Yield

Sonnie

Gaara spent the better part of a half hour trying to push out the image of Jou performing a Sexy no Jutsu and turning out like Lee. After he managed that difficult task, he studied the contents of the room absently. Only the set of lights above the futons was on, obscuring most of the contents; however, a few objects stood out. Huddled in his blanket, Gaara watched as his sister picked up one of the acoustic guitars and giving it an experimental strum.

"I don't think you're ever meant to touch a musical instrument again, Temari," Gaara told her plainly, eliciting a glare.

"That girl's a lot like her brother," Temari muttered, plopping down on the futon next to his after replacing the instrument on its stand. "She's all levels of weird. I saw her bathroom; weird, weird, weird, weird, weird. I'm so glad I don't have a sister…I mean, do normal women actually use all that stuff?"

"I hope that's a rhetorical question," Gaara said flatly.

Temari crossed her arms. "Honestly, sometimes I wonder if it's any better to have brothers," she muttered. "Thank God you're not as weird as Lee. I bet he has no clue as to how strange his sister is…she's such a weirdo."

"That she is," Gaara agreed numbly. He paused before he added the other thought he'd been rolling around in his mind. "She means well."

"Yeah, that's true," Temari said with a smile, glancing around the dark room airily before glancing at her brother a little strangely at his comment. "You know, if we happen to be here a month from now we're not going to have an excuse not to be at Lee's party."

"Hn," Gaara grunted, not really having a response.

"That's going to be interesting," Temari mused before she turned on her side and went to sleep.

As Gaara lay awake, he considered the distinct possibility that they might be attending. He knew, on a purely theoretical level, that when one went to a birthday party, one had to buy a birthday gift. Not having any idea what he might possibly get, he let the thought drift in and out of his mind aimlessly.

Out of sheer boredom Gaara eventually made his way upstairs. He passed the couch where his brother was sound asleep with the remote still clutched in his hand. Gaara headed to the kitchen, assuming the noises he heard were coming from the eccentric owner of the house. Without a word, he'd silently slipped onto a seat at the far end of the table.

Gaara studied her; wondering if perhaps his family thought she was weird only because she was actually kind of normal. Sporting a green bathrobe over her pajamas, she carried on at the stove bobbing her head back and forth to some unknown rhythm. He was tempted to laugh at her as she attempted dramatic air guitar, and when she turned around mid-riff her eyes landed right on him.

"…If I go this party you're throwing for Lee, I would be required to buy him a gift, correct?"

Jou decided that lowering her hands at that point was useless, so they remained frozen in midair as she mentally repeated his question. As random as it was, it made perfect sense for all that Lee had told her. Composing herself as best she could, she meekly lowered her hands and answered him.

"Well, in all truthfulness, Lee would just be floored if you three just showed up," Jou admitted truthfully. "Lee's not the type to go crazy over stuff that's really extravagant…sometimes it's the little things."

Gaara stared at her blankly and her shoulders fell slightly in defeat.

"I doubt he'd be expecting anything from you; even Neji doesn't ever buy him anything, and they've been teammates for years," Jou told him, a dark look settling on her features. "Then again, Neji is a huge jerk, and if you didn't get him anything that wouldn't make you one, so I wouldn't worry about it if it's too much trouble. Do you like chocolate chips?"

"Huh?"

"I was thinking about putting them in the pancakes," Jou said thoughtfully. "Lee likes strawberries, but not everyone likes strawberries. I mean, I like strawberries, but I bet they don't grow in the desert…" Jou trailed off weakly, realizing belatedly that she was rambling.

"…Do you have any blueberries?" Gaara asked finally after a long stretch of silence.

"Um, somewhere," Jou said vaguely, opening the refrigerator and scowling. "If I can find them, that is. Mika-chan eats them by the handful, I swear, and I always make sure I have some in here…I think they're in the back…"

Gaara watched as her rummaging caused a half-empty carton of milk to fall from the shelf. Almost without thinking, he sent a tendril of sand to stop its descent, and the carton slowly made its way up and deposited itself onto the counter.

Jou blinked. "So that's what you used on my brother, right?" she asked after a moment, her eyes never leaving the gently hissing sand.

Gaara nodded wordlessly. "…Something to that effect."

Jou looked thoughtful but turned to add blueberries to the mix. Gaara didn't like to think about what he had done; someone he had maliciously, spitefully wronged had turned around and offered him friendship and forgiveness. Lee had called it a "hassle," yet he knew the word did not do the suffering justice.

Gaara glanced up at the happy cook, who was just as upbeat and just as active as Lee. The long, black braid was swinging back and forth in time to the new rhythm she was humming. He noticed that when the sleeve of her green robe fell back, a band of purple marks adorned her wrist.

"Sorry," Gaara mumbled, looking pointedly away.

"Hm?" Jou turned around, bewildered. "For what?"

Gaara gestured with a jerk of his finger to where the marks were being covered by the green sleeve again, determined not to look.

"Oh, don't worry about it," Jou said graciously, confirming his earlier belief that she'd brush it off.

I swear, Lee's family must have some sort of weird chromosome that prevents them from holding grudges, Gaara thought. Then again, she still hates Neji…

"Why do you hate Neji?" Gaara asked her suddenly. "It can't still be over what he did all those years ago."

Jou continued to pour the pancake batter as she attempted to formulate an answer. "Well, probably because he's such a jerk," she said finally, smiling at the simplicity of it. "I just don't like him. There are some people out there that just get to you, you know? Our personalities are completely different, and not in a complimentary way. He really loves to antagonize me; he always starts it. Plus I'm afraid he's going to break Tenten's heart, and if he does I will hunt him down and make him pay!"

This last proclamation was punctuated by a rather impressive pose incorporating her pancake flipper. Gaara tucked away his smirk, not wishing to provoke her further.

Still, it is kind of fun, he conceded mentally. Just like it's fun to provoke Lee.

"If he breaks Tenten's heart, I'm going to bitch slap him until he cries for mercy!" Jou crowed, causing Gaara's eyes to widen slightly. He couldn't imagine the Hyuuga letting the girl within a hundred feet of him if he knew she was feeling aggressive. Then again, Neji didn't like to have her around regardless.

"What is that amazing smell?" a voice mumbled from the doorway. Gaara saw Jou lower her arm in a hurry, flicking the wrist so the sleeve fell over the bruises. She flashed a wide smile of greeting to her other male guest, whose eyes fell on the small crate of blueberries and his eyes widened.

"No way," Kankurou said in disbelief. "Holy crap, this is amazing. Are you actually making blueberry pancakes?"

"Are you sure you're a ninja?" Gaara asked him critically. He could have thrown his gourd through the hole in his brother's defense.

"Yes, and ninjas need to eat lots of food to keep up their stamina," Kankurou said delicately, crossing his arms.

"My brother just exercises to do that," Jou told him simply.

Gaara smiled evilly at his brother, especially since she had no idea that she'd just inadvertently put down the puppeteer. Ignoring her unintentional slight, Kankurou decided to press his luck. "Do you also have strawberries?"

"Kankurou…" Gaara sighed tiredly. Sometimes, and sometimes being often, his brother had absolutely no manners.

"Sure!" Jou chirruped. "Strawberries are Lee's favorite too. I made him some this morning, but I suppose you already know that."

"Aw, you and Lee like the same kind of pancakes," Temari chuckled from the doorway.

"Is there anything you'd like, Temari-san?" Jou asked her politely. "I can make whole wheat pancakes or buttermilk pancakes…and I have chocolate chips, blueberries, strawberries…"

"Eh, surprise me," the blonde woman shrugged. "Whatever you give me, it'll probably be good. At least it'll be better than anything else these two could make me."

"I'll make you some from our secret family recipe!" Jou said with a grin, giving a startled Temari a wink and a thumbs up over her shoulder.

Glaring at her two amused brothers, Temari plopped down between them. Jou made a big show of hiding the contents of the bowl for Temari's pancakes, but after the batter was mixed she turned around.

"Can I get you guys something to drink?" she asked brightly. "I have milk, orange juice, apple juice, cranberry juice, grape juice, and pineapple juice."

"That's a lot of juice," Temari commented. "And you sound like a waitress."

"I am," Jou said simply, merely tilting her head to one side as she waited for an answer to her question.

"Milk."

"Orange juice."

"Saké?"

Three sets of eyes fell on Kankurou; green, gray, and black.

"Guys, it was a joke. Any kind of juice is fine."

Forty three seconds later.

"Why did Gaara get the red cup?" Kankurou whined. "I got a clear one."

Temari slapped the back of his head.

"He doesn't like green," Jou said simply. She paused, then pointed the pancake flipper at him imperiously. "You're his brother, you should know that!"

Kankurou flapped his mouth silently at her back when she turned around in a mocking gesture, barely dodging the purple cup that was thrown in his direction.

"I thought Shikamaru said you weren't violent!" Kankurou muttered indignantly, nevertheless pouring his apple juice into the purple cup.

"Well, you're acting like a child, so I gave you Lee's favorite cup when we were kids," Jou cackled when he paused mid-pour.

Temari chuckled at Kankurou's red face. "Hey, it matches your face paint, loser."

"Here are your pancakes," Jou told Gaara, handing him a white plate full of large, blueberry buttermilk pancakes.

"Where are mine?" Kankurou demanded, glaring at his sister when she slapped his arm.

"They're on their way," Jou told him patiently. "You were second, after all, and this griddle isn't very big."

Kankurou sighed loudly, drawing an exasperated look from his sister.

"What is your problem?" she snapped.

"I didn't get a restful sleep," he told her snippily.

"That's funny, I bet you're exhausted after that movie last night," Jou said. "And I'm not talking about Kill Bill, either."

Gaara felt his lips curve in a smile around a mouthful of delicious blueberries. "Pervert."

"Busted, Kankurou," Temari grinned.

Kankurou's retort was cut off by a plate of pancakes hitting the table in front of him.

"His are bigger than mine!" Kankurou wailed, finger pointing at Gaara's plate.

"They're called silver dollar pancakes, genius," Temari snapped at him. "Wait, you asked for two different types of pancakes?"

Gaara rolled his eyes. Siblings. For once Lee and Jou appeared normal compared to the way his family was acting.

Jou was busy with Temari's pancakes, completely oblivious to the bickering going on behind her. Gaara wondered if her hearing was as spotty as Tenten had claimed. When Jou was finally done, Temari stared at them vacantly.

"Umm…what's in them?" she asked timidly, not wishing to offend. Her oaf of a brother had already done that enough.

"Just try them," Jou waving a hand dismissively. "You'll like it, I promise!"

Temari cut a piece from the top pancake very precisely, eyeing it carefully before lifting it to her mouth. She paused for two seconds before immediately cutting another piece.

"These are amazing," Temari told her truthfully. "What did you put in these?"

"Peanut butter baking chips," Jou replied smugly. "Along with chocolate chips…my favorite, but a bit on the sweet side."

"Wait…you can put peanut butter in pancakes?" Kankurou said, pausing mid-bite. He tried to surreptitiously steal one from Temari's plate, only to find all four prongs of her fork jammed into the back of his hand.

"OW! Damn it woman, I just want a little."

Jou sighed, forking over one of her pancakes onto his nearly empty plate. "Here, I can't eat more than two at once anyway."

Kankurou flashed a grin. "Thanks, much."

"Do all Sand ninjas eat like you?" Jou asked woefully.

"Only fat ass over here," Temari smirked.

"That's a pretty hefty amount of pancakes I see, Temari," Kankurou countered, over-enunciating every syllable of his sister's name like a small child.

"That's because I started eating after you, moron," she growled.

Gaara took a sip of milk. He glanced at Jou's over the rim of the glass, finding it odd that she was amused and not irritated. These were seasoned ninjas that could kill her before she could even blink an eye, and two thirds of them were arguing like small children and making her laugh in the process. She lifted a hand to cover her mouth, not wanting to crack up in front of her guests.

"Yo, what happened to your arm?" Kankurou asked, pointing to the livid purple marks.

"Huh?" Jou asked, her arm pressed down at her side in an instant. "Oh, I just fell a few days ago. It's nothing."

"It wasn't there last night," Kankurou contradicted. "I remember, because I was looking at the scar further up your arm and I wouldn't have seen it if that was there."

"Actually," Jou looked down at it, "I don't really remember. I'm definitely not a sound sleeper, so I probably banged it last night. I've even fallen out of bed before, so it's probably nothing."

She's a fairly good liar, Gaara observed, her face completely devoid of any guile when she told them she didn't remember how it happened. He wondered how often she lied to Lee, just so he wouldn't worry. Lee, while completely oblivious to others' feelings of irritation, annoyance, and anger, was remarkably sharp at picking up on some of the higher end emotions, and Gaara had to admit that he was very good at telling if someone was lying.

"You've fallen out of bed?" Temari asked, giving her an odd look.

"Oh yeah," Jou said dismissively.

"Weirdo," Kankurou muttered.

"This coming from the man who woke up before my brother left (at four in the morning, mind you) so he could eat HALF OF LEE'S PANCAKES! You could have just asked…instead I look over and the pile is less than half of what it was, and Lee sure as hell wasn't anywhere near the kitchen!"

Kankurou's eyes widened at the flare in her temper. Temari gave her brother a disgusted look. Gaara eyed his brother questioningly.

"Uh…sorry?" Kankurou offered weakly.

"You know what you could do?" Jou said momentarily, a strange smile forming. She settled back in her chair.

"Uh…what?" Now Kankurou looked alarmed. It was that scary Leaf-girl tone…

"You could give me your word that you'll all come to Lee-chan's party!" Jou cried exuberantly, beaming.

"Uh….sure?" Kankurou agreed with a shrug, half-expecting a violent outburst from her; nearly all Leaf girls were crazy, he'd determined, except for Tenten, who was in love with an icicle, so maybe she really was too.

"Oh, that's great!" Jou sighed happily, shoulders scrunching with glee. "He really likes you all and he's going to be so happy to see you there!"

Lee pretty much likes everyone, Gaara mused. It's automatic, from what I've gathered.

"This is going to be the best party ever!" Jou was her coddling-sister mode and was smiling sweetly at whatever thought of Lee was currently running through her mind. Gaara, Temari, and Kankurou were a bit freaked out.

"I haven't been around for Lee's birthday for almost five years," Jou said sorrowfully. "He doesn't even know I'm going to be home. Oh, he's going to be so surprised!"

Jou jumped up from the table, clasping her hands together.

"Thanks so much for saying you'll come to the party!" she exclaimed, voice sing-song and sweet. "I guess I should let you guys go; you probably have official business and all to tend to. I don't want to keep you."

All three siblings blinked, eventually agreeing half-heartedly, not quite sure how they felt. Their word had been given, at least Kankurou's, and now they were all obligated to attend whether they wanted to or not. None of them particularly minded, but it meant that they wouldn't be able to take any missions that might possibly interfere, or they'd have a potentially crazy woman chasing after them.

"Thanks for breakfast." Short, almost curt, and right to the point.

Kankurou and Temari turned in surprise that Gaara was the first one to thank her. Jou simply smiled as she rinsed of dishes, not thinking anything of it. The two other siblings thanked her as well, each receiving the equivalent of "it was nothing."

Temari headed downstairs to retrieve her borrowed costume, while Kankurou was quite keen to exit the house at his earliest opportunity. Gaara bent to pick up his gourd, stopped by Jou.

"If there's something you want to do for my brother, there is one thing…" she began seriously.

Gaara nodded numbly when she was done, her request not really sinking in until he'd left her house with his siblings.

Oh, shit…how in the hell am I going to do this?

-O-

Neji had been feeling remarkably peaceful more than a week after he'd last seen Tenten. No amount of denial could push away the real reason, and he found himself looking forward to seeing her again. Even his cousin had noted his mood was considerably lighter. He had the sneaking suspicion that she knew exactly why.

Stopping by a local bookseller, he thought he could pick up something for Lee's birthday, as he had done in the past; Neji just pulled Lee aside and gave him the gift after swearing him to secrecy, always under the unspoken threat of bodily harm. His gifts were always something practical and nondescript so as not to draw attention, but Neji wasn't ever one for giving extravagant gifts, especially to members of the same gender.

Neji heard the door of the shop open open.

"Are you sure we're going to find something in here?" a familiar voice whined.

"Assuming you can read, yeah, we should," another voice, female, jibed.

"I liked the other bookstore better," the first voice said petulantly.

"That was all your idea, pervert," the girl told him firmly. "And you had your fun. I didn't know that Come Come Paradise came in collector's box sets."

"Well now you know. The first fifty sets even come with a special hardcover index."

"You're a loser."

Neji took a slow, even breath. It was Tenten…and Kankurou. They were perusing the books two aisles down, and while they weren't talking loud they weren't whispering, either.

"Ugh, why'd I agree to go to this damned party?"

"Because deep, deep down you actually like Lee and his sister's kind of cute and you feel bad, maybe just a little, for ordering some pay-per-view movies of questionably tastes."

"Seriously, she's nuts. Not like Orochimaru-weird, but definitely Gai-weird, at the very least. You know, I always thought Orochimaru was a bit of a closet pedophile. Your village has the weirdest people in it, I swear."

"If Orochimaru was a pedophile, he didn't bother with a closet," Tenten asked tartly. "But didn't he pose as your dad for awhile before you attacked our village? You didn't even know your own father had been replaced?"

"Dad was a dick," Kankurou grunted. "I didn't see him much anyway, so it's not like I have a reliable frame of reference. Besides, he was a little off before he was replaced."

"Would you have been able to tell if he'd replaced one of your siblings?"

"Temari, yes; the woman is so damned nuanced that I'd be able to tell right away. Gaara…well, not back then, at least. I'd probably be able to tell if it happened now."

"You know, Jou would know if it wasn't Lee right away."

"It's difficult to fake that kind of energy and bizarreness."

Tenten laughed. "That's true, but they know each other really well. Lee says he can always tell how she's feeling, even when he's on a mission or she's in another country."

"Twins are weird, so I hear. I guess her and Lee are just doubly weird."

"Says the guy who proposed looking for Lee's present in an adult book store. When you think of Lee, several choice adjectives may come to mind, none of which involve depravity."

"Well, you never had a problem with it before."

"Well, now we're not in the same position we were in a month ago, meaning you and I can talk freely about every single sexual perversion of yours."

"We probably shouldn't be having this conversation in a reputable bookstore, you know."

"Way to change the subject, there."

"I'm serious. I'm already getting weird looks from management."

"One, you're from Sand. Two, you're really freaking tall. Three, you're wearing that goddamned paint and a black body suit with cat ears!"

"Shove it, woman."

"I hate to break it to you, but without your puppets I could pummel you, no problem. I've seen your taijutsu. It falls into the category of worthless. Shikamaru's mother is more threatening."

"Well, just because you and your teammates were taught by a crazy thick-browed sensei that's obsessed with taijutsu doesn't mean you have to go and make fun of me."

"Gai-sensei could kick your ass in under five seconds," Tenten told him flatly.

"Don't remind me," Kankurou grumbled. "Now I know you're all so physically fit. I'm never going to go running with you again."

"You were tired before the warm-up ended."

"Two miles is not a warm-up! I mean, I can run home from Konoha if I need to, but who runs around for fun, honestly? You and Lee actually like to run; you're crazy, especially that 'let's get up and run at six o'clock in the morning' routine you like to pull."

"You can't make fun of Lee any more, period, since he can literally run circles around you."

"I guess that's why I'm going to his party, then," Kankurou shrugged. "That, and I don't want that crazy woman to throw more stuff at me."

"She threw something at you?" Tenten asked, surprised.

"A cup…it was purple."

"Aw, Lee's purple cup?"

"…I hate you."

"Which is why we're shopping together, yes; that makes perfect sense."

"I don't want that girl getting pissed of at me, I told you. If I don't get something he likes she'll probably flip out on me."

"You know, you and Neji are just about the only people that set her off…maybe it's because you're so similar."

"No way."

"I'm kidding, you two are totally different. I mean…you'd pick Come Come Paradise 3 over Come Come Paradise 2 any day, and he's definitely all about the first film…"

Neji frowned. He knew she was joking, but…

"Well wouldn't you? I mean, the plot of the third film is far more developed, but who can argue against the chemistry of the actors in the second movie? And the direction; seriously, I could not have been more upset when I heard the first actor walked off the set of the second film…"

Tenten blinked. "Oh my freaking god! I ought to ram your head into a wall or something! No one actually watches those movies for a plot, do they? Do they even have a plot?"

"Um…yeah?"

"We need a break, at least until you stop thinking about porn."

"But I need to get a gift soon!"

"It's impossible to look at books with you…maybe we can find him a movie at—"

"—Let's go to—"

"—A reputable movie retailer," Tenten finished firmly. "It's bad enough the dirty looks I got in the other bookstore. You don't live here, so you don't have to worry about people you know seeing you walk out, and no, winking at that old lady who walked by was just plain wrong, especially with the latest episode of Come Come Paradise in your hand."

"I thought it was funny."

"Of course you would."

Neji's Byakugan followed them out of the store, where they proceeded to walk down the street into a tea shop. He wondered if he'd just witnessed one of the weirdest conversations ever to take place.

"Gai-sensei!"

"Lee!"

"Gai-sensei!"

"Lee!"

Okay, so there are stranger things I've witnessed, Neji admitted. And even though Tenten and I shared a kiss (or two, or three…) it doesn't mean that she can't be seeing Kankurou. She's never referred to him as a steady boyfriend, has she? For all I know, she could be seeing other guys too…

Neji's very limited knowledge on the inner workings of relationships basically came from snippets of conversations he'd unintentionally overheard over the years. Ino's serial dating of half of Konoha's men to gain Shikamaru's attention…Hinata's obvious crush on a totally oblivious Naruto…Sakura's really obvious crush on a totally aware but completely mental Sasuke.

It's so wonderful that I have so many people available to use as a reference, Neji thought dryly.

Exiting the bookstore and letting the door slam shut, he stormed off through the streets of Konoha.

-O-

God, it's a wonder that Lee doesn't know about that party of his with that big mouth his sister's got, Temari grumbled inwardly. Even Kankurou got Lee something, and he won't tell me what it is, so it could be really embarrassing and I don't want my name attached to it…so I guess it means I have to go out and find my own gift.

I don't know Lee all that well…he's got thick eyebrows, shinier hair than me, bright teeth…yellow legwarmers…a green jumpsuit…ugh, this isn't helping. All of those things are superficial (no matter how invasive), and I sure as hell am not buying him an eyebrow waxing kit, toothpaste, or hair gel. The idiot does have a personality, as weird as it is.

Temari admired some of Lee's characteristics while being absolutely appalled at others. Upon reflection, most of the negative stuff tied up in his resemblance, physical and otherwise, to Maito Gai. Then again, it made up such a huge part of his personality that it was hard to overlook.

Temari was shopping in the finest establishment in Suna, an easy task as the village only had a handful of places where citizens could purchase consumer goods. As much as Lee freaked her out, he treated her better than most anyone else from Konoha. She wanted to make sure her gift was of good quality and was considering buying him a pair of black training pants. Practical and reasonably priced, she wondered if he'd be offended if they weren't his normal color.

His sister looks nice in green, but then again, her eyebrows aren't thick and hairy, nor does she have a bowl cut, Temari reasoned. And its not that green looks bad on him, it's just…everywhere…at least I can thank my lucky stars he's not built like one of my brothers…god, if he were skinny or flabby I think I'd have to puke.

"Lee, I'm glad you slowed down enough for me to follow you here, but I'm really, really tired, and therefore, really, really cranky. And yes, I know what you're thinking, 'she's always crank,' and you'd be absolutely correct, but I'm starting to get flat-out pissed off and when you shop for things like this you're worse than a woman. Believe me, I would know."

An unusually beleaguered-looking Rock Lee had just entered the shop behind a tall girl a little older than Temari. Temari was surprised; what was Lee doing in Suna, especially with such a beautiful (but ill-tempered) woman?

It dawned on Temari that she'd never really seen Lee with a woman before that was not a Konoha kunoichi. She looked terribly high maintenance. Definitely not someone she'd expect to find with Lee, her hair color fell somewhere in between honey and sand, the curls were captured in a high ponytail that strongly reminded Temari of Ino.

"But I know what I want to get, I promise!" Lee told her, looking a bit on the wary side. Though he'd obviously been around her before, his body language spoke that he was a tad uncomfortable and guarded around her in some respects, though he wasn't at all bothered by her closer proximity or the volume of her voice.

"Yes, yes, you're going to get her something red like you always do, I know," the woman said dismissively, waving a manicured hand around airily. The short, purple nails skipped through the air jerkily as if conveying the owner's impatience. "You realize that if you do buy her a red kimono, you have to take into consideration all those other things, such as season, length, fabric, design, cost…I could go on."

"It's almost wintertime, so it's going to be long, heavy, and warm," Lee explained decisively. "I've been saving up for months, and now all I have to do is decide on what designs based on what's available."

"Which is exactly why you're shopping in Suna, the luxury capitol of the world," the woman muttered, arms outstretched for dramatic emphasis. A forehead protector attached to a scrap of tattered purple cloth strung through low-set belt loops was worn at the small of her back. The metal plate depicted a group of clouds; a deep line was etched through the middle.

Temari's first thought was Akatsuki, then she remembered who this woman was with; Rock Lee. Naïve, not stupid…and shopping with an Akatsuki member clearly fell into the latter category. Temari had never seen a ninja from Lightning Country before, and only knew that they had fought a war with Leaf about a decade and a half before. The only people she'd ever seen with forehead protectors like that were missing-nins.

"Izari-san, that wasn't very polite," Lee chided her.

"Hey, I'm not swearing in front of you, and that's hard enough," the woman grumbled. "Not to mention I can't smoke in front of your sister. This is just about as nice as I get, you know. Just be glad I don't have a problem with you…you're actually one of my favorite people, so feel proud, because the list is a short one."

Temari saw a dark look pass over Lee's face. "I am glad you don't have a problem with me," Lee told her. "It's nice you like me, because I've seen how you treat the people you have problems with."

Unexpectedly, the woman laughed and mussed his hair adoringly. "Oh, Lee-chan, you're just too cute," she said. "No wonder your sister loves you so much. Not many brothers would ever take the time to be so thoughtful. Why do you think she wants something from Suna, of all places? I don't even think she's been here."

"Well, she does like to travel," Lee replied, shaking his head once so his hair fell back into place. "And ever since you guys broke your contract with your old manager, she's actually been free to spend some time with me. I think she wants to go on a trip to Snow Country after her birthday like we did when we were really little. Naruto told me things have really gotten better around there, so I think we might actually go."

"…Which is exactly why you're in the desert buying her a kimono. Okay. Makes sense to me." Izari's arms were crossed.

"The desert gets very cold at night, and it does experience seasons, too, Izari-san," Lee said patiently.

"Yes, but where I'm from it rains all year long," Izari-san countered sweetly. "Fifteen years of rain practically every day tends to make one a little skeptical about desert climates."

"I guess I can see that," Lee conceded. He glanced to his right and something caught his eye. Body freezing, he pointed and bellowed.

"OH MY GOD!"

"Lee, that's my ear you're yelling into. I'm standing right next to you and I can see perfectly fine. Yes, it's exactly what you want." She gazed appreciatively at a deep crimson kimono, a graceful embroidered tiger stretching across the bottom.

"It's perfect!" Lee had completely bypassed his original ideal in its entirety, walking right past the red garment to the spot directly beside its complete and polar opposite. A lovely hunter green, it too was draped gracefully over the mannequin's shoulders.

"Lee, it's green. You said red. It's summery. You said winter. It's short. You said long. It's silk. You said thick. There's absolutely no design to speak of and if you buy it you'll have enough money left over to buy her something else, which is exactly what you told me on the way here you wanted to avoid!"

Izari's voice had been steadily rising in pitch, volume, and speed, the last word a near yelp.

"But it's perfect," Lee said again, picking up the corner of a sleeve lovingly. "It's also lined."

"And there is a design, how cute, green dragons," Izari said uninterestedly as she investigated the bottom of the garment closer. "Speaking as one of her band members, the little motif has gotten a tad stale. This kimono is so perfect it's all wrong, Lee. How about we go back to your little plan? I'm starting to warm up to the idea. After all, red is her favorite color."

"That's true!" Lee looked genuinely conflicted. "What am I going to do?"

"You know, you could buy this one for her and I could get what you were planning to originally," Izari suggested. "That way she can have both…and I don't have to shop for her later."

"But you already said you would—I mean, we all—" Lee was sputtering. "What are we going to do now!"

"Lee, I'm kidding." Izari had her hands on Lee's shoulders, her face only inches away from his. "That's already all paid for. She's going to be oh-so surprised, too. Don't worry, she hasn't got a clue. She doesn't even know you'll be home for her birthday, just yours."

What is going on? Temari thought wildly. Is Lee planning a surprise for his sister?

"We can celebrate the burning glory of our youth together!" Lee proclaimed, drawing several stares. Many citizens of Wind Country had seen him already; many citizens of Wind Country were still not quite used to his brand of uniqueness.

"Yes, together, despite the fact you two are twins you have to take into consideration that other thing," Izari-san pointed out. "She being born at 11:57 P.M. the night before means that you can calm down a little; remember, you can't cram it all into one day since you were born over two. It's actually kind of unique…and you don't want to go take all the uniqueness out of being born on consecutive days, do you?"

"I would never dream of it!" Lee declared earnestly, looking hurt.

"So don't worry about surprising her, alright?" Izari soothed. "You can do that early on her birthday…it doesn't have to be so late. Remember, two days of celebration. I've got it all under control."

Except for the part where she's trying to surprise you, and how in the hell are we going to manage that if you two are already together? Izari hoped she didn't look half as stressed out as she looked. Damn it, you're both too nice to each other…I mean, honestly, how many twins plan surprise birthday parties for each other?

Temari was a bit alarmed at the other woman's expression, as she was clearly more than a little annoyed with her rather difficult predicament. She knew Jou aimed to surprise Lee, but Lee was going to surprise Jou? If Izari was trying to make sure both worked out, no wonder she looked so aggravated.

"Now look, I'm going to buy that red kimono over there," Izari stated matter-of-factly. "You are going to buy the green one because I refuse to buy her one more stitch of green clothing. And, since I know your conscience will be burning with indignity, buy her something else, too. But no animals! I stay in that house way too much, and I'm allergic to animal hair."

"Maybe you just don't like pets, Izari-san," Lee told her. "They are very sensitive and perceptive creatures."

"Are you saying I'm insensitive?" Izari asked sharply. "Are you saying they wouldn't like me because they know what kind of person I am?"

"No, of course not!" Lee looked absolutely and sincerely hurt by her accusation. "I would never dream of besmirching the name of the untainted flower of your youth."

"Lee, trust me, someone got to that flower a long time ago," Izari told him flatly.

Lee gaped in horror at her insinuation.

"Lee, it was a joke." She put an arm around his neck and patted the opposite shoulder. She kissed his temple lightly, delighting in his embarrassed flush. "You need a sense of humor."

"I do have a sense of humor," Lee protested, color still high on his cheeks. "…I just don't understand yours."

"That's true," Izari mused, looking thoughtful. "Now are you going to buy that kimono for your sister or are we going to stand here all day?"

"You're right! I mustn't dawdle! I allowed myself to become overwhelmed with the emotions of my youth!"

"Or you could just be gay."

"Izari-san, that's your reasoning for everything! For crying out loud, you think Neji is gay too."

"Until I see proof, I'm sticking to my theory."

Temari fought the urge to laugh.

"He likes Tenten."

"Uh huh, right. It's a little hard for him to be heterosexual when the person he cares the most about in his life is himself. It's a wonder he doesn't just stare into a mirror all day and just talk to himself; they're probably the only real conversations he really has or enjoys, anyway. Besides, no one has such naturally beautiful hair like that unless they commit some serious time, unless they're like you, who apparently has been blessed by some shiny-hair, blinding-smile, and too-much-optimism god. Now just buy the freaking kimono so I can get some lunch already, I'm starving."

"Temari-san, would you like to join us for lunch?"

Temari wondered when he'd notice her; she hadn't been hiding, but he and Izari had been in a rather intense conversation. She walked over, noticing the strangely critical yet appreciative look Izari was giving her. It was like being inspected without being judged.

"A Sand ninja, hm?" Izari asked, her gaze hovering on Temari's hair, or more accurately, her forehead protector.

"Temari is amazing with her fan," Lee told Izari proudly on his way to the register. "We've been on many missions together."

Izari nodded, her expression a mere winsome smile. She sent Lee towards the register with an "off you go" and a not-so-gentle shove which he didn't really seem to mind. As soon as he was out of earshot, she studied the Sand nin.

"What did you think of Hidden Leaf the first time you arrived?" Izari asked suddenly. "What did you think of the ninjas there?"

Temari started. She hadn't been expecting a question like that at all. "Well, I wasn't terribly impressed, to be quite honest."

"You seem to be very focused on survival here," Izari told her. "Wind Country is a lot different from Leaf. Have you changed your mind about them?"

"Yes, I have," Temari told her truthfully. "They're just very diverse. I didn't realize I'd find such an assortment of personalities there."

"Like that one?" Izari asked, pointing to where Lee was struggling to fish money out of the pockets of his jounin vest, somehow managing to cause a small scene as a wide array of scrolls, medicine, and shuriken landed on the counter and the floor beside him.

"Er, yeah," Temari admitted, watching Lee pick up his items as if there wasn't anything odd about carrying so much heavy stuff.

At least they can't see the hideously heavy weights, only the hideously ugly legwarmers, Temari thought.

"Lee's not a particularly normal guy," Izari stated, watching him give a reassuring thumbs up to the perplexed cashier.

"I wasn't terribly impressed at first sight. I changed my mind when I saw him fight my brother, though. No one had ever landed a hit on him until then."

Izari nodded. "Lee's an odd one. Good, but odd."

"Izari-san, are you really going to buy the other kimono for Jou-chan?" Lee asked her.

"Yeah, I might as well," Izari shrugged. "I like red better than green, at any rate. And let's face it, I'm going to be the one looking at it."

"Izari-san," Lee sighed. He turned to Temari. "I was serious when I mentioned lunch. Would you like to spend this beautiful afternoon in the company of Konoha's very own beautiful green beast?"

Temari blinked. "Actually, I already ate," she told him truthfully. Upon seeing how upset he looked, she quickly added, "but maybe some other time."

"Oh, that would be great, Temari-san!" Lee saluted her.

"Lee, I'm just going to be a minute, so you can wait outside if you want," Izari suggested. "I know you don't like to be indoors for too long."

Lee, who probably would have protested had the request come from any other person, was outside before Temari could even blink.

"That was really easy," Izari commented dryly as she picked up the red kimono. "So…training pants for Lee, huh?"

"Um, yeah," Temari shrugged, inspecting the black garment in her hands. "The jumpsuit is just too much."

"I know what you mean," Izari whispered conspiratorially. "Ever since I accidentally saw Lee in the shower, the bulge is killing me. Now I know why girls run away; he'd break them in half with that thing!"

Temari was horrified. Why was this woman saying all this unless she just wanted to make her squirm? Temari frowned when she realized that was exactly what she was trying to do.

"Lee must be suffocating things down here, and really, what better time than a birthday to look after friends, right?" Izari reasoned conversationally. "Beautiful green beast indeed. It wasn't even at full attention and I swear, it must have been this long—"

Izari's hands moved to demonstrate, but Temari turned away sharply. Temari didn't think she'd be able to look Lee straight in the face for probably the next three months…or since she'd accidentally glimpsed Izari's hands, quite possibly until several years into the afterlife.

"Anyway, Lee's waist is a 33, not a 35," Izari corrected. "Just make sure they're not too, ah…tight."

Temari's mouth was gaping as the woman very calmly purchased the red kimono. One gray-violet-hued iris disappeared as Izari winked at her, knowing full well how much she'd embarrassed the other woman. With a little wave, Izari walked outside, presumably to join Lee.

Temari pulled herself together on the way over to the rack of men's pants. Selecting the correct size, to her dismay she found herself paying extra attention to the space at the inseam. Growling in aggravation, she practically hurled the item over the counter at the terrified sales clerk.

I can't believe this, Temari muttered inwardly. I'm going on a mission with him in less than a week. We're going to be all alone in the wilderness for three whole days and I know all I'm going to be thinking about is that.

Temari kicked the doors open after roughly shoving the pants into a bag. Stepping out into the sunshine, she was forcefully reminded of the burning fire of Lee's youth.

"Goddamn it," Temari muttered, storming down the street.

-O-

Gaara observed Hyuuga Neji walk by him, face as stoic as always but anger rolling off of him in waves. Gaara briefly considered what it would be like to taunt him, but thought that spending the day with Sakura getting all of his chakra points re-opened wasn't the best use of his time, regardless of the fact he never slept.

Perhaps he saw Tenten and Kankurou the other day, Gaara thought. They did say they were going shopping. I guess now that my brother's not seeing her she can get a true picture of just how much a of a pervert he is. I bet Hyuuga thinks they're still together. They're still close, at any rate.

Everyone in this whole village is always searching for love, it seems, Gaara thought. Even Temari and Kankurou…okay, Kankurou is now just searching for a good time, but Temari…she still wants to be with Shikamaru, even though he's picked Ino.

I kind of feel sorry for Temari, I guess, Gaara mused. Lee always took being rejected by Sakura hard, even though he never showed it, but Temari isn't the same as Lee (thank God) and she can't act as if she can just try again, because she can't. Just winning Sakura's friendship made Lee happy, and now the fact that she and Shikamaru are friends is just going to make her angrier.

Gaara knew he would always think Leaf shinobi were odd. None of them particularly liked to kill; some were actually quite adverse to it. Many of them came from nice, normal families and didn't become ninja because they needed to survive, but became ninja because they wanted to protect the village.

"Hey there."

Gaara looked up to find Temari walking down the street towards him.

Gaara acknowledged her with an inclination of his head.

"So…this party's real soon," Temari commented. "Did you get anything for Lee yet? Wait, better question: are you going to get anything for Lee?"

Gaara paused. "Jou said that what she really wants me to do is to actually get him to the party without suspecting anything."

Temari laughed unexpectedly, much to his annoyance.

"Why is that funny?"

"Because Lee is planning a surprise for her earlier that night," Temari told him. "I saw him last week in Suna. He and his sister's band members are planning something for her a few hours before Jou's throwing the midnight party for Lee."

"Why not the next day?" Gaara asked, puzzled.

"Jou was born a few minutes before him, but it was technically on a different day," Temari said. "And her being the impatient person she is, wants to have a party the second he turns twenty…so she's having it at midnight, only minutes after she does."

"It figures they complicate things like this," Gaara muttered.

"Well, they're twins, I guess it's different," Temari said. "I mean, they probably spent all their time together growing up. Up until Lee became a genin, I bet they still saw each other every day."

"No wonder she's so weird," Gaara reasoned.

"Ugh, that other woman I met with Lee was weirder," Temari sighed. "They were shopping—yeah, I know, Lee shopping equals weird—but she said something to really freak me out and I think she enjoyed it."

"I don't want to know what that was, do I?" Gaara asked needlessly.

"No, you really don't," Temari affirmed. "Anyway, the only way I see both of their surprises working out is if we can get Lee to leave her house before eleven or so in order for them to get to that teahouse and lay in wait. It's going to take a crowbar to pry them apart, I can see it now."

"Hn," Gaara knew she was right.

"And its not like we can tell Jou what's going on…so do we just show up at her house and say we need Lee for something?" Temari asked. "God, this is so complicated. Can't you just tell her you can't do it and just suck it up and buy something if you feel bad?"

"I'm smarter than Lee, I can figure something out," Gaara told her coolly. "We could show up at eleven and say we need Lee for something. He wouldn't be expecting anything from me."

"That means you have to kill an hour of time with him," Temari noted. "Are you up to that?"

"Well…instead of sacrificing money for a gift, I'll be donating a portion of my sanity," Gaara said dryly.

"I don't know if that's a good idea," Temari told him seriously.

"What's not a good idea?"

Temari had to physically stop herself from jumping. It was Lee. Many times as fast as she was (with the weights on), he could simply…appear, often with no warning whatsoever, not realizing he always scared the living daylights out of most everyone involved.

"It's none of your business," Gaara told him simply, voice free of malice.

"Oh, okay." Lee shrugged. "I'm sorry."

Lee was about to go jogging off when Gaara stopped him.

"My sister says you're planning a surprise for your sister," he said. "What is it?"

"Well, Izari-san and I have been talking for a few months about maybe—OH MY GOD!"

Temari and Gaara were nearly bowled over by the power of his voice.

"What?" Temari asked weakly, clutching her head.

"Why don't you just come over with me that night?" he asked suddenly. "'The more the merrier,' that's what Gai-sensei always says. You know, Gai-sensei always…"

Temari and Gaara shot each other a look as Lee continued to ramble on.

"We could have Kankurou come by and rescue us," Temari whispered.

"The sooner the better," Gaara added.

"…My favorite saying of his is—" Lee stopped suddenly, noticing the uncharacteristically speculative gleam in both their eyes. "Umm…are you two alright?"

"We'll be happy to stop by," Temari told him.

Lee blinked. "You would?" He clearly hadn't been expecting that.

"Kankurou has a mission that night, I believe," Gaara said. "But I believe Temari and I can make it, if only for a brief time. What time does it start?"

"Ten o'clock next Friday," Lee said, flashing him a huge smile. "Oh, I'm so glad you two can come!" Looking suspiciously touchy-feely, both Temari and Gaara crossed their arms and glared at him, knowing it was ultimately useless. Captured in a monstrously strong bear hug, they winced; Lee was a lot stronger than they (and unfortunately, he) realized.

"I can't wait; just two more missions and it will be Friday!" Lee declared cheerfully, punching the air.

Weirdo, Temari thought.

Weirdo, Gaara thought.

"Lee, what are you doing?"

Lee froze. "Izari-san, I didn't see you there."

"Obviously," she muttered. "What on earth are you doing to them? They look terrified."

"I've just invited them to my sister's surprise party!" Lee exclaimed.

"Lee, someone's going to hear you and tell Jou-chan about it if you don't shut up!" Izari hissed the last part, her fist clutching the collar of his jounin vest as her other hand covered his mouth. Glancing at the Sand siblings, she receives a look of sympathy from Temari and a look of understanding from Gaara.

"Oh, no!" Lee lowered his voice. "I'm sorry, Izari-san."

"Lee, I came here to ask you to do a favor for me," Izari said, dismissing his apology.

Lee looked a little uneasy. "What kind of favor?"

"It's not a sexual one, so you can stop acting so nervous," Izari snapped.

Lee turned bright red. "I wasn't implying that—"

"Shut up, Lee," Izari told him shortly, her voice oddly devoid of any real bite. "Just listen. I'm serious."

Lee saluted her.

Izari was completely unfazed by the movement and continued as if it hadn't happened. "Could you pick my order at the bookstore?" she asked him after a moment.

"Uh…I certainly don't mean to be rude, but why can't you do it?" Lee asked her hesitantly.

Izari avoided his gaze carefully. "Due to some unforeseen circumstances that I do not wish to discuss at length, it seems I am not quite welcome there at the moment," she finished precisely.

"Does this have something to do with what you said to his wife?" Lee asked her with a sigh.

"Wife? I thought it was his mother," Izari blinked. "Oh…I guess that's why she's so mad. My mistake."

Rather than looking sheepish, Temari noted that the woman looked sort of amused.

"Izari-san…not to be disrespectful, but the bookstore you want me to go into…isn't really…"

"Lee, you're over eighteen; it's okay for you to go inside," Izari told him frankly.

Gaara watched his sister's hand clap over her mouth, trying to muffle laughter.

"But I can't just…"

"Please, Lee?" Izari said, giving him a blindingly gorgeous smile. Her arms snaked around his bicep in a very uncharacteristic display of dependence. Lee looked conflicted; Izari was extremely beautiful and when she looked at him so sweetly…

"Fine, but I'm not going to like it," Lee told her sternly. "I'm going to be in and out of that store as fast as I can."

"Lee, speed isn't important to me," Izari winked at him, pressing her wallet into his palm. "But sometimes I like it nice and fast, so do whatever pleases you…"

Lee's face turned crimson and he turned around sharply when she gave him a sharp slap to the ass and he sped off.

"Keep the change, Lee; buy yourself something nice there, would you?" Izari was chuckling to herself. Lee doubled his pace and was soon out of sight.

"Wow, that's still so much fun," Izari said breezily, smiling at Temari. "Good afternoon."

"Uh…yeah," Temari muttered, eyeing the woman suspiciously.

"Sorry, he's such a sweetheart I couldn't resist," Izari shrugged. "Anyway, I needed to talk to you both. It's about those damned surprise parties…they both have to work out or I am going to have to deal with one disappointed twin…which of course will lead to two disappointed twins…and nobody wants that, now do they?"

Neither Sand nin answered, but she pressed on regardless.

"Come over at ten; Jou's getting home around ten fifteen and we're going to surprise her. The rest of Jou's band is going to be there, but trust me, they're usually kind of ditzy so they'll be easy to ignore. Leave by eleven, and I don't care how, just as long as Lee is with you. I know it's going to take a lot of work, but Lee takes his shinobi duties very seriously, as I'm sure you know. From then, kill time for an hour and eventually make your way to this teahouse."

Temari accepted the small card Izari presented her with. Printed on fine paper, she wondered exactly how big this place was and how many people were going to be there.

"Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go pick up my collector's edition of Come Come Paradise," Izari said brightly, voice no longer businesslike. "I reserved a limited edition and I don't want anything bad to happen to my special hardcover edition index."

Walking away after giving them a brisk wave, Temari and Gaara were beginning to feel as if they'd barely scratched the surface of weird.

-O-

"You're out?" Kankurou asked in disbelief. "No way! You just had them a week ago."

"It's our best seller," the store owner explained. "There are only fifty in existence and our shipment was for thirty. It's only natural that Jiraiya-sama wanted to keep production down so he could drive the price up. But he can do whatever he wants; the man's a genius!"

One of Konoha's best ninjas of all time writes porn, Kankurou thought for the thousandth time. I guess it figures; this town's full of perverts…What's this?

Kankurou looked up from the latest edition of Come Come Paradise he'd been glancing at to see Lee of all people stumble through the door. Looking at his feet, he shuffled to the counter with a face redder than a tomato.

"Uh, I'm here to pick up an order," Lee mumbled. Kankurou was taken aback; when had Lee not been one to exclaim things loudly.

"Name?" the man asked tiredly.

"Zan Izari," Lee muttered, face only inches from the counter as he refused to make eye contact with anyone.

"Oh, that one," the cashier grunted. "You're a nice guy, Lee. You have no business with someone like that."

"Izari-san is my sister's best friend."

"Does that also explain why that nut job preordered not one, but two limited edition copies of Come Come Paradise?" the store owner asked.

"One's going to stay in the box," Lee said, his forehead resting on the counter. Kankurou almost felt sorry for him; the poor guy looked like he would pass out from embarrassment.

"Oi, sure I couldn't buy that second copy off of you?" Kankurou piped up, motioning to one of the boxes on the counter.

"Izari-san would kill me," Lee said seriously, eyes wider than normal. He looked up. "Oh, Kankurou! I—"

Lee had been about to launch into a greeting before he remembered where he was. Eyes darting around, he laid his head back down on the counter as the store owner finished filling out the paperwork.

"Who's Izari?" Kankurou asked.

Lee briefly considered answering 'the Devil' but remembered that it wasn't nice to talk about people that weren't there. Besides, such a clichéd summary really didn't do her justice.

"Izari is…well, Izari is um, a friend of Jou's." There. Nice and objective.

"What, like a lover?" Kankurou asked.

"No, Izari's not Jou's lover!" Lee was indignant; how dare he suggest that his sister had a lover, much less one who cursed, smoked, drank, and started fights at every turn. Not that she was all that bad sometimes, but still…

"Chill out, it was a joke," Kankurou told him, eyeing him carefully.

"Here, they're all set," the store owner told Lee, who dutifully counted out the money and shoved the rest in his pocket.

"That's a lot of cash there," Kankurou commented.

"…" Lee recalled Izari's advice to 'buy himself something nice' and sighed. She had intentionally given him a very large amount, far more than he'd spend in once place. He'd just end up spending it on a few nice meals somewhere, which was fine by him.

"Hey, why the—" Kankurou decided not to use the phrase 'long face' "weird expression?"

"I was just going to ask you something, but then I remembered that you can't," Lee said, still looking perplexed.

"I can't what?" Kankurou was puzzled.

"Can't go to the surprise party Lee's throwing for his sister because you're busy that night," Temari cut in, having entered the bookstore silently. Gaara had refused to set foot inside.

"I can't—OW!"

"No, he really can't," Temari reiterated. "Sorry Lee, but it looked like Izari-san bailed on you. You're supposed to just hold onto them until Jou's party. She asked me to give this to you.

In excessively adorable handwriting, Izari had written on the slip of lavender paper. Just hold onto these for me, please! But I won't mind if you want to take a little peek, you naughty shinobi you. ;) Thanks a bunch, Lee-sweetie! Enjoy the reading material.

Kankurou almost laughed at the mortified expression on Lee's face.

"Lee, are you alright?" Temari looked a bit concerned.

"I can't believe it!" Lee ran out of the store.

Temari and Kankurou blinked.

"What the hell just happened?" Kankurou asked.

"Eh, Gaara and I are going to a party," Temari shrugged. "And you're going to rescue us, which is why you're not going there from the very beginning. There's going to be a bunch of girls there, so you'd best be quick about it."

"Girls? Like, around my age?"

"And this is exactly why you're not going with us," Temari sighed.

-O-

With a bit of trepidation, Temari knocked on the door of Jou's house. It slowly crept open until it jerked to a halt by a thin gold chain.

"Hello," an adorable seventeen year old girl squeaked, face at the opening. "What's the password?"

"Password?" Temari was taken aback. Gaara was apathetic.

"Yeah, I can't let you in without the password," the girl said gravely.

"Yeah!" Another face appeared by the door, practically identical to the first one. "My big sister's right. You need a password."

"We don't have a password," Temari bit out, becoming annoyed.

"Oh, for the love of god, just let those poor people inside," came a very exasperated voice. It was Izari. The door was quickly flung open and her tall form stood imperiously in the doorway.

"Hi."

"Hi," Temari's eyes fell to the front of the shirt, which read "Bitch, please" in sparkling gold letters. Gaara merely blinked before slinking past her.

"Lee, those Suna people are here," Izari called loudly.

Temari was about to object to being referred to as a 'Suna person' but thought wiser. She glanced at the two girls that had answered the door, sending them both running away and giggling.

Idiots, Temari thought darkly.

"You two can just sit down in the living room," Izari said offhandedly, glancing back towards the kitchen. "Want something to eat or drink?"

"We're fine," Temari said for both of them, not too keen on eating at the moment. The two sisters had gone out onto the back patio, giggling loudly. The name "Lee-kun" sent shivers down Temari's spine.

"So what's going on here?" Temari asked Izari, who somehow managed to make the act of plopping down onto an armchair look sleek and graceful.

"Lee and I bought a hot tub for Jou-chan," Izari explained. "Kotori-chan and Komiko-chan are helping to install it. Not that those two girls are really good for anything…"

"Izari, that wasn't nice!" Kotori, the older sister, said fitfully. Pouting with her hands on her white kimono-clad hips, she looked about as threatening as a pet rabbit.

"Izari's just jealous because we get to work together with Lee-kun!" Komiko said smartly.

"Or I might just be rude," Izari shrugged, tossing her hair.

"Or that."

"I've spent way too much time fiddling around with pipes and wires as a kid, so I'm letting Lee do the dirty work," Izari muttered, gesturing elegantly to where Lee had just emerged from outside.

"It's all done!" Lee said proudly, for once not wearing his green jumpsuit. Temari and Gaara, who had never seen him out of it, couldn't help but stare a bit.

"Um, are you two alright?"

"Yeah, it's just I always see you in the green suit," Temari grumbled.

Lee laughed. "I don't wear that all the time. Temari, you're so silly sometimes."

Gaara nearly smiled at the look that jumped on his sister's face. Luckily Lee had already turned around or he would have risked turning to stone.

Ding!

"I thought that damned cake would never get finished," Izari muttered, walking right past Gaara and Temari to the kitchen.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

Gaara stiffened, eyes darting up towards the ceiling. Finding no sprinkler system, he relaxed slightly. Not at all concerned as to what set off the fire alarm, he was confident his sand could protect him and Temari.

"Shit!" Izari sounded pissed. "Lee, where's the fire extinguisher? I fucking hate water jutsus…"

Black smoke was billowing from the kitchen. Temari covered her mouth while Gaara looked on in morbid fascination.

"Here, Izari-san!" Lee exclaimed, coming to her rescue with a large red fire extinguisher. "Wow, Izari-san, that's a lot of fire! What did you do? I told you not to bake things at temperatures higher than—"

"SHUT UP AND USE THE DAMNED THING ALREADY!"

Loud hissing sounds erupted until they were abruptly cut off. Temari was brave enough to peer around the corner. A pan throwing off three foot flames was shoved at the counter, burning the formica countertop and tiles. Izari's foot slid in the white chemicals spewed from the fire extinguisher and she screamed as she fell back.

"Izari!" The normal title dropped in his haste, Lee threw down the extinguisher to catch the hot metal plate that threatened to fall on Izari. Hissing as the metal burned his palms, he threw the dish into the sink.

The waitress Gaara had met briefly at the restaurant had grabbed the extinguisher, but she, too, had slipped on the wet floor and sent a stream of white foam sailing for the ceiling. On her feet again, Izari grabbed the extinguisher and trained it on the fire, finally putting out the flames.

"I hate cooking." Izari's top half was covered in the fluffy white foaming discharge from the fire extinguisher. Lee looked more than a little sheepish.

"Izari-san, I'm so sorry!" Lee threw down the extinguisher and got on his hands and knees. "In the over eagerness of my youth I—"

"Save it," Izari growled. She started to fidget. "Shit, this stuff is cold! Ugh!"

Lee's face threatened to burst when she started to take off her tank top, moving slowly towards the hall. Cursing the whole way, she disappeared into what Temari recalled was the bathroom.

"Uh…" For once Lee looked as if he didn't know what to say. Huge, black scorch marks marred the walls from where the flames had seared the tiles. The strong smell of chemicals hung in the air and one of the sisters surprised Temari with her intelligence by actually opening a window. The contents of the extinguisher covered roughly half of the kitchen. Some of the white foam still clung to Lee's clothes as he washed his hands off in the sink, revealing red, blistered flesh.

"Um, hello?"

Everyone in the kitchen turned to where a completely confused Jou stood in the doorway. Izari stumbled out of the bathroom, her hair wet and a towel wrapped around her chest. Pausing when she saw Jou, she blinked. Voice completely deadpan and apathetic, she raised a gold eyebrow.

"Oh yeah…Surprise."

Author's Notes: Yes, another continuation, I'm sorry. Definitely more Neji/Tenten next chapter, but this is just building up to it. You know Lee's party is going to be anything but normal…