title: Killin' It

chapter: Grape Kool-Aid, or The Way Things Are Gonna Be

author: AlexisKeller

rating: M, for some serious language.

pairings: a ton of them.

disclaimer: there you go.

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

note1: heyy.

Killin' It

Grape Kool-Aid, or The Way Things Are Gonna Be

"It's not a big deal or anything," Hinata heard Sakura say over the speaker phone. "I mean, it's just painting, right? I've got the equipment and I'll get to it when I have time. Which, by the way, will probably be after the Journalism department is done since it is sucking up my life."

"Oh, you love it," Hinata replied, finally finding the Cocoa Pops next to the Corn Flakes after a whole minute of rummaging in the crowded kitchen cabinet. She grabbed the box and emptied it into a bowl, dished in some milk and seized a spoon.

Yes, she was having full-out real-real cereal for breakfast.

Maybe she was old school that way.

"I do," Sakura admitted with a laugh as Hinata dug in. "A big part of it may be that I love bossing people around in general. But still."

"You do know we're here to help, right?" Hinata asked behind the gigantic spoonful she'd stuffed in. "As in, whenever you're up for it." Tearing down Sakura's room to start decorating it to match the new her seemed like a really fun idea.

"Yeah. Ino practically set up camp in my attic last night, waiting on standby, ready to paint and everything." Sakura told her.

Hinata could see that. Totally.

"So what's today's plan?"

"Well, since I have to head in early for some work on the Journalism department, I'm heading to school in a few."

Hinata looked across the kitchen at the clock in the living room.

It read seven twenty-three.

She felt sorry for her friend.

"And since it's like fucking seven thirty already," Sakura went on, "I'm in Ramen Stand right now getting coffee."

Hinata nodded in approval even though Sakura couldn't exactly see her.

"And Ino's picking you up somewhere around eight fifteen," she went on.

"Cool."

"Well, better get going," Sakura said. "See you later."

Hinata bid her goodbye before she hung up and continued with her cereal. That was when Neji walked in, grabbed a glass, opened the fridge and poured himself some orange juice, closed the fridge and walked out, all while ignoring her very existence.

Hinata shoved her spoon in her bowl a little too forcefully this time, wondering why he was even here.

Then she remembered that his place—the one a few streets away at Zipper's—was being exterminated for bugs and he'd come over to stay for a few days yesterday.

She wondered why he didn't stay at his place, seeing as he was just that; an insect.

Then she scolded herself because even though Neji was a jerk, she was being mean.

That was when Neji walked in again, placed his glass in the sink, grabbed a bagel and headed out without sparing her a single glance.

To heck with it, she fumed. On the way home from school, she'd bring the freaking bug repellent.


Sakura slipped her phone in her pocket just as she reached the front of the line.

She gave her coffee order and waited.

She liked sleeping in as much as the next person (which was a lot) so she didn't appreciate being way the hell early. But she knew that when duty called, she'd have to suck it up.

Therefore she was sucking it up.

She sighed, adjusted her bag and flipped her hair over her shoulder.

Doing that—that is, flipping her hair over shoulder—she saw something.

Or someone.

Sasuke Uchiha, all hot and striking and tall, was walking to the counter, coming up to stand just behind her, for what looked like a refill.

Oh wow.

How had she missed him here?

She risked another discreet glance at him because come on. He was very, very attractive.

And that's when she noticed something odd. It wasn't surprising that there weren't a lot of people at the Ramen Stand that early in the day (just a couple seated on one of the three tables outside, two girls that looked like they could be freshman at Konoha High seated inside next to the bar and a man squinting at a book while he sipped his steaming coffee at the corner table inside).

What really pulled her to a stop was how everyone (or at least, all the girls) had their attention riveted to Tall, Dark and Intensely Handsome behind her.

All of them.

The woman from the couple outside, both the Konoha High girls, the girl behind the counter and even Sakura herself, in a way.

He did that, capturing their attention. He did it.

Easily.

"Move."

Sakura shook her head once sharply, focusing on the person himself.

Sasuke just stared at her blankly while the panic filtered in her mind and she gulped.

He was sheer perfection.

How do you even talk to people like that?

"Move," he said again.

"What?" She whispered like the utter fool she was.

He was silent for a moment, his expression giving away nothing. Then, "Order's up."

Blinking rapidly, her face red, she turned back to the counter and saw that her drink was indeed done, but the barista was far too busy staring at Sasuke with obvious color in her cheeks to actually inform Sakura of that fact.

God.

From the corner of her eye, she saw that the man who had been last squinting at his book was now looking thoughtfully in their direction.

That right there proved what Sakura had already guessed.

It wasn't just that he was hot, no. Well, he was, extremely so, but that wasn't all. Sasuke Uchiha was a force of nature. It just wasn't how good-looking he was.

It was just him.

His presence demanded attention.

Sakura quickly slapped down money on the counter, jolting Tessa the barista out of her Sasuke-induced daydream, grabbed her coffee and made for the door.

Even though she'd said to Ino that she'd make an effort to get to know him or something along those lines, she bolted.

That sucked.

That sucked because she prided herself on being cool even in the not-so-cool situations and what she was doing now was far too chicken to be cool. Also that she was chickening out at the moment because she was far too unnerved.

Again, this sucked.

She'd try again, though.

Just not today.


Naruto had made a list.

It was a mental list of all the things he immediately needed to get started on now that school was on.

One—the top priority—was to make sure that what was now the football team of champions did exactly what they were doing and were supposed to do, that is: rock.

Okay, so maybe he was a little obsessed with football.

Fuck that, it was in his blood.

Two—which arguably should've been one—was not to fail in Chemistry.

Three was to move on from the darkness he'd been shoved in when fate had handed him serious shit last year, and the last but not least was to revel in the awesomeness that was going to be his life.

Fuck yeah.

On that note, he rounded the corner and slowed down when he spotted Sasuke sitting outside, drinking his coffee and what looked like that thick Psych book of his cracked open in front of him.

Naruto landed on the seat opposite him and eyed the table.

Just Sasuke's cup and book.

No much needed caffeine for him.

"Seriously?" Naruto began. "Could've ordered for me. Common courtesy, you know."

"Get it yourself," was all Sasuke said without sparing him a glance.

Christ.

Naruto barely resisted the urge to roll is eyes and muttered, "Be back."

Then he made his way inside, ordered his coffee strong and got himself a powdered doughnut he'd nearly finished by the time he was out the door.

As he walked to Sasuke's table, he saw that the book was gone, and his friend was leaning back, eyes on him.

Naruto could've asked him how his day went after football practice yesterday. Or when Sasuke'd gotten here and how long he'd been at his book because Naruto was pretty sure his friend was here earlier than the time they'd agreed on.

But the time for ridiculous conversation would be later, because right now he had something far more important to do.

Naruto sat down and looked him in the eye.

Then said, "Well? You gonna keep me waitin'? Where is she?"

That's when he got a minimal reaction from Sasuke. A side of his lips kicked up and he replied, "You get your ass up, maybe I'll show you."

So that's exactly what Naruto did. He grabbed his backpack and coffee and Sasuke grabbed his. Then Sasuke led him across the street and a little way down.

And that's when he saw it.

Smooth. Sleek. Brand new and absolutely fucking stunning.

An engineer's wet dream.

Naruto hadn't noticed he'd stopped dead as he took in Sasuke's sweet ride, but he finally snapped out of it when he heard Sasuke open the door and go, "Just gonna stand there or you gettin' in?"

Fuck yes, he was getting in.

He didn't want it mistaken; his Jaguar was his Jaguar and a very sweet ride. But this was different.

As he took in his friend's ride, he wondered if there was some kink in there somewhere because nothing could ever be that perfect.

He wanted to ogle for a while more, but since he knew well enough that Sasuke's patience spanned the entirety of a pinky finger, he moved his ass. Then his ass hit the leather seat in Sasuke's new kickass charcoal Porsche and he turned to his friend.

He grinned at him.

He was surprised when Sasuke I-Give-No-Fucks Uchiha actually grinned back.

A moment later that grin was gone and he expertly started the car.

The engine purred to life.

Naruto laughed, because yes.

Perfection.


Ino was having a bad day.

This was quite the accomplishment considering it was only eight in the morning.

Her dad was home.

She hated that.

She hated that because him being home meant she had to be rude to him.

And she infinitely hated having to be rude to him even more.

"Ino?" She heard her dad from the hallway as she sat in the kitchen, downing a quick makeshift breakfast of scrambled eggs and orange juice (scrambled eggs were probably the only thing in her cooking arsenal that she could achieve without spoiling the whole thing).

She didn't reply.

"Ino, honey, you still home?"

She still didn't reply.

Her dad made it to the kitchen and saw her getting done with breakfast. Not exactly dissuaded by her behavior, he leaned over and kissed her on top of her head, as per routine.

"You got practice today?" He asked.

Yes, she did. She had cheerleading practice every Monday, Tuesday and Friday.

But she wasn't going to tell him that.

Not using words, anyway. She'd stuck a Post-It on the fridge saying she'd be home around four and that was one of the few things he'd still get from her.

She saw as he looked directly to the fridge, spotted the Post-It note stuck on the top and sighed resignedly.

She got up then, not only because she was late and had to pick up Hinata but also because she couldn't bear this a second longer. She grabbed her plate and glass, carried it to the sink and rinsed them clean.

During this, her dad got up and lifted the lid of the pan on the cold stove. Then he heaved another sigh.

She knew what he'd found. It was what he found every morning.

She made him eggs for breakfast.

Another one of the few things he still got from her.

Ino knew a couple of things well about herself: She could be a bitch. She could also be a bitch.

She couldn't seem to be either to her dad.

And that was annoying. Like, really, really annoying. So she had set aside a few conditions she could follow to make her not be a complete bitch to him. Conditions like leaving Post-Its for him so he always knew where she was. Conditions like leaving him scrambled eggs for breakfast because her dad was worse than her at fending for himself. Conditions that meant he'd have all that he had from her before except for her words.

Meaning she wouldn't talk to him.

She hadn't talked to him for almost five months now.

She was scared any day, she might break.

Maybe she needed to. She was well aware that things couldn't go on like they'd been going on. Her life was a mess she needed to start picking up, pronto. Starting with fixing things with her dad. Purging herself from the memories of Shikamaru. Finding her identity; who she really was, without all the drama.

Maybe drama was all she had.

No, she refused to think that.

She'd been thinking about this for a longer time than she had let on. This being the thought of fixing her relationship with her father. It was long overdue, and it was high time she did something about it. But for today, she was going to avoid confrontation.

She was never that strong anyway.

She pushed all such thoughts out of her head, snagged her book-bag off the table and left. Left her dad, left that kitchen, left that house and only felt relief when the door slammed shut behind her.

If only she could leave her problems behind in that house. Man, she wished. But it wasn't that easy. Her problems followed her wherever she went.

They were everywhere.

—* * *—

"Hurry up!" Ino called out to Hinata as soon as she pulled up in front of the Hyuuga's residence. "We've got a window of only five minutes to get coffee and make it to school!"

As Hinata hurried down the path with her book-bag over her shoulder, Ino threw open the door of her dad's Chevy Equinox and her friend launched herself in.

"Hey," she exhaled.

"Yo," Ino greeted back.

Not even waiting for her to strap in, she hit the gas.

"SUV?" Hinata questioned with surprise once she put on her seatbelt.

"Yeah, mine was a running a little low on gas and I don't really think we have the time to take care of that right now," explained Ino and then commanded, "You go inside Ramen Stand, get our drinks, we take off and might even make it to school with about a couple of seconds to spare."

That got her an immediate grin from Hinata. "You got it."

Four minutes and thirty-nine seconds later (she made Hinata time it), they were pulling into the parking lot. By some miracle, they'd managed to secure a good spot (at the front, near the building and across the field).

Ino jumped out and reached for her bag. "Oh my God."

"That was close," Hinata murmured in agreement.

Ino made a face. "No kidding. Sorry for being late."

Hinata smiled, "We made it, didn't we?"

Ino shrugged as she looked around, taking in the rush of students and stuffed her car keys in her bag. "Let's go."

"What's all that?"

At the sound of Hinata's voice, Ino turned to look at where maybe half the student body was gathered.

She was instantly curious. "Beats me."

She noticed that the crowd was dissolving slowly. They had maybe two minutes to get to class, tops, but she still strained to get a look in.

And she caught it.

Sasuke sauntering out of a shiny black Porsche.

Wow.

The car looked good and all, but Sasuke along with the car equaled major lady squeals.

Another plus for the female population of Konoha.

Ino grumbled to herself quietly. Like they even needed more hot guys around here.

Fucking great.

—* * *—

She liked her Physics teacher, Asuma Sarutobi, a lot. Really, she did. And she believed he liked her too, because how could he not? They were good.

Well, him liking her might be a stretch being that she'd always been late to his class for as long as she could remember (and not on purpose), but she was making an effort not to this year.

Ino had made it to class just bare seconds before him today but wasn't late nonetheless.

And she wasn't an idiot in his class either. She was actually good (which was a lot more than she could say about Math; thank God she'd switched that out this year).

She also never disrespected him in any way.

Which begged the question: why the fuck was he doing this to her right now?

If Sakura was here, she'd laugh. If Hinata was here, she might have had a heart attack.

But Ino? Ino simply could not believe her ears.

She hoped, hoped to God this was a mistake.

"Uh, what?" she heard Shikamaru ask.

Asuma did not look at up as he sifted through some files on his desk and repeated nonchalantly, "You were late to class yesterday. I sentenced you to make up the work. Then I suggested you could borrow Ino's notes. What part of that was hard to get, Nara?"

No.

No.

Ino stared hard at Asuma, hoping to God this was a joke. Did he not know?

She dismissed the thought as soon as it came to her. Of course he knew. Everybody knew what went down with her and Shikamaru last year.

Was this a funny attempt at a joke? Was this some half-assed effort to push them together to have them make good or something?

Whichever one of the two it was, it was one thing for sure: not happening.

And now, worse, the whole class was suddenly attentively quiet. So quiet, you could hear a pin drop anywhere in the room.

And that was never good.

"Uh," Shikamaru frowned at their teacher. "What?"

"For an intelligent kid, you sure have an impressive set of hearing skills."

Ino perched at the edge of seat, waiting for him to say more.

But thank God, that was it for then.

But then again, that was enough. No, it was more than enough.

For the rest of the entire length of class, Ino stared at her AP Physics book unseeingly.

When the bell rang for second period and class started clearing out, she stayed back.

She stayed back long enough to give Mr. Sarutobi a piece of her mind.

He was back to rifling through papers and books on the table but she gave it no second thought when she stalked over, ready to unleash all hell.

But she couldn't get suspended or worse, expelled, so she had to keep her shit together.

"What are you thinking?" She borderline screeched.

If he was surprised in any way or form, he did not show it.

"Don't know what you're talking about, kid," he mumbled distractedly, as if she was some annoying bee he wanted to shoo away.

"Sure you don't."

"I'm busy, Yamanaka. Get out of my classroom till you've got somethin' I wanna hear."

She harrumphed.

His eyes came to hers. "Do you have a lot of time on your hands?"

She did not.

He went on, "Because I got a load of homework for people lookin' for something to do and since you're not gone and in your teacher's face, hell bent on givin' me an earful, I'm thinkin' you got time on your hands."

Jesus.

"I don't have time on my hands," she snapped and his attention went back to his work.

"Good then. Get going."

She was angry but she couldn't chance pissing off the only teacher who put up with her tardiness (just barely).

So she got going.


It'd been about ten minutes since the bell for recess went off and Sakura was now exiting the Journalism department.

She made quick work of the steps and called over her shoulder to the couple of guys leaving behind her, "Good work today, guys!"

They sent her grins and she turned her attention back to rushing to the school parking lot on the right.

The afternoon rush at Konoha High was always bad. Worse than the morning rush. Maybe it had something to do with the fact people were never as ecstatic to get school than they were leaving it. Lots of reasons played in for why. There was the fact that people wanted to get away from school. Another thing could be that whoever got to the Ramen Stand first always got the best tables (if any).

Whatever it was, Sakura knew she had to hurry her ass because Ino and Hinata were probably waiting for her.

She spotted Ino leaning against her SUV and sent her a wave. Her best friend waved back, climbing in to the driver's seat.

It looked like Hinata wasn't here yet.

As Sakura reached the SUV, she saw something shiny from the corner of her eye.

Twisting, she got a good look in at Sasuke pulling out of the lot in a black Porsche.

Like always, he looked good. Really good.

And maneuvering the car with ease like he'd been born to do it, he somehow looked even better.

Hmm.

She climbed into Ino's car and Ino asked, "Good day?"

God, yes. But so, so tiring, too. They'd finally gotten the rest of the furniture in today so she and the J-team spent the day lugging around shit where it would fit best or wherever it'd look good.

But like Hinata said to her in the morning, despite all the sacrifices she had to make for the Journalism department (sacrifices like sleep, energy and time, to name a few), she still loved it.

"Yep," she answered. "You? Good day?"

"Hmm," Ino purred in response. "Great day, honey."

Sakura raised an eyebrow.

God, whatever the hell Ino spent her time doing at the bleachers during Journalism, she had to get to it. Especially if it could mellow her out like that.

"Yeah? Great day? Including Physics class?"

Ino frowned, immediately put out. "Hey, don't bring that up. I was pissed during lunch when I ranted."

"Yeah, no kidding."

"Still, though, can you imagine what he could've been thinking?" Ino grunted, back to her sour mood from earlier. "He actually asked Shikamaru to borrow notes from me. Me. And everyone knows my notes are fucking ugly. What the hell was that?"

Sakura shrugged. "Beats me. Your guess is as good as mine."

"Well, my guess is that he was meddling."

Sakura sat up straight and turned her wide eyes to the review mirror to find Ino's frustrated ones.

"What? You can't be serious."

"I hope not because that was truly as all hell awkward."

"I can imagine."

Ino shook her head quickly. "Forget it. Think positive thoughts. Thoughts like you have to join me and Hinata and the bleachers during sixth period sometime. That crap is amazing."

Now Sakura was just confused. "Watching the guys play?"

"Jesus, no," Ino said impatiently. "Watching shirtless, hot guys playing. There's a huge difference."

Sakura bit her lip. Sure, maybe there was.

"I'll join you guys when I'm done," Sakura answered, referring to her J-team project.

"Yay. Now when will you guys be done?"

Sakura shrugged. "I can't give you a number, since I really don't know. But with the work now finally dwindling, I'd say pretty soon."

Ino sighed dejectedly before admitting, "I actually don't want the J-Department done. Not because I don't finally want to take Journalism, but because I don't want to have to stop the guy-watching."

Sakura had to grin at that. "Tough luck."

"Maybe some hottie will join Journalism and run around playing sweaty football games every now and then?" The hope in Ino's voice could not be mistaken for anything else.

Sakura doubted it but still went, "Maybe."

"Too much to hope for?"

"Maybe."

But as it turned out later, very later, the thought wasn't all that impossible.

—* * *—

"What's up?" Sakura asked when they stopped in front of her house but Ino cut off the engine and hopped out of the car.

"I desperately have to pee."

Sakura laughed. "Come on in."

"You know, if you could hold it for one more minute, you could get to your own bathroom," Hinata reminded Ino as she got out of the car too.

"That's the thing—I can't hold it!" Ino called as she snatched Sakura's spare key from under the red plant next to the door and sprinted inside.

"That's still not safe, you know!" Her voice came at them from inside.

Sakura sighed. She did know. God knows enough people had told her. But it was a thing now, placing the key there, and now she hardly could change it.

"It's really not," Hinata agreed next to her and she just laughed it off as she pulled it out of the keyhole and closed the door behind them.

"Something to eat?" Sakura trudged her way to the kitchen, opening the fridge.

"Yes, please," Hinata settled on the one of the seats at the island.

Finding a plate full of sandwiches in the front with Sakura's name scrawled in black Sharpie on the plastic wrapping over it, Sakura mentally thanked her fussy mother. She took it out, pulled the wrap off the plate and placed it between Hinata and herself.

Ino wound her way down the stairs as they dug in and Sakura shoved the plate to Ino, who immediately jumped at the food.

"Oh God," Ino said, just one bite in. "This is one of the many reasons why I love your mom. She makes great food."

"So does yours," Hinata said to her, and it was true. Just last weekend Ino's mother had them over for dinner; a dinner that turned out to be a hefty feast.

"Yeah," Ino nodded, her shoulders drooping. "But I hate having to go all the way to her place just for good food. I really wish I didn't have to do that."

Sakura saw her friend's pain clear as day. She too like Ino wished that her friend's parents hadn't separated sometime late last year, just so she didn't have to see Ino be so miserable about it. Not only did the entire thing cause Ino regular pain, but it also drove a wedge between her and her dad. And of course, she also felt the loss of her mom since that she had moved all the way to the edge of town.

"Then just come over here," Sakura said to her. "It's not like we have any shortage of food. Mom rarely needs an excuse to feed people."

A side of Ino's lips tipped up halfheartedly as if she knew what Sakura was trying to do, but she let it go. A moment later, Ino's phone sounded and she grabbed it off the counter, read a quick text and looked up at Sakura and Hinata.

"Gotta go. Dad needs his car and since mine has a nearly empty tank, he can't take that one."

Hinata stood up after finishing her second sandwich. "Me too. I want to get home before Dad or Neji gets back." So I don't need to see them were words she didn't add but they were heard equally loudly.

"You really have to fix what you have going on with your family," Ino observed, getting up and dusting any crumbs off her hands.

"Look who's talking," said Sakura, grinning at Ino.

"Ugh, fine, God." Ino held her hands up in defense before turning to Hinata. "Come on, I'll drop you back."

Hinata nodded as she made her way to the door and Ino followed, calling out a goodbye over her shoulder as they left.

Sakura looked around, wondering what to do now. Her parents wouldn't be back till around four and she couldn't lay back and be lazy. She had a lot of homework that day, so as she eyed the plate of sandwiches, she figured she'd better get started.

—* * *—

It was later that evening around seven when her homework was done, her Chem test all prepared for and her outfit already put together for tomorrow that she was out for frozen yoghurt with Ino. Hinata hadn't been lucky enough to be finished studying for her Calculus test, so she'd stayed behind. But they did promise they'd swing by with her favorite Watermelon Works, so that had to be good motivation for her.

They got out when Ino parked and both of them walked to Iced up ahead when it happened.

She saw Sasuke and Kiba walking slowly along the curbed road, appearing in view from behind Iced.

She was pretty sure they were heading back home from a game at Konoha Park. She was sure because one, they wore those flail-y sleeveless sports shirts that looked good and two because they looked like they were sweating.

And man, they (especially Sasuke) looked great.

Maybe it was because she'd never seen this before like Ino had a thousand times at the bleachers. Or maybe it was because she'd taken to making a fool of herself around Sasuke. The reason didn't matter as much as what happened itself: she tripped.

She had definitely been looking at them longer than she should have because then she missed the first step of the stairs outside the shop and if it weren't for Ino, she would've very unattractively fallen and made an idiot of herself. Well, more than she already had. Thank God her friend had reached out a hand and grabbed hers firmly so Sakura only stumbled instead of plummeting.

But still.

Sakura darted a quick look from the corner of her eyes, and sure enough, their faces were pointed in her direction so she had no doubt her lack of coordination had not gone unnoticed.

But since Ino wasn't just her best friend but generally a great best friend, she pulled her by the hand and a dozen steps or so later, they were inside Iced and out of the analytical stare of two of the hottest guys in their class.

She was quickly dragged to a table and pushed into a seat.

"Okay, I know you've never seen all that lush gorgeousness before, honey, but seriously? Where'd your cool go?" Ino grinned at her.

"What cool," Sakura snapped, not feeling very nice at the moment.

Ino visibly bit her tongue to keep from laughing as she bargained, "How about you sit here and cool off while I get you a Cool Coffee?"

The thought of frozen yoghurt slightly mollified her so she nodded.

Ugh, stupid, stupid hot boys.


Hinata was having a bad day in Calculus.

And since this didn't happen often, it worried her.

She knew the problem, though. Her head was somewhere else.

All her attention was sorely rooted on a certain blond right outside the window who was throwing a ball around with a few friends that she didn't recognize or care much for.

When there was Naruto Uzumaki, what else was worth looking at?

Not her calculus book, that was for sure.

It'd been like this for ages. Ever since the first day of middle school when she saw him in class laughing and trying to wake a sleeping Shikamaru. Naruto Uzumaki glowed bright for her, more than anything else that could ever exist. He was so… lively, so outgoing—and she was simply a fly caught in the web of his vibrance. He was color in the world of black and white, so absurdly glittery that she couldn't help but just stop whatever she was doing and stare.

And that was just it. That was the problem.

He was brilliant in reflection, stunning with his radiance—while she was just soft-spoken, shy Hinata.

And she'd never be any more than that.

"Hinata, focus," Shino whispered just as Mr Shiranui passed by, jarring her out of her thoughts.

God, could she be any more darned obvious?

She saw the sliver of blond hair again from the corner of her eye, but this time she ignored it. Because other than him just being a reminder that she couldn't get what she wanted, she had work to do.

There were very, very occasional times when she did this, reminding herself that she'd never have Naruto. Of course, whenever she did that, she felt the stab of pain. It hurt blindingly, but she was quick to push past it all and go on with life. After all, she had enough experience doing this.

Blowing out tired sigh, she turned to Shino and said, "Sorry, where were we?"

He looked at her knowingly (God, she was truly beginning to hate how sharp he was) but he spared her when his finger pointed to the question on the page of her book.

And then they got to work.


Naruto stumbled into his kitchen that evening.

He was fucking exhausted from football practice at school earlier that day.

He'd just woken up from a nap and was now trudging towards the refrigerator for something to drink because his throat was all scratchy. He opened the fridge, and the first thing his eyes landed on made him pause.

A large jug of Grape Kool-Aid.

His neighbor, an old and slightly screwy (but nice) cat lady had stopped him when he got home after school and gave it to him. It wasn't the first time she did something like this. Before, countless times, she'd knock on his door to give him freshly baked cookies or fish pies or whatever good shit she'd cooked up. He'd made it clear to her that he didn't have to feed him, but she also made it clear that she would and would not expect anything in return, so Naruto decided he was down with it.

But she'd never given him Grape Kool-Aid before.

Of course, she didn't know the meaning it carried for him, either.

He grabbed a glass and poured some for himself. Then he put back the jug and hobbled across to the lounge where he collapsed on the couch.

Then he thought about the last time he'd had Grape Kool-Aid.

It was before his parents died. His mom—addicted to the stuff as much as she was to Ramen (exactly like him)—would make it for him daily. He always knew that coming back from school, there'd be a glass of that chilled drink waiting for him at home.

It hadn't been waiting for him since last May.

His mother had been a lot like him. Cheery, bright, happy. She had been a kickass English Lit lecturer at Konoha University and he knew she was kickass because he'd had his friends' older siblings tell him so while gushing about what a good teacher she was. But he didn't know all that. All he knew was what a great mom she had been.

His dad was a winner too. Despite being the mayor, he'd never let politics drip into the family (but then again, Konoha was a small town that didn't support a lot of politics anyway). They'd always lived real and casual. Naruto remembered the times when his dad and him would sit in front of the television, watching football. How his dad would regale tales of him being a football legend when he was at KH. How his mom would yell at them to get off the couch and come get dinner.

How he'd never, ever have that again.

Naruto rubbed a hand across his face. He tried his best to never think about junior year, because the way it ended for most people marked it a horrible year as a whole. But sometimes, just sometimes, there'd be things like this, things that would remind him of his parents and he'd back to thinking about it all over again.

He'd always be thankful to his Uncle Jiraiya who understood the fact that Naruto loathed anyone else coming into his home and claiming it. So he'd bought it, and pretty much left it to Naruto since he wasn't always around. Like now, for example, he was on his new book tour.

He'd check in every now and then, but it was always a maintained check, never invasive.

Being his legal guardian and all, Jiraiya was also in charge of his trust fund till Naruto hit eighteen. And Naruto loved the fact that Jiraiya had made it clear he was still his uncle, not his parents' replacement. If there was anyone he trusted other than his parents, it was Jiraiya.

He sighed, not liking that he was thinking about all this again.

He tipped his head back and took a big gulp of the drink in his hand.

And it felt like déjà vu.


Hinata was watching an old rerun of this vampire show she loved when Neji came in.

She saw how he was heading to the seat facing the television but stopped when he got a look at what she was watching. She saw him making a subtle face. Then she saw him head to the kitchen on the right instead.

That jerk.

What was so bad about her vampire show?

It was the best.

She shook it off and turned back to her show.

A few minutes later, her father exited his bedroom and stopped next to her couch. She sat up straight, not wanting to give him something to nag her about. When nothing happened, she raised her eyebrows at him.

He took the hint. "Hinata, I have a couple of press conferences near Kumo tomorrow. I'll be out of town for a couple of days. Let Neji know."

She felt her skin crawl. She didn't want to tell Neji anything.

But it turned out that she didn't have to. Neji stood just outside the kitchen, already listening. She knew Hiashi saw him too and then he addressed Hinata, "I am aware you have a meet tomorrow. Neji will leave the key under the mat for you to come in."

That was what Hinata usually did for Neji, since he usually had practice that ran longer or some game to go to. She always reached home first and placed the key under the mat for Neji to come in.

But she had a warm-up gymnastics meet the next day, so this once, Neji would have to do it.

She doubted he'd actually do that, and maybe she was being petty but she went, "You sure about that?" under her breath, low enough that she knew Hiashi didn't hear her but Neji clearly did.

He gave no indication that he heard.

Jerk.


The next morning, Sakura was at the Ramen Stand for her morning fix in the form of a skinny vanilla latte and it was way too early again.

She reminded herself that her efforts would not be in vain and soon enough in four or five days, tops, the new and kickass Journalism department would be up and running and she'll have had a major hand in that.

It's as she's thinking this that she doesn't watch out for the random shoulder that knocks her a little too hard out of balance and she goes down, her face ready to meet the floor.

But wait.

She didn't go down.

That's because wrapped around just above her waist was a warm, strong and very nice-feeling arm.

She blinked.

Then her eyes met a dark T-shirt-walled chest. She looked up and saw Heaven.

No, wait. It was Sasuke.

"Thinkin' you wanna get out of the house, you're gonna have to learn how to walk first, baby."

Baby.

Oh my God, baby.

She suddenly couldn't breathe.

She comprehended the rest of his sentence vaguely as a mild insult but baby? Baby from Sasuke Uchiha's lips?

It sounded amazing.

His lips were moving and—God, did they always look so good? Or was it because she was so close to them? Which reminded her, she was in his arms. She was in Sasuke Uchiha's arms. Well, technically, his arm was around her waist and she was pulled very close to him, almost touching.

She was not aware she was allowed to get that close to him.

His lips stopped moving.

Oh no.

She hadn't been listening.

"Uh, what?"

God, why did she have to sound so fucking intelligent whenever she talked to him?

He pressed his lips in a line and for a moment just stayed quiet (something that also looked good on him), like he was thinking of the best way to talk to her stupid unhinged self.

Then he went quietly, "Was asking if those legs of yours work."

Embarrassment quickly burning its way to her cheeks, she said, "Yeah."

"Can you take over?"

God, embarrassing did not even cover it. "Yeah."

"Gonna let you go now," he warned, his voice an attractive undertone.

She was well aware he was now making fun of her. Well, she deserved it for melting a popsicle on a hot day just because she fucking caught her, for Christ's sake.

Sakura immediately found her footing and pushed away. She pivoted, ready to head out the door, about to bolt again (because seriously, there's only so much one can take) but remembered her manners and turned back to look at him.

"Thanks," she said awkwardly.

He watched her with those dark eyes of his (eyes that, she found, studied and observed a lot) for a moment. Then he jerked his chin up at her.

Well. Okay.

Then she bolted.


It happened after school, during cheer practice.

Hinata was standing in for Akane, a junior who was pretty good at cheering but had a dentist appointment and so had to leave early. Standing in for someone every once in a while during practice was all Hinata was willing to do for the cheerleading squad, never mind the fact that both her best friends were cheer co-captains. Like she'd stated her whole life, cheerleading wasn't bad, no but it honestly was not her thing. Luckily for Sakura and Ino, gymnastics was her thing, so it wasn't too much of a stretch for her to stand in for someone if it was needed.

She was currently standing in position with the others at the edge of field, while Ino ironed out kinks in the formation of a new cheer they were working on. Sakura, understandably exhausted from whatever she was doing for the J-Department, lay on the nearest bench in the bleachers, looking very much like she wanted to die.

Hinata heard a low shout once again and she turned to see far behind the squad, where the football team was practicing.

Thankfully, this time with their shirts.

This made them far more resistible than when they had their shirts off—which, by the way, no school should allow to prevent mass deaths via sheer hotness—and so the girls were far more able to focus on what they were doing.

Hinata turned back to see that the girls had the steps down and were now moving in sync.

Thank God.

She looked up at the sky where the sun shone in all its harsh brilliance, making it way, way hot than it should be. Konoha was a mild place with great weather; with that weather being either a light breezy day or a pretty rainy one.

Both weathers, incidentally, she loved.

But today? Hot as an oven the day she's helping out the cheer squad (even if she's only standing in one place)?

No thank you.

Hinata wiped her forehead with the back of her hand, pushing back her bangs, and tried not to even think about the mess her hair was as she let her gaze drift. Her eyes went to Sakura, who now stood at the edge of the bleachers with her pompoms in hand, still a good distance away from her. Sakura was already looking at her and was trying not to smile. Hinata, not very happy, made a face at her.

Then in answer, Sakura pointed to the pile of bags a few steps away from where Hinata stood. Hinata looked at the pile, confused. She shrugged back at Sakura. Then Sakura pointed to herself and then back at the bags.

Finally getting it now, Hinata walked over to the pile and located Sakura's bag. She unzipped the pocket at the side and sighed in relief with what she found.

She pulled out the Kleenex and headed back to her place. She sent a grateful smile to Sakura and went ahead with wiping the sweat off her face.

Looking undoubtedly attractive, she thought with heavy sarcasm.

It was then when she heard giggles.

Her eyes went to a group of four girls at the edge of the bleachers and her mouth instantly went sour.

God, why were they here?

It was Ami Watanabe and her lackeys.

Hinata instantly looked to the boys on the field, now crowded closely around Coach Mateo as he pointed here and there animatedly (no doubt droning on the way he tended to). But then again, it looked like whatever it was might've important because she could see they were listening closely.

But that wasn't what she was trying to spot.

She squinted harder to find what she was looking for.

No Kiba.

There was Naruto, Sasuke, Shikamaru, Neji and a few others she knew of but there was no Kiba.

Which was probably a good thing, considering all that crap last year.

So yeah, Hinata didn't really think Kiba and Ami spent much time chatting since then.

"God, he's hot."

This was uttered by the bottle-blonde next to Ami.

"God, who? Uzumaki? Have you lost your mind?" Ami said harshly, just short of scolding her.

They were talking about Naruto. Hinata bit her lip and just focused on her sneakers instead. She didn't want to hear whatever Ami was going to say next because it was no doubt going to be mean as heck, and she didn't think Naruto deserved any criticism or insult the girl was likely going to throw his way.

So that's why she simply started humming to herself quietly, intent on not caring.

But Ami's voice, suddenly sharp and loud, cut through the air like a whip so it was impossible not to hear when she said, "I mean, he's hot, yeah. But do you even remember what happened last year? I won't mind a hot mess every now and then but Naruto Uzumaki is just a plain no."

Hinata stared at her feet unseeingly.

What?

That was just wrong on so many levels.

What happened last year for Naruto was something she wouldn't wish on anyone. Heck, any of their situations she wouldn't have wished on anyone. They'd all had their problems to deal with and they were all moving on as they should, without needing to ever acknowledge to others that they existed.

So what happened last year shouldn't be thrown in their faces.

Or even have their problems be talked about behind their backs.

"Why?" Hinata found herself asking loudly.

She could feel eyes on her from the cheerleading squad but she kept hers on Ami.

"What even is a hot mess?" Hinata questioned, louder but not as loud as Ami had been. "Someone who had to deal with stuff they shouldn't have had to deal with? Or someone that just had really crappy luck? Which one is it?"

It was Lackey Number Two that responded. "Honey, I get why you feel the need to defend him, but grow up. Having shitty luck doesn't excuse someone from losing it and being a total hothead."

Naruto had understandably lost it back then for a short moment in time.

But he was so far from being a hothead that Lackey Number Two had no idea what she was talking about.

Before Hinata could cleverly phrase her thoughts and say exactly that, she heard Sakura's voice cut into the squabble. "Excuse me?"

Uh oh.

She looked to Sakura who was now stalking over to where Hinata stood.

"What did you say?" Sakura demanded.

"Oh my God," Lackey Number One muttered to herself with an eye roll as Ami cracked a sardonic smile.

"Oh great. It's Wondergirl here to the rescue." The girl cocked her head. "Here to save the day, right some wrongs, Haruno?" When Sakura didn't reply, Ami tossed her hair over her shoulder and began, "Cute of you to defend stragglers, honey, but if last year is anything to go by, I don't think he needs anyone to defend him. He's shown he can do it himself pretty well."

"Well, he's clearly doing something wrong if he hasn't snapped at you idiots by now for trying to drag out old skeletons from the fucking closet, where they're supposed to fucking stay."

Uh oh.

Hinata bit her lip to keep from smiling, not feeling one bit sorry that Ami was having her butt handed to her from her best friend.

"Jesus, you really are defending him," Lackey Two, seeming shocked, noted.

"Of course she would. That's how she gets all that attention." Ami, the utter beyotch that she was, went on. Hinata briefly considered how she would react if she threw Tenten's slushee at her.

Not well, she was sure.

But it would be just so much fulfilling to watch.

She went on, "Am I wrong, though? Isn't that what you do; fixing other people's problems—people who have it worse than you—to rake in attention and make you feel better about yourself? God, I may not be a saint, but that sure as hell has got to be a tough life."

"Christ, what do you know about a tough life, you self-centered, single-minded bitch?" screeched Ino from her place near the bleachers.

Uh oh. Hinata lost the smile.

This was escalating and it was escalating fast.

When Sakura had a hold of things, she kept hold of things. When Ino entered the fray, she was a tossup. This was because she often got emotional.

Like now, for instance.

She'd pretty much changed the level of confrontation by screaming across a distance that probably could've been heard by China, let alone across a football field.

Hinata had a gnawing feeling this was going to get out of hand soon.

But Ami seemed to enjoy Ino's reaction and her arrival to the fast deteriorating discussion if that smile on her face was any indication. "What? Did that strike a nerve? Which part? The part about having a tough life, or feeling the need to defend people you don't even care about?"

"I'll tell you what I care about, you life-sucking leech," Hinata would laugh but she was instantly alarmed instead when Ino threw her pompoms down and strutted a few steps closer to them.

Things were about to serious fast.

"I care about the fact that I had it bad last year," Ino went on, and suddenly Hinata felt her skin crawl. For some insane reason, they were now talking about junior year from hell. "Sakura had it bad. Hinata had it bad. Uzumaki had it bad. Not to mention few others who weren't left out either. But you? What were you doing back then, when we were up to our necks in shit we didn't ask for?"

Ami narrowed her eyes at Ino, knowing what was coming.

"Oh yeah, I remember. You were busy making it bad for Kiba."

Ouch.

Hinata would go far enough to say that Kiba's junior year wasn't the only one Ami ruined, but she decided to keep her opinion to herself and watched as the girl visibly shrunk. It was time to retreat.

But Lackey One didn't get the memo.

"Oh my God, what is with you and your complaining all the time? Don't get you get tired of hearing your voice? That to, on loud twenty-four seven?"

That's when anyone with two working eyes could see that Ino was past the point of tolerance. Tenten got to her first before she did something stupid, followed by Hinata and Sakura and then the rest of the squad. Tenten blocked Ino's path while Hinata grabbed her hand.

"Out of my way," Ino snapped at Tenten as she glared at Ami's group, which was now slowly backing away. "I want to show you how much I'm going to enjoy tearing their fucking eyes out."

God knew she could do it too.

Hinata gulped and her grip on her friend's hand tightened.

"Calm down," ordered Tenten and Ino stopped struggling.

"This still isn't over," Ami called out as she left the bleachers.

"Oh you bet, honey," Ino retorted.

But for now, it was over.

Finally, Hinata let her shoulders relax and she heard Sakura's sigh of relief.

This hadn't been the first time they'd had to reign in Ino when it came to Ami and it definitely wouldn't be the last. But at least for now, crisis averted.

"Jesus," a voice behind them said and Hinata's heartbeat picked up suddenly—because even though it had never been directed at her, she'd know that voice anywhere.

It was Naruto.

She, along with the rest of the girls, swiveled to look behind them.

Oh heck.

There stood the entire football team, motionless and observant. Naruto was the closest, a little further away was Shikamaru and then Sasuke, then the rest were scattered around.

But they still stood still, close to where Ami had spewed nonsense and they had clearly listened.

That was attested clear as day by the disturbed expressions on their faces.

"Come on," Hinata heard Sakura murmur to the rest. "Let's get out of here."

Slowly, as the cheerleading squad started to disperse, Hinata willed herself to move and tore her gaze away from Naruto's shocked face and followed her friends.


The guys weren't there at Lunch.

Sakura decided they had be reconvening at some Hot Guy Meeting because not even one member of the football team was present in the cafeteria. But it was still weird for them not be there. Even Chouji, who had friends in the team and hung around them a lot. He wasn't there either.

It was an odd sight because for the first time ever the biggest table in the school cafeteria was vacant. The second biggest table which by the way was their own, was definitely not as Ino plunked her tray down roughly next to Sakura, causing her to jolt.

"If she was drowning and I had a life jacket, I'd fucking sit on it and sip a martini," Ino snarled at Tenten, who settled in beside her and just shook her head with a tamped down smile.

"Someone's thinking happy thoughts," Sakura noted.

Hinata, who sat across from her, mumbled, "She's right anyway. Ami's a total jerk."

"Considering what I heard happened today," Temari began as she placed her tray next to Hinata, "jerk is too nice of a word to place on Watanabe."

Sakura nodded in full agreement. She was sure that being new, Temari must have heard things about last year. Even if she hadn't (which was doubtful, but anyway), it didn't take a genius to guess that it was a touchy for most. Even if that wasn't obvious either, it was more than evident that Ami had been trash-talking Naruto and Sakura didn't feel the slightest bit wrong for having stuck up for him. She'd do it again, in a heartbeat. Not only because of how rough he had it last year, but also because she remembered a time when they used to be friends, way back in middle school. If he was still anything like he was back then, then the boy had a heart of gold.

And more than anything else, Sakura liked hearts of gold.

"I have words I want to place on Watanabe," grumbled Ino and Sakura laughed out loud because she simply had too.

"Be calm," Tenten said firmly. "Breathe."

"I want Ami to stop breathing," Ino muttered.

"Jesus, stop thinking about that bitch," Sakura said, popping a fry into her mouth as other cheerleaders took their places on the table, "and think about something else instead."

"Like what?"

"Like Homecoming," answered Sakura.

Ino made a face. "Ugh. That. What do I do about a date?"

"What do you mean?" Tenten raised an eyebrow at her. "Just get one. Or two. Or three. Like you usually do."

That sent Sakura, Hinata and Temari into mad laughter as Ino rolled her eyes.

"That'd be great, but you guys seem to be forgetting my boy-boycott."

Temari wrinkled her nose. "That's actually a thing? As in, you're really going through with that?"

Ino nodded firmly. "Totally. Definitely. No guy drama for me this year, thank you."

Hinata smiled and Tenten just shook her head like Ino was being funny again and began eating. Sakura, on the other hand, was thinking that that was ridiculous. Not her friend's boy-boycott, oh no. Because that was actually a smart decision, looking at why Ino had made it (no doubt to start putting the lost fragments of her life back together without more distractions). It was the no guy-drama bit that she didn't agree with. Even though after last year, Sakura was completely done with boy drama, or any drama for that matter, she couldn't help but think Ino's last statement was one tall order.


The next day at school, Hinata couldn't seem to shake off this strange, nagging feeling. It wasn't a foreboding feeling at all, no. It was more of a little unease because she knew something was going to happen, but she didn't know what.

Or when.

But it turns out she was right.

It was at lunch when it happened.

When the rules of Konoha High changed fundamentally. Drastically. Unchangeably.

Hinata was just shoving a forkful of spaghetti in her mouth when she noticed the whole cafeteria go quiet.

She saw that Sakura, sitting across from her, had already noticed this fact (of course, her friend was one sharp cookie) and was looking around. Looking next to her, she saw that by the looks of her expression, Tenten was just realizing this as she looked up from her food. Next to Sakura, Ino was saying something loudly to Temari, obviously not having noticed the change in the atmosphere, when Sakura held a finger in front of her lips to silence her.

It was weird.

The cafeteria was big, so everyone being this quiet had never happened. It was almost creepy.

She looked around trying to spot something, anything as an indication to what was happening when she saw it, over Sakura and Ino's heads.

The guys, the football team, had left their table and were now moving across the cafeteria with their trays.

Where were they going? Now Hinata was just confused. Sometimes people ate outside in the courtyard. But they weren't heading to the courtyard. They were heading more… to them.

Oh God, was the football team really heading to their table?

Was that honestly happening?

Could that even happen?

She realized it definitely could, because Naruto, having reached their table first plopped his tray down next to Sakura and helped himself to the seat there. Sasuke and Neji claimed the seats next to him, while Kiba and Chouji (Chouji, who she knew sometimes sat with his friends who were in the football team and other times with Shino and his other friends) grabbed a couple of chairs for themselves from a nearby table and dragged them to the other end of the table, next to Tenten.

She took in how they did all this so coolly and casually, like this sort of stuff happened every day (when it most certainly did not) while Sakura simply blinked at them, Ino gawked openly, Tenten looked suspicious and Temari looked mildly confused. A few of the girls from the cheerleading team sitting with them across Tenten went still as well.

Hinata, who had never been much for awkward situations, was now sure that if someone were to drop a pin in the middle of the cafeteria, nobody would miss the sound.

Heck, it might even echo.

Maybe they were still for too long as the guys adjusted themselves comfortably, but someone really needed to ask them what was up.

Sakura cleared her throat, causing Naruto look at her and then down at her food.

He pointed to her fries, "You gonna eat that?"

Hinata knew that if Sakura, or heck, anyone at their table was the least bit in their senses, they'd snap at Naruto to get his own food. But Sakura was evidently as shocked as they were because without a sound of protest she pushed her tray towards him.

Almost as if they were here for the fries and if they got what they wanted, they'd go away.

Hinata would laugh, but she was pretty much in the same shocked state as her friend. Or anyone else from their table, really.

Naruto saw Sakura do this and gave her a quick grin before tossing some of the fries in his mouth and Hinata tried to pretend her heart hadn't just melted seeing that grin up close.

But it had. It melted big time.

They dug in. At least, the boys did.

Hinata also noticed that they ate a lot, as in; Naruto alone went through his four sandwiches, two apples, Sakura's fries and a coke.

That's when she realized her half-eaten spaghetti was still untouched on her plate.

Maybe it had been long enough for the shock to partially wear off, because then Sakura went, "Can someone please explain what the hell is going on?"

That prompted Ino to go, "Yeah, because all this is really weird. Not like weird, weird but like weird as in really fucking weird."

"What's weird?" Naruto asked behind a mouthful of sandwich. God, it was in his voice, in his face. He knew the guys being here was incredibly strange, but for some reason he was intent on not making it so. Like he was purposely choosing to ignore how bizarre all this was.

Hinata saw as Ino gave him her best B-Face (as she called it) and he sighed. "Look…"

"Ew!" Ino exclaimed. "Don't talk with food in your mouth, Uzumaki."

Hinata could've sworn she heard Sasuke snort but she'd never know for sure because he definitely did not look like the joker of the lot. Or even humorous in the least.

Also, she distractedly noticed, this had to be the most words ever exchanged between the football team and the cheerleading squad as a collective whole.

Naruto pointedly swallowed before he looked around the table.

But it was Chouji who spoke first.

"You guys have a good table."

Hinata waited for more, but apparently that was it.

Seriously?

Eff that.

Hinata just blankly stared at him.

"Are you for real?" Sakura looked at him, not fooled in the slightest.

"Please don't take us for idiots," Tenten said calmly. "What's the real reason?"

When there was no reply, Ino sighed. "God, what? Just spit it out."

For some reason, the vibe got a lot serious all of a sudden. It was hard not to feel it; it was almost as if the very air was becoming heavier.

"You guys had my back when there was no real need for it," said Naruto quietly. "And now just get that we have yours."

Hinata stared at him, completed floored.

What?

Did it mean that much to him when they stuck up for him? Was it really that big of a deal?

"Not gonna lie," he went on. "Don't really talk much about last year. Though that doesn't mean you don't hear shit often. Heard that shit in the field, wasn't really all that bothersome so really didn't fucking care. Heard you talking back, standin' up for someone you really don't talk to. Suddenly, found that for somethin' like that, I cared."

"So basically," Sakura said slowly. "You're kind of welcoming us into the Macho Guy Brotherhood or whatever."

Hinata knew she had to be imagining the glint (of amusement, it seemed?) in Sasuke's eyes when she said that.

Kiba let out a loud laugh and Naruto bit back a smile and said, "Somethin' like that."

"You know, you pretty much just changed the way Konoha High works just by walking across to the other side of the cafeteria, let alone sitting here. You just broke the unwritten rules," Ino said conversationally and Hinata found herself thinking on what she'd said.

It was true.

They had never really… gelled. No, that wasn't it. They'd never even exchanged more than a cursory nod or greeting, never even exchanged enough words to not gel with each other. Despite popular belief of how it should be, the football team and their friends had never really actually talked with the cheerleading squad and their friends and vice versa, not as a group. That was how it always was, and after last year nobody wanted to mess with that unofficial law.

But this year Naruto and his friends were smashing that unofficial law to smithereens.

"These rules of yours," Kiba looked up from his food, "They written in stone?"

Of course they weren't, so Ino just shrugged. "Uh, no."

"Then fuck 'em."

Naruto grinned, and turned back to his fourth sandwich.

Well then. It seemed like effing the rules was exactly what they were doing.

With all these thoughts in mind, not to mention actually being so close to Naruto (he sat next to Sakura, who sat across from Hinata) was enough to make her head spin.

Hinata resumed with her lunch and started munching again, because she needed to divert her attention to something (heck, anything) else. Sakura too, took a sip of her cherry soda. Ino began picking at her salad and slowly, Hinata felt her friends warily begin to function again.

That's when Hinata heard the whispering.

She turned around and saw that everyone was talking again now, lower in sound, but they were definitely talking.

And most of them were looking right at their table while doing it.

Hinata felt anxious all of a sudden because she'd always been shy (horribly so when she was young; she had even stuttered, but she got over that her freshman year) and she was never comfortable inviting attention, whether it was good or bad.

She turned back to the front and saw Naruto looking at her.

Directly at her.

And it could not be mistaken that he was saying the words to her when he advised, "Ignore 'em."

She bit her tongue to keep the Screwed Brain-Mouth Coordination at bay and nodded.

Then he turned back to his food and with her heart still beating fast, so did Hinata.


Sakura was excited.

So much so, she was practically bouncing on her feet as she waited for coffee at The Ramen Stand.

It was Friday now, the day after that weird Lunch on Thursday when the guys decided to extend their hand of friendship or whatever.

It was also the last day she had to put on the final touches on the Journalism Department—which was officially opening on the coming Thursday.

So instead of complaining about waking up early, she was bright-eyed and ready for anything today.

Including talking to Sasuke.

Maybe she was taking this entire thing a little too hard. The truth of the matter was, once Sakura got something in her head, she'd see it to the end. And preferably this end equaled her proving to him that she was no bumbling idiot and maybe even get him to speak a few words to her.

She saw him sitting outside with a big fat book cracked open in front of him and she just knew today was finally the day she'd talk to the guy.

She took her order and stepped outside the little café, straightening her white top and adjusting her bag on her shoulder. She even brushed off invisible dust from her red skirt and took a deep breath. She even had cute little boots on with bows on them, and she believed that if you had good shoes, there was no such thing as intimidation to stand in your way.

So with that excited energy and with a bounce in her step, she walked over to Sasuke's table and plopped down on the empty seat across from him.

He didn't move. He just lifted his eyes from the book to her and stared. What he didn't not do, she noticed, was say hey or even something nice.

She hated that he could be so non-social and so fucking attractive at the same time.

She could feel a little bit of nervous trickle into her bubble of excitement but was determined not to show it. She crossed her legs, and put her coffee on the table. During this, Sasuke's eyebrows mildly lifted up as she made herself comfortable (sort of like how the guys had done so the day before at their table).

Then she looked up at him and grinned her brightest.

"I know you don't know me, but we're going to be great friends."

His expression was unimpressed, like he didn't necessarily agree.

She forged on with another grin. "What do you have there?"

Again with the blank staring.

Sakura faltered. Maybe this really wasn't a good idea.

Then he reached out, closed his book and leaned back, crossing his arms. She saw it was the course Psych book.

Well.

She'd have to take it as progress.

She sipped her hot coffee and he reached for his, and tried to think of more things to say.

Ugh. She wished she was Ino, because then she'd never run out of things to say. Or Hinata even, who was comfortable with silence. Maybe Sasuke was like Hinata in that way.

As he placed the coffee back on the table and opened his Psych book again, she thought, yep. He definitely preferred silence.

—* * *—

This was going to be permanent, Sakura observed, as she scooted to the side and made room for Kiba to place his chair next to hers.

She sat with Hinata on her left and Ino was seated across from her. She saw Sasuke settle down next to Kiba and Naruto plant himself in the next available seat, that was, next to Ino.

Of course Ino didn't look very excited at the prospect of sitting next to Naruto.

"Is this going to be a regular thing?" Ino asked Naruto nastily.

"What?" he asked back.

"This. You guys migrating tables." Ino explained impatiently.

"Pretty much," Chouji answered from Naruto's side.

"But that's not how it works." Ino argued and Kiba looked up.

"Thought we went over this?" He looked bored.

"Best you get it now than later," said Naruto. "We get it's weird. We get it's unprecedented. We know we broke a wall last time, eating with you guys. But I kinda like the way things are going so the point is, I'm stickin' around."

"So it's like this now?" Tenten questioned, looking honestly curious.

"Yep," Naruto threw out before shoving a pizza in his mouth. "This is the new way of how things are gonna be."

Sakura saw that Ino looked a little put out at the statement and she had to wonder why.

Then it hit her: Shikamaru.

Sakura turned to look at the guys' table where still most of the football team remained. Gaara and Neji were there too. But Shikamaru wasn't. That had to mean he was busy or something. But what would happen when he got back? If his friends from the football team were eating with them, wouldn't he be too?

She cataloged Ino's expression, and realized her friend was worried. And rightly so. But this wasn't the time to discuss it, so Sakura knew she had let it go for the moment.

They so needed to talk about this later.

She darted a quick look up at Sasuke, who was sitting back with his arms folded, done with his lunch. She noticed that he wasn't only cold to her; he just really wasn't much of a talker.

But he still radiated a form of intimidation and confidence as his eyes casually but carefully took in everything happening around him.

She focused on her food, because really, where Sasuke was concerned, she had no doubt he could stare at him all day long.

Had he been this… alluring back then too? Did something about him lull her in back then when they were kids as well?

She didn't know. Or remember.

The thing was, he was now, and it made it all the more harder to tear her gaze away from him.

She didn't notice that he saw it.

She also didn't notice that he took her in watchfully too.


Hinata was pretty tired when she got home, having walked back after her gymnastics warm-up meet.

So it was safe to say that the first thing she'd do was take a nap in her comfy springy bed.

But that wasn't meant to be.

She realized that when she lifted the mat at the front door and shoved her hand underneath it to find the key.

She came up empty.

She paused for a moment and searched again because that couldn't have been right.

There was no key.

It wasn't like her, not in the least (but she found that Neji was certainly bringing her to her lowest so she didn't care) but she let out a scream of frustration that practically echoed in the entire neighborhood.

Her neighbor, this pretty lady that was a doctor at Konoha Hospital, who was watering the flowers in her garden looked at Hinata like she'd lost her mind.

That was when Hinata adjusted her bag straps, turned away from the door and got walking.


"So he basically locked you out," Sakura summarized as they lay on her bed in front of the television.

"There's no basically about it," Hinata growled quietly as she shoved her spoon in the tub of ice-cream Sakura had generously offered up for the evening.

"Fuck. You should totally tell on him," Ino advised as she shoved a handful of buttered popcorn in her mouth.

"And say what? Dad, Neji's being mean to me?" Sakura raised an eyebrow as she hit the start button on the movie.

"You got me there," muttered the blonde.

"But then again, today was a little out of hand," went on Sakura.

Hinata shrugged. "He knows I had you guys to go to or else he wouldn't have done that. But don't think I'm making excuses for him. I know he shouldn't have done that."

"Totally," Ino agreed before turning to the television. "Let's hope a little bit of a sappy rom-com eases our frustrations with the opposite sex."

"That's a bit too much to hope for," Sakura muttered, "isn't it?"

Ino sighed dramatically. "Yeah, who am I kidding? Ease our frustrations? Can you even ease frustrations the size of Everest?"

"But at least it'll make us feel better," argued Hinata as she dipped her spoon in the bucket of Chunky Monkey again.

"Cheers to that," Ino raised a glass of coke and clinked it with Sakura's before turning back to the movie which was done with its opening credits.

Sakura shifted so that her back was to the headboard of the bed, making room for Ino who propped a throw pillow below her elbows as she continued munching on chips, and Hinata settled by folding her legs under her in the middle of the bed.

As they kept watching, Sakura got into it almost immediately. But then again, her frustrations with the opposite sex were not as big or as serious as her friends' were (in fact, she had no particular such frustrations, not after last year).

The most it could possibly be for her was the fact that she hadn't been out on a date since junior year, another was making Sasuke actually talk to her and last but not least was the one where her dad simply could not singing loudly in the morning to the radio (which was funny but it also got bothersome very fast).

See? Little worries. No big deal or anything.

And looking at her friends, she really, really hoped it'd stay that way.


Kiba was showing Naruto around Tazuna's when the others popped by uninvited.

He saw the doors open from the corner of his eye as Kiba was telling Naruto the specifics of his new job, and he turned to see Sasuke, Shikamaru and Neji walk in.

"Havin' fun?" Shikamaru, the dick, asked Kiba as he leaned against the counter.

"Not yet, no," Naruto grinned. "Today's gonna be the first day on the job. Thinkin', might not wanna mess that up."

"Thinkin', you're surprisingly right," Sasuke said dryly and Kiba snorted before asking them what was on his mind.

"Why're you guys here?"

"Comin' back from a game at the park. To gloat in the face of your misery." Neji answered as he leaned his elbows on the counter. "To watch how fun it is for you to work with Naruto."

"Hey, Hyuuga," snapped Naruto. "I can work just fine."

"Outside of football, you can't take directions for shit," Neji informed him and Sasuke acknowledged that fact.

"He's not wrong."

Naruto, also knowing he was not wrong, didn't deny it.

Kiba would agree but then that would just be more for the dicks to revel in.

That's when he saw something from the corner of his eye and he turned to see three guys wandering out of the aisle. To Kiba they were just nondescript assholes, but from last year Kiba knew they were significant nondescript assholes to Naruto.

Naruto didn't let it show on his face. In fact, he didn't let anything show on his face. His expression was masked blankly as he watched the guys heading for the door. They clearly recognized him too, because recognition flickered in their eyes and one of them instantaneously tensed.

Even though everyone knew another fight would not break out, not here and definitely not after last year, Kiba wanted to make a point. So, as he pulled a pissed off scowl to his face, he crossed the few steps of distance between him and Naruto and went to stand with him.

Shikamaru moved too—and even though Sasuke hadn't been here last year, he probably sensed the undertone of the situation because he moved across the distance with Shikamaru and came to stand next to them. Neji followed not long after. Those three (not Kiba, he looked too pissed off and not Naruto, he was too carefully blank) stood almost dangerously nonchalantly—as if they were standing there just because, but one wrong move and they wouldn't hesitate to retaliate.

If there had been a point to make before, Kiba had no worries the assholes got it now.

One look at an aggressive Kiba and a no-nonsense Sasuke and they didn't even need to look at the rest, which was good enough because they scampered past them and brisk-walked their ass right out the door.

Then they broke away and Naruto turned to Kiba, pointing to his watch (a silent indicator that it was time and they were off the clock now) and Kiba nodded back.

Then Naruto walked back towards the back rooms, presumably to change out of his work standard white tee.

No thanks had been exchanged. No glance of gratitude.

And that was okay because Kiba didn't expect any. Hadn't wanted any. The guys didn't talk about last year which was a blessing in itself and he'd have liked to keep it that way. When that unexpected scene in the field took place (he hadn't been there but he heard exactly what went down), he'd been shocked. That was because instead of ignoring all that stupid shit, the girls there were arguing for Naruto. For them, in a way. And loyalty was hard to come by. Especially after last year. Then, as they made changes with the way things were going to be from now on at Lunch, there was that sudden talk of last year which was unavoidable, yes. But no more of it was welcome. He drew the line there. But if his friends needed help to deal with the fallback, he was all for it. They were his brothers. And brothers watched out for each other.

They just didn't talk about each other's shit.


Sakura woke in the middle of the night.

Right away, she found Ino's elbow that was dangerously near her right eye and felt Hinata's head on the side of a knee.

It was extremely uncomfortable.

She was just about to shake them awake like she always did when this happened but then, for some reason, she thought better of it.

She'd give them today.

She maneuvered her leg in such a way that her knee wasn't too awkwardly situated and turned her head to save her vision in case Ino moved the slightest.

Promising she'd make them clean up their mess on her bedroom floor, Sakura grinned to herself.

Then she fell asleep.

note2: it took time to update, a lot of it too, I know. But this summer has been one of the busiest ever so I tried my best to get this out now.

note3: I'm definitely not satisfied with this chapter and its cohesiveness as a whole, but it had to done for where the story is going. another thing is that i'm going to narrow down POVs in upcoming chapters. also, i'd like to address another thing: this is definitely a sasusaku fanfic more than any other pairing. you'll see. but at the same time, all the other characters are explored. maybe less so than the actual sasusaku relationship (however that turns out), but it is more than enough. i hope you enjoy the story and how i have it planned as you go on reading.

note4: i'd like to see you guys take shots at guessing what happened to the characters last year. i'm sure some are clear now while others are still not. but do review. it's motivation, you know. :)