Disclaimer: Okay, I don't own Naruto nor the show Survivor… But first! (huggles Chibi Neji!) Kawaii!
Author's blabbering: Wow, I updated! All hail me! (dodges several tomatoes from the audience) You guys can't take a joke, can you? Anyway, as I've said, I updated! It's so fun, fun, fun! Yeah… So, um, what was I going to say…? Ah, yeah, I just want to tell you guys that, er, if you keep bugging me to update faster (those "When the hell are you going to update? I'm getting bored here!" or something like that), I'LL UPDATE EVEN SLOWER. Why? Because I hate it when people bug me. I'm actually doing at the pace I'm comfortable with since I'm jam-packed with all my work in school and stuff… So, that's that!
Anyway, since this chapter is soooooo long… I'll answer your reviews in the next chapter! Thanks for all those who reviewed!I'll give you Pocky next time!Ja!
CHAPTER 9: DAY 7 – KONOHA RUMOR WORLD CUP
Tsunade stared at her prized shinobis, taking in their new fad. She hadn't known bandages were so 'in' today, considering the large amount of bandages the young men were wearing all over their bodies.
Neji was sporting bandages on his two arms and legs and another on his neck; Sasuke wore bandages covered with his leather straps on his arms and legs and even his large collar could not hide the rest of the bandages around his neck; Naruto's bandages were around his head so that his hitai-ate was pushed down on his neck along with his Survivor hitai-ate; Shikamaru's could be seen through the net shirt he was wearing; Lee looked like a character from the movie The Mummy, limping painfully; Kiba was whining softly every now and then, bandages wrapped around his arms, legs, head, and neck; Kankuro was dragging his puppet listlessly on the ground, limping like Lee; and Kakashi and Jiraiya looked like they had battled Itachi, Orochimaru, Kabuto, and the revived Shodaime and Nidaime all at the same time. Only Chouji and Shino looked unscathed.
"What the hell were you doing yesterday?" she asked. "And since when have bandages become a fashion craze?"
"Ever since girls could become ninjas," Jiraiya muttered, wrapping a bandage around his neck which bore a red mark that eerily resembled a rope. "I should've known this would happen to me…"
"How stupid of me to even wander around where these idiots were hiding!" Neji said darkly, glaring at Naruto and the rest of the guys.
Tenten grinned at her injured teammate. "It's not funny, Tenten."
"Women are so troublesome." Shikamaru let out a sigh, wincing slightly when pain shot all over his body. "They bring nothing but pain and misery in our already miserable lives."
"Hear, hear!" Kankuro muttered under his laborious breath.
The kunoichis just pretended nothing happened, checking out their nails, weapons or the tips of their hair. Tsunade looked at them for a whole minute before looking at the men.
"What the hell did you do again?" she asked, her voice exasperated.
"It's all his fault!" the men cried out at the same time, pointing at each other. Naruto pointed furiously at Shino who pointed calmly at Neji who pointed irately at Lee who pointed pompously at Sasuke who pointed accusingly at Kankuro who pointed helplessly at Shikamaru who pointed lazily at Kiba who pointed angrily at Kakashi who pointed nonchalantly at Jiraiya who finally pointed at Chouji who didn't seem to care about what they were talking about.
Tsunade sighed heavily at her shinobis. "Okay, tell me whose fault it is before I ask the Kazekage to bind you all in his sand," she said in her most relaxed voice.
"His fault!" They now pointed furiously, calmly, irately, pompously, accusingly, helplessly, lazily, angrily and nonchalantly at Chouji who was eating. Again.
"You idiots!" Temari shouted in irritation. "You really have to point at the innocent just to get the blame off you, don't you!"
"If he hadn't shouted—"
The Suna kunoichi cut off the white-haired sannin with a dark glare. "If he hadn't shouted, we wouldn't have known that YOU were peeking on us, you pervert!"
Tsunade's hazel eyes widened then narrowed at Jiraiya, who was now cowering behind Shizune. She underwent several different expressions in under a minute, including anger, rage, wrath, frenzy, murdering instinct and everything in between. "You were peeking at the girls?" she demanded, her voice lethally sharp. "And now, you're blaming Chouji because he tattled on you?"
"He didn't actually tattle on us, Tsunade. He shouted—Hey! Watch where you're throwing those things!" Jiraiya shouted at his former teammate, dodging several kunais and shurikens. "Tsunade, calm down and listen!"
"You were peeking on my kunoichis and now you demand that I listen to you?" Tsunade was now unleashed-chakra-greater-than-the-Sand-demon-the-Kyuubi-and-Cursed-Seal-combined personified. Her hazel eyes were turning into bloody red ones that could give Itachi, Sasuke and Naruto a run for their money. She suddenly turned around at Kakashi, who was trying to sneak away. "You won't get away either, Kakashi!"
"You know, maybe we shouldn't have hurt them so much," Sakura said as she watched her sensei beat the living daylights out of Kakashi and Jiraiya.
"Yeah, if only we knew Tsunade-sama would avenge us," Tenten agreed thoughtfully, patting Neji's injured arms absently. The Hyuuga hissed at her in pain. "Oh, grow up, Neji! Don't be such a baby!"
"I hope Kakashi-sensei and Jiraiya-sama don't get hurt too much," Hinata said softly, wincing whenever Tsunade's fist hit either silver-haired Leaf Nin.
"You pity them, Hinata? After all that they've done to us?" Ino asked in disbelief, a hand on her waist. The young Hyuuga bit her lip, twiddling her fingers again. "They deserve that beating! I wish Tsunade-sama would beat them harder!"
"It's not impossible that she would…" Sakura said and the kunoichis watched the brawl.
On the side of the guys…
Naruto was cheering on Kakashi and Jiraiya as Tsunade cast a Doton jutsu on the two. "C'mon, sensei! You can do it! Baa-chan has no chance against the both of you!"
"That's easier said—" Jiraiya dodged a kunai aimed at his head but didn't expect Tsunade's uppercut. He crumpled on the ground with a loud groan. "Than done, Naruto…"
"Aww, you're a loser to baa-chan, ero-sennin!" Naruto said with a pout. "And you're telling me that baa-chan is weak and powerless against you! You're lying!"
"What-were-you-telling-him-Jiraiya!" Tsunade screamed, emphasizing each word with a painful punch on the stomach. "That-I-am-weak-and-powerless-against-you! Hah! Who's-weak-and-powerless-now!"
"I-I am…" Jiraiya wheezed, his eyes resembling a child's lollipop.
"What? I can't hear you!"
"I am, for God's sake!" The white-haired sannin groaned as another punch collided with his stomach.
"I guess I win, dobe," Sasuke said, holding out a hand to Naruto. "Where's my money?"
Naruto sulkily returned several bills to his dark-haired teammate. That was supposed to be his savings to buy that special bowl of Ramen at Ichiraku, and now it's all gone. It was all GONE thanks to his two wonderful and brilliants senseis who were being beaten to a pulp by a mere woman. Well, not just a mere woman, but the first woman Hokage of Konoha.
"This is your fault, ero-sennin, Kakashi-sensei!" he ranted at the two half-dead shinobis on the ground. "Now Sasuke-teme took my money because I lost the bet when I bet that you were going to win against Tsunade-baa-chan! You have to buy me ramen when we get back in Konoha!"
Tsunade scoffed at Naruto. "Like these two have any chance against me!"
"Yeah, who said so?" Jiraiya was getting up, his bones cracking at the joints. He groaned painfully as another punch collided with his face. "Hey! I'm not doing anything now!"
"I'm not finished with you yet, you pervert!"
The other shinobis sweatdropped as Tsunade continued to pummel the sannin. Kakashi, fortunately for him, suffered minor damages such as bruises and sprains, unlike Jiraiya, who was already suffering multiple fractured limbs, organs and other body parts, both internal and external. At least now he'd learned that it'd be much better if he'd just read Icha Icha Paradise instead of peeking at women. Especially PMS-ing kunoichis and Hokages from Konoha.
"Okay, since Hokage-sama is, um, still busy with her work…" Shizune glanced hesitantly at Tsunade, who was still in hyper kill-Jiraiya mode. "I'm going to explain the challenge and the mechanics."
She pulled down a series of maps with several squiggly lines, arrows, and symbols.
"Well, first of all, there'll be two challenges: one for today, the other for tomorrow," Kurenai started as Asuma and Gaara helped Shizune fix the map. "The prize for today's challenge is something that you'd all like to win: food. Now, for the challenge tomorrow, the prize will be the immunity. Whichever group gets the immunity will be safe for three more days while the group who loses will have to go to tribal council on the third night."
"Is that tribal council for real now or another one of your go-to-the-forest-in-the-middle-of-the-night ploys again?" Shikamaru asked in a bored tone.
"It's for real, Shikamaru," Asuma replied while heaving another set of trunks filled with maps. He spat out his cigarette, then looked at Gaara. "Any help, please?"
"What are the maps for, Shizune-nee-chan?" Naruto asked, raising one to his eyelevel upside down. "Do we need them?"
The dark-haired kunoichi chuckled and shook her head. "Oh, no, those will be used for the next challenge," she replied and Asuma face-faulted, dropping the heavy trunk on the Kazekage's foot, which then resulted into a huge wave of sand washing over Asuma. "For your challenge today, we'll play soccer!"
Sasuke cocked one dark brow. "Soccer? And I'd thought you'd give us something weirder."
Gai snickered evilly. At least, that's what he thought. To Neji and the others, it sounded more like a mad scientist cackling to himself, which is extremely different from snickering. Tenten fought the urge to kill her sensei right there and then, knowing that he had conjured another out-of-this-world activity for them to literally die for. Coincidentally, Neji was thinking the same murderous thoughts as Tenten, only bloodier and more violent than the last time.
"Ah, but it will not be an ordinary soccer game, dear student of my eternal rival of mine," Gai said and the Uchiha prodigy sweatdropped at the epithet the Jounin had given him. "You will be playing soccer without touching the ball with your hands!"
Sakura frowned at him then leaned over to Hinata. "But real soccer players don't really use their hands in playing," she whispered quietly and the white-eyed kunoichi nodded slightly.
Unfortunately for Sakura, Gai heard her whisper all the same and looked highly affronted at what she said. "Well, then, Haruno-san, why don't you tell us how soccer is played, since you're so smart and all?"
Sakura glanced at her teammates who all shrugged. "I don't know how to play the game obviously!" she cried in exasperation. "I just watch it on television!"
"Then how come—"
"Gai, that's enough!" The group all turned to the owner of the cool voice, Neji, who looked passive and emotionless as ever. "I think you should just tell us the mechanics of the game."
The Green Beast of Konoha nodded meekly at the stern-looking Hyuuga. From one of honorable Jounins who had saved Konoha during the invasion of the Sound and Sand Nins, he was reduced to a mere genin whenever it came to Hyuuga Neji. Obviously, that student of his had the potential of an ANBU even at that age.
"The challenge is actually another of Gai's plans, people," Kurenai told them and the group gave knowing nods.
"I will not be surprised anymore if this type of soccer will require the use of head to move the ball!" Kiba declared. "Gai always has the weirdest and the most random ideas on Earth. No wonder his students are the same as him!"
The moment he said that last statement, he became the focus of Neji's Byakugan-able orbs. "I dare you to say that to my face, Kiba," the prodigy said in his calm voice, almost betraying his true intention on the Inuzuka heir: death.
Kiba, realizing his mistake, immediately shook his head. "N-No! I didn't mean you and Tenten," he argued. "I meant Lee! That's right, Lee!"
"Oh, and we thought you were speaking about us," Tenten said with a playful smirk, a kunai on her finger. "Ne, Neji?"
"All right, enough about Gai!"
The shinobis turned this time to Tsunade, who looked calm and unruffled while holding the two silver-haired Nins' collars in her hands, their eyes resembling swirly lollipops. They sweatdropped as the Hokage flung the two men across the stage, sending them crashing onto the wall behind them and finally destroying it.
"So, back to our challenge," Tsunade started again, brushing away the invisible dust from her shoulders and hands. "You are going to play soccer, but not ordinary soccer where the players are running upright and all. You have to be on all fours, meaning like a dog. Of course, you can't use your hands in kicking the ball in so you'll have to use your head, feet, arms, but NOT hands. And you guys have to stay in that position throughout the game. If one of the members of your group tries to stand on his or her two legs or they touch the ball with their hands, you're disqualified."
Everyone just looked simply staggered at the mechanics of the game. Neji cocked one eyebrow; Tenten's jaw dropped; Temari stared at the Hokage in disbelief; Shikamaru looked like he had been deserted by the goddess of idleness again; Ino's blue eyes were wide and looked like they were going to pop; Kiba looked annoyed; Shino, well, he still looked the same; Sasuke had a somewhat disgusted, somewhat irritated look on his face; Hinata simply shook her head; Sakura sighed in exasperation; Kankuro prayed that he was back on Suna, just having a bad dream; Chouji was eating for the nth time again; and Lee looked ecstatic as ever to start.
"You're going to play THERE!"
They all looked at the place where Tsunade pointed and nearly everyone let out a strangled protest at the sight of the game area.
"It looks like a pen for pigs," Ino stated with disgust in her voice.
"That's good for you then, Ino!" Sakura said, sticking out a mocking tongue at the blonde kunoichi. Ino simply looked infuriated.
It was just as large as a junior soccer pitch (that's the smaller, less tiring but still sprawling version of the World Cup pitch), except the ground was not carpeted by soft green grass but by itchy, white sand, which sticks to wet, damp, or clammy skin. The goals, the tiny, almost insignificant goals, were there on each of the two ends. The whole place was surrounded by a knee-high iron net fence. Just by looking at it, they all agreed with Ino's words: It looked more like a pigpen.
"Won't we look like idiots if we play there?" Naruto asked, scratching his blond head.
"Only you would look like an idiot, dobe," Sasuke said flatly, pulling off his shirt like the other guys. It wasn't like they had a choice or anything when it came to mandatory, er, missions given by the Hokage. It was always between performing the mission, injured or not, or death. "Kuso! My ribs still hurt from that fall!"
Sakura winced inwardly at the raven-haired prodigy's words, remembering the torture she had given her two teammates involving a long piece of rope, a tall coconut tree and several logs.
"Neji, won't you have any difficulty supporting yourself with your arms in this game?" Tenten asked the older Hyuuga, peering intently at his bandaged arms. Neji grunted in reply, flexing his arms. "Well, sorry but it's your fault anyway! If you hadn't let yourself be pulled by the guys' evil intentions, I wouldn't have hurt you this badly!"
"It's not like I wanted to partake in their immoral actions," he retorted through gritted teeth, glaring daggers at the pretending-to-be-innocent Lee and Naruto. "I was forced in it!"
The weapons mistress folded her arms across her chest stubbornly. "Well, still, you should've fought all the temptations! And you should've beaten them up!"
"I did that to them but they were unfazed!" Neji argued as a very faint pink blush rose to his face. "Besides… It was really distracting, you know…"
Tenten narrowed her brown eyes into slits at her salmon pink teammate, looking more and more like an angry tigress. "What, or should I ask who, was distracting you that time, Hyuuga Neji?"
"And do choose your words carefully, Hyuuga, or else they may be your last."
Neji gulped inwardly at the fiery weapons mistress. He seemed to be digging himself even deeper in the hole he hadn't even dug in the first place.
On the other side of the team, Shikamaru was caught between another catfight involving the two blonde kunoichis: Ino and Temari.
"Well, I'd say he was looking at me that time!" Ino screeched angrily, her blue eyes flaring.
"Yeah right, like there's something to look at you anyway," Temari retorted with a cocky smirk. "I'm sure Shika-kun was looking at me, a real woman, not a little girl like you."
"How dare you, you peroxide witch!"
"You're a peroxide witch too, ojou-chan!"
Shikamaru sighed as the two girls started their very entertaining, very enlightening "Am not, Are too" verbal joust. It was really taking all his willpower and intellect not to grab a rope and tie them to a tree. Maybe he should use the Kage Kubishibari no Jutsu on them just to shut them up.
He glanced lazily at Kiba, who was fruitlessly trying to break the two girls up.
"Hey, he wasn't really looking at either of you," the Inuzuka heir reasoned out at the both of them. "He was actually uninterested with what we were doing—"
"Shut up, Kiba!"
Very fruitless indeed, Shikamaru concluded mentally, as he watched the dog-loving Chuunin fly and hit a nearby tree from the force of Temari and Ino's combined punch. And risky as well.
But much to the shadow master's relief, the kunoichi from Suna suddenly turned her attention to her younger brothers. He watched as Temari's dark eyes darkened even more and narrowed into slits as Kankuro seemingly tried to conspire with Gaara.
"C'mon, Gaara, just this once. I'll forever be in your debt."
"Just think you're doing a favor to your older brother."
"I just want you to bind the other team with your sand for a few moments until we score a goal. It won't hurt anyone."
"No, Temari will get mad at me."
"Who cares about Tema—" Kankuro's statement was cut short when a coconut hit him squarely on the head. He whipped around, annoyed, at his fair-haired sister. "Hey! What the hell was that coconut for?"
"How dare you pollute the mind of Gaara again, conspiring with him to make my team lose, you sneak!" Temari shrieked, grabbing more fallen coconuts and hurling them wildly at her brother. "I can't believe you're this low, Kankuro! And to think I've trusted you to make sure Gaara doesn't think of anymore murderous thoughts!"
"Hey!—Hey! Temari! Hey—" Kankuro ducked just before a coconut could hit him on the face. "What the hell—Oww!" A rather large coconut caught him on the stomach. "Temari—" He jumped in the air. "—I was just—" Swerved to the right to avoid another coconut. "I was just kid—" Several coconuts hit him at the same time at different parts of the body. "Oww! Don't be so violent, Temari!"
"Violent?" she cried in disbelief, stopping her rain of coconuts on Kankuro for a moment. This time, she pulled several kunais and shurikens from her holster. "I'll show you violence, you overbearing, conniving, manipulative twit! Get him, Gaara!"
Of course, the young red-haired Kazekage obliged immediately at his older sister's command, much to the puppet master's indignation and annoyance.
"You call this gratitude after I carried you to safety when you were injured back at Konoha!" Kankuro shouted in desperation and righteous anger as sand glued him on the spot where he was standing, keeping him still. "Gaara!"
Tsunade pulled her gaze away from Kankuro, who was now being dragged on the beach by Gaara's sand, clearing her throat to get the attention of her own shinobis from the drama the Sand siblings were creating right there and then.
"So, are you guys ready for the challenge?" There was a collective groan and one loud "Yes!" courtesy of a hyped-up Lee. "All right, I'll take that as a yes. Why don't you pick your goalkeeper now?"
Tsunade read the list given to her by Shizune on the positions of the shinobis on the field. "For the Sharingan Team, your goalkeeper will be…" She frowned at it then raised an eyebrow at Sasuke. "Chouji?"
The Uchiha nodded curtly. "He could block our goalpost by just standing there."
"O-kay…" Tsunade continued with the list. "Sasuke, Naruto and Lee as forwards, Hinata and Sakura as midfielders and Kankuro and… Karasu?" She glanced at the puppet master who nodded. "—for defenders…"
Sakura leaned to Hinata. "I knew it's a mistake to put Chouji in the position of goalkeeping…"
"Now, for Team Byakugan," Tsunade started again, clearing her throat. "Goalkeeper is… Shikamaru?"
"Why is it so unbelievable that I'm the goalkeeper?" the shadow master asked in exasperation.
"Neji and Kiba as forwards, Tenten and Ino as midfielders and Shino and Temari as defenders!" Tsunade rolled the list with a smile that looked more like a smirk. "All right, you guys, play ball!"
"Isn't that for baseball?"
The girls, except Hinata, had taken off their shirts like the boys just before the game started. Soon, Jiraiya was back on his feet, binoculars on his hands. And soon after he had risen to his feet, he was back on the sand as Tsunade pummeled him yet again.
"Poor Jiraiya-sama," Hinata said quietly, watching the Hokage hurl her former teammate into the blue sea.
Naruto waved a hand at her. "Don't worry, ero-sennin will be back in no time!" he told her cheerfully and Hinata smiled back, a bright pink tinge staining her cheeks. "Anyway, are you sure you want to play?"
The Hyuuga heiress nodded meekly. "I-I haven't been participating much, N-Naruto-kun…" she replied almost inaudibly. "Sasuke-san might t-take me off the group…"
"I won't let Sasuke-teme remove you from the group!" the blond Kyuubi said brightly. "I'll make sure of that!"
Naruto threw her a fox-like grin; Hinata blushed darkly, casting her white gaze on the ground. "And, oh, Hinata-chan," he started and she looked up at him. "How about we grab some ramen when we get back to Konoha?"
Hinata nodded, an optimistic smile on her lips. "H-Hai, N-Naruto-kun…"
The aforementioned girl turned to Sakura who was waving at her from a distance. She bowed slightly at Naruto then proceeded to the pink-haired kunoichi.
The blue-eyed Leaf Nin shrugged as he gazed at the retreating back of the soft-spoken Hyuuga. Much to his surprise and annoyance though, Kakashi and Jiraiya, who had used a Kawarimi jutsu on Tsunade, suddenly popped up beside him, ruffling his already-messy blond hair, grinning madly.
"What do you want now, ero-sennin?" Naruto cried loudly, slapping away Jiraiya's hand from his hair.
"Kakashi and I have concluded that you really have grown now, Naruto!" the white-haired sannin declared with a malicious grin. "We were so surprised that that girl had accepted your invite for a date!"
"That's not an invite for a date—"
"And we thought you'd get a slap on the face!" Jiraiya continued, ignoring a pissed-off expression of his apprentice. "That's what always happens to me!"
Naruto eyed his two senseis suspiciously. "That's because you grope them, you pervert."
"And you picked a Hyuuga!" Jiraiya sounded beyond impressed, ignoring yet again his last remark. "You have a fine taste for women, Naruto! We have taught you well!"
Naruto still wore that pissed-off look on his face, his ocean blue orbs narrowed into slits at his teachers. "Yeah, right! Like you guys have tastes!" he said, almost disgusted at the thought. "You, ero-sennin—" He pointed a finger at Jiraiya. "—You always chase women around, not even caring if they're 3 decades younger than you! And you, Kakashi-sensei—" Kakashi looked up from his very graphic book to observe Naruto lazily. "—you never even had a girlfriend all your life because you hide your face behind your mask! You must be pretty ugly!"
"Who told you that?" Kakashi raised a silver eyebrow at his student in amusement. "That's a fib, Naruto!"
The blond boy looked defiant. "Well, it was Asuma-sensei who told me that!" he declared loudly.
Kakashi turned to Asuma, who had pretended to be in a deep conversation with Kurenai now that he was already busted by the loud-mouthed Chuunin. "Asuma?"
"Yeah, and I'm sure I can trust Asuma-sensei's words more than yours, Kakashi-sensei!" Naruto replied ostentatiously.
The Copy Ninja grinned behind his mask at Asuma. It's payback time! "Well, did you know that Asuma has this BIG crush on Kurenai?" he said loudly, loud enough for everyone in a ten-meter radius to hear. "And Kurenai on Asuma?"
Kurenai immediately spun around at Kakashi, blushing furiously while hurling coconuts at him. "How dare you feed lies into Naruto, you mad pervert!" she shrieked. "I do not have a crush on Asuma!"
Asuma grinned as well, sticking a new unlit cigarette in his mouth. "Nice going, Kakashi!" He was promptly chucked with coconuts as well, courtesy of an irate Kurenai. "Hey! What did I do now?"
Shikamaru turned to Shino who was watching the turn of events between the Jounins. "I never knew your sensei fancies Asuma-sensei."
Shino glanced at him, pushing his dark glasses on his nose. "I never knew either."
"See what you've done, Kakashi! Even my students believe your lies now!" Kurenai yelled, chucking kunais and other pointy objects now. "You just can't accept the truth that you had a crush on Anko once!"
Sasuke blanched and gaped at their ex-ANBU teacher. "You had a crush on that blood-thirsty woman?"
"That was Iruka, Kurenai! Iruka!" Kakashi shouted back, feeling all eyes on him, even the Hokage and Kazekage. Having a crush on Anko isn't really something to be announced to the whole world. "Iruka had a crush on Anko before! Now he has a crush on Shizune!"
All eyes turned to Godaime's personal assistant, who now resembled a ripe apple.
Tsunade looked at Shizune, a pale eyebrow cocked at an angle. "Iruka? Iruka had a crush on you?" she asked in disbelief and she nodded timidly. "Don't tell me you have a crush on him too?"
The Fifth Hokage of Konoha stared long and hard at her assistant then placed a hand on her head with a groan. "I'm getting too old for this…"
Kurenai stopped hurling coconuts and shurikens at Kakashi, both of her brows raised in disbelief. "Iruka? But I thought it was Hayate who had a crush on her!"
"Get a grip, woman!" Asuma shook his head in exasperation. "Hayate had a girlfriend, remember? You're probably thinking of Genma."
"Genma-san had a crush on Anko-san?" Ino whispered in incredulity at Temari. "I never knew that…"
The blonde Sand Nin frowned at Ino, trying to remember who Genma was. "Isn't he that cute guy who supervised the finals?" The Leaf kunoichi nodded hurriedly. "You mean, the one Baki-sensei fought with?" Ino nodded again. "Eew! That's disgusting! And to think he's good-looking!"
Back at Konoha…
"Genma! Can you keep your hands off the dumplings?" Anko hollered at the senbon-chewing, madly-sneezing Jounin, then glared at Iruka, who was sneezing violently as well. "What the hell happened to you guys? Did you catch a cold or something?"
Iruka tossed his used tissue in the trash can. "I don't know," he replied, sniffling. "I never knew I had a cold until right now."
"Well, if the both of you are going to sneeze forever then you should just—" Anko let out a loud sneeze, earning a chuckle from both Genma and Iruka. "Dammit!"
Now back at the beach of the Homeless and Yacht-less group…
"Wow, I've been a Hokage for five years and I never knew these rumors," Tsunade said thoughtfully as she sat on the wrecked stage with Gaara, watching the three Jounins argue, with Gai trying to break them up. "Uh-oh…"
Kurenai had rounded this time on the Green Beast of Konoha, her red eyes flaring angrily. "Yeah? And what about you, Gai? Didn't you have a crush on Anko as well?"
Gai stopped then stared at her. Then… he started stuttering. "W-Where did you get that idea, Kurenai?" He laughed nervously, striking his Good Guy Pose with shaky knees. "Y-You know I never had a crush on A-Anko! That-That is a lie! A total, complete and outright lie!"
"Right!" Kakashi said dryly, his face buried in his book. "You never had a crush on her and yet she became your girlfriend?"
There was a complete hush as the shinobis of Konoha and Suna gawked at the spandex-clad Jounin, who was now imitating Hinata's habit of twiddling fingers. Tsunade and Shizune's jaws dropped; Ino, Sakura, Hinata and Temari blanched; Sasuke, Naruto, Shikamaru, Chouji and Kiba looked like they were going to puke; Kankuro looked like he'd been slapped; Gaara and Shino were impassive, as usual; Neji and Tenten resembled ice statues; Jiraiya looked like his eyes were going to pop out of his head; And Lee…
"YOU HAD A GIRLFRIEND AND YOU NEVER TOLD ME, GAI-SENSEI! AND I THOUGHT YOU NEVER HAD A GIRLFRIEND SINCE BIRTH LIKE ME!"
Asuma, Kurenai and Kakashi seemed unperturbed at the news as if they knew it all along. Gai was torn between madness and complete insanity, cackling loudly like a mad scientist.
Neji's eyebrow twitched involuntarily as Tenten comforted their howling team member. But, like Lee, he couldn't believe his teacher had a girlfriend BEFORE him. No woman in her right mind would even choose someone as weird and ridiculous as Gai.
Still, this is that woman we're talking about…
"Oh, don't worry, Lee, I'm sure Gai-sensei didn't mean to hide it from you."
Neji turned to his two teammates: one howling like there's not tomorrow, the other consoling him like a sister. He cleared his throat and Tenten glanced at him, a smirk on her features. Their sign language was then interrupted when Lee suddenly howled loudly once again.
"BUT TENTEN! NO ONE WOULD LIKE ME!" the younger Green Beast bawled at the top of his voice, creating a louder noise than Tsunade on a megaphone. "SAKURA-SAN DOESN'T LIKE ME!" Sakura turned pink immediately and Sasuke glared at him. "I WOULD NEVER FIND A GIRLFRIEND!"
"Oh, Lee…" Tenten glanced briefly at Sakura, who looked apologetic, while rubbing his back. "I'm sure you'll find one. You're a nice guy and all. It's impossible that no girl would like you."
Like magic, Lee was energized by Tenten's words. He turned with teary eyes to the weapons mistress, who looked like hell had just dawned on her, holding her hands between his. Neji twitched as he glared at their contact. "Really, Tenten-chan?"
Tenten averted her brown eyes from her teammate. "Really what, Lee?"
"That it's impossible that no girl would like me?" Lee's voice sounded so sincere and hopeful that Tenten couldn't help but feel sympathy for him.
"Y-Yeah, Lee…" she replied, choosing her words carefully. "I mean, I'm sure somewhere out there, you have a soul mate."
Lee's round eyes were starry and twinkling as Tenten spoke those words. "Really, Tenten-chan?" he asked again and the weapons mistress was getting uneasy with the smile Lee was giving her. "Does that mean you like me too, Tenten-chan?"
"Ah, er, of course, Lee, you're like a brother to me and—"
"Then can you be my girlfriend, Tenten-chan?"
There was another complete hush on the beach after Lee had declared those words to Tenten. Everyone had stopped moving, nearly stopped breathing as well. Even Gaara looked dumbfounded. What Lee had just said was more controversial in nature than the revelation of Gai's relationship with none other than Anko. But, as for Neji, his expression was beyond words. Simply put, he looked like a walking, ticking nuclear bomb, ready to explode any second.
"Ah, well, Lee…" Tenten wanted to bury herself under the forest, sand and sea, now that all eyes were directed at her and Lee. She knew she shouldn't have comforted the spandex-clad Jounin. "…I can't…"
"Because…" She gulped inwardly, pressing her lips together. She could feel Neji's eyes boring a hole into the back of her head. She didn't know what she should say. Sorry, Lee, but there's someone I like? No, that wouldn't work at all!
"Because what?" the Jounin pressed on, urging her to go on.
"Because… Because…" Tenten sighed. There's no way out of it. "There's someone… There's someone I like."
But, to her dismay, the spandex-clad male was unfazed. "Who? Tell me who, Tenten-chan!" Lee's grip on her hands tightened.
"Ah, well, Lee, it's someone—"
"It's just someone—"
"WHO IS IT!"
"Lee, I suggest that you don't shout—"
"BUT I LIKE YOU AND YOU LIKE ME! WHAT'S THE POINT OF CHOOSING ANOTHER?"
"It's really complicated, Lee—"
"IT'S SASUKE, ISN'T IT? OR PROBABLY NEJI!"
"No, Lee, it's not them—"
"THEN WHO IS IT?"
"Lee, are you drunk again—"
The green-clad member of Team Gai flew across the beach from the force of the combined punch of Tenten and Neji when he tried to shake the former forcefully as if that would help her speak. The weapons mistress glanced inquiringly at Neji, who just shrugged his shoulders, averting his gaze from her.
"He was getting annoying," he replied flatly to her unspoken question.
She grinned at him, shaking her head. "Thanks!"
Tsunade blinked, her handful of popcorn just a few inches from her mouth. She glanced from Neji to Tenten to the unconscious Lee some meters away. "What? Is the drama over?"
Tenten scowled at her. "There was no drama, Hokage-sama."
"But—But, Lee—He proposed to you, didn't he?" she asked frantically, nearly hitting Gaara's face with her plastic popcorn bowl. "Man, this is better than a soap opera on TV! I should've brought a camera with me!"
A blood vessel started to twitch involuntarily above Neji's eyebrow again at the Godaime, who was chatting incessantly about that Korean soap opera she had watched some weeks ago about a movie star and an ordinary girl blah, blah, blah. He cleared his throat.
"Hokage-sama," he started pointedly, his voice curt and cold. "What about the challenge for today?"
Tsunade blinked twice at Neji before waving a hand at him dismissively. "Cancelled since you wasted a lot of time gossiping and shouting rumors," she replied casually. "I'm glad I went along with this mission, ne, Shizune? Or else I wouldn't have known that Genma, Iruka, Kakashi and Gai all had a crush on Anko!"
"I didn't!" Kakashi and Gai shouted in chorus.
"Oh, shut up!"
Naruto looked indignant at this news. Cancellation of the challenge meant no prize and no prize means no food. He had promised to do his best on that challenge since the prize would be food but now… "Baa-chan, what about the prize?" he wailed. "The food!"
"Oh, you can eat them if you guys want," the Hokage said carelessly, eager to start on a new career: soap opera directing. "Have a feast or anything. It's up to you!"
"And tomorrow?" Shikamaru asked.
"Tomorrow, we'll be on schedule," Tsunade replied, walking back to her bungalow. "We'll start the challenge early tomorrow. I'll see you guys here tomorrow and be early!" With that, she slammed the door to her bungalow loudly.
There was total silence then…
"What do you guys want to do?" Kurenai asked the shinobis of Konoha and Suna.
"I can't believe today was such an educational day!" Ino declared as she and Shikamaru sat on the sand, eating the roasted chicken Asuma and Kakashi had made. It was already past sunset and they were having a party on the beach of the Homeless and Yacht-less group. "Imagine, I learned that Kurenai-sensei has a crush on Asuma-sensei."
"Makes you want to wonder what Kurenai had seen in Asuma-sensei, right?" Shikamaru chuckled, staring at the darkening sky.
"Well, I'm sure she's seen something good in him," the blonde girl replied evenly, shrugging her shoulders. "I mean, except his lazy attitude that he happens to share with you and his habit of always having a cigarette on the mouth.
"Yeah? And what about the Jounins and Anko?"
Ino frowned in thought, drawing absently on the sand. "Hmm… Anko-san is a tough cookie," she answered. "She doesn't like to be bossed around or something. That's probably one thing."
"Kakashi, Gai, Iruka-sensei and Genma… They all have the same taste in women."
"Yeah, and the part that Anko-san became Gai-sensei's girlfriend? Unbelievable!" Ino laughed, tossing her long blonde hair over her shoulders. "I can't believe Gai-sensei would actually, well, actually have a girlfriend."
Shikamaru closed his eyes, feeling the cool breeze wash over him. "Well, that's the way the world works, I guess… Nothing is impossible."
Some meters away from them…
The Hyuuga heiress looked up from her seat and glanced sideward to find Sakura and Temari walking towards her. She smiled pleasantly at them, gesturing to take a seat beside her.
"Why are you here all lone?" the pink-haired kunoichi asked with a dismayed voice. "Why don't you come with us? We're taking a walk along the beach."
Hinata shook her head smilingly. "Thanks, but no thanks," she replied. "I'm quite fine just sitting here."
"You sure?" Temari peered at the Hyuuga's face intently with a frown. "You know, you and your cousin are the most difficult people to read." Hinata just smiled back. "You sure you don't want to go?"
"I'm fine, really, thanks…"
The two kunoichis nodded then went on their way, a flashlight on their hands. Hinata then pulled her legs to her chest, settling her chin on her knees, while gazing on the dark blue sea.
She looked up once again but immediately bowed, her face red, at the sight of Naruto standing beside her. She felt the young man sit next to her, his legs spread on the sand.
"Why are you here all alone?" he asked her concernedly. "Do you have a problem or something?"
"Iie…" she replied quietly. "I was just thinking…"
Naruto cocked his head to one side in confusion then grinned at her. "You know how everything started earlier?" he asked her and she shook her head. "It was because of ero-sennin and Kakashi-sensei! They were teasing me that I asked you out on a date!" Hinata blushed. Thankfully, it was dark for it to be seen. "Ero-sennin said I have good taste in women because of him! Yeah, right! He didn't even have a girlfriend! And Kakashi-sensei too!"
"How did you know they didn't have a girlfriend?" she asked him softly.
"Asuma-sensei told me!" Naruto answered matter-of-factly and Hinata nodded in understanding. "So I told Kakashi-sensei that Asuma-sensei told me that he never had a girlfriend all his life! And that's where it started! Actually, I was arguing with ero-sennin that he always get slapped whenever he asked girls out because he was groping them and all…"
The blond Kyuubi faltered when he felt something warm and heavy lean on his side. He glanced down and a gentle smile graced his face. Hinata had fallen asleep, probably because of the day's bustle. Carefully, he took of his jacket and placed it around her shoulders.
Night, night, Hinata-chan!
Some more meters away from them…
"You never told me who you really liked."
Tenten looked up at Neji, a perfectly-arched eyebrow raised. "Well, it's really none of your business, Neji," she replied evenly, going back to her work of sharpening her kunais. "He's someone you don't know."
"Really?" The Hyuuga prodigy took a seat next to her on the beach. "And how can I confirm that?"
"You can't. Case closed."
Neji scowled at her before turning his white gaze on the pale waning moon above them thoughtfully. "Lee doesn't know so I'm sure none outside our group knows. Does any of the girls know?"
She shook her head, her eyes trained on her weapons. "Nope, I don't have the guts to tell them either," she answered. "I'm too afraid."
"Afraid of what? Of them spreading the news?"
"No…" She stopped rubbing the flat stone on the dark metal, her grip tightening on the handle of her kunai. "I'm more afraid of losing him when he finds out… He's not the type who welcomes declarations of love with open arms… He's more like the Uchiha Sasuke type…"
"That's not Uchiha, is it?" he asked, his voice carefully modulated and removed any trace of suspicion and distrust.
Tenten chuckled. "It's neither of the brothers, Neji, I already told you that," she said then cut him off again. "And, no, it's not Shino either. I swear, it's not them."
She let out a sigh. "Well… Gaara's probably warmer than him, to be honest…"
"He's a Leaf Nin, right?"
"Don't tell me he's an older Jounin or Chuunin."
She chuckled again, patting him lightly on the shoulders. "Just forget it, Neji," she told him lightly. "It might take you a decade to find out his identity. I could even be dead by then," she added as an afterthought.
"It's not… me, is it?"
Tenten stared at him then laughed out loud. Neji scowled at her. If there was one thing he hated, it's being laughed at. He waited patiently until she had stopped laughing, wiping the corners of her eyes.
"No… no," she said, rubbing her eyes. "It's not you, Neji."
They were quiet for a moment, Neji looking at the dark waters, Tenten gazing down on the white sand. After a few moments, she was suddenly laughing softly, her eyes still glued on the sand. Neji turned to her.
"Sometimes, he can be a real pain in the neck, if you know what I mean," she said slowly, smiling wistfully. "But he can be really sweet if he wants to. I mean, he's not often like that. He's always quiet and brooding and thinking. Sometimes, I wonder if he's already been transported to some dimension."
"Sorry!" She grinned at him playfully. "I know you hate mushy stuffs like this, but I can't help it. I am a girl, after all."
He smirked back. "I just hate it when you talk about someone I don't know and I couldn't relate."
"I know," she answered lightly. "You're always the arrogant, conceited bastard I've known!"
Neji cocked a dark brow at her before shoving the kunoichi into the cool waters. Tenten, whose buns had fallen from their pins and were now sticking to her face, looked murderous. She grabbed his jacket then flung him over her shoulders into the water.
"Hah! Gotcha now!" she cried in triumph as he fell into the water with a satisfying splash.
He pulled her back into the water, pushing her shoulders down.
"You pig! I'm going to get you for this, Neji!"
Neji chuckled softly, only for her to hear. It was only with her that he could chuckle or smile freely. And as he pushed his wet hair from his face, gazing at her glittering orbs, he asked himself who she had fallen for and why that person never loved her back when she was one of the most amazing person he had ever met.
He doesn't deserve someone like Tenten…
"Oi, you two!" They both turned to Kiba's voice from the large bonfire they created. "Hurry up before Chouji eats everything here!"
Tenten glanced at Neji with a playful grin. "Last one there is a sissy!"
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