All done! By the way, the next chapter might take longer to update, because windflight has to go somewhere. Read and Review!
In the Ice Cream Parlor Shop, Hanabi finally witnessed the heaven of this so called... 'ice cream.'
There were red-cushioned chairs and glossy hardwood tables scattered about, and the walls were painted with pink and baby blue. She had never seen any place as bright and happy-looking as this, and it half-scared her, and half-amused her. Only a handful of people were about, excluding the workers; Hanabi wondered about it until Kurenai explained to her that this ice cream usually wasn't consumed in winter.
But what was best was the... ice cream counter.
Kurenai, laughing at Hanabi's wide, interested eyes, smiled amusedly, "What sort of ice cream would you like?"
Hanabi pressed her nose against the cold glass, gaping at the endless assorted buckets of ice cream, more vivid and intriguing up close than on a lifeless photo. All of them, she thought to herself. But, after quite some time, she finally settled on the green, brown, and pink colors, all in a cone.
Kurenai picked a plain vanilla, also in a cone. They sat together by an empty table near the window, to 'soak up as much sunlight as possible in this dreary weather,' Kurenai had told her.
At first, unusually eager to try this new food, Hanabi bit into the top of her ice cream cone, the green one. Her eyes widened at the burst of mint flavor, but she hastily retreated, teeth chattering.
Across from her, Kurenai burst into giggles, a hand moving to try and stifle the sound, but to no avail. Hanabi stared at her teacher, confused.
"It's cold," Kurenai explained. "So you eat it slowly, like this." Then she demonstrated, her tongue lapping at the vanilla.
Processing this new information, Hanabi tentatively reached out a tongue, trying out this new technique.
Hanabi tried to mimic her teacher, licking her ice cream slowly... the tingling taste of sweetness and iciness lingered on her tongue with each lick, and she could only describe this 'ice cream' with one word: Delicious.
Kurenai couldn't help but laugh when Hanabi told her that ice cream was the most delicious thing in the world.
A darkly dressed man breezed into the ice cream parlor unnoticed by most of its occupants. Not even the tinkling bells on the door bore witness to when he slid in.
He had sat hidden in the small coffee shop opposite the ice cream parlor, waiting until the Hyuuga's bodyguard left, having received an 'urgent message' on his cell phone, courtesy of Sakon. He had taken advantage of that moment to slip in unseen.
He took a seat not too near them that he would be noticed, but not so far so that he couldn't see them. He studied them subtly while pretending to open up a menu.
Yes, the little girl was definitely a Hyuuga. The famous milky white eyes and the jewel she was wearing; there was no mistaking it. Grinning, Kidomaru pulled out a cell phone and began dialing.
Sakura snatched out her cell phone and growled into it, "What?"
"Hello there too, Miss Sakura," a silky smooth voice floated out of the earpiece.
Instantly recognizing the voice, Sakura's eyes widened, and the pencil in her hand dropped, rolling over the essay she had been working diligently on.
"H-hold on a moment," she stammered, moving over to close and lock her bedroom door. Shakily, she sat back down in her chair. "What do you want?" Ever since their first encounter, the rational part of her mind kept on insisting that she stop all contact with Kabuto and his organization, lest she become involved in some dangerous plot. She had spent a few sleepless nights pondering on the right course of action, and in the end decided that if they could indeed help her, it would be worth the risk.
But now that the moment had come, she felt her old doubts resurface. Gulping she forced her attention back to the phone.
"This will be what we need you to do…" Kabuto began to explain.
Hinata gripped her stomach as the elevator lurched up ten stories in a matter of seconds. She thought she would have gotten used to it by now...
The metal doors opened and she stepped out in relief. Just another meeting with Neji-san today...
"Neji-sama, Hyuuga-sama has arrived."
Neji and Tenten looked up in the middle of their conversation. Neji nodded, "Let her in then."
Hinata came into the room a bit awkwardly, pressured by the feelings and questions in her mind. "Neji-san, Tenten," she bowed slowly.
"Hey Hinata," Tenten greeted casually, accompanying her wave with a large grin.
Neji cleared his throat, frowning at Hinata's inexplicable behavior, "Well?"
"Its about Hanabi."
Neji's chair screeched back as he suddenly stood up, making Tenten and Hinata both flinch.
"Tenten," He turned his head to her and politely but firmly stated, "I'll need you to leave for a moment."
She nodded and left, but not without looking curiously back- what were they going to talk about? What about Hanabi? Why was it that she always felt left out on something... she used to be able to talk to Neji without wondering how much he wasn't telling her... or maybe he had kept secrets and she'd never noticed... he was keeping one now.
Right before she closed the door she heard Neji's stern yet slightly concerned voice, "What is it?"
"What is it? What about Hanabi?"
"Today she... she...I was brushing her hair, and w-when she looked into the mirror, s-she smashed it and started crying. She wouldn't tell me why, but I th-think she might remember." Hinata looked down sadly, "Are you sure she's s-safe with me? What if she still remembers everything? She might really... hate me."
Neji looked at her thoughtfully, but then shook his head, "I doubt she can remember something from that long ago. And the goal of this is for her to not hate you. She might be the anchor for the curse."
"I d-don't think she feels any connection with me; the only connection we share is b-blood. We're almost strangers…a-and she never smiles near me… but... but th-there is someone I think she's close with..." Hinata trailed off, looking a bit uncertain.
"Who?" Neji quickly asked, startled.
"Kurenai-sensei. Th-they even went out for some ice cream today." She answered, smiling at the memory.
Neji closed his eyes, reflecting on this new bit of information... so Kurenai and Hanabi had gotten close... well, he had picked Kurenai for looking like her, but he had never really expected them to get along so well and so quickly. Still...
"And why didn't you go?"
"I... I had to c-come for this meeting." Hinata stuttered, looking down nervously.
Neji raised an eyebrow dubiously. She had obviously let them go alone on purpose.
"And is she wearing the necklace?" Neji inquired uneasily.
"She never takes it off." Hinata assured him timidly.
He turned in his chair to better look at his cousin, "Never let her take it off..."
'Or her life will be lost.' The thought rang in both minds- the unspeakable truth.
"Orochimaru-sama?" Kabuto asked cautiously; his master was in one of those moods in which you couldn't tell whether he was angry or pleased.
As if guessing his thoughts, the ghostly man whom Kabuto addressed laughed, an eerily distasteful sound. "I trust your judgment, Kabuto. You seem certain that this will help me get Sasuke-kun."
"During the chaos that follows, no one will notice if the Uchiha heir goes missing for a few moments, and when they do, it'll all be too late. Then without the aid of the Hyuugas, they'll never be able to track him here." The man named Kabuto smirked, a hand reaching up to adjust his glasses. "And, it will be a way of our taking revenge against the Hyuugas, after all the losses we suffered thanks to them. Hyuuga Neji caused us quite a bit of trouble, and provided a setback to your plans, Orochimaru-sama."
"If you say so." Orochimaru let out a deceptively casual shrug. "After all," the man's snakelike grin widened, "what was that quote again? The end justifies the means? It's a fitting motto for our organization, the Akatsuki, don't you think so?"
"… Yes, Orochimaru-sama."