Chapter 23: Ino Returns
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Both of them appeared in Naruto's home abruptly using the Flying Thunder God Techniquw. She laid the bloody knucklehead on the bed to inspect his injuries, only to gasp at the severity of them.

She had never seen in such a condition before neither in the past nor in the future. Sure, there was the times the Nine Tails took over and burnt him like roast chicken, or the time she had to pump his heart using her hand, but the state he was in right now was way worse than all of that. Broken bones, blood loss, organ failure... you name the injury, he had exactly and much, MUCH more.

'Still.' She spoke to herself, and those raging emotions within her 'stilled' like a frozen iceberg.

As someone who had reached the apex of Medical Ninjutsu to the point of soundly surpassing her own master, there was no way she'd let her emotions get in the way while in the middle of a 'surgery'.

She identified what she could do, and her hands did exactly that. Even though Naruto could normally heal himself, his Orange Chakra wasn't able to circulate nor could Kurama lend a hand thanks to his Chakra Pathways being messed up.

As he couldn't heal internally, her fingers forcefully pressed acupuncture points to control the breath within his body. Within a moments notice, a string along with a needle appeared in her hand as she used her fingers to 'mould' and her stitches to accurately 'mend' his ruptured internals. This couldn't be done without her 'Godly Hands'.

Although stitches normally wouldn't be able to do much in this situation, her use of such a thing was otherworldly as she was able to make his injuries seem nonexistent after a few hours. Sure, there were thin lines on his body from where she stitched, but thanks to her healing power that was constantly seeping into him, his condition stabled to a certain degree. Though still ending near death.

'I... wanted to change the future.' As his condition stabilised, her stilled emotions started moving.

'I wanted to be the one... who protected you guys this time.' Images of the many times she had been saved and had a near death experience flowed through her mind, especially the times she was always helplessly watching on as a damsel.

'But I... also wanted to see you guys safe.' Then the deadly experiences of her friends arose as well.

'Did I make the wrong decision?' Her heart fell to the depths of despair, but she didn't let it show.

She had a stoic face about her as she continued to return his body to its original state. She tapped into her reserves and didn't waste even a tiny drop of it to manually reconstruct his Chakra Pathways.

As she was going through this procedure, Naruto's consciousness barely returned. Since she didn't have the right medicines on hand to keep him unconscious through the treatment, all she could do was throw all her concentration into her work.

This was the first time Naruto had seen the girl he liked actually doing Medical Ninjutsu, and the more he looked at it, the more uncomfortable he felt. It was as if she became a robot built solely for healing and nothing else as she bottled up her emotions. Only he could see that past those dead eyes were the emotions of guilt and self-loathing.

He didn't want to see her like this, and he also couldn't understand why she felt this way. Why is it that whenever he was around, he could never see this girl love herself or give herself a treat? Why was she always feeling guilt towards them?

After all, she did nothing wrong... right?

"Sa... kura..." He barely spoke out, but she didn't react to him. Her body continuing the treatment.

"You can... rely on me a little." Her hands stopped for a moment, but in the end continued healing.

Her eyes looked into his. Although there was nothing shown on the surface, the storm of negative emotions behind them seemed to be screaming for him to stop talking right now.

"When I rely on you, this happens. You never take care of yourself." She spoke coldly without taking her eyes away from his face. Her hands seemed to already be 'programmed' to work independently.

She thought back to the time letting him and Sasuke 'work thing out on their own' resulted in both of them losing their arms. Where was she during this important moment? Already laying unconscious from being forcefully knocked out.

"...You... changed..." The tremendous pressure she unconsciously put on him clued him in on this.

He had always viewed Sakura as a 'normal girl' without a prestigious backing, not... THIS.

"Think of me as a Cool Girl." She showed a fake smile as tried to stop pressuring him, even going so far as to return her gaze to his injured body, but even with that fine, she couldn't hide anything.

Naruto could see through everything...

"Turn off that sensory power. I want some privacy when it comes to how I feel." She swiftly advised him. She couldn't play the cool girl if he's always prying into her true thoughts. It was a bother.

"I... won't." He refused without hesitation.

"I'm not in a good mood right now. You shouldn't have intercepted him, I can take care of myself much better than you can. Do you see me as weakling? You've never beaten me before and yet you think I'm not strong enough?" Even though her words were sharp, Naruto could only feel her guilt deepening by the moment despite her attitude.

"That's... not it."

"That what is it then?" She didn't come back in time to see him like this. No, this was purely thanks to her changing events as she pleased that Naruto got hurt. Even though the future wasn't what she wanted, she didn't want it to turn any worse!

The knuckle-headed ninja of the leaf couldn't die this way! Not so early and especially not so young!

"I'm strong, so stop doing unnecessary things. I am strong enough... you don't have to protect me anymore...! Please." Her face was emotionless, yet he could sense her crying deep within her heart.

Inner Sakura wasn't doing so well lately, she was suffering from repressing her powerful emotions.

"It's... different." He explained in a hoarse voice. As the his throat healed, his words became more fluid.

"You... should act... the way you want, ya know. I recently... saved money. Why don't we go shop for things... you like... for once." His consciousness blurred half way through, yet his words had impacted her and caused her to grin a little.

There was only one knucklehead in the world who would see her like this and offer to take her out on a date in response. She found it adorable but: How could he be so lighthearted with these injuries?

It didn't take a grand gesture to brighten up her heart. Even so, Naruto couldn't help but feel fascinated by the warmth he felt from her. As if she would always watch over and care for him regardless of what relationship they had in future.

This wasn't unconditional kindness. No, it was more bias than that. In his darkening vision, he saw her aura burn brightly as she reaffirmed her resolve once more. His heart beat sincerely fast as he found this visage of her to be quite... beautiful.

'Ah... so she IS my sun.' He felt relieved as he blacked out, letting Sakura take charge.

The young medic looked at her patient with attentive eyes as she continued to reconnect those severed Chakra Pathways and put them back into functional order. Her eyes turned colder as a two figures appeared behind her without a sound.

"He escaped?"

"We tried our best, but he's too slippery." Zabuza felt ashamed since it was his first actual 'failure'.

She didn't blame him though. That obsessive freak might not be the strongest fighter. However, his fast feet and superior intellect rivalled that of even his master. There was no doubt that guy would scheme in the shadows if he was let off.

"How confident are you in stalking him? Can you keep a close watch on him to see what he does?"

"I am known for assassination. You think I can't stalk one guy?" He lifted his brow at her.

After all, assassination didn't only stem from his ability to hide in mist with soundless steps. If he couldn't stalk his prey beforehand, then how would he find good opportunities to assassinate targets?

"Then leave. I already told you their base." Zabuza nodded his head and vanished. They couldn't let too much time pass or else Kabuto's tracks might run cold. Letting someone like that freely plot in the shadows would be nerve-wrecking to say the least.

"What should I do?" Haku also wanted to help.

"Stay with me for now. I won't be able to leave Naruto's side for a few days... literally. So I'm going to need your help when he needs to do, well... stuff essential to do." Her lips twitched a little.

Being a medic meant having to deal with these sorts of situations as well... She can't exactly let his injuries be known to the Third Hokage or anyone else for that matter since it would bring too much attention to her. Even though she's strong, she wouldn't be able to stay in the shadows anymore once her capabilities were noted by the higher ups.

Danzō was also a problem considering he was most likely still eyeing the seat of Hokage and will certainly take advantage of her should he figure out her weakness. A seal on her mind so she couldn't spread the Flying Thunder God Technique from the Third was enough of a restriction. She didn't need security around them amping up.

Little did she realise that there was a certain blonde girl who had been looking for her all over the place. It was only after realising that another blondie she knew must have the answer to that.

A knocking sound came from Naruto's front door:

"Hey, are you still in? Do you know where Sakura is lately?" This voice alerted the duo in the room.

They panicked and were trying to think up a solution, yet all that was for nought as the honest blonde girl casually let herself in after noticing the door was unlocked. Only to see a shocking scene.

"What are you two- What happened to him?!" Ino felt her heart ache after seeing that adorable knucklehead who once bought flowers from her turned into such a bloody mess. Seeing that Sakura was practically holding him together with her Medical Ninjutsu, she was even more shocked.

Since when was Sakura a Medical Ninja...?!

"He was attacked by someone. I'm using what I remembered in medical books to heal him." As Ino wasn't really familiar with Medical Ninjutsu and was keenly aware of her best friend's almost perverse level of photographic memory, she fell for this.

"Aren't you going to look for the attacker? Isn't this an incident we should be reporting immediately?"

"Please, Ino. I want you to keep this a secret." The young medic shook her head towards her.


"Let me answer that. In fact: We are actually a little involved in some things that lead to your friend getting hurt. This mission is top secret, so I am unable to share any more details." Haku saved the day since he was wearing a Anbu Mask of the Leaf.

As soon as he heard the knocking, he had already came up with a good excuse on the fly. As a skilful tongue was actually the thing he and Zabuza needed most when dealing with others. As no one could live with just strength alone, he was always the actual brains behind covert operations whenever he was paired with his 'father'.

This was something Sakura was relieved about as she remembered how he was able to trick even her Kakashi-sensei with his Sharingan opened in the original timeline. With his quick wit, Ino felt more assured that the authorities weren't slacking off after what happened to Naruto. After all, even if he wasn't her friend, or even a casual acquaintance, a friend of her best friend is her own as well.

"Tell me about what's going on." Ino, who had recently been bringing out her potential and dragging her teammates to do the same, sat down on a nearby chair with a had, serious expression.

She wanted to help as much as she could.