Thanks for the reviews! Now I know what 'Dattebayo' means! (big Naruto-type smile)

.: Part 3 :.

About 20 minutes before the actual pie-eating contest. . . .

"Shikamaru! How's the date going?" said Chouji, eating some barbecue. And a stick of Dango (dumpling ball-like food).

"Not too good. I've entered a pie-eating contest. . . ." said Shikamaru gravely. "But I DID give Sakura-san a Sasuke plushie. That should get Ino's attention. . . Should it?"

"Lucky you, you get to eat stuff and win something for it." smiled Chouji. Better avoid Ino as the subject. Shika-kun gets nervous when he talks about Ino.

"Ne, Chouji, I've got a plan for this. . . ."

Shikamaru proceeded to whisper into his chubby friend's ear.

"That's a great idea!" said Chouji.

"Don't do anything stupid, okay?" said Shikamaru, patting his pal on the back. Gah, I hope Ino doesn't see through it. . . Or even worse, Sasuke. There's a good chance that Neji might notice. . . . No worries about Naruto or Lee. . . .

"I won't, what time's the contest?" asked Chouji.

"It's in about fifteen minutes." replied Shikamaru.

Fifteen minutes later. . . .

"Ne, ne, Sakura-chan, if I win this contest, will you not vote me out, dattebayo?" said Naruto. He and Sakura were leaning on the fence that surrounded the contest area.

"We'll see." said Sakura, absentmindedly strolling the soft head of her Sasuke plushie. Now why on earth would Shikamaru enter Elimidate with me as the leading lady? And he gave me a Sasuke plushie! Ino's gonna be SO jealous. . . . Hey, wait a minute. . . . . . . Ino? Jealous? Now I get it! Now that just leaves Neji-

"Sakura-san." said the Hyuuga, holding a fruit shake in his hand. "I was worried that you might be thirsty in this heat, so I bought you a drink. It's a peach and mango fruit shake. . ."

"Thank you, Neji-kun!" smiled Sakura. He's being awfully nice to me. . . . Maybe he wants to get Tenten jealous? . . . . Doesn't look like it though.

"You're welcome. And by the way, Lee's been attempting to get you a gift by blowing most of his money on carnival games. He look like he's getting the hang of it, so don't be surprised if he gets you some large green toy. . ." continued Neji, who looked in the direction of the carnival attractions. He leaned on the fence, as a cool breeze blew their way. Neji's neatly tied hair was blown slightly with the wind, giving Sakura an extremely great view of his facial features.

"I'll keep that in mind." said Sakura, who began to admire the Hyuuga prodigy. His skin is in great condition! I'll bet he moisturizes more than Ino and Tenten. . . And his face looks so serene. It kind of reminds me of Sasuke-kun, but it has its own. . . . . I can't describe it. It's just. . . .so. . . . so. . . So Neji.

"Ne, Sakura-chan, after this can we go out on a date with just the two of us, huh? Please, dattebayo?" asked Naruto cutely.

"Naruto, will you just. . . . keep quiet for now?" said Sakura, who was beginning to like Neji.

Naruto balked. She didn't say 'Shut up' or 'Naruto baka' or. .or. . . (notices her looking at Neji) Dang it! Looks like Sasuke and Lee aren't the only ones I have to compete with! And I thought he wasn't serious!

Just then, Lee arrived with a small but pretty-looking object. And, as usual, Neji timed his walking over to Naruto's side of the fence perfectly.

"Ah, Sakura-san! I got you something!" smiled the green-clad youth. I hope she likes it, I hope she likes it, I hope she likes it. . . .

Sakura took a good look at the hairpiece Lee had won for her. It was an ornamental comb, with a lotus and cherry blossom pattern. The character 'Youth' was engraved on it.

". . . Thank you, Lee. . . ." said Sakura, sweatdropping slightly. Typical of him. Wonder where he found it though. . .

"You're welcome!" said Lee happily. SHE LIKED IT! Yosh!

Neji examined Sakura's reaction carefully. Hmmm. Her reaction wasn't exactly spectacular. The one she got from the Sasuke plushie was more effective.

"Okay! That leaves Shikamaru and Sasuke. And the contest starts in a few minutes. . ." said Sakura, who noticed some of the local Konoha citizens carrying trays laden with pies.

"You don't have to worry about Sasuke. . ."said Naruto, pointing to a tree several meters away. Sasuke was sitting under it with a sleepy expression.

earlier

"SASUKE!"

"SASUKE-KUUN!"

"Okay, Misumi, Hayate, keep them out of the area for the rest of the day!" said Kakashi.

"Easier. . . Said. . . . Than . . . . Done. . . ." said Misumi, struggling to hold back the horde of Sasuke fangirls that had stalked him to the carnival.

"Sheesh!" yelled Hayate. "Quiet down, willya!

"What's this?" said Sasuke.

"IT'S HIM!"

"EEEEE!"

"Oh, just a little something on our part to ensure that the show doesn't get uncontrollable. . ." said Kakashi, who was reading Icha Icha Paradise calmly amidst the senseless fangirl screaming and yelling.

"KAKASHI! A little help here!" yelled Misumi.

"Fangirls! Such youth!" said Gai, pirouetting out of nowhere.

Suddenly, all the fangirls stopped making noise to stare at the Jounin.

". . . . .ew." said a fangirl.

". . .no sense of style at all. . . ." said another.

". . .too. . . . . .form fitting. . . . ." said a fangirl, lookin like she was about to vomit.

". . .green. . . . ." said one, who looked traumatized.

"He looks like fuzzy brows!" squealed one.

"What is all this ruckus about, my dears? My attire is of no concern to thee, but if I must delegate to you what the youthful purposes of my outfit are then. . . ." Gai began one of his lengthy sermons, and amazingly, kept the fangirls at bay.

"Perfect timing, Gai!" said Misumi. Hayate was snickering madly.

"Don't mind us, Sasuke-kun, we'll handle all of this!" said Kakashi, teleporting.

the contest proper

"And we're on in five, four, three, two. . ." said one of Kakashi's cameramen.

"Welcome back folks, to Elimidate Konoha Edition!" said Kakashi. "Our aspiring boyfirnds and the girlfriend-to-be, Sakura, are right over there,in the fenced enclosure behind us! Sakura's beloved, Uchiha Sasuke. . ."

Kakashi poses dramatically as the viewers of Konoha hear their neighbor/daughter/sister/cousin/friend scream as stay-at-home Sasuke fangirls should.

". . . Has just appeared on the scene, challenging our bachelors to a pie-eating contest! As Sasuke's jounin mentor, I have NO idea about his pie-eating skills, but his main competition is, I think, Uzumaki Naruto, who is known to have eaten a dozen or so bowls of ramen at one sitting!"

Kakashi turns around as the camera zooms in to Lee, then Neji, and (eventually) Shikamaru.

"Rock Lee, the underdog of the group has had his eyes on Sakura-chan for quite some time, and his determination makes him one tough cookie to beat! Hyuuga Neji is a newcomer on the Sakura romancing scene, but we have yet to see Neji's strategy in effect!"

Hinata's room

"Neji's strategy in effect?" said Tenten. "That fruit shake looks like it should be part of the strategy, shouldn't it, Hinata-chan?"

"Y-yes, Hanabi runs t-that stall, and she only lets Neji-nii-san get t-the peach-mango blend. . . ." said Hinata, praying for Naruto not to get indigestion.

"Hmph. I still want a Sasuke plushie." said Ino, watching and listening, as the tv Kakashi continued his commentary.

"And last is Nara Shikamaru, who gave the lovely miss Sakura a Sasuke plushie, a much coveted item among the Sasuke fangirl market. He seems to be the least competitive among the four bachelors, but who knows what this genius has up his sleeve?" blared the tv.

"His arm, of course!" said Ino. "What else would he have up his sleeve?" Hey, now that I mention it, I recall Chouji telling me that Shikamaru has a secret pocket in his sleeve which he puts a picture of the girl he's in love with. . . . Who could it be? I'm the only girl he lets near him besides his mother. But maybe he likes Sakura-chan like Lee does. . .

"Don't worry, Ino, I'm sure he has feelings for you!" smiled Tenten.

Hinata nodded. I hope that Naruto-kun has feelings for me as well. . . . .

carnival

Akimichi Chouji watched the contest from a nearby hill. He munched slowly and lazily on his potato chips.

"How troublesome. . . . I hope he doesn't give me away. He always was one of the best when it comes to Henge no Jutsu, third to Sakura and Sasuke. . . ." said the faux Chouji.

The real Akimichi Chouji (who wasn't a big fan of pies) sat beside Neji, eyeing the raspberry pies in front of him. This is slightly a lot more than I'm used to. . . . Shika-kun said to take it nice and slow, to squeeze most of the air out of the crust before eating, to say 'How troublesome' every few pies. . . .

Neji looked straight ahead. He knew that the Shikamaru sitting beside him on the two-person bench had a little too much weight on the bench to qualify for someone as lazy as Shikamaru. Doesn't matter, anyway. All I have to do is out-eat Lee, Naruto and the Uchiha and I'm all set for the next round.

He noticed Sakura sitting on the fence, cheering.

"Do your best, Sasuke-kun!" she cheered. "You too, Neji-kun!"

Neji nodded. I hadn't noticed before, but she looks quite pretty when she smiles. I wonder if this is one of the reasons why Lee is in love with her. . .I certainly see why. Sakura would be a fine choice when it all comes down to the basics, and yet she's not one to be taken lightly. . . . (Neji recalls several incidents in which she had sent Naruto flying to the top of the Hokage tower because naruto had pissed her off.)

"All right!" said the camouflaged Kakashi. "It looks like the contest's starting. . . . And there's the whistle!"

Naruto and Lee began eating like there was no tomorrow. Sasuke elegantly devoured his first pie, somehow managing to keep his clothes neat in the process. Chouji/Shikamaru took it slow, squeezing the pies just enough to take the puff out but not too much so that the raspberry filling remained intact.

"And Naruto, as expected taked the lead! The goal is to eat as many raspberry pies as possible in twenty minutes!" said Kakashi. "Here with me is Umino Iruka, a top chef at the Konoha academy, to give an expert's opinion of the heated battle! Iruka-sensei, whose technique is the most appropriate for this kind of competition?"

Hinata's room

"What the heck is Kakashi-sensei doing?" said Ino, snickering. "He's treating this like a horse race!"

"I know! It's a good thing the boys are completely unaware of this. . ." smiled Tenten.

"Well, Kakashi-sensei, Nara Shikamaru-kun seems to be on the right track! He first squeezes the air out of the pies, which ensures that he has enough room in his stomach for more food and less air. He also seems to be using a little bit of the Akimichi style of eating, which allows for more food consumption at a faster rate. He must have picked this up from his teammate Akimichi Chouji! Hyuuga neji is also doing quite well as compared to Naruto-kun and Rock Lee-kun, as the two of them are just eating like pigs. . . No offense to the two, of course. . ."

"Gambatte, Naruto-kun. . . ." whispered Hinata.

carnival

"Munch. . . . Munch. . . . This is good." said Naruto.

"Must. . . .munch . . . .defeat. . . . Neji munch" munched Lee.

Sasuke ate in silence.

"How troublesome. . . ." said the Shikamaru impersonator.

Neji noticed Shika-Chouji's eating style, which was very convincing. He sped up, as he was half a pie behind Naruto.

"Go Sasuke!" cheered Sakura.

"And it looks like things are bad for Lee, folks! He looks sick!" said Kakashi.

"Groan. . . . Must. . . . Eat. . . . ." said Lee.

A few minutes later. . . .

"And the announcer blows the whistle!" said Kakashi. "Now they're tallying the scores. . . . Shikamaru's accompanied Lee to the bathroom, he looked like he was about to barf. . . ."

In fact, Shika-Chouji was waiting for Shikamaru to get down the hill.

"Great job, Chou." said Shikamaru, reverting back to his true form.

"Yeah. I think Neji caught on though, no amount of genjutsu can disguise my weight." said Chouji, frowning.

"That's okay, Chou, everyone still likes you anyway. Ino always says that you make a good pillow for sleeping on during missions."

"Hehe. . . ." smiled Chouji.

"Bleargh. . . . . I'm never eating pie again for the rest of my life. . ." said a very sick-looking Lee, exiting the bathroom.

As the three returned to the enclosure, they could hear a certain Uzumaki screaming. . . .

"YATTA! I won, dattebayo! Now I won't get eliminated!" yelled Naruto. "And I won a gift certificate to Ichiraku as well! Dattebayo!" He was jumping up and down, and it was a wonder that he wasn't vomiting.

"Baka! I'm eliminating you because you eat too much!" shouted Sakura, erstwhile a very amused Neji watched the proceedings. Sasuke, who'd come in second, won a gift certificate for a bookstore, which he had resolved to give to Kakashi. The bookstore in question sold the Icha Icha novels.

"NANI? Shoot!" said Naruto, giving a nearby rock a good kick. "OUCH! That hurt!"

"It's kind of obvious, don't you think, dobe?" said Sasuke.

"Y-yosh. . . ." said Lee. "I'm still. . . . In. . . ."

"I still beat you." smirked Neji. He had come in third, receiving a nifty-looking set of chopsticks.

"Gah. . . . ." groaned Lee. "Nooooooo. . . . ."

"Sheesh, Lee-kun. . . ." said Sakura, helping Lee sit down on the ground. She used a healing jutsu, and rubbed Lee's back.

Lee smiled, quite happy despite his condition.

Neji raised an eyebrow. Despite all the times Sakura's rejected Lee (How many times again? It was about a hundred twenty-something when Tenten and I last counted. . .) she still treats him like a friend. Even if it does encourage him. I can't help admiring her for that. Once, somebody tried to ask me out for a date and I flat-out refused, then I ignored her for the rest of the year. . . .What was her name again? Anyway, Sakura seems VERY interesting to me now. . .

"Oi, Neji, get that stupid smile off your face. Don't forget, you've got about half as many fangirls as Sasuke and that's still one heck of a lot." said Shikamaru, who had gotten fourth.

"I was smiling?"

"Yeah, either you were looking at Lee or at Sakura, and I suspect it's the latter. . . . Or is it the former?"

At this, the conversation caught Sakura's attention.

"It definitely wasn't Lee. You can bet on that."

"Good. It would do no good for the only Hyuuga male to be gay." said Shikamaru, sitting down to look at the clouds.

behind a bush

"So ends this portion of Elimidate!" said Kakashi. "And now for the standings. . . . One down, three to go! We'll be back with more, after some messages from our sponsor!"

"That's a wrap!" said a cameraman.

"Oi, Kakashi-sensei, what now?" said Sasuke, handing him the Icha Icha certificate.

"Well, I think they ought to try something a little more. . . . Intimate, shall we say? Lunch is out of the question. The haunted house, perhaps?" said Kakashi, pocketing the certificate.

"Something like that." smiled Iruka. "Just get them together. And Sasuke-kun?"

"Yes, Iruka-sensei?"

"Gaara's in the area. I'd informed Temari-san in advance, and it might be wise to team up with him in the next round."

"Gaara? And Sakura?" said Sasuke.

"According to his siblings, Gaara has begun to take interest in the opposite gender. It seems that he has a preference for the pretty yet hard-hitting type. Temari says she heard Gaara and Shukaku (don't ask me how) talking about possible candidates, and he brought up Sakura in a conversation. Kankurou says that he talks about her every now and then and that he's trying to get Temari to introduce him. . . . . . Unconfirmed research, but if it comes from Temari, then it should be 75 percent accurate."

"Are you sure about this, Iruka-sensei?" said Sasuke, unable to imagine his teammate and Gaara dating. His female teammate, of course.

"It'll make for a good plot." said Kakashi.

"What will?" said Sabaku no Gaara, his head poking through the bush.

Kakashi explained the situation.

"I like it." grinned the sand ninja.

"Here we go. . . ." said Sasuke, rolling his eyes.