"If it's illegal to rock and roll, throw my ass in jail."
I: "Strawberry Fields Forever" The Beatles
"And you didn't even ask her what for, yeah?"
Sasori raised his fingers to rub the sides of his forehead to ease his impending headache. Of all annoyance nuisances in his life, it appeared that Deidara was an unfortunate constant that he would never be rid of.
"Why should I if she's just going to tell us when we get there?" Sasori's tone was irritable, and it matched the sour expression on his face.
They were, of course, talking about Konan, who'd sent out a mass text message just moments ago telling everyone in the band that she had an announcement to make when they got back to the studio. As Sasori was the manager of Akatsuki, the hugely popular rock band, he was included in that list.
He and Deidara were walking down the aisles of a popular costume store. There were various colored accessories on either side of them. Scarves, hats, glasses, obnoxious jewelry—even fake piercings. It was fairly common in their business for these items to get ripped or broken or even lost, and they usually had to be replaced fairly often.
Deidara had decided that he didn't have anything better to do and went along with Sasori to the large store. It wasn't remotely how Sasori planned on spending his day, but if he didn't get to it, then no one would. He would forever be cursed with being one of the only responsible people involved with Akatsuki.
It had also been a monstrous pain in his neck to convince the financial manager, Kakuzu, to part with the funds for Akatsuki's wardrobe, so Sasori had little choice in the matter. He had to go or he wouldn't get another chance.
"Ooo, look at this one, Danna… yeah," said Deidara. The blonde beside him was waving frantically and pointing at a blue bandanna with white birds printed on the fabric. "That blue matches my eyes! Maybe I should start wearing a bandanna. Can that be my new thing?"
Sasori's reply was droll. "The mouths on your hands aren't enough?"
He was referring to the mouth tattoos Deidara got on both of his palms. They were smiling with their tongues sticking out, and whenever he finished a guitar solo, Deidara stuck out his tongue and held up his hands on stage. As much as Sasori thought it was stupid as fuck, the fans seemed to love it.
"Maybe I could wear it like a headband, yeah?" Deidara asked. He rolled the blue bandanna and tied it around his forehead. His long blonde hair still came down the side and covered one of his eyes. The rest was pulled back into a high ponytail.
Sasori didn't think the headband was an improvement in the slightest. "You still look like an idiot."
"Aw, come on, yeah!" said Deidara. "I think it looks artistic! Maybe I can tie it around my head and set off another explosion on stage—"
"Not on your life," Sasori interrupted. He cut that off before Deidara could even finish the sentence.
Deidara made a whining noise. "But it's rock and roll," he protested. "There's s'posed to be explosions! The fans appreciate my art!"
"Those ridiculous pyrotechnics of yours are not art, Deidara."
Whatever Deidara would have replied with was cut off when the two of them suddenly heard a voice in the next aisle over. They both froze their actions immediately and grew very still, listening.
It sounded like a girl, and she was singing. She was singing along to some Beatles song that was playing through the costume store's speakers. While that would have normally been incredibly annoying, she was actually singing surprisingly well.
Sasori sidestepped Deidara and walked down to the end of the accessory aisle. Deidara hurried after him, and the two rounded the corner at the same time.
Sure enough, the singer was a girl who just had to be an employee. She was dressed in one of the many costumes sold at the store and had a nametag that said Hello, my name is Sakura. Her outfit was an absurdly revealing red fairy costume that showed her midriff, some cleavage, and a lot of leg. The most ridiculous part about her, though, was her bubblegum pink hair. The pink dye was apparently so well maintained that she didn't have any roots showing.
Sasori barely registered her appearance. What he heard was her voice. It was some bullshit song about Strawberry Fields Forever or something—the knowledge Sasori had about The Beatles could probably fit into a strawberry, it was so tiny—but she sang in a different key from John Lennon, and it sounded amazing.
"Whoa, Sasori, ease up, yeah," said Deidara. "You look like a fucking dingo stalking a human baby."
Deidara's voice alerted Sakura to their presence, for she jumped, startled, and stared at them with wide, sea foam green eyes.
Sakura had no idea that those two men were in the next aisle over. She had simply been minding her own business and hanging up costumes of wild varieties and sizes. And, since she thought she was alone, she decided to sing along to the radio playing through the store's speakers. It was harmless enough… until they heard her.
"Uh… can I help you guys find anything today?" she hesitantly asked.
One of them was a tall man with long blonde hair. He had a ridiculous blue headband tied around his forehead with a white bird pattern. The color brought out his blue eyes, but he still looked silly. He was wearing a pair of tight black leather pants of all things and a shirt made entirely of fishnet. Then again, weird clothes weren't too uncommon for her, working in a costume store, but still.
The other was a little shorter with a mess of unruly red hair and brownish-amber eyes. He was dressed in a pristine black suit, unlike his gothic-looking friend (or lover; you never know these days, and Sakura wasn't going to assume). What really threw Sakura was the look the redhead was giving her. To say she was creeped out was a bit of an understatement. The look wasn't quite child molester, but it was definitely some sort of odd combination of she-looks-good-enough-to-eat and avid-collector-finds-rare-must-have-item.
"I believe I've already found it," he said. In a matter of seconds, he had a wallet in one hand and a business card in the other. "Akasuna no Sasori—Red Cloud Recordings. Do you have a manager?"
Sakura accepted the business card with a dumbfounded expression. It was black with red letters. The back had a picture of a red cloud with a white outline.
"You mean like, my store manager?" she asked.
The corner of Sasori's lips twitched upward in amusement. "Have you ever been scouted by a talent agent before?"
Her green eyes widened. "Um, no."
The blonde beside Sasori (or Akasuna or whatever his name actually was) laughed and put a hand on Sasori's shoulder, though the gesture was obviously unwelcome. "She's pretty cute, eh, Sasori? I don't think Akatsuki needs any new members, though."
Sasori brushed the blonde's hand off his shoulder and said, "Maybe I'll replace you."
"Akatsuki?" Sakura asked. She looked down at the business card again and saw the red cloud. "You mean… you're part of Akatsuki? Like, the rock band?"
A wry grin spread over both Sasori and Deidara's face at the same time.
"Hi," said the blonde, holding out his hand. "I'm Deidara."
Sakura saw the mouth tattoo on his palm and hesitantly reached out to shake his hand. "That's nice. Listen uh, it was really cool meeting you, but—"
"Hey, hold on, yeah!" said Deidara. "Aren't you interested in a possible job?"
"Um… if you're some kind of talent scout for Akatsuki or heavy metal or whatever, then I'm really flattered, but I'm not interested." She self-consciously fiddled with the fabric of her fairy skirt as she continued. "I'm in university right now, and this is just a job to pay rent. I don't have time to go into music."
Sasori looked unconvinced. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Miss…?"
"Oh, uh, Haruno."
"…Miss Haruno," he continued with perfected ease. "I know talent when I see it. You could go far, and you won't need a college degree to do it."
Sakura looked at him with an embarrassed smile. "Yes, well, that's very generous, but I'm not really into music. I mean, I love music, but my true passion is healing. I'm studying to be a doctor. I can't be a doctor if I drop out of university to join a rock band, you know?"
Sasori raised an eyebrow. He instinctively slapped his hand over Deidara's mouth to muffle anything the blonde would have said, all the while looking at Sakura with what she dared to call curiosity. "That's a shame. Still… hold onto that card, and if you change your mind, give me a call. Any time of day."
"Uh, sure," said Sakura. She slipped the business card into the elastic band of her fairy skirt. "Thanks."
"It was a pleasure meeting you, Miss Haruno."
II: "Sweet Child o' Mine" Guns n' Roses
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU'RE LEAVING, YEAH?"
Konan reached up her hand and pressed it against the front of Deidara's face, forcibly pushing him back. Her brief moment of irritation was quickly replaced with an understanding fondness. "I'm sorry, Dei," she said. "But the test was positive. I can't be in a rock band if I'm going to have a baby."
They were in the usual warehouse they used for practice because it was a great place to remain anonymous. Akatsuki had become so famous in recent times that off-tour band practice required such measures. Of course, it had the appearance of a regular old warehouse, full of wooden crates and un-swept cobwebs. But it was no trouble for them to haul their equipment from their bus and use the well-concealed power strips and lighting.
Konan and Deidara were standing in the middle of the huge warehouse. Hidan was sitting at his drum set twirling his sticks between his long fingers with a visible vein popping in his forehead. Bass guitarist Itachi Uchiha stood nearby, calmly tuning his guitar but still listening to the conversation. Pein, the lead singers and backup guitar, was sitting on one of the sealed crates with a suspicious grin on his face.
The only two that were in the warehouse who weren't members of the band were Sasori and Kakuzu. Kakuzu was the financial manager, and as was to be expected, he stood to the side with a sour expression on his face, no doubt displeased by the potential financial crisis losing a band member could cause. Sasori leaned against a stack of three crates, his lips set in a thin line at the setback.
"A baby, yeah?" Deidara asked. His blue eyes were wide, and the idiot was still wearing that stupid blue bandanna with the white bird print like a headband. He didn't know much about pregnancy tests, but he knew enough to get the gist of how they worked. "Are you sure you peed on that stick right?"
Konan shot Deidara a bemused stare. "How many ways are there to do that?"
Deidara looked flabbergasted, but his sputtering wasn't much of an answer to Konan's rhetorical question.
"Fuck's sake," said Hidan. He raised a hand over his slicked black silver hair in a frustrated gesture. He wasn't wearing a shirt, but his legs were covered with a pair of dark track pants. "We've already written eight god damn songs for the new album. What're we supposed to do now?"
"We'll have to find another member," said Pein. He was the leader of the group, the glue that held everyone together.
Deidara nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I guess. Are you sure you're okay with that though?" He addressed that question to Konan.
She reached up a finger to twirl around a lock of her dark blue hair. Her amber-colored eyes had a gleam to them that matched her whimsical smile. "Yeah, I am. I mean, this band is my life, but Pein and I have been married for over a year now, you know? I'm kinda excited about this kid." There was no visible baby bump, of course, but she reached up and held her free hand to her stomach anyway, as if she could imagine it.
The grin on Pein's face widened. He was pretty excited, too.
Deidara slumped onto the floor and crossed his legs in a seated position. His electric guitar rested across his lap with the guitar strap hanging loosely over his neck. "That's crazy. You're having a baby… yeah."
Kakuzu spoke next, his voice considerably irritable. "I think you all are forgetting the potential scandal this could cause."
"What's your problem?" Deidara asked.
"Kakuzu has a point," said Sasori. His tone was clipped and businesslike as his hazel eyes drifted over each band member. "The band is popular. Fans become loyal to certain members. This will likely be very bad for us."
"Sales will go down," Kakuzu agreed.
"We'll just have to make sure the new girl is extraordinary," Pein said. "Exceptional keyboarding skills, and she'll have to be able to hit the notes that Konan can. We can hold an audition."
"That will cost time and resources that we don't have," said Kakuzu. "And the publicity alone for such an event could be catastrophic. The fans will lose faith in Akatsuki."
"Like we have a fuckin' choice," Hidan grumbled.
For the first time that day, Itachi spoke up. "We might not need to." He was level-headed and responsible—a good choice as a mediator for the band. "I know someone who would be suitable for the role."
Pein's eyebrows rose. "Friend of yours?"
A small smirk crossed Itachi's lips. "Yes. My younger brother's girlfriend."
"Oh no," said Hidan, wanting to shut that down immediately. "We're not hiring this girl just because Uchiha knows her. She could be a fucking floozy. How do we know she's any good? I say go with the audition."
Kakuzu glared at Hidan. "We are not spending the money on an event like that if we can recruit someone for free."
"You're such a miser, Kakuzu," Hidan complained. "Blaspheming shithead."
"Enough," Pein said loudly.
Konan spoke in a rational voice. "Itachi wouldn't recommend someone if they weren't worth his time." She switched her amber eyes to Itachi. "When can we meet her?"
"I don't have her phone number," Itachi confessed. "But she'll be at the Uchiha party this Saturday."
Uchiha was a big name for an old family. They went with only the best of circles. Itachi was the eldest son of the head of the household, and while his participation in Akatsuki was a source of controversy with the posh and proper family, he still made appearances at gatherings. They were still his family, even if he was the black sheep of the lot.
This weekend, they were throwing a party at the main house.
"Fuck that," said Hidan. "I'm not going to that shit. Bunch of high and mighty assholes looking down at me. Like I need that."
"Yeah, I'm out," said Deidara. "I hate stuffy parties… yeah." He also hated anything and everything Uchiha, but he wasn't going to say that to Itachi's face. Especially since, not that he would ever admit it, Itachi was the one Uchiha who didn't always get on his nerves.
It was their smug superiority that always managed to piss Deidara off.
"I planned on going with you anyway," said Pein. "Konan and I are Naruto's guests."
Pein and Naruto were distantly related, though it was anyone's guess how. Someone on the Uzumaki side. Despite the vast pool of differences between them, the two got along surprisingly well.
"I'll go," said Sasori. He wasn't planning on it, but it made sense. He was the band manager, so if there was going to be a new addition, he needed to meet her first. That, and his family was an old and powerful one, too, which warranted him an invitation (which he'd thrown in the trash, but that was neither here nor there).
"It's settled, then," said Konan. "We'll meet her Saturday."
III: "Hate My Life" Theory of a Deadman
The party at the Uchiha estate was everything Sasori knew it would be. Everyone was dressed formally with glasses of champagne and expensive wine. Some classical music played through various speakers, but it was on a very low volume and obviously only being played for background noise.
Sasori had the misfortune of encountering his grandmother, Chiyo, at the party. "Oh, my adorable grandson! Why aren't you married yet?"
It had taken a full half an hour just to lose the woman in the crowd, and Sasori made sure to stay in the background after that just in case she spotted him again. Even though Sasori was head of the household after his father's unfortunate death, Chiyo still got invited to these parties, and the senile old bag just loved to make appearances to remind people she wasn't dead yet.
"You look like you're trying to go unnoticed."
Sasori glanced to the side and saw Konan beside him with a glass of lemonade in her hand. Of course—pregnant women couldn't drink. Konan's blue hair was pinned up in an elaborate bun with a white origami flower. She was wearing a beautiful deep blue halter dress that showed off her curves.
He always got along with Konan, which was rare because Sasori usually didn't bother with women. They tended to overcomplicate things with their excess emotions and pointless actions. Konan was calm, level-headed, and mature with an elegance about her that Sasori found surprisingly artistic. Her sense of humor was about as dry as a martini, but Sasori found that amusing, too.
"My grandmother is here," Sasori said.
Understanding spread over Konan's face. "Ah." A moment passed before she said, "Itachi is bringing the girl over here. Pein's getting another drink."
"Are you all right?"
Konan nodded to him. "I wasn't planning a baby, but I am excited for it. I think Pein is, too."
"I meant with being replaced."
She raised an eyebrow and smiled rather coyly at him. "Why, Sasori, it almost sounds like you care."
Sasori scowled, and he busied himself by taking a generous drink from his champagne glass.
Konan bit her lip to keep from giggling at him. He would never admit to liking her or caring, she knew, but Konan was aware that there was a teeny, tiny soft spot in Sasori's cold, black heart. She liked to think it was big enough for her, Deidara (though Sasori would never, ever, in a million years ever, admit that), and one more person. If she could just get him to pick a girl and settle down…
Sasori's eyes caught a familiar flash of pink, and he switched his gaze from Konan to a girl who danced right past the two of them with a young man who was probably her boyfriend. Sasori recognized her right away. It was Sakura, the pink-haired girl from the costume store. This time, she wasn't in some ridiculous fairy costume. She was dressed in a silky red gown with long white gloves and delicate high heels. Her pink hair was pinned up and curled at the loose ends that framed her face.
It was such a rare occurrence that Sasori stared at anything that he didn't actually realize he was doing it until Konan mentioned it.
"She's cute, isn't she?" Konan asked, tilting her wine glass up to gesture to Sakura. "I like her hair."
Sasori was too clever to fall for Konan's scheme. He stopped staring and asked, "Who?"
A smirk crossed Konan's lips, and she gave Sasori a look that said she wasn't buying it. "The pink-haired girl you were just staring at for over a minute."
It was not over a minute. It was more like… thirty seconds. Give or take.
Sasori didn't have to think of a response, though. Pein arrived and offered Konan another glass of lemonade to replace the one she'd just finished. He had a glass of his own; it looked like the same champagne Sasori was drinking.
It was a rare thing to see Pein in a suit. He raised the hand that wasn't holding his champagne glass to adjust the tie around his neck with a bored expression on his face. Pein's bright orange hair was done up in messy spikes, as usual. The myriad of piercings on his face were probably a bright, shining reason why everyone at the party was doing their best to avoid him.
Sasori found himself slightly envious of that luxury, but not enough to go fill his face full of metal ornaments.
"There's Itachi," said Pein.
Sasori followed his gaze and saw Itachi a mild distance away. He was politely cutting in on the dance between Sakura and her boyfriend. The resemblance between Itachi and the younger man was undeniable. Uchihas were pretty easy to spot, though, with their onyx eyes and unruly black hair.
When Itachi placed his hand on Sakura's arm, she laughed and made a show of saying, "Unhand me, villain!"
While they were too far away to hear any other details of the conversation, Itachi was displaying a rare smile, something that Sasori couldn't recall seeing on his face before that moment. And then, Itachi and Sakura linked arms and stepped away from the young man who just had to be Itachi's younger brother. His fuming face was rather priceless, but Sakura looked happy.
Wait a minute… if Itachi was bringing her, didn't that mean…
"Sakura, I'd like you to meet some friends of mine," said Itachi. "This is Pein and Konan and—"
"Oh!" Sakura interrupted when she and Sasori's eyes met. "I remember you from the other day! You're—err—Sasori, right? The talent scout?"
Sasori frowned. "I'm not actually a—"
"You've already met?" Konan asked. The grin on her face was absolutely devious. Whatever she was thinking, Sasori wanted to shut it down now.
He didn't get the chance.
"That's right," Sakura said with a smile. "I think the other guy's name was Deidara? They came in my shop a few days ago."
Pein's gray eyes swept over Sakura quickly. He looked skeptical when he turned to Itachi. "She's the girl?"
Itachi nodded. "This is Sakura Haruno, my brother Sasuke's girlfriend. She is a very talented musician."
Confusion spread over Sakura's face. "Eh? What's this about, Itachi?"
Konan smiled at her. "We're in the band Akatsuki, and we're looking for a replacement member. Someone who knows her way around a keyboard and can sing. Itachi recommended you."
"Oh," said Sakura. She looked a little awkward. "Well, uh, I am, I guess, but I'm also a full time med student at U of K." The University of Konoha was local and had the best medical program in the country. "And I have to work part time at the costume store to help pay what my scholarship didn't. So, I'm sorry, but I don't really have the time for another job right now."
"That's very respectable, Sakura," Itachi began, "but this is a rare opportunity. Akatsuki is a very popular band, and—"
"And it would take up more time than I have to give," Sakura said, though she did look apologetic. "I'm so sorry, Itachi; you know I'd help you if I could. But I have my degree to think about."
Konan sighed, "Ah, well. I can't fault you for that. It was nice meeting you, Sakura."
Sakura smiled at her. "Yeah, you too." She glanced over her shoulder with a frown. "Listen, uh, I better go back to Sasuke. You know how he gets… Sorry, Itachi."
"That's all right," Itachi said. "I'll talk to you later, Sakura."
When Sakura was gone, Pein shot Itachi a bored look and said, "Well that was disappointing."
Itachi's dark eyes lingered to where Sakura was standing with Sasuke. The two appeared to be in a heated discussion, and Sakura was gesturing wildly toward Itachi and their friends. The animosity between Itachi and his brother was no secret, and it seemed Sakura was paying the price for taking time to speak with Itachi.
"I wouldn't say that," Itachi commented. "Tonight doesn't seem to be a good night. She will think about this, though. We should approach her again."
"Are you sure?" Konan asked. "We can always convince Kakuzu to hold an audition."
"We didn't have much time to give Haruno a very convincing argument," said Sasori. He was still watching Sakura argue with her boyfriend. "You could always tell her the money she'd be making as part of Akatsuki would cover her university tuition."
"That's a great idea, Sasori," Konan said with what could only be a mischievous smile. "But Itachi said tonight wasn't a good night, and he doesn't have her phone number. Say, you know where she works. Why don't you talk to her Monday?"
IV: "Gone Forever" Three Days Grace
When Sasuke pulled Sakura into the corner of the ballroom separate from the rest of the party, Sakura knew that there was more to his temper tantrum than met the eye. Of course, he always hated his brother (for reasons Sakura could not fathom, as Itachi had always been nothing if not nice and polite to her), and therefore liked to put limits on whether or not Sakura could be around Itachi at any given time.
"I specifically told you to stay away from him," said Sasuke. He loosened the tie on his fancy suit with a frustrated tug. His eyes were dark with seething vengeance.
"Oh please," Sakura said with a soft sigh. "Itachi just wanted me to meet his friends."
"Why? He's not your friend."
"I happen to like Itachi just fine, Sasuke," she told him. "I don't see what your problem with him is."
Sasuke glowered at her. "He is against everything the Uchiha family stands for! He—" he broke off and looked away in his anger. When he switched his gaze back to her, he had regained his composure. "It's none of your business. But when I tell you to stay away from him, I expect you to do as I say."
Sakura narrowed her eyes. All previous amusement from before had faded. "I'm not your possession, Sasuke. You can't order me around like one of your lackeys."
She could think of much more colorful names for Juugo, Karin, and Suigetsu, the three assholes that Sasuke had replaced Sakura and Naruto with, but she refrained out of a desire to remain civil.
"You're so annoying," Sasuke said irritably.
Sakura's hands clenched into fists. It was an old insult, one from their childhood, and it never sat well with her. Sasuke knew this, and Sakura knew he deliberately used it.
"You're drunk," she said.
"I am not," he snapped.
Sakura tried to take a calming breath. She didn't need to lose her temper and cause a scene, especially at Sasuke's family's party. "Are you trying to push me away? You already shoved Naruto aside. Will you do the same to me? Are we so easily replaceable to you?"
Sasuke's glare was usually enough to silence Sakura on most days, but not today. Maybe the glass of rosé wine earlier had been a bit of liquid courage, or maybe she'd simply had enough, she couldn't say.
"What happened to the boy I fell in love with?" she asked. "Because you haven't been him for a long, long time."
"People change," Sasuke said. "It's about time you got with the program. Naruto is a useless idiot and even he gets it now. What do you think that says about you?"
That was the last insult Sakura could take. She pulled back her hand and slapped Sasuke right across his face. The deafening crack! that followed resonated through the ballroom, somehow drawing the attention of most of the partygoers to their previously private corner. One of those guests was Naruto—she recognized his blonde head and bright blue eyes immediately. He was standing on the other side of the room with his mother and father, more illustrious guests the Uchihas had invited.
Tears formed in Sakura's eyes, but they didn't fall. She told herself that her eyes were watering from her frustration. When she spoke, her voice was low and hollow. "Well," she said, "I'm with the program now. And I won't chase after you this time."
Naruto made a bee-line in her direction, waving his fists and shouting some angry threats at Sasuke that Sakura was too distraught to hear. He turned to Sakura, took one look at her face, and the rage in Naruto's expression softened. He put his hand on her shoulder and said, "C'mon, Sakura; let's go home."
"Well that was quite a spectacle," Pein said. He raised his glass to his lips and took a drink.
Itachi watched his brother for a moment, but when Sasuke stormed off angrily, the older brother switched his gaze to Sasori. "And that is why tonight wasn't the best night to ask Sakura to join us."
Sasori's reply was a short, "I see."
Pein still couldn't seem to wrap his mind around it. Sasuke had just thrown that away? "He is into women, right? I mean, is he into anything?"
"Of course," Itachi replied smoothly. "As if my little brother could get away with having porn and not letting me see it."
The calm, collected way that Itachi spoke those words was so suave that Pein, Konan, and Sasori all somehow managed to choke a little bit on their drinks. If he didn't have such a straight face all the time, Sasori would swear that Itachi was fucking with them.
The slightest of smirks adorned Itachi's face. "Was it something I said?"
"Aw, Sakura," Naruto began, "you know I hate seeing you upset."
"I'm not upset," Sakura said. She buckled her seatbelt. "I'm Pissed. Off."
"Sasuke-bastard-face doesn't know what he's missing," Naruto told her. He put his keys in the ignition of his car, but he didn't start it. Instead, he turned to face Sakura with one of his cheeky grins. "You can do way better than him. Like me, for example!"
Sakura finally cracked a smile. She playfully punched Naruto in the shoulder, and Naruto had to go to extreme lengths to pretend that it didn't actually hurt. "Don't joke, Naruto. You're like my brother."
He tried to laugh through his pain while he rubbed his shoulder. "Yeah, yeah. I know you've got that weird badboy complex."
"I do not!"
Naruto drove Sakura home with more playful banter. Sakura really appreciated it. He was her oldest friend (apart from Ino, but Ino hadn't been at the Uchiha party), and Naruto always knew what to say to cheer Sakura up. She was able to forget about what was probably the biggest breakup of her life, if only for a short time. He dropped her off and kissed her on the cheek, but then even Naruto drove away.
Sakura went through all the motions of a proper breakup. She made herself a bowl of vanilla ice cream and covered it in chocolate syrup and whipped cream. She ate it while she watched an episode of Oprah and then turned on her stereo to the angriest breakup music she could find.
It was Three Days Grace's Gone Forever. Sakura used her hairbrush as a microphone and sang along. It was heavy and angry, and for that short moment in time, it consumed her and drove her past her grief. But it was still only a song.
That night, when Sakura laid down in her bed and the weight of being truly alone hit her heavily, she cried herself to sleep.
V: "Lola Montez" Volbeat
Needless to say, when Deidara heard what had happened at the Uchiha party, it was all he could talk about. He and Sasori were walking down Main Street in the direction of the costume store where Sakura worked, and the blonde was going on and on with enthusiastic gestures and a wide grin.
"I can just picture it, yeah!" Deidara practically gushed. "I hope it left him with an ugly black eye! Punk-ass Uchiha!"
Sasori really had no idea how he got himself into these situations. It was probably from associating himself with a group like Akatsuki, but they were his source of income and his, though he hesitated to use the word, friends. Still, all the amount of money in the world could not have prepared him for walking into that costume shop the following Monday and seeing Sakura.
Wearing a naughty schoolgirl costume.
No, really. She was dressed, head to toe, in a school uniform complete with a short plaid skirt and knee-high socks. Her hair was pulled back into little pink pigtails.
They met each other's gazes, and their eyes widened into mirrored, open-mouthed looks of shock.
"Holy shit, yeah!" Deidara exclaimed. "Lola Montez in the flesh." He whipped out his cellular phone and started searching for something on YouTube.
Sakura raised her hands to cover her face. "I thought I already told you guys no!" Judging by her tone and the fact that her face was pink with blush, she was highly embarrassed.
Sasori attempted to cover his shock with a blank expression, something he was usually quite good at, but it was proving extremely difficult. He tried to formulate some quick response in his mind, but Sakura's outfit was giving him an excellent view of her legs. It somehow robbed him of his ability to speak.
Instead, the very elegant response he came up with was, "I—err…"
Mortified, Sakura crossed her arms over her chest defensively and looked away. "It's just a costume! I like to dress up at work, okay? I thought it was cute."
Cute. That was a word. Right.
Sasori cleared his throat, hoping to get away from the subject of Sakura's naughty costume. "Actually, Miss Haruno—"
"Just Sakura is fine," she said, which surprised him. When she saw his expression, she clarified. "You're Itachi's friends, aren't you? You can just call me Sakura."
"Sakura," he said experimentally, mostly just to appease her. "I believe you said you were a med school student, is that right? I want you to know that you would be free to pursue your degree even as a member of Akatsuki. I'm sure you have plenty of connections with the Uchiha family, so the money isn't an issue for you, however—"
"Whoa, stop right there," Sakura said. She lowered her hands, and her previous embarrassment was completely covered up by a sudden anger. "Uchiha connections? That has nothing to do with my medical degree. Sasuke wasn't paying for any of it. Even if he offered, I would tell him no. That's the whole reason I'm working this part time job is so I can pay the leftover tuition."
Sasori's surprise showed on his face. His impressions of Sakura seemed to vary by the day. The first day, he'd heard her sing and been impressed. Then, at the party, he saw her with Sasuke Uchiha and supposed she was just another girl trying to get in on the Uchiha name. Now, he was thrown for another surprise when she made it apparent she was actually a self-sustaining, independent woman.
Music suddenly began playing from Deidara's phone. He'd looked up a video that played Volbeat's Lola Montez and turned his volume all the way up. He began jamming on an air guitar, seemingly oblivious to the atmosphere around him.
Sakura made an indignant huff and moved to walk past them. Sasori quickly reached out and took hold of her upper arm to stop her. "Wait… I apologize for offending you. If you really are paying for everything yourself, then that's… respectable. Commendable, even."
Sakura frowned, looking at him with a closed-off expression. "I already told you, I—"
"Listen," he said. "I realize your degree is important to you. That type of education doesn't come cheap, right? Can you honestly tell me this part time job is making enough to cover your expenses?"
The way she hesitated and averted her gaze to the side told him everything he needed to know.
Sasori loosened his grip on her arm so that it was more of a simple touch. "You'll get an advance on your pay if you join Akatsuki. This is a platinum-selling rock band, Sakura. You will make more than enough money with us to cover your tuition and then some."
Her eyebrows rose, and she looked to be considering it.
Sasori couldn't help but smirk. He had her.
"How much money are we talking about exactly?" said Sakura. "Because my tuition is like, 15,000 a year after scholarships and grants."
"You will make more than that." Sasori watched her for a moment. He was struck with the memory of her singing along to the Beatles song the other day. "And… you'll get to do something you love."
"What makes you think I love music?"
"People don't look as happy as you did doing something they don't love."
"…You make a very convincing case."
Deidara was was grinning widely because he knew that they had her in the palm of their hands at last. "This is great… yeah!"
"Come to Warehouse 9 on 11th tonight after you get off work," Sasori told her, speaking loudly over Deidara's stupid rock song and his exclamation. "The band will be practicing there."
"A warehouse, huh?" said Sakura. "Cause that's not creepy at all."
"Hiding in plain sight," Sasori told her. His brown eyes were alight with amusement.
Deidara started singing along to the Volbeat song on his phone.
Sakura pointed at him with her thumb while looking at Sasori. "He's not the lead singer, is he?"
VI: "Amaranth" Nightwish
Sakura spent the rest of her shift at work debating Sasori's offer. She had to admit that it was tempting, but she never pictured herself in a rock band of all things. Of course, he was right when he said it was a once in a lifetime offer. The world was full of middle-aged men who never got over their teenage dream of being rock stars.
And Akatsuki, well, they were one of the greatest in the world. She did some research on her phone during her fifteen minute break and listened to some of their music. She'd listened to them before, but not enough to consider herself a huge fan. Still, she had to admit they had a pretty great sound.
After work, she got a surprise call from her mother. "Sakura!" cried her mother's voice. "Why did I have to hear from Kushina Namikaze that you slapped Sasuke at his party? What were you thinking?"
Sakura groaned loudly as she walked down 11th Street in search of Warehouse No. 9. "I don't want to talk about it! At least not to you." The second part was muttered under her breath, but her mother had still heard it.
"Sakura! I'm your mom. Who can you tell if not me?"
"I don't know? Naruto," Sakura said, gesturing around her as she spouted names. "Dad. That tree over there."
"Darling, you need to apologize to Sasuke right away, or your relationship will be—"
Sakura hung up. For extra measure, she put her phone on silent mode. Just ahead was Warehouse 9, and it looked every bit as abandoned as Sakura had expected it to be. She would have turned around and run away if she didn't see a band member standing outside smoking a cigarette. She recognized him as Hidan, the band's drummer. She was suddenly very grateful she'd looked the band up on her way here so she could recognize the members.
He was fairly tall with slicked back silver hair and vibrant magenta eyes. They certainly didn't look like contacts, but Sakura wasn't going to touch that conversation topic with a ten foot pole. The man was only wearing a pair of black, tight-fitted leather pants and some black shoes. He also had a long silver necklace with a circular symbol with a triangle inside—a rosary. His bare chest was more finely chiseled than Michelangelo's David.
Hidan looked at her, his gaze roaming over her body much like hers had just done to him, before he finally settled on her face. He lowered the cigarette from his lips and asked, "You the bitch whose pimphand is guided by Jashin himself?"
Sakura's curious stare turned incredulous. "Excuse me?"
"I heard you bitch-slapped Sasuke Uchiha so hard he started bleeding." Despite his word choice, Hidan both sounded and looked impressed. "Fucking beautiful. Wish I'd seen it."
Sakura tried not to bristle at his words. "Yeah, well, he deserved it."
"'Course he did," said the drummer. "He's a fucking Uchiha." Hidan's magenta-colored eyes roamed over her again, and a smirk spread over his face. "You don't look like much, Pinky. But come inside; let's see what you've got."
While she wasn't too impressed with Hidan's choice of nicknames, Sakura's immediate thoughts became apprehensive. Hidan slid up the massive garage door entrance to the warehouse and held it up so that Sakura could duck underneath.
It looked like the band was still setting up. Sakura recognized the blue-haired woman, Konan, from the Uchiha party. She was sitting on a turned over wooden crate with her legs dangling off the edge. She had a playful smile on her face, and her blue hair was pinned up with an elaborate white flower which, on closer inspection, turned out to be made of paper.
Standing near Konan was Pein. His orange hair was a mess of spikes, but his most outstanding feature were all the piercings on his face (and probably elsewhere that she couldn't see). Two snakebites in his lower lip, three studs on each side of his nose, and a bunch of others in his ear. He was running a microphone check and didn't so much as glance at Sakura and Hidan when they walked in.
She also recognized Deidara, the blonde who'd come into the costume store with Sasori. He appeared to be tuning his electric guitar, but Sakura knew next to nothing about guitars. The only other person in the warehouse was Sasori, and since he was the band manager (and the only one she'd spoken more than a couple words to), Sakura approached him first.
"Hi, Mister… Akasuna…?" she trailed off, hoping he would supply the preferred name for her.
Sasori's honey-colored eyes shifted from Hidan to Sakura in half a second. "Sasori." Just like with Hidan, Sasori's eyes roamed over Sakura's body. Despite his examination being much more brief, Sakura felt doubly scrutinized by his keen gaze.
Hidan left the two of them alone and went straight for his drum set.
There was something unique about Sasori and the way his presence commanded the attention of those around him. He was quiet and calculating, always seeming to be three steps ahead of everyone else. He had this way of looking at Sakura that made her feel as if he could see straight through all her mental defenses and know exactly what she was thinking at any given time.
The silence between them was brief, but it felt like it stretched for ages under his intense stare. Finally, the corner of his mouth twitched upwards in what might have been a quick smile, and he said, "I look forward to hearing you sing again, Sakura."
A light blush dusted Sakura's cheeks, and she quickly turned her head away from him so that he wouldn't see. It was a relief when the warehouse door opened again and Itachi Uchiha entered. He was the last one to arrive, and Sakura was very happy to see a more familiar face.
"Hi, Itachi," she greeted.
He offered her a small smile and a polite nod. "Hello, Sakura. I see Sasori was able to convince you to join us today. I'm glad."
Sakura's smile was a little forced. "Ah, yeah, well… he can be very… persuasive."
Itachi's face lit up in rare amusement as Sasori raised a single eyebrow. Itachi spared Sasori a quick glance before switching his dark eyes back to Sakura. "Indeed. Well then, are you ready to show them what you can do?"
Sakura swallowed the lump in her throat. She couldn't be nervous. This would help her pay for her medical degree. It was important that she didn't mess up the opportunity.
Plus, the look on Sasuke's face when she told him she joined his brother's rock band would probably be pretty fucking priceless.
"I'm ready," she said, alive with newfound determination.
"The microphone is all set for you," said Pein. "Itachi says you work pretty well with Nightwish. Would that be Anette or Tarja?"
"Anette, but I liked Tarja, too," Sakura replied. She had more experience singing along with Anette than she did Tarja, the old lead singer of Nightwish. "Do you guys know Amaranth?"
Pein grinned at her. "Of course. Can you play and sing?"
Sakura nodded. She looked around until she spotted a keyboard. "Just, um, give me a sec to remember it." She walked over to the keyboard and saw that it was already plugged in and turned on. She pressed a finger to the middle-C key and heard the piano tone. Satisfied, she tried to remember the intro to Amaranth. It took somewhere between forty-five seconds to a minute and a half, but she had it.
Hidan took that as his signal. He raised his drumsticks over his head and said, "All right, on four, assholes—one, two, three, four!"
Sakura began playing the intro to the song, and when it finished, Itachi and Deidara began playing their guitars, bass and lead, respectively. Sakura played along and readied her voice, and on Hidan's drum signal, she started to sing.
Sasori had been so enraptured by Sakura's voice that he hadn't even noticed Konan was now standing next to him. "That's pretty fucking impressive," she said, raising her voice so Sasori would hear her over the music. "And you found her in a costume store?"
Sasori wasn't really sure how to answer that, because he couldn't fully wrap his mind around it, either. "She was singing along to The Beatles."
Konan's interest was piqued. "Abbey Road?"
Hell if he knew. "Something about strawberries."
"Magical Mystery Tour," Konan supplied. She sounded impressed. "Girl's got class."
Her voice was a work of art. It was eternal beauty personified in sound. No matter how hard she strained it or how high or low she sang, Sakura sounded phenomenal. That same desire that he felt when he first heard her sing rose up within Sasori ten-fold.
He wanted her.
If only he could pull out that voice and lock it in a box with the rest of his art. Unfortunately, voices came with people attached, and there was no getting around that. Still, there was something about this girl. She was different from the air-headed morons that usually flocked around the band like brainless groupies. While Sasori's artistic side appreciated her porcelain skin and vibrant green eyes, he also had to admit that he was impressed by her determination and independence.
Paying for one's college tuition without any aid was nothing to scoff at, after all.
They wrapped up the song, and it appeared the other members of Akatsuki were more than satisfied. Deidara jumped over to Sakura and cheered her on, giving her a friendly clap on the back and words of welcome. Pein and Itachi looked equally impressed, and even Hidan was stroking his chin with an appreciative grin toward Sakura.
"That settles it," said Pein. He had a wry grin on his face. "Welcome to Akatsuki."