"AH-hahahaha!" Ino's witchy cackle exploded in my ear, making me jerk my cell away on reflex since I was fully expecting her response to blast my ear drums. It was a beautiful Saturday morning, and I had called Ino first thing since I was in desperate need to tell someone about yesterday's crazy endeavours. And who better than my best girlfriend and diva extraordinaire?
While she laughed at my expense, I sighed. Honestly, I really didn't blame her for laughing at me. If our places were reversed, I'm pretty sure I would've done the same. What could one expect, really, after relaying the drama that had unfolded the day before?
"I can't believe it!" the blonde exclaimed over the phone. "The bunch of them sent you flowers? And that card from Pervet – hah! Priceless!" I smirked at myself as I listened to her. I had refused to call the Akatsuki members by name, heck I even refused to address the group as "Akatsuki" (I called them "The Mix" because they have such a mix of characters and personalities) and Madara had been dubbed "Pervert." Ino had no objection after I told her of the numerous little stunts he tried to pull on me, and in fact is the one who began calling him "Pervert," as in a proper noun, compared to my simple "the pervert."
That, my friends, is one of the reasons I love her.
"Don't forget the whole lot of them practically stalked me," I said, walking over to the large window in my hotel room and looking at the peaceful garden. Man, I really needed to talk to the gardener and get him to reveal his secrets to me. "I swear, it was no coincidence that they showed up to Naruto's and his band mates' floor at the same time as me. And they followed me all the way to the flower shop! I swear they got the flowers from there."
"You're swearing an awful lot," Ino observed. "You sure you took your meds this morning? You know if you went all psycho on me I'd still love you, but I'd rather be known as the 'beautiful, talented nurse' instead of 'the pink-haired psychopath's best friend'."
"Oh, shut up, Ino."
"You know it's true." I swear I heard her sly grin in her voice.
"Anyway," she continued, "what did the other cards say? You can't tell me out of fifteen of them–"
"Fourteen," I corrected her.
"–only one of them sent you a card with the bouquet. So spill!"
I laughed as I turned away from the window to do as she said. It was impossible to deny her such trivial little things when she got you in such a good mood. She had a gift for that.
I manoeuvred my way around the numerous flower arrangements as I plucked each little card from each bouquet, reading it to Ino before putting it back. It just wouldn't do to just grab them all and then put them on the wrong bouquet. As annoying as having such limited moving space because of the amount of flowers, I will admit it was touching to some extent. I would not disrespect the guys' intentions, however inconvenient as they may seem, by being so disregardful as to place the wrong card on the wrong arrangement and not give two hoots about it. My mother raised me better than that.
"This one is from the one I call 'Kiddie,'" I said as I begun to read the card before translating it from Japanese to English for Ino. "Kiddie" was my code-name for Tobi, and I made sure to substitute his real name with his code-name as I read the card.
"Dear Pretty Girl-chan!
Kiddie is very happy to have met Pretty Girl-chan! Kiddie hopes she really likes Kiddie's flowers because Kiddie got them especially for Pretty Girl-chan! Because Kiddie is a good boy!
With all of Kiddie's love,
"Aw, that's so cute! And I can totally see why you dubbed him 'Kiddie.' But why is he writing in third person?" Ino asked.
"Don't ask me," I shrugged. "He's been doing it from the moment I met him. Maybe he was dropped on his head as an infant."
"Possibly. You never know what goes on behind closed doors these days."
"I don't think you're supposed to know what goes on behind private closed doors anyways," I said as I returned the card to the colourful bouquet. Tobi had sent me an arrangement of eight different flowers – a white "background" made up of daisies with the other seven types of flowers arranged into a rainbow. Cute. "Have you been watching soap operas when you should be working?"
"Oh, puh-lease," she sighed dramatically. "You know I'm serious about my work."
"I also know you're serious about your soaps."
"Just read me the next card, will you?" I grinned despite myself as she quickly changed the topic. It was hard not to have fun when you knew Ino, never mind that she didn't have to be with you to have a good time.
"Sure thing, boss," I chirped as I picked up Sai's. "This one's from Nicknames. He's from the other band, Lucky 7." I had decided that since I was giving the Akatsuki and its member other names, I might as well with Team 7.
"'Nicknames'? What kind of nickname is 'Nicknames'?"
"You'll see why.
"It was a pleasure to meet you yesterday, though I'm afraid I really hadn't the opportunity to tell you so. I suppose it might be because I'm somewhat 'shy.' Or so I'm told. I don't think I'm shy since I do not feel nervous or anxious when I meet new people. I prefer the word 'quiet' if I must pick a word to describe me. I still do not quite understand the need for that, but oh well."
"I'm still waiting for the reason for his nickname."
"Just hush and you'll find out.
"I must say, though, that I'm still quite surprised to find that Dickless is your childhood friend; however, since I work with him and got to meet you, I suppose it worked out well. Even Bastard got along with you pretty well, and you even got Lazy-ass moving. I salute you, and hope you enjoy the flowers.
"Ah… Now I see," Ino said thoughtfully. "Why does he pick such horrible nicknames, especially for the people who he works with? Doesn't he like them or something?"
I shrugged, then remembering she can't see it, I replied. "I don't know, honestly. As for as far as I can tell, the group is pretty tight, like true teammates. They may squabble, but they get along well. From what Naruto told me, it's a habit of Nicknames'," I said, remembering how Sai had said Naruto's nickname could be worse back at Ichiraku's when the blonde had protested to it and the blonde had agreed.
"Ah, yes, Naruto. Which nickname is his?"
I really wasn't surprised when she burst out laughing at my answer. Really, who wouldn't? I myself barely had managed to settle for a tight smile, barely restraining my laughter so as to not make Naruto feel bad. But Ino, not knowing Naruto personally and not having him anywhere close, laughed to her heart's content.
"You're kidding!" she gasped between bursts of laughter.
"I'm completely serious."
"I would ask why that's his nickname, but I think I rather not get into anything explicit."
"Don't be such a pervert. I'm sure it's nothing like that. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's something so completely unrelated that we're going to be wondering if they lost their minds."
"Sweetie, it's obvious they lost their minds long ago. Just look at the mess they created in a day just trying to impress you!"
"You don't need to remind me," I grumbled as I folded Sai's card and put it back. He had sent me an autumn-themed arrangement, with soft browns, yellows, oranges and reds. It was quite peaceful, and it reminded me of home in the States when the seasons would turn. There weren't that many flowers, mainly just leaves, but that's where the magic was.
We spent the next half hour or so doing this: me reading the cards to Ino and she would throw in a comment or two of her own to express her thoughts on the guy in question (or, in some cases, just being a smart-ass). Of course, I changed the sender's name to his matching nickname when I translated his card to Ino.
Zetsu, whom I had dubbed "Mr. Green" due to his hair color, had sent me a bouquet similar to Tobi's and opposite of Sai's. It was similar to the childish man's in the sense that it was colourful, though less childish and scandalous, and it was the opposite of Sai's because while the socially awkward man had sent me an autumn-themed bouquet, Zetsu had sent me a spring-themed bouquet with plenty of green tones. His card read:
It was a pleasure to meet you, though I could not help but notice how… frustrated you were with some of my imbecile of band mates. I sincerely apologize for any offense they might have done you. They are idiots, every last one of them. I also could not help but notice your interest in flowers, and so it is my hope that this humble arrangement makes up for any inconvenience done by the others in their moments of idiocy. And, if it is not too much to ask, I'd be very pleased if you would accompany me sometime as I hope to become friends.
Ino was quick to point out not only what a gentleman he was, except when it came to his band mates which I knew was his other personality talking, but also that he had said he hoped I would accompany him, not he and his band, sometime. I must admit, as peculiar as his looks were, I liked him enough. And this card did nothing but gain him some bonus points in his favour.
Next was "Yeah," aka, Deidara. I'd say his code-name is pretty self-explanatory.
Just wanted to let you know that being with you, as short as our time was, was a blast, yeah! Just like TRUE ART should be! Anyway, I saw the guys getting some flowers which is pretty out of character for them, by the way, so knowing that you're the only person whom they could be getting them for, I decided to do it too! I can't let myself fall behind now, can I? Hope you like `em!
Truthfully, Deidara had signed off his card with a smiley face with his tongue sticking out and a long bang covering his left eye besides his name. I chuckled as I recognized the blonde's attempt at a funny self-caricature. Ino liked his outgoing personality, and thought he wasn't too bad. I agreed. He had sent me some tiger lilies with red and orange tulips. Ino liked his personality.
Ironically enough, the next card I picked up was from the blonde's best friend and artistic nemesis, Sasori. Or, as I liked to call him, "Puppet Boy" because of his earlier comparison of dolls to me. I chose to call him "Puppet Boy" instead of "Doll Boy" because the latter just sounds too weird and makes him sounds slightly homosexual. Not that there's anything wrong with that; absolutely not, but from the way he behaved around me (he was this close to having met my fist and a restraining order) I'd say he was anything but.
I only wanted to say that today was a most delightful day since I had the opportunity to not only meet my doll of a muse (you, in case you were wondering), but also got to spend some most favourable time with her. I was serious when I said you were beautiful, and I hope you grace me with that same beauty in the near, near, future. Say, tomorrow at eleven for an early lunch? Perfect, then. I'll be waiting for you, my doll. Dream with the angels, as it is among them where you belong.
Ino and I instantly agreed that he was a charmer, and a darn good one at that. I inwardly thought that he might be spending a little too much time with Madara; either that or he's a fan of romance novels for coming up with such a complimentary and cliché card. Not that I'm complaining; I mean, what girl doesn't like flattery? He had sent me a variety of hibiscus flowers.
Itachi's card was next. I had dubbed him "Mystery" because he was downright mysterious. I knew the nickname was a tad bit girlish, but I couldn't really come up with anything more suitable than that. Besides, there were a lot of words that described Sasuke's older brother. Silent. Polite. Gentleman. Alluring. Sexy. And yes, I did say those words. Well, thought them, anyway. But can you really blame me? I'm using "I'm a hormonal teenager" excuse as my excuse, because there is no way I'm admitting to anyone, least of all the Akatsuki, the words I chose to describe the oldest Uchiha brother. I hardly admitted them to myself, and I honestly did not want any more crazed, testosterone-filled males "competing" any more than they already have. Frankly, I don't think I'd survive it.
I noticed that you were quite immersed with the flowers back at the shop, and I thought you would like to have some of you own. I took the liberty of buying you this bouquet; I hope I did not overstep my bounds in doing so. As a friendly reminder, know that the invitation to watch us practice is still open whenever you choose to accept it.
Enjoy the flowers, and good night.
Ino was practically swooning after that one, especially after I told her he had sent me a mix of white, pink, and red roses tied together by a string of pearls. She was starting to tease me about having such "insanely, totally fabulous and thoughtful guys" after me, but I threatened to hang up and not share any more of the cards if she kept teasing me after telling her that they weren't after me; they were intrigued. There was a difference.
Another irony transpired as I was reading the cards. Right after Itachi, it was the turn of Sasuke's arrangement. The youngest of the Uchiha brothers had sent me blue, purple and pink petunias with tiny white flowers I recognized as yarrow spread between the larger flowers. I had a bit of trouble coming up with a code-name for him, since his personality was more reserved and he didn't talk much, but I had finally settled for "Black Cat" due to the cat button on his bag when we accidentally mixed them up at the airport. I'll change it to something better once I get to know him a little more.
The way you so diligently inspected the flowers back at the shop got me thinking that perhaps you'd like some of your own. Think of them as a welcome back gift.
He, like his brother, was a man of few words. Not really unexpected, truth be told. But it was touching nonetheless. Ino stated that between the two brothers (a bit of info I had relayed to entertain her – you know, rival bands each with a sibling is the drama that's right up her alley, even if there technically is no drama), she was leaning more towards the younger brother. I must say, he at least had a legit excuse to send me flowers as a welcome back gift. It was nice of him even though I'd met him not that long ago.
Next was the oldest member of Team 7, Kakashi. I snickered as I recalled that Sai's nickname for him was "Lazy-ass" while mine was "Mr. Laziness." I think Sai and I are going to get along just fine.
Kakashi's bouquet was simple: it consisted of pink carnations and forget-me-nots. The carnations dominated the top and spread out in the middle as the forget-me-nots began to appear until finally the indigo flowers dominated the base. It looked quite nice. His card read:
Hi there, Sakura
Just wanted to give you these flowers as a welcome back gift, and as a token of my appreciation for looking after Naruto. I hope you will become more acquainted with the band since we all enjoyed your company, and I'm pretty sure you enjoyed ours. By the way, are you studying psychology? Because you really knew what to say and do to get me to help. Not an easy feat, I tell you. So, congratz, I guess.
Ino laughed at his card, and said that I had done well with this one's code-name. She wondered how old he was to sound like an old man and a young one at the same time, and I told her I honestly didn't know. Older than us, but not so old as twice our age. She simply hummed her answer before asking me to read the next card.
Kakuzu's bouquet was next up. At first, I wasn't sure what to make of his gift. He had been nothing short of rude, stuck-up, and obnoxious (reason why I had dubbed him "Jerk"), so the fact that he had sent me flowers was nothing short of confusing and somewhat shocking; especially after the fuss he kicked up back at the shop. And these flowers he sent were definitely more expensive than the ones I bought!
He had picked out something akin to a valentine's day bouquet; it was filled with pink, red and white with the occasional green stems and leaves peeking out from between the flowers. It was almost the same as Itachi's except that his flowers weren't roses and he had some light yellow flowers as well. His card took me by surprise when I read it.
I got you these as an apology for being so rude to you. They cost me a quite a bit for something that lasts a week, so you better like them.
Damn it, that was rude, wasn't it. I'll get you something else that's not flowers for that. These things cost too much, plus the last thing either of us needs is that all these flowers attract a whole swarm of bees to you. Then I'll really have hell to pay.
I appreciated the sentiment, though that last line had me confused. Hell to pay to whom? I was inclined to think he referred to me, but something told me I was someone else. Anyways. Although I preferred face-to-face apologies, he at least had made an effort. I decided to forgive him, and to be more patient with him if I bumped into him again. I was beginning to understand that his rudeness was part of his grumpy personality much like cussing was in Hidan's and he meant no ill. Well, at least sometimes. It was obvious he said what he thought without reprieve about how it sounded, and in fact I'll bet he did it on purpose on some cases. He was, in two words, obnoxiously frank. Period. Ino thought I was being too nice, though she agreed that he deserved a chance since he at least tried to be civil.
Talking about Hidan, his flowers were right after Kakuzu's. The card wasn't signed, but let's just say that his, uh, unique language extended into his writing. His bouquet was completely white. White lilies, white daisies, white roses, white everything! I wondered why he had chosen a completely white bouquet until I read his card, which explained it all.
I fucking loved how angry you got! Fuck damn, you're bloody hot when you're having a hissy fit! Anyway, I bought you these fucking flowers because the other motherfuckers were doing the same. But I'm fucking smart, see, so I made MY bouquet bloody awesome by making it so fucking unique! I chose white `cuz MY hair is white, so all these fucking beautiful white flowers will remind you of fucking handsome ME.
See you real soon, bitch!
Needless to say, his card was all the explanation I needed for dubbing him "Sailor Narcissus." You know, because sailors have had a reputation for having such foul vocabulary for centuries, and Narcissus being the guy from Greek mythology whose name created the word "narcissist." I wasn't sure if Hidan was so narcissistic that he'd end up like Narcissus. But I was sure that it was a definite possibility. I mean, look at and listen to the guy! Ino wasn't impressed, to say the least.
"Even if he's as hot as he claims, I'd tell him to jump off a cliff," she'd said. "Nobody talks to us like that!" I sighed and told her that it had to be a really high cliff because I'd overheard the staff ladies talk about how he's almost immortal since he's survived a billion accidents, some of which were quite serious, back when I had gone down to the buffet for my breakfast.
Kisame, or "Blue He-Man," sent me a slightly more modest bouquet. It wasn't as grand as most of the others, for which I was thankful, but it was still a far cry from the bouquet you can wrap up, tuck under your arm and place in a vase. His arrangement reminded me of the sea, with blue as the dominant color with bits of other colors all over. There were different shades of blue, and it was masterfully arranged so that the different blue flowers were of different sizes, making it possible for the different shades of blue, teal and even aqua to mix and blend easily. It made me feel quite peaceful just looking at it.
Kisame Hoshigaki here. Listen, I feel a little bad about how my band mates drove you bonkers, and I saw how you liked your flowers, so I got you this little bouquet as a gift. I asked the old lady in the shop to make something resembling the sea because it's my favourite place in the world and it can be quite peaceful. I'd say she did a great job, don't you agree? Anyway, I chose the sea so you can relax by looking at it. Think of it as my way of countering the stress you went though with my band.
See you around! Your buddy,
If any of my band mates get too fresh with you, let me know and I'll put them in their place. Except for Pein and Itachi, those guys scare me. But you don't have to worry about them because out of all of us, I'd say those two were the only real gentlemen around. But anyone else is fair game~!
I will admit, I was not expecting the muscled man to be so thoughtful and, well, kind. Sure, he was nice to me, but here he was being kind. I don't know why it was so surprising, but it was. I made a mental note to thank Kisame and to get him something. Heaven knows he deserved it.
Ino was impressed, and she mentioned that she'd go for a man like him, if it wasn't for his strange coloring. I teasingly accused her of color discrimination, but she just huffed and said that she most certainly was not because her best friend had the most unique natural hair color in the world. So there. I laughed.
The second-last bouquet was from none other than my knuckleheaded friend, Naruto, whose code-name was "The Ramenator" due to his strange fixation with the food. Much like Hidan had done, the blonde had chosen flowers whose colors reminded me of him, but like Kisame and Sasuke, his attitude was one of good-will plus cheer. His flowers were golden, orange and reds, similar to Sai's autumn-themed arrangement, but the greens, blues and violets embedded as well gave it that cheerful and good-natured feel, especially since all the colors were bright to the point of being only a few shades away from being considered neon. They were just that shade that you enjoyed looking at for hours without your eyes hurting because the colors were screaming fluorescent. At the very top of the bouquet, surrounded by the other flowers, were seven sunflowers.
I grinned widely at that. I often referred to Naruto as my sun because of his warm and outgoing personality. He was the type of person who could exorcise a bad day and bring sunshine into your life just by smiling. It's obvious by the sun flowers that he remembers.
I figured since you got some flowers for you mom, it'd be nice if you got some too. My mom mentioned something about that mother-daughter connection, so I thought, "what the heck! Why not?" Not that I know how she knows that because she only has me, but whatever. Anyhow, I hope you have enough time in your schedule so we can hang out often! I think you and my band will fit together like a glove, and that's great, because then I can hang out with all my closest people! Hehe.
See you! From your soul brother and the greatest musician ever,
Ino cooed about how awesome he sounded, and mentioned that if she can come to Japan
for a visit, he had to be the first person I introduced her to. After all, she had grown up with me telling her tales of us two, so she knew him pretty well, if indirectly, and deserved to finally meet my best (guy) friend whom I've known my entire life. I quickly agreed as I returned the card and turned towards the last bouquet, from none other than Akatsuki's leader, Pein, whom I had dubbed "Leader."
Fine, so it's not the most creative nickname ever. Bite me. In my perspective, there wasn't another word who could describe him better than that. Not only was he the band's leader, but he just had that…well, that aura, that feeling that only so few people in history possessed that made you follow them simply because doing so seemed to be the best thing you could ever do. He could inspire and strengthen you inside and out by just looking you in the eye and saying nothing. The dude was born for the role. So, yes, I dubbed him "Leader."
His bouquet was unique; completely different from all the others and that's saying a lot. What made his gift so different? Simple. He got me, not flowers although there certainly were some, but a tree.
A. Fruit. Tree. I had no clue what kind, though.
What the hopping jalapeño was I supposed to do with a fruit tree? Sure, it was still young and small, barely up to my hips, but still. Who gives a tree as a gift? Tell me, who?! Where the cockatoo did he even get a fruit tree?!
I ignored Ino's guffaws after I told her as I turned towards Pein's card for an explanation. All it said was
Dear Cherry Blossom
As much as flowers are nice, I thought something a little more permanent would be better. Enjoy, little dancer.
Much like the Uchihas, Pein was a man of few words. I sighed. I guess I had no choice but to take it home and plant it there. Naruto was going to get a kick out of this when he finds out.
I glanced at my watch and saw that I was late to leave if I wanted to make it to the Hyuga's studio on time, so I quickly cut off Ino's cackles to hang up.
"Hey, Pig, I have to go. I'm already late," I said into my cell phone as I put Pein's card back on the tree and turned towards the door.
"Haha, okay, sure, hoohoohoo! See you later, Forehead! Don't let those big bad bands get you!"
"Don't remind me," I groaned as slipped on my jacket and picked up my gym bad with my dancing clothes in it. "I've only known the Akatsuki for a day, and I'm already ready to hide if I see them coming my way."
"Hold on, Forehead!" Ino snapped, all traces of humour wiped from her voice. "Did you just say the Akatsuki?"
Ah, oops. I let it slip.
"Heh," I smiled nervously as I closed my room's door behind me and walked towards the hotel's front door. "Yes…?"
"You bitch! What kind of friend are you? The Akastuki?! You're being stalked by the world's most famous band composed of the hottest, most talented and amazing young bachelors in the world! And you didn't tell me?!" I knew I was in deep doo-doo now, but I knew there was no chance in a thousand hells that I was getting out of this one, especially once I heard her gasp, "Then the other band… must be Team 7! Bitch, you're in trouble now!" Oh, I had no doubt about it.
"Bye, Ino!" I yelled into the phone.
"Sakura! You little –!" and she was cut off as I pressed the red button to hang up.
Yup, today is going to be quite a day, I mused sarcastically to myself as I put my phone on silent, already anticipating the barrage of calls and messages I was going to be receiving for the next few hours. God help me.
Because I had taken so long amusing Ino with my flowery gifts, I couldn't walk to the Hyuga's as I had originally wanted to. However, if I took a taxi all the way over there, I'd arrive too early. So, I did the only logical thing to do: I took a taxi halfway and walked the rest. That way I wouldn't be late and I could at least orient myself where it counted.
The taxi, which very conveniently was right in front of the hotel after dropping some people off there, took me from the hotel to just outside Tokyo's downtown. From the directions I got off the internet where I found the place and from Naruto's, the Hyuga's studio wasn't in the heart of downtown but it was more like in its far outskirts. It was an excellent location since it was within easy reach of many necessities and areas of leisure activities without being in the busiest and very cramped streets. There was a lot of green around, actually.
I checked my watch once more after I'd thanked and paid the taxi driver and saw that I had ten minutes. I took the directions out of my pocket and, after going over them once more, concluded that I had just enough time to wonder around before I made my way to the studio. So I happily put the directions back in my pocket, adjusted my gym bag on my shoulder and walked in a random direction, whistling like the care-free person I was.
Too bad that that didn't last long because ten minutes later I wasn't knocking on the Hyuga's door like I was supposed to. On contraire, I had my nose in a map I had bought in a little store trying to find out where the hell I was and where the hell the Hyuga's studio was from there. I know, it's so sad that I had somehow gotten lost in ten minutes and not even in a place that was crammed with a billion streets and buildings.
"Goddamn it," I cursed after taking a random street that I thought looked familiar but turned out to lead into a residential area. By this point I was ready to scream to high heaven. I was a very punctual person, so being late even by a minute stressed me. You can surely imagine that the thought of being five minutes, possibly more, late was not something that suited me.
With a frustrated sigh, I folded the map and marched into the residential street, determined to find the studio and get there as soon as I could. In a residential area there had to be at least a few people, so if I was lucky maybe one of them knew how to get to the Hyuga's place, or at least how to get to the main street where I had started off.
I didn't see anyone for a very stressful minute, but just as I was about to head back and try on my own again, I saw a girl's back walking down another street. The girl had long dark hair that fell to her waist, and wore a light indigo-blue jacket with cream leggings. She was carrying some grocery bags in her hands.
I smiled. Not only was she the first person I'd seen, but if she had grocery bags then that meant she knew just how to get to the main street.
"Excuse me," I called out to her in Japanese, making my way over.
The girl stopped and turned around, surprised. She wasn't the only one surprised, though. She had eyes like I'd never seen before. They were big, with thick, dark eyelashes framing them; but above all, her eye color was a very, very pale lavender, almost white, with no pupil in sight although it was obvious she could see perfectly well. She was very pretty with her dark hair and light eyes combo, and she seemed young; maybe around my age.
"I'm sorry to bother you, but I'm lost. Can you help me?" I quickly said with a small bow. As beautiful as her eyes were, I knew it wasn't nice to stare. With my hair, I knew just how it felt.
"A-ah, yes, I t-think so," she stammered out nervously as a small blush tinted her cheeks. I gave her a small smile of gratitude.
"I'm trying to find the Hyuga compound. I'm supposed to take some dancing lessons there, but I can't find it."
"T-the Hyuga compound? S-sure, I can t-take you there. That's w-where I'm heading."
My smile widened. "Really? Oh, thank you very much! That would be a big help." Her blush darkened and she looked away, abashed. I inwardly wondered why she was stuttering and blushing, but then I got it. She's timid. Aw, that's kind of cute.
"O-oh, it's nothing," she said, shyly touching the ends of her index fingers together. I stepped closer to her and offered her my hand.
"My name is Haruno Sakura," I said. "It's nice to meet you."
"H-Hyuga Hinata," she answered as she grasped my hand.
"Hyuga? Well, this is lucky! I guess we'll be seeing more of each other from now on, I guess."
"I-it would seem s-so, Haruno-san." I shook my head as I fell in step beside her.
"Just call me Sakura," I said. "Haruno-san makes me feel like an old lady. We're about the same age, I'd say, so no need to be so formal."
"M-my apologies, S-Sa-Sakura-san," she stammered out with a bow of her head. I sighed teasingly, hopping to make her feel at ease.
"I guess 'Sakura-san' will do for now. But once we're friends you can drop the –san from my name, okay Hinata-chan?"
"F-friends?" she repeated, startled.
"Why, sure. I'd like us to be friends. Is that okay?" She mutely nodded and gave me a small smile which I readily returned. I offered to carry one of her bags, which she was hesitant to allow, but in the end I convinced her that as her friend I wanted to help her and she relented one to me.
We arrived at the Hyuga compound not three minutes later, meaning I was just under five minutes late. Not too bad, really, all things considered.
But what was really amazing was the compound itself. The place was a mansion! From where I could see, the wall that surrounded the place covered a whole block. Behind the wall, which could easily be seven feet in height, I could the head's of several buildings, which led me to believe that not only was this a very rich and big family, but were high up on the social class scale. Hinata and I were standing at the front gate, which was an enormous wooden thing with fancy carved decorations, and the name "Hyuga" carved proudly on a wooden plank beside it.
I would be lying if I said I didn't feel a tiny bit intimidated.
Hinata seemed to catch on to my slight change in mood, and smiled encouragingly at me. "I-I know it's a b-bit intimidating at first," she said, "b-but I promise it's n-not that bad."
I returned the smile and watched as she pressed the button on the intercom, which I hadn't noticed, and a male monotonous voice answer with a simple "yes?"
"I-it's me," Hinata said. "And Haruno Sakura, t-the new dancer."
"Ah, Hinata-sama," the voice greeted pleasantly, although still monotonous. How did he do that? "Welcome back. I shall inform Neji-sama so he may see you both in."
The intercom went off and a second later the giant wooden doors slowly began to open. I nearly gasped at what I saw inside. The gardens (yes, plural) were magnificent, even better than the ones back at the hotel. It was all mostly grass, and it was all a vivid green without a touch of brown anywhere, and the flowers scattered elegantly around the inside of the wall were manicured to perfection. I noticed a few trees as well, some o which were cut in the shape of animals. There was a large traditional fountain close to one of the buildings, with a stone border around the pond with bamboo shoots calmly pouring water in. I wouldn't be surprised if the pond had koi fish.
The buildings were very traditional, with sliding paper doors, wooden floors, and most were only one floor in height, although there were a couple who were up to three. I wondered if this place really was a dance studio.
"H-hello, N-Neji-nii-san," Hinata nervously greeted someone, and I turned my head to see whom I presumed to be the Neji the guard of the intercom had mentioned. The first thing I noticed about him was his eyes, which were identical in coloring to Hinata's. It was obvious they were related. They were the same pearly-white shade with a hint of lavender in them, and no pupil in sight. He had the same dark eyelashes framing them, but unlike Hinata's, his eyes weren't as big, open, or friendly. He didn't look hostile, but he didn't look like he was about to greet us with a big smile and cake either.
He was simply politely blank.
The next things I noticed about him were that he was young, maybe just a year or two older than Hinata and me; he was dressed in a cream-colored traditional yukata, and he had long brown hair pulled back in a low, loose pony tail. Man, his hair was longer than Deidara's or Itachi's. I think it was just a few inches from reaching his waist.
"Hinata-sama," Neji greeted back in a low, polite voice; bowing. "Welcome back. May I ask who is this with you?"
"O-oh! This is Haruno Sakura. S-she's the new d-dancer."
For the first time since he'd arrived, Neji looked at me. For the life of me I couldn't make out his thoughts; he was as emotional as a fish. Kind of like Itachi and Pein when they're not talking. But even then their eyes show some kind of feeling, however diminutive. Neji, however, was perfectly blank, and if I'm being honest, it put me a little on edge. People are emotional, even if they don't necessarily show it. To find a person who seemed to have as many emotions as a rock was disconcerting.
"Good morning, Neji-san," I greeted him with a small bow. He nodded his head in greeting, crossing his arms comfortably.
"Good morning, Haruno-san. You're late," he plainly said. I inwardly winced. Way to be frank.
I bowed again. "I apologize. I'm afraid I got lost on the way here, but Hinata-chan here was very kind in showing me the way."
Neji raised an eyebrow at the way I informally addressed Hinata, but said nothing as he simply nodded again while Hinata blushed lightly at my words.
"Ah. Yes, it was indeed very kind of her, and very lucky for you. I hope it does not happen again, as we are very strict here." You don't say.
"Yes!" I said, nodding my head. He silently stared at me for a second longer before turning on his heel and walking towards one of the buildings.
"Good," he said just as what I presumed to be a butler appeared to take the grocery bags from Hinata and me. "Then you may follow me to the studio. I presume you have a change of clothes in your bag?"
"Yes, sir," I said as I scurried after him. I looked over my shoulder to see Hinata give me an encouraging smile and a small wave before she left in the direction of another building.
"No need to call me 'sir,' Haruno-san. Neji-san will do. I will be teaching you any Japanese dance you wish for as long as you are here."
I gaped at him. He was going to be my teacher? But he was so young!
But then again, so am I. And I probably know more dances than him. Huh. Never mind.
"Thank you, Neji-san," I said cheerfully as we entered the building and removed our shoes.
"We have six different studios for dance here, so don't be alarmed if you see another dancer or troupe of dancers," he said as he guided me through the main hall. "And please, if you see a celebrity, treat him as if you would any other, even ignore him. We have the highest dancing and martial arts status, so many famous people come here to practice and learn; at such we ask our other guests to not, how you would say in slang I suppose, 'go fan-girl or fan-boy' on them."
I grinned. The way he spoke was courteous and direct; he wasn't being snobby about his family having such high status and friends. He was just stating the facts, and I liked that. I think I'll get along with him just fine.
"Your family also practices martial arts?" I asked. "What kind?"
"We enjoy doing a bit of everything, but we focus mainly on karate and jujitsu plus a style unique to the Hyuga family called the Gentle Fist." He turned to me, tilting his head to the side curiously. "Are you interested in martial arts as well?"
I nodded. "Yes. I myself have practiced martial arts along with dancing since I was a child. I love how they can be so similar but so different. I think they go along together nicely."
Neji's eyes seemed to warm the slightest bit as the corner of his mouth moved up in a ghost of a smile. "Ah. We think alike, then. Perhaps, if you are interested, we may spar when we are done with your lessons on occasion." He said it in a way that sounded as if he was intrigued that I thought like him but didn't really think I was the type to spar. He probably thought I simply knew a trick or two.
I grinned at him. "That sounds nice, Neji-san. Thank you kindly for the offer."
He smirked at me before turning towards a wooden door and opening it, holding it open for me. The room was large and rectangular in shape, with the entire back wall being windows looking out into the garden. They weren't floor-to-ceiling like the ones in Team 7's studio/apartment, but they were large. The front of the room was completely made up of floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and both sides had hand bars. The floor was a smooth dark brown wood, waxed to perfection and lightly reflecting the incoming light. I spotted what I assumed to be a state-of-the-art music player embedded into a wall by the far left corner, and I immediately started to feel giddy. Oh, this place was fantastic! I couldn't wait to start my lessons!
Neji seemed amused by my enthusiasm. He continued to smirk at me. "This will be our room. Every time you come in for your lessons, it will be here. The dojo is elsewhere." He gestured to the door. "The bathroom and the changing room is the last door down the hall. Right is for ladies, left for men. I shall await here for you while you change. Once you're done, you will start by dancing a song for me so I can asses your abilities. The song and dance style may be completely your choice, so long as the music is bearable and the dance is appropriate. Understood?"
"Yes, Neji-sensei!" I saluted him cheerfully. He sighed, shaking his head as he rolled his eyes.
"I told you 'Neji-san' is fine."
"Yes, Neji-san!" I quickly scampered off to change, eager to get started. I hummed to myself as I entered the ladies' changing room. Neji seemed a bit strict, and a little too formal, but he seemed nice enough. It was also nice to see him showing a bit of emotion. That made me feel more comfortable around him.
I opened my bag and pulled out my dancing clothes. I had some light grey sports leggings that reached my knee, and a slightly baggy, short t-shirt whose neck I had cut so I could breathe a little easier, causing it to occasionally slip slightly off a shoulder. I changed into my clothes and slipped on some dancing socks, which were really a small piece of smooth cloth tied around the balls of my feet. This allowed me to have just the right amount of traction with the floor, so I could slide but not lip, and spin.
Once in my battle gear, I put my clothes – some comfortable stretchy red jeans with a dark blue knitted sweater and dark blue flats – in my bag, and placed it in one of the wood shelves along the wall. I couldn't help but notice that I was the only girl here since there were no other bags or otherwise signs of other dancers. I wondered if that was the case with the guys. Oh well. If they were here, maybe I'd see them, and if not, it didn't really matter. All I wanted was to dance.
I left the girl's changing room and skipped to my assigned studio where Neji was patiently waiting. Just as I was about to reach the door, I heard an unmistakeable voice which made me freeze.
"No, no, no! You are an utter imbecile, yeah! It's step, step, ball change, jump spin and then double snap, yeah, not step snap step ball change, and jazz hands while doing the jump spin!"
"Tobi thinks Tobi's way is better!"
"Tobi, you useless piece of shit, do it fucking right! We have to be fucking synchronized, Jashin damn you!"
"Oh, shut it Hidan. Your voice is annoying."
"What'd you say to me, stitch-face? Fuck you!"
"You too, Pein? Er, I mean, yessir."
"I'm hungry. I didn't get much breakfast back at the hotel, so I'm going out for a bite. Wanna come, Itachi?"
"I'm taking a nap, then. Wake me when you get back."
"Oh, if only my dear cherry blossom was here… How I miss her!"
"Madara, you imbecile, shut up already. We have to focus on our performance."
You. Have. Got. To be kidding me.
I quickly scrambled to open the door to my assigned studio before Kisame and Itachi plus whomever else was coming with them saw me. This really wasn't going as I had hoped, but if I could stay out of the Akatsuki's sight, then I'd be safe from another headache-induced morning.
The door opened easily and I jumped in, closing the door quickly behind me. Neji, who was kneeling on a mat on the front of the room, gave me a curious look as he took in my agitated state, but I ignored him as I only focused on the fact that I had successfully avoided the Akatsuki.
"Met our guest celebrities, I presume?" he asked.
"More like evaded them," I grumbled as I walked towards him. Before he could question what I meant, the door reopened, courtesy of a giant blue-ish hand, and Kisame's familiar blue hair appeared.
"Hey, Neji, me and some of the boys are going… Pinky?"
I wanted to disappear. But of course, that wasn't happening. Curse you, physics!
"Hey, Hoshigaki-san," I tiredly greeted him.
"The bitch is here?"
"Angel-chan! Tobi's so happy to see you!"
"My love! Oh, thank you God, you have answered my prayer!"
And, as one can expect, the ruckus only served to attract the rest of the band members until they were all looking at me incredulously. Having nothing else to do or say, I gave them a weak wave. "Hey."
"I'm pleased to see you here, Haruno-san, but I'm also surprised," Itachi said. "What brings you here?"
Neji, somehow sensing that I wasn't all that comfortable with the situation, stood up to stand beside me and smoothly interjected. "Haruno-san here is my new pupil, Itachi-san."
The Akatsuki members looked more surprised before, one by one, their lips slowly curled into smug grins. All the members turned towards Pein, the same silent questions in their eyes, and he nodded once. I narrowed my eyes at them. What were they up to?
"Neji-san," Pein said, stepping up so he was in front of his band and directly facing me and Neji. "We would like to extend the use of your family's studio services so we may continue to practice here for a little longer."
I gaped at him. Oh no he didn't! That means he and his band would be here practically every time I was here for my classes! Why, those sneaky little…
"As honoured as I am that you seem to favour my family's services, I'm afraid I can't guarantee the extension," Neji replied without batting an eye, although I could tell that he wasn't all that pleased that the band's sudden interest in his studio was brought about because of me. I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
Pein nodded in understanding. "Of course. We understand that you and your family are very busy people since you are the elite. But if it is possible, we would be really grateful."
"Of course," Neji echoed Pein's words with a nod of his own. "I will see what can be done and I will let you know. Now, if you excuse us," he said, placing his hand on my shoulder, "we are about to begin."
"Actually, Neji-san, I would like to suggest something else."
Everyone's attention turned towards the one who had spoken. It was none other than Sasori, still looking somewhere between half-asleep and half-bored if it wasn't for that little grin and mischievous twinkle in his hazel eyes.
"My band and I have been inviting Doll here to watch us perform," he said calmly. "However, she has been unfortunately busy and hasn't been able to. But now that we're all here and the location is more than ideal, I would like to invite no only Doll but you, as well, to watch us perform before you begin your lessons."
"What an excellent idea, Sasori, yeah!" Deidara clapped the red-head on the back.
Neji stared at them for a long time before turning his attention towards me. "Would you like that, Sakura-san?" Oh, hell, here we go again with giving me the last word. And hold up, when did he go from "Haruno-san" to "Sakura-san"?
"Ah…" I smartly replied. Somebody, anybody, please shoot me.
"It's decided, then!" Madara gleefully announced as he cheerfully clapped his hands together, looking every inch the kid in the candy star. "Follow us to our room, that's where we have our stuff. Come along now!" Before either Neji or I could protest, the pervert slithered up beside me, accidentally bumping Neji out of his spot beside me and making him drop his hand from my shoulder. "You're gonna love it, sweetheart!" he promised.
Just as I was getting pulled out the door, I caught Itachi's eye. He smirked at me and mouthed the words the Akatsuki never take no for an answer.
Boy was I finding that out the hard way.