Dancing Dawn

Chapter 12

When we walked out of the Hyuga Studios, Temari with a careless wave of her hand whereas Hinata and I bowed towards the people who accompanied us, I was startled at finding a hulking man that made me think of a mountain dressed like one of the Men In Black waiting for us. I mean it. This guy was ripped, even more than Kisame, and that's saying something. His black suit, which looked like it could fit three of me in there, looked kind of snug on him, doing nothing to hide his muscles upon muscles. He was even working the black tie and sharp-looking black sunglasses; plus I'm sure I saw one of those little speaker things attached to his ear. Hinata and I froze at seeing the intimidating figure, but Temari didn't miss a beat as she walked right towards the man who looked like he could snap any of us in two with just his fingers. She exchanged some words with him before he nodded and got into an equally hulking and intimidating black Hummer parked down the street with tinted windows so dark all I could see when I looked at them was my reflection.

Temari turned back to us, and her face showed her surprise at seeing us hang back behind her, fidgeting as poor Hinata looked nervous as hell as she bit her lower lip. "Whatcha guys hovering back there for?" the blonde asked.

"Um, Temari, who was that guy?" I asked. Her eyebrows shot up.

"Oh, him? That's Felipe, my bodyguard. He's gonna be driving us." I gave her a blank look. She shrugged. "Japan might be as safe as a church, but politics are politics, and so my siblings and I need a bodyguard everywhere we go."

"I…see…" Well, that explained the guy's size (kinda). A bodyguard can't be a wimp, but still, I think the Sabaku patriarch overdid it with Felipe – where did he find the guy, anyway? The WWF? Sheesh.

The Hummer growled as it came to life, and it rolled up to the front door where Temari was standing. Felipe got out of the driver's seat and opened the back door for her, and she immediately climbed in. She looked back at us over her shoulder. "Well? Are you guys coming or not? You better decide now, because I'm famished and I'm not waiting for anyone."

"A-ano, Temari-san, w-what about your brothers?" Hinata timidly asked, her eyes flickering between the intimidating blonde and the even more intimidating bodyguard who patiently kept holding the door open with such a politely blank expression that if Neji were here to see it I'm sure it would make him proud.

"What about them?"

"D-don't they need F-Felipe-san with them t-too?"

Temari grinned. "Nah, they'll be here awhile. Gaara is too proud to walk around with the black eye Neji surely gave him – not that you could tell, but anyway – and Kankuro might be a jokester but he's a stickler to the rules and so he wouldn't dare leave this place without Felipe to escort him." She turned her grin on Hinata. "Sorry, Hinata, I kind of dumped my idiotic brothers on your family. I apologize for the inconvenience."

"O-oh, that's alright," Hinata stammered. "Our place is large enough t-to accommodate your b-brothers. Plus, I'm sure N-Neji-nii-san wouldn't have let them l-leave now anyway. He's very strict. He'd make s-sure to adequately punish t-them and the others for defiling the s-studio." She blushed a deep red as she spoke, lowering her gaze as if embarrassed for telling Temari that her brothers got punished for the chaos they caused.

Temari, for her part, didn't look at all affected by Hinata's words. If anything, she got a very pleased, very smug look to her eyes, like a cat who finally ate the canary. "Meh, so be it. If they're getting punished, they deserve it. Now let's go!" Hinata squeaked in surprise before scurrying towards the vehicle, bowing quickly towards Felipe with a quick thanks before following Temari in. I copied her (though I thanked Felipe with a "gracias") as I fought back a smile – she was just so darn cute.

Felipe closed the door behind me, and once he was in the driver's seat he asked Temari in Spanish where we were heading. Temari looked at Hinata and me and asked us if there was something or someplace in particular we wanted. Hinata said she was fine with anything, and I said everything was alright so long as it was not ramen. The blonde turned back towards her bodyguard and told him to just drive around until we found something.

As Felipe (pronounced feh-LEE-peh) put the car into gear and we set off, I asked Temari, "So, what exactly were you and your brothers doing in the Hyuga Studios?"

Temari opened a door by her side, which I realized was a mini-fridge, and took out a can of Coke. "Our old man was invited to a kabuki theatre play a few days ago, and he was so impressed with the performance that he asked to meet the performers and the ones who taught them." She offered the can to Hinata, which the latter accepted with a small bow of her head. "Turns out the day he could go to the studios he was called for a meeting through the `net, so he sent us in his stead."

"I didn't know you were a kabuki fan," I said as I accepted another coke she took out of the mini-fridge (geez, being rich had its perks!).

"I'm not; not really. It's alright." She looked guiltily at Hinata, who was sipping the coke carefully as if afraid of spilling it. She looked so awkward drinking from the can that I briefly wondered if it was her first time doing so. It sounded crazy, but many families were super strict and traditional, which were two words I would definitely use to describe her family based on the little I know of them so far. "Sorry, Hinata," Temari said, "I have nothing against kabuki, it's just not my thing, you know?"

"Oh, it's alright, T-Temari-san," Hinata hurriedly assured her. "W-we all have our own tastes."

"So basically your dad sent you and your brothers here to save face?" I asked.

"Basically," Temari agreed as she popped her own can of Coke open and took a long drink out of it. "It comes with the territory of being a diplomat's kid. At least it was an educational experience, as far as dance studios go. But hey, look on the bright side!" She grinned. "We found you, Rosita! What're the chances of that?"

"I'd rather not do the math," I joked, and took a sip of my own drink. Temari let out a chuckle and even Hinata smiled at me.

We kept chatting as Felipe drove us aimlessly around town, but I couldn't help but worry a little for Naruto. He was, after all, my oldest friend, the other half of me. It's impossible for me not to worry about him, especially since I had no clue what types of punishments Neji believed suitable for practically nearly trashing his beloved family studio. Something told me that he didn't give a hoot who exactly started the circus to begin with; just the fact that a circus is what it came down to. Eventually, I caved into my worries and asked Hinata.

"Oh, it's n-nothing serious," she assured me. "Neji-nii-san is strict, but h-he's reasonable. I think he'll only get them to maintain seiza for awhile."

"Seiza?" Temari asked me, a question mark on her face.

"It means 'proper sitting,'" I explained. "It's the traditional Japanese way of sitting, mainly for special occasions and ceremonies, such as the tea ceremony; though for Westerners it's more like kneeling."

"What's so hard about kneeling?"

"Temari-san, h-have you ever tried sitting p-properly for extended periods of t-time?" Temari turned towards Hinata, who looked as if she regretted the words the second she said them. She reddened terribly and bowed low towards the blonde, mumbling apologies.

"Hey, hey, hey! None of that!" Temari protested, pulling Hinata up by pulling the neck of her kimono. "Don't apologize for that. I'm trying to learn here, so don't you dare apologize for trying to teach me. Capici?" Hinata gave her a blank look, cheeks still red though to a less worrying level for her health.

"It means 'do you understand?' in Italian," I stage-whispered to her, though it was quite pointless as we were all seated together and Temari could undoubtedly hear me.

"Oh!" Hinata exclaimed. "Y-yes, Temari-san! I apologize for –"

"Oh, for crying out loud!" Temari rudely interrupted her. I frowned. Temari's personality was strong and pushy, and while that worked out most of the time, I wasn't so convinced it was the best way to handle timid Hinata. Seriously. "Stop apologizing, woman! There is nothing to apologize for."

"S-sorry." And she truly did look sorry… and ashamed.

Before Temari could start a rant, I quickly interjected before we (Temari) started making Hinata uncomfortable and even sorry to have come with us (Temari) because we (Temari) were too demanding and not sensitive enough to her shy nature.

"Say, Temari, how about you give the seiza a go?" Temari turned towards me, surprised.


"No, your dad. Of course you!" I took a sip of my drink, crossing my legs and feeling suddenly like a mafia boss. Or should I say, yakuza boss (heehee). "Simple: we go to a traditional Japanese restaurant where they have the low tables. In order to eat, we'll have to maintain a seiza. Say that we stay like that for about twenty minutes or so; I's say that's more than enough time to get a taste of why seiza can be used as a disciplinary measure. Agreed?"

Temari rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "That doesn't sound like a bad plan, Rosita. Whatdya think, Hinata?"

"I-I also think it's s-swell."

"Excellent!" Temari turned towards the front of the vehicle, where a small window, which was currently down, separated us from Felipe. "Felipe, find us a traditional local restaurant – like, we want the low tables where we have to kneel – I mean, seiza." She sent a wink our way when she corrected herself.

"A-ano, Temari-san, I know a-a good traditional restaurant nearby," Hinata offered. "It's called Rōtasu Utau, and it's j-just left on the next turn, down s-six blocks."

"You heard the lady, Felipe," Temari said, a crooked smile on her face. "To Rōtasu Utau! By the by, Sakura," she whispered as she leaned towards me, "what does the name mean?"

"'Singing Lotus.'" She smiled at Hinata then, and it wasn't one of her hard-core, I'm-the-boss-so-you-better-listen-to-me smile, but a warm, affectionate one. "I'm liking the restaurant already. Good job, Hina-chan!" Hinata blushed furiously in surprise (and pleasure – don't think she can hide that from me) at Temari's overly familiar use of her name, though she smiled back, pleased by the unexpected praise.

"T-thank you, Temari-san."

"Come on, Hina-chan," Temari sighed, "I already told you, you can drop the –san."

As Felipe drove us to our destination, Temari started talking to Hinata in more a gentle tone, asking her questions about some of Japan's traditions. I figure she chose to ask the shy Hyuga since she probably knew way more than me; after all, I've lived half of my life overseas. I looked out the window and sighed contentedly, happy that I met Temari after so long and happy that I already made a new friend in Hinata. I closed my eyes to savour that feeling better, and released a long breath as I re-opened them.

I wish I'd opened them two seconds later.

When I opened my eyes, my sight focused immediately on a man with greasy-looking dark long hair swinging just past his shoulders, sporting a cream jacket and black pants. I have no clue why, but my eyes were fixated on this perplexing figure, and the little hairs on the back of my neck rose. Time seemed to have slowed down as we drove past the figure, and I was able to take in every detail about this man who caused such an eerily familiar foreboding reaction from me: he was pale to the point his skin looked like paper, his hair hung wildly about his face, and he had high cheekbones which became only more pronounced at how thin he was. Was he sick? was the first thought that came to my mind. That thought was quickly chased away as the man turned his head and seemed to look straight at me – though that was impossible due to the extremely tainted windows – and smiled.

It wasn't a smile I was glad to be directed at me. Warning bells shot off in my head, every instinct in me screaming danger! Danger! Stay away! This man's smile looked friendly enough upon first glance, but there was something deeper than that… it was too friendly, too full of untold secrets and intimate promises, too much of just plain wrong. And his eyes, his eyes did nothing to deny what his mouth showed; if anything it just made his smile look even more sickening than before. They were golden in color, marked by purple lines running from the outer corners of his eyes, through his eyelids, and down the sides of his nose where they ended at the bridge. His eyes were full of twisted, chilling intelligence, and a manic glint that sent shivers down my spine. This man had the eyes of a lunatic, forever craving more. More of what, I do not know, nor did I at that instant believe that it mattered to him. Just more.

And eyes, as we know, are the windows to the soul…

"-ura. Sakura!"

Time snapped back to its original speed, and the creepy man fell behind us in an instant as the car zoomed by. I blinked away the image of the man and pushed away the wrong feeling he'd given me – not discarded it, just placed it in the recesses of my mind for future reference. I turned towards the voice who had called me, a question mark on my face.

"Sorry, I missed that. What were you saying?"

"We were talking about our food preferences so we can order right away as soon as we are seated," Temari huffed with a displeased frown. "Are you alright, Sakura? You look kinda pale."

I stared at her, confused. "S-she's right," Hinata said beside me. "Y-you look like you've seen a g-ghost."

"I do?" I touched my face tentatively just as I craned my neck to look at my reflection on a mirror beside the little window separating Felipe from us. The girls weren't exaggerating. I was pale, and more than that, my eyes were wide with suppressed shock and a hint of terror, and my lips still retained their small "o" shaped gap. A small drop of cold sweat ran down my back, which I wiped off by reclining back against the seat so my shirt would absorb it. I turned towards my friends, forcing a little smile. "I'm fine," I told them, "I think I just need some food in my system. Dealing with those morons must've taken more energy than I first thought." They didn't look convinced, but before Temari could open her mouth to further question me, the car came to a stop and a second later Felipe had opened the door for us just like before, announcing our arrival in Spanish.

Temari clamped her mouth shut and lead the way our of the car, but not before giving me a look that promised that she wasn't going to let go of this matter. Hinata followed her out, and I was the last one to exit the car, thanking Felipe for the ride. He gave me a little nod before closing the car door and bowing to Temari, telling her that he'd be right outside should she need anything. Once he'd left, I raised an eyebrow at the blonde. "If he's your bodyguard, shouldn't he come in with you?"

"Naw," she answered with a careless shrug. "When it's quiet like this, sometimes our bodyguards allow us to be on our own, so long as we are a reasonable distance from them. Besides, it's not like he's slacking off. While we're eating, you can be sure that he'll be keeping close watch on everyone entering and leaving the restaurant, plus any passerby who walk by it. As part of that deal, we'll also have to sit by the window. That okay with you two?" Hinata and I nodded, and the three of us entered the restaurant.

The place was traditional in every sense of the word. The outside had little bonsai trees with white rocks surrounding them, reminding me vaguely of a Zen garden like the one back in my hotel. There was tiny little bamboo water fountain with koi fish which swam languidly beneath our feet, as the entrance to the restaurant was in reality a small bridge between the sidewalk and the front entrance, which allowed calming flute music to waft out from within it.

Once inside, a waitress in a kimono and her hair up in a bun greeted us. She led us to a small table by the window, just as Temari had requested, with a paper door half closed to grant us some privacy from the rest of the restaurant and left us with menus and the promise to return with some tea. While Temari asked Hinata questions about what each item in the meal was made from, I took the opportunity to use the serene atmosphere to calm my frayed nerves. I took comfort in the knowledge that that unnerving man had only been a passerby I was unfortunate enough to have seen, but was now nowhere near me or my friends. I sighed. I never considered myself a paranoid person, especially in my native Japan, but the feeling this man gave me, and that of the silhouette back at the studio had me slightly on edge.

Stop it, I told myself firmly. Thinking about it isn't going to help.

Just in time, the waitress came back with a tray holding a tea pot and three small white ceramic cups. After placing the pot and cups on the table, she politely asked us if we had decided on our orders yet. Temari asked for shrimp tempura, and Hinata asked for some miso soup. I settled for some sushi. As the waitress walked away with our order, Temari turned towards me, leaning on the table with her arms as she pinned me with her narrowed gaze.

"So, Sakura, wanna spill on what got you so petrified back there? And don't feed us any bullshit about having your energy sapped by those idiots. I know you better than that."

I was shocked at her foul vocabulary in a very public, very traditional restaurant. She, out of all people, should know better than to use her words carelessly where anyone can hear them, never mind that we had a paper screen to seclude us.

I weighted my options. Should I tell them about the creepy man I saw for one moment back in the car and the creepy feeling he gave me, or come up with a better excuse within the next one-point-three seconds and say nothing which would be pointless because, as Temari clearly stated, she clearly knew me better than that. Thinking about it this way, I really didn't have an option. I sighed.

"I just got a really, really unpleasant feeling from someone I saw out the window," I confessed, running a hand through my hair. "I don't really know how to explain it, especially since I just saw him for a moment, but there was just something off about the guy. Like, he seriously gave me the creeps. Big time." Temari frowned thoughtfully, obviously displeased and slightly disturbed at my words, while Hinata patted my other hand which was resting on the table in a comforting way.

"Y-you should splash some water on your face, Sakura-s-san," she suggested. "Maybe that will m-make you feel better."

I glanced at her and nodded, totally agreeing with her. Some water would do me good, and maybe washing my hands with warm water would, too. Feeling Hinata's hand on mine, I could feel the obvious difference in temperature between us. To me, Hinata's hand felt hot, while I'm sure to her mine felt freezing. Seeing how it was me who had was frazzled, it served to reason that it was me with the body temperature issue, not her.

"I'll be right back," I told them as I got up. "Hinata, could you help Temari with her seiza? Her back's gonna be in pain otherwise." As I walked away to find the bathroom, I heard Hinata's soft voice instructing Temari on the proper posture, but I was sure that while Temari paid attention to her it didn't mean that her mind wasn't also revolving on what I'd just confessed. She was like the older sister I'd never had, and she behaved that way towards me, too. If something had upset me, she would look into it, and I had no doubt that that's what she was intending to do, especially because in this recent instance it took only a glance in only a moment to get to me.

After I splashed some cold water on my face and washed my hands, I really was feeling a little more like myself. A quick glance at the mirror confirmed this, and I smiled. It really did feel good to have gotten rid of that horrid feeling. I pulled out my cell phone, just to check if Ino-pig had finished bombarding me with insults and whatnot, just as I walked out the bathroom door and bumped into someone.

"I'm terribly sor –" was what I began to say as I looked up at the person, only to choke on a scream as my eyes recognized the face of the man I'd bumped into. It was him! The guy on the sidewalk, the one that had me all worked up!

"It'sssss alright," the man said in a whispery voice, sounding faintly like a snake as he gave me a benign smile. "Jusst be careful in the future, mm?" I nodded like a bubblehead, unable to do anything else at that moment. If this guy could be said to be like a snake, right now I felt like his prey – frozen I place by his gaze, which had not left my face. I thought I saw a flicker of recognition in those golden depths, and my heart chilled. There was just something wrong about his guy, as in Wrong with a capital W. But I couldn't move, even when I felt like staying within this man's sight would haul me into insanity.

A beeping noise from a spot by our feet caused him to break eye contact with me as he looked at what was making the noise, and I took breathed in deeply, suddenly feeling oxygen-deprived. The man bent down and picked up whatever was making the noise, giving it a quick look before presenting it to me. "Isss thiss yoursss?" I glanced at what was in his hand, and realized it was my phone. I must've dropped it when I bumped into the man.

"Y-yes, thanks," I said, hating how he got me so nervous I stammered as I took my phone back from his bony hands. He inclined his head and, after giving me another strange look, walked away. I didn't bother to see where he headed; all I cared for right now was that he was moving away from me. Suddenly, my legs felt like jelly, and I knew I had to sit down before I made a fool out of myself and invited any unwanted attention. I hurried back towards my table, my heart still hammering painfully against my chest as I took my place.

"Geez, Sakura, you look awful," Temari commented, no longer looking suspicious but concerned. "Are you sick? Do you want me to take you home?"

"What? No, no. I'm fine. Besides, we're all starving – we already ordered."

"We can always ask to get it packed," Hinata said, her eyes full of concern. It took me a second to register that she hadn't stuttered. I took that as a sign that I looked about as good as I felt – which meant pretty crappy.

"No, no. I'm fine. I just, uh, got an unexpected surprise, that's all." I forced myself to breathe in and calm myself. I would not be messing up our lunch, especially the first one we have as friends. "I'm alright. Really."

Temari's eyes narrowed as they inspected me with such an intensity that I started fidgeting. It took only a couple heartbeats before her eyes lit with understanding. "He's here, isn't he? The guy on the sidewalk?" Too tired from the emotionally perturbed rollercoaster, I simply nodded. Anger rose within her blue eyes, while Hinata had her lips in a tight flat line, though her eyes showed her worry for me.

Before Temari could do anything impulsive, a beeping noise came from my hand, which was glued to my chest. I looked down to see my phone, which I was clutching tightly like a lifeline, vibrated as its screen lit up as a call came in. I'd forgotten all about it. Quickly, I answered the call without looking at who was calling me. Even if it was Ino about to rip me into pieces for this morning, it was a welcome distraction.



I relieved sigh escaped my lips. Naruto's warm voice immediately soothed my nerves, and my heartbeat began to slow to normal. Even my legs didn't feel so unstable anymore. "What's up, Naruto?"

"How could you leave me?" he cried. "I wanted to take you out! Instead, you leave me behind with these bastards and those stupid, spoiled Spaniards!" A loud smack was heard along with a scolding voice in the background, making the blonde whimper.

"You do know you're not a prisoner, right? You can leave."

"No, I can't! That's just it! Because of that tomato-headed asshole from Akatsuki, Neji has us all punished and we can't leave until he says so!" He sniffed dramatically. "Neji is so unreasonable! I was just trying to protect you and teach that dweeb a lesson."

"While I appreciate the sentiment, Naruto, you should know better than causing pandemonium anywhere, much less such a prestigious place as the Hyuga Studios." I heard Naruto grumble something unintelligible through the phone, and my lips automatically tilted up at the corners. We hadn't been talking for two minutes and I had already all but forgotten what had my friends so worried for me. "Besides," I continued, "if Neji-san was truly unreasonable, he would have only punished you instead of everyone."

"Me? Why only me? Akasuna's the one who secretly recorded you!"

"That reminds me, didn't the recording camera end up without its memory card?" Sasori hummed, a frown evident in his tone at the thought of someone taking the recording of me he worked so hard for (snort). I briefly wondered why I could hear Sasori so well, but decided it must be becuase he's sitting beside Naruto.

"And while that's slightly disturbing, it could have been handled rationally among us without you having launched yourself at the guy like an Avenger."

"You thought I looked like one of the Avengers? Really? Which one?" Of course Naruto only focused on that part. I giggled. Some things never change. "I think I'd make an awesome Thor!"

"Tch. You're more like his dog," a familiar voice scoffed disdainfully. I blinked.



"I don't mean to sound rude, but since when are you part of the conversation?"

"Don't be mad, love," another all-too-familiar voice purred from the receiver. "We just wanted to check up on you since you left without saying a word."

"Uchiha Madara," I said, my eyes narrowing. The girl's gazes looked at me with surprise. I shrugged at them before returning to the conversation. "Am I on speaker phone?"

"Yes," Zetsu's rough voice answered me. I rolled my eyes. Just great. They were all there.

"Hey, Sakura-chan, yeah."

"Angel-chan! Hello!"


"Hmph. Spoiled Spaniards, are we?"

"Save it, Kankuro."

"My doll…"

"Ha! Bitch thinks your actions are disturbing, fucker! Good going, babe," and so on the greetings from the various idols came.

"Naruto, when were you going to mention this little fact?" I questioned him once they'd all called out their greetings, my tone slightly harder than before. He laughed nervously, but it was Neji's voice which spoke while protests could be heard in the background.

"Sakura-san," he greeted. "As the eldest Uchiha-san said, Naruto wished to check up on you, but since he is in the middle of his punishment along with the others, who also wished to speak with you, it was agreed that speaker phone be used. I would apologize for Naruto's absentmindedness for forgetting to mention it, but…"

"Hey! What's with that look?!" Naruto's offended voice called out.

I shook my head at the silliness of it all. Instead of questioning their sanity like I was so sorely tempted to do, instead I asked, "What punishment are you having them do, Neji-san?"

"They have to hold a proper seiza until I am satisfied."

I couldn't help it. I laughed.

Hinata and Temari shared a perplexed look before turning that same look on me. In response, I pressed the speaker phone button on my phone and placed it on the centre of the table; I was laughing too hard to give them any concrete answers. I'm pretty sure what's going on on the other side of the line was enough explanation unto itself.

Temari snatched the phone from the table and growled. "What did you idiots say to her?"

"Tobi didn't do anything! Tobi swears!"

"Is this a good example of an instance to say 'I think we broke her'?" Sai's confused voice asked.

"You know what, Sai? I think maybe it is," Kakashi sighed.

"Then I think we broke her."

"You don't have to repeat yourself, kid," Kisame's gruff voice huffed in annoyance.

"I think her laughter is beautiful, yeah!" Deidara exclaimed. "Hey, pass the phone this way, yeah, I can't hear her! I need to hear her voice!"

"Deidara, that made you sound more of a creeper than me," Madara commented thoughtfully.

"Hey, stop pushing me, you dolt!" Sasori hissed.

"Cousin, there's no bigger creeper than you," Itachi stated in an uncaring way.

"How did I get involved in this again?" Pein mumbled with a truly disbelieving tone.

"Same way I did," Kakuzu answered his rhetorical question. "Bad luck."

"If you two don't get back on your seiza positions, I'll add twenty minutes to both of you!" Neji threatened. This so wasn't helping me. I laughed harder, holding on to my aching sides as I toppled over, unable to keep my own seiza due to my inability to keep my hysterical breathing in check.

"Alright, all of you shut up!" Temari yelled into the phone. "Your nonsense is causing Sakura to choke on her own laughter."

Gaara's voice sneered. "I'm surprised she didn't break before, having to deal with all of you."

"Like you're a total saint, Sabaku," Sasuke sneered right back.

"Wanna go at it, Uchiha?"

"Be careful what you wish for, Spaniard. I may be an idol, but don't think for second I don't know how to handle myself."

"Wooo! Go, Gaara!" Kankuro cheered from the background.

"Ne, Kakashi, who do you think's gonna win?" Naruto asked his mentor.

"I'm siding with Sasuke, but that Gaara kid looks like he has experience."

"Kaku-fucker, hold me in for 3000 yen on the Spaniard bastard!"

" 4000 yen on Sasuke."

In no time at all, everyone was placing their bets with Kakuzu (why am I not surprised?), whom I could easily picture gleefully writing down everyone's bets. As I pictured the mess going on at the Studios, I couldn't help but picture Neji's expression – I mean, there was no way even he can keep a straight face with that! So it was really no surprise when slapping sounds resounded through the receiver like a drum, as if someone had taken a single swing to hit them all – thud, thud thud thud thud! – and Neji's voice seethed, "That is it! Half an hour added, to all of you!"

With some effort, I forced myself to breathe normally and heaved myself up, grabbing the Phone from Temari as groans and cries of protests made themselves audible.

"Gaara Sabaku and Uchiha Sasuke," I spoke as calmly and firmly as I could. In no time at all, the ruckus fell silent as all ears were trained on me. "If you two fight, I am not speaking to either of you again. Ever." Okay, fine, that was an extremely childish threat to make. Bite me. "I don't condone senseless violence, much less from my friends who should know better." I heard them mumble forced apologies to me, and I sighed. At least they were being civil. I then turned my attention towards Kakuzu. "Oomori-san, I sincerely hope you do not hold any of the bets are actual ones. Since there isn't going to be a fight, no one is betting anything. Capici?" A displeased grunt was all I got for an answer, but I knew he would do as I said. "And Neji, can you reduce the increase to their punishment? Like, halve it. If you push them too much, then they won't be able to walk, and then you'll be stuck with them until they recuperate."

"Good point," I heard the Hyuga mutter.

Man, it felt good to have the power.

And apparently, I wasn't the only one to think so.

"Man, you sure got them all whipped," and overly zealous voice I didn't recognize said with far too much joy. I turned towards my friends, mouthing who is that? at them. Temari shrugged, but Hinata's surprised expression told me it was different for her. When I gave her a pointed look, she explained in a whisper.

"T-that's my younger sister, Hanabi."

"Hanabi-san, what are you doing here?" Itachi's polite voice inquired.

"More like how fucking long has she been here?" Hidan growled, obviously not happy at being described as "whipped."

Before Hanabi could answer, Neji cut in and told her that she had duties to attend to, duties that did not include stalking their clients and eavesdropping on their private conversations. Hanabi's voice sounded offended as she marched off. "I wasn't stalking anyone. For your information, I just came here to find what was making all that noise. And Neji-nii-san, you so have to let me meet this new student of yours. She sounds like an amusing chick." There was a smile evident in her words as she said the last part, and then she was gone.

I looked with mildly controlled shock at my phone before looking at Hinata, gaping like a fish and surely looking as attractive as one. This stuck-up, so-confident-it-bordered-on-arrogant brat was shy little Hinata's baby sister? Damn.

Hinata seemed to read my thoughts, for she blushed and started to press the ends of her index fingers together, a gesture I was beginning to identify as a nervous habit. "A-ano… Hanabi has a-always had a s-stronger personality than me."

I stopped gaping at her and instead gave her what I hoped was a reassuring smile, patting her hands as she had done to me. "It's alright, Hinata-chan," I said. "I was just surprised at finding you had a little sister. But I think the shy you is cuter than her." Her blush intensified, but she smiled gratefully at me. I winked at her before turning back to my phone, just as Temari snatched it from my hand.

"Alright, losers, listen up," she spoke into the receiver, "you already checked on Sakura, so now it's time for you all to finish your punishments, as I'm sure you are all very busy people, and leave us girls to our lunch." Right on cue, the waitress came back with our orders, and as she set the dishes down before us, I smoothly took back my phone from Temari's perfectly manicured hand. Two thoughts crossed my mind as I did so: the first was that Temari sounded every inch the diplomat, and the second that she and Hanabi were a little alike. They'd probably get along well enough, and I say enough because two strong personalities will most definitely clash eventually.

"That's right, guys," I said. "It was sweet of you to check on me – well, at least you, Naruto, since the others have no business doing that, but whatever. I'll call you back when I'm heading back; that should be enough time for everyone to finish your punishments and get some food in your systems." I nodded my thanks to the waitress as she put down a plate of sushi and soy sauce before me, before she bowed and walked away.

"Ne, Sakura-chan, why does it sound like you're gonna be a few hours when you're just out for lunch?" Naruto asked suspiciously.

I grinned, my eyes meeting Temari's and Hinata's, both of whom nodded at me reading the intention on my face.

"We're going shopping," I simply said, and groans answered my words. Uh-huh, that's right. If a woman wants to get rid of man, just tell them you're going shopping with your girlfriends. Just another weapon in a girl's repertoire, right alongside tears and lip gloss.

Damn, Ino truly had rubbed off on me more than I expected.

"Later guys," I said and clicked ended the call.

"Wow, that was quite something," Temari grinned as she grabbed a piece of her shrimp tempura and ate it. Hinata nodded her agreement as she delicate swirled her miso soup.

I shrugged, a smile still etched on my face as I grabbed a salmon roll and dipped in soy sauce with my chopsticks. "You get used to it," I said. "By the way, are you sure it's alright with you guys? I mean, that I included you in my shopping spree?"

"I was meaning to do that anyway," Temari said flippantly.

I turned towards Hinata, who blew on the soup on her spoon before she swallowed it with the elegance of a princess. "What about you, Hinata-chan? Didn't Neji say you had to be back in two hours?" She shook her head and gave me a tiny smile.

"M-my duties are over for today," she said. "My client c-cancelled our class today, so my afternoon is f-free."

I grinned, raising my cup of tea, which was filled thanks to the brunette in our group. "Then shopping it is!" The girls laughed with me as we clinked our cups together and dug into our food, remembering how ravenous we all were before all that craziness came on.

However, even as I ate and focused on the happy moment, I couldn't help but feel something was still off.

The memory of yellow eyes; a quiet, hissing voice and a too-wide smile made its way into my mind, upon which I abruptly cast away. I would not let myself be cowed like this, not when I was perfectly content. I sent silent prayer to the heavens, a prayer that I would later won't be sure if to be happy about or not.

Let those eyes, if someone is really looking, only be watching me and not my friends.

The feeling dissipated then, as if whomever was watching had seen enough, but I was sure this wasn't the end of it. Until then, I hoped that Felipe was really keeping an eye on us and our surroundings, and I silently promised myself to be on guard, and to keep the memory of this for future reference.

I was sure that I was being watched. And I'm pretty sure it wasn't Felipe's eyes that had me on edge.

Show yourself, asshole, I mentally snarled as I kept a perfectly happy face in place for my friends' sakes. And when you do, as I know you eventually will, I'll show you just who you are messing with.

But until that moment came, I'd simply enjoy life and stay alert.

Always alert.

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