title: Killin' It

chapter: The First Day of Senior Year, or Welcome Back To Hell, Fuckers

author: AlexisKeller

rating: M, for some serious language.

pairings: a ton of them, most being canon.

disclaimer: there you go.

summary: "To making this year the best we've ever had. Cheers."

note1: so here's my new baby, something I've been working on for quite some time. hope you like it!

Killin' It

The First Day of Senior Year, or Welcome Back To Hell, Fuckers

"Yo," Naruto said into his phone. "I'm at school and I got your schedule and shit from the office. Just haul your ass to school every mornin' by eight-thirty. We share two classes."

"Idiot," was Sasuke's charming greeting. "I told you to stay the fuck away from my shit. Too hard to understand?"

"I'm gonna ignore that, Princess Uchiha." Naruto generously declared. He grabbed his Chemistry book, shoved it under his arm, shut his locker and then he looked up towards the hall, trying to spot people he knew.

Which were a lot. People he knew, that is. After all, he was pretty well-liked.

But there weren't any in the hall right then. That was because there were freshmen here, tons of them. Naruto frowned. The reason he'd been to school early was to grab Sasuke's schedule and compare it with his. He couldn't understand why the every freshman batch after his class was early on the first day every year. Nobody else came to Konoha High early. That was messed up. Everyone knew the cool kids, at least, headed to school around eight-thirty, not fucking seven.

It's because they had a reasonably cool principal. Tsunade was super laidback unless you broke her rules, which were pretty much set in fucking stone, even if there were only a few of them. Break them and she'd turn into a raging bitch. Other than that, you were gold.

So, for reasons known only to her, Tsunade let students arrive at school around eight-thirty when classes actually started instead of being there at the official time (which was seven) to attend the morning assembly, which was never really all that important since it was used for pointless morning announcements and other useless crap.

Makes you wonder why she didn't just ditch the entire morning thing.

Naruto dodged a train of rushing freshmen—what the fuck were the rushing for? It wasn't even eight yet; the bell had yet to ring—before making his way down the hall towards the double doors that led to the field and took a moment before continuing.

"I'm gonna see you at The Ramen Stand in ten. Be there. Don't wanna accidentally lose your documents and all the rest of this crap if you don't show." He held his breath; this could go either way. His closest friend wasn't exactly very patient, especially not in the morning and particularly not with him so he waited for Sasuke's answer.

Silence on the other end.

Then, "Did you just fuckin' threaten me?"

Jesus Christ.

Naruto laughed as he jogged over to his bright orange Jaguar in the parking lot. "Well, I tried. Just be there, okay? You gotta know, you comin' back from Oto means we got a potential quarterback in our circle. The guys need to meet you. Well, re-meet you or whatever, since you knew 'em when you left in middle school."

More silence. Naruto mentally braced himself.

"No potential about it, fucker."

Thank fuck.

Naruto laughed again. "Great, whatever. See you in ten."

Sasuke had already disconnected.

Naruto opened his car door, tossed his book and Sasuke's files in the passenger seat and angled in. Getting behind the wheel, he gazed out through his windshield as freshmen milled about, some shuffling through the wide double doors to the school and others lounging around the football field and took a deep breath.

He wasn't an avid believer in fate, destiny and all that shit. All he knew was, there was something coming, something huge. Something that was going to tilt their world on its axis. Or at least, his. And he couldn't ignore that damn feeling. So he wasn't going to try.

What he was going to do, though, was make this year at Konoha High something huge. Something fun. Because that's who he was; fun, animated and always up for a good time. And he was ready to give it his all into making this year good. After the shitty junior year from hell they'd had, they deserved at least that—but then again, that was another story entirely. Everything from now on was going to be something new, something great. And now, with Sasuke coming back to Konoha from Oto meant he'd have his old best friend back too. Coupled with their killer football talent this year, not to mention all his other buddies, he was going to make this senior year the most remembered shindig in Konoha.

His gaze snapped up towards a group of girls skirting his car, and he grinned when two of them looked at him longer than necessary, clearly liking what they saw.

"Hell yeah," he murmured before pulling out of the parking lot to head for the café just ten minutes away from school where he'd asked Sasuke to meet him and the guys.

Senior year was looking up already.


Ino was pleased.

Sai had called her again. Not that she picked up, of course. Everyone knew it was good to keep them waiting.

So she'd kept him waiting.

She'd only been on a few dates with him, liked him well enough and chatted with him every other day. He was a good guy. If you could ignore how weird he was, of course.

She let the current call go to voicemail again.

"Is that Sai?"

Ino looked up from her phone to see her best friend, Sakura, staring at her with a knowing expression.

One thing to know about Sakura: if it didn't have anything to do with her own love life, she never missed much.

"Yep. I'm giving him the hot and cold," she answered.

Sakura sighed. "Jesus, Ino. If you like him, be real. If you don't, don't string him along."

"I'm not stringing him along," Ino insisted. "He's a nice guy."

"Exactly what I mean. You don't like him."

"I do like him."

Another sigh. "'He's a nice guy'? You don't like, like him."

Ino didn't have a good answer to that.

Sakura leaned over the table on her forearms and held her gaze. "Just talk to him, Ino."

And as usual, Sakura was right.

Ino exhaled heavily. "Where would I be without you, Sak?"

"Breaking hearts all over Konoha High."

Ino laughed as she reached for her phone again. This was one of the many reasons she loved Sakura. Her best friend was not only effortlessly gorgeous, effortlessly popular and equally effortlessly friendly all around, but she was super smart, way funny and totally sweet. Times like this, she would honestly wonder where she'd be without Sakura Haruno.

She figured hungover and face-first in a ditch with a dead cell phone in the deep jungles of Madagascar was probably a good guess.

Ino dialed Sai's contact and slid out of her chair towards the counter of the coffee bar. The Ramen Stand was a small, cozy café, frequented by several Konoha High students. This was where everyone met before and after school, a tradition Ino and Sakura had yet to break, though Hinata, the third part of their best friend loop, had called earlier to tell them she was running late so she'd just meet them at school.

Ino knew she'd never do that. Run late for school, that is. Because if she did, she'd miss morning coffee at The Ramen Stand and that was a big, fat no. The coffee was delicious and there was hardly a morning where Ino could go on without coffee.

Therefore, The Ramen Stand.

"Ino?" She heard Sai's voice on the phone.

Well. It was now or never. "Hi there. Sorry I missed your calls before. I called back as soon as I saw them. Do you think we could talk, Sai?" She pressed her lips together. Christ, she sounded like such a flake.

A pause. "Uh… aren't we talking?"

Ino cringed. This was hard. "Um, yeah. But I meant face to face, you know? Do you think maybe you could wait for me at the cafeteria at lunch?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Okay," Ino said. "That's it. I'll see you later."

"See you."

Okay, Ino thought to herself as she disconnected. That didn't go too bad.

Now she just had to give Sai the brush-off.

Jeez, that'd be a loving conversation.

"Done with him already?" She heard from behind her in that voice—man, his voice.

She nearly jumped out of her skin before she turned around to face his dark lazy eyes.

Crap, when did he come in? She scolded herself for not noticing and fleeing immediately the second he did.

Shikamaru Nara. The laziest and most careless person she ever knew. Also, the one of the smartest and most watchful.

Also still and probably always will be the only person she'd never get out of her head.

Yes, this is why she was so dysfunctional and screwed up most of the time.

They'd gotten together in the middle of junior year. It started amazing. To say it ended badly was an understatement. He thought she was a judgmental bitch and she thought he was a lazy asshole.

Neither of them were wrong.

But that didn't make it hurt any less.

Four months into it, they broke it off. They simply didn't work anymore. There was never a snapping point. She just woke up one morning and decided she couldn't do it any longer (his every day of lazy dickheaded-ness helped making the decision). And it turned out Shikamaru felt somewhat the same for her (he had his own words to describe it, of course).

She never regretted her decision. She was way too good (and way too hot, she knew) to be roped down to a guy who didn't give a damn when she flirted or got pawed at by someone else. She didn't need an unreceptive asshole. She needed strong yet gentle, loyal, smart, sweet, understanding, kind and somewhat wild. Granted, Shikamaru was a few of those things. But he was not all of them. And her dream man was all of these, or at the very least, a respectable six out of eight. Even as a little girl, she knew what kind of man she'd want when she was older. When she was ten years old, she'd promised herself not to settle for anything other than her dream man. And now, at seventeen (nearly eighteen soon), she knew she would stick by that decision. She'd stick by it even if she was old, alone and a cat lady. Nothing but her dream man. She deserved that.

The part that sucked worse was that they could've remained close friends as they had ever since they were kids (the only other childhood friend she still had was Sakura) if they hadn't gotten involved.

After the break up, she went to great lengths to avoid him. That was easy, considering the blowout was on the last day of school, and avoiding him in the summer couldn't be too hard. But whenever she'd see him around town, he never stopped being an asshole, so she never stopped being a bitch.

But all of that didn't mean she wasn't still hopelessly in love with him.

She never said she wasn't foolish.

"Why do you care?" She asked a lot more sharply than she intended to.

And just like every time she said something to him, she hoped to God he didn't open his mouth to hurt her.

"I don't."

And just like every time she hoped he didn't open his mouth to hurt her, he did.

"Just wonderin' who the next target is," he went on, his eyes holding her gaze. "Don't go for the football team."

She raised an eyebrow.

He explained, "Football season's coming. Don't need anyone off their game if you're fuckin' with their head."

Asshole.

Complete and utter asshole.

"Fuck you," she spit out and he simply shrugged, so she turned her back to him and faced the coffee bar.

She absolutely hated him, detested how he brought out the worst in her and loathed how much his words freaking hurt.

She wished she could write him off as just another worthless jerk who said shit about her. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't.

So she long stopped trying.

Instead, she tried to ignore him. And failed epically, of course.

"You gonna assure me or what?" He asked from behind her.

What the hell he was talking about, she didn't want to ask. She diligently kept her eyes on the back of the short little redhead in front of her to avoid ripping his head off.

The redhead was wearing a totally out there black bra underneath her thin white T-shirt.

Jesus, tacky.

Even Ino knew that was slutty.

"Are you?" Shikamaru's voice sounded again.

And even though curiosity killed the fucking cat, she couldn't help herself from swiveling her head and catching his eyes.

Ugh, his eyes.

There were three things about Shikamaru that made her fluttery.

One was the way he used to make her laugh. He didn't set out to do it. It just happened. He had a heavy hand with sarcasm; always honest and witty, and was good with dry humor. The second was his voice—deep and smooth. Low. He didn't bother to speak unless he wanted to, but when he did, Ino always found herself listening.

The third was his eyes.

There were two people Ino knew with the best eyes ever. The first was Sakura. She had beautiful emerald eyes, super light and glowy when she laughed and super dusky and sexy otherwise. They were gorgeous. Eyes she knew guys could fall in love with. Not that there wasn't a whole lot other of her guys could fall in love with—because there totally was, her best friend was stunning—but the eyes were definitely somewhere at the top of the list.

The second person with eyes that made her want to stop whatever she was doing just to look at them when they looked her way was Shikamaru. They were dark, deep and obscure. Almost shadowy. They looked at you like he knew everything about you, stuff you hid from the world and stuff you didn't even know yourself.

They made her restless and intrigued her. She always loved them.

Right now, she hated the power they had over her.

"What?" She asked him.

"You gonna stay away from the football team or what?"

She flinched inwardly. What was wrong with him?

"Though, the basketball team," he continued, "you can take on. Don't give a fuck about basketball."

Seriously, what was up? This was a whole other level of asshole. Never was he this bad.

Maybe by doing this on the first day of school, he was fulfilling the quota he lost in the summer when they had no reason to meet every day and therefore be mean to each other.

Yes, that had to be it.

Ino wisely decided she'd keep her mouth shut. She'd let him get out what he needed to and part ways peacefully—for now, of course—since there was only so much she could deal with before she had her coffee.

The tiny little bell above the door jingled and Ino turned to see someone walk into the little coffee shop.

Dark hair, dark eyes. Great shoulders, a tall, fantastic build with a lean but muscled body, the confident yet simple strides he took inside which Ino knew meant he was completely in control of himself, the way his deep blue T-shirt and faded jeans made him look absolutely Delicious with a capital d.

He was hot.

And also very strangely familiar.

He walked by them with a bag slung over his shoulder and his hand pocketing a cell phone, heading straight to the table in the corner where the guys from the football team were sitting (they always sat at that one table by the side window). As he did, Shikamaru greeted, "Uchiha."

Delicious Hottie's eyes flashed to him—wow, he was seriously hot—and he lifted his chin at Shikamaru and kept heading towards the end table.

God, why did he look so familiar?

Ino watched as he tagged an empty seat from nearby, pushed it to the guys' table and sat down. And then the guys immediately started talking to him.

Was he a transfer? Because he sure as hell wasn't in Konoha High the past three years. The guys obviously knew him. That probably meant he was an old friend or maybe a student from Suna, their friendly neighbor-school over in the next town.

But why the hell would someone from Suna High be in Konoha at eight in the morning? It was more than an hour's ride away.

Something suddenly clicked in her brain, and she inhaled sharply. Shikamaru had called him Uchiha. And if memory serves, they had a mini Delicious Hottie back in middle school.

Sasuke Uchiha.

Jesus Christ.

Ino turned her wide eyes towards Sakura at her table, who was looking blank and staring back at her.

Shit, shit, shit.

Every girl had a guy in her life that meant a lot to her. Ino figured hers was Shikamaru.

Sakura's had been Sasuke.

Or at least, that's what Ino thought.

Sakura had called Ino the moment she saw him. Ino had been out sick that day, but that didn't mean she didn't verify he was super cute the next day. Sakura had never outright admitted it, but Ino always suspected she definitely liked him. That was back in middle school when their teacher, Iruka, paired her and Sasuke together for the year—something that had Sakura delighted and Ino playfully jealous but completely happy for her best friend. Then at the end of the year, Sasuke had to move to Oto. When he left, it had been hard for Sakura. But she'd gotten over it. Then they headed into high school and she went from seriously pretty to a pure knockout. Then she went on dates. Then she had fun.

But whenever Sasuke came up—which was infrequent, but not unheard of—she'd get this look in her eyes. She hid it well, though. But Ino knew Sakura. And one of those times when they'd lie on Ino's rooftop outside her window under the stars, she had even admitted that sometimes she missed him.

And now he was back.

God, they didn't need this. Sakura didn't need this. She'd had an absolutely crappy junior year (so had Ino, but then again, so had everyone) and an even crappier relationship she'd gotten out of. This was senior year, something to enjoy. Sakura was a straight A student, head of the fundraiser committee, class president three years in a row, co-cheer captain with Ino and partied like wild child. They'd even agreed to up their shit this year. But now? Sasuke Uchiha was back and he'd likely screw with her head.

Fuck that.

With her impending talk with Sai looming overhead, not to mention if Shikamaru's behavior was even an indication of how he'd be during school, senior year wasn't looking too good right now.

Also, Sakura didn't look too thrilled either.

"Move it, Blondie," she heard the voice she loved and despised say from behind her and she snapped her eyes back to the counter to see that Slutty Redhead had long left the line and was now staring open mouthed at Sasuke.

Christ.

Ino moved forward and ordered Sakura's favorite skinny vanilla latte and instead of her regular order (which tasted good but was mostly just to wake her up every day) she gave herself a treat and went with a caramel mocha topped with calories she knew she shouldn't entertain, but did anyway knowing she'd need it to face the day, especially a day that already looked pretty fucking bleak.

As she paid, the door burst open and she saw a pleased-with-himself Naruto Uzumaki heading inside.

Ugh.

This was surely going to be a shitty day.

She did not like Naruto. Even though they all existed in the popular crowd, they never had a reason to meet (and she thanked God for this). No matter how much Sakura said he'd been a sweet guy back in middle school, Ino was definitely not a fan. Not back then, not now. He was messy, loud and generally annoying. Not her forte. She'd rather stick with herself with needles than ever hang out with that.

Even if she hated him slightly less now because of the messed up shit he had going on last year.

She saw his eyes at the guys' table and then she saw them run across the shop. And if she was right, he did a double take when they reached Sakura. Then another one when they reached Ino and Shikamaru, after which he grinned at the latter.

She had ten guesses what that grin was about and she didn't need nine of them.

Motherfucker.

So the break up had been public (along with a number of other things last year, of course), but that didn't mean Naruto had to be stupid about it.

But then again, he was stupid about a lot of stuff, if last year was anything to go by.

He passed her by with a quick greeting pat at Shikamaru's shoulder (at this point she grimaced, she didn't like being in close vicinity of two people she could do without, these being Shikamaru and Naruto) and ambled to the guys' table.

Then she departed for her table quickly for several obvious reasons, but didn't look up in her haste when she heard the bell jingle and almost spilled her coffee when she hit something solid.

"Whoa there, woman. Ease up on the tornado," she heard as two strong hands on her arms steadied her.

She caught her breath when she looked up at Kiba Inuzuka's roguishly handsome face. "You okay?" he asked.

She nodded, not wanting to say much because they were being gawked at by the whole coffee shop. But since she was who she was, her brain finally kicked in and she answered. "Uh, yeah. Thanks."

He grinned, and boy, it made his face look even better. Playful, almost. "Don't thank me. That's Ramen Stand coffee. It'd be a federal offence if it was on the floor right now."

Ino laughed and she straightened up. She didn't know much about Kiba. What she did know was that he was attractive, funny, threw good parties and used to be totally into her best friend.

But for a tiny, teeny slutty second she wondered how fun it'd be if they hung out. She dismissed the idea as quickly as it entered her brain. There was too much of a crowd around her. She did not need to be adding to that. There was no room for guys in her cluttered life.

And she owed Sai some explaining about them dating and how she wasn't really into it, all the while completely dismissing the fact that she had totally loved flirting with him (it was her favorite sport, flirting).

Yes, no room for guys.

God, she was such a slut.

She smiled big at him, "That's true. Thanks again, though. See you around."

"Yeah," he replied as he rounded her and began to head for the ever-popular table today by the window. He turned and called back, "See you."

For another teeny, tiny slutty second, Ino let her eyes wander back to the counter where Shikamaru stood in his favorite color. Black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers. He was paying for his coffee. He wasn't looking at her.

She navigated through the morning rush before she got to her table and slumped down in front of Sakura.

"Don't say it," said Ino before she could even blink, knowing very well Sakura now had a point against her.

She watched as her best friend still opened her mouth anyway, very likely ready to ask about The Shikamaru Confrontation (which they knew would be bad since it was the first day of school, but Ino didn't want to get into exactly how bad it had been) or comment on the little Kiba display. But before she could, Ino whipped out her defense, "If you don't say it, then I won't say it."

Then she watched as her best friend's eyes snapped questioningly to the back of Sasuke's head where he was still sitting at the table with the guys and slide back again to Ino.

Then she clamped her mouth shut.

One-all.

And as Ino handed Sakura her drink, she knew they would be absorbing for a while. But of course, they'd talk about it all later. They always did. Maybe lounging on Sakura's balcony or Ino's rooftop. But for now, she was just going to sip her coffee quietly.

Vaguely, she noted that her hair must be mess by now. She'd have to head to the bathroom really fast when they got to school.

She reached over her shoulder and plucked a stray strand of hair to push it behind her ear. Then she glanced at Shikamaru who was carrying his coffee to his table with the guys.

There were many words she could have used to describe what she wanted from senior year. Drama wasn't one of them.


Hinata rushed double-time, winding her way through the crowded hallway as she made a mad dash for the bathroom. She got surprised cries and a ton of strange looks, but she didn't pay them any mind.

She might've looked crazy, but it was warranted.

The moment she arrived at school, she went straight to Shizune, Dr Tsunade's assistant, to grab her schedule (which Neji should have picked up a week earlier from school when he picked up his, but he didn't, the jerk) and then to her locker where she grabbed the books she needed from her bag and shoved the rest inside. It was then she managed a glance at her phone to see a text from Ino and promptly lost her mind.

Thus explaining her crazy yet justifiable sprint towards the girls' room.

She made it there in record time, pushed open the door and cried, "Sasuke's back?"

Then she saw a bunch of girls staring at her, among which she located Ino and Sakura also staring.

Maybe she'd been a little uncharacteristic, what with acting absolutely mental and not her usual quiet and calm self.

Okay, so may she had been extremely uncharacteristic.

She saw both her best friends crack identical smiles, and Sakura piped up with a, "Hello to you to, Hinata."

Then Ino resumed her role as Resident Bitch as she looked around and snapped her fingers twice, "Okay, all of you, get out of here. Now."

Since crap like that didn't exactly happen within a second and without any defiance, a fair amount of grumbling later they were alone in the girls' room (thanks to further of Ino's bitchiness accompanied with Sakura's). That's when Hinata repeated her previous question with slight variation.

"He's really back?"

"Totally," Ino answered as she ran a check of all five of the stalls for any remaining girls. "We saw him at Ramen Stand in the flesh. And he headed with the guys to school. We saw him at his new locker too. He's definitely back."

Fudging heck.

Hinata turned her gaze to Sakura and whispered, "Damn."

Sakura burst out laughing.

Hinata raised an eyebrow. Ino raised two.

"You don't seem to be taking this very seriously," Hinata observed when this went on for a while.

"No shit," Ino confirmed as she looked confusedly at Sakura.

"Guys," Sakura managed when she quit laughing. "Seriously. Why does it have to be a big deal?"

"Why?" Ino asked, her voice high and her eyes bugging out.

"Oh no," Hinata murmured. "Here it comes."

"Why?" Ino repeated, but didn't wait for an answer this time. "Maybe because you and him were paired together for an entire year in middle school?"

Sakura's shoulders started shaking with visibly contained laughter. "What?"

"And he was, like, super cute. And he's super hot now." Ino continued her reasoning seriously.

"True," Sakura murmured, still keeping her humor at bay.

"And you told me," Ino then pointed a finger at Sakura accusingly. "You missed him when he was gone."

Okay, now even Hinata had to admit that sounded absolutely ridiculous.

Sakura burst out laughing hard all over again and this time Hinata joined her.

"What?" Ino demanded as she glared at both of them. "Tell me it isn't true."

Sakura's eyes met Hinata's, did a roll and went back to Ino. "Ino, you sound crazy."

Hinata nodded in agreement. "I agree with that."

Ino scrunched her nose. "I overdid it?"

"A little bit," Sakura lied. Hinata bit her lip to keep from laughing again.

"Ugh, whatever," Ino shrugged. "Anyway, I'm pretty sure I gave you the reasons why it's a big deal."

Sakura sighed. "Okay, let me rephrase: it's not a big deal."

"But… but…" Ino sputtered. "It is. This is Sasuke Uchiha. Mr Too Cool For You Even Though I'm Just In Middle School Sasuke, who is now, Mr Super Cool For You Because I'm A Delicious Hottie Now In High School Who Probably Bangs Slutty Redheads Sasuke."

"What?" Hinata could hear the smile in Sakura's voice but she didn't look, she was too busy staring at Ino wondering if her best friend was always this outrageous.

All her life she knew for a fact that Sakura was the crazy drama queen one. Ino was the same, only a few shades lesser. Right now, though, as Ino was redefining the limits of mad, Hinata doubted it.

"You didn't take something different with your coffee today, did you?" Sakura wondered out loud. "Like, that druggie guy by the alley didn't offer you something suspicious looking, right?"

"Sakura," Ino snapped, narrowing her eyes. "Stop making jokes. We're worried for you here."

Sakura turned pointedly to Hinata. "Are you worried?"

The smart thing would've been to shut up. That was because when Sakura and Ino got it out and argued, playing peacemaker was a fruitless job.

But then again, this was important (or maybe not so after all), so she thought hard about her answer before giving it to Sakura honestly.

"Well, I was crazy-worried. But you're being pretty laidback about it, so maybe I don't have to be anymore."

"Thank you," Sakura smiled big at her. Hinata smiled back as she always did because it would be a crime not to return such a killer smile.

Then Sakura looked back at Ino. "I love you, you know it. And I get you're worried but I don't know why. This is crazy, not to mention, pointless. You don't have to freak out, I'm good—I have no reason not to be." When Ino didn't say anything, she went on, "I mean, seriously. You guys are acting like my cheating ex-husband just walked in with a floozy on his arm." That one got a smile out of Ino. "I was a little weirded out in the morning. Surprised. But that's because I haven't seen him in so long. I didn't like him or love him, he didn't break my heart or murder my parents and he sure as hell isn't my ex-husband. He's just the guy I got partnered up with in middle school, for God's sake. So nothing's up, Ino. Everything's cool. Get that crap out of your head."

"You're good?" Ino asked, studying her carefully.

"I'm good," confirmed Sakura.

And since Hinata's mouth never listened to her brain, she blurted, "Who knows, maybe you'll make friends with him or something."

"He didn't do the friend thing, remember?" Ino shot back. "Not girls, anyway."

"Well then, maybe he does now. If he doesn't, I haven't got anything to lose." Sakura stated and then went on. "Happy now? I'm totally fine. Like I said, everything's cool, Ino."

"If you say so," Ino said, still not sounding very convinced.

Hinata, on the other hand, was persuaded. Sakura had this thing about her; she didn't let stuff get to her. Even after the initial drama of last year, she seemed fine. Nothing fazed that girl.

"Now, how about we talk about Shikamaru?"

Hinata turned her wide eyes to Sakura, who was looking at Ino with a smug expression now that the tables were turned.

"Hell no. He's still an asshole. Probably always will be." Ino said firmly as she turned to the mirror and started fussing with her hair. "We're so beyond done, it isn't even funny."

"Did something happen this morning? Like, at The Ramen Stand?" Hinata questioned her friends before she walked to the mirror. Her gaze came to her reflection and she gasped.

Christ, is that what she looked like?

Her hands flew to her head to tame her wild hair as much as possible and realized she should not have rushed to the bathroom after all.

"Oh yeah." Sakura answered as she fished in her pretty red bag for lipgloss for a touchup. "While Ino was at the counter ordering. She told me about it on the way here. He was horrible. By the way, can I just add, I love how you're growing your hair out? It looks amazing."

Hinata looked back at her disheveled hair in the reflection.

It did not look amazing to her.

"Seriously," Ino agreed wholly. "And even though we kept telling you this throughout the summer, it's worth a repeat: it looks great."

Sakura added, "I totally dig how it's way past your shoulders already."

"Yeah, and you're working the whole messy hair thing. I can never pull it off." Ino went on, pulling her hair back into her usual swept back, sleek ponytail.

"Guys?" Hinata waved her hands at them, trying to get their attention. "Focus. We were talking about Shikamaru?"

"Oh, right." Sakura nodded. "Where was I? Yeah, horrible. So basically the asshole says that Ino has to steer clear from the football team this season. But the basketball team, he's good with that."

Oh my God.

Hinata's jaw dropped open. "What a jerk."

Sakura's lips quirked up. "That's one word that comes to mind."

"Anyway," Ino began when she finished brushing her ponytail. "As much as I'd like to get into the details, the bell's going to ring soon and my first class is Physics with Asuma. Not going to give him a reason to be pissed at me this year. See you, babes!"

And with that, she grabbed her bag and hurried out the door.

"She's gone," Hinata informed Sakura.

"She's also right." Sakura said. "We're going to be late."

Giving up on her hair, Hinata nodded.

"Right now I have History, AP Biology, AP English and then AP Chemistry," Sakura announced. "Ino's with me in English. You have any of these?"

Hinata shook her head. "Nope. I'll see you at lunch?"

"Yep. At the usual table." Sakura confirmed as they walked out together.

Hinata nodded.

"I'm going to make a run for it now, History's way at the end of the building," Sakura said, before taking off fast-paced through the hall. She called over her shoulder to Hinata, "Later!"

"Later," Hinata called back. She adjusted her books and rounded the corner to AP Calculus. She spotted Shino, a longtime close friend sitting by the window. She didn't think twice before dropping down on the seat next to him.

"Hinata," Shino nodded at her.

Hinata wrinkled her nose. There were many things about Shino. She loved how sharp he was. She admired his ability to be quick to understand stuff. She liked how he didn't say much, just observed.

What she never liked, though, was how formal he always was. But like the prim and proper young lady she was raised to be, she kept that to herself.

"Hi, Shino. How was the summer?" She began the tedious process of organizing her books—a habit Shino was used to ever since middle school.

"It was good. Yours?"

"Great." She looked up from her books to grin at him but he wasn't looking at her. He was looking contemplatively at the door. She followed his gaze and saw Kiba Inuzuka looking good as all get out in a plain grey T-shirt, seriously faded jeans and black boots sauntering in leisurely. He passed by a girl with a funky haircut, winked at her and settled in a seat at the way back of the classroom.

Hinata thought he could be a movie star.

He sure acted like one.

He lounged back in his seat; face relaxed, eyes ahead, taking in everything going on in the room.

That's when Hinata reminded herself it was rude to stare, not to mention incredibly embarrassing if the person you were staring at was to catch you in the act.

She still chanced it for a couple of seconds, though.

That was because he made messy hair look good.

Hinata had talked to him approximately once when they were in kindergarten, and that was only to ask him if he knew the time. He didn't. And obviously, that conversation wasn't very eventful. But looking at him now, Hinata decided she needed to talk to him about his hair, and possibly take some tips from him for hers.

She snapped her eyes away quickly, turning back to Shino. He was looking down at his table now but that thoughtful look hadn't faded from his eyes so she knew he was still thinking about Kiba.

"What?" She asked him.

When he didn't answer, she repeated, "Shino, what?"

Shino didn't make her ask a third time. "Fuck it." He turned to her. "Makes you think whether he ever got over last year."

She knew exactly what he was talking about. The junior year from hell.

"Ino did." She told him even though it wasn't exactly true.

The look Shino gave her told her he didn't exactly buy that.

"Right. Even if that's true, Ino had a different situation than Kiba." He pointed out correctly.

"Well then. Sakura did."

Again, Hinata had no idea why she said that, even if this time she wasn't wrong.

No, she did know. It was totally the uncoordinated mouth-brain thing.

Sakura was long over junior year, that was true. But after the early-pecking-over-the-situation-with-best-friends thing, they hadn't talked about Sakura's drama. They didn't need to. Sakura was all good.

But that didn't mean Hinata should be sharing the important details of her best friend's life.

Hinata shuddered. Talking about last year brought up memories she was happy to let lie.

"Yeah, I guess," Shino replied. His gaze on Hinata then sharpened. "And you? How are you after last year? We never talked about it or anything."

Of course they didn't talk about it. Hinata didn't talk about it with anyone, not even her father and her cousin—or maybe she should say especially her father and her cousin. The only two people she'd talked about it to were Sakura and Ino.

She suddenly hated how sharp Shino Aburame was.

The constant talk about last year caused Hinata to blow out her breath. Sakura had warned them it was to be expected. Things couldn't go smooth the first day, she had told them. They needed to be the ones to smooth them out.

Hinata was eager to erase last year.

Therefore, she would begin by smoothing things out immediately.

"I'm good," she told him. Then, for added effect, she smiled huge at him. "I'm always good."

Right.

He continued looking at her with his blank, dark eyes.

Hinata found herself wishing he was wearing his sunglasses right now, the ones he wore everywhere but unfortunately Dr Tsunade wasn't too fond of them in school.

She squirmed under his critical gaze.

"Shino, seriously."

"Yeah, I'm not really feelin' that, Hinata."

"It's true. Really," she said.

She looked up gratefully when she heard their teacher enter the class with a, "Alright, brats. Get out your books now. First day of school does not mean we're not studyin'. I only get paid for this shit if I work."

Genma Shiranui was a laidback teacher with brown shoulder-length hair that hung about his face with an ever present bandanna and brown eyes. He was thirty and had begun at Konoha High when he got out of college while he looked for another job. That temporary period lasted eight years and he could deny it all he wanted but it was clear he loved teaching.

It was just as well since the kids loved him too.

And everyone loved his wisecracks. Profane as he was, he was one of Hinata's favorite teachers at Konoha High, which was saying a lot because the school had the best teachers she'd ever known.

It was only first period yet, but she'd had the chance to overhear some rumors going around that he was pining for the Rin Nohara, the pretty school nurse. There was another rumor going around that said he was planning on asking her out that very day.

"That sucks," someone from the back of the class stated. Hinata was pretty sure it was Kiba.

"Life sucks," Genma replied. "Books. Now."

Yes, that was Mr Shiranui.

It seemed to Hinata that the situation with Ms Nohara probably didn't go to well.

"I have to leave ten minutes early. Got a situation." He explained, more like his usual self. "So let's speed things up, huh, guys?"

Hinata looked back at Shino, who frowned before dragging his gaze away from her and towards his book.

She didn't think he was all that convinced.

It didn't matter.

What mattered was that he along with everyone else who could possibly remember her drama from last year simply just forget.

Which was a long shot, but she'd hope for the best.


The usual route Kiba took to World History class was down the corridor and into the main hall. But the main hall had those two large plasma screens up on opposite sides near the ceiling, the ones Tsunade had ordered in last year, for the weary job of relaying school announcements and the like to students.

Kiba feared he'd be compelled to drive a fist through both screens if he saw them again.

And since he needed a suspension like he needed a bullet in his head, he'd taken the longer route and was strolling through the back hallway when it happened.

His cell phone vibrated in his pocket and he looked around before picking a secluded corner to check his phone.

It wasn't like cell phones were forbidden or anything. But using them during school hours wasn't all that appreciated either.

As he glanced at the screen, he saw it was a message from a number he had long ago deleted.

It was Ami.

Bitch.

He wondered for a second if she was completely insane. Why the fuck would she be contacting him now? Or more, why the fuck was she contacting him at all?

The girl was fucking insane.

He wasn't loving this.

Still, instead of hitting delete like every cell in his body was urging him to do, he read it.

Then he fumed.

And then resisted the urge to fling his phone across the hall at the lockers.

Bitch.


"Hello, Sakura."

Sakura craned her neck to see Shino Aburame walking past her to his chair and called out cheerfully, "Hey, Shino!"

He tilted his head towards her and sat back on his chair. Then he gestured towards the table a few feet away on the right. "Hinata mentioned you were in this class. You were late. Saved you a seat."

Shino was a good friend of Hinata's since middle school. He was a quiet guy, she knew. But that didn't mean he wasn't a nice one.

"Thanks a lot." She shot him a genuine smile before heading towards her table. She lowered her books there and turned back to call out, "I got caught up talking to Ino after English and didn't realize. Thanks again."

His lips tipped up a little at the sides and he nodded before turning to a guy next to him.

Sakura glanced around; noting that she was way late and was only lucky Ms Yuuhi wasn't here yet. Kurenai Yuuhi was a pretty easygoing AP Chemistry teacher, but she didn't have much patience for tardiness. And even if Sakura never pulled a late-show before, Kurenai wouldn't really like it. So Sakura thanked God she'd shoved Ino down the hall when she noticed the time and instantly hightailed it for AP Chemistry.

She glanced at the clock above the board to see that Kurenai was at least fifteen minutes late, which was a big deal. Especially on the first day of school. Kurenai was never late.

Just as she thought that, there was a flurry of activity outside the hall and she focused on the dark haired woman juggling a bunch of papers and jogging towards the class.

"Sorry, sorry!" Kurenai called as she tossed all the papers at her table and took a deep breath. "I'm going to go crazy with all this paperwork and it's only the first day."

"What happened, Ms Yuuhi?" Someone asked from the back.

She answered instantly with a, "Tsunade," and most of everyone burst out in light laughter and Sakura grinned.

Sakura had taken one on one afterschool classes with the crazy Dr Tsunade last year. She adored Tsunade. She respected Tsunade. She had reason to. She was a no-bullshit, straight up brilliant kickass woman. But then again, she was a little bit wacky.

"I can only hope she was drunk when she gave me all this," Kurenai grumbled as she straightened the mess on her desk. "Because if she wasn't, that woman's crazy."

Oh, yeah. That was another thing about Tsunade. She liked drinking. So she drank.

More laughter.

"Anyway," Kurenai looked up from her table at the class. "I was thinking we'd start off with an experiment first, a little something to kick things off for the first day. But we don't have the time for it now. So I'll just give out some worksheets. Fill them up, sign your name and for today, that'll be it."

There was a general buzz, no doubt relief at the light load and surprise that Kurenai was going easy on the class. Sakura looked up as she detected motion and saw Shikamaru at the door.

"Yo, Ms Yuuhi," he greeted.

Kurenai regarded him with an extremely unhappy look. "You're late."

Shikamaru didn't miss a beat. "Maybe you'll let it slide since it's my first offence."

That one earned snickers. Sakura fought a smile and reminded herself he was an asshole.

Kurenai narrowed her pretty eyes and remarked, "Maybe I'm not feeling generous."

Shikamaru kept at it. "Maybe I'll get lucky since it's the first day."

"Maybe you won't."

"Maybe I already am, considering you were pretty late when I saw you rushin' to class."

"Get in your seat, Nara," Kurenai snapped, but her tipped up lips couldn't be missed.

Shikamaru grinned as he scanned the class, and that's when Sakura felt a surge of panic. Because the seat next to her was available.

No fucking way was she partnering with him in Chemistry for the entire year again because that's what happened once you were seated in Kurenai's class. The seat became your seat. So he wasn't going to sit here because she did not want him to. Not after he broke her best friend's heart. He wasn't sitting next to her this year too, no way. He had to pick another seat. If he sat next to her, that would surely throw a notch in her plan to freeze him out.

So no fucking way.

He began strolling through the door and down the middle of the room.

Desperately, Sakura twisted her neck to search for another available seat. She saw one, way in the back corner.

No way in hell was she retreating all the way there.

He'd have to go back there.

He had to.

All her hopes were dashed when he came to an abrupt stop at her table, lowered his books on the table and settled on the seat next to her.

Uh.

Just.

No.

"Get another seat," she hissed at him. He glanced at her with indifference and turned back to his book before addressing her.

"What page we on?"

Sakura huffed.

"Shikamaru," she said, and he looked up.

"What's up?"

God, she was reminded of how many times she'd wanted to strangle him in the past.

"You need to get another seat," she stated.

"Why's that?"

She had to strangle him. She had to.

"Because you have to."

Apparently Shikamaru didn't think her reason was much legit because he leaned ahead and tapped the shoulder of a girl sitting ahead of him. "What page?"

Sakura did not think he was funny.

Okay, that was wrong. He was funny in a dark humor sort of way. But right now, that only served to piss her off.

"Shikamaru," she tried again.

"Cut it out," he said strangely.

Sakura sighed. "Cut what out?"

"You don't call me Shikamaru."

She gritted her teeth. He could not possibly want to go there.

"Fuck, almost no one calls me Shikamaru. You know that. Cut that shit out."

Oh, she remembered. She always called him Shika. Everyone did. Everyone still did.

Except for Ino now, of course. And her best friends who were doing their best friend duty by ignoring him.

She didn't know about Hinata, but this was already hard for Sakura. She had been good friends with him last year. He'd been paired with her for AP Chemistry, and she liked having a ridiculously smart partner for once. They became good friends, and Sakura was all for it when Shikamaru and Ino became a thing. It was all good.

And then the last day of junior year ended with a bang. They broke up. It was messy. It was bad. And since then, Sakura vowed to sever all ties with Shikamaru for Ino.

But he wasn't making this any easier.

"No, Shikamaru, I won't cut it out. We were actually friends back then." She snapped at him.

He narrowed his eyes at her. "Sakura, what happened between me and Ino is between me and Ino. I don't ask for opinions and I don't drag other people into it. She does, that's on her. Bottom line is, it's done. Finished. Nothing requires you to pretend to hate me."

Oh, fucker.

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me," he said.

This guy cannot be believed, she groused to herself.

Kurenai rounded their table as she handed out worksheets to the table behind them and Sakura was forced to lower her voice to reply.

"I get what you're saying. The shit between you and Ino stays between you and Ino." Sakura whispered. "But she's my best friend. Which means that even though it is done, freezing you out is my job."

His head jerked up, eyebrows raised, surprise evident in his eyes. "Just like that?"

"Just like that."

He stared at her. Then suddenly, his lips quirked up at the side in a grin and he shook his head before turning to his book. "Then isn't AP Chem gonna be a scream?"

Fucker.

"In fact," he went on. "I have a feeling the whole year's going to be a real somethin'."

Then he grabbed the worksheets passed to him by the guy behind them and passed her one before passing the bunch ahead. He pulled out a pen and started with the questions on the sheet.

Great. Just great.

Sakura didn't think he had any intentions of leaving anytime soon.

Fucker.


Kiba slammed the laptop firmly shut.

He wasn't feeling Lunch. As soon as the bell for Lunch rang, he stopped by at the computer lab for something to do.

No, this wasn't weird. He was fucking good with a computer. So naturally, he'd find shit to do.

So he grabbed a seat, a laptop and opened his email for the first time in centuries. Then he came across another surprise.

She'd emailed him about roughly about a million times. None of which he made the mistake of opening after the text message incident, thank God.

Again, what a bitch.

She knew, hell, everyone knew he checked his email like never. But she still emailed him anyway.

What was he supposed to make of that?

And not to mention, the fact that he did not want any sort of contact with her, not now or ever?

Everyone told him she was a bitch. Of course, they kept their tongues when he dated her.

But then again, he should have fucking listened.

He liked to think he was a good person. He didn't have enemies. He was well-liked. He was generally happy most of the time. He wasn't bad.

Well, he swore a lot.

But that was it.

He hadn't even ever hated anyone his whole life. Not even Ami, The Bitch Who Screwed Him Over. He felt strong dislike for her, naturally, but that was it.

He didn't hate her.

He just strongly disliked her.

She was just another one of his many mistakes. And like all his mistakes, he didn't bother giving her much mind after all that went down. But of course, his mind wandered, and sometimes he wondered why she did what she did.

He was curious.

And he had the right to be, considering she never gave him any answers.

But that was all she was going to get from him. The same old mindless, silent question every once in a while when his mind strayed down that road. Not his constant attention, not his never-ending confusion and definitely not hatred. She wasn't worth that.

But these emails?

What was she trying to pull with all this?

This stunt only added to his curiosity.

He heard the sound of the chair next to him scrape on the floor and he looked to find Shikamaru drop next to him.

"What are you doin' here?" Kiba asked him. "Shouldn't you be at lunch?"

"Had some shit to research for AP Chem." Shikamaru said. His lazy eyes strayed over to the shut laptop and came back a fuck of a lot more calculating towards Kiba. "Don't tell me. Let me guess. Ami?"

Christ. The guy should have his own fucking agency.

He was good.

But then again, Kiba was an open book.

"Yeah," Kiba grunted.

"Right."

Silence.

The guys had learned this; how to act in front of each other after last year. They learned to ignore all the shit they went through and act normal. Dodge the subject. Or better yet, steer the topic of conversation to something less complicated and more undemanding.

It was easy. They met up almost every day in the summer to relax and throw a ball around. They didn't talk about Kiba's shit, Naruto's or Shikamaru's. They didn't have to. It was all ancient history.

It was like Kiba didn't need to answer. Shikamaru continued anyway.

"You know, it's not like I would know because apparently she's gonna shut me out, but I don't think Sakura talks to him."

Bam. There it was. Shikamaru didn't talk much but when he did, he seemed to have all the right words.

Knowing Sakura went through the same thing and it helped that when he saw her heading out of her World History class when he was heading in, the girl looked good (hell, she not only looked good, she looked her usual good). She looked okay. More than okay. Not like she was thinking about last year, but like she was looking forward to this year.

And there it was.

Because if she could do it, so could he.

Ami was old news. Ancient history. Done. Finished.

He had a life to get on with.

He grunted in reply.

"Maybe you should talk to her about it or somethin'." Shikamaru shrugged. "She went through the same shit."

Okay, no. His friend's right words had ended when the wrong ones came out.

"I'm not gonna talk feelings, dude," Kiba ground out, instantly nauseated.

Shikamaru held up his hands. "I get that, I do. Just sayin', might help."

Right.

Moving on.

"Lunch?" Kiba questioned.

Shikamaru stared at him a quiet moment before nodding. "Let's go."

And so they did.


"Yo, Sasuke!"

Naruto was strutting towards Sasuke near his locker at lunch with his shit-eating grin in place.

Sasuke raised his eyebrows at him slightly, not giving him much of an answer.

So he spoke first.

"You see Sak?"

"What?" Sasuke bit off.

Naruto sighed. Sasuke never really had much patience for puzzles. Not the verbal kind and definitely not the kiddie kind where you could put together pieces of a puzzle and he knows that because he remembers his SpongeBob Squarepants puzzle shredded and in the bin because it was the one puzzle seven year-old Sasuke had encountered that he couldn't clinch.

Naruto still figured Sasuke owed him a SpongeBob puzzle, but since he wasn't a kid anymore, he'd settle for a SpongeBob T-shirt.

He decided not to tell him this at the moment.

He powered through with another grin. "Sakura, man. Sakura Haruno. Pink hair. Remember her?"

Naruto watched as faint recognition flickered in Sasuke's eyes. Of course he'd remember her. There wasn't a person on earth, especially male with a functioning dick who'd come across Sakura Haruno and not remember her.

Granted, Sasuke had been in middle school last time he saw her.

But then again, he was pretty sure he still had one back then, so Naruto supposed his point was still valid.

"What about her?" Naruto heard a voice from behind him call out. He whirled to see Kiba heading for them, with a slow Shikamaru in tow.

Naruto shifted, allowing them to fall in step next to himself and Sasuke. "Just that. You seen her?"

Kiba simply whistled in response. Shikamaru chuckled.

"Right?" Naruto's eyes went to them. "Seriously. She gets more gorgeous every fuckin' day."

"I get you, man. Didn't think it was possible last year, but it is and she looks even better." Kiba replied with a shake of his head.

"Yeah." Naruto agreed, shoving his hands in the pocket of his Levis. Then he turned back to Sasuke. "You were close with her in junior high. Tell if there's an angle I can work."

The way Sasuke looked at him then was almost equivalent to the way he'd look at him if he'd sprouted three heads. "Wasn't close. Just partners."

Naruto sighed. That was a dead bust.

"Wait, wait, wait," Kiba piped up as he stared at Naruto. "You wanna get in there? You fuckin' with me?"

Naruto shook his head quickly. "No, man. Just wanted to hang. We used to be friends back in middle school."

"Yeah, what happened with that?" Shikamaru asked, seeming genuinely interested.

Naruto shrugged. "Fuck, I don't know. Drifted apart or somethin'? All I know is I came to school freshman year looking at a fuckin' model."

"I hear you," Kiba's lips tipped up. "Been tryin' to get in there for ages. Since freshman year. She didn't give me anything, though, so had to throw in the towel and give up."

"And she won't," Naruto declared knowingly. "Good you gave up with that 'cause she won't give you shit. Sorry dude, but she ain't stupid. Never was."

"You would know." Kiba grunted. "Been in love with her since junior high, haven't you?"

Naruto raised his hands in front of him defensively. "Hey. That was middle school. And she was the prettiest in the class."

"You got that right." Kiba nodded. "Her blonde friend's pretty hot too."

"Whatever," Shikamaru muttered. "They got nothin' to do with us."

Kiba pressed his lips together, knowing he'd fucked up. Naruto tensed. It was because this was dangerous territory. Anything Ino Yamanaka or Ino Yamanaka related was off limits to discussion. It was something they skirted ever since the Shikamaru and Ino ship set sail and promptly crashed and burned. And now Kiba had opened his big mouth and slipped up.

Either way, Shikamaru's statement held true. They didn't have the same social circles. Ino and her friends stuck with their cheerleaders and the guys stuck with the football players. Unless there were girlfriends involved or they were making moves on them, they never had reason to initiate contact.

It was just the way things were. And probably how they would remain. Especially after last year.

"I know it's the first day and all but do not, do not, under any circumstance give the meat loaf a second look. That shit just ain't right," Naruto warned Sasuke in an effort to change the subject. He then noticed Sasuke examining Shikamaru carefully and Naruto just shook his head, amused. Nothing got by Sasuke.

"Yeah?" Naruto prompted.

Sasuke focused back on him, a mild scowl in place but surprised him by actually bothering to answer. "Yeah."

Naruto took that in stride as they entered the cafeteria and headed towards the line. Much to his pleasure, no one looked at the meat loaf twice.

He left them and headed straight for the burgers. As he walked, he passed by that Sai guy and Ino standing together speaking in hushed voices by the counter. She looked concerned, while Sai's face was set, almost resigned and a good amount disappointed.

Naruto made it past them quickly. His lips quirked up. It really didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what was going on.

The Sai guy was being jilted.

As much as he'd love to set up cameras on the spot and document the whole thing for eternity, he didn't think Shikamaru would take to that too kindly.

But it was still fucking hilarious.

He turned to his right to see Kiba had joined him and was grinning uncontrollably. Their eyes met and Naruto shook his head at him. Kiba was being way too obvious.

"Need cameras," Kiba decreed and just like that Naruto let out chuckle.

Now that he agreed with.

He wanted the senior year to end all senior years. This one wasn't exactly starting off with fireworks, but then again, there wasn't much that could top last year in the explosive department. Just as long as it went out with a bang, Naruto didn't care. Till then, he'd take what he would get.


Sakura did not like her diet soda all fizzed over. Nope. It was entirely unacceptable.

She stood up and her friends at the table looked at her. The cafeteria was crowded, but they'd managed to get their favorite table by the wide window. Hinata, another close friend, Tenten, and a new one named Temari were all seated with her at the table along with a couple of other friends. Ino was supposed to be talking to Sai right now, so Sakura figured she'd be back around ten minutes or so.

"Sakura?" Hinata called.

"My diet's all fizzed over," was all Sakura said as an announcement.

The table fell to a hush. Everyone knew that was bad. Because Sakura could dish it out as good as she got. And fizzed over diet soda was just no.

"Let it go, Sak," Tenten advised. "It's the first day. Maybe someone new just didn't know and made a mistake."

Temari's brows shot together. "What's going on?"

"Something that could possibly get pretty big," Hinata explained, worry getting evident on her face.

Temari shook her head. "I don't get it."

"They'll pay," Sakura declared.

Hinata winced.

Tenten shook her head. "Honey, no. It's the first day, come on. It happens." But Sakura was already stepping away and heading for the counter with the soda in her hand.

"Shit," she heard Tenten mutter. She didn't care. She had something far more important to do.

She skipped the line, walking right past it and ignored the cries of irritation. Reaching the front, she saw a boy, definitely freshman, who backed off immediately. She hoped she wasn't projecting hostility on her face because she prided herself on being super friendly. But the way the boy backed off, she'd hazard a guess and say that she probably was.

She shrugged to herself. For diet soda, anything.

Then she spotted the guy behind the counter she'd never seen before. He was new.

Well, that explained it.

He stared at her, unsure what was happening, since she'd just passed by the entire line and hopped up to the front.

"Uh… you're supposed to be in line." He told her something she knew.

She replied brightly, "And you're supposed to make sure my soda doesn't fizz over."

He blinked at her, probably unsure of what to do in the face of such absurdity. She could understand that. It was kind of crazy.

But she was religiously serious about her soda.

And she thought she'd made that clear with the fit she'd thrown in the start of last year.

Apparently not, though.

He blinked at her again and asked inanely. "What?"

Sakura turned her head slightly and caught sight of a grinning Ino pushing her way through the crowd towards her. She sighed. Ino loved it when she did shit like this. Sakura, however much she was compelled, did not. So she wound her eyes back to the guy behind the counter.

"My soda is all fizzed over," Sakura stated.

His eyes darted to the soda she had placed on the counter and said, "Okay." Then eyes came back to hers. "And…?"

And? And?

This man was clearly new. He did not know what he was doing.

The students around her started buzzing, obviously remembering the huge blowup she'd gotten into last year for this exact thing, and she heard a distinct, "Oh no, he didn't."

She wanted to laugh.

She did not.

Ino made it to her, still grinning like a lunatic, and grabbed her arm.

"Hon, while I'm all for you letting it rip right here for your soda," she whispered. "I was thinking maybe we could tone it down on the first day since Kakashi's talking to a student in the hallway pretty close to the cafeteria."

Okay, fuck.

Kakashi Hatake was perhaps one of the coolest teachers at Konoha High. She respected him way too much to mess up in front of him.

Hey, wait a minute. He had been present in the cafeteria the last time she had done this. She remembered it clearly. He'd been present and all he did was look at his boots, fight a grin and shake his head.

He'd likely be amused if she tried it again.

No fucking way was she going to cool it now.

"For future reference," she began, talking to the confused guy behind the counter. "I don't do fizzed over. Tessa knows that." She referred to the cafeteria lady who definitely knew that. "And now you know that."

He stared at her. Then he stared around her at the crowd that had formed. Then he looked back at her.

Ino shot Sakura a questioning look.

"I'm not cooling it," Sakura informed her on a whisper.

Ino smiled at her, huge and brilliant. "Then what are we waiting for, darling? Go crazy."

She accepted that invitation gladly.

Then she proceeded to tell the guy behind the counter exactly how she liked her soda.

She was way dramatic with a side of bitchy.

When she was done, she smiled at him and waited.

He stood right there, uncomfortable, harassed, and fidgeting.

"Hello?" Ino said. "Is my girl getting her non-fizzy diet or what?"

That's when understanding dawned and he moved like lightning on his feet, disappearing from sight as he sprinted inside. Then he was back, taking away the fizzy drink, replacing it with a colder, hopefully non-fizzy one.

That's when Sakura smiled at him again, this time meaning it a lot more. "Thank you." She said, because whatever her actions and her need to go maverick for a soda, she still somewhat had good manners.

He nodded. "Sorry for that. Non-fizzy from now on."

"Cool." She grabbed her soda and flipped her hair over her shoulder. Then Ino grinned again, and they turned around to get through the throng of people to their table.

As the students gave way, Ino told her, "You went easy this time."

"Kakashi," Sakura explained with a one shouldered shrug.

Ino giggled. "Still kickass, though."

Sakura shook her head but couldn't help the tug she felt on her lips at Ino's words. Ino and her almost sadistic tendencies. Sakura wondered if she should be a touch worried about that.

She turned her gaze from her best friend to the parting crowd, and saw Naruto standing there, grinning with both hands up and giving her a double thumbs-up. Silly as it is, she couldn't help the surge of pride she felt at her old childhood friend looking almost appreciative of her latest public stunt. But that feeling was almost trampled compared to what she felt when she saw Sasuke standing next to him, something working behind his eyes and his lips slightly tipped up to one side.

Yes, now that. That would do a number on anyone.

She smiled, big and bright at both of them before turning back to Ino as they winded their way through the students towards their table.

The rest of lunch went good.

Plans to meet up afterschool on the field for cheerleading tryouts for the freshmen were made.

Then Ino told them about her talk with Sai which had been super-awkward but he'd gotten it.

Then Sakura, Hinata, Tenten and Temari nodded appreciatively when Ino declared she was going on a boy-boycott until she knew she had her life and priorities in order.

Later everyone grinned when Hinata announced she'd treat everyone to double chocolate cupcakes at The Ramen Stand if they helped her with a question in Calculus Mr Shiranui threw her way.

Then they discussed the Genma Shiranui and Rin Nohara situation. Of course, there were just rumors, but the girls knew it better than anyone that where there's smoke, there's fire. Tenten thought they'd look cute together. Being new, Temari hadn't yet seen Ms Nohara around school, so she couldn't say anything. Hinata supported whoever made Mr Shiranui happy. Ino was strictly against it, stating Kakashi and Rin should be together because they not only looked cute but were also childhood friends (as Kakashi had once mentioned in class) and they wouldn't get together only to have it turn to hell and be super-mean to each other after it was over and successfully ruin their friendship.

This is where everyone just stared at her and Sakura realized her friend was glaring daggers at Shikamaru all the way across the cafeteria during her rant and then Sakura effectively changed the subject to Homecoming.

Now that everyone was excited about.

"I'm going to need a date to that," Temari informed them. "Where do I want to be looking?"

"The football team," Tenten answered as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

"Definitely," Sakura agreed.

She watched as Temari's eyes wandered over to the table where most of the guys sat. "Anyone in particular I'd want?"

"Uh, I'll tell you who you won't want," Ino replied. She jerked her head towards the said table but kept her eyes on Temari's and said, "The asshole-sucky-fucker-douchebag-jerk in black with dark spiky hair in a ponytail which I should've fucking cut off when I had the chance who's probably sipping his food like he has inflammation of the throat and all the time in the world."

Holy cow.

Sakura blinked.

Hinata visibly paled while Tenten muffled her laughter behind her hand.

Temari raised her eyebrows. "I'm taking from that there's a complicated story there?"

Ino scoffed. "That doesn't even cover it, sister."

Temari grinned.

Sakura decided to veer the conversation back on track. "Basically, uh, other than, um, Shikamaru, everyone's pretty dateable."

"Not to mention hot." Ino fanned her face, in evident agreement. "I'm looking forward to see New Guy Gaara play."

"Oh my God," Temari groaned. "He's my brother."

"He's your hot brother." Ino retorted.

Sakura burst out laughing but she couldn't help but share her best friend's opinion.

"I thought you were on a boy-boycott," she said when her laughter faded.

"I totally am," Ino replied.

"What are you going to do about a date?"

This time, Ino blinked, taken aback. Then she tilted her head, considering. Sakura knew it was a fair question; Ino never went stag to anything. Going alone was preposterous to her and so it was definitely out of the question.

"I'll cross that bridge when I come to it," Ino announced and Sakura's lips curved up.

Right.

"Hinata?" Ino turned to their quiet friend. "What about you? See someone you like?"

"Ino, stop it," Sakura reprimanded as Hinata blushed a fierce shade of red.

"What?" Ino feigned a look of innocence. "What'd I do?"

"Ino."

"What?"

"Ino, come on."

"Oh, alright."

"What's all that about?" Temari wondered out loud.

"Hinata's been into Naruto since forever," shared Tenten and Hinata blushed harder.

"Huh." Temari squinted at the guys' table. "The blond, right?"

"Yep."

"Guys," Sakura spoke softly. "We can pick on the remains of his dead body later, okay? But right now he's ten feet away and Hinata's way the hell uneasy."

"Oh, right. Forgot how you get, Hinata," Tenten said. "Sorry."

"It's okay," Hinata said quietly, still blushing.

Ino leaned forward on the table, clasping her hands in front of her and her gaze on Hinata."Honey, like I always say: you know you can do way better than that."

"Oh my God," Sakura muttered to herself and Ino held up her hands.

"Okay, okay. Sorry. But you know where I stand on that. I do not like him."

"He looks hot," Temari noted.

"Ew," Ino shuddered. "Stop."

Temari tilted her head sideways, confused. "But he is hot."

"Well, yeah," Ino shrugged. "They're all hot. So are the vampires before they suck you fucking dry."

Whoa. Okay.

Sakura sucked in a breath before changing the subject once again. "So what are the plans after cheerleading?"

"The Ramen Stand," Tenten answered instantly.

"Do you even need to ask?" Ino grinned wide at her. "Ramen Stand all the way."

"Do you throw shit-fits at Ramen Stand?" Temari asked her warily.

Hinata giggled.

Sakura merely smiled. "They don't serve diet soda there."

"Thank God," Tenten muttered with mirth in her eyes.

"No, it was good. You got the bitchy part down." Temari told her. "I would've liked to see it again."

"I know, right?" Ino exclaimed gleefully. "That's what I keep telling her!"

The fifth period bell went off then, but Temari carried on, "What's Ramen Stand anyway?"

"Only a place with the best coffee ever," Hinata answered and Ino nodded in agreement.

"I think we have classes to get to," Sakura stated before getting up because if Temari asked any more questions about their favorite café, Ino would no doubt answer them with additional explanation on the paint color of the walls, describe the exact shade of the lights and whatnot, and all of it would take some time.

Everyone followed and Hinata murmured, "We'll meet on the field?"

"Yep." Sakura answered before she heard voices and turned to see Ino and Tenten still at their tired old squabble about Sakura's latest cafeteria chaos.

The part she heard before she tuned out went something like this.

Tenten: It's demanding!

Ino: Good customers are always demanding.

Tenten: It's ridiculous!

Ino: There's nothing ridiculous about it. It's freaking awesome!

Tenten: It puts her on the spotlight!

Ino: Did anyone of our national heroes complain if they were ever in harm's way for stating their opinions? If someone wants a certain type of soda, they should get that type of soda!

Now Ino was comparing Sakura's public stunts to national heroes.

Jesus.

She didn't know why Tenten was spurring her on because Sakura knew Tenten loved her stunts anyway.

Sakura faced to see Temari step close next to her and say, "You're all crazy as shit. I like you guys already."

Another one. Perfect.

A while later, Sakura said her laters and walked down the hall. Instead of taking the usual route, she took a detour to Drama on a mere whim and then she stopped by the nurse's office to see Ms Nohara, maybe to have a quick word about her dating situation since the nurse never minded sharing stuff about herself.

She wondered if Mr Shiranui had scored.

It never hurt to ask.


He did not know what the fuck he was doing here.

All he knew was, he needed an easy class.

So he'd picked Debate.

Fucking Debate.

Naruto scowled at the handout he'd been given by Mei Tarumi, a pretty auburn haired teacher they'd had around ever since they were sophomores with way bright pink lipstick that she somewhat managed to pull off.

He didn't feel too great.

He thought this would be easy.

If the weekly time table was any indication, it was not.

Fuck.


It was sixth period, the last class of the day.

Ino was glad the day was almost over. She had a ton of shit to talk about with Sakura and Hinata and go over their days. And she was also glad because the last class was Journalism.

After lunch, Ino separated from her best friends, whereupon Hinata headed for World History class, Sakura headed for Drama and Ino hoofed it to her favorite class ever, Home Ec.

She loved the class because of many reasons.

Firstly because of her teacher who made the class interesting (not that it wasn't already interesting, but her jokes helped). Secondly simply because it was Home Ec and Ino loved it. Thirdly because she excelled at it.

So she rode the wave of excitement through an easy introduction to sewing (like she didn't know that shit by the time she was five years old, but hey) and meandered out like she had all the time in the world when the bell rang.

And now, finally it was Journalism and that meant they were free. Well, at least she and Hinata were. The building next to the school that used to be an old ratty-assed library was being converted into space for the Journalism department to use, since the department was way overdue an upgrade to accommodate the expansion of the school paper. The school paper, which, incidentally, was a big deal in Konoha, almost as big a deal as the real paper.

The place was apparently still being organized, and so the regular members of the Journalism department were making sure it was being just that. Which meant Sakura was there with the J-Squad right now, probably bossing around those fuckers with flair.

Good for her.

Ten minutes ago, Ino caught Hinata at her locker and led her down the hallway to the large double-doors, from where they headed directly to the huge field.

Which brought her back to now—insanely content in the bleachers as she watched the football team practice on the field.

She watched a guy she didn't know stop at the corner of the field and shed his T-shirt quickly.

Boy, was he ripped.

She didn't even try to close her mouth.

It was safe to say Ino was glad the new members of the J-group got to sit out the refurnishing crap.

"Ino." She heard from next to her.

"Just a second, Hinata."

"But Ino—"

"A minute."

"Ino, there's—"

"One minute."

"Uh, you don't—"

"Ino!" That wasn't Hinata.

She had a pretty good idea who it was.

She whirled on the voice to confirm and yep, she was right.

It was Coach Maito.

Now Ino closed her mouth.

He stood on the bleachers next to Hinata, smiling huge at her.

Christ, she should've listened to Hinata and they should've made a run for it.

"Hi, Coach!" Ino called out, fake enthusiastically because first, she wasn't too fired up about being interrupted while she was surveying the talent (Sakura's words) and second because no amount of enthusiasm could match his, so she didn't even try summoning something real. "What's up?"

"You girls going for the cheerleading team this year too?"

Ino groaned inwardly. "I'm co-captain," she reminded him of something he had to know since she reminded him of it every time they met.

"Oh, yes. Hinata? You?"

Hinata opened her mouth to answer but Ino beat her to it.

"Sports really aren't her thing, Coach."

Coach Maito sighed. "Too bad. I hear the girls' volleyball team is good this year."

Now Ino sighed too.

He was well-known trying to ambush unsuspecting students into joining teams and practices but come on.

"She'll check it out," Ino lied, knowing that no way in hell would Hinata ever check it out, seeing as sports really weren't her thing and neither had she taken up cheerleading no matter how much Ino or Sakura begged her to.

But it did the trick.

Coach Maito shot a blinding smile their way. "That's all I can ask, kids. It'd be great if you did. We got a cracker football team this year. Would like something more on for the girls."

Yeah, sure, great.

Ino smiled at him. "Of course."

"See you girls later."

"See you later, Coach." Ino replied and Hinata repeated after her.

Ino resumed looking back towards the shirtless dude, who was now running wide with the ball in his hand.

Yes, yummy.

This was the life.

She could clear the rush of boys in her mind as much as she wanted but she'd never give this up; this shit was better than TV.

Coach Maito was right about one thing, this year had a cracker football team.

Suddenly, Ino needed to know how long she'd have this sort of entertainment.

"When is the J-team gonna be done with the J-Department?" Ino asked Hinata over her shoulder.

"They've been working on this for a couple of years now," Hinata reminded Ino. "Slowly though, since there wasn't much of a budget back then, but Sakura said they have pretty cool funds right now. She said she'd see to getting it done in a week or so."

Knowing Sakura, that's exactly what she'd do. This year Kakashi was going to run the Journalism department, but anyone with brains knew Sakura would completely be looking over the J-team and would totally kill it. Kakashi probably wouldn't even need to show up every day.

Boy, was he going to fucking love that.

So Ino had a week of looking at hot guys running around the field shirtless.

Well. She'd make the most of it.

—* * *—

Ino sensed it about fifteen minutes later when she was lounging on her back on the bleachers, her eyes closed, a book lying open on her face, happily content with all the boy-watching she'd done.

She sensed it about a couple of seconds before Hinata gasped somewhere next to her.

She sensed it moments before she heard Coach Maito blow his whistle and yell, "Alright, kids. Fall in line and start with laps."

She rose, pulling the book away from her face and her eyes flew to the field.

She froze.

Oh, Lord have mercy.

They stood in a line at the edge of the field. It was the football team in the flesh, plus a few freshmen prospects. She saw Shikamaru, Naruto, Sasuke, Kiba, Hinata's cousin Neji, Temari's hot brother Gaara and a few other faces she recognized and a few she did not.

But that's not why she froze.

She froze because most of them were shirtless and boy, not only had they kept in shape, but they'd improved in shape.

Shikamaru stood at the front, shirt-off, olive-toned chest bared, hands busy handling his T-shirt. That's when Ino remembered another thing she forgot she loved about Shikamaru. In what was now the past, she'd been intimately acquainted with his chest (and other parts of his anatomy, of course). And she liked it a lot (as well as those other parts of his anatomy, of course).

But right now she wanted to rip through it with her fingernails (and not in a good way).

Ugh.

She felt like leaving a snide remark for him somewhere, so she turned to Hinata who was sitting next to her. The wind had done a number on her dark blue, almost past-the-shoulders hair and as always, it looked good, even if Ino usually preferred longer hair (the last time she'd gotten a haircut except for the occasional trimming was the last time Sakura had gotten a haircut and that was back in seventh grade when both of them had landed a fucking insane dare to do so, which was outrageous—however back then pride was more important than her hair, except now she understood her hair was her pride).

"Who're you gawking at?" She wondered out loud and Hinata faced her and gave her big eyes in response and turned back to the field.

She needn't say more.

Ino turned back to the field too, but this time she did it searching for a noisy blond.

She found Naruto at the water cooler, nabbing a cold Gatorade, tan and shirtless, smiling wide at Neji for whatever reason he smiled wide like an idiot for.

And she gave him points for being hot. He may act like an idiot (that is, smiling at everyone and everything and being annoyingly loud not to mention loudly annoying) but she could understand why Hinata was keen on him.

He was hot. In that I'm-going-to-grow-up-to-be-a-pro-ball-player-so-check-out-my-muscles-and-lean-body sort of way.

But then again, he was Naruto, so Ino was hardly imagining their wedding and naming their kids like Hinata was probably doing next to her.

At that point, Ino decided to keep that to herself.

Her attention was diverted to Sasuke, who had been standing with Shikamaru and Neji probably catching up to the state of their play, and was now departing to the edge of the field to where many discarded shirts lay. His arms crossed downwards as his hands reached for the hem of his tee.

Ino leaned forward in her seat in anticipation.

He whipped it off, balled it up, threw it down and jogged back into the field where he fell in line behind Gaara who was already making laps.

"Oh my God," Ino breathed as she tore her eyes off Sasuke's super-hot, tall, muscled yet lean body.

"I know," Hinata whispered.

"Oh my God," Ino felt it necessary to repeat.

"I know," Hinata whispered again.

Ino fell silent, thinking to herself.

This was bad. Really bad.

Because the football team of hotshot, kickass football players had morphed into the football team of drool-worthy, super-hot guys.

And again, she thought to herself, this was bad.

There were higher powers at work here, she knew. Because it couldn't simply be a coincidence that the football team had decided to unveil their hotness the exact day she went on a boy-boycott.

No, no, no.

This was definitely the work of forces working against her.

Or maybe working with her (depending on the way you look at it and Ino was choosing to look at it negatively right now) by helping her with the boycott so she could concentrate on her life and not her Friday night, Saturday night and sometimes even Sunday night (so that her Monday didn't suck as bad) hookups.

She sighed and her shoulders slumped in defeat.

She'd done harder things before. She could do it.

Her back straightened as she thought, hell, she would do it.

She would overcome these rather large obstacles and get her life straight. Also, she'd find her dream man, however long that took.

In that order.

The rest came later.

Feeling empowered with her decision, she cocked her head to the side as she watched Kiba and Neji, both gorgeous and shirtless, join in after Sasuke in the laps.

She was empowered. That said, she was a female.

So she wouldn't quit watching.


The day went well-enough.

Sakura was in the musty attic of her house, staring in dismay at the mess she'd gathered over the years.

It'd only been a few minutes ago that she'd been in room while her music was playing softly in the background when she felt the sudden urge to go to the attic.

And right now, she was severely distressed.

She'd always loved her room.

Her room was relatively clean. It wasn't always that way. She realized when she was twelve, she had way too much stuff. Always did. It was a habit of hers; keeping everything she didn't need instead of throwing it away. It was usually meaningless things, things like her first Barbie, the first flower Ino gave her (still pressed in between the pages of an old book along with all the other thousand flowers she'd given her simply because her best friend really liked the floral kingdom, seriously, that flower-whore), a retro-looking pen she'd received from the counselor at her first summer camp and the like.

And because of the fact that she'd been living all seventeen years of her life gregariously, there was a lot of memories. And therefore, a lot of things. So she couldn't possibly keep it all in her room.

Which was where the attic came in.

Sakura looked around again at the cardboard boxes and guessed there were probably thirty of them.

All of her shit was awesome.

All of her shit, she was thinking, had to go.

Not the flowers or any pictures, of course. But everything else, she badly wanted to drop.

The idea of starting it all over excited her immensely.

It wasn't something she'd thought about before. She'd just come home from school nearly fifteen minutes ago, saw the note on the fridge that said her parents were out but would be home soon, approached her room and collapsed on the bed with a nagging, almost urgent feeling that she couldn't comprehend.

She'd had the ever-growing boxes since she was eleven and the Harunos moved from a relatively peaceful neighborhood to Cherry Street, a more established part of town. What was even better was that the Hyuugas already lived five houses down and Ino and her dad had even moved in at the end of the street.

She'd been in the same place for six years, owning thirty-something boxes of crap. Six freaking years, holding onto things when she should've let go and made room for new things, new memories.

And out of nowhere, it hit her like lightning that it wasn't her anymore.

She needed to shed that, right now.

She needed room for more.

She quickly grabbed her phone off her desk and sent out a quick text to Ino and Hinata to meet her at Tazuna's Hardware Store and she sprung off the bed.

It was time to get hopping.


Kiba stared at Inari with unconcealed hate and kept wiping at the counter top.

That fucking kid.

Kiba worked at Tazuna's every day from morning till early evening, but now with school starting up, he had talked to Tazuna and switched his schedule to three forty-five till seven everyday after school.

He didn't need to work as much as he did. But it had become a habit now. His mother and sister began hounding him to get a job the first week into summer and he knew that fighting them was pointless. They were women and in one form or another, women usually got their way.

Especially those two.

So he'd thrown in the towel before even trying to oppose them and said he'd get a job. The truth was, he never really intended to do so. He knew, after their nagging was complete, they'd go be a bother elsewhere.

But boy, he'd been wrong.

Once, on his way to North Park to meet up with the guys, he'd seen the Help Wanted sign in the window of Tazuna's Hardware store and had a quick word inside for a job to get his annoying family off his back.

And it worked magnificently.

And now here he was, even after the summer, working. This was because he'd made the shocking discovery that actually he liked working there.

The hours were good, the pay didn't suck and he had something to keep him busy, or busier, now that school was on.

Tazuna could be harshly honest and brash and liked drinking almost as much as Tsunade did but he was a good guy who treated his employees well so Kiba couldn't complain. He liked his boss just fine.

And he liked his fellow employees too.

What he did not like was his boss's brat of a grandson who he was being forced to babysit at the moment.

About ten minutes ago, Tazuna had to run out, babbling some nonsense about about someone messing up the marble slab order, and had stuck Kiba with the little monster. And right now, Kiba was wiping the counter Inari was dripping his ice cream cone all over, all the while not hiding the fact that he was doing it on purpose.

Jesus, that kid.

Kiba didn't like Inari and he knew Inari didn't like him either.

But it did not mean the brat could be a brat about it.

The store was fucking huge. It was being renovated to form one big departmental store and Kiba knew they could pull it off easy. There was still a lot of stuff to carry, a bunch of other things to heft and a shit-load of things to be delivered. They'd need a couple of months to get it all together. All in all, even when it would be done, they'd still have a lot of room and space in the large place. The whole transformation would be a change, but not a bad one. The place would be bigger than it already was.

Maybe because of that, they'd finally one-up Chikara, the annoying mini-mall-owner of Vell's next to them. That's how big Tazuna's would eventually become once they broke in through the wall at the back.

For now, the fact that he could be anywhere other than near this monstrosity of an eight-year-old didn't help. He had to keep watch of the kid, a kid who knew that the regular guy who did the dusting and wiping wasn't here and so he was taking advantage. And Kiba was sucking it up, which meant wiping his food from countertops.

A drip of the ice-cream, a swipe at the counter with the rag.

Another drip, another swipe.

Again and again.

He was just about to lose it when he was interrupted.

"Excuse me?" he heard a voice behind him and he rejoiced inwardly.

He couldn't leave the kid but he couldn't ignore a customer either.

He turned to see a girl behind him, maybe fourteen, fifteen at most. Her head jerked in surprise when he faced her and her eyes and voice went straight to would-be sultry. "Where can I find some..." She looked confused for a moment. "... tools?"

He had to bite his cheek in order to contain a chuckle because not only was younger girls not his gig but neither was ditzy.

"What're you lookin' for?" he answered with a question.

"Uh…" She hesitated and he waited patiently because this was a hardware store and even though they got a lot of girls there who knew what they were doing, they also got a ton of airheads. "…I need a hammer and some nails." She finished, looking unsure.

"Third aisle and I'll be right behind you."

She nodded, a little disappointment evident in her eyes (probably because he hadn't rolled over and asked for her number simply because she batted her lashes) and walked towards the aisle.

That's when Kiba turned to Inari, extremely tired of their game, and plucked the cone right out of his hands.

"Hey!" Inari cried. "That's mine!"

Kiba dropped the cleaning cloth from his hand and walked away from the counter. On his way to the aisle, he dropped the cone right in the dustbin and called over his shoulder, "I'll buy you five tomorrow and you'll eat them outside, brat."

"You jerk!" Inari called him what he always called him, but he lacked his usual fervor, probably considering the idea if not completely mollified with the thought of five ice cream cones.

Kiba sighed as he approached the girl and pointed out the types of hammer and nails she might like.

His life was chaos, starting with his mother and sister, school and the crap-load of homework he already had awaiting him at home, not to mention Inari being an annoyingly irritating aspect of his job and younger girls (like, younger) eyeing him all weird for some completely unhinged reason.

It was utter chaos.

It was also contenting.

—* * *—

Kiba was changing out of the collared white employee shirt in the back room at twelve after seven. He thanked God Tsunami had swung by and picked up her little monster (how he was her son, Kiba would never know, she was sweet as pie and that kid was a piece of work) some while after Kiba had dumped his cone. After she'd left him and the others who worked there a batch of freshly baked cookies, Kiba had taken a seat, popped one in his mouth and kicked back. Tazuna wasn't around to frown at him for his relaxed ways and it was a slow day which was always something rare but hardly unwelcome.

He grabbed his employee shirt, stuffed it in his locker and wasted no time in getting out of there. He was off the clock and no way was he sticking around when he had the crap ton of homework Genma expected him to complete awaiting him when he got home.

He walked down the aisles and spotted a familiar blonde waiting for him at the entrance.

"Yo!" Naruto greeted as he walked up to Kiba.

"Hey." Kiba furrowed his eyebrows. He was pretty sure they didn't have game night with the guys tonight so Naruto couldn't possibly be here to pick him up. "What're you doin' here?"

Just then, the door behind them to the store opened and Kiba whirled to see, no joke, Sakura, Ino and Hinata strolling in, looking as if they came to Tazuna's every day (and they sure as fuck didn't). They stepped in and paused at the entrance, regarded the store in a cool manner—that was, until Ino squealed in delight and rushed off to section of the girlie wallpaper samples.

Kiba didn't know what to make of the fact that these girls, the untouchable ones, were now strolling into a hardware store with various bags (and reading the labels, Kiba saw that most of them were shoes) and containers of frozen yoghurt in their hands. And why were they even eating that, anyway? Didn't girls like that scream, melt or simply evaporate when they accidentally inhaled sugar?

With a glance at Naruto, he saw that his friend was also stunned into oblivion.

It was reasonable, really. This was not exactly the place that came to mind when someone wanted to spot the town's sweethearts. Vell's, maybe. Not Tazuna's.

Then he saw Sakura's gorgeous green eyes land on him and Naruto and then she gave them a brilliant smile, as if they were long lost friends (well, okay, Naruto probably kind of was) which was weird because even though Kiba wasn't blind and he knew she was fucking gorgeous, they only exchanged one word whenever they saw each other and that was either "Hey" or "Yo", depending on how he felt.

Even though this whole event made it to Kiba's top ten of all the weirdest things that he'd ever seen (and damn, he'd seen serious weird shit which was a given considering he was a chameleon and a sponge, always adapting to a situation quickly, and continuously blending and soaking), he battled the urge to look for any hidden cameras (since this had to be a joke) and called out to her, "Somethin' you need?"

There was no hesitation when she approached him, Hinata with her. "Yes, please. We need to do some painting. Do you have the Grey 2.0, the one Vell's carries? And the accents for feature walls, in silver? Or better yet, do you have a booklet thingy where I could just check out some samples?"

Kiba nodded to cover up his immense shock at the fact that Sakura Haruno, a girl so immensely sophisticated and refined that she shone of it, was dirtying her hands with a task as mundane as buying paint.

He headed over to the table, grabbed a booklet and handed it to her. Then he went back to the table and looked around for someone to stay with the girls and get them what they needed. He caught Kiri's eyes across the back, a junior in Konoha University who worked the night shifts at the store, and then signaled him to take over with the customers. Kiri wound his way over to Sakura and Hinata, said something to them, they nodded and then he began leading them down the sixth aisle.

"That was weird," stated Naruto from behind him.

"Yeah." Kiba said. No kidding. Then he refocused back on his friend. "You never said what you were doin' here."

Naruto shrugged. "Got nothing going on. Been wonderin' about it for a while now. Decided today to finally haul ass here and ask."

This made absolutely no sense to Kiba so he just raised his eyebrows and waited.

"Want a job, man."

Kiba's head jerked back in surprise. "What?"

Naruto wanted a job. A job. To work.

This was sure as fuck an interesting day.

Naruto shrugged again. "Nothing regular. Weekends, every now and then. And it's not like I couldn't use the pay."

Kiba stared at the counter, thinking he could see this. Even though after his parents' death Naruto had become the sole recipient of a large amount of constant wealth (something most of Konoha had), he only got an almost-generous allowance every month instead of the real thing. To get the whole thing, he'd have to be eighteen, something which was only about two months away.

Kiba could share his feelings about it. When Kiba's dad cheated on his mom and she found out, she divorced his ass and totally cleaned him out, which was cool, considering the guy was a doctor and he was pretty damn rich. But it was far from cool that Kiba was permitted only about a tiny fraction of an allowance from it.

His eyes went back to Naruto.

He was far from needy but if he wanted a job, he'd get a job.

"I'll talk to Tazuna." Kiba replied and Naruto's face split into a grin.

"Thanks, dude."

"Yeah, whatever."

For this reason, this deepened his friend's smile into a shit-eating one. "Boy, am I gonna fucking love working with you."

Kiba stared at him for a few confused seconds before it hit him. "You wouldn't."

Naruto simply kept grinning.

No.

Kiba groaned.

Inari.

And now Naruto.

With that, what he could look forward to was two annoying aspects to his job.

He'd just fucked himself and did it royally.

Christ.


"That one looks like a cow."

That was Chouji.

They were staring at the clouds on their backs, in the grass under the huge tree by the side, their usual spot in Konoha Park, with the sun going down in the horizon.

Shikamaru snorted. "That's no fuckin' cow. It's a duck."

"Dude, it's a cow. How is it even a duck? Just look at it."

"It's a duck."

"A cow."

"Duck."

"Cow."

They fell into comfortable silence, which was how it'd been since kindergarten when Shikamaru got bored in class and snuck up on the roof to watch the clouds, finding that Chouji also snuck up there to get away for a peace of mind often. Once, Shikamaru had tired of seeing Chouji sitting on the seat in the corner and invited him to watch clouds with him. And just like that, they'd become best friends.

Since then, they'd carried on with the proud tradition of cloud-watching together.

Suddenly, Chouji cleared his throat and began, "Uh… how'd it go? The first day of school, I mean? Better than last year?"

Shikamaru frowned at the leaves overhead. It had been a couple of hours since they met up and now it had to be around seven. His mom was going to lose it if he was late for dinner and would hand him shit (something that never failed to amuse his dad), so he needed to get up and get going with a ten minute headstart on the fifteen minute walk from North Park to his house on Zipper's.

Zipper's was a well-known, reputable residential and was just like Cherry Street in every sense except for the fact that Zipper's was way more fucking crowded (also, Cherry Street was near the lake, whereas Zipper's was a little further away).

Chouji had it good, of course, living at Cherry Street. He didn't need fucking headstarts to get there in time for dinner.

But then again, Chouji was always on time for dinner. Even though the guy had lost a ton of weight since last year, he liked food and made no bones about it.

Personally, Shikamaru considered everyone rich and famous to reside in Cherry Street or Zipper's. No fucking way could anyone not rolling in it be at Cherry or Zipper's.

But then again, that was Konoha. Money was one of the perks of living in a well-off small town.

Shikamaru sighed before turning to his best friend. "Anything would be better than last year, Chouji."

Chouji smiled. "Ain't that right?"

That's when Shikamaru knew he was pushing his luck, got to his feet, brushed the blades of grass off his jeans and looked to Chouji.

"Gonna take off now."

Chouji gave him a chin lift and reminded him, "Touch base with me tomorrow."

"Will do. Later."

"Later, Shika."

He made the brisk walk out of Konoha Park and turned down at Cross. There, he passed by the ever-growing crowd at the mall and spared Tazuna's a glance, slowing down for a second when he spotted Kiba and Naruto through the glass double doors. Kiba was standing with his hands at his hips, wearing a pained expression and even though Naruto's back was to him, he could see his mouth moving and he was saying something to Kiba.

It was around the time Kiba got off work, Shikamaru knew. Whatever warranted Naruto's arrival and Kiba staying late, he didn't know.

Maybe he could swing by, see if they wanted to join him on his walk home, seeing as they lived at Zipper's too.

That's when he saw her.

Ino, arms flowing with shopping bags, coming up behind Kiba and impatiently gesturing at some sort of booklet in her hand.

Bitch could shop.

She and her girls could always shop.

She could also be an annoyingly hysterical customer, something she was no doubt doing right now as Kiba's expression went from pained to harassed within a simple second and he turned from Naruto towards her.

Then as she proceeded to rant at Kiba, Shikamaru thought about her. He thought about what a great friend she'd been, then what a horrible girlfriend. Then he thought about the ugly break up. Then he decided to stop thinking about shit related to Ino because that was the only way he'd ever find peace.

Suddenly, she looked up over Kiba's shoulder and caught Shikamaru's gaze and promptly froze.

No, he thought. Fuck no. He turned sharply back to the road. She could make her wounded eyes at someone else. No fucking way was he getting reeled into shit he was glad he was free of.

With that thought in mind, he strode through towards Zipper's when what just happened truly hit him. He'd just avoided his friends because of his shit with Ino.

He changed his actions to accommodate her existence.

This was alarming.

He was going to have to do something about this, outline barriers, make fences, strengthen the gap, highlight where she stood when it came to him and his life.

And she'd better stand far, far away.

Because if he didn't make it so, he could be changing his life to mold it to Ino's whims whether she knew it or not and no… fucking… way was that ever happening again.

Ever.

He quickened his pace and laced his decision with steel; ready to deliver the blow to his ex-bitch whenever he could that she was to retreat.

He didn't imagine she'd take it well.

He also didn't fucking care.

She'd played with matches when he told her getting together was a bad idea. She didn't listen. She never fucking listened.

And now that there was fire, and definitely not the good kind, she was the one acting hurt.

He had a pretty damn high IQ. So why couldn't he be rid of his recklessness? All that idiocy that led him here in the first place? Jesus, what was he even thinking when he got into it with Ino? He was so done with the whole last year bullshit.

He hoped everyone else was too, because no matter what he did, he couldn't shake the feeling that the mess of all that was Konoha High was going to get messier. There was no doubt about the fact that he'd dug himself out of a ditch when last year ended. But he had the nagging sensation that he was going to end up back in the ditch again, only this time it'd be deeper.

He wasn't loving this.

Glancing at his wristwatch, he realized he hadn't really hurried by much considering he was late by two minutes. Man, was Ma going to lay into him big time.

Another thing he really needed right now.

Fuck him.

note2: i love each and every one of them. so, none of the characters take a backseat in my story. everyone is important and therefore they get their own perspectives. but that said, it doesn't mean i'll write down every single person's perspective for every chapter. this was the prologue, so it was kinda sorta all over the place. that will not be happening onwards but I will repeat: everyone will get their screen-time in a more smooth flow of things.

note3: review and let me know what you think. :)