Dancing Dawn

Chapter 14

As Konan drove us to wherever it was that the Akatsuki were, she politely conversed with us and patiently answered our questions. It turns out that not only was she the group's manager, but an old friend of Pein. They met in high school when she, being quite the little genius in math – my words, not hers; she's way too polite to speak so arrogantly – was asked by the teacher to tutor Pein who, while not doing too badly, struggled with the subject.

Long story short, they became good friends; even when they graduated and went off to college they stayed in touch. She went off to study business and management while Pein went to study music and got a minor in philosophy.

"Really? Philosophy?" I asked. Pein seemed a little like Konan, in that they were both quite serious and not really ones to participate in what the majority of the world would consider "nonsense." Learning that Pein was into philosophy, debating about what is, can be or should be, morals and the like sounded a little unusual. It was a given that I didn't really know him, and while not completely far-fetched, it just seemed… unlikely. And yet, at the same time, it seemed to suit him.

Konan didn't bat an eye at my question, answering me as she shoulder checked before making a turn. "He was always into that sort of things, it seems. I can't give you any concrete examples, but he thrives in that kind of stuff. The power of man, balanced by the powerlessness that haunts him; reasoning based on oneself… Fundamental problems that every society and every individual must face." She hummed pensively for a while before continuing. "He was the most interested in humanities out of all of us."

Temari grunted. "A complicated path for a musician. To find the meaning of man when they are all correct and yet not."

Hinata smiled warmly at Konan. "But that is the path of a musician," she said. I nodded in agreement, but Temari rolled her eyes.

"More like the path of a masochist. Whatever they may decide or think, there will always be an argument made against you. You can't ever win. It's a colossal headache."

Ignoring Temari's cynicism, biting back a retort about politicians, I thought about it for a bit, scratching Akamaru behind the ears. "Musicians are artists whose medium is silence," I mused, "and every artist seeks to find and express life. Why not delve into what is the meaning of life; the heart of it all?" I reasoned, rubbing my chin between my thumb and forefinger.

I glanced up to find Konan's golden eyes gazing at me through the rearview mirror. She seemed to be pleasantly surprised while simultaneously trying to figure me out, as if I'd just given but a small clue to a massive secret and she was trying to find the rest within me. I blinked.

"That's deep, Rosita," Temari said, and both Konan and I looked away. I shrugged at the blonde's response.

"It's been known to happen." The conversation moved on to a different topic, and though I participated, a part of me couldn't help but keep thinking about what I'd learned about Akatsuki's leader. A man in search of the meaning of mankind. Huh. There really is more than meets the eye, at least as far he's concerned.

Before long, we were out of the busy urban streets and arrived to a small villa where a small two-story mansion rested in a peaceful, secluded piece of land behind a small hill. Beautiful, and quite luxurious. I gaped. It was quite the sight, yet so very confusing. Why were the Akatsuki here?

When I voiced my question, just as Konan parked by the main entrance after going around the round-about with the water fountain in the middle, the indigo-haired manager answered me. "Have you ever heard of common houses?"

"Sounds quite familiar, but I can't say I actually know the term," Temari said as we stepped out of the car.

"I-I don't really know much… We're not supposed t-to ask our guests too personal questions. Though I might have an idea…"

I merely shook my head. Sure, the term sounded somewhat familiar, but it was probably something that I'd only heard mentioned once or twice but found irrelevant; hence I never cared enough to remember. Akamaru sniffed, as if agreeing with my thoughts. I shifted his weight in my arms, so his chin was resting on my upper arm.

"You may think of them like dorms," Konan explained, waiving at Temari to leave her shopping bags in the car before turning away and guiding us towards the mansion's entrance. "Some key differences, though, is the size of the building, the number of inhabitants, who may become an inhabitant, and the purpose of the house.

"This place is a common house specifically built and designed for a large idol group. There are several private rooms where each member has a room of his own, a few common areas such as the kitchen, a couple living rooms, the gardens, and the media room, and rooms which serve the specific purpose of their idol work: recording rooms, dance studios, instrument storage, and so on." I let out a low whistle under my breath. Man, this place was as multi-purpose as a Swiss army knife. And luxurious – did I say that already? The inside of the place was almost like a palace.

Konan kept talking as she guided my friends and I through the common house. My friends, however, merely glanced around curiously before focusing on Konan. Tch, rich kids. "These common houses are quite common in industries where professional 'teams' are the pieces of the game and solidarity and bonding are absolute musts for effective performance. You'll find that professional sports teams employ this method as well. Military bunks also function similarly. Of course, each common house has a different purpose depending on the industry. This place, as aforementioned, is designed for idols whose main outlet is music, although there are spaces where other idol work may be done. Sports teams may have a field or a court by the house. Intelligence network houses are filled with computers and other intel machinery.

"Aside from the basic functioning design for a specific purpose, each common house also varies in size depending on the number of inhabitants, their needs, and of course, the room required for the inhabitants to use for both their own person and for their work. This house seems large, but only because the Akatsuki is a large idol group, each of which has various needs and abilities. There are smaller common houses, and some that are many times bigger where they may seem more like a small village. Any questions?"

"Is the housing arrangement permanent?" Hinata asked.

"As permanent as the inhabitants' contract," was the answer that came. But not from Konan.

We all looked ahead, where Pein stepped out from a room to our right, carrying a white cup of steaming liquid with the words "Prince on the Outside, Surprise on the Inside" and a gossip magazine. I raised my eyebrows at that last bit.

"Pein," Konan greeted with a small tilt of her head.

"Konan," Pein returned the gesture. Now I was feeling a bit jealous. How can they be so regal? Pein then turned his stormy grey eyes towards my friends and I, his eyes lingering on me for a moment longer before he came towards us and bowed a little lower in our direction and greeting us. "Hinata-san, Sabaku-san… Sakura-san. It's a pleasure to see you all so soon."

The three of us bowed in return, murmuring the customary hello's and pardon the intrusion's. "We were not expecting company," Pein continued once we'd straightened up. "I must apologize if the house seems disorderly. After completing our punishment at the Hyuga studios, we had to come straight here to settle in; hence, everything is in disarray."

"No, no," I said, shaking my head. "Everything is pristine. We must apologize, though. Honestly, we had no clue we would even be here. Or you – I thought you guys would return to the hotel. Anyway, it's just the way it worked out."

Pein gave me a curious look. "Oh? Then perhaps you'd care to enlighten me over some hot tea?" I noticed then that it was, indeed, tea that filled his mug, not coffee as I'd quickly assumed. I took a tentative sniff. Chai. Not a bad choice.

"That sounds great. Thank you," Temari answered. Pein glanced at her before turning and beckoning at us to follow him. I shared a glance with my two friends before we complied. Yes, Pein gave off the silent and resilient type vibes, but he seemed a little off. Mysterious, even, and a little less playful than the Pein I'd come to know. Or sort of know. Anyway. The gossip magazine he had in his hand clearly meant for women was definitely something that told me I wasn't imagining things.

Pein lead us to a huge Western-style kitchen, with black marble counters and white marble floors; the walls where white too, decorated with modern art and a few crystal ornaments. The whole place, just like the rest of the house thus far and surely the entire house, was immaculately decorated by what could only be a professional interior designer. It was quite pleasant to the eye, and calming, but for some reason… it felt like that was all it was. Like a hotel more than a home. It was almost, well, empty.

"What kind of tea would you ladies like?"

I shrugged off my less than cheery thoughts, focusing back on the orange-haired man before us. I could feel Akamaru, who seemed to be playing dead again in my arms, squirm slightly as he cuddled into my chest. Could he be comforting me? Awww. I rubbed his head, telepathically telling him that I was alright.

"I'm good, thank you," Konan answered, walking around a medium oval glass table to sit at the head.

"I-I'm fine with j-just whatever is available…"

"Do you have any coffee?" Temari asked. "I like tea as much as the next person, but after today's adventure, courtesy of Rosita here, I need something to pick up my energy." Pein looked interested in the story that lay there, but knowing he'd learn it in a moment he chose to not say anything. He turned his gaze to me.

"I think I'll have what you're having, if that's alright," I said. "Chai with a splash of milk – some caffeine, tasty, and relatively nutritious." Pein nodded and set his things on a counter before turning and rummaging around the kitchen to get our drinks. His familiarity with the place made it seem more homey, but it still felt like it lacked the full warmth of a home.

As the water for our drinks was set to boil, I momentarily lost myself in the memories of my childhood home. It was a small house, but if fit our needs perfectly. My parents bought it with both of their savings, and steadily filled it with warmth and loving memories. My mother, who had the best eye for aesthetics, designed most of the place with my father's approval. They were a great team.

Even today, the house remains frozen in time, holding on to those precious moments. Even after the horrid events that took my mother's life.

Akamaru whined, getting everyone's attention. I looked down at his furry face, and he used his little paws to push himself up so he could lick my chin. I smiled. I was so getting a dog in the future.

The kettle begun to pitch a high whine, and Pein lifted it off the burner. Quickly setting up and throwing our drinks together on a tray, he carried them to the glass table where we all waited. As he set down my drink before me, he paused, looking speculatively at Akamaru as he seemingly realized that the dog was very much alive and not a toy; the same dog who stared back at him.

The miniature staring contest continued for a second longer before Pein finally sat down with an awesome proper posture (I guess Neji's punishment really got into his muscle memory – snicker) between Konan and I, across from my two friends. He raised a single defined eyebrow at Konan, silently asking her what was going on.

Konan, for her part, did not answer him in any form; instead, she calmly sipped at her tea, which Pein had set down for her despite her earlier polite refusal. When Pein saw he was not getting an explanation from her, he turned towards me, flickering his eyes over my friends briefly.

He looked curiously at me with the same composed calmness that Konan inhibited. "While I don't exactly complain about your presence in my humble abode, I am quite intrigued as for the reason for your visit, Sakura-san."

I resisted the sarcastic response that was itching to form. "Humble" abode indeed. I played with the handle of my mug. It had the words "too hot 4 U" inscribed along it. "Well," I began, "My friends and I were… shopping, as you recall. And we ran into some trouble. Konan, who we met somewhere along the line, helped us out and kindly offered a solution to one of the, ahem, details we – well, just me, really – got to keep as part of the experience."

Pein didn't miss a beat. "The dog?"

Akamaru sniffed, offended, and burrowed further into my chest. I set the mug down and petted him, earning a contented sigh from him. When I glanced up, Pein didn't look too impressed.

"His name is Akamaru," I clarified.

"He's one of the best damn dogs I've encountered in awhile," Temari inputted, taking a long drink from her coffee. "You should see him in action."

Pein didn't ask, though I could see the question burning behind his carefully composed eyes. Stalling, though I have no idea why, I took my mug and started to sip from it. Seeing as how I was emulating Konan, Pein gave me the same unimpressed look he'd given Akamaru before turning his inquisitive gaze on Hinata.

Oh, he plays dirty.

Hinata, of course, not only saw the question he was telepathically asking, but was compelled to answer immediately. Really, how did such a pure soul survive this long among men like these? She said, "W-w-we, um, t-that is.., W-well, we m-m-met s-some…"

Ah, now I feel bad. Poor Hinata's stutter had just taken a deep nosedive into problematic. Pein wasn't that scary, but I don't think Hinata had ever had those grey eyes skewering her with questions before.

"We got caught up in a fangirl war."

Luckily, my other friend, having lived as a politician's child, had no problem both covering for her friends and answering difficult questions with a mix of political correctness and bluntness that was both a gift and a skill worth of envy. I grinned into my tea as Pein redirected his gaze towards Temari, a new question in his eyes; this time asking for clarification.

Temari shrugged indifferently, though there was a predatory glint in her eye. I immediately became both very eager to see how this would play out and a little wary. Especially when her eyes flickered towards me for a moment; conveniently the moment just before one of her Cheshire cat grins uncurled on her face.

"Specifically, your guys' fangirls. Sakura here was just innocently walking by when they all but tried to brainwash her into one of them. Then the miniature army of Team 7 fangirls appeared." Well, that wasn't exactly how it happened, but it was close enough. I watched Pein covertly from above the rim of my tea. He winced ever so slightly at Temari's words, no doubt in sympathy.

He turned towards me, his usually impassive face tinged with… concern? Actual, legit concern – for me? Not the oh-I-feel-for-you concern you might have for a stranger who slipped and fell, but the I-really-care-about-you-are-you-alright concern you feel for your close friends.

That was unexpected. But perhaps even more so was what he did next.

He reached across the space between our mugs and placed one of his hands over one of mine that was still holding on to the handle of my mug. "I'm sorry you had to go through that," he said, and he sounded so solemn and sincerely sorry that I didn't know if I should laugh or not. He sounded like I got caught by the mafia. Which, come to think of it, isn't all that far from the truth, in a way.

I suddenly had the image of the fangirls I'd met dressed in a 1920's Al Capone mafia get-up, some chewing cigars, and nearly all carrying some sort of firing weapon. Karin, the head Mafioso, tipped down her sunglasses, took her cigar out of her mouth, and said to me in the stereotypical Italian mafia accent, "Whatcha lookin' at, eh, Pinky?"

Before I could decide on how to respond, the loud sound of a door being slammed open resounded in the house, followed by the noise of stampeding footsteps coming down the stairs. From the sound of things, there was more than one set.

Low cursing was heard just a moment before a blonde head of absolutely disheveled long hair popped through the kitchen door with the cranky words "Pein, you have got to get Tobi to…" dying off as the owner of said hair noticed the company present.

A heartbeat of absolute silence went by as we all regarded the hairy mess that had graced us with his presence. I cracked a smile, even though I desperately tried not to.


"S-S-Sakura-chan, yeah!"

I lost the battle. That's when I let them have it.

This should be a good time to say that my laugh – the ROFL laugh, the holding your sides laugh, the I'm-gonna-die-laughing-because-I-can't-breathe laugh – isn't the cutesy laugh practically all girls aspire to have; with the tittering and giggling while looking as adorable as a baby bunny in lace. Mine was the loud, ruckus laugh of a pig choking in concert to a hyena reacting to the hyena equivalent of catnip.

In a nutshell, I sounded absolutely insane and part zoo.

I tried to stifle my laugh; honest to God I did. But the more I tried to hold back, the stronger the need to laugh became. In about two seconds flat, I was lying face down on the table, slamming my fist against it as my stomach spasm against Akamaru, who began to wiggle and tickled me. Though no one else could see it, I was very much aware of the tears pooling on the corners of my eyes and the snot forming on the back of my sinuses in response to the tears.

I was vaguely aware of someone thumping me in the back, as if I was choking, and someone else holding the hand I'd been using to abuse the glass table. A third person seemed to be saying something, but I couldn't hear anything aside from my own guffaws.

After losing my breath after a particularly extended laughter which quickly escalated into a witchy, high-pitched cackle, I was left gasping for breath much like a fish out of water. No sound came from my mouth. My mind took the brief reprieve as an opportunity to tune in on what was going on around me. I became aware that the kitchen was now filled with more people than the original five – or six, if you count Deidara's entrance – just before my laughing attack.

Forcing myself to claw back to some degree of normalcy, I slowly focused on the new presences around me, and what they were shouting at each other.

"I already asked you idiots once, what did you do to her?!"

"Tobi did nothing! Tobi did not even say hi!"

"S-S-Sak-kura, b-breathe…"

"Back off, blondie, yeah!"

"Oh, that's rich, coming from you."

"Sasori, back off."

"Oi, did I hear correctly? The bitch is here?"

"If you're referring to me, Hidan, I promise you I'll see to it that your schedule becomes a nightmare."

"Why is it so noisy here? Can't a guy get any rest `round here or what?"

Gulping deep breaths, I was able to somewhat make myself sit up a little. I rubbed the arm that wasn't being held across my face, wiping the tears that had been forming in my eyes, letting Akamaru have my lap to balance himself on. I blinked, bleary-eyes, and saw that now joining Pein, Konan, Temari, Hinata and I, was Deidara, Tobi, and Sasori; with Kisame and Hidan quickly appearing by the door. Deidara and Temari were having a go at each other, with Sasori not helping any, Tobi was just, well, being Tobi and panicking at the general situation; Hidan and Kisame, when they appeared, looked smugly excited and just plain grumpy, respectively. Hinata was the one gently rubbing my back, having stopped thumping once I demonstrated I could breathe on my own, while Pein and Konan were trying to keep the order in that calm, reserved way of theirs.

It didn't miss my notice that Pein was the one to hold my wrist; and continued to hold it even after I'd stopped abusing the table.

Taking a deep breath, I slowly exhaled as I gathered my final wits about me, and spoke to Hinata first. "Thanks, Hinata. I'm okay now."

"A-are you s-s-sure?"

"Positive. It was just that the timing of everything was too good. But I'm back to my old self now, I promise."

Hinata still looked a little unsure, but nodded lightly and removed her hand from my back. She then looked nervously up at the shouting match going on before us. On to of the arguing/ shouting match, now Konan had intercepted Hidan, who had seen me and was making his way over, and Kisame was helping out by grabbing the hem Hidan's pants. Hidan – who was topless, why was he topless? – was cussing him out as he tried to wriggle out of his grasp. My lips twitched into an almost smile. He reminded me of a kitten caught by the scruff and was trying to free himself.

Mentally shaking myself, I turned my head towards Pein, who had just told Deidara to calm down and gotten ignored. Letting out a quiet sigh, Pein looked at me from the corner of his eye, and seeing how I was fine now, turned to face me fully.

"Are you going to break my table?" he asked. I sniffed.

"I was never going to. I have more control than you give me credit for."

He looked at me quietly for a moment before nodding and releasing my wrist. It was only when he did that I realized his hands were warm. Must be from the tea.

Just then, Hidan somehow got loose and nearly shoved Pein out of the way to get close to me. Of course he didn't actually touch Pein, but he did cut in front of him to block my view of him and replace it with himself. Laying down his right arm on the glass table, he leaned on it as he smirked at me. Topless. I could hear Hinata squeak as she desperately tried to find something else to focus on.

"If I'd known you'd be coming," Hidan drawled in what he probably thought was a sexy voice, "I'd have fucking prepared properly, seriously."

"Then I'm lucky you didn't know," I drawl back. "I'd hate to see what you consider prepared."

Hidan frowned, before his smug smirk returned with his pearly whites showing. "I like some fucking spice in my women."

Pein had had enough of Hidan's rude behavior (or of having Hidan's naked back only inches from his nose), and tugged the albino's arm from under him, causing the latter to crash onto the table without his arm support him. While Hidan began to cuss, Pein merely gave him a dispassionate look. Deidara, who had somehow gotten his wild hair under some semblance of control, had stopped arguing with Temari long enough to pop behind Pein and shoot Hidan a grin.

"It's not nice to exaggerate, yeah," he said. "Your mother is only one woman."

"Fuck you, bimbo."

Kisame walked up then, rubbing a tired hand down his face. His eyes looked beady and tiny, as if he hadn't slept well in awhile. Which was bizarre because just earlier today he'd looked fine.

"Hoshigaki-san, are you alright?" I asked.

Kisame peered at me, and shot me a toothy smile. "Yeh, I'm alright. It's just that Hyuga's a harsh master." He yawned then, before plopping himself down on an empty chair. "Six-foot-four and two hundred-ish pounds makes it a little harder to carry out his punishments compared to someone who's smaller and lighter. I just about fell into bed the moment I could."

I gave him a sympathetic look. If senza was bad for the average person, then try gunning for two hundred pounds of pure muscle pressing down on your legs and joints. "Neji-san didn't make it a little easier on you?"

"He let me shift my weight a bit, which is more than could be said for the others. But that's about it." When he saw my unimpressed look, his smile widened. "Aw, is the Kitten concerned for me?"

"She's a doll, not a cat," Sasori butted in, coming around the other side of the table behind Konan, with Temari following close behind with a scowl.

"She's actually neither a quadruped feline nor an inanimate pint-sized imitation of a girl to use as you please," Temari grumbled. We all looked at her. "What?"

"But 'Rosita' is also wrong, then!" Tobi said. Deidara turned incredulous eyes on him.

"You followed all that, yeah?"

"Silly sempai," Tobi smiled as he danced around the table and sat beside me on the floor. "Temari-san said that Sakura-chan is not a toy or a kitty cat. Tobi was just saying that Sakura-chan is not a flower either, even if Sakura-chan's name is a flower's name.""

"That's right, Tobi-kun," I said, petting his dark hair. He beamed up at me. Konan stood up and walked to one of the cabinets, fetching a bag of gummy worms. She opened the packet and took out three worms.

"Good boy, Tobi," she said, tossing the worms at Tobi who shot out of his seat and caught the sweet confections from the air before happily devouring them one by one with a look of utter bliss on his face.

I gave the woman manager a surprised look. This was so similar to dog training, I didn't know how to react. Seemingly reading my mind, Konan glanced at me, giving me a soft look. "I know it looks bad, but it actually helps him. When he does something good, or proves that his skills are advancing, positive reinforcement helps him to conserve what he's gained."

Now I was curious. It was beyond obvious something was not quite up to par with Tobi from the start, but I had no idea it was something that required such subtle continuous treatment. But I knew better than to ask.

Hidan, luckily, proved to be a great distraction. "Yeah, yeah, whatever. We all know Uchiha shitty Junior is retarded. Now how about someone tells us why more bitches than usual are in our home?" His words earned him four hard smacks on the head, one from each female in the room, save for Hinata who didn't have it in her but Temari made sure to give Hidan an extra hit for her.

"Fuck!" Hidan groaned, crouching down on the floor as he held his head. As he once again began swearing up a storm, while everyone else ignored him, Pein turned his eyes me.

"Although Hidan could've worded it better, I think we're all also curious as to the reason you're all here," he said diplomatically, placing his intertwined hands before him on the table, looking for all the world like an eccentric CEO.

"I think this little guy is answer enough," I said, picking up a surprisingly quiet Akamaru from my lap and placing him on the table. He didn't like it too much, looking very much befuddled as he stared through the glass table at the floor below. He barked, scurrying back into my arms as he barked distrustfully at the table.

Deidara looked amazed. "Is that a dog, yeah?"

"No, goldilocks, it's lizard with peacock feathers," Kisame sarcastically muttered. Deidara shot him a dirty look.

"Which bloody heathen let a fucking fleabag in the house?" Akamaru sneezed disdainfully in Sailor Narcissus' direction.

"Is there something you'd like to say to me, Hidan?"

"Fuck, Konan, no. I love fleabags, they're all so furry and shit."

"That's what I thought."

"Puppy!" Tobi gushed, slurping down his last worm and bouncing back towards my seat, leaning over the armrest excitedly as he peered at the dog in my arms. "He's so kawaii! What's puppy's name? Oh! Tobi's name is Tobi!"

Akamaru looked a Tobi with a goofy grin on his furry face, his tongue lolling out of the side as he panted happily. He let out a small bark, and leaned over so he and the young Akatsuki member were nose to nose. I shifted Akamaru closer, and as I did, he started eagerly sniffing all of Tobi's face, earning a giggle as the air blew into Tobi's ear.

"His name is Akamaru, Tobi-kun," I said. "He needs a place to stay for the night."

Tobi let out a delighted squeal, turning on Pein in a heartbeat, down on his knees in an instant. "Can puppy stay, Leader? Can he? Tobi promises to be good!"

Pein looked a smidge uncomfortable with the situation. He kept glancing between Tobi and Akamaru, and every time he did, Tobi inched closer to his face with the best puppy-eyes I've ever seen a human wear. And that's considering he only used one eye, the other being hidden by his calling-card eye patch. Now that I noticed it, this one had the face of a brown teddy bear wearing its own star eye patch. Pein looked at me. "Just one night?"

I bit back a smile. He sounded so unsure. "Yeah," I said. "It's only until the mall fiasco goes away and it's safe for me again. Then I'll return Akamaru to his owner."

Pein looked at Tobi again, who by this time had all but sprawled himself on the Akatsuki leader's lap, his eyes huge and weepy and his hands clasped before me like he was praying. Pein sighed in defeat, closing his eyes in exhaustion; probably already foreseeing how it was all going to go. Seeing this, Deidara groaned, while Sasori frowned and looked away quite petulantly. Kisame merely eyed the dog before shrugging and resting his head on the table. Hidan scowled but did little else.

"Just for tonight," Pein conceded. "One night."


No sooner had Pein said those words than Tobi had jumped up and hugged him around the waist before shooting towards Akamaru and me. His cheeks were red with excitement and his eyes sparkled as he began to excitedly rant to Akamaru how much fun they'd have together.

"And Tobi has this huge bed all for himself, with lots of other friends, like Mr. Muffin! Tobi thinks Akamaru will like him – and oh! There's also Mr. Mustacho, because see, he has this really fancy mustache, and…"

I smiled at the scene. Akamaru looked just as excited as Tobi was, barking occasionally and wagging his tail at having so much attention, obviously beyond pleased. I giggled.

Pein had other ideas, though. He cleared his throat. "Tobi, as much as I know that you'll take care of… Akamaru, I think it's better if you got a buddy to, ahem, help you during the night." Tobi looked up at Pein, pouting and looking ready to argue. "I can see how much you like each other," Pein hurriedly amended. "But during the night, what if he needs to go to the bathroom? Or some food? You don't like the dark, so you wouldn't be able to help him then. Besides, he might be nervous staying in a whole new room he doesn't know. Having more people might help him be more comfortable."

Tobi looked a little crestfallen at Pein's words, seeing the truth in them. He was obviously disappointed that he wouldn't have Akamaru all to himself. Unable to stop myself from wanting to make him feel better, I quietly called to him.

"Tobi-kun." Tobi looked up at me. "Would you like to hold Akamaru?" Tobi's face lit up in an instant.

"Can I really?!"

"Yes, Tobi-kun. But you have to do like I'll teach you, so you don't accidentally hurt him. Okay?"

After Tobi pinky swore to do so, I handed him Akamaru and helped him with the right way to hold him. It only took a couple seconds; Tobi already had a good hold on him from the start. Both dog and boy were quite content.

"Whoop-the-fucking-doo," Hidan grumbled, leaving the kitchen. "Just keep that thing away from me, you hear me?" Akamaru scoffed at his back from his perch in Tobi's arms.

"I think the feeling's mutual," Temari grinned.

Sasori sighed tiredly. "While I have nothing against this… Akamaru, I will have to ask to please keep him away from my personal room. I have valuables that seem too attractive to dogs."

"L-like w-what?" Hinata timidly asked. Sasori looked at her from beneath his hooded eyes before looking away and yawning.

"Wood," he replied. "An old hobby of mine."

It wasn't the most informative answer in the world, but it was what he gave before he too left. Probably to make sure that his bedroom door was locked just in case. Tobi was too enthralled and happy with Akamaru to pay much attention to anything else, so that was a probably a wise decision.

Konan's phone beeped from her purse. She took it out with practiced ease and glanced at the screen with her impassive face in place, before stuffing it again in her bag. "I apologize, but it seems I'm needed at the office. Would you like to come with me so I can drop you off, or would you rather stay?" she asked Temari, Hinata and I.

"As much fun as this has been, I think it's time to call it a day," Temari said.

"I-I agree," Hinata mumbled. Turning towards Pein, she bowed. "T-thank you f-for your hospitality, Ame-san."

When I didn't immediately speak up, everyone turned to look at me expectantly. Well, with the exception of Kisame, who looked like he'd truly zonked out. "I'd like to go with you," I said, suddenly a little nervous. "But I think I'd like to stay for a bit longer." When Deidara grinned knowingly at me, as if he'd just discovered a huge amazing secret, I scowled at him, feeling my cheeks warm the tiniest bit. "For Akamaru, to be clear. He was entrusted to me, so while I think he'll be fine with all of you, it'll give me some peace of mind to know just exactly he'll be spending the night."

"Such little faith, yeah," Deidara tearfully said, though he couldn't quite wipe off his smile from his face. I rolled my eyes.

Pein stood from the table and took both his and my empty mugs to the sink. Temari finished off her coffee before doing the same, while Hinata took Konan's empty cup and her own after sipping what was left of her water. Ever the good host, he accompanied the women to the front door, with Tobi and I trailing behind. Deidara had disappeared somewhere between the kitchen and the door. Rude.

"You have your cellphone, right?" Temari demandingly asked me before she followed Konan and Hinata, whom I'd already said good-bye to with promises to see them soon, down the house's steps. I sighed; this was the second time in less than a minute.

"Yes, Temari. I'll be fine; I told you it's only for short while. Once I'm done I'll call a cab. And so you can sleep in peace."

"You better," she muttered. She frowned. "Maybe I should stay with you. God knows what these idiots could do. They've already caused you to have an attack twice. Who knows what else they're capable of?"

"What, and mess with my fists of fury? Not a chance. Besides, for the millionth time, it's only for a little longer. Now shoo. You have some guys of your own to look after."

"I do?" she asked in that oh-so-innocent way. Her smirk gave her away.

I shook my head at her. "If not your own flesh and blood, at least think of Felipe." That got a good response from her. She cringed. No doubt remembering the brave sacrifice her bodyguard had paid at playing human shield to protect us from the rabid fangirls.

She turned on her heel and speed walked to the car where her miniature mountain of purchases and Konan and Hinata were already waiting. "Don't forget to call! And don't be longer than you need to, it looks like a storm is coming." I looked at the sky. She was right, there were some dark clouds quite close by.

"Yes, mother," I muttered as I waved them off. Once they were pulling out of the gated driveway – gated, I hadn't even noticed. How did I not notice? It was a giant stone wall surrounding the entire property – I turned towards my three companions. Looking at Tobi first, who was completely enamored with Akamaru, I then turned towards Pein.

"So," I said. "Who's gonna be the boys' roommate?"

"That remains to be decided," he answered. He gave Akamaru a sideways look, fidgeting with his foot ever so slightly. "We'll have to ask each member individually, and then decide where they'll all stay for the night." Now it was my turn to cringe. So far everything had gone swell, if you can count being partly ambushed by a half-nude Hidan as "swell," but now that I was alone in Akatsuki home territory with all the members I suddenly felt a little wary.

Taking a deep breath to puff out my chest in fake courage, I simply nodded and gave Pein, who didn't look the slightest bit fooled, a perfect professional smile.

"Well, let's get to it then. Where is everyone?"

"In their respective rooms, I imagine. Usually they'd scatter to do different things, but after Neji-san's punishment, many feel like Kisame." I nodded, then asked where the rooms are. "The second floor," he answered.

I gulped. The second floor. The stairs were the only way out should anything go wrong, or if any of these guys decided to pull a fast one. After a half second I mentally shook myself. What stupidities was I thinking? These guys are absolutely harmless, if a bit eccentric.

Walking past Pein and tugging Tobi's arm to follow me, I headed towards the stairs. "Let's get this over with."

After knocking on the first door, about three different times, I finally lost patience and started pounding on the door.

"I know you're awake, Oomori-san, Ame-san told me. Please open up!"

After a moment the door's bolt clicked as it came undone just before the door pulled back to reveal Kakuzu's unimpressed visage.

"What do you want?" he grumped out.

I gestured towards Tobi and Akamaru. "These two need someone to –"

"That'll cost you."

Of course it was. This was Kakuzu we're talking about. I pouted. "Why are you charging? You get to spend the night with a –"

"Kid and a fur-ball. Not interested." And just like that he turned away and began to close the door. I was flabbergasted. Not only did he interrupt me twice, in a row, but he just walked away like… like… Argh!

"Fine!" I stomped my foot, grabbing Tobi's and Pein's arms and dragging them to the next door. "See if I ever ask you for something again!"

He turned to give me a sideways look. There was a look in his eye I couldn't quite interpret, as if he was reconsidering, before shaking his head and simply shutting the door behind him.

The next door was, unsurprisingly, Hidan's. This time Tobi offered to do the talking. I wasn't sure it was the best idea, but Pein convinced me (quite easily I'll admit) that it was fine. I stood off to the side with Pein.

Suffice to say that the minute Hidan opened his door to find Tobi waiting for him, he nearly smashed his door into Tobi's face, swearing some profanities as he reminded us heathens that he wanted nothing to do with the dog. Luckily, it seemed Tobi was a safe distance away so he was unhurt.

"Hey!" I yelled at the albino idol through the door, coming to stand beside Tobi who looked very much like a kicked puppy.

The door opened again, this time revealing Hidan still shirtless but with a long silver pendant hanging off a black leather chord around his neck. He smirked at me.

"Well, well," he said as he leaned against the door frame with one arm draped above his head. In the back of my mind, this made me realize just how much smaller than him I was. "I didn't know the sexy bitch was staying. I wouldn't fucking mind sharing my room with you, babe."


Zetsu's room was next. He was the same as ever, politely opening the door and listening to our explanation, before his dark side started mingling his own thoughts with the light side.

"I wouldn't mind doing as you ask," he explained, "but I frankly don't want my plants and room smelling like dog piss."

I peeked over his shoulder to notice that he, indeed, did have an impressive collection of house plants in his room. He must have quite the green thumb.

"Point taken."

We skipped over Tobi's room, which was the next in line. Tobi pointed it out and some visible toy's that could be seen as his door was wide open. The room was just as childish as one would imagine a ten-year-old boy's to be.

Next to Tobi's room was Madara's. I'm not ashamed to admit I hesitated.

Pein, seeing and understanding this, quietly offered, "We can skip him altogether. Even if he did accept, he'd probably do a terrible job." Relieved, I nodded and followed him further down the spacious hallway.

We hadn't taken more than four steps when the door swung open and a teary-eyed Madara stumbled out. "My love! How could you? I heard you call those disgraceful cads and knew that you'd eventually come to me! I was so waiting for when you'd willingly come up to my room and call for me! I'd have done anything you'd ask of me; just like a knight in shinning armor –"

He didn't get much further than that. Pein whipped around and forcefully stuffed Madara back into the hole he'd emerged from, forcefully shutting the door and locking it with a key he'd whipped out from his pocket. Madara pitifully started to scratch at the door and whine.

I ignored that in favor of staring at Pein in fascination. "Why does that door lock from the outside? Shouldn't it be from the inside?"

"His door has two locks: one for the outside and one for the inside. Suffice to say that you're not the only one he drives insane."

We skipped over Pein's room which, unlike Tobi's, remained closed. I was a little curious as to what it looked like. Kakuzu's, from what I'd managed to see, was a simple white and brown theme, with two large computer monitors and a simple bed. Hidan's was black and red, and had posters of scary movies and other dark stuff on the walls. Zetsu's was serene and filled with plant life, and Tobi's was like a little boy's. Madara's I didn't particularly care to find out.

Itachi resided in the next room to Pein's. After politely knocking, Itachi quietly appeared wearing thin reading glasses riding halfway down his nose and a mystery novel in his hand. I can admit it, this man looked good in anything he wore. His beautiful eyelashes only looked more prominent as his glasses framed them like a portrait, which in turn framed his intense, dark eyes… which were trained on me.

I cleared my throat, realizing that he was waiting for an explanation. "We need someone to help Tobi-kun look after this little guy," I said gesturing at Akamaru, who'd gotten his fill of Tobi and been passed to me. "Can I count on you?"

Itachi looked as impassive as Pein, before glancing at Tobi.

"Perhaps," was all he said. "What does this entail?"

"It's only like a sleepover. Since Tobi doesn't like the dark, we need someone who can make sure Akamaru has someone to look after him if he needs anything in the middle of the night."

"Hn. I probably can, but it would be better to ask the others just in case. I have an interview tomorrow, so I'd prefer to make sure I'm rested well enough in the morning."

My friend, you could show up in rags and they'd give you the job so long as you wore the glasses, I mentally thought. Yes, I had a thing for guys who could pull off the glasses look. So sue me.

I thanked Itachi before moving on.

"Hey, Akasuna-san, could you do us a favor?"

"Is it looking after Uchiha Junior and the dog?"


"Sorry Doll, but that's a no from me. I've said it already; that dog will eat my art."

"No he won't. He looks old enough to be past teething."

"Sorry Doll. I'm not taking that chance."

"Well, you don't have to stay in your room. You could stay at Tobi's, or even downstairs in the game room or something."

"I'll consider it; for you. Right now I'm busy, though. There's a new commercial shoot in a few days that I must prepare for."

I sighed. Only two maybes. "I understand. Good luck, Akasuna-san."

"Call me Sasori, Doll."

Next to Sasori's room was Deidara's, but loud music could be heard blasting from the other side. Pein sighed.

"We probably won't get a response from him," he said. "Once he turns his music on like that, he pretty much becomes lost in his own world."

"What does he do in there?" I asked. He gave me a one-shoulder shrug.

"His hobbies, mostly. He enjoys art, and buys a lot of supplies. He does a variety of little things."

I shook my head. I couldn't believe that out of a group of ten members, not one would willingly help one of the others with such a little task. Itachi and Sasori had said they'd have upcoming events within the next few days, but still. Itachi was Tobi's cousin. Shouldn't that make him a tad bit more responsible for him? Well, thinking about it, Madara seemed to care for his brother a lot in his won wayward way, but he didn't seem too responsible.

I sighed, returning to reality. "And Kisame's out for the count too. What do we do?"

Pein scratched his neck uncomfortably, before quietly offering. I looked up at him, slightly concerned. Ever since he agreed to let Akamaru stay the night, he didn't look too comfortable.

"Are you alright, Ame-san?" I asked. "If for some reason you're not into it, you don't have to. It'll probably sadden Tobi a bit, but if Akamaru can't stay I can probably take him with me. He's demonstrated to know how to pretend to be a toy quite well."

Pein shook his head. "It's nothing grave. I don't have much experience with dogs, that's all. There's no need to be concerned."

"Is Leader staying with Tobi and puppy-kun tonight?" Tobi childishly asked. At Pein's nod, Tobi smiled widely and did a small cheer before scooping Akamaru from my arms and placing him on the floor just a second before racing down the hall to his room; Akamaru right on his heels.

"Well. That made him happy," I mused, entertained. Pein hummed in agreement as we both walked back to the staircase.

"I suppose you'll be leaving now?" he politely asked.

"I guess so. My job here is done. Thank you so much for doing this for me, Ame-san. I know it's a bit much to ask, especially considering how we don't really know each other." He smiled softly at me, his steel-grey gaze softening at the edges as his lips quirked at the corner.

"Don't mention it, Sakura-san. And please, you can call me by my first name. You've allowed me to do just that, so I must insist you do the same."

I smiled. "Fair enough."

We walked back to the main floor, and Pein politely offered to call me cab so I wouldn't be charged for using my phone. As he did so, I stepped by the window, noticing that the sky had really gotten dark. Not because it was nighttime, although it was quite late, but the clouds themselves were nearly black. I frowned. "Do you think it's going to rain?"

Pein looked outside as well. "Highly likely. And not a soft rain either." He frowned slightly just as his own cellphone rang from his pocket. He dug it out and answered. He didn't even manage to greet whoever it was before they told him something he didn't seem particularly pleased with. He glanced at me, which made me frown. I didn't need to be an expert in body language to know it was about me.

Pein nodded to himself, looking away and quietly saying something into his phone and hanging up. I gave him an inquisitively look. "It seems a storm is coming," he quietly said. "It's not dangerous or anything, but since it's a little dark out it might not be the best idea to go out right now."

I quietly mulled over what he'd said. A storm, huh? It's mainly rain, but Pein was right. This place was quite out in the open, no doubt by design; and the fact that it was so dark didn't help much. I considered my options. I wasn't a huge fan of getting wet by freezing rain, but I really needed to get back before Temari or someone else had an aneurism.

"How long before the taxi gets here?" I asked.

"They haven't answered y-" he cut himself off. A burst of white light split the sky outside just an instant before the lights flickered above our heads and died, and a loud rumble like a giant beast roared outside.

I looked at Pein. "Did we just loose power?"

Tobi's startled yelp somewhere upstairs, along with angry and annoyed shouts was answer enough. Pein looked at the phone in his hand helplessly, and if I concentrated, I could hear the dead tone of no connection coming from it.

He looked at me then. "I'm afraid so."

"What does that mean for me?"

Pein suddenly looked away, a smidge uncomfortable. I had I feeling I already knew what he'd say, and anxiousness built in my stomach. I crossed my arms. Quietly putting the phone down, Pein met my eyes full on, all traces of discomfort wiped from his being.

"It means," he said, "That you're going to have to stay the night, too."

Great. Just great.

Pein must have read my thoughts, because he suddenly seemed very amused and smirked. He stepped closer to me until he was less than an arm's length away. He took one of my hands, this time not around the wrist but truly took my hand, and bowed over it, with his free hand resting on his lower back like a prince.

"Welcome to the Akatsuki House. I hope you enjoy your stay here, however brief." There was a playful glint in his eyes as he said this. And then he brought my hand to his lips and lightly brushed his lips over my knuckles in a butterfly kiss.

Did I say great? I meant to say fabulous. Because really, being stuck in a giant house with ten glitterati who seemed just a tad too eager and friendly was me was a dream come true.


I should so have gone with Temari and Hinata. I really hope nothing goes wrong. I have to believe that, because else, I thought as I heard the footsteps of the other group members come down the stairs, I'm doomed.

Like I said: fabulous.

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