The boys of Akatsuki graciously escorted me and Neji to their private studio, not-so-subtly making sure Neji wasn't anywhere close to me by dividing us with their numerous bodies. Good grief, they might as well be bodyguards. Madara was, on the other hand, quite plainly elbowed aside by not only me, but by none other than his own hyperactive brother, Tobi, who took hold of my hand and was cheerfully dragging me to the studio, skipping all the way as he whistled a merry tune. I allowed him, because in all truth I didn't mind him – however, I was not sure if this plain favouritism, however slight, would favour Tobi in the slightest after contemplating how possessive and jealous his band members could be. I decided to not think about it.
Surprisingly, the one to defend my other hand from getting kidnapped by any of the others was Kakuzu himself. Unlike Tobi, he didn't take my hand in an iron, though gentle, grip; he merely walked beside me with his arms crossed and moodily scowling at nothing in particular.
I briefly wondered if the scowl was his trademark feature, like Kisame's blue skin, Tobi's eye patch, or Zetsu's green hair. I mean, aside from the brief smirk back at the flower shop, all I'd see him wear is a scowl or a sneer. However, those not-so-nice thoughts were chased away as Kakuzu turned his scowl towards Hidan, who was inching closer to me from behind, his hand a tad too close to my butt to be aiming for my hand. Hidan immediately withdrew with a glare towards my guard, crossing his arms and cursing his scrooge of a band mate. I couldn't help it. I snickered.
Kakuzu glanced questioningly at me from the corner of his eye for a second before returning his flaming green eyes to the front.
Quickly, our small group reached the Akatsuki's private room, which was only about five doors down the hall from the one Neji had assigned for us. Pein, who was leading the group, opened the door for us and followed us in after we had all walked into the room.
The room really wasn't all that different from mine, except that perhaps it was slightly larger and had been in obvious use recently. There were several bags with towels, water bottles and shoes shoved into a corner, with the occasional water bottle or towel resting by the windowsill. The main difference, I would say, was that my room had wooden handle bars attached to the walls, but this room had none of that. It seemed more adequate for the type of show the Akatsuki would do, not that I would know.
"Here we are, Pinky," Kisame said as he strutted over to the middle of the room, flinging his muscled arms wide as if he were showing me a palace and not a dancing studio. "This here is where me and the boys rehearse for hours to perfect our magic."
Tobi giggled. "Yes, magic! That is what many call our shows, Angel-chan."
"You don't say, Tobi-kun," I humoured him with a small smile. He was just so simple and so enthusiastic about everything it was hard to even use sarcasm on him.
"Yep!" he chirped.
"Sakura-chan, yeah!" Deidara called from my right. I turned towards his voice to find him on knees, unrolling a semi-thick, small black mat by the front of the studio, by the wall composed entirely of mirrors. "You can sit here, yeah."
"Where may I sit?" Neji inquired in his cold, courteous tone. "That mat is too small to accommodate two people properly."
Sasori, who was casually leaning against the mirror wall with his shoulder, his hands in his pockets, shrugged his free shoulder indifferently. "Wherever you wish, Neji-san," he said; his face clearly showing he really didn't care.
Seeing how I was roped unwillingly into becoming the Akatsuki's audience, I decided to have a little harmless revenge by purposefully annoying them. I slipped my hand free of Tobi's and sat, senza style (which is really kneeling in the traditional Japanese style), on the mat Deidara had rolled out for me. Then, scooting to one side of the mat, I said, loud enough for everyone to hear me, "Oh, you can sit with me, Neji-san. It may not be the most spacious seat, but I'm sure that we can fit… even if it is a little snug."
As soon as the last word was out of my mouth, Deidara and Sasori were already on their feet on the other side of the room, digging among their bags for a spare cushion on which Neji could sit on. I smirked at their backs. They were so predictable.
Neji, seeing my smirk, smirked back at me. Huh. Seems like he has a sense of humour, too. Sakura has learned something!
Deidara stomped over to my right and unceremoniously dropped the rather old and worn mat on the floor beside my own seemingly brand-new mat. "There, yeah," he huffed. "You can use that."
Neji's eyebrow twitched in indignation, but rolled out the mat nonetheless without a word and sat on it as the band set up in front of us. They weren't anything like Naruto's band, where the set up included preparing the microphones as well as the instruments, plus with Kakashi behind the scenes in the machine room of the recording studio. The way they set up was rather simple, actually: they each grabbed a headset microphone from a basket underneath the music player, and, one by one, they tested out the mikes until they no longer screeched when brought too close to their mouths, or echoed excessively. Tobi was bouncing in place as he warmed up his voice, singing "do, re mi, faaaaa, sol, la, ti, dooooo!" before doing it again in different keys. And what'd you know; he sounds pretty darn good for a simple warm up.
Hidan, on the other hand, had no patience for such things and so, as soon as his mike was ready, marched over to Tobi and whacked him across the head. "Will you cut the shit out, you fucker?" he snarled as Tobi whimpered, his body bent over as he held his abused head.
"Hidan's mean!" he cried. "Tobi's a good boy, but Hidan is definitely not!"
"Is this really a revelation?" Zetsu asked impassively as he adjusted the tiny microphone beside his mouth. Tobi stopped, looking at Zetsu thoughtfully.
"No, Tobi guesses not," he said. "But Hidan's still a bad boy!" And with those words, he turned on Hidan, who had his back to him, and pounced on the unsuspecting albino, thoroughly startling him and causing him to swear up a storm. Tobi, with surprising agility, dodged Hidan's angry fists and swears and quickly scurried across the room on his hands and knees towards me.
"Angel-chan! Save Tobi from the monster!"
"Who the fuck you calling a monster, you piece of shit?!"
"Hey! Watch your language around my brother!"
"Don't worry, Tobi-kun, I'll save you!" I cried as I flung open my arms, easily (and thoroughly enjoying) playing along. Tobi's one eye became big and teary and, in slow motion, he jumped into the air, completely reminding me of those cheesy movie scenes where a kid and her beloved lost dog meet again. With Tobi being the dog in this case, of course.
Just before Tobi reached the safe haven of my arms, someone grabbed a hold of his shirt collar and pulled back, choking Tobi as he fell back on his butt, his head avoiding colliding with the floor by the arm that had stopped him from reaching me.
"Really, Tobi," Itachi chided his relative with a soft, commanding voice. "We're about to begin practice, and not just any practice as Sakura-san has graciously agreed to be our audience." I snorted – yeah, I definitely agreed to come – but Itachi ignored me. "You may play once we finish, but for now focus on doing your best."
Tobi pouted but nodded. "Yes, Itachi."
"Good boy." And with, Itachi released Tobi's collar before walking towards Pein, who was the one fiddling with the music player on the side of the room. Tobi rubbed his throat before looking up and catching my eye, at which he simply gave me a beaming smile before he scrambled to his feet and took his place in the middle of the room, between Zetsu and Madara.
The rest of the guys, having had their mikes set up while Tobi was fooling around, had made a simple line formation across the middle of the room. Starting from the left, where Pein and Itachi were still talking in hushed tones over the player, the line began with Hidan, followed by Kakuzu, Zetsu, Tobi, Madara, a small space, and then Sasori, Deidara, and Kisame. Pein gave a quick nod to Itachi, who then moved across the room like a king, and took his place beside Kisame, who had an excited gleam in his eye. After a moment, Pein pressed a button on the player and moved into the little space between Madara and Sasori.
"The piece we are about to perform," he began, his voice quiet but strong, "is a piece we've been rehearsing for a few weeks now for our next tour, which is to promote our new songs. It is composed of two songs back-to-back; the tune of the first blending with that of the second." His eyes never left my face, and I could everyone's eyes on me, even Neji's. I felt like there was an unspoken message in their stares, and so, finally catching on, I gave my reply.
"Alright, Akatsuki," I drawled as I uncurled my legs out of the senza position and opted for simply tucking my legs to the side and leaning my back against the mirror wall. I let a slow smirk unfold on my face as I spoke the challenge they so blatantly wanted me to give. "Let me see what you can do."
Pein's mouth twitched at the corner into a tiny, tiny smirk before pressed a tiny button on his ear piece, turning on the microphone attached to it that rested by his mouth. "Please enjoy," he said. He, along with the others, bowed towards me and Neji before standing straight again and moving into a circular formation, kneeling down on one knee with one hand on the floor; their heads bowed and their bodies facing out. Pein was obviously in the front, facing me, flanked by Sasori and Madara.
I inwardly gasped. They had changed. Somehow, in those few seconds when they bowed and took their formation, the air around them had changed from that of any other group of friends to a magnetic, resounding aura which sizzled with the promise of something grand.
I sat there, amazed beyond reason with my heart pounding loudly in my chest for just being within such close proximity of them. These guys, who not a moment ago were laughing and fooling around, had suddenly converted into idols; men with enough regal, fierce charisma pulsing from their cores to humble the most arrogant of emperors by just standing there. The atmosphere became heavy, not with sorrow, but with authority and power worthy of a king. No, they were above that.
They were gods.
A high, long chirp, like that of a bird, startled me from my thoughts, and I shook my head. Gods? What was I thinking? They only bowed, how could I think they were gods just by their determined expressions?
My thoughts were hushed when a musical beat started to sound at a strutting rhythm, simple but so musical in nature. A few beats of the melody passed before the group, suddenly but slowly, raised their heads, and, a beat later, began to sing as one.
"Every single day I try," – they stretched their bodies out from the crouching position so they were now standing – "I'm really almost there." They took a step forward, widening the circle and, in almost a sensual manner, faced the front and crossed their legs, pushing their arms into the air, one up and one down, the one that went up slowly curving so their hand was behind their heads.
And all the while, Pein was looking intently at me, and I could not escape those eyes.
Their arm that was up came down, chopping the air by their knees on time to the beat of a drum, and they turned on their heels towards the left, crouching.
"We get closer to a good time," they rushed forward in their circle before firmly planting the balls of their left leg on the ground and slowly turning to face the inside of the circle. "To the hardships say good-bye – OH!" Upon the exclamation, they pulled themselves into the circle with their arms and jumped as they did a half turn to face the front once again, falling to their knees except for one person in the middle of the circle.
A strong electronic beat boomed in time to Madara's voice, who, somehow, was the one who had materialized inside the circle. He looked firmly into my eyes as he sang, in his electrified voice, "Sexy, free, and sin-gle, now the preparation is complete..." The others at his feet rolled, and he rolled along with them, and in a heartbeat they were all on their feet with their backs facing me as Madara continued, this time with the other's voices as back-up. "Sexy, free, and sin-gle, I'm ready to min-gle!"
"Hey!" Itachi cut in as they all jumped to face the side, and did what looked like martial arts moves to the beat. "There is no fun if anyone can take you with ease. A little higher… stronger… la-la-la la-la-la"
"Look from above, it will dawn on the one who's withstanding," Sasori sang as he stepped to centre stage, the other smoothly grouping behind him and falling in step as he grabbed the hems of his pants and did a sidestep towards the front of the stage where I was. "Endure… endure…. a bit more, la-la-la la-la-la"
They sept the air with their arms crossed before Deidara, who was beside Sasori, took the spotlight next. "My person, person, believe me more - finally I… wake up, above my slumber!" the others added their voices as back up on the last line before he continued his part, pumping their fists and chests in hip-hop style.
"I become deeper, more like me after the long hardship," Tobi sang next, jumping over to Deidara's side as the others bounced on their heels, sweeping their arms across their bodies, "Now I'm heading to the next stage of upgrade, OH!"
The guys moved positions in the blink of an eye, and Pein suddenly was the leader, and he sung, the other's voices adding power to his own, "Run 'till you're out of breath, you who is awesome, have a good time!" My eyes widened – they were doing a marching backward Charleston! And damn, they looked damn sexy the way they made it look so flawless as they ran their hands through their hair, their eyes intense – "It's party time on a day like today… Have a taste of the victory that jolts–your–heart, now have a good time," they pulled their arms down slowly and with power, as if they were doing a chin up, and pointed towards me. Pein's ringed eyes trapped me again, and his voice sounded louder than the others. "Who's gonna stop you? OH!"
Hidan's white hair caught my eye as he spun from nowhere and replaced Pein who disappeared among the others. "Sexy, free, and single, I'm ready to min-gle!" he sang, his voice electrified like Madara's and slicing the air to either side of him, his band mates copying his movements flawlessly. "Sexy, free, and sin-gle, I'm ready to mingle!" They took wide steps, raising their knees as if marching before suddenly snapping their legs closed and in a surprising show of agility, turned with quick, little steps, all of their voices coming together. "Also, when you stand unfavourable chances, don't be afraid
Also, even when the unfavourable chances don't seem to end, mingle"
They were suddenly in a line, and Kisame, who was at the end, jumped out of line and shimmied over to the front, with amazing footwork for someone so big. "Don't give up saying it's heavy, it's heavy," his deep baritone voice rumbled as he, along with the others, snapped his fingers to the beat, sending me a smug, toothy smirk. "It's the real thing from now on, nanana nanana!"
Sasori slipped behind him, and Kisame moved out of the way to reveal the redhead. "It's just something everyone would experience once," he sang as he took a step to the side, his arm reaching out, and pulled them both in, the members on that side taking a step towards him before he repeated the move on his others side. "We fail, we lose, to win, don't be afraid."
Sasori spun out and Zetsu spun in, two lines having formed as they did so, and the lines hopped in opposite directions as the green-haired male sang, "My person, person, I've become stronger" – they bend their knees in and out, crossing them and uncrossing them – "Yeah! Finally it's our time for rom-mance!"
Kakuzu popped up then, his narrowed eyes making his expression look intense and mysterious, not moving at all except for some pushing his arms to either side as the others swerved around him. "Again, I will fly towards a greater dream… Another upgrade, just watch me, leave it to me."
Deidara was suddenly the leader, and his voice rose to hit the high notes, the others moving behind him as he sang the sweetest in the smoothest tones, "I'm getting more and more daring" – and as if to prove this, they all brought down their fisted hands and pushed their pelvises out with every beat as they chorused – "sexy, sexy, sexy!"
Tobi hit the same high note as he took over, "While facing this harsh world –"
"Too hot…" Madara's voice overlapped Tobi's before disappearing, and the boys turned and once again snapped their fingers as they did small, identical, and very attractive body rolls.
"Something only the one who is knows," Itachi sang with rising vigour, as the others made twin lines leaving him in the middle and he did surprising footwork like Chris Brown, "sexy, sexy, sexy!"
Itachi fell back as the two lines converged, and a head of orange was at the front of the line. "Here it's all endless variables" Pein returned, "Have fuuuun!"
"Three, two, one, go!" Kakuzu and Hidan chorused as the line crumbled as each member slid to opposing sides.
They all got into formation, and with incredible power, sang the chorus in amazing harmony. "Run here breathlessly, you finished off nicely, have a good time! Today is party time!"
"Party time!" Kisame chirped, again grinning widely.
"Taste the flavour of a heart shaking victory, now have a good time! Who's gon-na stop you? OH!" They broke off into another formation and snapped their arms and legs, snapping their joints into powerful steps and hits, nailing the beat with each flick of a finger.
Hidan smirked as the group broke apart like the Red Sea did for Moses, dancing with sharp movements. "Sexy, free, and single, I'm a quite okay guy… Sexy, free, and single, you're a quite awesome guy..."
Zetsu took over as they regrouped and dispersed, the drums emphasizing the rhythm and they all struck a pose to each beat. "Face the unfavourable possibilities, don't be afraid," he sang in his slightly electronified voice as the others did some back-up singing. "Even if you don't see the end of the unfavourable possibilities, min-gle."
Madara stepped up beside him. "At the end of this world, I catchy my breath once again..."
Kakuzu appeared beside Zetsu's other side, singing with a gentleness I didn't expect from someone so rough, "I treasure the precious trust of the person who has protected me…You-can-count-on-it – let's go!" And all of a sudden, they were back to chorus, louder and stronger than ever as they all added their voices to give the song power as they repeated the dance routine that came with the chorus, sweat catching the light on their foreheads.
"Sexy, free, and single, I'm ready to mingle! Sexy, free, and single, I'm ready to mingle! Run here breathlessly, you finished off nicely, have a good time… Today is party time!"
"Party tiiime!" Deidara sang in the background.
"Taste the flavour of a heart shaking victory, now have a good time…Who's gonna stop you? OH! Sexy, free, and single, I'm ready to mingle."
They all struck a final pose and froze as the music deemed, and then, not two seconds later, a new beat permeated the room, different from the last song as it wasn't so New Age/ electronica style though not by much as the beat was like an electric piano through an electronic amplifier.
"Oh, oh, oh, oh, ohh," the guys sang in low voices the instant the new music started, using their voices to begin the new tune, slowly releasing their poses. "Oh, oh,oh,oh,oh…Oh, oh, oh, oh, ohh…Oh, oh,oh,oh,oh…"
Momentum was built and then a drum pounded at the instant Deidara began to sing, not dancing but merely walking with so much self-confidence I felt as if he was born with it, of knowing nothing could ever go wrong as he waved his arms in time to the beat, swaying his body. "Girl I've been all over the world…Looking for you..."
Sasori, moving similarly, half-dancing half-not, took up the lead while my mind was still reeling from sharp contrast of their explosive dance to this new, easy show. "I'm known for taking what I think I deserve…And you're overdue…"
Pein walked to the front of the room, not two feet from me, slowly as he rolled his shoulders back. "And if you listen you can hear me through the radio, in that bright white noise," he sang as his voice trailed off in a higher note.
Itachi strutted across the room, head held high as it swivelled this way and that, looking very much like a predator looking for his prey until his dark eyes settled on me, and he sang: "What I been missing in my life, that I been dreaming of…"
One hand in his pocket, the other hanging loosely, Kakuzu stood tall like a king and, with a sharp, deliberate flick of his head, flicked a lock of deep brown hair from his face to the side, his sharp green eyes boring into mine. "You be that girl-"
Kisame: "You be that girl-"
All: "You be!"
They all suddenly fell to their knees, arms spread apart, and faces looking down; then they stiffly shook their arms to the beat like a clock – move and stop, move and stop - with only Madara looking up. "Everything you want so let me get up there."
Hidan looked up at me, with a devilish wink: "I'm the bad-dest bad boy in the at-mos-phere."
Zetsu was next: "Tell me what you want so we can do. Just. What. You liiiike…" I felt my face get hot as his golden eyes shined with the promise of pleasure, and the sudden change in his voice I swear was deliberate as my brain realised that his deeper, gruffer voice served to emphasize a rather somewhat intimate message. Before I could fully process the innuendo, the boys jumped to their feet as the song was launched into the chorus.
Pein jumped into a wide stance and tapped his heels to the beat, making him bounce slightly in place, his arms crossed like a boss across his chest. "You make me feel so!"
The others had taken a wide stance and had their arms crossed too, but did not tap their heels as they blended their voices – the war cry of men: "Oh,oh,oh,oh,oh"
Sasori and Deidara, who were flanking Pein, began doing the same as their leader as the redhead took his part. "You make me feel so…"
Itachi and Kisame started tapping their heels as the Uchiha sang, "You make me feel so!"
Zetsu, Madara and Tobi joined the bouncing as Zetsu sang, "You make me feel so…"
Hidan and Kakuzu, the last two, joined so all ten of them were bouncing in place, and while I knew it was impossible, it seemed that it was their bouncing that was giving the music its rhythm and not the other way around – and Hidan exclaimed: "You, you make me feel so!"
A guitar plucked away at its strings as the music returned to its mains stream, Zetsu beginning the second verse: "Get a little closer to me girl…And you'll understand…"
Tobi skipped around Zetsu before suddenly leaning against him, looking at me with a hint of mischief in his eye as he spread his arms out as if to say 'here I am.' "`Cause if you want a guy that knows what you need…Well, then I'm your man." Then, most shocking of all and making me blush insanely, he blew me a kiss before skipping towards Madara, who was behind Hidan.
Hidan suggestively swivelled his hips in a circle as he slowly ran a hand through his hair, from front to back as he sang, "And if I listen I can hear you through my radio…In that bright white noise."
Sasori had taken to lying down on the floor, his sleepy face turned towards me, his hand reaching out as if to caress my face. "What I been missing in my life, what I been dreaming of…"
Madara: "You be that girl-"
Deidara: "You be that girl-"
All: "You be!"
Kakuzu threw his hands up like a boxer and began skipping back and forth, like a boxer ready to fight. "Everything you want so let me get up there." On the "there" he punched towards the ground.
Kisame flexed his arms, showing off his impressive body-builder muscles. "I'm the bad-dest bad boy in the at-mos-phere."
Kakuzu and Kisame: "Tell me what you want so we can do. Just. What. You liiike…!" I felt shivers shoot up my spine as their two voices, which were the deepest in the group aside from Zetsu's second voice, synched perfectly and sent tingles down my belly.
Itachi jumped in, his dance being a simple snapping of the fingers by his face, looking so mundane but also so distinct and captivating on him, his black endless eyes sucking the breath out of me. "Everything you know I'll flip it up-side down."
Deidara started doing some jumpstep, catching by his surprise because that was not an easy dance to do, before landing heavily in a crouch and singing, "Take you around the world, you know I like. It. Loud!"
Pein just stood there, his hands in his pockets, but when he sang the next line his voice pierced me like an arrow. "Tell me what you want `cause we can do. Just. What. You like."
Tobi sprang up and chirped, "You make me feel so!"
Madara took a wide stand once again and started tapping his heels to the beat like before. "You make me feel so…"
Deidara was next, "You make me feel so!"
Zetsu: "You make me feel so…"
Hidan: "You make me feel, oh!"
Pein, Madara, Zetsu: "You make me feel so…"
Itachi, Kisame, Tobi: "You make me feel so!"
Hidan, Kakuzu, Sasori, Deidara: "You make me feel, oh…"
There was a pause in the music, like a drop, as the bass played a couple notes before slow, sensual music like that of a snake charmer came on, and Pein let his voice flow with command pulsating with each syllable.
"Put your hands up, put your hands up… Let the lights drop, let the lights drop."
Deidara, his voice an octave lower as his blue eye looked intently at me from beneath his dark eyelashes: "Make my world stop, make my world stop…"
All: "Oh, oh, oh, oh, ohh…Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh"
All of a sudden, the guys broke off into one of the most amazing dance routines I've seen an idol group perform, consisting of a blend of jumpstep and shuffle – and let me tell you, their shuffle put the LMFAO group to shame! Pein picked up the chorus easily, as if his legs weren't kicking up a storm underneath his barely moving upper body. "You make me feel so…"
Itachi: "You make me feel so!"
Kakuzu: "You make me feel so…"
Deidara: "You make me feel so…"
Madara: "You make me feel, oh!"
Zetsu: "You make me feel so…"
Sasori: "You make me feel so…"
Kisame: "You make me feel so…"
The music died, and the group stood still like statues in their posses – their backs to me, one arm extended with the hand pointing to the sky and their heads bowed. The silence was loud and electrifying; it was the after shock of the earth-quake level performance, but my heart beating in my ribcage was ten times louder. I was sure everyone could hear it.
My God. This guys… there were no words for it. Such talent, each member giving their strengths, blending it together to support each other in a never-ending loop, the control, the moves, the endless surprises at every turn… This group was 100% talent, and Ninja Records had made sure to polish it very well. I had never, ever in my life, witnessed such a consuming show – and this is in a simple studio!
I imagined what I'd just witnessed up on a professional stage, with lights, dry ice, a live band behind them, the guys in their idol costumes… my God. Oh. My. Freaking. Kami. Now I understood why they were the number one talent around, not only in Japan or Asia, but the world. While every fibre of me, while my rational side was aware that they were human, my adrenaline and my senses, which had all been pushed to the limit, said that they were more, that they were above mere mortals. How else could they have done what they just did? They'd turned a medium-sized room with a speaker into a world stage just by performing!
"My God…" I whispered, trying to get my heart under control.
"Sakura-san, are you… alright?" a voice to my left said, sounding as awe-stricken as I felt, with maybe a little more control than I could have had. I turned my head and struggled to focus on Neji, who was glancing at me with some worry. "You've yet to blink since the whole thing started."
Oh. That explained why my eyes felt so dry. With a little conscious effort, I closed my eyes and rubbed my temples as a thousand questions raced through my head. What had just happened? How had it happened? But most importantly… who exactly were the Akatsuki?
My train of thought was interrupted as I felt gentle hands pull my own away from my face and tilt my chin up. "Sakura-chan, are you okay, yeah?" I opened my eyes and focused on Deidara, was looking a little unsure.
"Iwa-san," I breathed out, and blinked a couple times for good measure before focusing back on him. "Yeah, I'm okay, Iwa-san." He pouted playfully.
"You can call me Deidara, Sakura-chan, yeah," he said. I gave him a small smile before a blue hand shoved him out of the way and Kisame took Deidara's place crouching in front of me, scowling at Deidara's sprawled form, which had landed on Neji, who pushed him off without a thought before straightening out his clothes, before grinning at me.
"So how was it, Pinky?" he asked, barely containing his excitement.
"It was… wow. Words are failing me. It was out of this world!" I exclaimed. He laughed in pleasure.
"That's good to hear!"
Itachi came up next and glanced down at me, the fervour in his eyes during the performance replaced by something softer. "Then I take it we've met your expectations as the world's number-one group?"
I smirked. "That's a pretty pig-headed way to put it, but yes, you have. In fact, you more than surpassed my expectations – you ripped them apart, danced on them, torched them, and put it in the kitty litter." His lips twitched at my metaphor but said nothing else as the rest of the group came forth.
"Angel-chan! Did you like it? Tobi worked extra hard for Angel-chan!" Tobi excitedly bounced over to me, successfully launching himself at me and cuddling against my side.
"It was wonderful, Tobi-kun! Simple spectacular!" I praised him with a laugh as I ruffled his hair. He purred in contentment as he snuggled closer against my side.
"Get off of my Doll, you brat," Sasori hissed at Tobi.
"Yeah, Tobi!" Madara piped in. "As the older brother, I go first!" When the young Uchiha merely stuck out his tongue at the redhead, completely ignoring his brother, Sasori did something unexpected. He straightened to his full height, rolled his shoulders, and walked to my other side; everyone's eyes following him curiously. He pushed his way between Zetsu, Madara and Hidan and plopped down to my other side and, to everyone's utter surprise, he copied Tobi – he wrapped his arms around my waist, rested his cheek against my hip, and promptly fell asleep.
"You motherfucking bastard!" Hidan's outraged voice roared at Sasori, who didn't so much as twitch. "Get off her!" When Sasori, or Tobi for that matter, didn't answer, he stomped over and grabbed Sasori's legs and pulled.
"Hey!" I protested as I felt myself (and Tobi for that matter) get dragged along with Sasori, who due to his iron albeit gentle grip, had made us three into a human chain.
"Let go of him, you moron," Kakuzu's gruff voice growled at Hidan. "Can't you see you're getting her into it?"
"Fuck off, stitch-face," Hidan grumbled but dropped Sasori's legs as if they were on fire. Sasori didn't so much as crack open an eye. While I was silently seething at being manhandled, however indirectly, I couldn't help but admire Sasori's prowess for falling asleep at the drop of a hat. Even Shikamaru, Ino's boyfriend who was a certified genius (he had an IQ of 200!) and was lazy as hell, couldn't fall asleep that fast.
I saw Neji move from the corner of my eye and turned my head to look at him. "Well," he said, "this has indeed been a treat. You are truly the best of the best. But now that we've seen your performance, I'm afraid Sakura-san and I must be on our way."
We must? I thought before correcting myself. I mean, yes, we must. I was here for dance lessons, not dance performances. "Yes, yes, of course," I said. "But, um, a little help with these two might be necessary."
Neji and the rest of the Akatsuki glared at the two attached at my waist, one fast asleep and the other holding on like a baby koala. Good grief. How old were they again?
There was a second of silence before Pein spoke. "Well, since Sakura needs to do a small dance performance for Neji-san, why do you not do it here in our room? That way we can be fair – a performance for a performance."
I scowled at him. "If I may remind you, Nagato-san," I emphasized his surname, "I didn't promise you a recital like you did me. I have no obligation to dance for you if I do not want to."
"That's true," he conceded. He opened his mouth to say something else but was cut off as the door swung open and hit the wall behind it. Everyone in the room turned towards the culprit, who was none other than my sunshine friend with the foxy smile.
"Naruto!" I greeted him with a big smile. My eyes widened in surprise as I saw who was with him. "Hinata-chan! Kakashi, Sai, Sasuke! What are you all doing here?"
"We came to see you perform, of course," Naruto chirped as he walked into the room, followed by the others who nodded or waved at me. "This guy" – he pointed at Neji – "is very hard to please, so we – but mostly me because I know him the best – wanted to be there to see his face after your dance!"
I blushed in pleasure. There were few things as nice as having someone have such outmost confidence in your abilities. "Aw, thanks, Naruto." He grinned at me before his eyes caught sight of the two leeches on my sides. I saw a vein pop on his forehead.
"Hey! What are you doing to Sakura-chan? Let go of her, damn it!" He demanded as he did what Hidan had done just moments before and grabbed hold of Tobi's legs before pulling with all his might.
"Noooo!" Tobi cried as he clung desperately to me. "Tobi's a good boooy! Tobi doesn't want to let Angel-chan goooo!"
Naruto paused; looked at me. "Did he just call you 'Angel-chan'?"
I shrugged. "Been calling me that since day one."
Someone politely cleared his throat, and my gaze immediately fell on Zetsu, who was looking a little less than pleased. "If I may, Haruno-san, I know how high Neji's expectations are. I, too, would rather enjoy seeing his face when his expectations are surpassed."
I met his golden eyes, surprised and a little flustered. "Zetsu-san, while I appreciate the compliment, I think it's unwarranted. You've never seen me dance."
"Ah, but I can see you have the capability to go far, Sakura-san. The Hyuuga family never permits just any ol' performer through their doors. If you are here, then that means you are already a high level."
I gave him a shy smile. Zetsu was probably the nicest, sweetest guy of Akatsuki, and his words just now really touched me. It was a very nice moment.
"Tch. She may have gotten in, but that doesn't mean she's all that." Aaaand the moment's gone. I turned to glare at – you guessed it – Kakuzu.
"Care to say that again?" Naruto and I eye growled at him. His face didn't change.
"Since you're both deaf, and probably stupid, at least in blondie's case, I'll say it in simpler form: she is just a dancer. Nothing special; nothing more."
The room's temperature fell by several degrees as the nice atmosphere suddenly turned chilly at Kakuzu's words. I gritted my teeth in anger. How dare he!
"That was uncalled for, Oomori," Sasuke's voice said coldly as he stepped beside Naruto, who had dropped Tobi's legs the minute Kakuzu had opened his mouth. Kakuzu snorted.
"If she was a real dancer, she'd perform; audience or no audience. That's all there is to it. Otherwise, there'd be no point."
"That's true," Kakashi said thoughtfully, and many a murderous glare was thrown in his direction. "What? It's a valid point."
"I don't have to dance in front of you to prove myself, Oomori," I spat his name. "Least of all prove myself to you, who's been nothing but rude to me since the second we met."
"Like you Americans would say, 'if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen.'"
"There is no heat!" I snapped.
"Then why won't you dance?" Itachi asked. I turned to him, shocked. Wasn't he on my side a second ago? "There's nothing to lose. You're already accepted into the Hyuga Studios, our opinion won't change that. Besides, what do you care what we think anyway?"
"A-ah…" Hinata nervously stuttered as the tension in the room got to her. I threw a worried look at my new friend, and hardened my resolve. It was obvious Kakuzu was being a pain without reason, but there was something in his tone that made me think that he wasn't doing it to bait me. That, and Itachi's comment. Kakuzu was a little rude before, but never like this; and Itachi was too much of a gentleman to drop to this level. Something was going on. There was a reason they wanted me to dance here. I studied Kakuzu's face, watching every detail of it, looking for a clue as to why he was being so insufferable.
There! His eyes locked onto mine for a second before flickering towards the door. I followed his gaze as inconspicuously as possible and focused on the studios entrance. I wasn't sure, but I think I saw a silhouette hidden in the shadows. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as goose bumps broke over my shoulders. Who was that person? Why was he standing there, not doing or saying anything?
Why was I getting such a foreboding feeling from him?
My eyes connected with Kakuzu's once again, and I sent him a silent question, asking him if that figure was why he and Itachi were suddenly so different. I don't know if he understood my question, but he nodded. I glanced at Itachi from the corner of my eye, and he nodded too. But there was something else about Sasuke's brother.
His black eyes had a tinge of red in them.
I don't know the reason why, but I trusted these two more than I trusted whoever the hell it was out there. I looked around the faces of the others, wondering if any of them were aware of what was out there, looking at us. No one seemed to notice as they were too busy yelling and protesting at Kakuzu's and Itachi's sudden cold attitude towards me. No one, but Kakashi, who was looking straight at the figure, with a face that was less then friendly. I held back a gasp. The bandana that covered his left eyes was lifted up, and his slumped posture was straight and stiff.
The chills returned as I realized that Kakashi, the lazy, good-humoured man I had met just the day before looked ready to… do what exactly? Attack? Defend? Some sort of intense, immediate action, that's for sure.
Feeling my eyes on him, Kakashi glanced at me for a second before returning his gaze towards the silhouette. And in that second, he has asked me to stay. That was the last push I needed.
"Fine. I'll dance."
The protests and accusations were cut short at my words. Everyone around gave me incredulous looks. Wasn't I just vehemently refusing? I shrugged off their incredulity; playing along. "I didn't want to dance in front of you because I had no reason to, not because I was scared you'd disapprove of me," I spoke to Kakuzu, hoping to tell him with my eyes that I understood and that I was playing along and didn't actually mean my harsh tone. "But since you've crossed the line, you've left me no choice. I will dance, and you will see how erroneous your words have been."
Kakuzu huffed, but it was Itachi who spoke. "We'll see, little dancer. We'll see."
"Tobi, Sasori," Pein spoke to the two still attached to me. I'd forgotten about them. "Get off." Tobi pouted but did as was told, while Sasori sent Pein a mild glare before reluctantly releasing me. Wow. Talk about ruling with an iron fist.
Naruto offered me his hand to help me up, and I gladly accepted it. Once on my feet, I gave him my i-Pod, which I'd put in my pocket back in the locker room, with quick instructions on when to start. He nodded before going to the music player and connecting it as I made my way to the middle of the dance floor.
Seeing that I was serious and about to begin, the others quickly took their seats along the mirrored wall were Neji and I were seating. I did not miss the fact that Kakuzu, Itachi and Kakashi were the ones closest to the door, with the latter standing as he leaned against the wall instead of sitting.
I took my stance and deeply inhaled, letting the air fill my lungs and reach every end of my body. I exhaled, repeated, and was ready. I closed my eyes, and signalled Naruto to start the music.
I opened my eyes, my mind focused. My eyes trailed momentarily to the door, and I saw that the silhouette was gone, but the feeling it had brought with it remained. I pushed it away and focused on what I was about to do.
I was disturbed by that silhouette, yes, but dancing would save me. It would give me courage, and strength, just like it did when my mom died. The music began to play, and I no longer was scared. I was Sakura Haruno, second generation dancer. And I was not scared of a shadow. My mother, my light, would make sure that it could never reach me.
And so I danced.