That was all Ino Yamanaka could see, while she ran through the dark streets of Konoha. The fight with her parents had been a really bad one and in her outburst of feelings the blonde girl had taken the most important of her stuff, thrown it into a bag and then she had been off into the night and the pouring rain. She was convinced that nobody would see her now. Not at this unholy hour, but still she was happy that even if someone saw her, the person wouldn´t be able to tell that she was crying.
Everyone would believe that it was the rain on her face, because she was a kunoichi and those did not show any weakness and sure as hell did not cry.
Ino had no intention to stop running. All that was in her mind was to get away from her parents. She did not care about being drenched or the pain that started to grow throughout her whole body.
"Just run Ino. Run as far as you can." she thought to herself, repeating it like a mantra every few seconds. The straps of her bag began to cut into her shoulder, after the rain had gone through the bag and all of its contents and multiplied the weight. Slowly a small voice in her head began to show itself as if her mind was trying to gain the control over her raging emotions.
"But where are you going to run huh?" the small voice asked, getting louder every time Ino repeated her mantra. At some point the flower girl had to answer it.
"I don´t know." she replied and just like that stopped her run. The streets were muddy and her legs were sprinkled with dirt. Her skin felt cold and the tears still didn´t stop. God she was a mess, worse even: she was a lonely mess with nowhere to go. Although it would have been easy to find a place to crash for a few nights at Sakura´s home or the ones of her teammates Ino also knew that her parents would search for her there first.
Her problem was that she didn´t have any other real friends. Sure she knew a lot of people, but never befriended them enough to call any of them friends.
Shino was way too creepy for Ino with all his bugs and his unsocial behavior, so she kept talking to him at a minimum. It was the same with Neji. They were great Ninjas and Ino loved to work with them, but socially they weren´t what she needed.
Staying with Kiba was also a dead end, because the boy couldn´t stand her anymore after she had shot down his attempts to date her in a very cruel way.
She continued to stand in the street, closing her eyes and trying to solve her problem. She needed a place to stay, where no one expected or would search for her. Friends and hotels had to be ruled out.
The other people she could ask like Hinata, Lee and Tenten sure were kind enough to let her stay the night, but she barely knew Hinata or Tenten so it would´ve been very awkward to ask them. Lee was also ruled out, because of being too strange for Ino´s taste, despite him being one of the nicest guys she knew.
Again her train of thought went to where she had started. The girl didn´t know how long she had been just standing in the middle of the street. The rain still fell without mercy. The sobs and tears had stopped as Ino had begun to analyze her problem. The bag had fallen from her shoulder and lay now in the dirty street. Ino just knelt down next to it. She didn´t care about anything anymore. There was no answer for her problem. At least she couldn´t find it.
She couldn´t just go to somebody she barely knew, she couldn´t go to her friends, she couldn´t even go into a hotel. And certainly she wouldn´t go back to her parents.
Even the thought of that brought her nearly to tears. What they had said was just too cruel. No matter why they had said something like that. Her anger and some other emotions did rise to the surface again. Despite desperation because she had nowhere to stay, sitting in the muddy street while rain poured down Ino swore to herself that she would never go live with her parents again.
"They were wrong." Ino whispered to herself. "I´ll prove them wrong and then they´ll see that they should´ve never underestimated me."
"You know it´s kinda hard not to underestimate someone who sits in the mud and talks to herself." a voice said behind her.
Ino grabbed one of the Kunai out of her pouch, jumped facing the threat before anyone normal could´ve noticed. As she saw who had spoken she relaxed. HE was no threat. Not even a small one in her eyes.
"What do you want Uzumaki?" she asked in an aggressive tone. Why did it have to be him to find her in this situation? Of all people it just HAD to be the one person that she could get along with the least.
"Nothing Yamanaka. I'm just enjoying the rain." he told her without any hint of mischief in his voice. "It´s really nice isn´t it? It´s cool, relaxing and you never meet anyone when it´s raining. Well almost never, eh?"
"It's probably because it´s night and nobody wants to get wet. Besides crazy people like you!" Ino told him.
Something about Naruto got her on the edge every time she saw him. She thought that it was the fact that he never acted serious and made stupid jokes, that hindered him in becoming a great ninja. She hated people who sold themselves for less than they were worth.
A small smile graced Naruto's lips. He was as drenched as Ino, but wasn´t shivering. Also he had no mud on him at all. A little bit of curiosity was seen in his eyes.
"So I'm here because I'm crazy. What´s your excuse?"
His voice was relaxed. As if her comments didn´t even bother him at all. It was unlike him. Normally, when people would insult Naruto he would point at them and make quite the scene. Now he was quiet, relaxed and didn´t even show a sign that he had heard her. Was it because no one else was around? Ino didn´t know and it didn´t matter anyways. She mumbled her answer hoping he would just leave her alone. She didn´t need someone other than her parents bother her tonight.
"Got into a fight...parents...ran away...no place to stay." the other words were too silent to be heard at all. Naruto's smile grew bigger. Ino turned her head to the side.
Now it would start. He would laugh at her and would make fun of her, to get her back for all the times she did the same thing when he was in such an embarrassing situation. A small part of her mind even thought that she deserved it.
"So where´s the problem? You can stay at my place!" Naruto told her with a big grin and a happy voice.
In her surprise she stared at him. What had he just said? SHE could stay with HIM? No jokes? No remarks? Just an invitation to stay over? Her face must have shown her big surprise because of his next words.
"What´s wrong Ino? Come on? The rain has stopped, so there´s no reason to stay outside anymore."
He took a few steps towards her and then grabbed her bag, throwing it over his shoulder. Ino was still unsure but followed him as he led the way to his home
"This is no trick? You´re not leading me on?" she asked, knowing how rude it was. But she had to make sure. Naruto turned around and faced her, staring in her eyes.
"No trick. Just a friend helping a friend." he told her with this unusual serious voice. His words were another surprise for Ino.
"You consider me a friend?"She asked him. "But we fight all the time and never get along. At least if we're not on missions."
He just laughed, turned around and started to walk again. Then he told her something she would think about for the next month, though she didn´t know it yet.
"You´re right we fight. We get on each others' nerves and always embarrass each other, but you´re still my friend." he said. "You never say something hurtful or something that is not true about me. It´s not the usual friendship, but to me it is a friendship none the less."
After that he was silent and so was she. They just walked to his apartment in silence and dealt with what was on each of their minds.
Ino tried to understand why Naruto would let her stay. She for her part had never been very nice to him. Always pointing out his flaws and telling him how stupid his pranks were. Nevertheless she had never spread rumors about him like a lot of the other kids had. They just never got along, because Ino had somehow felt that Naruto never tried his best. Like he was holding back.
When he had fought in the Chuunin exams she had seen that he wasn´t the dead last. Also she had heard that it was him who had beaten Gaara of the sand and had convinced Tsunade-sama to come to the village.
He had potential to be just as good as Sasuke if not better, of that Ino was sure.
She just didn´t get Naruto and to be honest in the end she did not care one bit why he was nice to her. She had a place to stay and he even carried her things for her. Why not enjoy such a nice gesture?
Naruto meant no harm to her.
When they came to his place he opened the door and showed her to bathroom. He gave her a bright orange towel and said that he would make some ramen for them.
She didn´t complain. She closed the bathroom door, stripped her wet clothes down and got under the shower to warm herself up.
Other problems could wait, couldn´t they?
Naruto, after he had given Ino the towels, had changed into dry clothes. He wasn´t afraid of a cold. After all he never got one thanks to his secret friend. Now he stood in his kitchen boiling water for two ramen cups. He heard the shower running in the bathroom and wondered how it had come to the fact that Ino Yamanaka was using his shower.
When the rain had started and everyone else had gotten into their homes Naruto had decided to take a walk through the village. Rain had always been his friend, because it was the reason why the streets were empty. That meant no hateful glares, no one accidentally bumping into him and no whispered curses about the demon child. Just him, the street and the platter of raindrops. He enjoyed walking the village in the rain. It was lonely but loneliness was better than the silent boiling hate he always felt from the village.
Well not the whole village anymore. People like Iruka, Teuchi, Ayame, Anko and most of the higher Shinobi were quite fond of him nowadays. It had something to do with him beating Gaara and finding Tsunade, Naruto suspected. All the other shinobi didn´t really care about him as far as he knew. Not that they had been the problem in first place. It was the villagers who despised or feared him the most. They had never beaten him if you didn´t mind some drunken idiots, but Naruto always felt their hatred. It was worse than any beating, because he couldn´t do anything about it. He couldn´t just fight back and hit them for the glares and whispers. Not even for telling their kids to avoid him. He just had to endure everything they did.
That was why he praised the rain and the peace it gave him. Loneliness was his friend sometimes, though he was never really alone. The damn fourth had made sure of that.
With a scowl he poured the boiling water in the cups. He nearly burned his hands again. That happened quite often these days. They were always shaking for some reason. Maybe suppressed anger was the reason, maybe the exhaustion from his training. He couldn´t care less about it. What he did care about was why he had found Ino kneeling in the muddy road, legs all dirty, clothes drenched, eyes puffy red. He had noticed it right away.
Never ever had he seen the girl like that. She always cared about her looks and it was a bad sign if she didn´t. When he heard her mutter to herself how she would show someone they were wrong, Naruto knew that she had had a fight with someone. The person had hurt her bad, even he saw that back then.
So he did the only thing he could think of: giving her a place to hide, to recover from the pain.
He wasn´t close to her, but she was Sakura's friend after all. Also she was always fun to argue with. He liked the strong, bossy and loud Ino, because she meant a challenge for his mind. To verbally fight with her was a funny way to kill time and distracted him from other things.
Sure she had never seen through the facade of his grins and false laughter but why should she? They only talked for a few minutes most of the times. Mostly it ended with her whacking his head telling him to shut up.
The girl in the street was nothing of the strong friend he knew. She was lost, hurt and had nowhere to go. Only a glimpse of the determination of the normal Ino had been left in her.
Naruto knew how she felt, because he had felt the same many times. What she needed was the help of a friend. The surprised look on her face had been a bonus for him.
She had followed him to his house without another word and Naruto was sure that she had been lost in her thoughts.
Now he had one of the prettiest girls in his house, using his shower. He couldn´t help the small blush on his face. The first girl to ever visit him.
Well besides Hinata, but the blue haired girl was a special case after all. Furthermore unlike Hinata Ino would stay the night with him or even a few nights. That made her staying here special.
The sound of the shower stopped just as he set two bowls on the table. He preferred to eat from the bowls instead of the cup. It just made the whole experience of eating ramen nicer.
When he heard the bathroom door open he lifted his head in its direction. Ino had only opened it a little, so he couldn´t see her but hear her voice.
"Naruto?" he heard her ask, pretty shyly. "Uhmm could you do me another favour?"
"Sure Ino, what do you need?" he asked. She was his guest and Naruto would do everything to make her comfortable.
"Well, you see..." Ino began. "I don´t have any dry clothes. All the things in my bag are wet. I know you don't have any clothes for girls but could you lend me some of yours?" The blush could be heard in her voice. Maybe there was also a bit of shame for being in this situation.
Naruto's smile grew. If that was her only problem it was easily fixed.
"Sure wait for a moment." he told her. Than Naruto went into the bedroom, took some of the things out of his dresser and went to the bathroom. Now came the awkward part.
"Ino, I´ve got the things here. I´ll close my eyes so you can get them from me okay?" His face was really hot. If Sakura had been in Ino´s place he was sure, she would´ve beaten him into next week. For his luck Ino was too exhausted from the events of the night to even care.
"Okay. Close your eyes I will get the things." the blond girl said. "And thanks again for being so kind."
Closing his eyes he waited. The next thing he felt was the small breeze of hot air coming from within the bathroom and then someone tugging the clothes out of his hands. After that he heard the bathroom door close.
"I´ll be waiting in the kitchen for you." he said through the door." We can discuss the sleeping arrangement while we eat there if you want. Or we just eat and talk afterwards. It´s up to you."
Without waiting for an answer he got back into the kitchen and sat down into one of the two chairs. There he waited for her. After a few minutes Ino came into the kitchen.
When he saw her his breath got stuck in his throat. She was wearing a small pair of his boxers, which showed a lot of her long legs.
The shirt that was a little big for her went just over her behind drawing his attention to it. Her wet hair dangled over her shoulder, freed from its normal ponytail, giving it a messy but also sexy look. To his luck she was still drying her face and didn´t see his stare before he turned his eyes away. Naruto was convinced that the girl would´ve whacked him if she had seen. He himself would have done the same.
Ino came over to the kitchen table and sat down on the opposite side from him. She looked into his face. A small smile was seen around her lips. He had to admit, this girl was indeed Sakura-chan's worst rival when it came to being beautiful.
"Thank you for treating me like this. I don´t know what would have been if you hadn´t shown up at the street." she told him. Naruto took his hand behind his head, rubbing his hair.
"Don´t mind it Ino. I just did what anyone would´ve done. Come on let´s eat. I am starving and I'm sure you´re too. After that you can get my bed and I´ll take my sleeping bag and the couch." He said. "And don´t worry you can stay here as long as you want."
"Thank you. You´re really kind to me. I don´t know how to repay you." she told him as she took her chopsticks.
"Just show your parents, that whatever they said to hurt you isn´t true." Naruto said. "I don´t know what they said and I don´t care, but I want none of my friends being hurt by anyone."
Her reply was another small smile. The blonde boy liked that smile. There was something in it that he just had to see, though he didn´t know what it was. Anyway as long as he could help Ino he was content. His friends were dear to him; after all they were all he had. Even the ones that weren´t that close to him. He would do what he could for the blond girl.
But for now he would just eat his ramen.
Other problems could wait, couldn´t they?