Chapter 1: My Enigma

On any other day Ino had a single goal, attract Uchiha Sasuke.

It was the one thing she had been trying to do ever since she was a small munchkin. Sasuke was cool, and handsome, he was everything a girl wanted in a boy. But for some reason, her one track mind had veered on this particular day. Instead of focusing on the mysterious Uchiha, she found her eyes veering towards the bright orange blurb seated several seats in front of her.

Uzumaki Naruto was many things, annoying, an idiot, but most of all, an enigma. Despite sharing a class with the boy for so many years, Ino knew next to nothing about him, and she knew almost everything about everyone that was in her class.

All she knew was that Naruto was a trouble maker and that his grades were abysmal. But there had to be more to him than meets the eye right? Hinata had to be seeing something that they weren't, otherwise the princess of Hyuga clan wouldn't be wasting her time fawning over someone like him.

This mystery was the reason why she was currently jogging to catch up to the boy in question. He stood out like a sore thumb in that hideous outfit of his.

"Hey, Naruto, wait up." She called out, watching him freeze and shoot a look over his shoulder.

She remembered once upon a time that she believed he was part of the Yamanaka clan, blond hair and blue eyes were traits of her clan, but she quickly learned that was not the case.

"Huh? Ino? What's up?" There was a bit of skepticism in his voice and suspicion in his eyes.

"Nothing much, just wanted us to walk together. We live in the same direction y'know." She beamed at him, and he blinked.

"Right," He eyed the road ahead, as if trying to deduce something, "Sure, I guess."

He threw his hands behind his back and continued walking, this time with Ino walking beside him. The two walked in silent with only the sound of crunching gravel and the bustling streets filling the void. Ino didn't know what to say, she's never taken the time to actually speak to her fellow blond. How did she go about striking up a conversation? What did Naruto even do outside of pranks and goofing off?

As she raked her mind on what to say, her eyes caught the cold and malicious stares sent their way...no, they were all directed at Naruto. It was as if they were looking at a pest, vermin, nothing of worth. Ino couldn't shake the uncomfortable feeling.

She wasn't completely oblivious to the looks and whispers that weren't sent in Naruto's way on a daily basis. She just didn't understand why they did it, and Ino wasn't a Nara or the Sandaime Hokage, but even she could tell that this was beyond just a few pranks.

"Soooo," She began, hoping to distract herself from the looks, "You didn't do Iruka's homework again. What's up with that?"

The orange clad boy grumbled, moving one hand to scratch his cheek. That was another thing she wondered about, those lines on his cheeks, they looked so much like whiskers. She wondered if they were birthmarks or scars, or perhaps they really were whiskers.

"I didn't understand any of it." He answered truthfully.

Ino raised a brow, "And you didn't ask your parents for help?"

"Ino, I don't have parents." He answered bluntly, and Ino felt awkward instantly. But it made sense, she had never seen the Uzumaki around anyone she could pin as his parents.

"Oh, sorry, I didn't know." Well that was one mystery down.

"It's fine or whatever." Perhaps reminding an orphan about his lack of a family was the worst thing Ino has done in recent memory. She felt bad, it was odd, she was so used to laughing at Naruto that having any sympathy was setting her off.

"I can help you, ya know if you like need help with that sort of stuff."

He cracked one eye open, "Really?"

"I'm no Forehead or anything, but I know my way around most of the stuff Iruka teaches us. I'm sure I can help you pick up a thing or two." Although Ino hated to admit it, Sakura had the bigger brain between them, it was almost as big as her forehead. But Ino had not only the looks, but the skills.

Naruto seemed puzzled. He was surprisingly not as loud as she imagined, but could she blamed for thinking otherwise? Naruto was always yelling in class, but right now, he was very soft-spoken.

"What's up with you and Sakura, weren't you two friends or something?"

Ino huffed, tossing aside a few strands from her face, "We were friends, and then she tried to steal Sasuke-kun from me."

She could practically feel Naruto roll his eyes.

"Gee, is Sasuke really worth the animosity between you two?"

Ino stopped in her tracks and blinked owlishly at Naruto. The boy stopped soon after, turning to look at her with a raised brow, "What? Do I got something on my face?"

"N-no, it's just I didn't expect you to know a word like that...no offense of course."

Naruto's expression fell, and so did his shoulders.

"Look, I read okay," Ino met him with a deadpan expression, "Sometimes."

"Riiiiight, so anyway, just let me know when you need help with school stuff." She walked past him, and she soon heard his footfalls behind her.

"Not that I don't appreciate your generosity Ino, but what's in it for you?" He definitely wasn't as dumb as she imagined, she was learning so much just from this brief interaction.

"Weeeeelll, I need someone to help me out whenever I'm working at my family's flowershop, this hands were not made to move around bags of soil."

Naruto scratched his chin once again, "Why? Doesn't that like help build muscle?"

Ino sneered, "Muscles? Naruto, I don't want to look like a brick house. I want to be beautiful."

He looked confused, it was kind of adorable the way his scrunched up like that.

"I mean I think girls with muscles are pretty," Well that was a surprise, "And aren't you already pretty? Well, at least I think you are."

Ino's face heated up, that was totally unexpected. Naruto was proving to her why he was often labeled as the the Konoha's unpredictable knuckle-head. Hoping to save face, she slapped his shoulder.

"Uzumaki Naruto, are you flirting with me?!"

Naruto's eyes flew open and he held his hands up defensively, "N-no, I don't think I am! I'm sorry!"

Ino faltered, well, she should at least cap her expectations. Naruto may have sweet words but he was far from being a casanova. She sighed and playfully smacked him over the head, noting how soft his hair was to touch.

"C'mon you dork, I was just teasing you."

He pouted but nonetheless continued forward.

"But yeah as I was saying, I'm just going to need you to help me out at the shop here and there. Dad's been talking about getting a helper for a while now, so I'm sure he'd like hire you. So you'd probably getting paid." She didn't care who it was, she just wanted moving smelly soil bags to be a thing of the past for her.

"Oh, that would be nice." He said awkwardly. Naruto wasn't used to people being this nice to him other than a few exceptions, speaking of, as they walked past a small vendor Naruto heard his voice being called out.

"Naruto-kun, over here!" His head whipped around upon recognising the voice, walking ans talking with Ino had him so engrossed that he failed to realise where they were.

Ino in turn looked to the voice's origin, it was a quaint ramen shop, and waving from behind the white flaps was a brown haired woman.

"Hey Ayame-nee!" He waved back at her. Ino stood still at first as Naruto approached the woman, unsure on what to do, but ultimately she followed after him but stood a little ways off.

"Who's your cute friend?" The woman, Ayame, asked. Ino became bashful as the attention fell on her, she saw Naruto take a glance at her before returning to Ayame.

"That's Ino, we're classmates."

"That's nice, anyway I called you over because I wanted to ask if you wanted some ramen. On the house!"

Naruto's eyes lit up.

"Free ramen?! When would I ever say no to that?"

Ayame giggled, Ino couldn't help but let out a snort at Naruto's enthusiasm. But as if on cue, her own stomach grumbled resulting in a pair of brown and blue eyes focusing on her. A pink dust settled on her cheeks.

"Would you like a bowl too, Ino?" Ayame asked.

"I shouldn't," Ino rubbed the back of her neck, a sheepish smile twisting her lips, "I'm trying to watch my weight and-"

"C'mon, just one bowl won't hurt."

She mulled over the idea. It has been a couple of weeks since she ate anything that wasn't just greens, her stomach growled louder.

"Fine, but just one bowl."

Naruto cheered and Ino clasped her hands together, "Then what are you standing there for? Come in and take your seats."

The two blonds ducked under the flaps and entered the cosy shop, claiming their spots on the red stools. Ino watched as Naruto drummed his fingers against the counter, his joy mimicking that of a child excited for a cone of ice-cream.

"You must really like ramen, huh?"

"It's the best thing ever." He declared boldly, "Especially when Ayame-nee makes it!"

"Don't let my father hear you!" Ayame called out from the kitchen. Naruto laughed, and not his annoying cackle that she was used to it. This time it was hearty and genuine, filled with warmth.

"So, have you two decided what you'll be having?"

Naruto didn't skip a beat, "Miso pork ramen for me!"

Ayame nodded and turned to Ino, the Yamanaka heiress chewed on her lip as she looked at the menu. There was so much to choose from. She contemplated having the vegetarian option, but seeing as how this was supposed to be a cheat day...

"I'll have what he's having."

"Alright, two miso pork ramen coming right up."

Ino didn't think that a simple thought about Naruto would lead to her having lunch with him. This was truly a strange day, and she would have shrugged it off as a dream but she already pinched herself several times, this was reality.

It took a few minutes but Ayame returned with their bowls in hand. The sight before her was enough to make any grown man salivate, even more so in her case as she's been snacking on nothing by celery for the past weeks.

"Wow, this looks amazing." Ino looked up at Ayame, the girl brandished a proud grin as she ran her thumb over the tip of her nose.

"Trust me, it tastes even better."

They both separated their chopsticks and after a quick prayer of thanks, dug into their respective bowls. The first bite for Ino felt like heaven, it wasn't too salty, not to dull, just the perfect blend of flavours. She slurped and slurped, noodles quickly disappearing into her gullet with vigor. She could hear Naruto's slurping next to her, and as if it triggered something in her head, Ino slurped faster. This prompted an unspoken race between them.

"Done!" The both said after drinking up the broth and slamming the bowls done.

They shared a look.

Ayame secretly watched the two, she could see something blooming between them, something she wanted to see fully blossom.

"Seems like we've got a little competition on our hands."

Naruto snorted, "As if, she said one bowl remember. And besides if anyone's going to be beat me, I don't think it's going to be Ino."

"Is that so?" Ino huffed, a fire burning in her eyes, "We'll see about that. Uzumaki Naruto, I officially challenge you to an eat off."

Naruto's lips stretched into a grin, "Oh you're on. Ayame-nee, you heard her. Let's show her why I'm number one here!"

Ayame beamed at them, but happily complied to their requests.

Two pillars of twelve bowls each sat in front of their respective owners.

"D-done!"

Naruto and Ino stared at each other with intensity, before they both groaned, holding their stomachs in pain.

"Okay you two, I think we'll count this one as a tie." Ayame interjected. Normally Naruto could easily outdo twelve bowls, but she assumed the added competition had set off his usual tempo and he ate a little bit too fast.

"Fine, but this isn't over Uzumaki." Ino said, diet be screwed, one of these days she'll make good on her promise and best him.

Naruto jabbed his thumb at his chest.

"And mark my words Yamanaka, I will remain undefeated."

Ayame smiled, it was warming to see Naruto have a friend.

"And I'll officiate when that time comes. Now you best be going, it's getting late."

Naruto laughed sheepishly.

"Sorry about eating so much Ayame-nee."

"Yeah, I guess we got carried away."

The brunette waved them off, "It's alright, we had a good morning. We'll just put this on your future Hokage tab."

"And I'll pay every cent!"

"Hmm, maybe I'll also become Hokage." Ino said with a sky smirk, Naruto sent her a flat expression.

"Don't play like that Ino." She laughed.

"Okay, scurry off you two."

They bid Ayame farewell and left the stall, returning to their original journey.

Ino had fun...she actually had fun hanging out with Uzumaki Naruto of all people. She couldn't remember the last time she laughed as much as she did, especially with someone who was her peer, Naruto was her peer right? He's failed graduation three times, so he must have been a year or two older than her.

Soon she saw her house come into sight, the lights were on as the sun dipped below the horizon. She hadn't realised how late it was until now, she just hoped her father wasn't going to make a big deal out it.

"Hey, here's where I live." She mentioned, hopping over to the front door.

"Nice, so guess I'll see you later." He said, shoving his hands into his pockets.

Ino sighed and rolled her eyes, "Gee, Naruto, you really don't know anything about girls do you?"

He looked dumbfounded, "Nevermind, come to the flower shop tomorrow..." She narrowed her eyes, "You do know where the shop is right?"

"Yeah, yellow walls, pink sign."

She was surprised that he actually knew but chose not to question it.

"Good, pass by at like ten o'clock. Don't be late."

Naruto nodded, and turned to leave, "Naruto."

He looked over his shoulder, lips pursed as he wasn't sure what she was about to say next.

"...I had fun, thanks, and have a goodnight you dork."

Naruto grinned at her, "I had fun too, see you tomorrow Ino-chan!" with that said, the blond went his merry way.

Ino entered the house, oblivious to the light tinge of pink dotting her face. She had been seeking Sasuke's approval for so long that she'd forgotten how it felt to have a boy's undivided attention, even if it was for a few hours. Not that she liked Naruto of anything, her heart still yearned for the Uchiha.

"Ahem."

Ino nearly leapt out of her skin. She frantically spun around and faced her father who had been waiting in the kitchen, eyes crossed and back pressed against the wall. She gulped, a bead of sweat forming on her brow.

"So, we're home late today." He began.

"Errr, it's a Friday, felt like a little fun today." She countered.

"Didn't know you had any friends." Ino frowned.

"I have plenty of friends!" She didn't. Her pursuit for Sasuke's affection had led to pretty much all her peers becoming enemies and rivals, Shikamaru and Choji were the closest thing she had to friends, and even then it was because of clan interest. Maybe Naruto?

"Who's the boy?"

'Shit.'

"Which boy?"

"Torture and Interrogation Force, remember?"

Ino sighed as she slumped against the door, "Right, fine. His name is Naruto."

Inoichi raised a curious brow, "Uzumaki Naruto?"

"Yep, the one and only. We were uh having ramen."

Inoichi was shocked. His daughter? Eating ramen?

"I don't believe it."

"Don't believe what?" Ino cringed as she heard her mother's voice from around the corner. Her mother's regal face soon joined the conversation, and now she had to explain to both of her parents.

"Our daughter here was out eating ramen."

Kiku's eyes fluttered in disbelief, "Ino, dear, are you feeling well?"

"Yes, mom, I just got roped into eating it by Naruto, that's all."

"Oh? Naruto?" her mother's eyes seemed to glow, "What a pleasant boy. You should invite him over some time." That's all she said before returning to whatever she was doing before.

"Huh, can't say I'm not surprised, thought you were all about the Uchiha boy." Her father said.

Ino huffed, "I still am! I just offered to help Naruto with his homework, he's really struggling so I thought he would appreciate it."

'And I'm sure he really does,' He sighed internally, mind momentarily drifting. The boy wasn't a bad kid, just misunderstood. What's an orphan carrying a terrible creature within him to do? He was just not expecting his daughter to befriend him, let alone offer her aid.

"Fine, I'm satisfied."

Ino sighed in relief.

"And Ino, be good to the boy." He was about to leave, but Ino was quick to call him back.

"Dad, why does everyone hate him so much?"

He didn't know what to tell her? Not only because the truth was forbidden, but also because he didn't know how she'd react. He turned and faced his daughter, a solemn expression on his face.

"Don't dwell on it too much."

"How am I not supposed to?" She frowned, "Have you seen the way people look at him? I don't think his pranks are worth that kind of treatment, what is he? Like the Kyubi reborn or something." Ino did not miss the subtle twitch of her father's lips. Oh, there was something to all of this, and she was going to find out.

"Look, Ino, it's nothing to worry about. Just be good to him, that's all." His voice was heavy and stern, code for her to stop asking questions.

Ino was not happy, but she gave up her interrogation, but that did not mean she had given up her search for answers.

"Oh yeah, you know how you said you were looking for someone to help me out at the shop?"

Inoichi chuckled, "Let me guess, you want him to help you."

Ino clasped her hands together, "Please, pretty please. I'm sure he'd appreciate the pay."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm certain you've already told him to come by. I'll discuss payment with him when does."

"Yesss!"


Naruto let out a yawn as he shut the door behind him. He couldn't help but smile as he threw himself on his old and beaten couch.

Yamanaka Ino of all people had made his day. Not only did she offer to help him with academy work, but she also ate ramen with him, going as far as to challenge him to an eating competition.

"She's kinda cool." He thought, the smile not leaving his face. Ino wasn't always the most pleasant person to be around, but she was pretty, and today he realised that she had a cute laugh, it was kind of snorty but he found appeal in it.

It was funny that Ino of all people treated him better than Sakura did.

He sank into his couch and closed his eyes. The world around him went dark, gradually blue hazy forms lit up the darkness but he didn't care for those. He sought out a particular one, and it took some time but he eventually found it. Ino's chakra wasn't the most dense or bountiful, but he had memorised it just from that short interaction.

"Huh, what is she...is she taking a shower-"

Naruto's flushed red as his eyes flew open. Maybe he should call it a night, yeah...that was a good idea.

End of Chapter

A/N: Okay so this was a plot bunny I couldn't get out of my head after seeing some Naru x Ino art. I've always liked Ino, and a part of me was always hopeful that we would see some blondie love, but alas it was not meant to be so says Kishimoto. But anyway I'm not sure if I should continue and flesh out the story, I wrote this to please my dumb brain, but I do genuinely have more ideas regarding this plot. Initially I planned on making it a yuri blurb between fem Naruto and Ino, but that will get its own dedicated fic sometime in the future.

Oh and yeah Naruto's rocking that Kagura's Mind Eye, because why not? I've always wished that he showed more Uzumaki traits other than funny chakra. Karin may be thrown into the fray, it's a gamble but eh.

So tell me, did ya like the idea? Would you like to know me?

Ciao!