|Blisters on Her Feet
Author: Annie Sparklecakes PM
"I owe it to my team. I am going to CRUSH my competition, and take the title of Miss Konoha. It's your turn to look at my back - again!" CRACK. ShikaSaku.Rated: Fiction T - English - Humor - Sakura H. & Shikamaru N. - Chapters: 6 - Words: 20,353 - Reviews: 220 - Favs: 202 - Follows: 215 - Updated: 07-28-11 - Published: 07-11-09 - id: 5210376
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Blisters on Her Feet
(while practicing Gracie's walk)
"Don't pick your feet up – why are you picking your feet up?"
"Because I'm preparing to run away."
—Victor Melling, Gracie Hart, Miss Congeniality
Well, this was awkward.
Shikamaru snuck a glance at Sakura, sitting across from him and flanked by her scariest teammates. They were all staring at him. Or rather, Sakura was staring at him, Sasuke was glaring – Shikamaru didn't even know why; what had he ever done to the guy? – and Naruto was, yes, watching him, but he looked rather amused by everything.
At the other end of the table, Ino and Karin were deep in conversation. Kakashi sat beside Ino, with Ami on the other side, beside Shikamaru. Sai sat in between Karin and Naruto. Shikamaru didn't like the way he was staring at Ino.
"So," Sakura said, in an attempt to break the tense silence that had settled over their end of the table.
"So," Naruto said, propping his chin on his hand.
"Elbows off the table," Sakura told him.
Ami made a face at her. "God, Sakura, you are such a nag."
"God, Ami, you are such a hag," Sakura shot back, half-rising from her seat. Then she yelped and fell back in her chair as something struck her shin. "What the hell! Who kicked me?"
Naruto looked away from her, and Sakura narrowed her eyes. She opened her mouth to demand an apology, but Sasuke nudged her gently and, as usual, she turned immediately to him.
"Cool it," he muttered out of the corner of his mouth, not looking away from the menu in his hands. "He's the judge."
Sakura stared at him for a moment, nonplussed. Then there was a soft tinkle of glass as Shikamaru accidentally knocked his glass against his plate. Sakura whipped around to gape at him.
"Sorry," he said, noting her gaze. He rubbed the back of his neck, looking exhausted. "Uh…" Shikamaru squirmed in the silence. "You were saying, Naruto?"
Naruto blinked. "Oh! Right. Okay, well, I actually had nothing to say. I just don't like silence."
"You know what that is?" Sasuke asked dryly. Naruto made a face at him, but couldn't retort because Sakura was between them and looking stunned. He didn't want to risk setting her off now.
"Anyway, the point of this dinner. I invited Shikamaru," Ino said brightly, "To meet our little beauty queen formally."
"I already knowher," Shikamaru pointed out.
Ino waved this off, just as Ami blurted: "That's cheating!"
Karin eyed her. No one at the table seemed to like the girl much. You'd think she would know when to shut up. Then again, Karin had to admire her defiance. She was a brave biter, at least. And she had a point, not that Karin could really talk. She wisely kept her mouth shut and gaze on the tablecloth.
"How is it cheating?" Ino said. "Like Shikamaru said, he knows Sakura already. We're just having dinner. It's not like she's—" Here Ino tamped down on a laugh—"offering him a lap-dance in exchange for a high score, or anything. I mean, she doesn't even know what a lap dance is."
"Ino!" Sakura exclaimed, aghast.
At Sasuke's glare, Ino added, "And Sakura has too much self-respect to ever do something like that anyway."
"What about me?" Shikamaru asked.
"What about you, slut?" Ino replied cheerfully.
"How sweet," Kakashi said. He turned to Ami. "This isn't cheating, Ami. You're welcome to invite Shikamaru to dinner, as well. Though it may just be easiest for you and Karin to just take advantage of this meal. Why don't you move down the table, Karin, to Shikamaru's other side?"
"No!" Everyone jumped, and Karin flushed. "I mean, um, Ino and I were having a really nice conversation, so—"
"Oh," Ino said sweetly, ignoring the looks Shikamaru was sending her, "That's okay. We can continue some other time. Kakashi-sensei's right! Take advantage of Shikamaru—"
"—being here." Ino got up and tugged Karin out of her chair. "Come on! This could be fun! Get to know your competition!"
"I don't want to know my competition," Ami said. "I just want to destroy it."
Sakura paid her no attention. Instead, she turned to Naruto and Sasuke. "Do you have any idea what's going on here?"
"Something awesome," Naruto said. "You can see it in Ino's eyes."
"Ew, why are you staring into her eyes? She's a pig. Are you into bestiality, Naruto?"
"You're not doing a great job of impressing me, you know," Shikamaru said, then regretted it when Sakura raised an eyebrow at him.
"Then how should I impress you?" Her gaze flicked to Ino and Karin, then she shook her head. The guys were right. She had to calm down. "Anyway. How's Chouji?"
Shikamaru cleared his throat, looking uncomfortable, as Ino wrestled Karin into the chair beside him. "Uh, better. Kind of…"
"That's good," Sakura cut in, smiling to let him know she understood. Of course Shikamaru wouldn't want to discuss what was going on with his best friend in front of so many people. She felt bad for bringing it up. But at least she hadn't told anyone the details – about Chouji, or what Shikamaru had done after.
"What happened to Chouji?" Kakashi asked suspiciously.
"Nothing… Hey! Kakashi-sensei, it's rude to read at the dinner table!"
Kakashi slid the book over to an unsuspecting Sai. "I wasn't reading. Sai was."
Curiously, Sai picked the book up and opened it. He narrowed his eyes thoughtfully at one of the images within the vibrant covers. "What are they doing?" he asked, showing Kakashi the book.
Kakashi leaned back happily in his seat. "That would be a lap dance."
"Oh." Sai looked over at Sakura and held out the book. "Here, Ugly. Learn from it."
"I'll Chidori you," Sasuke snapped, as Naruto yanked the book away from Sai and, ignoring Kakashi's protests, stabbed it repeatedly with his lucky kunai.
Oblivious to the mayhem around her – living in Konoha, you got used to it – Ami asked Sakura, "Did your teammate just call you Ugly?" Her eyes glittered with pure glee.
Sakura flushed and wondered – not for the first time – why they didn't just leave Sai behind when they went out.
"Guess I don't have to worry about you, then," Ami went on.
"Um, Sai's not the judge," Ino said.
"Sakura-chan's not ugly," Naruto said. He was completely, unabashedly, sincere about it, and a happy, embarrassed flush stained Sakura's cheeks. "Sai's just stupid."
When Naruto looked to Sasuke for support, he nodded. "It's true. He is."
"Fail," Naruto stage-whispered to him. Sasuke sneered at him. What did he expect him to say? Sakura was red enough as it was.
"Of course you would say that," Ami said. "She's your teammate."
And yet, Karin thought, my teammates won't support me. Sure, Jugo might flatter her with a few choice compliments, but no way either of her teammates would go so far for her as Team Seven was for Sakura. Even Sasuke was completely ignoring Karin's efforts.
"Shikamaru," Ino snapped, and he snapped up straight, eyes bulging wide. "Stop sleeping!"
"I wasn't sleeping," Shikamaru said, rubbing his eyes blearily. He tried and failed to stifle a yawn, then shrugged. "Maybe napping a little."
"So rude," Ino said.
"How do you sleep around this team, anyway?" Sakura asked.
"You're mean, Sakura-chan…"
Sakura patted Naruto's hand absently, glancing around the restaurant. There weren't many people around, fortunately. An older couple in the far corner, paying them no mind, and a group of civilian boys a few tables over, around their age, shooting them looks. They looked a mix of suspicious (probably of Sasuke and Karin), anxious (of the combined destructive capacity of Naruto and Sakura), awed (of Kakashi), and interested (in Ino and her hair). "Maybe we should order? I'm starving."
Ino cleared her throat pointedly; Sakura ignored her. If she didn't get some food in her, she'd pass out. That would hardly impress Shikamaru.
"I want ramen," Naruto announced, without even peeking at the menu.
"Do you even know any other food?" Shikamaru asked.
"Nope," Sakura answered for him, not glancing up from her menu.
Naruto smiled serenely. "I like ice cream."
"I want to go in there," Tenten said. Her nose was pressed up to the frosted-glass front of a restaurant, and her voice came out muffled.
"People are staring," Neji hissed out of the corner of his mouth, trying not to appear as if he knew her.
Tenten groaned as a waiter passed the window with a tray full of food. "Neji, I'm so hungry! And – look – Shikamaru's in there!"
Neji had already noticed that, and he snorted. "And the best way to impress the only judge is by attacking your dinner? No."
Tenten didn't even bat an eye. She turned to Lee, and sang, "Lee, Sakuraaaa is there."
Lee tensed, stubbornly keeping his back to the restaurant. "I will not veer from my path, Tenten," he said in a tight voice. "My loyalty lies with you, and you alone."
"I hate you guys," Tenten said gloomily.
Feeling someone's eyes on her, Karin glanced towards the front of the restaurant. A gaunt, hollow-eyed face stared back at her, and she jumped, knocking into the table, and caught the attention of the rest of the group.
"Are you okay?" Naruto asked.
"I just—" Karin glanced back at the window; the face was gone. Had she imagined it? She shook her head; just more Konoha weirdness. Maybe they put something in the water here. "Nothing."
Ino rattled off their order to a waiter, beaming at him all the while. She was beaming all over the place today, Sakura noted. She seemed awfully proud of this dinner.
Sakura suddenly felt bad. She wasn't even trying to impress Shikamaru. Taking a deep breath, she spread her napkin across her lap and smiled brilliantly – or what she hoped was brilliantly – at Shikamaru.
"You have spinach in your teeth," Ami whispered, and Sakura clamped her lips shut. Ami smiled sweetly and turned to Shikamaru, who was beginning to doze off again. She nudged him.
"All this judging must be tiring, hm?"
"Um, the pageant hasn't started yet," Karin pointed out.
"And what's so tiring about checking out girls and not getting beat up for it?" Naruto added.
"We haven't eaten yet," Sasuke muttered to Sakura, and she stopped running her tongue over her teeth. She whipped a glare at Ami, but a warning look from Kakashi kept her from saying anything to her.
Instead, she said, "There must be a lot of preparations for the contest. Maybe Shikamaru's busy with those."
Shikamaru shook his head, yawned, and leaned his cheek against his upraised palm. "Nah, it's just…" He flicked a glance at Karin, then back at Sakura. "It's just been a long couple days."
Sakura nodded, smiling gently. Poor guy. He probably wanted to judge this pageant as little as she wanted to be in it. She wondered how he had gotten roped into it.
A waiter came up beside Sakura to refill her glass of water. He shot her a sidelong smile, and Sakura smiled back, on reflex. She noticed Naruto give her an approving nod.
When she turned back to him, Shikamaru was fiddling with the stem of his glass. He wasn't looking at her, but he wore a small, lazy smile, nodding along to whatever Ino was saying.
Gaze firmly locked with Ami's, Sakura lifted her glass in salute, and took a long sip.
Beside her, Sasuke had to stifle a smirk.
"I've been thinking," Tenten said slowly, gnawing on a carrot stick.
Tenten sounded serious, so Neji let her poor table manners slide. "About what?"
"This pageant." She set down the carrot on her otherwise-bare plate, and leaned forward, palms flat against the dining table in Neji's home. "I think it might be a plot."
"Think about it," she continues, words spilling out in a rush, "It's distracting us. It's getting poor girls like me starved and weak, and breaking bonds between competitors, and it's making teammates hate each other!"
Lee looked hurt. "You hate us, Tenten?"
"I will," Tenten said, then added, at Lee's expression, "I mean, if you guys keep feeding me rabbit food and giving me ice-cold baths, duh!"
Neji squirmed. He had been trying to forget the shampoo he had given her. Luckily, he was distracted just then by the dining room doors slamming open, and his cousin and her teammates traipsing in.
"Neji-nii-sama!" Hinata took a step back when she saw him. "I'm sorry for interrupting."
"Not at all," Neji said, rising to his feet. "We were finished. Please, enjoy."
"I'm still eating," Tenten said, and crunched into her carrot stick for emphasis. Neji sighed.
"Take your time," Hinata said.
"Hinata, are you crazy?" Kiba asked. "Stop being so polite! They're the enemy!"
Tenten slid Neji a look.
"This isn't a conspiracy," he hissed.
"When Orochimaru jumps on stage in a bikini and his giant snakes eat us, you're going to regret not listening to me," she said. "Can I have another carrot?"
Sakura played with one of her earrings, palm flat against her stomach. She was so hungry. She knew she should have been charming Shikamaru, but all her attention was on her grumbling stomach. Even Naruto had stopped prodding her to try and impress him.
"So, Shikamaru, you're a Jounin, right?"
"It's pretty recent," Shikamaru said.
"That's really impressive! Everyone else here is a Chuunin, right?"
Shikamaru shrugged. "It's not really a big deal…"
"Sasuke's a genin," Naruto offered brightly. "That's why he gets stuck with missions like being arm-candy."
Sasuke glared daggers at him, and Sakura sighed. Couldn't her teammates try to get along, at least in public?
"Really? Wow, Shikamaru, you must be really talented."
Sakura had to hand it to Ami. With a few easy compliments, she had gathered the attention of the entire table, flattered the only judge, and made Sasuke jealous (he hated being told anyone was better than him, especially Naruto, Neji, or Shikamaru). Despicable she may be, but Sakura had to grudgingly admit she'd make a great kunoichi.
"Please," Ino said, "He sleeps through every mission briefing. Don't you, you bum?"
"Man, I wish I was a Jounin so I could try for ANBU," Naruto said. "You know what my mask would be? Sasuke's face." At the strange looks he received, he explained: "Then everyone would come to me for a fight. But, you know, that'll work out poorly for them because, duh, I'm stronger than stupid Sasuke."
Sasuke leaned forward to glare across Sakura. "You want to go right now, Naruto?"
"Any time, any place, dingus."
"Get new insults," Sasuke said, half out of his chair already.
"Okay: Sasuke. Oh, snap!"
Karin stared between them, mouth open. "Um… why is no one stopping them?"
"If you want to try, be my guest," Sakura said. "Oh…"
"You okay, Sakura?" Kakashi called, and Sasuke and Naruto turned to her at once.
"So hungry," she moaned, and they turned away again.
"Suck it up, Forehead," Ino said, sounding bored.
"You all suck…" A red-and-white, plastic-wrapped candy slid across the table, and Sakura glanced up. "What's this?"
"Eat that," Shikamaru said. When Sakura continued to stare at him, he shrugged, embarrassed. "Uh, I started carrying candy around for Chouji a few years ago, and after Kurenai got pregnant and started craving these, I did it again. It'll tide you over."
"Aw," Sakura said, picking up the candy and unwrapping it. "Thanks, Shikamaru. See, guys, this is what friends do!" She popped the candy in her mouth and beamed at Shikamaru.
"Sakura, you idiot," Ino said, "How is it a good idea to beg the judge of your beauty pageant to feed you?"
Sakura flushed and glanced back at Shikamaru. Beside him, Ami was smirking. "I, um, haven't eaten anything since this morning."
"Neither have I," Ami said, and Shikamaru handed her a candy as well, looking more and more awkward by the second.
Sakura had to hide a grin. She had never figured Shikamaru to be the sweet-distributing type.
"But the food really is taking a while," Kakashi observed.
"I think the servers are afraid to leave the kitchen," Ino said, nodding at something behind Sakura.
She turned, and her eyes bugged. Sasuke had Naruto in a headlock, and Naruto was slapping at Sasuke's thigh with a broken chopstick, trying to break free.
Sakura buried her head in her hands. Why did chaos follow her team everywhere?
"Clearly, the sexual tension had reached an all-time high," Sai said knowingly. "Ugly, you'd better step in."
Sakura just knew there was an insult there.
She sighed. So much for impressing the judge.
She stood, ready to shoot her chance of winning straight to hell – when two sets of doors opened. Out came the nervous-looking waiters, trays laden with dishes, and in came another layer of trouble.
Whatever break Sakura had hoped for, she wouldn't get. Not tonight, anyway.
"Hyuuga Neji," a voice boomed from the shadows.
Neji didn't even look up from the thick tome in his lap. "Inuzuka Kiba."
A rustle, then Kiba stepped out of the corner of the library. "How did you know it was me?"
"The smell," Neji said. "What do you want?"
"I have for you a proposition."
Neji set aside the book and looked up at Kiba warily. Kiba was too much like Naruto to not be looked at warily. "What kind of proposition?"
"An alliance." Kiba slid into the seat beside Neji and leaned forward. "Listen. I know you want your teammate to win, but you must have some loyalty towards your cousin, right?"
"Both cousins are entering," Neji reminded him, knowing very well what Kiba was getting at.
"Yeah, yeah, but one's evil, so who wants her to win, right?"
Neji said nothing. He knew from experience that Hanabi could be anywhere, anytime.
"Anyway. We'll help each other out, as far as it doesn't hurt our own teammates. How does that sound?"
Neji considered. It couldn't hurt. And, much as he didn't want to admit it, Tenten needed all the help she could get. "Agreed."
"Great! So, here's the thing. I think we both know ho we have to watch out for."
Neji nodded, lip curling in distaste. "Haruno Sakura." No way would Neji let her win. He didn't care how petty it was – Naruto had ignored his cousin's confession, not his teammate, though it was clear, at least to Neji, why he had – he simply could not let Sakura win.
"Right! So, I have a couple ideas for her…."
Unseen and unnoticed, Hanabi's eyes gleamed.
"Hey, lazy ass! I've been looking everywhere for you!"
Shikamaru didn't look very enthused. "What do you want?"
"Kazekage-sama!" Sakura yanked Sasuke off of Naruto, mortified. "Are you here for dinner?"
"'Sup, Gaara," Naruto wheezed, rubbing his neck.
Gaara nodded his hello at Naruto and Sasuke, then turned to Sakura. "Temari wanted to see him."
Sakura's brow furrowed, before she recalled that Temari had – somehow – signed up to participate in the pageant.
"Oh, great," Ino sighed. "Another one."
"So I hear you're judging the Miss Konoha pageant?" Shikamaru nodded. "Great! I want to win."
"Then hold a Miss Suna pageant," Shikamaru said.
"You can't just force him to give you the crown," Ami exclaimed, getting to her feet.
Temari glanced at her disinterestedly. Then blinked and looked at Karin. Looked back at Ami.
"Um, you guys need a new hairdresser."
"Looks like there won't be much competition in this pageant," Kankuro muttered in Sakura's ear, and she jumped.
"That's mean," she said, and he shrugged.
"Whatever, my sister's hair is weird, too. It's pretty obvious Ino's gonna win. She is his teammate."
"Ino's not competing."
"Oh." Kankuro reconsidered for a moment. "Well. Then maybe Temari has a chance." He raked his gaze over Sakura, then smiled. "Mayer you could win. You look good."
Sakura felt her face heat. "I—thanks." She cleared her throat. "Would you two like to join us for dinner?" The food had arrived, and the smells of dinner were making her stomach increase the volume of its demands.
"I could eat," Kankuro said, taking Naruto's seat beside Sai at once.
Gaara took Sasuke's seat, and Sakura retook hers, very aware of all the other diners' gazes on their table.
"Hey," Naruto complained. "You took my seat!"
Sakura grit her teeth. "Get another chair, Naruto. Sasuke-kun, just sit beside Ino." How much more of this could Sakura take? The others were no help. Karin was silent, Ami was seething, and Ino and Temari were arguing. Kakashi-sensei had returned to his book, not looking bothered in the least by his surroundings, and only Sai had begun to eat.
Across from her, Shikamaru met her gaze, looking exhausted and unhappy, and Sakura nodded. She could relate.
Really, something had to give.
And suddenly, something did.
"Can you please stop hovering over me?" Ami snapped at Temari.
Temari frowned. "Watch it," she said. "Don't you know who my brother is?"
"The Kazekage," Ami said, with a quick glance at Gaara. "I know. That doesn't give you any excuse to practically stand on top of me. Why are you here, anyway? You're not allowed to compete."
"I'm practically an honorary Konoha…ian?" Temari looked to Kankuro, who shrugged. "Konohite? Konohese?"
"Please stop trying," Ino said. "And no, you're not. You're disqualified."
"The judge should be the one to decide that," Temari said. "Your call, lazy ass, make it the right—Shikamaru? Shikamaru!"
He was well and asleep again, and didn't seem ready to wake anytime soon. Temari was furious.
Karin looked at them, then at Sakura. "Does this kind of thing happen a lot around here?"
"More than you'd think," Sakura said glumly. "I don't remember the last time I had a normal meal out."
"But what about her?" Temari demanded, pointing at Karin. "Don't tell me she's already a citizen!"
"I am, actually," Karin said, narrowing her eyes. "I'm well within my rights as a Konohan to participate in this pageant." Her gaze flicked to Sasuke, who wasn't even looking at her, and she raised her voice. "And I plan to win."
"We'll see about that," Temari said. She jabbed Shikamaru in the neck. "Wake up, you good-for-nothing sloth!"
Shikamaru peeled one eye open. "What."
"Tell everyone that I'm allowed to participate!"
Gaara looked up from his meal and met Shikamaru's sleepy gaze. "Allow her," he said stonily. He didn't really want to take Temari home in this state, anyway.
Shikamaru shrugged. "Fine. Have fun, hope you win, enjoy your stay…"
"'Hope you win'?" Ino screeched, rising to her feet. Gone was her bubbly glee from earlier. Now she was enraged. "You're the judge, you idiot! Watch what you say!"
Temari nodded, wearing a pleased little grin.
"All of you!" Ino went on, seemingly oblivious to the terrified stares she was getting from around the restaurant, "Out! This is my contestant's dinner with the judge. Mine! You—" She pointed at Temari—"Get permission from the Hokage! You—" She swiveled to face Ami—"Get out before I stick a dozen roses down your throat! And you…"
Karin jumped. She had barely said anything all dinner; what was Ino mad at her for?
"Try using feminine wiles on Shikamaru again, and I'll turn you into a man."
Karin blanched, not in the least because everyone – including Sasuke! – had turned their full attention on her, looking very interested. Only Shikamaru leaned his head in his hands, sighing deeply.
"Oh, shut up," said an unfamiliar voice, and a second later, a plate of noodles walloped Ino in the side of the head. The plate thunked to the ground, cracking slightly.
Then Ino whirled, eyes sparking, to see the older woman who had been dining with her husband in the corner, hands on her hips, glaring at her.
"Are you insane?" Naruto yelped.
"No," Ino said, calmly leaning over to grab the plate of chicken Kankuro had been reaching for, "But she will be sorry."
"Ino, no!" Sakura shouted, and Kakashi was on her in a flash. Ino twisted out of his grip, letting the plate go – but her aim was off, and the plate veered to the left, lost momentum, and—
—Landed on a civilian teenager's head.
"Sorry!" Ino gasped, hands going to her mouth.
The boy's friend glared and tossed a piece of fish from his plate at Ino, hit a waiter, and, before long, the restaurant was in chaos. Food flew left and right, hitting Sasuke and Sai. A handful of rice even spattered against Kakashi before he calmly dunked a bowl of stew over the offending chef.
Only Gaara and Sakura remained in their seats, unmarked. Gaara continues with his meal, and Sakura was too appalled to move. She glanced at Shikamaru, who appeared to be dozing once more, but when a stray broccoli whipped his ear, he opened one eye to glare at it.
An instant later, Sakura caught, out of the corner of her eye, a heaping of vegetables and rice whizzing through the air, and time seemed to freeze.
It was headed right for the Kazekage.
Without remembering that Gaara was a ninja, and no way had he not noticed the food projectile rapidly approaching, Sakura pushed her chair back, shot to her feet, and leapt. The food slammed into her chest, bits of vegetable smacking her skirt, rice flying down her dress, and sauce staining her hair. One piece of corn even landed in the hoop of her earring.
Half a second after Sakura crashed to the ground, covered in someone else's dinner, a wall of sand went up around Gaara.
The restaurant fell silent.
"Oh, my God." Quick, light footsteps, then Ino was kneeling by Sakura's head, looking concerned. "Are you okay?"
Sakura sat up. Her dress clung uncomfortably to her, and she reeked of soy sauce. "I'm a mess…"
Ino glared at the people surrounding them. "Okay, who tried to dunk the Kazekage?"
No answer. Sakura pushed to her feet.
"Uh…. Maybe we should go," Kankuro said.
Gaara stood up, dusting himself off. "I think so." The sand disappeared into his gourd, and Gaara turned to Sakura. "Thank you. Kankuro." He swept out of the restaurant without another word, leaving Kankuro to fumble with his wallet. He tossed down a few bills before running off, as if afraid someone would clobber him with a pitcher of water next.
Ami stamped her foot. "You guys are crazy," she wailed. "All of you!" And she too was gone.
Sasuke was practically sweating murderous intent, and it wasn't long before the other patrons of the restaurant disappeared. The staff fled to the kitchen.
"Do you think this means we don't have to pay?" Naruto wondered aloud. There was a smack. "Ow!"
"Idiot," Sasuke muttered, shaking out his hand. Naruto had an insanely hard head.
Sakura peeled a baby carrot from Ino's hair. Then, as one, they all turned to Shikamaru. Karin stood beside him, looking very small.
"Karin seduced you?" Sasuke asked, breaking the silence.
"Karin seduced you?" Naruto echoed.
"Karin seduced you?" Sakura demanded.
"Tried to seduce me!" Shikamaru corrected, but the damage was done. Karin flushed and shoved past him to the door. Sasuke watched her go, then raised an eyebrow at Shikamaru. Naruto howled with laughter, much as Ino had. Even Sai – Sai! – and Kakashi looked rather amused.
But that wasn't the worst of it.
"She… seduced you?" Temari said in a deceptively calm voice. Shikamaru jumped. He had thought she left with her brothers. "And you let her?"
Shikamaru's jaw dropped. "What was I supposed to do about it?" he sputtered. What was wrong with everyone lately? Was the beauty pageant making everyone crazy?
"Is that what it's going to take to win?" Sakura asked softly, right in his ear. Shikamaru jumped and spun around. She looked serious, almost scared.
"No!" Why did everyone seem to think he was Konoha's manwhore? "She's just – she was just trying to even the playing field, I mean – "
"Trying to even the playing field?" Okay, Temari wasn't pretending to be calm anymore. She was screeching.
Shikamaru winced. "She was part of Team Hebi—"
"And I'm not even a citizen of this village! Does that mean I should strip down and hang all over you?"
"Well, Karin didn't actually do that…"
"You're sick!" And with that, Temari upended a bowl of vanilla ice cream on his head, turned on her heel, and stalked out.
Shikamaru watched her go, dumbfounded. What the hell had just happened?
He was snapped out of his daze by Naruto clapping him on the back. "Smooth, Shikamaru."
"I always said you were quite the ladies' man," Ino giggled, nudging Sakura with her hip. "Didn't I tell you, Forehead?"
Sakura didn't answer for a long moment. She stared, silently, at Shikamaru. He stared back, not even blinking as ice cream melted and dripped down his forehead, into his eyes.
Finally, she took a deep breath and stepped forward. "I'm not seducing you."
Shikamaru rolled his eyes. "I don't want you to seduce me." He heard a distinct "You better not," from Sasuke, behind him. "You can't." She could probably get disqualified for that, and – and why was she glaring at him like that?
"Ohhhhh, man…" Naruto said. Shikamaru could hear the smile in his voice, and he took a hasty step back from Sakura.
She was scowling at him.
"I know," she said. "I didn't want to wear this dress, anyway!"
Sakura yanked off her heels and threw them at Shikamaru's feet. "Stupid things hurt, anyway. You can have them. I don't need cheap tricks to win. And I will win," she added, staring around the restaurant. Even with vegetables in her hair, a torn skirt, and bare feet, she was scary. She narrowed her eyes at him. "I'll protect my team. Just you wait, Shikamaru. You'll see just how hot Haruno Sakura can be."
A beat passed.
"Try not to get burned," she added, and Naruto groaned under his breath as she flounced out.
"And she was doing so well…"
Ino bent to pick up the shoes. "Well," she said, examining a scuff on one of the straps. She looked up at Shikamaru, "Can't win 'em all, I guess." She laughed at the look on his face. "Three girls in, what, five minutes? Smooth going, Romeo."
"I…" Shikamaru ran a hand over his face. It came away sticky with ice cream, and he grimaced. Oh yeah. He forgot. "I need a nap," he said.
"And a shower," Kakashi said.
"And to try and make peace with Sakura-chan," Naruto added.
"And Temari. Avoid a war," Ino said.
"And Karin," Sasuke said. When everyone turned to gape at him, he said, looking annoyed, "Why does everyone look at me like that when I talk?"
"It's very out-of-character for you," Naruto said. "Stick to ass-bows and silent brooding. Much more attractive," he added, flashing Sasuke a thumbs-up.
Awkward silence fell. Sasuke looked horrified.
"…Where did I go wrong with you two?" Kakashi asked.
Honestly, I have no idea where the time has gone. This chapter was, honestly, started only a few days after my last update, so I was shocked to realize it had been nearly a full year since then. I am so, so sorry. I have no excuse. Hopefully this chapter was worth it – God knows I had an absolute blast writing it. I don't think I've ever enjoyed writing anything as much. I spat out about 3,700 words in the last day and a half. It was great. It's a little longer than even the last chapter, as well, so. Am I forgiven?
I'll try to update at least once more before summer is over, but I make no promises. I always seem to break them.
Next chapter: Kiba starts to plot, Hanabi's scheming puts even Anko to shame, and Sasuke and Naruto finally step up. Meanwhile, Sakura searches for an ally. Konoha's turning into a battlefield – again.