Ino can feel it. She knows, she just KNOWS that this is the end of her friendship with Sakura. It's coming now, like a hurricane you see on the ocean making its way slowly but steadily towards shore, she can sense it crushing inside of her…she knows what will come next, after she has confessed her secret. Sakura's shocked eyes will sharpen into accusatory slits of emerald green that Ino has long envied, and will now come to mourn. Her warm, comforting demeanor will turn to ice, and she will walk away from their friendship, tainted as it is with Ino's unspeakable admission.

She's said it. She's sentenced Sakura-and-Ino, best friends since childhood, to death. All there's left to do is wait for Sakura's reaction.

Ino catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror. There isn't a stitch of makeup out of place; mascara makes her blue eyes pop, red lipstick stains her smile-that's-a-snarl. Perfect blonde hair is pulled into a perfect blonde ponytail, her outfit is pristine. Outwardly, she looks put-together and lovely.

Inwardly, she is a cyclone of fear.

These things don't happen except on TV, only it's happening now. Now, on a rainy day in Ino's bedroom. While she sits on a royal purple coverlet beneath a poster of a famous actor she's only ever pretended to have a crush on. In this room where she's built an empire to her vanity and to her lie, and now the truth is out.

She already regrets confessing. Surely it's better, to live her life shrouded in secrecy and lies, than to face the rejection that surely accompanies her brutal honesty. Surely never being herself, never acting on what comes naturally, is preferable to the prejudiced stare that Ino knows will ignite the features of the girl she calls her best friend.

She screws her eyes shut, knowing she is about to break down, tears burning behind her eyelids as her hands shake. She cannot bear to watch Sakura walk away from her.

There is a rush of movement, but not the kind Ino expects.

Instead of fleeing from her freakish friend with the dark secret, Sakura wraps her slim arms tightly around Ino, tucking her chin into her friend's shoulder, and says, "You don't need to be ashamed of who you are. There's nothing wrong with it and nothing wrong with you."

Ino gives a strangled sob. Sakura is hugging her? Accepting her? Just like that?!

"S-Sakura…"

"Forehead, remember?" Sakura corrects her, pulling back enough to smile brightly at her best friend. "This changes nothing, you know."

"It…doesn't?"

"So you're a lesbian. Whatever." Sakura waves it off like it is nothing, and Ino can scarcely believe it. "It's who you are and how you were born and there is nothing wrong with that. You're still Yamanaka Ino. You're still smart and talented and gorgeous and a bitch and an airhead and everything else you've always been. You just happen to be attracted to girls. This changes nothing between us."

Ino is torn between incredulous joy at Sakura's immediate acceptance and boiling anger. Because for as tolerant as Sakura is, she does not understand Ino's secret completely, and even though she has proven to be a wonderful friend, she will absolutely not accept the next part. Or perhaps just as bad: she will accept, but not reciprocate.

Suddenly furious, she wrenches herself out of Sakura's arms and springs to her feet, pacing her room, anxious and frustrated. Sakura frowns.

"What's wrong?"

Ino points a well-manicured finger at her best friend, trembling and crying and angrier than she can remember being.

"You think you understand but you don't!" she hisses. "Damn it, Forehead, you don't know what it's like! To watch you with Sasuke, to see how he looks at you and makes you smile and know that you'll NEVER smile like that for me! To see that RING on your fucking finger and know that you're so in love with him that even if I were a boy, I wouldn't stand a chance! You don't UNDERSTAND ANYTHING!"

Silence falls between them. Ino is breathing heavily, anguished and heartbroken, all of her skeletons laid bare for the person most important to her to see. She stares hard at the floor, tears burning in her eyes, and vaguely makes out the sound of Sakura's soft crying. Good. At least they are both a mess.

"You're saying that…you love me…in the way that I love Sasuke-kun?"

Her voice is quiet and choked with sobs. Strangely, Sakura's distress calms her somewhat, and Ino replies, her voice strong, "Yes. For like, our whole lives. I just didn't understand it…until recently."

Sakura gets up off the bed, too. Ino glances down at her friend, several inches shorter than she is; she takes in the balmy green eyes that search her own face, the pouty pink lips she both envies and fantasizes about, the way her pink hair falls so beautifully around her face. Haruno Sakura is the most beautiful girl she has ever met, inside and out, but Ino knows her answer before she even opens her mouth.

"Ino-pig," Sakura says quietly, taking her friend's hands. "I can't tell you how sorry I am, that I don't love you the same way." Ino sniffles, but Sakura cut her off. "But that doesn't mean I don't love you. You're my best friend, your friendship means more to me than anyone's and it always has. You were my first role model, my very first hero, and you're STILL my hero, Pig. You're everything I always wanted to be and everything I try to be today."

Ino chokes on her sobs. She feels tears sliding down her face, rubs her eyes and her hands come away smeared with black. But it's okay, because when Sakura takes her hands, she sees that Sakura's makeup is smeared as well. They are both crying and they are both a mess and Ino knows, knows that she is loved by this girl, loved as fiercely as Ino loves her, just in a different way.

It doesn't mean it isn't love.

"I love you for telling me this," Sakura whispers, in that fairy voice that Ino thinks about when she's lying in bed, cursing herself for being who she is. "I love you for trusting me with this. It's different these days, Ino. This won't change the way anybody looks at you."

"How can you say that?" Ino sobs. "Don't you hate me? This is going to ruin our friendship!"

"Nothing," Sakura says, her voice much stronger than it was before, "could ever ruin our friendship, Ino. I love you too much to let you go."

"But not the way I love you," Ino moans, and Sakura's fingers tighten around her own.

"I'm so sorry. You have no idea. But Ino, you're going to make some girl out there the happiest, luckiest girl in the world. Some girl we haven't met yet is going to look at you like you're the answer to all life's mysteries. Some girl we haven't met yet is going to look into your eyes and see what I've seen since we were toddlers."

Ino sniffles and waits for this beautiful girl to continue.

"That you're the single prettiest, sweetest, funniest, smartest girl that ever walked this earth," Sakura finishes, and more tears fall from her eyes, and there are black streaks on her porcelain cheeks and a bittersweet smile twisting her peach-colored lips. "You're going to find someone you love the way you love me right now, who loves you back the right way. But Ino, listen to me, and don't you ever forget this:

"You're my best friend. And thank you for telling me the truth. Thank you for never lying to me. And I would never lie to you in return: this won't change anything between us on my part. I still want to have girls' nights and I want to hear about all your dates, and I want you to be my maid of honor because even if I don't have those feelings for you, you're still my best girl. And you always will be."

Ino's heart is broken, but there's a lightness there as well. A strange weightlessness, and she has never realized her stomach's been aching until the ache is gone. Wiped away by Sakura's unexpectedly kind and understanding words like a lozenge.

Sakura's hands are soft and tight around hers, and she's smiling beautifully, and Ino knows she must keep this strange girl in her life. Even if she can't have her, hold her, touch her, kiss her the way she wants, she has to hold onto her because Sakura is more than just the girl-Ino-likes.

She's her best friend. Her sister.

"I haven't told anyone else," Ino confides quietly. "Not my parents. None of our friends know."

"It's your choice when and if you tell them," Sakura replies, nodding. "I don't think you'll be disappointed with everyone's reactions though. It's different these days, Ino. How can anyone fault you for being who you are?"

"You don't see it as an offense to the institution of marriage?" Ino asks dryly, feeling some of her humor coming back to her numb body. "The precious sanctity uniting man and woman in holiest matrimony? Threatening traditional values? It's Biblical, you know. That what I feel isn't right."

Sakura, unexpectedly, rolls her eyes as she takes her hands away from Ino's and lays back on the bed. "The Bible also states if you grow two different species of crops next to one another, you should be executed and your daughters sold into slavery," she says flatly. "Ino you were born this way. How can anyone ever make the argument that you don't deserve love and a family, same as everyone else?"

Ino sighs and reclines next to Sakura the way they always do when they have their girly talks. There is no lingering awkwardness between them.

"I guess you're right. I just…Sakura I'm sorry."

Sakura frowns and looks at her with confusion in her verdant eyes.

"What for?"

"If what I said…made you feel weird. I know you're with Sasuke and you love him and you guys are happy together. I had no right to tell you anything that could've made you feel…uncomfortable."

Sakura waves it off with a shake of her hand.

"Sweetheart you're probably the only person alive who could hit on me without incurring Sasuke's wrath," she says teasingly, and Ino is shocked to hear herself laugh. "I suggest you take full advantage of this liberty."

Hours pass after that. The topics are lighter, easier. Dresses on sale at Forever 21. A discussion of Kiba's party the week prior. What flowers Sakura's kicking around for her wedding in the spring. Sakura's true to her word; there is not one shred of awkwardness lingering between them.

It's agony that Sakura doesn't reciprocate her feelings, but Ino knows it will only be agony for a little while. She finds herself trusting in Sakura's gorgeous words, that someday there will be a great love in her future, one that's the same on both sides of the fence.

She believes in that. Because Sakura has never lied to her, never once.

She will let Sakura go then, in that regard. Close the door.

But she will hold onto her dearest friend in all the ways that matter.

Because it's love. And with Sakura, it's never a lie.


note.. Not my usual cup of tea, I realize that. But I had the misfortune of reading some extremely homophobic propaganda on some of FFnet's writers' pages and it broke my heart. My best friend is gay; he came out to me in high school and I just don't understand how people can try to rationalize away a person's right to be who they are. It's how you're made, and there is NOTHING wrong with it. Love to everyone always.