Jiraiya sat on the ground with his back against a large tree. In front of him was an orange frog with blue markings who was about three feet tall.
"That's all we know. Gama-Bunta is worried sick. Please find him," said the frog in a concerned tone.
"I'll do my best, Gama-Ikinone," Jiraiya replied as he clapped a reassuring hand on the frog's shoulder.
"Thank you," replied Gama-Ikinone just before he disappeared.
Jiraiya's face took on a look of grave concentration. "Why the hell would Orochimaru kidnap Gama-Kichi?"
The morning of October tenth...
Sasuke rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he got up to open the door. Who ever it was knocked again. "I'm coming, dammit," he mumbled in irritation. He opened the door to see Sakura standing there. "It's 5am. This better be good," he said as he glared at her.
"I need your help with Naruto's party," Sakura said with a smile.
Sasuke simply shut the door.
Sakura vein popped, opened the door and walked into the house. "You promised you'd help me!"
Sasuke turned around. "You never said anything about doing this so damned early," he replied.
"Sasuke!" Sakura said in annoyance.
Sasuke merely turned around and waved her off. "I'll be there when the party starts," he said as he went into his room and shut the door.
Sakura growled through her teeth and marched back out of the house. As she shut the door a male voice spoke.
Sakura sighed angrily. "No. And I don't dare try to get Hinata. Her dad would kill me for visiting this early." She sighed again and smiled. "I guess it's just us, Lee-kun."
"Don't worry, Sakura-san! I've got enough stuff to decorate your whole house," Lee said as he patted the large cardboard box he was holding.
"The thing is...we're not decorating my house.."
Lee's face twisted into a frown of confusion. "Huh?"
"Tsunade-sama said we could have the party at her house. And her living room is huge."
Lee put a thoughtful finger to his lips for a moment. "If we're decorating Tsunade-sama's house then we are definatly gonna need help."
"But who else is up this early?" Sakura questioned.
Lee snapped his fingers in triumph. "TenTen!"
"Yeah! She gets up at four thirty every morning to train," Lee replied with a grin.
Sakura's eyes widened in surprise. "Four thirty!" she squeeked.
Lee's smile faltered a bit. "Yeah. She's been doing it ever since the Chuunin exam. She's afraid her aim is no longer perfect."
"B...but it was Temari's fan that made her weapons miss," Sakura said in confusion. "And aren't you the one who was training even though you were still in the hospital?" she accused with her hands on her hips.
Lee shook his head. "Training when you have no confidence in yourself is pointless. If you don't believe in yourself then you second guess every action in battle and that can be dangerous."
Sakura's eyes opened wide.
"What if I can't do it?" Sakura asked with a grimace.
Tsunade frowned. "Training without confidence in yourself is pointless. If you are second guessing yourself in battle you will do nothing, but put your teamates in danger."
Sakura shook away her thoughts and smiled with determination. "Well then we'll just have to get her confidence back!"
Lee grinned. "God, I love her," he thought.
As the Sakura and Lee neared TenTen's house they heard the sound of weapons piercing wood. They rounded the corner of the building and entered the backyard.
TenTen was moving with unmatched preciseness as she threw her many weapons at the targets in front of her. Her usually neat buns were begining to fall out of their elastics. Sweat matted her clothes to her body and her face was screwed up in determination.
She skidded to a stop when she sensed someone nearby.
"Yo, TenTen," Lee called.
"Lee-kun! Sakura-san. Why are you two here this early?" TenTen said in between her gasps for air.
Sakura smiled. "We were wondering if you'd like to help us decorate for Naruto's birthday party."
TenTen bite her lower lip. "I dunno. I really need to train."
"Please? Tsunade-sama's house is too big for just me and Lee-kun to decorate.
"It's at Tsunade-sama's house?!" TenTen said excitedly. She walked over to a stump that was a few feet away, picked up the towel that was sitting on it and began to wipe the back of her neck. "I'll be right back,'" she said, still taking her breaths in quick puffs. "Just let me take a quick shower and change." She ran off into her house, leaving Lee and Sakura to wait in the yard.
"Not that I'm complaining, but I wonder why she changed her mind so easily," Sakura mused.
Lee smiled. "She's been waiting for a chance to ask Tsunade-sama to train her."
"Hmm. I wonder if she'd take on a third student." Sakura looked at the watch she had recently started wearing. "I hope she doesn't take long. We only have three hours."
TenTen was back in the yard, wearing her usual outfit in just over ten minutes. "Let's go!" she said to a stunned Sakura and Lee.
"Lee-kun, what are you doing!" Sakura demanded as she rushed over where Lee was trying to hang some streamers on the other side of the living room.
"Huh?" he replied, doing a perfect impression of a deer caught in someone's headlights.
"You can't just hang them straight across the wall like that!" Sakura complained as she took the streamers down and proceeded to instruct Lee on the 'proper' way to hang streamers. "See? You need to twist them first and then make sure you make little loops when you tape them to the wall..."
Lee, who had long since gotten over the shock of Sakura's sudden outbursts, was taking the opportunity to just stare at her. "She's so beautiful." He sighed internally. "I wish there was some way I could turn her heart away from Sasuke," he thought in mild dispair. She began to turn around and so he looked away.
"Got it?" Sakura said with a pleased smile as she turned around. Her smile faltered when she saw that he was looking in the opposite direction. "Lee-kun!" she complained.
"Hai, Sakura-san. I saw what you did. I was just...uh..."
Sakura saw the time on the digital clock behind Lee and gasped. "Oh no! We only have an hour left until Naruto comes back!"
She shoved the rest of the streamers at Lee. "Hurry! Get these up while I frost the cake!" she said as she rushed off to the kitchen.
TenTen pushed the string for hanging the center piece through the hole in the center of her shurken and deftly tossed it toward the ceiling. It landed perfectly centered. TenTen folded her arms and smiled, obviously pleased with herself.
Sakura, however was not pleased. "Geez, TenTen-san. If you put holes in Tsunade-sama's roof I'm the one who's going to get yelled at," she said as she came back from the kitchen.
TenTen simply waved her off. "It's fine, Sakura-san. I made sure it only went in far enough to secure it to the ceiling. It's no worse than a tack," she said with a smile.
Sakura threw up her hands in defeat and walked off to start on the snack table. TenTen laughed and took the opertunity to steal a glance at her crush. She sighed as Lee went about hanging the streamers. "If only he wasn't stuck on Sakura-san," she mused in her mind.
Lee knew TenTen was watching him, but he pretended not to notice. He decided it was best to avoid the subject since he knew he would only ever love Sakura. "I wonder when it went from crush to love? Maybe during the Chuunin exam?" He sighed inwardly. "I may have just liked her in the begining, but now..." He gulped hard and stood. "I have to tell her. Even if she doesn't feel the same. I just won't feel any peace until she knows," he decided. "Gai sensei! I'm going to do it!" he said with conviction. His cheeks reddened when he realized he had said it out loud. Both Sakura and TenTen were staring at him. He immediately sat back down. "Maybe...after the party," he thought with a sigh.
Hinata reached over and smacked the alarm clock. "Ehhhhh! Oh no! It's eight o' clock already!" she exclaimed with wide eyes. She was startled when she heard a knock on the front door. "It's Sakura-chan! I have to get dressed!" she squeeked, whipping open her clothing drawer.
Someone knocked on Hinata's door. "Hinata-sama. Aren't you ready yet? Sakura-san is already here!" said Neji's voice.
"Hai! I'll be right there!"
Sakura looked at her watch again just as Hinata and Neji came into the sitting room. They both bowed. "Our apologies, Sakura-san," Neji said formally.
"I overslept," Hinata added.
Sakura looked incredulous. She pointed at Hinata. "You're not going to wear that are you?"
Hinata looked down at herself. She was wearing her usual outfit. "I...is there something wrong with it?"
"Don't you know anything about boys?" Sakura said in frustration. She grabbed Hinata by the wrist and dragged her back towards her room. "You go on ahead, Neji. We'll be there soon."
As the two girls dissapeared down the hall Neji sighed and rolled his eyes. "Frivolous nonsense..." He left the house and headed for Tsunade's home.
"The fifth and sixth colors have been secured, Orochimaru-sama," Kabuto said respectfully.
"That just leaves the ferret summons," Orochimaru answered. "Once you are through with that, begin stage two."
"Hai, Orochimaru-sama. How do you plan to take him this time? I doubt he'll fall for the same trick twice," Kabuto said, pushing up his glasses with one finger.
"There's no way around it now. We will have to take the more 'direct' approach. Assemble a team. We will attack when he leaves for his next mission," Orochimaru commanded.
"Hai, Orochimaru-sama," Kabuto replied, then vanished.
"Finally, after fourteen years of planning, I will have the ultimate vessel. Ku ku ku..." Orochimaru chuckled with glee.
...TO BE CONTINUED