She then snapped her attention back to Ino.
"And you, woman! The very moment you come back, that's when we check in an inn! Your treat! You forgot the last time that it was your turn! You still owe me, Hinata and TenTen a slumber party!" Sakura said.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm so sorry," Ino laughed.
Ugh, women! Shikamaru thought.
Ino then turned to her former teammate, and to the Sand Siblings.
"Thank you very much, Shika-kun and Temari-san for making me a part of your wonderful wedding. I'm pretty stuffed!" An uneasy, feminine laugh escaped from her.
"Sure thing, Ino. Good luck to you, your subordinates-to-be and the mission itself," Shikamaru said in response.
Temari did not respond, but Ino earned herself a warm smile from the blonde Sand kunoichi.
Ino bowed politely to Gaara and Kankurō. She then turned her back on them and trailed half-heartedly after Shizune.
"Take good care, Ino!" Kakashi called after their retreating backs.
"And don't hurt yourself!" Sakura reminded nastily.
They watched the two women become tiny specks in the distance until…
POOF! They were gone.
"W-What jutsu was that?" Sakura asked.
Shikamaru shrugged. "Whatever technique that is, it sure transports you swiftly from a Hidden Village to another," he answered in his trademark lazy voice.
The Fifth's office
"So! Our favorite platinum blonde, who's the only one missing in the group, has finally made it here in time!" Tsunade bellowed.
The great Hokage of Konohagakure is more than 70 years of age, but Ino still found herself staring straight at a pair of butter-toffee eyes belonging to a feisty, seemingly 31-year old woman.
"Who are my subordinates?" Ino asked without delay. There was a man in his early twenties on her right side, and a brunette on her left. At first, she assumed that they are new shinobi in town, but…
The young man looked so familiar. Oddly enough, he resembled one of the huge stone faces, which was a tourist spot in Konohagakure. Hair of sunshine and bright blue eyes that always had life in them…
The man beamed at Ino's recognition.
"Hi there, Ino. Long time no see."
"Naruto! How you've grown! It is indeed a pleasant surprise to see you again. You really do have a knack for disappearing for a very long period of time!" Ino cried.
Ino then set her sights on the girl beside her. She was frail-looking and thin, but she stood tall and erect. Her midnight-blue hair framed her pert face, contrasting her porcelain skin. Ino judged that she is no more than sixteen years old. Ino thought that the girl was someone she didn't know, until she looked into her eyes. They were pearly white. Come to think of it, she looked similar to one of Ino's best friends. It can't be. Unless…
"You are…you're Hyūga Hanabi, are you not?" Ino guessed, unsure of herself. The girl merely nodded.
Tsunade cleared her throat. "It seems like I will not have to introduce you to one another. I'm so glad, because it would be too troublesome to do so…ANYWAY! I will now give you your mission, so brace yourselves!"
Ino gulped. Whatever it was, she is certainly not in the mood for it. She hoped it won't cause their Hokage another humongous debt.
High-pitched squeals of women laughing and the muffled voices of men socializing over beer could be heard inside the residence of young Mr. and Mrs. Nara.
"When I conceive, I would very much like a girl," Temari told her husband affectionately.
"A boy would do, love. Having a daughter is way TOO troublesome," Shikamaru drawled.
Temari scowled. "Who would bet that our first child would be a female?" she asked everybody in the circle of people in their living room.
"Me!" said TenTen.
"I would also like a daughter if I happen to marry," Hinata agreed. She instantly regretted speaking out her mind.
"With whom? Uzumaki Naruto?" Temari teased.
Hinata blushed and refused to look at anyone in the eye.
"He's a very nice guy." Kankurō said. He sat there, a small smile forming on his lips as he thought of his blonde friend who had been such a great help to them a long time ago.
"Speaking of which, I haven't seen that teammate of mine for a long time," Sakura said thoughtfully.
"Like for how long?" Kankurō asked her.
"One year, to be exact," she answered.
"And he wasn't present at Temari's wedding when he gave his word that he would be there. When I come across that idiot, I'll squash him," Gaara snapped.
All of them flinched at Gaara's statement, but only Kankurō knew too well that in those words is it evident that the redhead missed Naruto terribly.
"Why would he disappear for at least twelve months?" Temari inquired.
Sakura sighed. "You know that guy. He can't sit still. He went away on a mission with the Ansatsu Senjutsu Tokushu Butai squad. I have no idea how many missions followed after. He should be back a week from now," she said.
"Okay, back to the topic. Well, it's too early to talk about first-born children. Actually, I am thinking who would get married next," Temari wondered aloud.
"Count me out," Gaara said.
"As you wish," Temari smiled sweetly at her brother.
"It's going to be TenTen!" Sakura chirped.
"Really?" they all whooped in chorus.
"Next month, Neji and I are going to be married. Of course, you won't miss the invitations," TenTen announced.
"I'm so happy for you," Temari said sincerely as she held TenTen's hands.
"Thanks." TenTen smiled joyfully.
"And you, Sakura, who are you planning to tie the knot with?" Shikamaru asked, studying the pink-haired girl carefully. Sasuke was already married, and he was pretty sure that Sakura wasn't interested in Naruto, or a certain young Legendary Green Beast of Konohagakure. It was a shame. She is such an attractive woman, complete with brains and strength.
"I don't have that in mind, yet," the girl finally bit out truthfully.
"I understand. What about you, Hinata-chan?" Temari asked the timid girl, hoping to dismiss the subject with Sakura. She knew that Uchiha Sasuke still haunted the girl's most intimate dreams. It could be such a guilt trip sometimes. Here she is, happily married to the man of her dreams and one of her close friends harbors a broken heart. As much as Temari wished that she could do something about it, she knew that she can't change how Sakura feels for the snobbish genius.
"Don't you worry, Hinata-chan. I could take care of Naruto for you, you know," said Kankurō, giving the Hyūga girl a wink.
"Correct!" Sakura consented.
"Don't ever think that they will leave you out of this crazy talk," Gaara warned his older brother in a grave voice.
"Bingo! Who's the one occupying your mind right now, brother-in-law?" Shikamaru asked Kankurō. Unspoken amusement was etched in his usual laid-back demeanor.
"What is this, a pop quiz?" Kankurō challenged him.
"Ooh, he's avoiding a very simple interrogation." TenTen ribbed.
"Well, my answer is the same as Sakura's. Period." was the retort of the Sand puppeteer. He looked away from them. Shikamaru shot him a skeptical look, as so did everybody else.
"Honest to goodness!" he said, raising his right hand in the air, hoping to convince everybody.
Temari silently laughed as she took a sip from her teacup. She had to admit that Kankurō was better at hiding his feelings than herself. She knew the identity of her brother's object of affections although it was not of his knowledge that she had an idea who, and for some weird reason she doesn't want to spill it.
A blonde someone who is obviously not over her husband. Yet.
Ano kaya ang misyon na ipinaubaya ni Tsunade sa ating mga butihing ninja? Makatulong kaya ito upang tuluyan nang makalimutan ni Ino si Shikamaru? Eh si Sakura, makakapag-mahal pa kaya siya muli? Abangan ang susunod na kabanata!
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I am currently SO infected with writer's block when it comes to the composition of this fiction's next chapter. I also got distracted, writing other plots for new NARUTO fan fictions. Please forgive me. XD