Chapter 5: Mind Over Matter
Let it be known, Yamanaka Ino never claimed to be the most athletic being out there. Her lithe figure was purely based on looks and aesthetics, and lacked the power and agility it boasted. When she volunteered to help Naruto with training, she had expected it to be small exercises, light enough for her to endure for a few hours. However, she had grossly underestimated the training program.
Her chest rapidly rose and fell as she lay on her back. Her arms and legs screaming at her as an intense heat stroked her muscles. Sweat soaked her skin and her purple training gear sported grime and dried sweat.
"Whoever gave you that thing is insane! Insane! you hear me!?" She managed to yell out, hearing Naruto huff and puff from the other end of the training ground.
"It's not that bad," Her fellow blond said, stumbling over to her and dropping to his knees.
"Don't you lie to me, Uzumaki." She glared at him, Naruto may have faired better, but even she could see the onset of fatigue slowly eat at him.
He groaned and dropped like a sack of potatoes, resting on his back right next to Ino.
Lee's training program was intense, and he had to do this repeatedly! He could handle the several laps around the training ground without a problem, but doing so with weights was pure torture. And that was just the warm-up! Lee had listed several exercise, all demanding a ridiculous amounts of reps.
'Academy students my ass...' He mentally cursed the boy's name. There was no way Lee did this himself right?
"Please tell me we're done." Ino turned her head, her eyes soft and pleading.
"...We're not even halfway." He replied.
"No!" Ino screamed, her torso shooting up as she sat up, "I am not doing this, read my lips son of Uzumaki Kushina! I am not!"
Naruto chuckled, "C'mon, Ino-chan, don't you want your precious Sasuke-kun to notice you?"
Her mind halted, a feud of conflict raging on. A part of her wanted to say screw Sasuke, that boy wouldn't know a bombshell if it him square in the face. She could do better right? At least get someone who'd listen to her for more than a few seconds. Getting last Uchiha would be more like an accolade, she'd be the talk of the village for like a week and then become old news by the next.
"Honestly, I don't think he's worth this amount of torture." She said with a sigh, blowing aside a few stray blonde strands. If it was a day of push-ups then maybe, but this was beyond that.
Naruto sat up, arms resting against his knees.
"Hey Ino, why are you training to be ninja?" He asked her.
Ino's face scrunched up. She didn't expect him to ask her that, but in truth Ino has never asked herself that question in the first place. She joined the academy and went along with everything just because her father enrolled her. She didn't have much of a choice, the unfortunate fact of being the child of a clan head meant she had a lot of eyes on her, she had a lot of expectations to live up to.
She never really wanted to be a kunoichi, it was thrust upon her and she had to accept it. It wasn't as severe as other clan children from stricter clans such as the Hyuga, but still she couldn't help but feel robbed of another aspect of life.
"I...don't know." She said in a voice almost as soft as a whisper, "I guess because I have to."
"I see..." He turned his body to completely face her, "C'mon gimme your hands." He said, fingers wiggling in a gesture.
Ino raises a blonde brow, "What are you scheming?"
"Have a little faith, Ino-chan. Now gimme those tiny little hands."
"They're not tiny you dork! Your hands are just massive." She would pout, but ultimately surrendered. She mirrored his position and lent him her hands.
Naruto grabbed them and squeezed them. He was firm but gentle with her, thumbs feeling the palm of her hands.
"I want you to be the best kunoichi this village has ever seen," Ino groaned, she should have expected a peptalk, Naruto was enough of a dork to do such a thing, "I want the name Yamanaka Ino to be synonymous with badass. I want them to think of the blonde chick who can kick ass and take names!"
Ino became coy as she heard him speak, "Naruto..."
"See all those girls in our class, they won't hold a candle to you! And that Uchiha, he's going to regret not sparing you a second of his time."
Ino's fair skin adopted a rosy tone, okay maybe the dork had an effect on her, but only because she was tired!
"I don't want you to train because your dad wants you to, or because you have no choice. I want you to train because you're going to be best there ever was, the best there ever will be, and the best there is," She couldn't help the smile that thrust itself onto her face, his energy was contagious, annoyingly so.
"My friend Yamanaka Ino is a name I'll say with pride," he grinned at her, "She's changed my life, and I admire her for that. I want my friend Ino-chan to be the best, not because of her name, but because she wants to."
Ino didn't know what to feel. Inspired, embarrassed, smitten, or light-headed. It was a mixture of emotions and sensations, the tingling in her stomach and the warmth in her chest and face. No matter how hard she tried to push down the grin, it was there to stay.
"Naruto...you dork, you sweet, sweet dork." She pulled herself forward using his weight until she was on her knees, "I hate you for this." She said, but her tone dictated otherwise as the two held one another in an embrace.
"Mhm, now promise me you'll do this for you." She could feel her body shudder from his voice as they were in close proximity.
"Fiiiineee! I'll do this for me, but only because your dopey words were sweet." She said with a sigh, relaxing in his arms.
"I know, I have a way with wo-"
"Don't ruin the moment."
An hour later and the two were finally tackling Lee's program once more. The blond duo opted on a support strategy, both taking turns to spot and aid the other rather than doing their own thing. It was mostly to benefit Ino, Naruto knew the right things to say to give her that extra push even when she could no longer stand her own.
Every push-up felt like agony. Every sit-up was torture. Every squat more brutal than the previous one. Ino questioned the body's method of improvement, evolution her ass, all that genetic selection and for what?
"O-okay!" Ino plopped to the ground for what felt like the umpteenth time that day, her limbs refused to move and her lungs burned.
"I'm proud of you Ino-chan."
"Screw you, Uzumaki." She grinned at him.
Naruto dropped to the ground and laid his head on her stomach.
"Hey! Get your fat head off of me." She lightly smacked the top of his head.
"But Inooo-chan you're so soft!" Naruto did not understand the weight of his words, nor did he notice her scarlet visage.
"I'm not your pillow your dork!" He cracked an eye open, "Please! Pretty please with ramen on top."
She rolled her eyes, "Fine you big baby. But let's find some proper shade."
She looked for the biggest tree in the area which happened to be a few feet away from them.
"We'll sit under there." She said, well more like she ordered. Naruto sat up allowing Ino to crawl her way to the base of the tree, resting her back against the trunk. She stretched her legs and gestured to her lap.
"Not on my stomach, but you can lay on my lap."
Naruto couldn't argue against that. The urge to drift off into a slumber was strong, Naruto felt comfort in being around Ino and despite them both being sore and showing the wear and tear of Lee's brutal strategy he found peace in their time together. They were a fair distance away from the busy districts of Konoha, the training ground was open to the public as it lacked a designated team. Its distance from the main village meant the chances of them being disturbed were long, perfect for them to scream to the heavens in frustration.
"Oi! Don't sleep." Her fingers pried his eyelids apart.
"Awww but Ino-chan just a few minutes." He reached out, trying to poke her cheek.
The Yamanaka heiress was not amused as she slapped his hand away, "No, let's work on that sensory technique of yours."
"You're the boss." He sighed, but soon let out a yelp of pain as she pinched his cheek.
"Careful with that sass, Uzumaki."
His brows furrowed. He dragged his arm along the grass and found her exposed calf and pinched her in return.
"Right back at ya, Yamanaka."
Ino rolled her eyes, "Just get to sensing okay, I want you to be able to sense a fly by the time we graduate."
"A fly? When am I ever going to need to find a fly?"
"We could run into an enemy that has similar techniques to Shino's clan, have you ever thought about that?" His silence was enough of an answer, "Exactly, chop to it."
He sighed. Closing his eyes and immediately Ino's chakra flared to life. Compared to the first time he properly examined it, Ino's chakra felt more welcoming. It reminded him of his favourite blanket after he washed it with the lavender scented fabric conditioner he recently bought.
He dwelled on her chakra, exploring every nook and cranny he could find. Ino may have been onto something with her fly example. The deeper he looked into her chakra, the more complex it became, rather than being met with a solid singular form, he was met with a web of emotions and feelings, intricate pathways all possessing their own unique perks. But the more he delved deeper the more he felt a tug and pull.
"What do you see?"
"Your chakra's weird. The deeper I go the more I feel like it's trying to get into my head." He opened a single eye and watched as she looked down at him.
"Wait are you sensing my clan techniques?" She asked, "Do you know what this means?"
"Uh, I'm cool?"
"Naruto, this means you could potentially find out the nature of an enemy's techniques before they even know it." Naruto's eyes widened, "No way, we gotta test this out on someone else."
She looked up and scouted the training ground. Unfortunately, they were alone with no immediate volunteer.
"Try looking for someone like Shikamaru."
He nodded silently. Shutting his open eye he once again plunged himself in the familiar darkness. Ino's chakra sparked to life but he drew himself away from it. Navigating through the village and the many signatures flaring around him, he was finding it difficult to pick out one singular source. A few seconds turned into minutes, but eventually through trial and error Naruto managed to find Shikamaru.
"Of course he's just watching clouds."
"Yes, of course he is. Now hurry up and do the thing."
He stuck his tongue out at her but did as she said. Piercing through the top layer of chakra, Naruto plunged into the depths of Shikamaru's core. He immediately noticed the difference between Ino's and the Nara heir's chakra. Where as Ino's chakra was a complex interconnection of thoughts and emotions, Shikamaru's was a spool of calm threads.
Everything felt calm and steady, and lethargic. He was lulled the further he went, finding it easy to think while surrounded by dark veins of chakra. However, despite this Naruto felt less in control of his body, it wasn't literal but the phantom feeling of weight upon his physical form was there.
"Right, Shika's clan has the shadow puppet thing..."
"You felt it?" She asked, seemingly pleased by her theory being proven.
"Yeah, but it took longer than I would have liked. I need to get better at this." He said, lips twitching as he felt her fingers comb through his hair.
"Hmm, maybe I can get my dad to help," She suggested, "Sure there's some loops to pass through because you know clan secrets and all, but I'm certain that some of the exercises we use can help."
Naruto radiated with excitement, "Really? That would be great!"
"I'm sure he won't mind. But for now, just keep doing the thing. Build up that muscle memory."
His next target was the Hokage. The old man reminded him of a library. His webs were neatly arranged and vast, easy to get lost in as he wandered through them.
Ino on the other hand watched Naruto's face shift through expressions. She wondered what it felt like, if it was anything similar to their techniques. She further wondered if she could experience it once she learned the more advanced stages of the Yamanaka repertoire.
"Who are you sensing now?" She asked, but she was met with silence.
"Naruto?" She narrowed her eyes, fingers poking at his cheeks. She heard him snore softly, "...you little brat." He had fallen asleep while sensing.
She sighed, might as well let him get a few minutes of rest. She looked up, the village in the near distance looked peaceful from this point.
"What did I get myself into..." Uzumaki Naruto was an unpredictable bundle of sunshine. She stared at his resting face, he was kinda cute. She let out a small yawn, hands moving to rub her eyes.
"Okay, maybe a little bif of shut eye would do some good." She closed her own eyes, gradually letting her mind drift off to sleep.
When Ino opened her eyes, she hadn't expected to see multiple copies of her friend. Three exact replicas standing adjacent to one another, all clad in the same white and orange fleece.
"I'm still dreaming..."
"Oh, hey you're awake!" One of them looked at her.
"I thought...you couldn't make clones." She said the fog of sleep slowly dissipating. But as she begin to think more clearly she noticed that the clones appeared autonomous, as while one blonde spoke to her the other two were holding a discussion of their own.
"Hehe," He chuckled, "These aren't normal clones, I asked Jiji if he could help me and he gave me the Kage Bunshin no Jutsu."
Ino slowly stood up, her legs still felt heavy, she just knew that school would suck tomorrow with the way her body would hurt.
"Okay...so which is the real you?"
"Me, of course." The one who spoke earlier said. She nodded, walking past him and approaching the clones as they turned to look at her.
"So, you two are clones?"
"Hi, pretty lady!"
"Yeeeeah, they kinda have a mind of their own, sometimes." Naruto commented, a sharp glare sent towards the bold clone that was seemingly oblivious to this.
Ino poked the clone closest to her, instead of phasing through like she normally would, she was met with a physical form. Her finger actually pressed against the clone's shoulder, jacket crinkling in response.
"Actual clones," She muttered staring at her own finger, "No fair!"
"Huh!" Naruto reeled back as Ino stomped towards him.
"How come you get the fun stuff?!"
"Hey! I can't make regular clones, and besides this jutsu needs a lot of chakra." He explained, although he didn't feel anything making two clones, the Hokage had noted that the jutsu actually split the user's chakra in half. Now Naruto wasn't a fool, he knew he had an absurd amount of chakra so something like that wouldn't affect him. But someone like Ino will struggle.
"I dunno Ino, if anything happens-"
"Nothing will happen, just teach me. Please, pretty please...with ramen on top."
The corner of his lips twitched, "I see what you did there." His voice was flat, but he was obviously amused by her usage of his own methods.
"C'mon, boss man, it won't be bad." One of his clones commented.
"Yeah!" The other interjected with a thumbs-up.
"Damn, am I being pressured by myself?" He was still getting use to the concept of his clones being able to think for themselves. Sure they followed his orders, but they could still say and think their own thing...well his own thing?
Naruto sighed as he pinched the bridge of his nose. He didn't want to get in trouble with anyone, but he knew how persist Ino could be. He wouldn't hear the end of it if he refused to teach her, and seeing how far away graduation was he didn't want to endure months of nagging.
"Fine," Ino cheered, "But don't push it, one clone, okay?"
"You worry too much, I can handle it."
The next two hours were spent trying to help Ino understand and perform the technique. It was harder than he first imagined, he managed to grasp the jutsu within a few minutes while Ino struggled for nearly two hours. He wasn't sure if it boiled down to chakra demand, or if there was more to it, but eventually an exhausted Ino stood leaning against her equally worn clone.
"See," She cracked him a grin, "Told you I could handle it." Though she refused to admit the fatigue she felt. The day had been long, not only did she endure that dumb training program but she also managed to learn a B-rank jutsu. Admittedly the jutsu wasn't that difficult, it was more so that she needed to split her chakra in half which sounded easier than it was.
Naruto being able to create more than one clone was a testament to the amount of chakra he possessed. Him claiming that he felt nothing as he casually created ten clones left her feeling a pang of envy, but eventually she learned to let it go, he had massive amounts of chakra and she could possesses other people's bodies- it was a fair trade.
"One step closer to be the best," Naruto remarked a hint of pride in his voice as he watched the clone and its creator interact.
Ino stared at her clone, the twin wore a haughty smirk on its face, one hand resting against its hip.
"Hello there hot stuff."
"Right back at ya."
Naruto felt funny. Seeing Ino and her clone talk to one another was weird, and he wasn't sure why.
"So my clone can use jutsu that I can?" She asked, snapping out of him from his internal ramblings.
"Yup, that's what the note Jiji wrote for me said. Clones can use techniques that the original can use, and that clones and the user are connected in a network, not sure what that really means." He muttered as he rubbed the back of his head, "Oh! Have your clone whisper something to me."
Ino raised a brow but didn't question his intentions. She whispered to the clone, and in turn it sauntered over to their fellow blond. She heard the hushed words, intangible to her from where she stood but she frowned as she saw his face turn crimson.
"O-okay, dispel it."
The clone disappeared in a puff of smoke, and Ino felt a sudden rush of images and memories bombard her brain. It reminded her of the Shindenshin no Jutsu, but before she could linger on the process, her clone's words registered.
'Why that little!'
She didn't even want to repeat what the clone said, not to herself, and not to Naruto, who thankfully didn't say anything about it.
"Uh, so did you notice?" He asked clearing his throat.
"So we can also experience what the clones see, hear, and feel." It was handy, and considering that clones could utilise other techniques as well it meant that someone like her or Naruto could scope out entire villages, heck she'd go as far as say entire countries if they practiced more.
"Yeah! Pretty neat huh, though too many memories at once can be a little hard to take in." He learned that the hard way when a huge group of his clones had gotten into a brawl and he had to dispel them.
"I can imagine."
Ino looked at her hands, only now realising that the bright glow of the sun had turned amber. It was getting late, the training program ate up most of their time and she wasn't sure how long they both spent asleep. But Ino could confidently say that she came out of the experience feeling better about herself, sure the physical training didn't really amount to anything for the time being, but adding a B-rank jutsu to her arsenal was worthwhile.
"The sun's going down, we better get going it's a school night." Ino said eliciting a moan from Naruto.
"Do we have to?"
"Yes, Naruto, now grab your stuff and let's get out of here."
A familiar scene played out between the two as they stood outside of the Yamanaka residence. It had become a routine for them, whether they acknowledge or noticed it was up for debate.
"I'll ask my dad about those exercises, I haven't forgotten." She said while staring into his blue eyes. Ino couldn't help but mentally laugh at their similar traits, their blond and blue eyes felt almost too perfect to be a coincidence, maybe his father was secretly a Yamanaka.
"Thanks, and tell your mom I say hi." He said, pulling her into a hug. She was surprised by his bold initiative, but did not complain otherwise.
She hummed into his chest, nostrils flaring and nose crinkling, "You reek."
"You too," She playfully slapped his back.
"We're not doing that ever again." She refused to put herself through that torture ever again.
"Yes, yes we are. We've got a little over nine months to go before graduation." Ino groaned, she wanted to protest but she reminded herself that it was for the best. The training program was hell but if it meant that she would be a better kunoichi by the end of it all, she might as well keep going.
The two seperated from their embrace, this one longer than their last routine hug.
"So, catch you tomorrow?"
"Do you gotta ask?"
"Just making sure," She wore a soft smile, "It would kinda suck if you left me to attend class alone. Shika's always asleep and Choji doesn't have much to say."
"You could always talk to Sakura, or better yet the best conversationalist, Sasuke."
"Just get out of here, Naruto."
She heard him laugh as he turned and went his merry way, a wave thrown over his shoulder in her direction. The young Yamanaka sighed wistfully as she entered the house, surprisingly this time neither of parents were seemingly around. Ino eventually found a note plastered on the fridge.
Your dad and I will be home late, we're having dinner. There's some food left for you in the fridge, don't stay up too late. Mom
If she had preciously known she would have taken the time to show Naruto around the house, she always wondered what he would think about her living space, specifically her room. Now that she thought about it, Naruto knew where she lived whereas she had no clue to his whereabouts for most of the night.
'I'll have to ask him tomorrow.' She hummed as she opened the fridge. The pair had neglected eating anything while training, not even bothering with grabbing a few granola bars to keep them going. She made a mental note to stock up on some for their next session.
Naruto's path home was strange, for one he could feel a familiar chakra source following him around, he first took note of it as soon as he and Ino re-entered the main village. It didn't feel malicious so he decided not to say anything to Ino about it, but now realising that if was still following him he came to an abrupt stop.
Looking over his shoulder he reached out for it, he definitely knew that signature. It was soft and gentle, thickly wrapped up chakra that gave the impression of anxiety.
"Wait...Hinata?" He called out.
"It is you." A few moments later he saw the familiar meek Hyuga heiress step out from behind a wall. She refused to meet his gaze and her face was all red.
"Hey!" He greeted. Hinata was one of the few classmates that has always been kind to him, it was just difficult talking to her because she was always ready to bolt at any second and he didn't understand why, "Is there something you wanted talk about, I kinda noticed you've been following me for a while."
She flinched, head shooting up as her eyes widened in surprise.
"Hinata wait- aaaand she's gone." She was quite fast for her diminutive size.
"I'll never understand that girl."
The next morning came far too quickly for one Nara Shikamaru. One moment he had gone to sleep and in what felt like seconds later, his mother swung his door open. She instantly began barking orders at him and killed any hopes of him sneaking in a few more minutes of sleep.
'Man, Choji and Ino don't have to deal with this kind of stuff.'
He yawned as he walked past a merchant working on setting up his stall. He definitely woke up too early, he usually walked past the vendor already tending to a couple of customers.
'Why does that woman have to be such a drag?' Despite his internal ramblings he wouldn't dare say such a thing to his mother. He remembered the last time his father commented on her behaviour, the couch still sported an imprint from how long he spent sleeping on it.
'I want a simple woman, someone who's not too pretty and not too ugly, just average. Have two kids and call it a day.'
That was his ideal life. Sure it may have sounded mundane to most of his peers but he believed it was an admiral goal to reach for. He didn't have something grand in mind like becoming Hokage, only one blond was both dumb and bold enough to tackle that kind of role.
And speaking of blond, he didn't see his favourite fair haired duo the whole weekend. He assumed he would at least bump into Ino on her day off from work, but there wasn't a single sign of her. That girl was acting weird, very unlike the Ino he knew a couple of weeks ago. The same could be said about Naruto. He thought their friendship was just a fluke, a once off thing that would quickly fizzle away once Ino grew bored of Naruto, but that was far from the case. Everyday those two walked together, ate together, did their schoolwork together, he had never seen Ino be that close to someone.
If he were a cynical man he would have thought that she used her clan techniques to rewire Naruto, but Ino wouldn't do that, no mater how vain she could be.
'I hope that doesn't lead to anything troublesome,' Blonds were trouble, every single one he knew always gave him a headache.
"Hey! Shikamaru wait up!"
Kiba's voice was loud, far too loud but Shikamaru complied as he paused in his stride, allowing the Inuzuka boy to catch up to him.
"Let me guess, your mom woke you up early too huh?" Well at least Shikamaru didn't have to suffer alone, though he probably feared Kiba's mother more than he did his own. Tsume was a fierce woman, and a very dangerous one too. There's a reason she still hasn't remarried.
"Man sometimes I envy Naruto." Kiba said as they continued walking together.
"What? About not having parents?"
Now that Kiba heard it from someone's mouth, what he said was pretty dumb.
"Okay, yeah nevermind." The brunette threw his hands behind his head, his trusty furry companion comfortably poking his head from the front of his hoodie.
"Man have you noticed how weird Naruto has been lately? I asked him if he wanted skip class the other day, and he refused without even skipping a beat."
He was not sure what happened to him. Naruto was deadlast just a couple of weeks ago, and somehow he was now way above him on the totem pole. He didn't fail to notice how close he had become to a particular Yamanaka too.
"Don't even start." Shikamaru groaned.
"C'mon man, aren't you even a tiny bit curious? Maybe they're a couple."
If Kiba had suggested such a thing a month ago he would scoffed, but everyone but the two blonds could see their feelings for each other.
"If I were you I'd be careful what I said, Ino can spawn at any moment and chew your ear off."
"Still it's kinda funny. Never thought Naruto would get over Sakura, let alone Ino not fawning over Sasuke." The Inuzuka would finish, "I wonder how Hinata's going to take the news."
Speaking of Hinata, Naruto stood in the hallway staring at the spot that Hinata had occupied a few seconds ago, "Bye, Hinata." This was becoming another routine for the blond, he thought he could talk to her about last night's encounter but the Hyuga girl was intent on avoiding direct contact with him.
"I gotta ask Ino-chan about that." Just as he was about to enter the classroom he heard someone call for his attention.
Peeking over his shoulder he saw a familiar head of pink hair.
"Oh hey Sakura, you need something?"
He didn't hate Sakura, but his previous infatuation for her was a thing of the past. He still wondered if the badblood between her and Ino could be resolved, he found it a bit silly that they stopped being friends over some boy who didn't like them.
"Hey Naruto," Sakura kicked herself mentally, she had an entire conversation planned out in her head but now standing in front of the boy she couldn't recall a single excerpt from what she had written out, "So what were you up to this weekend?" She cringed at herself.
"Hmmm, I was with Ino for most of it."
"You work at Yamanaka Flowers right?"
"Yep! It's pretty fun!"
Sakura raised an incredulous brow, "Ino doesn't boss you around does she?"
"Ino-chan is my senior at the shop so I do listen to her, but she doesn't boss me around." The only time she did so was in a joking manner, it was part of their dynamic he supposed.
"You two have uh gotten close."
"She's been helping me a lot, I owe her a lot!" He crossed his arms over his chest, "I don't get why you two hate one another so much."
Ino scowled, "Tch, it's because she thinks she can be together with Sasuke-kun!"
Naruto rolled his eyes, "Barf, Sakura."
Did Naruto just pull an Ino on her?
"What happens when Sasuke doesn't choose either of you?" Sakura opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out, "Friendship thrown out the window for absolutely nothing."
Sakura had an argument, she was certain that she could counter his words. Sasuke was bound to take her! But even a part of her wasn't convinced, having sat next to Sasuke for a whole week she hasn't made a single step in the right direction. Her words were met with silence or scoffs, Sasuke couldn't even be bothered to spare her a glance of disinterest it's almost like she wasn't even there to begin with.
She had told herself that he was playing hard to get. That he was just doing that to save face and keep his cool guy persona intact. But how true could her own perception be?
"Naruto!" She heard Ino's voice echo from the other side of the hallway.
Her scowl deepened as she watched the Yamanaka girl prance towards them, an unsavoury look directed her way.
"Ino-chan! I thought you'd be sore from yesterday." He said in a pleasantly surprised voice.
"I am, I could barely get out of bed this morning."
Sakura looked between the two, sore? Bed? Did they? No way! A flustered Sakura glared at her rival, of course that hussy would be so brazen about it.
"It wasn't that bad, at least we took a few breaks in between." She heard Naruto chime in. She never expected that from him!
"Next time we're taking it easy-"
Sakura couldn't stand it anymore. Letting out a frustrated sigh she left the two and stormed right into the classroom leaving the two blonds to shoot her a confused look.
"What's up with her?"
"I dunno, a lot of people have been acting weird lately." Naruto sighed, he thought Hinata would be the only one he had to contend with but Sakura was also out to confuse him.
"Ugh whatever, let Forehead do whatever she wants. Anyway I spoke to my dad and he said he's willing to help," a frown tugged on her lips, "I think he's a little too eager to help. I can't help but feel a little replaceable."
Naruto shook his head while placing his hand on her shoulder, "You know he'll always love you."
"Hard to feel that way with your guys' budding bromance."
He could only shrug. He found her dad to be easy-going, he wasn't quick to anger and had the patience to see him through most processes. Naruto didn't really have a father-figure, but Inoichi was slowly filling in that role.
"Awww, it's okay, you'll always be my Ino-chan."
Rosy cheeked and annoyed, Ino pushed him forward guiding him into the class and all the way to their seats.
Uchiha Sasuke couldn't claim to know much about Naruto. The boy was older than him, failed graduation twice already, and he was deadlast up until a few days ago. His sudden growth and improvement were worthy of the Uchiha's attention, and he was more than happy to stand across from him in the sparring circle.
"Are both combatants ready?"
Both boys nodded.
"Then let the training bout...begin!" Upon Iruka's declaration, Sasuke rushed forward.
He noted that Naruto had his eyes closed, did he really think he could beat him like that?
Sasuke struck first, throwing a rapid kick at the taller boy's head only for Naruto to quickly block it and push his leg away. He raised a brow, but did not let up in his assault. He continued to throw a series of kicks at various parts of Naruto's body, but just like the first one Naruto was able to evade or counter his attacks.
The last thing he wanted was to give him a chance to attack. Naruto's raw strength made him a dangerous opponent, he hit the hardest in the entire class even surpassing Kiba who was known for not holding back. He wanted to keep the blond on defense until he could find an opening, anything else could spell a quick end to the match.
Deciding that his kicks were ineffective, Sasuke altered to throw quick jabs, trying to slip his fist past Naruto's admittedly strong defense.
He feigned a punch to his left, causing him to jeer in that direction, 'Gotcha.'
But before the true attack could connect, Naruto pivoted his body and managed to trap Sasuke's arm between his side and elbow. The Uchiha could not react in time as a sharp knee smashed into his stomach, lifting his feet off the ground. An elbow came crashing into his back sending a wave of pain down his spine, and to finish things off Naruto shoved his foot into his chest, thrusting it with a considerable amount of power causing him to shoot back to his original starting positon.
Sasuke was already starting to feel the effects of those hits. The areas he had struck were throbbing with pain, and each breath he took caused ache in his ribs.
Naruto was a beast, and he could only imagine what he could achieve with proper taijutsu training.
But before the lone Uchiha could consider his options, Naruto launched after him. He had only moments to think, he could try and swerve around him but the boy was quicker and had the reach advantage. So in a bout of desperation Sasuke leapt over the charging Uzumaki.
His body had managed to cross and twist over the top of his head, in his position he could attempt to attack but he was halted in his thoughts as Naruto latched out, hand gripping tightly around his ankle.
"Oh, he's fucked." Kiba said as he watched Naruto reel his body back and then abruptly bring all of Sasuke's weight forward, the momentum generated almost resulting in the Uchiha bouncing off the ground as he was slammed down hard.
All the air was knocked out of his lungs, and the world around him turned white as if a flashbomb had gone off.
"Victor Uzumaki Naruto!"
He lost, Uchiha Sasuke actually lost to the previous deadlast. He didn't know whether to be upset or impressed, although he was one to never fully underestimate Naruto, the boy had grown from his tactic of rushing into things. Naruto actually played the waiting game and struck when he saw an opening, the blond used strategy.
A faint smirk pulled on his lips.
"Oi, you still conscious?" A shadow loomed over him, his opponent had offered his hand for him to grab.
"You won this one," He grunted as he accepted the hand and was pulled to his feet, "But don't get cocky."
"Yeah yeah, whatever you say bastard."
The two boys smirked at one another before going their seperate ways.
"Did you really have to slam him like that?" Ino asked.
"It was a spur of the moment thing."
"Most impressive Uzumaki-san." Naruto turned to see Ino standing right behind them. Both blonds yelped in surprise.
"Geez, Shino warn a guy before you sneak up on him." Naruto said as he pressed his hand against his chest.
"That would defeat the purpose of stealth. You have grown stronger since your mutual partnership with Yamanaka-san." light bounced off his glasses.
"Hey, don't get the wrong idea." Ino butted in, she wasn't sure what the bugboy was hinting at, but she didn't like it.
"I was merely stating that I am impressed by Uzumaki-san's leap in improvement. I wanted to ask," He fully turned to face Naruto, "Is this what they call a woman's touch?"
Before Ino could begin to lecture Shino, her name was called alongside Sakura's.
To say that the fight was skewed was an understatement. Sakura did not stand a chance against her blonde rival, and within a matter of seconds she found herself on the ground, Ino's arms coiled around her neck and pushing into her throat. She was quick to submit, allowing the Yamanaka to walk off with a smug look on her face.
There was a gap between them. One unlike Naruto's and Sasuke's that was a hair's width apart. Sakura only had her brains, and while she may have had more book smarts, that amounted to nothing in their spar. The way Ino fought reminded her of Naruto just without the raw strength.
'Boorish like an actual boar,' She thought, seething over her loss and subsequent embarrassment. Iruka tried to reassure her, but Sakura knew what they were all thinking. She could see it in their eyes, especially hers.
"Did you really have to chok her out?" Naruto asked, mimicking the tone she had used to address him earlier.
"It was a spur of the moment thing."
"Hey, uh you up for having dinner at my place on Friday?"
Naruto gulped, "With your parents?"
"Don't be a big baby, you know them already. My mom's been hounding me about it, c'mon it will be fun." She said, and Ino knew that he couldn't resist her pleading eyes.
He sighed, sometimes he gave Ino too much control over him, "Fine, I'll have dinner at your place."
"Yes!" The two held one another, though Naruto couldn't help but feel as if her clutch was tighter, gripping at him like claws.
"And that reminds me, I still don't know where you live, you dork."
"My place is a dump." He admitted, although he has been more direct about keeping it clean and tidy, no amount of care could patch up the collapsing building. He just wanted to graduate and combine his mission money with his salary from Yamanaka Flowers to get a better place.
"I don't care," She said, parting from the hug.
He wasn't sure but again he just shrugged, "Okay, I'll show you."
He sighed, "Tomorrow."
The two parted says, smiling like equal idiots.
End of Chapter 5.
A/N: I am just spoiling you guys, 3 Ino and Naruto hugs in a single chapter, jk jk. Anywho that's chapter 5. We got to see them start with training, I'll expand more on it next chapter I just wanted this to be an introduction and also formally introduce the shadow clones to Naruto and Ino's arsenal. The next chapter will be the last one before graduation I've decided, so there'll be a couple of time jumps to the months leading up to that day.
I didn't write out Ino and Sakura's fight because I'm saving their big confrontation for later. The fight between Naruto and Sasuke was to acknowledge that they have a bit of a rivalry, just not as intense and one-sided as canon.
I'm sure you're wondering what Ino's clone said to Naruto, but I'll leave that open to interpretation for now hehehe.
And to clear this up once more, Naruto is older in this fic. Yes the rookie 9 are all the same age in canon, but in this one Naruto is their senior and Kyubi attack happened two years earlier, things happened differently on that night such as Itachi not having to protect Sasuke on that night since he wasn't born yet.
Anywho I'll post the next chapter tomorrow. Chapter 7 will be slower since I have art comms to work on.
Thanks for your support once more, you guys are amazing.