Ch 26: A Very ‘Intense’ Friendship
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When Sakura woke up, she found herself in Ino's arms... Her body was inside her embrace...

"Ummm..." When Ino noticed that the girl in her arms woken, a chilling smile curved on her lips.

"Sakura~" 

"...Yeah?" She responded as the gal's hand pushed a lock of her hair within her best friend's sight.

After what happened previously, it seemed even her hair grew by a sizeable portion until it became quite long. The bottom half of her naturally pink hair had even became white after what happened.

"Did you get a makeover~? I was really worried when you suddenly collapsed in the bath without warning, but I guess all is fine now since it's probably just you being exhausted from dyeing your hair and getting a tattoo, right~? Right~?"

Sakura: ( ̄口 ̄)!!

She was about to come up with an excuse, but found herself suddenly being head-locked by the girl behind her. Considering she was fatigued and Ino had been working out, she couldn't really get out of this pin whatsoever. Being helpless to resist.

"You aren't hiding something, right~?" That smile still on her face was very scary for Sakura to look at. She already guessed that Ino would figure out she was lying, but wasn't this a little too early?

How should she explain her new hair colour? And the Six Paths Thunder Power tattoo under her neck wasn't even something she herself understood. So how was she going to explain what had happened?

"If you can't explain, just give me permission to check myself~!" Ino continued with a frosty tone as her hand touched Sakura's temple, just waiting for her friend to say the word. What she saw in Naruto's memories was too shocking to her.

She needed to know her friend wasn't getting into anything crazy. As she would beat her senseless and drag her back should this girl be purposely risking her life without a good reason to do so.

"Ino... I'll tell you everything." Of course, she couldn't allow all her secrets to be revealed here.

Besides the fact that she was from the future, all of what happened in the time they were apart was explained to her into digestible portions. From her little 'friendship' with rogue Mist Ninjas, to the plot cooled up by Orochimaru, to the political climate of the Hidden Sand, and even the Chinoike Clan.

The more the gal heard, the more her mouth opened in a stupefied manner considering how very 'active' Sakura has been lately. When she was finally given an invitation to help her, she answered:

"It's only natural I'll help! But you still haven't said anything about why your hair suddenly grew..."

"A powerful figure actually gave me a kind of 'innate power'. Even I'm not sure what it does."

This response was good enough for Ino to let her go. It was only after pulling herself up did she realise that she had been clothed by her. A burst of awkwardness ran through her heart as she realised that her friend had been 'enthusiastic' to do so.

She didn't know where the new clothes she was wearing came from but it looked at lot like Ino's.

"That shade of pink clothes suit you."

"Really?" The clothes she wore were definitely of her friend's tastes, especially the design of it.

It was practically a pink version of the clothes Ino was wearing, a nice style for kunoichi ninja.

"Where's Naruto?" It was only then did she notice that the knucklehead was nowhere to be seen.

"He wanted to leave himself after waking up. He said something about feeling he was too 'weak' or something." Ino wasn't sure but she could sense that he wasn't going to do anything reckless.

Now that she though about it. Lately, she had been seeing a lot of good sides to Naruto, to the point that she wondered why she never noticed his charms before, which unlike Sasuke's obvious ones. This made her quite curious about the two.

"You aren't going to go out with him?" She asked while remembering back to the time he bought her flowers. The look on Sakura's face after she asked that question didn't redden, but it showed that she had seriously considered the matter carefully.

"...I might do it. Now right now though, I have a lot of things to do." She was really busy these days.

She and her clones had to do a regular rotation everyday so that the shadow clones weren't kept out for too long. After all, the amount of information that comes from releasing a clone was very fatiguing to the point it was better to actually settle things by going to the different places she needed to be rather than sending a shadow clone.

There was a reason Naruto as the Seventh Hokage was tired all the time... Even if he got a clone to rest for him, it would instead only increase his fatigue... He couldn't even use his clones to cheat when doing the Hokage work much for the same reasons. Even if his real self slept, the amount of fatigue he'd feel would only increase the higher number of clones he used. It was useless to him.

This wasn't much of a surprise considering shadow clones were a Jutsu made for reconnaissance rather than lessening work loads. Their strength came from being able to be at different places.

The situation at the Hidden Sand seemed to be going pretty well. Although she inadvertently gave them a new fighting force, the Chinoike Clan paired with her medicinal skills would definitely allow her to one day have a lot of influence within the village.

As she needed to the Shinobi Alliance to form much quicker than last time, the whole reason she was fine with only having the future Bloodsword Queen added to her fighting force was naturally because she thought about the bigger picture.

"You're so busy you're going to leave him be?" A strange look appeared in Ino's eyes as she spoke.

"What's wrong?" She didn't see any reason not to put this to the side. It wasn't important after all.

"...Even I know that ignoring someone who's so open about liking you is cruel." As fellow blondies who like the thought of romanticism, she could see some parallels between her and Naruto now.

The only difference is that Ino had gradually came to give up on Sasuke after spending her time away for training. She still thought he was handsome and cool, but she also realised after taking her time to think about it that he was uninterested in dating.

Not that this hurt her confidence in any way. She still had the vanity to openly say that she was the future most beautiful kunoichi. The only thing that changed was her maturity after the kind of training she had to do to master her personal technique she called the 'Psycho Mind Transmission'. Which was considered pretty normal for a Yamanaka.

'So... you are taking his feeling for granted.' As the facts had been distorted by Sakura's long and comprehensive explanation, she didn't see what reason she had for not rejecting him properly.

At least Sasuke wasn't ambiguous when in his attitude towards them when they were part of his fan club. To her, she couldn't understand why her friend wouldn't just make a decision. Though this was also because she had no idea of the 'future'.

Would she still see things so simply if she knew that Sakura had married Sasuke in the future?

"It's his own decision..." But even if Sakura was also aware that she was hesitating too much, she recently had returned to being too accustomed to Naruto 'liking' her regardless of her opinions.

Ino noticed the hesitation in her eyes before smirking, an interesting thought came to mind.

"Then you wouldn't mind if I have him, right~?" The pink-haired girl before her reacted to those words.

"...Don't be immature about this."

"Oh wow, you think I'm immature~ But I feel genuinely interested in him~" She flipped her hair before realising something. The gal unbound her hair and let it flow behind her similar to Sakura.

"He seems to like girls this hairstyle." Ino looked in the mirror while pretending to consider him.

Aware that Ino's looks were pretty good even at a young age and how that knucklehead might actually fall for her friend, her heart jolted in fear unconsciously. She realised that Naruto might change and go for another girl if he had one.

And Ino wasn't like Hinata, she knew how to be straightforward and flirtatious when she wanted a guy she liked. Naruto was unlike that indestructible wall called Sasuke as well... He might end up considering it should she seriously pursue him...!

'Ino and Naruto together?' She had forgotten that Sai wasn't here to tame this tigress. Ino's future was also uncertain, and without Sasuke leaving the village, she might not even meet her future partner.

Even if she wasn't being serious? What if Naruto was hurt by her messing with him immaturely? 

Sakura both overthought Ino's actions and mixed her guilt towards changing the future into this.

Her heart had never been as strong as steel...

"Don't mess with his heart...!" The memories of Sakura's 'past' kicked in as she couldn't help but accidentally see herself in her friend, and those times she manipulated Naruto's feelings for her.

Ino was shocked by Sakura's outburst as she realised that her friend had a lot deeper feelings for him than she realised. As she watched Sakura put her hand over her mouth, she was unable to understand why they didn't just get together.

There was no reason not to, right? What was the problem? It was then she came to a conclusion.

'She is probably scared of that scary fox inside of him.' Was her logical but inaccurate deduction.

She thought that maybe... Sakura wanted to get together with Naruto but was scared by that beast within him. The reason they couldn't be together was because she was being scared away by it.

This conclusion made her feel helpless. Although she prided herself in her looks, she wasn't exactly an expert on 'love'. She too similarly was now always scared after realising he had what seemed to be the fox that destroyed the village once within his stomach. The fear that it might go out of control and kill her family and friends still haunted even as he left... What was she supposed to do?

"I understand." She left her hair the way it was and showed her support by putting her hands on her shoulders. Her eyes were filled with support for her friend no matter what option she chooses, until...

'Wait, wouldn't a heartbreak be better for her?' If she thought about this clearly, wouldn't her friend not have any feelings for Naruto if she realised he had also moved on? That way, she wouldn't have to worry about her friend being paired such a freak...!

Although she found Naruto pitiful. The fact that he was a ticking time-bomb was no secret to her. As she had only read the thoughts from Naruto's perspective, she felt the Nine-Tails might just be scheming something to get out of his body.

She saw the memories of Naruto 'taming' his beast within, but she didn't believe Kurama's words one bit. Too many people had died by that fox's actions and she wasn't sure when Naruto would 'go off'.

That's why she secretly came up with a plan. She will split those two apart, find out the truth of the matter, and find a way to complete the seal on Naruto's stomach. After doing the last thing, will she feel that it's safe for Sakura to get close to him.

"Hey, we've never went shopping, have we? Let's get going then." She then pulled her along.

"What for?"

"New clothes for you, obviously. Are you planning to wear mine forever? Plus, I've already checked Naruto's memories. That redhead won't be sitting still, but the Hidden Leaf isn't a pushover. We can check the situation." Ino told her reasonably.

Of course, she just wanted to spend time to reconnect with her best friend to speak truthfully.

But she was too embarrassed to say it aloud...!

Just as they went out of the house, they came across two figures that would normally never walk together hand-in-hand. Hinata's eyes were closed as a blindfolded Sasuke lead her forward carefully.

The scene was strange no matter what angle you look at it, to the point both of them were curious.

What happened?

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