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The Promise of a Leaf by Krokador

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Table of Contents

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Chapter notes: Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
Chapter 1: Stand Up

Ino sat pensively on a bench in the park, darkness and moonlight surrounding her. She was holding the ribbon she had offered Sakura a few years ago as if holding on to life itself, yet the feelings that made her fist clench over the precious garment didn’t quite seem to reach her face. She was in denial, and was indeed oblivious to everything that surrounded her at this right moment, from the relentless chirp of the crickets to the steady and calming sound of the fountain flowing a few feet away from her. It was a clear night, yet it felt so gray, and unnaturally clouded in the mind of the young kunoichi. In such a strong and meaningful handshake, Sakura had declared that they were rivals, and that she wouldn’t follow in her shadow anymore. And this one time, Ino couldn’t compare her own strength to Sakura’s, and tell her how wrong she was. She wasn’t ready for that moment, although she had known it would come someday. But she had never imagined it that way.

Sakura was walking home, her steps unsteady, after training for what seemed like an eternity. She was tired, beyond exhausted, all her muscles were sore and her throat was raw. She desperately needed a glass of water, and a shower. But as she made her way in the quiet streets of Konoha, she couldn’t help but smile at herself. “Just watch me Ino, one day I’ll be just as strong as you.” And then memories came back to her, of that day she had promised her best friend that she’d grow stronger, no matter the hardships, and something barely perceptible tugged at her heart, for an instant drawing a frown upon her soft, girlish features. But the feeling was gone when the pictures came back to her.

It was a sunny day, like many others. The birds were singing high in the trees, bugs buzzed around, the light sometimes shining off their wings like the sparks of a firefly, only during the day. There was this light, warm breeze blowing and all the girls were outside enjoying the recess hour either by playing games, chit-chatting to an insane level, or just laying in the grass and enjoying the quiet moment. That’s what Sakura and Ino had been doing, because they liked spending time together like this, and also because some of the girls that Ino was usually hanging with had been mean to Sakura, and the blond girl had become more found of her pink haired friend than all the others. Or so it seemed.

“You know Sakura…” Ino had said, her voice inquiring, really wanting to get her friend to listen. Sakura had turned her face towards her, her brows brought up in a questioning frown, ready to hear what her friend had to see, yet somehow fearing it would be a bad thing. “The other girls, they aren’t mean to you because they don’t like you.” Sakura’s brows furrowed, she was expecting some kind of lecture about how she should stand for herself more and be stronger. “Then why?” she finally asked, softly, not trusting herself to talk louder in fear that the memories of what these girls had just said to her would make her cry, once again. Not when she had managed not to cry for once.

Ino smiled as she turned her head toward her friend’s, their gaze meeting as their eyes sparkled under the sun, squinting slightly under the harsh light. “It’s ‘cause they’re jealous.” The blond girl finally said, a smirk crossing her lips. Sakura’s eyes widened with shock. “You’ve got to be kidding! How could anyone be jealous of… me?” she had finished her sentence in such a soft voice that Ino had barely heard the final words. A blush of shame crept on Sakura’s cheek just as she said that, and it lasted until Ino finally broke the silence with words she thought were well chosen. “You remember how I said, the other day, that you were like a bud, and that one day you would bloom into a beautiful flower?” Sakura looked at her feet, remembering how good it had made her feel when Ino had said that, apparently meaning it. Or if she was lying, she was a damn good liar. But she didn’t feel like she lived up to that expectation. “I think they see it too. That’s why they’re so mean to you: they’re afraid you’re going to become better, stronger and more beautiful than them.”

The tone in Ino’s voice was beyond convincing. She had said all the words, and meant them from the bottom of her own heart. Sakura just stared at her, still not quite believing, or understanding why her friend had all that confidence in her when she lacked any. Her emerald eyes glistened with unshed tears that threatened to spill any minute now, but the reason for them was way different than when she usually cried. And so she let them slip, unable to hold the feeling in anymore. She was expecting Ino to scowl at her for being so weak, but when she heard nothing she looked up and saw the same tears in her friend’s eyes.

“Arigato” the pink haired young kunoichi whispered, while tentatively reaching out for her friend’s face. It was impulsive, but this one time she wanted to be the one comforting her friend, and not the other way around. She gently wiped the lone tear that had ran dawn Ino’s cheek, lightly brushing her thumb on the corner of her mouth before withdrawing her hand and smiling despite the stingy feeling in her own eyes left by the tears of joy. “I promise Ino…” She had said with a voice that had become a part of her pillar in the rough times to come. “I promise that I’ll grow strong and beautiful, so they will all see that your trust in me wasn’t misplaced.” –And that’ll teach them.- Ino thought while smiling back at Sakura. In that right moment, there was no other place she wanted to be but beside her best friend. She had no idea how it had happened, that she had grown so attached to that pink haired cry baby of a girl. But she knew her intuition was always right, and so didn’t doubt even one second that it was the right place to be.

Ino wrapped her arm around Sakura’s shoulders and shuffled into a position that allowed her to hug the other young girl. Yep, it felt right.

Ino sighed, remembering that promise Sakura had made. And how the girl had never specified that the blond kunoichi would be a part of her getting stronger. Get over it Yamanaka, she doesn’t need you anymore, so what? A part of her wanted to get up, forget about it and just go back to her normal life. She still had friends, actually she had everything she wanted. But I no longer have Sakura. And with that realization, the tears finally ran down her pretty face.

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Ino was sitting on that same bench, only a couple months later, wondering where it had all gone wrong. She had just gotten in yet another fight with her ex-best friend about Sasuke, although in her heart she could’ve cared less about the dark shinobi. She couldn’t let it happen, she couldn’t let Sakura ever be with the Uchiha boy. The reasons why had began to blur in her head. Why couldn’t Sakura be with the man she loved when all the competition - consisting of only her, because who else had the charms to conquer him, she though - had dropped? A pang of guilt struck her, as she realized this whole thing was in major part her fault. If only she hadn’t pretended to like Sasuke… But then, she had liked him for a while, although where she had stopped caring she couldn’t tell. All she knew was that now, she missed the presence of her best friend more than ever. But she had no clue on how to say that to her friend – if they were even still friend.

She finally decided it was enough thinking for an evening, and took the initiative to go back home. Her steps light as a feather, she made her way through the darkened alleys, the moonlight shining in an incredibly hollow fashion on everything she crossed. The cool breeze blew lightly on the strand of hair she always kept in front of her face, tingling the tip of her nose. She scratched it absently, frowning as she thought she heard a noise. Curious, she walked in the direction it seemed to come from, until she came at a few paces of another alley, where she saw first Sasuke, then heard Sakura’s voice – a heart wrenching yelp for attention. The dark clad Uchiha had heard her and turned her way, making it so Ino couldn’t notice the backpack he was carrying. Something suddenly stirred in her and she smiled, before Sakura’s plea erased it all. She really loved the boy, and that made her heart clench at the thought of them together. Not able to watch anymore, she turned away and went home.

And when the next morning she woke up to go meet her team as usual, Chouji and Shikamaru weren’t there. The words Asuma summoned to explain what was going on to her lost all their meanings. The only thing that registered in her mind was the words “Sasuke”, and “gone” put in the same sentence. Without letting her sensei finish, she took a running start towards Sakura’s home. To hell with adversity, Sakura was her friend and it was a given she would need someone to talk to.

Sakura was sitting on a bench on the porch of her house, gazing into nothingness as she tried putting the thoughts back in order in her chaotic mind. She was anxious, felt betrayed and at the same time heartbroken. There was this little light that had appeared when Naruto had promised to bring Sasuke back, but now it seemed so faint, and had been replaced by a very, very bad feeling.

She was startled hearing footsteps coming her way, and when she found Ino climbing the stairs hesitantly, her face scrunched up in a hateful glare. “If you’ve come to pick a fight Yamanaka, you chose a very bad time.” Was her hissed threat as the blond girl made her way to pick the place next to hers. She stayed silent for a moment, fidgeting with the hem of her skirt, not too sure on how to say this. “I’m sorry, Sakura.” She finally let out, sighing as she thought about her next words. Would she tell the girl she had caught a bit of her conversation with Sasuke, and that having cared a bit more she could’ve, maybe, changed the chain of events? No, that was something Sakura didn’t need to know. “Sorry for what?”

Sakura had practically spat out her last reply, and instantly regretted her angry tone as she saw Ino’s saddened expression, as well as her obvious nervousness. She had lowered her head and held her breath, waiting for her friend to lash out at her if she wanted to - she was ready to take it all without as much as a will to fight back. But the hit never came, and instead the pink haired kunoichi collapsed in her arms, letting out the sobs she had been holding in since awakening on that cold bench early this morning. Ino held her close, trying her best to comfort her friend. “Naruto’s going to bring him back, don’t you worry forehead.” The half-insult had slipped out of her mouth, and she was about to correct her mistake when she heard Sakura slightly giggle through her crying. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” and she was cut short when a sniffling and puffy eyed Sakura retreated from her embrace slowly to look Ino in the eye. “It’s a comforting name coming from you. The way you said it, anyway.” She then laid her head on Ino’s shoulder and the blond girl instinctively wrapped her arm around the still very sad girl’s shoulders. “Can we call a truce?”

Sakura frowned, lifting her head the slightest bit to be able to catch a glimpse of Ino’s expression. Why did the blond have to ask that question when it was quite obvious that Sakura could care less about their past differences at the exact moment? “Actually…” the blond girl voiced, looking down to her friend. “I’d like to make peace.” Another wave of sob made its way up Sakura’s throat as she threw her arms around her friend, pulling her into a tight embrace. Ino gladly hugged her back, accepting this quiet response as a yes, and despite the situation she etched a smile on these dry lips, letting out a breath she didn’t know she was holding. It was a sad smile, but still one, and some of the anguish she had felt for the past years suddenly disappeared as if Sasuke had been the one causing them, and had ran away taking them with him. Well he was responsible, to an extent. And somewhere deep within, even though she knew it was the wrong thing to do, she hoped that the Uchiha survivor would never come back to Konoha.

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