“Right, okay, so you really expect me to believe that bullshit?” Hidan demanded, glaring at the blond in front of him.
Deidara puffed up, immediately offended. “Yeah I do, un! It’s true, you fucking asshole!”
Hidan scoffed. “Yeah, and I’m a fucking virgin.”
Luckily, before the two managed to get into any sort of fist fight (or worse), Kakuzu arrived and neatly separated them. Painfully.
No one else batted an eyelash, though. In fact, Sakura had long since tuned them out. “Hello, Kakuzu. Glad you could make it,” she greeted with a bright smile as the older teen sat on a couch.
The money monger met her gaze, and shrugged. “Yeah,” was all he offered in return.
Rolling her eyes, Sakura leaned back against her date, and went back to gazing about the basement. “You know, I think the last time I was here, was before I left for Suna. It really hasn’t changed. The only thing that’s missing is Kisame and the huge piñata.”
Itachi was midway through curling an arm around the pinkette’s waist when he paused at the word ‘piñata’. She still didn’t know… and it was probably best she continued to be ignorant. He traded glances with Hidan who had stiffened at the mention of Suigetsu.
Kakuzu’s eyes had narrowed, but he finally just shrugged. “Kisame’ll be here shortly, probably,” he replied calmly. “What about you?”
Hidan went over to join Hinata on the same couch his best friend occupied, and Deidara managed to regain his feet and left for drinks.
Tilting her head, Sakura blinked at the tall dark teenager. “Kakuzu, is there anything important in my life during the past year that you don’t know about?” she deadpanned.
“Perhaps,” Kakuzu replied. “Just because I can get the information at any point doesn’t mean I do.” He shrugged. “Communication is sometimes more desirable.”
“Right,” Sakura drawled. “Well, I am now living with our adorable little Konan. Her boyfriend’s phone number is on my best friend’s cell phone—which is weird just thinking of it. The movie, Judge Dredd isn’t bad; I just wish I had seen it in 3D. Naruto and Sasuke haven’t given me up,” she paused with a grin. “So my chances of free time are shrinking even further once classes start.”
“I see,” Kakuzu murmured thoughtfully. “I didn’t know about Pein’s number.” The implication, of course, was obvious.
Pink brows rose. “Who, besides me, would possibly tell you that information?” She sounded honestly curious.
Kakuzu smiled at that and held out one large hand wordlessly.
“Uh uh.” She shook her head. “By your own rules, information is worth money, and I just gave you something new. Just tell me if there is someone who would tell you that.”
Kakuzu’s smile had simply widened (to Hidan’s relief). “Of course there is, Sakura. There are many people who will.”
“Many?” she repeated back gaping. “That can’t be right. There’s me, Pein, Ino. Maybe Konan if Ino ever did call Pein. There wasn’t anyone else in the room! Ino wouldn’t tell anyone, Konan would come after her.” Sakura blinked, then sighed. “And I really shouldn’t have told you, huh?”
The older youth shrugged, sitting back. “Perhaps, perhaps not. I would have gleaned it elsewhere eventually.”
A wrinkle formed between Sakura’s brows. “Wonderful. I’m demanding a fee before I answer any of your questions from now on.” Turning, she scowled at Itachi who had started to laugh. “I’m serious!”
“It’s a good policy,” Kakuzu retorted, though it almost sounded approving.
Hidan smirked and tugged Hinata closer. Then he frowned. “Hey, where’d that blond dipshit go?”
The group in the basement fell silent for a beat, listening for footsteps or mutterings that usually pointed the way to the pyro. Instead, there was silence… No, there was a faint buzzing. Coming from at least two phones.
Blinking, Itachi pulled out his cell phone from his jacket draped over the back of the couch as Sakura reached for her own phone. “Four text messages… from Kisame.”
“Same, but from Deidara,” Sakura reported, before giggling. “Do they say the same thing?”
“Possibly,” Itachi muttered, leaning in to peer at her phone as he showed her his. After a moment, he sighed. “I’ll be back.”
The pink-haired girl grinned and shifted aside to let him up. “Have fun!” she chirped and ducked, laughing, as he tossed a pillow at her.
Grumbling, the Uchiha exited the room.
“What the fuck is going on?” Hidan demanded, looking confused. “Oy, what the hell did they say, Sakura?”
The girl grinned and winked at Hinata. “Hmm, it’s funny shit, Hidan. I think I’ll rate this at ten bucks. Pay up.”
Hidan made a face. “Yeah, fuck that shit,” he snapped, and nudged Hinata aside so he could get up. “I’ll go see for my damn self.”
Instead of looking offended, Sakura leaned back and shrugged. “Personally, I wouldn’t want to get involved. It’s been going on for at least since Dei left, and who knows how much longer it will go on for. Not even Itachi is immune, from what I gather.”
Completely bewildered, Hinata shook her head at Sakura. “You’re making that up.”
Hidan shrugged and apparently decided to take his chances. After he was gone, Kakuzu smirked, looking entirely too pleased with himself.
Sakura was too busy being smug herself, but Hinata noticed. “Alright, I can only manage one smug person in the room at a time without asking. Sakura isn’t talking. Kakuzu? Why do you look like someone handed you a hundred dollars?”
He smirked. “Toji-dono had been lying in wait since before I arrived. Two and two isn’t hard to put together,” he replied vaguely.
“Deidara’s mom?” Frowning, Hinata blinked at the outraged gasp from the other girl.
“CHEATER!” Sakura declared, pointing at the one male in the room. But she broke down laughing as Kakuzu gave her an amused look. “But you didn’t tell Hidan and he’s probably locked into the lecture by now. You’re horrible!”
Bright green eyes shifted from one girl to the other. “Hidan does not get special treatment,” he replied, and smirked. “However, the bitching should be amusing later.”
Laughing, Hinata traded glances with Sakura. “And you did warn him,” she said, smiling widely. “His fault for ‘getting involved’.”
Sakura choked. “You’re just as bad as Kakuzu!”
Kakuzu, for his part, only seemed more amused by this. “Quite a bit better than being good,” he pointed out.
“It’s been very profitable,” Hinata said straight-faced with her hands neatly folded in her lap.
Nearly falling over, Sakura held up her hands as she laughed. “I was joking when I said you were like him! Seriously, I don’t think the world can sustain two of Kakuzu. We’d all be filing for bankruptcy in weeks!”
“Of course not,” Kakuzu huffed. “It’s too big a job for weeks.” He smirked.
The pink-haired girl across from him shook her head. “Your mind is a scary thing, Kakuzu.” But despite her words, Sakura was grinning.
He shrugged again. “Thank you, Sakura,” he replied, and glanced up at the sound of the basement door opening.
The heavy thud of hurrying feet heralded Itachi and Kisame’s return, though Deidara and Hidan were still missing. Sakura quirked a brow. “Welcome back,” she offered, wondering where the two idiots were.
“So what are you guys up to?” Kisame asked as he ducked his head through the doorway. “We were having a great time hearing about the negative properties of society’s accepted poison.” Without blinking, he smirked at Kakuzu. “Hidan is useful.”
Cringing, Hinata sighed. “I almost don’t want to know… What did he do?”
“He opened his mouth,” Itachi answered, sliding back into his spot next to Sakura. “Deidara didn’t make it.”
Sakura rolled her eyes before returning to her rather comfortable position cuddled up to her boyfriend. “He should have run faster.”
Grinning at that, Kakuzu nodded. “They both should have.”
“Kind of hard to run when that lady has a grip on your hair,” Kisame snickered as he sat down next to Hinata, causing the slight girl to shift over towards Kakuzu. “We’re going to have to watch out for cherry bombs for a while though,” he added thoughtfully.
Leaning back against the couch cushions, Itachi grunted. “We lost the beer though.”
Sakura huffed. “Dammit.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Kakuzu drawled. “More for another night.” He had no doubt that Deidara would eventually steal it back. Provided his mother didn’t booby trap the stuff. Kakuzu wouldn’t put it past the woman.
Hinata let out a squeak, before turning to glare at Kisame. “What was that for?”
“Pizza. What do you want?” Kisame answered with a grin. He also retracted his finger from where he had poked the girl in the ribs.
Wrinkling her nose at him, Hinata rubbed her side. “Barbeque chicken.”
The blue-boy’s grin hardly dimmed. “Sakura?”
The rosette girl blinked at him, brows furrowing. “Hamburger and black olives.”
“You and your weird-ass cravings,” Kisame drawled as he brought his phone up to his ear. “Guys? The usual?”
The others nodded as Sakura stuck her tongue out at the blue boy, and then grinned. “This is so great,” she said, turning her gaze to meet Itachi’s.
Her boyfriend raised a brow as across from her Kisame started joking with the presumed pizzeria’s order person. “Good,” Itachi responded, leaning in to kiss her behind the ear.
She scrunched up a bit, unable to stifle a giggle. “That tickles!”
Stilling, Itachi smirked and lifted his head, meeting the gaze of the shark. One black eyebrow went up as Kisame tilted his head.
“Kakuzu, five bucks; take the phone.” At the money mongers quick nod, Kisame handed the phone over. Sharky took the few steps over to the couple’s couch and grinned. “Ticklish huh?”
Surprised green eyes lifted, and then moved between the two. “Uh…” She really didn’t like their expressions. There was only supposed to be one shark in the group.
Itachi’s smooth response had her tensing. “Apparently,” he said, one hand already inching around the girl’s waist.
“Can’t let that pass, now can we?” Kisame added, seating himself on Sakura’s other side.
She apparently clued in, because she started to get up. “Oh, oh no you—”
Unable to help herself, Hinata burst out laughing as Itachi reached up, pulling Sakura down by the shoulders as Kisame grasped the pinkette around the waist. Between the two boys, Sakura made a smooth return to the couch. Itachi then moved his fingers to her sides as Kisame just smirked, still keeping his hold.
Squirming and trying to escape, Sakura had absolutely no choice but to laugh while she did so. “Y-you guys are… DEAD!” she managed between cackles.
Kakuzu, holding the phone, smiled. “No, sorry, just a tickle attack. … Yes, that’s the address. Uh huh. Yes, ma’am. Thank you very much. Yeah, you too.” He hung up. “Forty five minutes, Kisame,” he informed the males attacking everyone’s favorite pink-haired girl.
“Awesome,” the shark responded, and winced when a particular screech was aimed right at his ear. “Oi.”
Smiling, Hinata leaned back and looked at Kakuzu. “I’m glad you and Hidan don’t do that,” she murmured.
As if summoned, the basement door cracked against the opposite wall, the sound echoing down the stairs as Hidan and Deidara finally returned. “Fucking bitch,” Hidan swore, and yelped when Deidara punched the back of his head. “Oi!”
“That’s my mom, un!” Deidara growled.
“Fuck,” Hidan replied, cringing. “Sorry.”
The two ticklers paused, Itachi because Sakura had managed a good clout to his ear and Kisame because Itachi’s expression was just priceless. Unfortunately for Sakura, Kisame still didn’t let go.
“Serves you right,” she gasped, trying to catch her breath. “It’s no fair bringing in Kisame!”
Deidara blinked. “… just don’t ruin the furniture, guys.”
Itachi blinked back. Kisame looked down. “This piece of trash?” they chorused. The couch in question was probably twenty years old, bought at a garage sale and barely still had its stuffing. The springs also squeaked.
“Yeah, that fucking piece of trash!” Deidara snapped.
Hidan plopped down in Kisame’s abandoned seat. “Hey, goddess,” he drawled.
Pulling her eyes away from the spectacle on the sagging brown couch, Hinata gave the albino a wary look. “Hey yourself.”
He snorted and shook his head. “What’s that look for?”
Thankful what he wasn’t getting ideas from Itachi and Kisame, Hinata relaxed. “Nothing, false alarm, sorry,” she admitted, snuggling down into his side.
Wrapping his arm around her, he kissed the crown of her head. “Okay. Hey, we order the pizza yet?” he asked, glancing at Kakuzu.
The money monger huffed at him and said nothing.
“Tight ass,” Hidan grumbled.
Under his chin, Hinata was nodding. “Yeah, we did. Just before you came down.”
“Nice,” he replied, now speaking directly to her. “What’d we get?”
The girl chuckled. “Five bucks,” she replied.
Hidan blinked, then grinned slowly. “Or… I could let you do the chocolate,” he whispered in her ear.
Much to his amusement, Hinata let out a small squeak and hid her face against his chest. He could feel the warmth from her cheeks as she blushed. Mumbling into his shirt, she listed off the order, though she ended on a question. “What’s the usual?” she asked, peeking up at him.
He smirked. “You’ll see,” he replied, giving her side a light pinch.
Kakuzu rolled his eyes; the mushiness was really starting to bug him.
Over on the other couch, Kisame had finally let go, and was currently backing away from the sudden onslaught of kicks from Sakura. “Holy shit woman!” he protested, one hand over his crotch, the other out to defend as he stood. “Watch it!”
“Then get away from me!” she yelled, aiming one final kick at him before scooting closer to Itachi. She gave her boyfriend a glower. “And you knock it off too.”
His eyebrows had shot up. “Indeed,” he muttered, his hands raised up away from the pinkette.
Sniffing, she resettled herself, eying Kisame closely. Deidara coughed. “Alright then. Who’s up for a game of cards, un?”
The group of boys pushed their way out through the tinted glass doors, Kiba rolling his eyes as they went. “That is the last time I’m sitting next to you during a horror movie,” he was saying to Naruto. “I can understand a bit of freaking out—it’s a horror flick—but standing up and yelling at the killer?”
“He should have left her alone!” Naruto protested loudly, ignoring the way the security guard eyed him as he did so. “Man, why do the hot chicks always die first?!”
Beside him, Shino sighed. “The most attractive ones are usually first to die,” he admitted. “Why? Likely because they are the perfect representation of impurity, and today’s society firmly impresses upon its people that purity will always succeed against evil. Thus, the ‘impure’ members of the group must die quickly and in gruesome ways so that-” He stopped, realizing the others were staring at him.
Naruto’s face scrunched up. “Dude. It was a rhetorical question.”
The other boy’s head seemed to sink further into his jacket as he fell silent. Sai snickered and wrapped an arm around Naruto’s shoulders. “Well! You asked.”
Meanwhile, Kiba was sidling up to his best friend’s side. “The most attractive huh?” he asked, one brow raised. “So you didn’t think Tina was hot?”
It was impossible to tell if Shino had any expression at all, behind the high collar and the shades. “No,” was all he said.
The smirk on Kiba’s face said otherwise, but he just patted Shino on the shoulder. “Well, I did,” he said and noticed another pair exiting the doors. “Hoy! What did you two think?”
The two boys looked up. Shikamaru shrugged and Sasuke grimaced.
“I grew tired of the idiocy halfway through,” the young Uchiha muttered as he drew nearer. Shika meanwhile, stayed by the doors, holding it open for Choji who stepped through with a new bag of chips.
“Late summer horror film, Uchiha.” Kiba sighed. “It’s just for the breasts. No thinking needed.”
“Sasuke-kun’s not interested in breasts, we all know that,” Sai inserted pointedly.
Black eyes swivelled over to the artist. “Not in fake ones anyway,” he corrected.
“I don’t want to know,” Shika muttered, walking by the two black-haired boys, Choji following in his wake.
“Alas, Sasuke, your non-interest in boobs is nothing in comparison to Shikamaru’s fettish,” Sai said faux sadly as he turned toward the parking lot. “He’s the tentacle guy.”
Naruto cackled. “You know, man, I think that’s just awesome.”
Ahead of them, Shika sighed.
Choji reached out and patted his shoulder. “There, there.”
Getting impatient with the whole chitchat, Sasuke cleared his throat. “So my place or Choji’s? We never decided.”
The large boy grunted. “We can head over to my place,” he offered, and munched on more chips. More food.
“I won’t allow it.” The words seemed to freeze the girl standing before him in her tracks, and her eyes narrowed. But all he could think was that he’d already lost his cousin; he didn’t want Tenten running off to some school in another friggin’ city or something. Besides, his family was more than capable of providing for her, if that was the issue.
Around them, other shoppers parted and slipped by them, one or two sparing an irritated glance at the pair. She just had to choose such a public place to bring up the topic of careers.
Crossing her arms and tilting her head, the slim brunette frowned at him. “Won’t allow what exactly, Neji-kun?”
He decided that getting her irritated was probably not the best idea and quickly backtracked. “It’s unnecessary, I mean,” he said. “You don’t need to do anything like that. Going away…”
Something he said wasn’t good because he watched in dismay as her expression darkened. “I am going to assume that you mean that going cross country.” Shifting her various bags into one hand, she linked her free arm with his to coax him along. “If that isn’t what you’re talking about… then it’s best we don’t talk about it here.”
“Tenten, I’m serious,” he snapped, pulling away from her. He kept his voice down as he muttered, “I don’t want you to just go and waste your time.”
Growling, the girl shook her head and stalked off towards the doors. “I’m serious too. C’mon.”
He frowned and followed her. “I don’t see how this is unclear to you, Tenten,” he pressed as they walked.
Gaze straight forward, Tenten navigated past the other couples and groups of people. “Enlighten me then. How is it a waste of time for me to enroll in university?”
“You won’t need it later,” he replied. “None of it. You’ll be one of us, and we’ll provide completely for you!”
Ahead of him, his girlfriend stumbled. Spinning around, Tenten stared at him. “First of all, I want to. It’s not just that I think I need to. Second, ‘one of us’? What are you? A cult now?”
He glared at her. “My clan, Tenten,” he retorted. “You’ll be a Hyuuga one day.” Perhaps not the best way of telling her that he planned to propose once they were properly of age, but she must have expected this to happen eventually.
Tenten paled, then flushed, then paled again. “You’re telling me… and this is because you are dating me never mind pending engagement, Hyuuga women are discouraged from pursuing a career?” She took two steps straight into his face. “Is that it?”
“… yes,” he replied after a beat, regarding her warily.
Shutting her eyes, Tenten sighed and retreated. “The world doesn’t work like that anymore, Neji.”
He frowned at her. “It’s tradition,” he replied, albeit lamely. “There are many expectations placed upon my shoulders, especially now that…” He stopped, and sighed. “You must understand.”
“We’re not even in college yet!” Tenten blurted out, frowning at him. “What happens if we don’t get married? I’m screwed then because I didn’t go to school when I should have.”
The Hyuuga sighed. “I had planned on… on proposing after graduation,” he grumbled.
“Neji…” she breathed. “I…” Tenten broke off and shook her head. “I have to take care of myself too. I don’t want to rely on anyone.”
“It’s what’s expected,” he insisted, somewhat helplessly.
Smiling sadly, Tenten reached out and traced fingers down his cheek. “Of a Hyuuga, yes. But I’m not a Hyuuga.”
He blinked at her, neither moving to stop her, nor encourage her. Stunned. “But… You would be. Could be?” Pause. “Please?”
Blinking rapidly herself, she took a deep breath. “Neji… I would marry you.” She pressed her fingers against his mouth before he could respond. “But… I won’t ever be a Hyuuga woman.” Gazing up at him, eyes wide and liquid, Tenten whispered, “I will be myself and only myself for the rest of my life. Would you really want me to change that much to fit into your family’s expectations?”
“I…” He swallowed as her hand fell away. “Yes. I could keep you, so yes.”
Tenten blinked once, pain and sorrow streaking down in twin trails. “I can only stay with you… if I change?” she asked softly.
“You would always be you,” he protested. “But you must be a Hyuuga too.”
Free hand coming up, she brushed her cheeks. “I love you, Neji. I do.” She took a deep sharp breath in, and held it for a heartbeat. “But I meant it, when I said I would not be a Hyuuga.” Meeting his wide-eyed gaze, she smiled at him again. “I wouldn’t be me.”
“You’re either a Hyuuga or you’re not,” Neji replied. “You can’t just… Not be a Hyuuga. Tenten…”
At this, she dropped her gaze and nodded. “I know.”
The boy resisted the urge to reach out, fists clenching. “So which is it? Will you be a Hyuuga or not?”
Tenten gasped, startled brown eyes he loved so dearly snapping up to his. “I… I can’t answer that now, Neji!”
“You have to,” he replied, hoping none of his emotions were showing through.
She stared up at him, her hand curled against her chest. “Neji… Please. Later.”
Annoyance flared, turning into anger as he bit out, “Now, or never.”
The world seemed to stop as his girl bit her lip and closed her eyes.
And for several heartbeats, the air was trapped in his chest. He let it out in a rush, feeling like she’d kicked him in the gut. The anger returned at her rejection, and he snarled out, “So be it.”
He turned away and didn’t look back.
A/N: *rubs back of neck* Erm… apologies to the Neji-lovers out there. But if you read Sand Trails, you’d know we’d be making his life hard.