CCP Here with another chapter!!! WOOT!!!

SakuraBlossoms68: Your email addresss didn't appear in your review. Many sorries…maybe you can add this story to your story alert list, or book mark it?

Thanks for all the reviews and understanding everyone! You all ROCK!!! Seriously, I was expecting some people to be upset, but…quite the opposite happened really—everyone was extremely supportive and understanding. Thanks everybody! And since not many people read the top note, I'll just copy and paste this into my author's note in the middle! XD

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"Ino-Shika-Cho version two: I'm sorry about what happened to Asuma—"

"—Don't worry about it, Kakashi-sensei. We're all fine."

Everyone watched as an upset Shikamaru shoved his hands into his pockets and walked inside the village. Ino and Chouji watched Shikamaru's retreating back. Both of them had the same thing in their minds.

What about Asuma-sensei? What was that about…?

Kakashi interrupted their thoughts with a sigh.

"Did Shikamaru not tell anybody about the news..?"

Ino and Chouji shook their heads solemnly. The copy-cat ninja scratched the back of his head, obviously puzzled.

"Well then I guess it's not my place to tell you guys what happened."

As he said that, Kakashi walked in through the gates as well.

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"Alright everyone, as your reward for performing so well on this mission and exceeding the expectations of the Naruto and myself, you guys can have a mini-vacation here. Use your time here wisely, because we're only staying for two days."

At that, Kakashi disappeared off into the streets of Sunagakure—to find and buy the latest issue of ComeComeParadise, no doubt.

Shikamaru sighed. "In that case, we still need a place to stay. Do any of you guys have money?"

Everyone fumbled around their pockets. When they combined their money, they were disappointed to find that they only had enough money to buy them all dinner and one night at a hotel. Shikamaru groaned irritably.

"I thought I asked you guys to pack enough money to restock on weapons."

"We did," Sasuke answered, "but you also told us not to bring too much money or else it would weigh us down."

"Looks like you guys are in a tough spot, huh?" A familiar voice emerged from behind them.

"Tch, figures. They were in trouble the last time we saw them, so why should it be any different this time?"

Everyone turned towards the people that spoke. Much to their surprise, and partial dismay (on Ino's part), the group found themselves face to face with Temari and Kankuro.

"Long time no see," Temari spoke.

"I hear you guys are having quite a bit of a dilemma here. Lemme guess. Dr. Mask-ing tape there told you to stay without actually giving you a place to stay?" Kankurou added.

Shikamaru smirked.

"Always good with the timing. Didn't your parents teach you that it's rude to eavesdrop?"

Temari was unfazed.

"Yeah, but they also taught me to help crybabies like you."

Sakura smiled. Seeing Shikamaru and Temari together was like seeing an old couple go at each other…it was quite amusing, actually, and Sakura would be amused too if her stomach would stop growling.

Before long, everyone found themselves being made comfortable at the Sand Siblings' house. It was quite odd really. Although none of them, except for maybe Shikamaru, knew the Sand siblings that well, it seemed odd for them to be acting all hospitable.

"We owe you guys for saving Gaara's life…and for pretty much saving ours. Gaara's a lot better than how he used to be a few years back. It's almost like he's a normal brother now…" Temari's voice faded as she gazed at Gaara's old teddy bear, which was lying down on a shelf not too far from where they were sitting.

Kankurou couldn't help but agree. He no longer felt the need to be afraid of his baby brother anymore.

"Besides," he added, "We didn't do much last time (referring to the war in the earliest chapters of my fanfic)…it's the least we can do. And anyways…it's not like we weren't aware of your mission. We were informed by Gaara that something like this would happen."

Everyone nodded and a heavy, but not awkward, silence followed. Temari was the first to break the silence.

"We have one room upstairs and a couch down here…but it doesn't look like all of you are going to fit in the house…"

Great…

"Hey Temari, why don't you share your room with Pinkie and Blondie?" Kankurou asked.

"I don't know, Kankurou, why don't you share your room with Emo, Crybaby, and Aki-MEATY?"

Sasuke, Shikamaru and Chouji cleared their throats in unison. Did she have to be so harsh?

"How about we trade, then? Pinkie and Blondie can stay in MY room, and Emo, Crybaby and Aki-MEATLOAF can stay in YOUR room."

Within seconds, Kankurou's face was left with Sakura's, Ino's and Chouji's hands imprinted on his face.

"And it's Aki-MEATY to you! NOT Meatloaf!" Chouji huffed.

"Look," Shikamaru got up and stretched, "I'll take the couch, Sakura and Ino will stay with Temari, and Sasuke will stay with Chouji in the room. Fighting is always so troublesome…"

"Wait a minute, hot-shot—why do I have to share my room?" Temari asked.

Shikamaru opened one of his closed eyes and peered at Temari nonchalantly.

"Chouji needs and uses the most room, and Sasuke probably wouldn't get along with Kankurou. Sakura and Ino shouldn't be spending the night in the same room as a guy, and I'd really prefer to be alone right now—there's a lot on my mind."

Oh that's right…!

Ino glanced frantically at Shikamaru. He still seemed slightly…off. Before Temari could protest, Ino jumped up and grabbed her arm.

"Well! I guess you'd better show Sakura and me where your room is, then! You know, it's really nice of you guys to open up your house for us. Really!"

Temari paused, then let out a defeated sigh. "No really, it's our pleasure," she grumbled.

Shikamaru let out a breath that he didn't even know he was holding, and mentally, he thanked Ino for just being…Ino when he needed her to be herself the most.

Ino had finished dragging Temari a good three yards away from the group when she paused and asked Sakura whether she was coming or not. After her initial shock from Ino's bolder than usual behavior wore off of her, Sakura nodded.

"You two go ahead. I'll catch up!"

After picking up her pouch, which she had put down earlier, Sakura got up and bowed to Kankuro.

"Please excuse my friend. I wish I could blame her behavior on alcohol…but then I'd be lying…You see, whenever Ino drinks the slightest bit of alcohol, her behavior is almost as bad as Lee's…only she doesn't know squat about Taijutsu, so she looks more like a drunken amateur than a professional drunken fist master…or at least that's what Gai-sensei told me. He said that Lee was the most youthful at doing everything…but then again this is Gai-sensei we're talking about…so actually, you should be thankful that she didn't have any alcoholic beverages before meeting you guys…"

The room remained silent, and Sakura realized that she had spoken too much. No one followed a thing that she said, and within seconds, Sakura felt her cheeks flushing from embarrassment.

"N-never mind…forget what I just said earlier. Thanks for everything…now if you would excuse me…"

Sakura took a couple of steps away from the group until her eyes met Sasuke's. After another calculated pause, and some summoning of her own personal courage, Sakura glanced at Sasuke briefly before landing a small peck on his cheek.

"Goodnight Sasuke-kun." And at that, a blushing Sakura scurried away to catch up with the two blonde females.

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For the first time in what seemed like ages, Uchiha Sasuke was caught completely off-guard. And unfortunately, his usual poker-face and 'Hn' wouldn't be enough to let that go unnoticed. The Chouji stopped munching on an apple that he found under the couch, Shikamaru stopped brooding, and Kankurou stopped messing with his makeup. (He even put his compact away! Oh Em GEE!!!)

After a loud swallow of the apple bits in his mouth, Chouji gaped at what he had just seen. "Dude…"

--five point seven seconds later…--

Chouji continued gaping. "…Whoah…."

Within that time frame, Kankuro and Shikamaru managed to regain their composture. After clearing their throats, they spoke up.

"What was that all about?" Shikamaru asked.

Sasuke shrugged his shoulders as nonchalantly as possible and looked away.

Shikamaru stretched his arms and placed them behind his head. "I already know about how you two are an item...But that's just why I'm asking…you'd think that after knowing each other all these years you two would be more comfortable around each other."

"Lucky prick..." Kankurou muttered.

"What, are you interested in Sakura?" Shikamaru asked.

"No…" Kankurou paused as he thought of the best way to put the way he felt. "I mean, you see guys like Marilyn what's-his-face (I don't like him) landing hotties…and he wears more make up than I do! My point is…why is it that that makeup junkie gets all the ladies, while I, a felloe makeup junkie only attract MEN…who enjoy dressing up like ladies? Is there no justice in this world?"

Nice…

Shikamaru sighed. "Women are all troublesome…I can't imagine loving one, let alone spending the rest of my life with one."

"What about your mom?"

Kankuro snorted. "Hello there, Uchiha. Welcome to the conversation."

Sasuke remained silent as he awaited an answer. A mental image of his late mother flashed in his mind, and Sasuke lowered his gaze to the wooden floor. Meanwhile, in Shikamaru's mind, an image of HIS mother flashed as well, only unlike Sasuke, Shikamaru ended up slightly shivering with fear.

"Ugh…My mom whoops my dad good, and she's loud and troublesome. Simply put, she's the scariest thing alive. If given a choice between Naruto's snoring/sleeptalking and my mom's troublesome nagging, I'd face Naruto any day."

Sasuke felt the corners of his mouth tug into a slight smile. Kankuro felt his do the same. Both were without bothers, and yet, they were still able to find humor in Shikamaru's answer. It's true: Naruto's snoring and sleeptalking is terribly nerve-wracking. Before his smile got too big, Sasuke stopped himself and began thinking. Maybe this is what it feels like to have…friends… other than Naruto and Kakashi… It felt…nice. Sasuke hardly ever let his guard down, even if he was enjoying the company of Kakashi, Naruto, or Sakura, and he knew that he would probably never be able to willingly let it down until Itachi was dead. But that night, Sasuke decided that maybe it would be okay for him to let go…just a little.

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ComeComeParadise corner:

Hey, Hey, Hey! It's CCP!!! XD Yup, I updated. Your eyes do not deceive you. As for the updates, they wont be any faster, but they will happen. I honestly want to thank ALL of you guys for your extreme understanding. Seriously! I was expecting tomatoes to be thrown, and people to be x-ing me off of their favorites/alert lists…but instead I had people understanding and supporting me. I honestly can't thank you guys enough. May God bless you ALL! XD

And on another note: I don't plan on adding Hidan to the story…there are too many characters popping up in the manga…and considering the fact that Oro's been wiped out since early on in my story, I don't think it would make too much sense to add Karin, Suigetsu, and Juugo into my story. (It'd be too much work anyways) And Yamato and Sai aren't really in here either…yipes. XD Oh well, maybe some other time. Yamato is mentioned in my other fanfic "She loves him, she loves me not" (shameless self-advertiser) XD

This chapter is actually longer than the last one…huh…erm, don't forget to REVIEW!!!

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Meanwhile, with the kunoichi…

"Alright kids, you two can have the floor beds. I hope you don't mind—the last guests were kinda meaty…"

"Like 'Akimeaty?'" muttered Sakura.

"…So the beds have dents on them…we have some extra large tee shirts which can double as pajamas, the hot water's running, and the bathroom is down the hall, third door on the right."

Ino and Sakura nodded as their brains processed the information. Right…gotcha…

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In the room next door, the guys were quietly unrolling their beds…save the sound of Chouji devouring the bag of crackers he found in his pocket…how did he fit a whole bag of crackers in his pockets? Who knows?

After they were done setting up, Sasuke, Kankuro and Chouji sat down quietly…but then again Chouji was STILL eating (surprise, surprise) noisily. After a couple more minutes of sitting through Chouji's chomping, Kankuro finally decided that he had enough.

"Hey, must you always be eating?"

The meaty boy swallowed his cracker and dug into the cracker bag.

"Want one?"

Never one to pass up free food, Kankuro nodded his head eagerly. "Sure!"

At that, Chouji grabbed a cracker and popped it into his mouth. "Sorry," he said between chewing, "That was the last one."

Sasuke sighed. Earlier that evening, they thought that there wasn't any food left…and now here was Chouji finding food all over the place.

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Shikamaru was ready for bed before everyone else. When you were sleeping on the couch, there wasn't much to do except throw a blanket over the couch and maybe a few pillows. But Shikamaru always thought that "if there isn't a pillow available, then it'd be too troublesome to look for one". And while everyone else was settling into their rooms and adjusting to the people that they'll be spending the night with, Shikamaru was staring up at the starts from the balcony.

He had only just been alerted about Asuma sensei's incident early that morning, but he felt like it happened minutes ago. It had hit him in the face, very much like his mother's hulk-like hands whenever he "misbehaved". Ever since he was a genin, whenever he found himself in a tough situation, Asuma seemed to be there to back him up…the reality that he was alone now shook Shikamaru up. He felt confident getting the team TO Suna, because he had no idea about what happened to Asuma…but he still had to bring them back home. What now? And on top of it all, Shikamaru was instructed to inform his teammates…how on earth was he supposed to do all that?

"Mendokuse…why do these things always happen to me…?" Shikamaru asked to no one in particular.

"Because you're a Nara, and Nara men always have it tough."

Shikamaru turned around only to be greeted by a pair of baby blue eyes. Oh…For a moment there, he thought his dad was there with him. Ino made her way next to Shikamaru. For a moment, the two of them stood in silence…until a familiar loud chomping approached the two of them.

Shikamaru smirked, and both he and Ino recognized the sound and the chakra immediately. How on earth did he make it as a ninja if he can't even approach people quietly? The world may never know…

Before long, Ino-Shika-Chou was gathered on the balcony…in semi-silence.

"Shikamaru…"Ino began, "What's been bothering you…?"

"It's noth-"

"Yo Shikamaru!" Chouji paused to swallow his cheerios, "What's been bothering you?"

"BAKA! I just asked him that!"

"Ow!"

Shikamaru smiled at Ino, Chouji, and the bump growing on Chouji's head. Through all their years together, not a thing had changed. The Nara boy sighed. There was no use in delaying the inevitable. There before him stood his teammates, his comrades, and since their early childhood, his friends. They deserved to know about Asuma.

"Guys…"

Ino stopped beating up Chouji, and Chouji stopped howling in pain. "Yes?" They asked in unison.

"It's Asuma-sensei…"

"Oh yah," Chouji said, "he went on that mission…the one with the people and the horses, and the…"

"…and he's not coming back."

Chouji stopped talking, and Ino's eyes widened in horror. The two of them silently urged Shikamaru to go on, and Shikamaru seemingly understood.

"There were ninjas…there was fighting…there was blood…you know, the usual…but unlike what usually happens, our sensei didn't come out victorious. In fact, he didn't come out at all. The ninja that did this got away…and he took Asuma-sensei's life with him."

Chouji and Ino silently let their tears fall. After a couple seconds of silence, Ino marched up to Shikamaru and slapped him.

"Ino, what're you--?"

"SHUT UP, Chouji!"

Shikamaru put his hand to his burning cheek. No snide remarks, no complaints. Only silence.

"How dare you…" Ino's voice shook, "How dare you keep this from us? We're his students too…we deserve to know also…"

Chouji stood in awe. "I-Ino…"

"And on top of it all, you suffered on your own. You know better than that! The three of us have known each other since we were in diapers! We've grown up together! We've been through ups and downs…we can deal with the loss of our sensei together. I mean, we've already dealt with so much together anyways…"

Shikamaru remained silent and looked away. Chouji saw this and smiled understandingly.

"It's okay, Shikamaru. We forgive you."

Shikamaru let himself smile a little, and Ino calmed herself down before joining the smiling guys. Chouji gave his teammates a thumbs up.

"We can do this together!" However, his teeth failed to go 'ping!' Instead, they went 'pong!'

"How troublesome…"Shikamaru groaned, "I honestly don't get the point of acting all cheesy like those spandex-wearing dorks."

Nearby in the shadows, a spying Sakura smiled. "Isnt that sweet, Sasuke-kun?" she whispered.

"Hn." Sasuke was way too familiar with the sadness after losing a loved one—several loved ones at that. "They're lucky that they have each other." If I had someone to turn to after that incident, would I have turned out this way…?

"You know, Sasuke-kun…the whole village sympathized with you, and you have Naruto, Kaka-sensei, and me."

Huh…Sasuke smirked. "What, so you're a mind reader now also?"

It was getting late, so the two of them silently crept back into bed.

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"What about the guy that killed Asuma-sensei?" Chouji asked.

Shikamaru shrugged. "What about him? All I know is that it was a guy with long, black hair."

"Gee, that narrows things down." Chouji muttered.

"Shouldn't we avenge Asuma's death though?" Ino asked.

Shikamaru looked down for a moment. For a moment, Ino sounded like a certain black-haired 'slick guy'.

"Look guys," Shikamaru said carefully, "we all know how a certain person's 'revenge' split up his team, and practically ruined his relationship with the few people that truly cared about him…"

"But we have each other, Shikamaru." Chouji said.

"No Chouji…" Ino spoke. Her eyes were lowered. "I get what Shikamaru's saying. Revenge hurts those around you…" For a moment, Ino relived her memories of trying to cheer a sad Sakura up after Sasuke left. "We shouldn't repeat mistakes. It's foolish."

Shikamaru smiled. "The next generation will always surpass the generation before it"

Kakashi had said that once. Shikamaru had understood what it meant at first, but he never actually took it to heart…until now. We learn from the mistakes of those before us, and we'll continue to grow. The flames grow stronger and fierce, and in time will grow to be able to withstand even the strongest winds.

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ComeComeParadise: Okay, that was a tad bit cheesy…sorries! Please REVIEW!!