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A whole new gang it seems by invisible_habits

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Chapter notes: Alright, so the title is...not the best. Might change it later on, and if you have a suggestion for a better one you are quite welcome to leave it in a review or contact me in some way. This story got into my head when I first read a challenge, and then it wouldn't leave me alone. So I figured I might as well give it a shot. Hopefully it'll turn out good, even though I can't say I know how to write as Ino very well... It's set in a college like time, but my knowledge of foreign college systems (I'm Swedish myself) is limited so most of it will probably be set outside of school. Hope you enjoy it, and it's always nice to get reviews from those who might happen to read what you write. ^-^
There was an almost weird sensation of once again walking around these familiar perimeters. Ino had been to Europe for over a year, Paris to be exact, and now her French was flawless. Or at least she believed it to be. She should’ve been back by the beginning of summer, but not knowing when, or even if, she was ever going to meet her new European friends had made her stay the summer as well. Her student apartment had been free of rent during the summer months, so it really made no difference there, and she’s managed to get a job at a coffee shop to support herself. But she had at least applied for the same college all her friends back home went to, and she had been accepted into the Dramatic Arts class.

Still, a part of her wished she was in Paris even now as she walked towards the park where Sakura had promised to meet her. Though they had been best friends forever, Ino really couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t know the girl with the huge forehead, they had hardly spoken at all over the past year. Alright, so phone calls across the world were a bit too expensive, but there were those little things called the web, e-mail and AIM. The truth was that Ino was the one who had rarely or ever responded to Sakura’s mails, she had just been too occupied in her own adventures. Perhaps that was why she was so nervous now. Really, what reason did Sakura have to treat her like a best friend when she had been more or less ignored for a year? What if she, and the rule was that if you lost your best friend you lost the gang, didn’t want to hang out with her anymore? What if Ino had managed to lose the people she had known since kindergarten in just little over a year…?

Her pace had slowed more and more the closer she came to the park, the regular spot or call it whatever you want, and the pretty blonde stopped altogether just inside the gates. There was the pond where they had bathed as kids, a disgusting thing to do considering the amount of ducks living in it, and there were the swings and the slide and the seesaw they had all played at while one parent or another watched over all fourteen kids. There was the almost invisible path leading into the bushes, the one they had discovered somewhere in junior high and where they had snuck off to when school became too annoying. If she followed it now she would find Sakura sitting under the cherry tree, ironical that Sakura was the one always occupying the place beneath the tree whose blossoms she was named from. But she couldn’t move, she just didn’t dare to find out how she would be treated after such a long absence. Ino cursed herself, since when was she such a pussy?!

“Ino? Damn it, it really is you!” a voice said behind her suddenly, and she turned around. Not that she needed to look to know who it was; such a loud voice could only belong to one person. True enough, Uzumaki Naruto was standing before her once again. He hadn’t changed much, not more than that his clothes seemed cleaner than usual. Perhaps he had finally gotten a grip on himself, living alone had not done him any good during high school.

“Hello Naruto,” she said and hugged him back as he flung himself around her neck in typical Naruto style. It felt good to be greeted the same way as always, only with a little more enthusiasm. But then again, not seeing someone as beautiful as herself in a year had to be hard. Ino was so full of herself sometimes it was hard to understand how she didn’t blow up. She smiled towards the slightly hyper boy who was jumping up and down in front of her, amazing how much of a confidence boost he could be. “I didn’t know you were gonna be here, thought I was meeting Sakura…”

“You kidding me?!” he exclaimed and laughed. While he continued talking he took her by the wrist and started dragging her along the path. Sometimes it really was hard to believe someone like Naruto was in college, and starting his second year to that. At least she assumed so. “Sakura called me yesterday after she talked to you, said you were finally home and she was meeting you here.” He turned around and crystal blue eyes met hers, the smile on Naruto’s lips never failing to reach them. “The chain was started and within ten minutes everyone knew.” He laughed, and Ino couldn’t help but to join in. It seemed nothing had changed after all. It seemed like she was still wanted in the gang, and that she had actually been missed by her friends. The feeling was greater than she would’ve expected it to be…

A couple of minutes later the two blondes, one female and with a more white nuance to her hair than the golden one of the male, managed to entangle themselves from the branches of the bushes. “That was easier when we were kids,” Naruto mumbled. Though he seemed slightly upset, the smile returned to his face seconds later. “But we’re out now!” He grinned as he scratched his neck, something he had done for as long as Ino could remember. “How does my hair look?” she asked and tried to feel for twigs in the ponytail. “Has any strands come out of the ponytail? Oh why did I forget my mirror?!” Naruto chuckled and walked over to her. Pulling a few strands that stood out in weird angles out of the pony tail, he tucked them behind one of her ears. “Now you’re as pretty as ever,” he promised. “Come an, the other’s should be waiting on the other side.” ‘Duh,’ Ino thought and rolled as she followed him up the steep hill in front of them. It wasn’t like she had forgotten how to get to their favorite meeting spot just because she hadn’t been there in a year.

The sun was shining from a clear blue sky this August afternoon, thus it was pretty hot to climb up the hill even on this shadowy side. It wasn’t like they were rock climbing, but the hill was steep as said and Ino knew from experience that it was hard to get up this way if the grass was wet. Today it wasn’t though, but she still would’ve liked to take the slightly longer way around the hill. Her feet were melting inside her sneakers and she definitely didn’t want to look all sweaty when she was to meet up with the gang for the first time in months and months. Ino was constantly nagging on Naruto for never growing up, she failed to see that she often behaved like a childish fourteen-year-old herself.

Ino had to shield her eyes from the sun as they finally reached the top of the hill. It really wasn’t that high, but it had seemed like the top of the world to them all when they were kids. The way Ino and Naruto had come up was steep and in shadow most of the day, seeing how the forest was behind it. ‘The forest’ wasn’t deep either, fifty meters of it or so to separate it from the official park. This side of the hill, on the other hand, was more stretched and less steep. Green grass decorated with daisies covered it, even if it turned slightly yellow now towards the end of summer, and at the top was the cherry tree that Sakura always sat beneath. There were a few more trees and bushes on the hillside, but none was as big or beautiful as the cherry tree on the top. Especially not in the spring, when the pink blossoms decorated it.

The first impression she got was that nothing had changed since she left. Sakura was seated with her back towards the cherry tree. Lee hung from by his knees from one of its lower branches, doing some weird form of upside-down sit-ups. Tenten was dancing around in one of her I’m-bored-so-I’ll-perform-some-kind-of-martial-art like dances, and Shikamaru was lying flat on his back watching the sky. Ino would never understand how he could stare into the sky constantly without going blind; her eyes were tearing now even though she was shielding them. But when she took a closer look, behind the first impression, Ino started seeing changes in the picture she’d thought would never change.

As Lee, why couldn’t he ever relax from his constant training spree?, came down from a sit-up he was holding a tiny twig with a single cherry on it. With a smile on his lips he offered it to Sakura who carefully took it into her mouth with a soft chuckle. Her green eyes were constantly watching the young man with the ridiculous haircut, and had he ever heard of plucking one’s eyebrows?!, and the two of them were smiling at each other. Shikamaru had his hands folded behind his neck as always, but Temari was resting her head on his shoulder. Her right hand was lazily caressing his stomach. They almost seemed to be…in love! But that couldn’t be, why would they risk lifelong friendship by going out with each other?

Tenten finished off her performance with a backflip, and wiped the sweat from her forehead while walking over to the shadow of a small juniper. Throwing herself down on the ground she smiled. “How did I look?” A hand came out of the shadows, which made Ino aware of Shino sitting there in his long-sleeved hooded sweater, and lovingly pat her on the forehead. “Great,” he answered in his one syllable kind of way. The gesture was so far from what Shino would usually do; Shino wasn’t exactly the physical type…

“Ino-san!” a sweet and familiar voice said behind them. Ino turned around too see four other friends join the group. Well five, if you counted a dog as a friend. Akamaru was the first one to come skipping over to her, he’d grown over the past year but he was still adorable. Even Ino, who wasn’t the biggest of animal fans, had to love the little thing. Kiba followed shortly after…holding Hinata’s hand! Before Ino had the chance to ask what was going on around here though, Naruto darted past her and all but knocked her to the ground. He completely ignored Kiba and Hinata, instead running straight up to Gaara who just so nearly fell back down the hill as the blonde jumped him. Wrapping his arms around the redhead’s neck and his legs around the waist, Naruto shocked the life out of Ino by kissing the pale boy. It didn’t seem to shock anyone else though, not even as Gaara placed his arms around Naruto to hold him up and responded the kiss. It all became too much for poor Ino, she felt so left out and unknowing.

“What the fuck is going on here?!” she exclaimed.

Everyone else had reacted to Hinata’s mentioning of Ino’s name, but no one had had the time to react before Naruto’s little escapade. Now they all broke down in laughter, the volume and amount depended on personality. Even Chouji chuckled with his mouth full of potato chips as he finally made his way over the top of the hill. An arm was draped over Ino’s delicate shoulders. Looking to her side she saw sparkling green eyes, pink hair and a smile so bright it could cause anyone to forget that the girl had a broad forehead. “Welcome home Ino.”
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