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Sakura and Ino walked together on their way home since Sakura's house was on the way. "Neh, Ino?"
Ino turned her eyes up to her friend. "Yeah?"
Sakura frowned in thought. "What do you think of...um...Lee-kun?" she asked with her eyes facing skyward.
Ino's expression became sharp, then her eyes widened when she realized what Sakura's question indicated. "You're giving up on Sasuke-kun?" she said with disbelief.
Sakura coughed. "No...never. I just...It's just that...Ino, can you keep a secret?"
"On occasion," Ino answered truthfully.
Sakura decided that would have to be good enough. "Lee-kun...At Naruto's birthday party. He...he told me he's," she gulped. This was a hard thing to say, "in love with me..."
If Ino's eyes opened any wider they would've rolled out of their sockets. "Are you kidding?" she asked when she managed to remember to breath. Sakura shook her head. "Wow..." Ino replied in disbelief.
Sakura sat down with her back against the tree. "What should I do?"
Ino let out a puff of air. "Well...do you like him that way...at all?"
"See, that's what's driving me nuts. I don't know. He just keeps popping into my head when I don't want him to."
Ino cocked an eyebrow. "That's usually a sign of a crush," she said with as much tact as she could muster.
Sakura bit her lower lip. "No," she insisted. "I love Sasuke-kun."
Ino sighed. "You know Sakura, I realized something lately."
Sakura turned her head sideways in a curious glance.
"I think it was after everyone got back from going after Sasuke-kun. I went to visit them in the hospital. Naruto, Chouji...Shikamaru. They, especially Chouji, were hurt so bad. Chouji and Neji almost died. All...for Sasuke."
Sakura looked a bit stung. "It wasn't Sasuke-kun's fault. Naruto told me the seal made him crazy."
"I don't know. Maybe I'm starting to grow up, but...Sakura," a bit of pain entered her voice, "He's a dead man walking..."
Sakura's eyes widened. "What do you mean?"
"I heard it all from Shikamaru. You've been Sasuke-kun's teammate for three years...you have to know about his clan."
"Of course I do," Sakura replied.
"There's no place for us in Sasuke's heart, Sakura. There never will be."
Sakura felt like she'd been punched in the stomach. She'd known it for a long time, of course, but she wouldn't admit it. "But..."
Ino placed a hand on Sakura's shoulder. "His heart is ice. If there's a girl out there that can melt it...it's not us."
Sakura angrily shoved Ino's hand off her shoulder. "I'm not going to give up on him!"
"I did..." Ino said.
"A few months ago. I just realized that even if we got together I'd wind up getting hurt," she said softly. A small smile lit up her face. "Besides, it's kinda fun checking out the other boys," she admitted as her smile widened into a wolfish grin.
Sakura's eyes widened a bit. "Not Shikamaru!" she said with an 'Oh please, not him' tone of voice.
Ino laughed. "He's kinda cute, but I have a feeling he's got a thing for that girl from the sand."
"Yeah. Seriously though. I'd give Lee a chance. At least he's interested," Ino said with a reassuring smile.
Sakura sighed. "I don't know..." She paused for a moment before speaking. "I need to change the subject...so who are you interested in?"
Ino thought for a bit. "Naruto's kinda cute," she said with an unbelievably straight face,
Sakura made a very funny sound. "R...really?"
"Yeah. Not that I could stand dating him though. He's way too damn loud for me."
Sakura's eye twitched. "You're just as loud as he is."
"I wish Neji-kun wasn't such a stick in the mud. He's gorgeous," Ino continued with a small sigh.
"There really is a shortage of nice, mature boys in our village, isn't there?" Sakura mused.
"Yeah..." Ino stood up. "Well, we should get to your training."
"Yeah, let's go," Sakura replied as she began walking toward Ino's house. Ino followed behind. An image of Lee entered Sakura's mind. She shook it away in frustration. "What am I gonna do?" she thought with a sigh.
Naruto sighed in irritation for the fifth time in two minutes. He wandered over to his window and leaned on it with his right arm cushioning his forehead. "Dammit. If I get a nosebleed from that," he began, referring to Hinata's outfit, "Does that mean Sexy No Jutsu is gonna make me...?" his stomach got sick at the thought.
A knock sounded on his bedroom door. "Naruto-kun," came Nabiki's cheerful voice, "Supper's ready!"
"I'll be right there," Naruto replied. However, he was now more horrified than ever, for the last word of his sentence had sounded terribly high. "Oh no...It can't be..." he said with mild fear.
Tsunade couldn't stop chuckling.
Naruto was getting irritated. "It's not funny, Granny."