Sand Trails Ch 24: Curing the Withdrawal

Squinting as he stepped out of the car and into the bright sunlight, Itachi was instantly grateful for his shades. If he had to shield his eyes even when he had them on, it would have been blinding without. And that would have been unacceptable especially now.

Itachi scanned the assorted picnic tables as he closed the door behind him. Various other engines shutting down around him. Hidan’s and Kisame’s trucks were on either side of him, the drivers already slipping out of the cabs.

A bright shock of pink flashed in the sun to his right and he turned in time to see a wave and a bright smile.

And then she threw herself at him, arms latching around his shoulders in a hug that would probably leave bruises for later discovery. “Oh, I missed you,” she whispered in his ear, ignoring Hidan’s teasing and Kisame’s stifled snickers. She’d gotten a tan.

“I certainly hope so,” he murmured, burrowing his nose into her hair, his arms winding around her waist as he leaned back against the hood. The feeling of her against him was a sharp reminder of how much he had missed her and he didn’t want to let her go. From how she continued to cling, Sakura seemed to feel the same.

“So, uh… Yamanaka here yet?” Hidan asked, interrupting their moment.

Sakura blinked, and then blinked. “No…. Why?” And did Hidan just say a sentence without swearing?

Hidan shrugged. “Eh.” He turned toward the car. “Kakuzu, it’s either give up your goddamn comfort, or your money, now get the fuck out of the goddamn truck, you bitch!”

Sakura frowned. Nevermind.

Face still hidden in pink strands, Itachi purred. He had half an hour to spend with Sakura alone. Somehow mother had arranged for it, and he wasn’t going to question it. The younger group of her friends would be arriving later.

He briefly considered telling Hidan, but just was just as quickly distracted by the girl in his arms as she breathed in and out. This might be a new bra. It certainly is thinner.

Kakuzu was coaxed out, wearing a moody scowl, and he pointed at Sakura. “I’m not here because I like you. It’s because of the free food, got it?”

Sakura snorted. “Sure, Kakuzu-san, whatever you say,” she agreed, blatantly humouring him.

He muttered for a few minutes before walking over to the nearest shaded picnic table. Hidan grinned and leaned over to whisper to Sakura. “I bought a couple big cases of soda and a case of water…. Just don’t tell him yet.” He laughed, pulling away, and went to get them.

Sakura giggled. “Hidan’s a dead man,” she informed her boyfriend.

Itachi shrugged, finally pulling back enough to kiss her. Three weeks was a long time, so he took his time kissing her. Conversation was over-rated. And could be done over a phone.

Sakura grinned, even as she kissed him back, delighted to be able to do so.

And about twenty feet away… Kakuzu twitched. Did no one care about PDA? Well, he didn’t, but they could at least charge! Then he saw Hidan’s soda. “OI! YOU LITTLE CUNT!” he yelled, furious.

Hidan cackled and shoved the case of water into his roommate’s arms just as soon as he was within swinging distance. He turned at the sound of a motor, watching Deidara pull up and shut off his truck. “Hey, fucktard! Did you bring ’em?!” he demanded as Kakuzu latched on to the water so as not to drop it. And thus waste money.

“Hey Pinky,” Kisame greeted on his way past, lugging a giant canvas bag over his shoulder.

Itachi smirked as Sakura blinked at the bag. She turned back to him and he waited for the inevitable question.

“… I know I will probably regret asking, but Itachi? What is in the bag? And please don’t say it’s a body,” she said.

“Kisame’s entire armory,” he replied, turning her in his arms so that she could watch as Sharky disemboweled the bag. Bright colours gleamed in the sun as dozens of water guns tumbled out on the grass. Among the hard plastic were several light bags of water balloons and a few foam balls.

Sakura’s eyes widened and she grinned in delight. “Right on! This is gonna be an amazing day!” she announced cheerfully.

“Hey, Pinky, he’s not the only one that came prepared for war,” Hidan said.

She turned and giggled. Hidan was holding a tub of various colored water balloons, and beside him, Deidara held a duffel bag. She quirked a brow. “I’m dying here, Dei. What’s in the bag?”

Deidara chuckled. “My supplies for our grand finale,” he replied smugly. “Got a whole bunch of fireworks, un.  But after I check them over, they go back in the truck till after dark.”

She smiled. “Awesome! Beware though, guys, it gets fucking cold at night.”

Behind her, Itachi hummed contentedly. “Mother is bringing several blankets, cider and hot chocolate. Your mother gave us some forewarning of what to expect. Also,” he nodded towards the back of Kisame’s blue truck, “in case there is a water conservation in effect, we brought several tubs of water.”

Sakura turned huge eyes on him as Kisame came back from the benches. The blue-boy was just in time to hear Itachi’s words. “It was a fucking ball driving a few hundred gallons of water around, but hey, it’s insurance,” he smirked as he brushed past them. There were still the foam bats to bring out.

Deidara scoffed. “Obsessive freaks!”

“You’re one to talk,” Sakura retorted with a grin.

Hidan snickered. “Says the guy that sleeps with C4 under his bed,” he retorted.

The blond waved him off. “Shut it, asshole.”

“Make me, you fucking girl!”

“Just like old times,” Sakura murmured happily.

Chuckling, Itachi kissed her ear. “The only reason why he didn’t bring the explosives was because we would have been stopped at the border,” he told her softly. “He really wanted to give you a big show.”

Sakura smiled. “The thought is nice anyway,” she replied.

Finally, after a few minutes more bickering, the guys got everything set out, Deidara returned the fireworks to the car and they all managed to get settled at a couple picnic tables to talk. Well, maybe that was an understatement…

“Oh my god, shut UP!” Sakura yelled irately when Hidan dropped the third stupid comment in as many minutes about her butt. He was being rather hands off about it, though. Surprisingly so. Still, she smacked him for good measure.

There was some grumbling across the table as Kisame scowled and pulled out a five, while Kakuzu smirked. Hidan was grinning full-out now as well.

“When you’re good, you’re fucking good!” the albino cheered. He held his hand out to Kakuzu, who counted out his share.

And Sakura twitched. “You were betting on me?” she growled.

Itachi snorted. “Hidan has bets on all the girls, not just you,” he said smoothly, “Yamanaka and Hyuuga included.” The girl in his lap twisted around to give him a scathing glare. As he gave her a bland look in response, he filed away the surprised glance that Hidan sent his way at the mention of last name. When he had heard of the bet, Itachi had assumed all the girls attending were on the list. Perhaps not…

Sakura heaved a sigh. “What is taking Ino so long anyway? She said she should be here by now,” she murmured, frowning.

The Uchiha in attendance stayed silent as he slid a hand out to Kakuzu who just as smoothly passed over a few bills. “Perhaps they stopped for food,” he suggested, withdrawing his cash.

She hummed, then straightened with a grin. She lifted one arm and waved at someone that was hovering in the parking area. “Gaara! Over here!” she yelled, grinning. She lowered her arm as he reluctantly started for them and looked at Kisame. “You guys have met. You remember him? He got the white sand off of you.”

“Oh yeah!” Kisame twisted around grinning widely. “We spoke on the phone too. Gaara-san! How are you?”

So this was Sakura’s mystery friend, Itachi mused, watching the Suna boy walk towards them. The last of the Subaku siblings. It was interesting that Gaara was here, and yet not Temari nor Kankuro both of whom Sakura had met before moving. Perhaps they had classes together.

A small surge of jealousy surged up, but Itachi simply nudged it away. Sakura was no longer in Konoha; it was natural that she would make new friends.

Gaara stopped ten feet away, eying them all expressionlessly. He nodded in greeting to Kisame. “Hello,” he said quietly.

Sakura smiled. “I’m glad you could make it, Gaara! Um…” She gestured toward Kisame. “You’ve met him, and this is Itachi, Deidara, Hidan and Kakuzu,” she said, pointing at each in turn. “Guys, this is Gaara. He’s a friend from school.”

From around her waist, Itachi uncurled an arm, holding out a hand. “Gaara-san,” he said evenly. “Nice to meet you.”

Across the table, Kisame grinned. “That’s probably the nicest welcome any Subaku has ever gotten from an Uchiha. The sarcasm is even missing.”

Gaara blinked and looked at the hand, then took it hesitantly. “Nice to meet you too, Itachi-san,” he murmured.

Sakura beamed. “Kisame?” she asked sweetly.

“Ye-es?” blue-boy drawled back. He also took a moment to close his legs beneath the table. Sitting directly across from Miss Haruno had its dangers.

“Watch what you say to my guest,” she replied, still smiling. “Please and thank you.”

Gaara blinked and edged away from her. She’d smiled that way right before she beat the tar out of Ukon at lunch earlier that week.

Sharky leaned forward instead, grin full of gleaming white teeth. “Gaara-san and I have met for business before you even showed up, Pinky,” he reminded her. “And besides, that was the truth. You’re welcome,” he added cheekily.

Itachi chuckled. “Your guest and my best friend apparently have history,” he commented.

She burst into laughter, the infectious sort, and relaxed again. “I missed you too, believe it or not,” she said.

Kisame’s grin softened for a moment, before turning smug. “I’ll remind you of that during our next family reunion.” He leaned back and looked at Gaara. “May as well sit down,” he suggested pointing at the empty spot next to the cuddling couple.

Meanwhile, Itachi was blinking. Our family reunion? “Sakura?”

Sakura perked right up. “She said yes? That’s wonderful!” she said cheerfully. “Daddy must be so happy!”

Deidara blinked. “What am I missing, un?”

“My aunt,” Kisame stated grandly. And then said nothing more.

Itachi groaned internally. Kisame and his drama.

Hidan sneered. “What the fuck about your aunt? Fucking tell us, don’t be such a bitch!”

Sakura giggled. “Aaaand, my daddy. He proposed. She apparently said yes.”

“Oh,” Deidara said. “So you two are gonna be like cousins or something, un?”

Big shoulders shrugged. “I think? In-laws, cousins, something.” He gave Itachi an apologetic look. “I guess this means later you’ll be part of that too.”

The Uchiha gave Kisame a flat look as the shark beamed at him.

“As a guest of course,” the blue-boy added as an after thought.

Sakura fought back a blush at the insinuation and turned her attention to Gaara… Who was still standing. “Did you want something to drink?”

He blinked and shook his head. “I’m fine,” he replied.

She nodded. “Okay.”

Kisame opened his mouth to mention something about keeping hydrated, when there was a blaring horn from the parking lot.

“FOREHEAD GIRL! Get your ass off that hunk of meat and GIVE ME A HUG!”

There were various snerks around the table as Itachi processed being called a hunk of meat. Kisame laughed out right.

Sakura squealed so loudly that most of the nearby men clapped their hands over their ears. Then the rosette girl scrambled up and darted the fifty or so feet to her best friend, tackling her in a hug. “Ino! OH MY GOD I MISSED YOU!” she shrieked.

Back at the table, Gaara looked stunned…

“Hnn,” Itachi sighed and rested his hands back on the table. Thanking every god available, including Jashin, that Ino was only one that made Sakura hit that pitch, Itachi gave the Subaku kid a sympathetic look.

Across from him, Kisame caught the look and chuckled at the redhead’s expression. “First time hearing that?” he asked.

Gaara just nodded and finally sat down, even while Hidan and Deidara laughed at him. Meanwhile, Ino and Sakura were catching up. Which of course meant explosive bursts of sound, wild gesturing, too-fast-to-make-out speech and plenty of giddy jumping around. Occasionally, the others would make things out.

“… Just so hot…”

“BELIEVE it! Oh my god–”

“… Told her just…”

“Ino, I…”

And then came recognition. “OH MY GOD! HINATA-CHAN!” Sakura leapt at the shy girl, latching onto her in a hug.

“Well of COURSE Hinata! What? You didn’t think she’d come? We need MORE GIRLS! God, Sakura. You walk around in a crowd of men most of the time.” There was a pause. “Though, I really can’t blame you.”

Itachi blinked. Kisame smirked. Kakuzu heaved a sigh, and the other two eyed the group with interest.

There was a very low murmur of sound, most likely the shy Hyuuga responding. What was interesting was how Kakuzu was watching Hidan. And Jashin was watching the girls.

Hidan watching female flesh wasn’t new in any way, but the strange half smirk, half leer on his face was an entirely different brand of smug.

Interesting. Potentially alarming, but interesting.

Saura giggled and grabbed both girls by their arms, dragging them over to the table. “Guys, this is my new friend Gaara!”

Beside him, Itachi could feel the redhead tense up. Unfortunately for Gaara, there was nowhere to run now that the females were targeting him.

Before the group reached the table, Itachi lifted a brow at Sakura. “For the sake of our ears, love…”

She rolled her eyes. “Worry not, the screeching is done,” she assured him. “Right Ino?” She smirked at her best friend.

“Heh. Yeah sure,” Ino sniffed, tossed her head to clear her eyes of platinum hair. Then she stilled, eyes large.

Itachi’s entire body tensed when the female Yamanaka let out a tightly controlled squeak.

“Oh now what?” Sakura demanded crossly.

The blonde girl darted a look from Itachi to Sakura, then back again. A high-pitched humming sound came from behind Ino’s clamped lips. Seemingly about to burst, the girl fairly emanated suppressed energy.

“If you could distance yourself before you explode, Yamanaka,” Itachi suggested.

The girl shot him a glare, before dragging Sakura back to the parking lot. Sakura stumbled along, sending Itachi her own confused glance, leaving Hinata alone by the picnic table, looking none too comfortable.

Sakura finally forced her friend to stop. “Okay, now what IS IT?” she demanded sharply.

“You! You wonderful, beautiful, fantastic woman, have left out details of the utmost importance! Sakura—he said love and you didn’t even twitch! Which tells me—you haven’t told me ANYTHING!” Ino wailed. “How can you say that you’re my best friend if you didn’t even tell me that the two of you are now using nicknames and ‘love’ is one of them!”

Sakura stared at her for a moment before bursting into laughter. Of course that would get Ino’s goat. Of course. “Ino, I love you… But maybe if you called more often, you would have known, mm?”

“I would,” her friend insisted, “cept you’re either talking to Itachi or Naruto or Sasuke of all people!”

Sakura smiled. “Tuesday and Friday,” she promised.

Ino sniffed, eyes limpid pools. “Four hours straight?”


“With a minimum three long emails during the week?” The blonde smiled wide. “With pictures!”

“Yes to the emails; maybe to the pictures,” Sakura said with a chuckle.

Ino laughed and then launched herself at Sakura. “Deal!” she squealed. “Now! This whole love thing? SPILL!”

Sakura laughed. “It’s nothing unusual. I mean, we haven’t said it a lot, just a couple of times…”

Kakuzu finally sighed. “Sit,” he ordered the Hyuuga.

Startled, Hinata snapped her eyes over to him. One corner of her mouth twitched, but she sat down next to Gaara without protest.

“How did you survive the trip over here?” Kisame asked, as he tilted his head over to the high-pitched squeaking coming from the blonde. “I’d go insane.”

The girl smiled a little more firmly and shrugged. “She wasn’t like this during the drive.”

Kisame gave her a skeptical look.

Maybe for a few specific songs,” she allowed.

Itachi snorted.

Deidara was glancing covertly between Hidan and Hinata. Hidan was staring. Hmmmmm.

“What a stupid woman,” Kakuzu complained.

The lone girl at the table frowned at him.

Strangely, Hidan was looking, but not saying anything. Itachi flicked his eyes over to Sharky and saw Kisame watching as well. Some of them were waiting for the albino to start baiting the Hyuuga, the other half seemed to be waiting for something else entirely.

And Kakuzu was interacting with a girl without asking for payment.

Hidan jumped suddenly, yelping. “What the fuck?” he yelled. Then shrunk back from Kakuzu’s glower. “Uh… Hi Hinata…”

Deidara’s eyes widened as if he’d just solved a puzzle and he started grinning like a jack o lantern. Kakuzu sighed. At least the gossip was busy out of earshot…

The Hyuuga girl shot him a look that was part exasperation, part amusement. “Hello, Hidan.”

Itachi was now watching with interest, as was Kisame. Hidan had been acting off for the whole entire week and it seemed that Hinata was the cause of it. How, he wasn’t sure, but it looked as if Hidan wasn’t quite sure of what he was doing. Kakuzu was talking to her more than the albino.

“Oi…” Kisame waved a hand between the girl and Hidan, “You’re not really going to start are you?” he asked the albino, frowning. “Sakura is fine; Ino, sure. But her?”

Hidan bristled. “You gotta fucking problem, smartass?” he demanded.

Deidara’s grin widened.

One dark blue eyebrow rose. “You gonna answer?” blue-boy challenged back.

His partner, Itachi, leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. “Causing grief to Ino would be acceptable,” he noted Hinata’s renewed frown, “because she wouldn’t stand for it. Hinata, however…”

The girl in question switched her gaze from Itachi to Hidan, waiting. Well? her expression seemed to say. It was the most aggressive Itachi had ever seen the Hyuuga.

“Sakura would skin you alive,” Kisame predicted.

Hidan scowled. “One, I ain’t fucking scared of Pinky,” he jerked his thumb in Sakura’s direction. “Two, I never planned on screwing around with her, and three, fuck you and mind your own fucking business!” he snapped.

Smirking, Kisame tossed back the rest of his drink. “Just checking,” he said.

Hinata’s eyebrows were both up, and her gaze firmly pointed away from all of them. Itachi was curious to note that her cheeks were slightly pink.

Checking back to where the other girls were, he could see that they were returning to the table.

Hidan sneered and crossed his arms, sulking.

Sakura stepped up beside her boyfriend and blinked at the scene. But she didn’t ask. Hidan was probably enjoying his apparent misery, anyway. “So has anyone heard from Naruto and Sasuke-kun?” she asked, glancing at Ino.

Frowning slightly, the blonde look at Itachi. “Those two are getting a ride with Mrs Uchiha. She said she would be arriving a little later. They needed to pick up barbecue supplies. And OH MY GOD! Are those water guns?!”

For once, Kisame looked pained that his collection had been noticed.

Sakura grinned at the look. “Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure she won’t break them,” she said sweetly.

“Those babies have lived through enough family picnics that I know how to fix anything.” Kisame waved at the water warfare items. “It’s my ears I’m concerned about,” he groused.

Itachi nodded. “Even Sasuke wouldn’t be able to decommission them.” At Sakura’s questioning look, he added, “We’ve used them for our own family summer reunions as well.”

She blinked. “The ones that Sasuke-kun always comes back from looking like he tried to murder a lobster?” she asked, and sat down next to him.

“’Tried to’?” he repeated, smirking. “Appropriate word choice. And yes.”

She chuckled. “So a bunch of Uchihas run around playing with water guns and actually smiling? Or is it a military precision thing?” she teased.

“Military,” he replied blandly, “within expected precision. These are water pistols.”

Sakura laughed, and leaned against her boyfriend. “Sounds entertaining.”

“That’s one way to put it,” Deidara muttered, still eying Hidan.

“You can use them, yes,” Kisame was saying to Ino. The blonde girl grinned and began sorting through the pile. Blue-boy walked back and thumped back into his seat. “I’m resigning myself to split ear drums by the end of the day. How about you?” he asked Itachi, expression amused.

Lips quirking, Uchiha responded with, “There are females involved.”

Sakura stuck her tongue out Kisame. “You’re just jealous of our volume capabilities, Shark-face.”

“Not volume,” he countered. “Pitch. And it’s not jealousy. If anyone, that would be Deidara. Can you imagine Dei having the capability to shatter glass with his voice?”

Sakura laughed at Deidara’s brightened expression. “Luckily for us, he can’t,” she said, and smirked wickedly. “Though perhaps if I kick him…”

Deidara paled and got up, going to sit on the other side of Kakuzu at the next table. “Keep your female super powers, un!” he snapped, forcing another laugh out of her.

There was a soft giggle from further down the table and Itachi looked over to see Hyuuga smiling broadly. He was so used to seeing her reserved that the Uchiha blinked.

Leaning over to Sakura, he murmured, “Neji isn’t attending is he?”

Sakura shook her head. “I don’t think so. We not really in the same clique,” she replied with a shrug. She blinked. “Why?”

He nodded towards Hinata on the other side of Gaara. “She seems more relaxed without her cousin,” he observed.

Sakura looked bewildered. “She is more relaxed,” she said. “But we’ve hung out before, and she wasn’t this relaxed. Weird. Maybe it’s the distance…? Or did Naruto finally figure out she existed?”

Chuckling, Itachi nuzzled her ear. “It’s probably the former, Sakura. Distance from an entire clan is a palpable feeling.”

She sighed. “A girl can hope. She’s been crushing on that idiot for years.”

“Why?” The blond was an idiot. A constant prankster yes, but Itachi had long ago forgiven the incident with the locker. It had led him to Sakura after all. True, the kid kept Sasuke company, but in a romantic sense, the boy would be a disaster.

She shrugged, watching Hidan get up and lunge at Deidara in an attempt to get him to ‘sing’. “Why not? Naruto is sweet and strong and protective. He’s thoughtful with his close friends and he likes to make people happy. Sure, he’s romantically ignorant, and kind of dumb, and ridiculous and cheesy, but… He’s got those good qualities too.” She smiled fondly.

“And how long as Hinata been trying to get his attention?” he asked pointedly.

Sakura sighed. “Since the third grade,” she relented. “Honestly, I’ve wanted her to move on, but… When I said that to her she stopped talking to me for three days. She’s very set on Naruto.” She pouted, watching her friends tease Deidara mercilessly.

Noting the way the subject of their scrutiny was openly amused by the escalating antics, Itachi tilted his head in thought. “Perhaps she has and thus the lack of tension,” he mused.

Sakura turned hopeful eyes on him. “You think so?” she asked, smiling.

He crooked an eyebrow down at her. “Perhaps,” he repeated, then squeezed the arm that was around her waist. “You can either ask her or wait until Naruto arrives.”

Sakura smiled. “You’re right,” she said, gave him a kiss on the cheek and got up. She tapped Hinata’s shoulder. “Come help me with something?” she asked, smiling and nodding toward the parking lot.

“Sure,” Hinata agreed, rising to her feet.

Itachi’s mouth twitched as he saw Hidan react instantly. The albino’s wine-red eyes tracked the pale girl as she left the table, even as his mouth was spouting out a retort to one of Deidara’s jibes. Interesting.

Sakura and the girl in question walked away, oblivious of the scrutiny. Once they reached the parking lot, Sakura motioned toward a small blue Sentra. “Let’s partake of air conditioning for a few minutes while I grill you,” she teased, threading her arm through the Hyuuga’s and dragging her over to the car. “So you seem relaxed!” She opened the passenger door and motioned for Hinata to get in.

The blue-haired girl paused, both to smile at Sakura and to let the hot air escape from the confines of the vehicle. “Should I be tense?”

Sakura smiled and shook her head. “No… But you are a lot more outgoing than usual. I’m glad! It’s nice to see you so happy.” She circled the car and opened the other door, sitting to turn it on.

Humming, Hinata tilted her head and smiled a little wider. “I will tell you a secret,” she held up a hand, “if you promise not to tell Ino.”

“Cross my heart,” Sakura agreed.

The Hyuuga girl let a grin curl her lips as she slipped into the car. Waiting until Sakura was also seating and the doors closed, Hinata turned to her and laughed a little self-consciously. “Hidan asked me out.” And with that, she waited for Sakura’s response.

Sakura’s jaw dropped. “Oh… My… God… Are you shitting me?!” she yelped excitedly.

Hinata laughed delightedly. “No!” she giggled. “Isn’t that crazy?”

Sakura giggled. “You kidding? That is freaking psycho! You go, you bad girl!” she cheered. “So? Dish! Have you guys gone out yet? Did you like it? Has he made a move?”

“Sakura!” The other girl waved her hands, cheeks ablaze. “Nothings happened yet. We’re going for pizza tomorrow. He’s made plenty of moves, all of them firmly denied. It’s Hidan, Sakura.” She was still grinning, as if stating Hidan was himself wasn’t something to worry about.

Sakura looked around shiftily and leaned closer to whisper. “So he hasn’t tried to feel you up, Hinata-chan? It’s Hidan after all, I would expect something like that out of him,” she said, waving a hand and grinning wickedly. “Just remember, I’ll beat him up if you want me to.”

Hinata’s pale eyes widened. “Is that what you meant by moves?” she squeaked. “No—he hasn’t. He spouts pick up lines and innuendos non-stop, but he’s never groped me.” A frown puckered her brow. “Now what does that mean?” she asked, confused.

Sakura almost laughed. Then she realized Hinata wasn’t joking. “Oh geez, seriously?” she asked, amazed. “Wow.”

“Yes? No?” Hinata responded hesitantly. “Yes, I’m serious. No, he hasn’t. I didn’t realize he was a groper. Maybe I shouldn’t go with him? But even when we were dancing, he didn’t-Ulp!” she cut herself off and blushed.

Sakura grinned. “You two have danced?”

Hinata only sank a little lower in the car seat. Was the air conditioning going to kick in soon?

Sakura nudged her arm. “Hey. Don’t be so shy about it! I don’t disapprove, you know…”

“You may be the only one beside Kakuzu,” Hinata murmured. “Yes, we danced. He wanted sex and kept hitting on me. I told him he would get a dance and that was it. We compromised.” She rubbed both palms to her heated cheeks. “He’s a damn good dancer.”

Sakura smiled. “Is he? That’s good! You know, that means he’s probably good in bed too,” she teased.

The other girl only meeped and hid her face entirely behind her hands. There was a mumbled affirmative and something involving Tenten and Ino and something else denying everything.

Sakura frowned at her. “Seriously, Hinata-chan, speak up.”

A pale eye peeked out. “I’m dying of embarrassment here, Sakura,” she spoke just above a whisper. “Cut me a little slack?”

Sakura smiled. “Hinata, it’s me you’re talking to. I’m dating his gang leader.”

“Still embarrassed,” she shot back, but still giggled. “Okay, yes, I remember what Ino said about men who dance. But I’m not telling that to him! His ego is bad enough as it is!”

Sakura wrinkled her nose. “Oh hell no. That would be disastrous.”

On the other side of the car, Hinata sighed and dropped her hands. “What do you think? Give him an honest shot, or just humor him for one day?” She rubbed her hands up and down her arms as the cool air finally registered. “He’s not Naruto…”

The rosette girl rolled her eyes. “Exactly! Give him a try. He may be a pervert, but he’s mostly okay. I mean, Itachi wouldn’t deal with him if he was unbearable.”

“If you say so,” Hinata responded, relaxing against the seat. “I guess if things go south, it couldn’t be any different from all those other dates with my cousins.” She wrinkled her nose. “Actually, at least he would be interesting.”

“Yes! And cute,” Sakura agreed.

Hinata slid her eyes to the side window, laughing. “And cute,” she agreed. “Anyway, we should probably get back. Ino is going to have questions.”

“We can tell her we were discussing water fight strategy. We are going to ambush Sasuke and Naruto! Oh! By the way, who else was coming?” she asked. “Sai, Choji and Shikamaru?”

“If you think she’ll buy it, you tell her. I can’t lie to save my life.” Hinata grinned. “And yes. To all of them. Kiba and Shino are also coming. Lee says sorry that he can’t attend,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Something about a tournament.”

Sakura scowled. “That baka… Oh well, he had better come visit another time then.”

“Be nice,” Hinata chided. “He would have been able to make it last weekend.”

Sakura looked slightly guilty at that. “Oh, right…” She straightened and turned off the car. “Alright, let’s get back before someone comes to get us,” she said, opening the door just as a van pulled into the parking lot. She thought that might be Kiba behind the wheel.

Her assumptions were confirmed when Hinata fairly bounced out of the car up to the side of the van. The blue-haired girl rapped knuckles against the side of the sliding door, calling out, “Shino! They have water guns!”

Sakura giggled and waved as the metal panel slid open for Shino and Choji to climb out. Shikamaru got out on the other side while Sai and Kiba got out of the front. Sai zipped right over to Sakura and cupped her boobs. “Ah, I missed these! They are so much nicer than Ino’s!”

Sakura hit him so hard he stumbled back and landed head first in a sand dune. “KEEP YOUR HANDS TO YOURSELF YOU PERVERT!” she screamed irately.

Hinata gaped as Shikamaru skulked up behind her. “And that’s the only way a pervert should be greeted,” he observed laconically. “Hi Sakura.”

Sakura turned, switching from furious to sweetly delighted so fast it was a wonder she didn’t get whiplash. “Shika!” she yelped, and hugged him. “And Choji!” A hug for him. “Shino!” And him…

Kiba held out his arms and smiled innocently. “Me too?”

She giggled and gave him a hug too. “I missed you guys! I’m glad you could make it!”

Shikamaru grinned. “Even him?” he asked, pointing at Sai who was now sitting in the sand, trying to shake the grains from his hair.

She rolled her eyes. “Even him, amazingly.”

“Not many others would be able to survive such an attack,” Sai commented, and looked up as a shadow fell over him. He blinked. “Hello, Kisame-san, Itachi-san.”

Snickering, Kisame leaned down to haul the artist up for the elbow. “Good to see you’ve been keeping up your research,” he said in greeting.

Next to him, Itachi sighed. There really wasn’t anything he could do about Sai. Though… “Kisame? Bring him for a moment will you?” Itachi headed off to the side of the parking lot. “I’d like to speak to him.”

Big blue looked down at the kid attached to the elbow he was grasping. “Oh yeah,” he said amused, “Itachi hasn’t even gotten to those yet today.” And he hauled Sai along to where Itachi waited.

“Not gonna save him?” Kiba asked with a knowing grin, wrapping an arm around Sakura’s shoulders.

She snorted. “Nope. But I plan on watching,” she said, noting the artist’s utter lack of terror. “He really doesn’t care how bad they hurt him, does he?” she mused.

“Some how I doubt it will be as bad as Konan breaking his leg,” Shikamaru drawled.

Hinata made a soft sound. “You don’t think Itachi will really hurt him do you?”

They all watched as Itachi turned to talk to Sai, Kisame standing close by. The artist tilted his head in a nod, several times. Sharky laughed at some point. Itachi leaned forward and ruffled his hand through Sai’s sandy hair. It was just odd.

Sakura pouted. She had been somewhat hoping for blood. “Ah well,” she murmured. “Aaaannnyyywwaaaay, what kind of snacks and stuff did you guys bring? Mom is bringing her food with her later, including my promised dango.”

“Aaaauuugghhh! YOU’RE DISGUSTING!” Ino’s shriek caused several people to flinch. “Say that AGAIN and I will shove your precious pendant so far down your throat you’ll have to cough up a LUNG to get it back!”

Sakura sighed. “We left the blonds alone, didn’t we?” she asked.

Kiba looked over and laughed. Hidan, Deidara and Ino. “Yep. You did.”

Over to the side, Kisame was laughing as the three men meandered back towards the vehicles.


Chapter 23 | Table of Contents | Chapter 25

A/N: For those who saw the ninja teaser – Congrats!

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