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A Game of Chance by Hito Rasu

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Story notes: Mostly fluff. May turn into a series later, who knows? Please R&R:-) Just to reiterate, I don't own Naruto or any of the other characters.
No copyrights were harmed in the making of this fan-fic.

A Game of Chance
---------------------------------------------------------
8:30 December 31st

Sakura shifted the large object that she held in her arms to give her a better view of her irritated companion. Despite its size, the object was relatively light and holding it in front of her for the entire world to see gave her a vague sense of accomplishment. Indeed, the little children that passed her often stared before being gently prodded by their parents to keep on moving. However, the one person that ignored her was the one that Sakura wanted recognition from the most.
Eight years ago at the Chunin exams, Kakashi sensei had warned her about giving a sympathetic voice at the wrong time. As a full-fledged medic nin, Sakura had long since outgrown the need for an advisor, but she still valued Kakashi sensei’s teachings. Nevertheless…Sakura couldn’t see how this would be the wrong moment. Plus, she was starting to get pissed. She’d had enough of the silent treatment.
Glancing to her left, Sakura finally spoke.
“Come on, Ino. You should really let this go. It’s not that big a deal.”
Ino stiffened and turned her head, finally looking Sakura in the face for the first time since they had left that last gaming booth.
“Don’t even pretend that you don’t know what this is about, Sakura.” Ino said, her body giving of the unmistakable vibe of the injured party.
“But Ino, it’s just a stupid bear. Let it go already. Besides, we both know I was going to end up with it anyways, one way or the other.”
“That’s not the point, Sakura! Honestly, for someone so smart, you can be really stupid sometimes.” Ino whirled and started to weave her way through the crowd faster, blond hair bobbing as she edged away from Sakura. It was New Year’s Eve and the Konoha streets were filled with venders and revelers, making it easy to lose someone, especially if that someone was holding a giant teddy bear.
After saying a half dozen “excuse me” and “pardon me” platitudes to people who were unfortunate enough to be in the way of the massive stuffed animal, Sakura finally caught up to Ino at a sweet stand. After accepting the candy gift from Ino, who had not so much as handed it to her but thrust it in her face, Sakura tried again.
“If you don’t tell me what’s wrong, I can’t fix it. You need to learn to communicate better if you want this to work.”
“Fine. You should have stepped aside when that guy at the booth started teasing you.”
“He wasn’t teasing me. I admit he was irritating, but he was running the booth and doing his job. He’s supposed to con people into playing games of chance.”
“Well, you still shouldn’t have played. I thought you were smarter than that.”
Sucking on her candy for a moment before answering Ino, Sakura tried to figure out what was so wrong with her friend. She couldn’t.
“Ino, you were going to play the game, too.” Sakura snickered, green eyes twinkling. “God, I thought you were going to hit that guy. You looked seriously scary there for a minute.” Almost as an after thought Sakura added, “ Well, more than you usually do.”
All that earned her was a glare and a slight “humph” from Ino before the other girl melted into the crowd again, this time slowing down so that they could once more walk side by side.
They had ten minutes before they had to meet Shikamaru and Chouji at the pie eating contest and Sakura wanted to resolve this before they did.
“Look, I didn’t see why we both had to pay money when I knew that I could win very easily. You just had to get ten bulls-eyes in a row to win, and we can both do that in our sleep. Honestly, if I knew that you were going to be so competitive about all this I would have suggested staying in tonight instead.”
“You should have let me win the bear for you.”
“But I didn’t need you to. I just told you that it was easy. I could do it myself.”
“It doesn’t matter, I should have played and I should have won. That’s what people do on dates. One person lets the other person win the stuffed animal so that that person can give it to the person they’re with. It’s like an unwritten law that everyone knows. Maybe if you had dated more people instead of moping over Sasuke, you would know this.”
Ino knew the minute that she said his name that she had gone too far. Even though both girls had long since gotten over their crush on the boy, it was still a touchy subject. Turning to face Sakura to apologize for crossing the line, Ino wasn’t surprised by Sakura’s downcast eyes and sad expression. She was surprised by what Sakura said next.
“I didn’t date other people because Sasuke left, Ino. I stayed home on Friday nights because you were out dating other people, and I really didn’t want to see that.”
Feeling like she had just kicked a puppy, Ino forgot all about her earlier anger. Reaching out, she pulled Sakura and the bear behind a booth to give them a little more privacy.
“Look, Sakura, I really didn’t date all that much. I may have…over exaggerated, just a little, about the number of people I went out with, just to, you know, make you jealous.”
Ino said that last part so quietly and quickly that even without the mass of people around her, Sakura had to strain her ears just to hear the other girl.
“…And,” Ino continued, “I guess I’m mad about the bear because it seems like you don’t need me anymore.”
Holding up a hand to halt the words that Ino knew Sakura was going to say, Ino attempted to explain herself.
“I look at you and I still see that little girl that used to be my shadow.”
“Dammit, Ino. I’m not the same person that I used to be.” Sakura started.
“Will you just shut up and give me a chance to finish?” Ino snapped, her blue eyes mirroring her frustration. Man, only Sakura could ever make her feel this irritated and this vulnerable.
Shifting her weight again, Sakura decided to hear Ino out.
Sighing, Ino started over again. “I don’t know if I was actually ever as cool as you thought I was, but that didn’t matter because you needed me. You were always following me around and I was always your protector. Do you remember the New Year’s celebration when we were nine?”
Surprised at the sudden topic change, Sakura could only nod her head, smiling at the memory, her bad mood forgotten.
“Yes, I remember. That was the year my parents were sick and I wasn’t allowed to go to the festival alone. But you let me tag along with your family and we had a great time, even though I spent all of my money way before midnight.” Sakura giggled. “In fact, I didn’t have any left by the time we got to the section with the games. I had spent so much on candy and souvenirs.”
A flash of insight hit Sakura, and for once she had to agree with Ino. For someone so smart, she could be incredibly dumb. This time she was almost as dumb as Naruto. Well, maybe not quite, but it was close.
“It wasn’t a bulls-eye, it was a ring toss.”
Happy that Sakura finally understood, Ino smiled and finished the story.
“Good memory. At that time I still had better aim than you…Hey, don’t hit me. You know it’s true. Anyway, I played the game and I won you a pink bear, although it certainly wasn’t the size of this monster.” Ino laughed and gave the bear a quick pat on the head, and gave its owner a slightly longer kiss.
“Yeah, you said that since you won, you got to pick the prize. You got the pink bear because you said it reminded you of my hair. I think I still have that bear in my old room at my parents’ place.”
Unexpectedly pleased with that thought, Ino nodded her head in approval. “That’s good, I remember I was so worried that I wouldn’t win and that I’d look like a failure. I have to say that aside from when I graduated from the academy, that was the proudest moment of my childhood.”
Glad to see that all was right again, Sakura grabbed Ino’s hand and pulled her back out onto the street in the direction of the pie eating contest. Determined to make it up to Ino somehow, Sakura plotted as they merged into the stream of people. “So…you thought we were dating when we were nine?”
***
12:01 January 1st

As Ino and Sakura sat on the roof of the flower shop and gazed up at the fireworks display, Sakura reveled in the excitement of the forthcoming year. Glancing at Ino, Sakura decided that the last year had been pretty good, but she was willing to bet this next one would be even better. Plus, it felt wonderful to finally put down that bear, not that she hadn’t enjoyed occasionally smacking her friends around with it, “accidentally” of course.
She had also redeemed herself in Ino’s eyes, since she had convinced the gang to go back to the gaming area after Chouji won the eating contest, pointing out that Shikamaru and Ino still had to prove themselves. Right before they left to get situated on the roof, Ino, honor restored, had presented Sakura with her winnings, pleased that everything had been put back in its natural order.
Sakura had accepted the gift gratefully, but silently wondered if Ino believed that quantity was better than quality; if that was the case it would explain a lot of things, like that morning, that afternoon, and that evening before and after dinner. Honestly, Sakura thought, what was she going to do with ten goldfish?
Chapter end notes: Thanks for reading. Please read and review! I'd really appreciate it.
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