apart.

"You're lucky I'm actually happy about being so much stronger than originally thought. But...you are going to make up for all the kisses we could've had up till now, and we're not stopping until I say so, Naruto-kun." she whispered breathlessly as she kept him pinned against the tree, before yanking his head back down for more before he could recover from his daze long enough to utter anything.

As if he wanted to protest this.

Back at the dessert shop

Kana was grinning from ear to ear as Hinata finished describing what she just watched and cancelled her Byakugan. The young Hyuuga heiress was blushing slightly at her longtime friend's boldness with their man just a moment ago, but she was truly happy they finally got together. Also, she had no idea how much Naruto's kisses truly affected her until she finally saw their full effect on another woman from an outside perspective. It just made him even more desirable to her, if that was possible.

She would have to find him later for more of his kisses.

"I warned him we Yamanaka women hate being kept waiting for our prizes." Kana giggled happily as she finished the rest of her tea and called for the check.

Back with Naruto and Ino some time later

Naruto was sitting on the ground with his back against the tree he was originally pinned to, staring up at the blue sky with a dazed smile on his slightly swollen lips. That was a lot of make-up kissing and he loved every second of it. As if to remind himself she was still here, he tightened his arms around the waist of a content Ino sitting between his legs with her back against his chest.

That elicited a pleased hum from her as she leaned her head back, enjoying the soothing sound of his heartbeat close to her ear.

"Is that enough making up?" he inquired almost regretfully that it was ending too soon. She nodded lazily against his chest.

"Mm...for now. You'd better expect the other half in a couple days."

That was enough to power his million-watt smile.

"Pervert." she muttered with an amused smirk, knowing her new boyfriend was smiling like an idiot without seeing his face. After some chuckling, Naruto then absentmindedly began to rake his fingers through her ponytail, enjoying the silky feel of the long strands slipping through his fingers almost like pure spring water.

As much as she was enjoying the ministration, Ino had to frown. She loved her hair now but it was a fact she grew it out for the sole purpose of trying to catch Uchiha Sasuke's attention; all because she heard rumors, likely false, that the 'elite' Uchiha preferred girls with long hair. It seriously bugged her that Naruto was enjoying a part of her that she had originally intended for another male in the first place.

As long as he touched her hair affectionately like this from now on, she would always be reminded of her former self who didn't understand love, and blindly went after someone else while her perfect man had been under her nose the whole time. She couldn't stand that thought, and needed this part to be gone in order to completely restart anew. Not just her hair, but to be an entirely new person as well. It was time for the last bit of her old self to die so she could move on as a more mature and stronger young woman standing proudly as an equal next to her beloved.

She reached down, her hand snaking gently along Naruto's right leg for where she always knew his usual holster to be. Her fingers finding it, she snapped it open and deftly slipped a razor-sharp kunai out. Her boyfriend obviously noticed this action and raised an eyebrow, but waited to see what she was going to do.

Reaching behind with her free hand, Ino took ahold of her ponytail from his raking hand and pulled it taut. His eyes widened in realization as she purposefully moved the kunai under the ponytail several inches down from where it was tied. Without thinking, his hand shot up to grab a firm hold of her wrist, just as she was about to make the cut. He could see several strands of hair already falling out just because of the ponytail's close proximity to the trembling sharp blade.

"Please…let me do this, Naruto-kun." she quietly pleaded as she struggled feebly in his grip. Naruto frowned; she was trying to cut off one of his favorite features on her.

"Tell me why." he all but commanded. Ino shivered pleasantly at the firm tone of his voice, and knew that was going to be a turn-on for her in the future.

"Right now, I feel like a new and much stronger woman who can think for herself, all because of you. But this long hair is still part of my old self and that's why I have to cut it off. I'd just end up thinking of the fact that I originally grew it out to impress Sasuke-san whenever you play with it, and I know you do remember that exact reason as well. I can't stand that thought, because I love you and you don't deserve that." she explained, almost ashamed to even mention another male while in Naruto's arms.

Naruto's eyes softened as he felt Ino tremble nervously in his grip. Now understanding the reason, he let go of her hand. As much he loved her long hair, he didn't want her to be miserable if he firmly asked her to keep it, even as he tried to assure her he still accepted every part of her no matter what. This was more for her peace of mind than anything else, and that was important to him.

A quick twitch of Ino's wrist and she easily cut through her ponytail with almost no sound.

It was silent between Naruto and her for a few long minutes as she put the kunai back where it was and stared down sadly at the bundle of long strands in her other hand. Suddenly, she casually tossed it aside as if it was trash and it all but disintegrated in the strong breeze that passed through the clearing at that moment. Reaching behind, she removed the hair tie and shook her head lightly to let what was left of her hair loose, revealing her beautiful hair to be almost shoulder-length now. With only a little styling, she would still be as attractive as before, even without her signature ponytail.

"You know, you might have made a fatal mistake." Naruto suddenly spoke in an almost husky tone, making Ino jump and shiver in his arms as she felt him lean down to her exposed neck, now that she didn't have long hair. She almost moaned audibly as she felt his hot breath on her sensitive skin.

"W-w-what is it?' she managed to get out, even with all of her face completely red and hot as she instinctively leaned her head to the side.

"I don't think I'm going to be able to resist kissing all over your beautiful neck now that it's exposed." he whispered before leaning in to lay a kiss gently on the smooth skin of her neck. She gasped loudly and grabbed a fistful each of Naruto's pants legs as if to brace herself against the massive jolt that shot through her entire body at that moment. What little worry she had of Naruto not finding her attractive anymore without the long hair were completely blown away just as he laid more kisses all over the back of her neck.

She wasn't able to hold in her delightful moans now.

It was a few long minutes later when they managed to calm down, with Ino smiling blissfully as she once again leaned back against Naruto's chest.

"I love you…no matter what." he suddenly said.

"I love you too. Thank you for all of this, and also for putting up with my bratty old self long enough for me to come to my senses." Ino replied happily.

"Would you want to regrow your hair if I asked you to do it?" he asked a little uncertainly, not sure how she would react. She turned her head to show him a reassuring grin.

"Of course. I love my old style, aside from that pesky little baggage. I was hoping you'd ask me that yourself, because this way I can say with hundred percent certainty that I grew it out for you and myself. I want every part of me to belong to only you."

Naruto blushed at her declaration.

"You shouldn't have to go that far for me."

"Why? It's true, isn't it? No other man is ever going to have anything to do with me for as long as I'm yours. That's a fact." she declared with unwavering determination. Naruto blushed again as he looked uncertain for a moment before fixing her with a steady gaze.

"You truly want to be mine? Even when Hinata-chan is also mine?" his Sharingan, still uncovered, seemed to bore into her eyes as he whispered that, as if it was forever memorizing how she would respond. Ino absolutely relished that feeling.

"Completely…all…yours." she purred slowly with a sensual grin before leaning up to kiss him but he stopped her with a finger on her lips, making her pout cutely around it.

"Ok then. I would like for you to regrow your gorgeous hair so I can someday play with it like before. Only if you want to, that is." he whispered with a roguish grin. Ino nodded happily even with the finger on her lips. She playfully kissed it as he removed it, before pouncing on his lips.

It took them a long five minutes to finally disengage. After a few more minutes of idle talk, they decided it was time to get back.

When Naruto dropped Ino off at her home, Kana was grinning like a cat that ate a hundred canaries. Ino gulped when she realized she was in for a long and deeply personal interrogation, especially since her mother was interested in why her hair suddenly became short. Naruto managed to escape, leaving Ino to curse him for eternity as her mother descended upon her.

The lucky blond jinchuuriki was walking home when he decided to bring up something with Kurama.

Oi, did you see all that, Kurama?

Oh yes, it was especially interesting watching that flower girl repeatedly try to find out if she could suffocate you with her lips. she retorted sarcastically as she crossed her arms. She was feeling a little on the edge after watching her container with Hinata and Ino all day. It wasn't jealousy, she told herself. It was just irritating watching humans interact so sweetly like that, that was all.

I guess I can't imagine how that'd look from inside me. Sorry about that. Moving on, do you remember the time I accidentally cut a good chunk of your hair off with one of my sabers while training a while ago?

Kurama blushed half in embarrassment and half in anger. Now he was going to bring up one of her most shameful moments in recent memory?

Yes, what about it?

Despite the fact we both know you could easily regrow your hair in an instant like it never happened, you saw red and pretty much smeared me all over the mindscape. It got so bad I thought my real body would seriously go into a coma for a little bit there.

Get to the point! she snapped sharply. She wanted to forget that day because she knew she would have 'killed' the astral Naruto had she not regained her senses and held back at the last minute. There was no way to know what would've happened to the real body if he 'died' in the mindscape, and she came very close to finding that out. His condition was horrifying and it took even her a long while to restore him. It was the most miserable she had ever felt in a long time, perhaps even all her entire multi-millennia life. She would never understand how he shrugged it off afterward and forgave her easily. Sometimes she hated being an entity that used mankind's residual malice and rage as sources of her power.

If a woman's hair is that important, even to one who can regrow it anytime, imagine what it must've been like for Ino-chan to willingly cut her long hair off after spending the last few years growing and maintaining it. I think that speaks a lot about her resolve to be with me.

Understanding where her container was coming from, Kurama sighed in resignation with a small smile.

Fine, I fully approve of her as one of your girls. It helps she actually got herself to a respectable level as a kunoichi as well. she grumbled good-naturedly.

Several villagers on the streets saw Naruto sticking one of his fists into the air as if he was victorious about something, and then he practically skipped the rest of the way out of their sight, freaking them out completely.

Soon

It was a quiet late night in Konohagakure. Perhaps too quiet. If anyone with a good eye for the details were to look closely, they'd have noticed something was off about the mostly empty streets of this village.

"Oi, what's going on? It's like we're preparing for an invasion." one lizard-masked ANBU patrol called out to his partner as they made their way across a roof. Around them, the ANBU could easily see wisps and streaks of their comrades rapidly moving across the rooftops with urgency all over the village as if to find positions in preparation for a major event.

"You don't know?!" Lizard's sparrow-masked partner hissed as they jumped down to an alleyway's entrance to check the street from their location.

"No, please enlighten me."

"That Great Blond Bastard just declared a massive prank day on the entirety of this village soon as a send-off for his upcoming graduation! We're to keep an eye out for him!" Sparrow whispered frantically as she shifted her gaze around the bare street nervously as if expecting a blond monster to pop out. Lizard's eyes widened behind the mask.

"Oh…we're in deep shit!" he muttered dejectedly as if the enemy had already won.

"Don't give me that defeatist bullshit! We'll survive and get through all of this! We have to…for our comrades!" Sparrow spoke passionately but unconvincingly as if giving him a futile pep talk before certain death.

Meanwhile, behind the two nervous ANBU, an odd shadow slipped into existence inside the alley for only an instant before vanishing, never to be noticed by the patrol.

It was the closest anyone was going to get in catching Uzumaki Naruto for this night.

This new outfit you're wearing on a test run for tonight is doing wonderfully for your stealth. I knew I was doing something right when I dared you to wear that stupid orange outfit for years to train your sneaking skills. You're practically impossible to find in proper shinobi colors now. Kurama remarked with a pleased and sadistic grin as she watched her container make complete fools of the ANBU.

So you weren't sure that could've worked back then? Naruto retorted with a smirk as he slipped into a certain residence and dug some pranking items out of his waist pouch. Kurama shrugged.

Whatever…it worked now, didn't it?

The container finished silently setting up his latest prank and snuck back out of the residence. Slipping by another patrol undetected, his next target came into view and he stared up at a certain nondescript building containing one of the 'secret' entrances to the ANBU Headquarters.

Whose idea was it to publicly declare the prank day? It's a stroke of genius since it left this place almost defenseless while most of the ANBU are out there watching for me.

I'm not sure. We'll just chalk this up to our combined geniuses. Kurama replied haughtily.

Naruto smirked with mischief flashing through his visible eye as he prepared to break into the ANBU Headquarters.

Meanwhile, every single ANBU on alert suddenly felt like defeat was immediately upon them, but they had no idea when and where it was going to happen.


Omake: That Uncomfortable Feeling

One day at the training ground

They had no idea how this day took a turn for the strange.

"Oi, keep her…I mean, him in sight!" Shikamaru tried to take command of this situation frantically just before he cried out sharply in pain. He somehow got his arm locked tightly up between a pair of something soft for a moment, making him feel very uncomfortable on the inside. Fortunately, one of his comrades saved him when Shino struck with a swipe at at the opponent holding him to get the person to release.

"This is highly illogical." was all he said about the situation before he took a painful retaliating kick in the stomach as reward for his rescue, sending him skidding back.

"I got him…or her?!" Kiba shouted with a huge blush on his face as he descended on the opponent from the air. However, he lost sight of his target when it slipped out of the way and he landed on nothing but ground. Instead, he received a punishing open hand to the face, savagely spiking him to the ground.

"I don't like this!" Choji whimpered as the opponent acrobatically flipped end-over-end toward him several times before suddenly springing into a full-force flying kick that speared him in the stomach, knocking him back quite a distance.

"Choji!" the other three boys cried. They moved over to their dazed comrade to huddle around him almost in fear of their opponent. This person was even more terrifying than Naruto going all out on them.

It was instead a female version of Naruto going all out on them!

Uzumaki Naruto was in the sexy form, giggling innocently as 'she' struck a common cheerleading pose balancing on her right foot. Her much longer hair had been done up in twin pigtails and she was barely dressed in a skimpy pair of tight shorts and sports bra that did little to hide the impressively large and shapely breasts on display.

"Quit acting like that! It's very confusing when I keep thinking you're a girl but you're really a guy in there!" Kiba shouted in terror as he rubbed the bruise on his face from that brutal strike.

"I don't know what to think about girls and guys! Or guys and girls!" Choji whimpered again as he slowly got up from the ground with help from Shikamaru.

"This is way too troublesome. How is he so good at using feminine wiles to distract us?!" Shikamaru grumbled in disbelief.

"This is still highly illogical." Shino reiterated as he tried his best to hide a blush when Naruto was casually squeezing his…her...breasts together between her arms as she bent over to show them a lot of cleavage.

"Just think of me as a girl now. After all, this is practice in order to get used to temptations from enemy kunoichi on missions. Trust me, they WILL use their bodies to distract you long enough to slip a blade between your ribs." Naruto spoke in a melodious voice with a mischievous grin before she began walking erotically toward the four frozen boys with swaying hips, her current form's breasts bouncing happily with each step. The boys couldn't help but have their eyes bounce along.

Damn their teenage hormones!

Naruto then suddenly dashed in with an evil grin, and the boys quickly recovered to split up to try to confuse her. Not phased by this, she went after her easiest prey.

"Like what you see, Kiba-kun?" she intoned sexily while easily dodging all the wild and awkward swipes from the Inuzuka. The dog-using boy's eyes were too focused on the sexy form's curves.

"Yes! I mean, no! Damn you!" he growled as he tried to retaliate with a slash at Naruto's face but the cute blond let out a squeak of 'Kyaa!' as she flinched adorably from the incoming attack. That stopped him cold, stunned into thinking how cute Naruto looked at that moment. He didn't notice an evil grin flash across her face as the transformed blonde used the distraction to easily introduce a foot up between his legs rather rudely.

The other boys cringed as the Inuzuka let out a pained groan before collapsing in a heap in front of the victorious blonde.

"Not…cool…bro." he mumbled out as he glared up at the smirking 'female' Naruto, who lazily flipped one of her pigtails over her shoulder.

"Kunoichi will do that to any of you if you don't watch yourself. They don't care about 'bro codes' or whatever." she explained shortly as she turned from the immobile Kiba to focus on the other three boys, who stiffened in preparation and dread.

"Now, let's see which one of you boys is next!" she chirped cheerfully before slowly forming a predatory expression that sent absolute terror throughout the still-standing boys.

At the edge of the battle, two actual women were sitting silently as they watched all of this unfold. Ino had her face buried in her hands, and Hinata was looking a little...not quite there with an odd smile plastered across her face.

"Who knew our man could do sexy better than most real women out there?" the platinum blonde mumbled dully into her hands, her pride as an attractive woman taking a major hit today.

"We can blame Anko-chan for this. She was the one who always distracted Naruto-kun like that during their spars, and he must've learned from that. It probably doesn't help that he's actually transformed as a female in this henge." the bluenette let out a dejected sigh as she also wondered about how her own womanly charms would stack up against this form.

"So he'd actually be that pretty if he had been born as a woman." her blond friend grumbled. Hinata shrugged helplessly as they went back to watching Naruto decimate their male friends like it was nothing.

"We should ask Anko-chan for lessons." Ino decided finally as she watched the 'female' Naruto distract Shikamaru with a shake of her butt, before gleefully throwing him into a tree.

"Agreed." was all Hinata replied as she watched her boyfriend...or girlfriend...walk slowly and sexily after Shino and Choji, who began scrambling away like scared little kids.

'She' was cackling madly now.


That's a wrap. Hope you enjoyed reading this. :-)

NEW TITLE ANNOUNCEMENT

I want to thank all the readers for their help with their suggestions about the new title for this story. After sorting through all of them, I believe I came across one I like. I'm not sure about the rest of you but Lemon seemed to like it too, so here's hoping it'll come out okay. I'll be changing the title when I post the next chapter so all of you'll know what title to watch out for when you get the notification for the next update on this story.

The new title will be...

Outfoxed

A big thank you to LordTicky for his suggestion on the title.

Personally, I like being able to write how Naruto took control of his own destiny and avoided being Fate's bitch like in canon while she seemed to favor any Uchiha. It was like how he outfoxed even Fate herself, even though i wrote it like that. Of course, there's also the fact he's still 'outfoxing' many people by hiding his true skills and intelligence so they would underestimate him in the future.

If I was truly set in keeping the harem to six girls instead of being somewhat ambiguous about that, I would've selected one of the titles that alluded to the six girls, but it wouldn't work if later on i decided I liked this or that girl and added one or two more. So I decided to go with a title that doesn't do anything like that.

Let me know what you think in reviews and PMs. Have a good one. Ja Ne