OO Last chapter on the list of the transition chapters to do and the hardest by far!
Special thanks to blaze da dragon for suggesting a theme song for Sakura in light of her sterling behavior in the last chapter - "Gold digger" by Kanye West.
I have a suggestion of my own for a theme song for Sakura - "Small Town Witch" by Sneaker Pimps.
So – anyone who wishes to contribute to this discussion of character theme songs, you know the drill... either add your 2 cents at the end of your review or send me a PM
Shino and Hana make their appearance in this chapter and I know there is going to be questions, so here are the answers to the two obvious ones.
1. Yes - This is the third story I have written in which a woman is expecting Shino's baby. Please don't try to second guess my muse and assume that it's the same plot line. Different women, different scenarios relating to the pregnancies... so don't be too surprised if the muse throws a plot wrench in the works.
2. Yes - there will be a Shino/Hana three part side story about their first encounter. It's called "Lucky Prize".
Thanks to all those readers who contributed suggestions for the Ino needs a man challenge for this story!
Okay – as promised the lucky man for Ino would be announced this chapter and there were a lot of compelling arguments for Neji.
The upshot of most of the arguments is that you folks want to see a cat fight between Ino and Sakura. The muse and I have decided to accommodate you because a girl fight is fun to write!
So, Neji will eventually get the beautiful but oh so feisty mistress of the flower shop... but after a good deal of reflection, I've decided that Neji needs to work for it...
Yeah – you heard me. Neji is going to work for a relationship for a change... He has to employ more than his pretty boy looks to win the girl.
The winning reviewers will have the Ino/Neji date chapter (which, incidentally will be chapter seven) dedicated to them.
This chapter contains language suited for a mature reader. If swearing offends you, please don't read. Thanks.
A sentence in Italics denotes the private thoughts of a character.
This chapter is inspired by the song "Crash into Me" by the Dave Matthews Band.
Menu items mentioned in the story are from the Restaurant Cassis in San Francisco.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or the characters... I don't make a red cent off of this either. I actually do this because I think this is helluva fun. Enjoy, beautiful people, enjoy.
The elevator opened on the top floor to reveal to the occupants the vacant desk of the receptionist who was normally seen typing away like a demon.
"Akamaru." growled out Kiba in a low voice, now alert and looking for danger lurking ahead.
"I'm on it, Kiba…" responded the bodyguard before the large man brushed past him and stalked over to the office, his weapon drawn and the safety released.
Kiba walked over to stand near the abandoned desk as his old friend stormed into the office.
"BLOODY HELL?! KIBA! GET YOUR ASS IN HERE!" yelled a familiar female voice.
The man with the triangular tattoos swiped a hand down his face as he recognized his sister's voice.
Shit! He knew by that tone that he was going to catch hell for scaring the daylights out of her like that but he refused to apologize.
Kiba walked over to the office door and watched in silence as his bodyguard gruffly apologized to Hana.
"You! Is this how you greet your…" hissed Hana, only for Kiba to cut her off.
"Shut it, Hana! You should know better than to come to my office unannounced." replied Kiba, his ire up.
"UNANNOUNCED?! You young pup! You may be the Inuzuka…" spluttered Hana, her face turning red in outrage.
"That's right, Hana… I'm the Inuzuka and head of our clan… as such, I need to be vigilant and alert for threats from other families intent to erase my existence from the face of the earth. Akamaru is only doing his job." responded Kiba curtly, crossing his arms across his broad chest.
"Hana… I did advice you against dismissing the secretary from her duties… I'm sure that is what caused the concern in the first place." countered a third voice – low, silky and very male as a figure detached itself from the wall and walked over to stand behind the woman seated at the desk.
"Shino…" murmured Hana, trying to garner sympathy from her lover.
"We will inform your brother about the purpose of our visit in a moment, Hana. You need to apologize to Akamaru and Kiba for the unnecessary scare first." countered the tall man in the hooded sweatshirt and dark glasses in a calm voice.
"Hehe… I'm sorry, guys. I just didn't want that old busy body lurking around the door when I wanted to talk to you in private." murmured the brunette sheepishly as she shot her boyfriend a fuming look.
"Hana…we've been over this countless times before…Mitsuki is bonded to our clan… and as such - she is sworn to secrecy. Akamaru…why don't you head off to your…appointment? I will see you tomorrow." replied Kiba in an aggravated tone, still leaning against the door and watching his sister intently.
The Inuzuka glanced over at his friend before the bodyguard finally nodded his large head and walked over to the door.
Akamaru paused in front of his employer and placed his hand on the other man's shoulder.
Are you sure you don't need me?
Kiba merely tilted his head towards the door as a smirk tilted one side of his mouth.
Go and enjoy your date. I don't need you around to deal with my sister.
"Have a good evening then, Kiba. Miss Hana… Mister Shino… good to see you both." murmured the body guard before strolling out the door.
Kiba unfolded his arms and stepped away from the door. He allowed it to swing shut before turning around to lock the door with a flick of his wrist.
"Okay…I'm assuming that the matter you wish to discuss is serious enough to warrant giving Mitsuki the rest of the day off?" asked Kiba, now more than a little curious.
"It is…I have asked your sister to marry me." responded Shino with a small incline of his head.
"Indeed? What did you say, Hana?" murmured Kiba slightly amused at his sibling's flushed cheeks and his friend's protective stance behind his sister.
"Yes…of course, Baka! We would like your blessing as head of the family before we make a formal announcement to the two families." Said Hana in a rush.
"You know you have my blessing on your union, Hana… Shino will make a fine husband for you and both families will enjoy a large wedding cere…" replied Kiba only for Shino to quietly cut in.
"There will be no large wedding ceremony, Kiba… we plan to marry as soon as it can be arranged."
Kiba glanced over at his stoic friend before looking over at his sister, the frown slashing down heavily on his face.
"When, Hana?" growled Kiba.
"When? What? I don't understand." replied Hana, a puzzled look on her face.
"When is the baby due, Hana?" growled out Kiba, his patience wearing thin.
"Oh….ah…" stuttered the brunette, a guilty look on her face.
"In seven months time… We felt it was best to inform you of our plans as soon as we had talked it over between us." responded Shino calmly.
Kiba folded his arms once more and contemplated the floor for several minutes before he looked up and stared at the couple behind his desk.
"Fine….have a small ceremony but…you will be having a large reception later on to formally announce your union to the two clans." countered Kiba with a warning in his tone.
Hana was about to protest, only to feel her husband to be lean over and cover her small hand with his and murmur quietly, "We agree to the terms."
"I don't want a big reception, Shino." griped Hana, a little put out.
"Sweetheart… this is a small price to pay if it means that we can wed quietly and without the usual drawn out formalities that usually occur in a union between two old and large clans." replied Shino with a nod towards the large male still watching their every move from his vantage spot at the door.
"Shino…this is rather sudden …" murmured Kiba, a thoughtful look crossing his features as he continued to intently watch the couple.
"Kiba, this is not a hard decision for me to make… I've wanted to ask her for a while …but she is stubborn and has kept me waiting long enough…" countered Shino, a hint of frustration now threading his tone.
Kiba nodded in understanding at that tone in his friend's voice.
Yes – it was now patently obvious to him that his sister had been leading his school friend a fine chase indeed.
"Hana?! Don't you wish to be married to Shino? I got impression that since you two have been living together for a while that you didn't find him too objectionable…." asked Kiba, his eyebrow arched in question.
"Of course I do, Baka… why else would I say yes?!" replied Hana in a huff, outraged at her brother's insinuation that she was leading Shino on.
"Shino…I suggest you marry her as soon as you can before she decides to change her mind. Don't worry about the marriage contract. I am sure that your father and I can reach a suitable agreement in no time." responded Kiba, blithely ignoring Hana's indrawn breath at his comment and gifting his relieved friend a knowing smile.
The Inuzuka turned and unlocked the door, opening it to walk out of the office.
"Where are you going?! We're not done talking… I still have questions regarding your ex-mistress and this new woman you're now seeing." hissed out Hana.
Kiba looked over his shoulder and gave the couple an amused look.
"Relax, sister…I'm taking you two out to celebrate your engagement… you will get your questions answered after dinner." replied Kiba before walking through the door and letting it shut behind him with a soft click.
Hana's eyes widened in realization before she quickly pushed herself up and raced over to the door.
"Wait, Baka! You better take us somewhere nice! I want salmon!" exclaimed the statuesque brunette as she rushed out the door, leaving her now fiancé shaking his head softly in amusement.
Neji stalked over to his car, a hand clutching at his stomach as his churning emotions tried to deal with the shock he had just received.
His brain was still trying to process the fact that Ino was going out on a date, with Akamaru of all people.
Hell – he had nothing personal against the man... he'd been around him long enough to know that he was a nice guy.
In fact – that was the problem right there.
He opened the car door and slid into the driver's seat as he closed the door with a flick of his wrist before draping his long arms over the top of the steering wheel and resting his forehead on top.
Why did it bother him so much?
It wasn't as though he was interested in seeing the feisty blonde in that way.
Neji could feel a headache coming on and knew it was as a direct result of his conflicting feelings over this new development.
He refused to accept – even remotely, that he felt anything for that woman.
Hell – he'd known her for a long time to know that Ino could be a regular bitch on wheels to deal with when she was crossed.
She kissed like an angel though...
"What the hell?!" muttered Neji looking up from his steering wheel in shock as that thought crossed his mind.
"This is crazy. She's not even my type." grumbled Neji under his breath as he pressed a hand to his forehead.
At one time you thought she was...
"Kami... that was a long time ago...before Tenten." groaned Neji, his head slumped forward as the pressure steadily increased in his skull.
But...Tenten wasn't with him anymore...and he had moved on...
Sakura was a part of his life now.
He looked down with a sigh as he felt his cell phone vibrate in his pocket.
Neji reached a hand into his pants and fished it out, a small grimace appearing on his lips as he recognized the number and identity of the caller.
Hell – He couldn't deal with this right now.
"Hello, Sakura... How are you?" asked Neji politely as he answered the phone.
He listened in silence as one hand idly drummed on the steering wheel before sitting up in his seat in shock and replying with a frown on his face, "No, Sakura... I'm not upset with you... I'm just received some shocking news and I'm still trying to take it all in..."
"I see…" replied the female voice with what suspiciously sounded like a pout.
"Sakura…. Are you upset with me?" asked Neji with a frown.
"No. no… not really upset…just…Well… If you must know… I miss you, Neji." husked that voice in a sultry tone.
Hell… a part of him really wanted to take what she was willingly offering him but the other…
"Sakura… sweetheart, I miss you too. I wish I could come over but I really need some time to myself tonight… I'm sure you understand, don't you…gorgeous?" replied Neji as he pushed a hand through his hair.
"But... but…Neji…you're never too busy to see me… and you promised that you would meet me at Cassis tonight." spluttered Sakura on the end of the phone, her indignation creeping into her tone.
The tall brunette male glanced briefly over at the small florist shop across the road and watched as Ino appeared in the front window and flipped over the closed sign.
"I know, Sakura….and I'm truly sorry but I promise that I will make it up to you, alright?" replied Neji with a soft sigh, feeling bad about lying to her but reluctant to tell her what was really on his mind.
He disconnected the call before Sakura could persuade him to change his mind and pay her a visit.
And he was tempted...but he needed some time alone to do some thinking... time to figure why these old dormant feelings were re-emerging and now, of all times.
Sakura looked down at the cell phone with a slight frown marring her normally perfect features.
She was worried and more than a little concerned. Neji never turned down an opportunity to see her.
The pink haired woman was not happy in the sudden change of plans and stamped her dainty high heeled clad foot in disgust.
"Ahhh, Miss Haruno! What a pleasant surprise to see you this evening... you look breathtaking as always." murmured an admiring male voice from behind her.
Sakura turned towards the voice of the cheerful voice and was mildly surprised to see the solid figure of Choji Akimichi strolling towards her, his bodyguards trailing discreetly behind him.
"No handsome escort this evening?" asked the Akimichi, not bothering to keep the hopeful tone out of his voice.
"No – something came up and he was unable to meet me." replied the pink haired woman, the disappointment apparent in her tone.
"It's a shame for a rare blossom such as yourself to be sitting alone for dinner. I insist you join me at my table, Miss Haruno." returned the large man cheerfully.
Sakura flushed at the genuine compliment that the Akimichi gave her and nodded, for once not at all feeling her usual confident self.
There was something about this man that just made her feel unsure of herself… something she hadn't felt like in years.
The feeling returned in force as the broad chested man stopped in front of her and offered her his arm.
"Thank you." murmured Sakura demurely, silently cursing as the blush stole into her cheeks as her hand felt the solid muscles under his sleeve twitch in reaction to her touch.
"Mister Akimichi, it's a pleasure to see you once again. Would you like your usual table?" asked the Host as the couple walked up to the table.
"Yes – Miss Haruno's escort is unable to join her this evening. Could you give her reservation to my companions and charge their meal to my tab?" murmured Choji cordially to the host.
The host nodded with a smile and gestured for the pair to follow him through the crowded dining room.
The waiter appeared with the menus and the specials before he too disappeared back to the kitchens.
"They don't mind being banished to another table?" murmured Sakura archly.
The Akimichi looked up from the menu in his hand and gave the pink haired beauty sitting across from him a mildly amused look.
"No not at all... They understand when I prefer privacy to enjoy the company of a beautiful woman. I am also aware that their presence has a tendency to...annoy you." murmured Choji with a wry smile before returning his eyes back to the menu.
"I see. How is it that a small fish in the Yakuza world like you can notice something that my ex was unable to?" bit out Sakura, now a little irritated that this man could pick up something like that.
"Being a small fish allows me the opportunity to better observe the bigger fish in action. There is much power in knowing when is the best time to act rather than plowing in head first. Would you like something to drink, Miss Haruno?" countered the Akimichi smoothly.
"Sure, white wine." replied Sakura as she gave the menu a cursory glance.
"Are you sure I can't persuade you to have a cocktail with me? The apple Martinis here are very refreshing." asked Choji watching the woman with an admiring eye.
She was quite lovely... and not because it was her sole purpose in life.
"No... I don't believe so... too many calories." murmured Sakura with a small sniff as she picked up the wine list and perused over the selection.
"Of course... one wouldn't want to gain weight... it wouldn't do for a mistress to look less than glamorous." replied Choji softly not looking up from his menu.
"I can think of worst ways to get by in life." rebutted the pink haired woman stiffly.
"Yes... that is true...but answer me this, Miss Haruno... don't you get tired of waking up every morning to rush to the mirror , just to reassure yourself that your meal ticket is still as flawless as it was yesterday?" asked the Akimichi gently as he pinned the beauty with a long look of contemplation.
"Not all of us were born with a silver spoon in our mouths, Mister Akimichi. I had to use what nature gave me." replied Sakura bitterly just as the waiter appeared to get their drink orders.
Choji continued to glance at the menu in front of him but covertly observed the woman sitting there all prim and proper, her long fingernails drumming restlessly on the pristine tablecloth.
Even now knowing that the fragile looking creature had a spine of steel with thorns to match, only further increased her allure to him.
"I see... and you pretty much do what is needed to ensure your personal survival in this world, am I correct?" murmured the large man, watching the shock come into the woman's face as his words hit her like a bucket of cold water.
"And you don't?! I didn't exactly see you refuse Kiba's help when that other clan tried to take over your restaurants." responded Sakura darkly.
"Touché, Miss Haruno. I too am a survivor and I will do what is needed to protect the business that I built up with my own two hands than see it fall prey to someone else's greed." countered Choji smoothly as he lowered the menu and gave her a knowing look.
"I see you are surprised by my admission..." murmured the Akimichi after a while as Sakura finally turned her head and bit her lip, a guilty look ghosting across her features before it disappeared.
The drinks arrived with a flourish and the waiter asked, "Have you decided what you like for dinner, Sir? Or would you prefer more time?"
"Yes... I will have the Ravioles De Rouget for my appetizer and my charming companion will have the Salade Verte, since she's watching her figure." replied Choji.
"No – not the salad." broke in a soft female voice.
The large man looked up in surprise, noting the challenging look in her jade green eyes before asking with a gentle smile, "Did you see something that caught your interest?"
"Yes – I will have the La Tarte Aux Champignons for my appetizer, the Duo De Canard En Magrit Et Confit... and an apple martini with dinner."
Choji gave the young woman a warm smile as he added, "Can you make that two apple martinis for dinner as well as the Souris D'Agneau for me and an order of the Haricots Verts Au Choix."
The waiter left the table with a slight bow with their dinner orders in hand.
"So, you decided to throw caution to the wind for an evening, Miss Haruno?" returned Choji with an easy smile.
"I am more than a pretty face, Mister Akimichi." replied Sakura coolly.
"Indeed? I take it then that you yearn for other things beside financial stability. I imagine the extra money you will receive from Kiba Inuzuka will ensure that..." murmured the Akimichi picking up his cocktail glass and taking a small sip.
"How the hell did you find out about that?!" hissed out Sakura.
"I know that in your quest to desperately protect the lifestyle you've become accustomed to, you threw away the one thing you wanted more than anything… someone who cherished you." murmured Chouji watching the beauty with what suspiciously looked like sympathy in his eyes.
"I doubt it. Kiba Inuzuka never saw me more than a convenient bed warmer." scoffed Sakura.
"Is that so? How intriguing." murmured Choji.
"Intriguing? Why do you say that?" asked the pink haired beauty in mild surprise.
"You were his mistress for a long time, Miss Haruno… a little over five and a half years, I believe… If he saw you as a mere diversion of the sexual persuasion, I highly doubt he would have kept you in the style you had become accustomed to for as long as what he did… while he may not have loved you… I imagine that there was some affection between the two of you." replied the Akimichi quietly.
Chouji saw the flash of hurt enter the pink haired beauty's eyes before Sakura averted her eyes away from the man in front of her.
"Ahhh… I see…. My apologies, Miss Haruno… that was the problem, was it not?" murmured Chouji taking a sip of his appletini, watching the silent woman gazing out into the restaurant.
"Miss Haruno…as much as we want it… that is one area that we have no control over…and I'm sorry to see you hurting like this but trying to get back at him in this manner isn't going make the pain go away…" continued Chouji in a quiet reflective tone.
Sakura turned an angry face back to the man sitting across from her and bit out, "What do you know about it, Akimichi?!"
"You would be surprised, Miss Haruno… I do know what it's like to yearn for the unattainable." countered Chouji obscurely as Sakura's eyes widened in shock as she heard the bitterness and a hint of sadness in the man's normally jovial tone.
The waiter arrived back to the table with their appetizers and the young woman was more than a little grateful for the small interruption from this serious and highly personal conversation.
"Miss Haruno… I know this little talk of ours is making you more than a little uncomfortable, so I will move onto more trivial matters but if I can offer you a word of advice from a concerned friend?" murmured Choji watching the shock flit across the pink haired woman's face.
Sakura blinked and licked her suddenly dry lips, feeling a small curl of fear at this man's uncanny perceptiveness.
"Please… just call me Sakura. What is it you wish to say?" whispered Sakura, beginning to feel more out of her element in the Akimichi's company.
"Sakura, when you meet the Inuzuka at his lawyer's office on Monday… don't let your greed over cloud the good times you shared with each other. I urge you to let him move on with his life… without regret… as you obviously have." replied the large man quietly before picking up his fork to start on his appetizer.
Sakura looked down at the little mushroom tart on the plate before her but she glanced over at the man with the odd spiral tattoos on his cheeks and said in a hush, "Mister Akimichi… thank you. It has been a long time since someone has been as brutally candid as you have been…I will keep your advice in mind when I see Kiba on Monday."
Choji looked over at the young woman in surprise and countered, "Thank you…I can ask for no more than that you think about it, Sakura…… and it's Choji…not Mister Akimichi."
Sakura felt the first real smile come to her lips in years before she looked down at her appetizer and murmured, "Mmmm, I'm suddenly rather hungry...this looks delicious."
Ino watched Neji's car drive off down the road and a small sigh escaped her lips.
"Ino…you sound down. What's wrong? The day finally got to you?" asked a soft female voice in concern.
"Your cousin was here, Hina… I'm afraid that I said something that upset him and he left here in a huff." replied Ino with another deep sigh.
The petite woman watched her friend still standing motionless in front of the door, the dead bolt in place but the chain to the sliding bolt dangling from her fingertips.
She swallowed the hard lump that suddenly lodged in her dry throat and quietly asked, "You two went for each other's throats over my choice of date?"
Hinata stared wide eyed at her friend's back as she heard a mirthless chuckle echo in the relative peace of the flower shop.
"No… I mean, yes – we got into a fight over your date but I managed to convince him that your virtue was safe." replied the blonde woman after a while.
"Ino!" gasped Hinata feeling her cheeks burn at the mention of that.
She could hear the genuine amusement in her friend's voice as Ino murmured, "Relax… Neji promised that he would listen to you without interruption when you decide to talk to him about your date and that he will endeavor to keep his nose out of your business…but I am afraid that he is more upset about what I've done… or rather – what I am about to do."
"What do you mean, Ino?" asked the dark haired woman.
Ino always managed to somehow get under Neji's skin… so how was this time any different to the others?
"Neji offered to take me out for a drink but I told him that I couldn't because I had a date this evening….He didn't take the news too well." replied Ino as she concentrated on winding down the shutters for the front windows.
"Ino…did I hear you correctly?!" whispered the petite woman in shock.
"Yes… I know… Neji never drinks and yet…he wanted to take me out for one… yes, I was surprised too, Hina." murmured Ino absently as she walked over and picked up two flower buckets.
"Ino…what else happened when you two got into it?" asked Hinata in a quiet voice as she walked over to pick up a couple of buckets and followed her friend into the cold room.
"Oh…the usual. He criticized my deplorable taste in men and I then pointed out that his current tastes in the mistress department left a lot to be desired… the nerve of him though… he honestly thought that Kiba would beat you! I've never heard anything so ludicrous in my life!" replied the blonde with a snort.
"Neji…thought Kiba…would intentionally hurt me?! Where did he get that idea from?" asked Hinata, in shock.
"The new woman in his life… I'm guessing that she appealed to his protective side to reel him in." murmured Ino in disgust before stomping out of the cold room to collect more buckets from the front of the shop.
"She told Neji that Kiba beat her?! What type of woman would do something like that?" wondered Hina out loud.
"Someone who wants your cousin badly enough that she will employ every trick in the book to snag him." replied a voice quietly behind the dark haired woman.
Hinata turned, startled at the sound of the voice to see her friend standing there with a dejected look on her face and two flower buckets in her hands.
"Ino…do you have any regrets…I mean about you and Neji?" asked Hinata as she watched Ino place the containers onto the shelf.
The blonde shook her head with a wry smile and replied, "No, Hina… It was obvious to me back then that Tenten loved Neji deeply… and it was also equally clear that he returned her affection. I just felt like a third wheel at the time, so I thought it was best to leave before things developed further between Neji and I."
"It hardly seems fair though, Ino… he got happiness and you got…" broke off the dark haired woman, looking away in embarrassment.
"We all make our choices, Hina. Yes – he was a woman bashing asshole towards the end…but he wasn't always that way…not at first." replied Ino quietly.
"I don't see how you can forgive him for what he did to you though… I mean – you have to live with the reminder of that night…" countered the petite woman.
"Hina… yes, I have scars and injuries that will continue to cause concern …but that doesn't mean that I need to live my life trapped in fear because of what one man did to me….and neither do you….not every man out there is intent on hurting the ones they care about." murmured Ino, placing a comforting hand on her friend's shoulder before finally dropping her hand to her side and walking out of the cold room.
Hinata followed her friend out of the cold room and watched in silence as Ino continued to collect buckets of flowers.
The blonde looked and caught the look of concern in her friend's silvery gray eyes.
Ino gave her Hinata a gentle smile and replied, "Hina….It will be okay…promise… this date is a start in the right direction for me…."
A soft rap interrupted the serious conversation and both women looked up to see Akamaru peering through the glass door with a worried look on his face.
"Ino… don't worry about all this. Let me finish putting the flowers away and I will take care of the receipts for today." murmured Hinata with a smile as she watched the blonde move over to unlock the door for the large security guard.
"Are you sure, Hina?" asked Ino over her shoulder, her hand resting on the lock.
"Yes…absolutely… you're right, Ino. We can't hide from the world forever, just because of a couple of prize catches." replied the dark haired woman with a small smile.
Ino gave her friend a grateful smile before she turned back to front door and finally let the big man into her shop.
"Come in, Akamaru… We can head off now if you wish….Hina has offered to close up the shop for me tonight." murmured Ino as she locked the door behind Akamaru.
"Ino…there's no rush…honestly. I will be more than happy to help you two finish up here." returned Akamaru gruffly with a ruddy flush to his cheeks.
"It's going to take at least 45 minutes to take care of the day's receipts." warned Ino, watching the man closely.
"No problem, Ino… it's not as though we have a dinner reservation we need to rush to." replied the body guard with a smile.
"Akamaru, why don't you pick up those flower buckets on the shelf next to you and I will show you where to put them. Ino can make a start on the receipts." said Hinata with a half smile as she glanced over at her blonde friend and saw the stunned expression on her face at the man's comment.
"Oh… uh… yes… that's a great idea, Hina." replied Ino hurriedly before she walked over to the cash register and started the final day's receipt.
"Ino…are you …okay?" asked a male voice softly.
The blonde looked up in surprise to see Akamaru watching her in concern, his arms around a small cluster of flower buckets.
"Ahh… yes…I am... actually. sorry… just not used to having a guy being so considerate….that's all." confessed Ino softly as she blushed in embarrassment.
"I suggest you get used to it, Ino." murmured Akamaru with a grin before he walked out of the room in the direction of the cold room.
"Ahh, Mister Inuzuka…good to see you. It has been a while, no?" asked the host with a grin smile.
"Yes… it's been way too long but my sister mentioned that she wanted salmon and I immediately thought of Cassis." returned Kiba amiably, earning another beaming smile as a result of the compliment.
"Right this way, Mister Inuzuka. Joseph will show you to your table." murmured the Host, gesturing to the tall angular man waiting for them.
The waiter showed them to a quiet booth and left them to peruse the menus in relative silence.
"I could really go for a glass of white wine." said Hana as she looked over the menu.
"I don't think so, Hana." replied Shino smoothly, not looking up from his menu.
"Oooh…the tuna tartare looks tasty." exclaimed the brunette excitedly.
"Hana….you know raw and under prepared foods are off the list for a while." countered Shino flipping a page in his menu.
Kiba grinned as he watched them interact. It never ceased to amaze him that no matter how much his sister tried to push Shino's buttons, his friend always calmly deflected her little pot shots.
It had initially surprised the hell out of him when Shino had told him that he was dating Hana but seeing them together like this, it was easy to see that they complimented each other perfectly.
Of course…tall, dark and silent would never in a million years let on how crazy he was about his loud mouthed sister…except when crossed.
"What's so funny, Kiba?" asked Hana suspiciously, watching that little smirk play across her brother's lips.
"I was just wondering… are men still coming up to you at the tracks, offering to give you a night of wild fun or are they too scared of Shino?" murmured Kiba watching the dark flush steal into his sister's high cheek bones before she thrust out a thumb and pointed at the tall man sitting next to her.
"This one managed to put the fear of god into the first one stupid enough to approach me and the rest heard about it through the gossips." replied Hana in disgust.
"I heard that the man tried to cop a feel and found himself quickly pinned against a wall with a stiletto at his throat." said Kiba in a matter of fact tone.
"Yes…besides the fact that I am perfectly capable of defending my own honor…thank you very much… I wasn't expecting him of all men to go possessive on me." grumped the brunette before crossing her arms.
"She's mine." mimicked Hana in a familiar cool tone, much to the delight of Kiba.
"You didn't seem too upset about it at the time…if your current condition is any indication." replied Shino calmly with a hint of smugness in his tone.
Kiba watched as his sister's face went a brighter shade of red and heard her mutter under her breath, "Bastard... thought you weren't going to bring that up… "
The Inuzuka couldn't help it. He let out a bark of laughter.
"Are you sure you wish to put up with her sassy mouth on a permanent basis, Shino?" asked Kiba with a knowing smirk.
"Yes." Replied Shino in a smoky tone, causing Hana to blush in embarrassment.
"Are you ready to order…Sirs… miss?" asked a courteous voice.
"Yes…I will have a glass of white wine." said the brunette with a bright smile.
"Could you make that a glass of still water for her?" countered Shino.
"The Tuna Tartare for an appetizer…" murmured Hana with a small warning tone in her voice.
"She'll have the Salade Nicoise instead." replied the hooded man calmly, despite the striking woman shooting daggers at him with her dark eyes.
"I want the pan seared Salmon... well-done." growled out Hana, only to be met by silence.
"For dessert, I want the cheese board and the chocolate fondue." said Hana with a snap of her menu, almost daring Shino to make a comment.
"No soft cheeses on the cheese board…she's expecting." murmured Shino.
Kiba watched in amusement as the understanding dawned in the waiter's eyes and saw him put a little notation next to his sister's dinner order.
"And you, sir?" asked the waiter to Shino.
"I'll have still water also, the Les Farcis Nicois for appetizer, the Le Filet Mignon, Sauce Au Poivre Vert Aves Ses Panisses for the main and since I know she's not going to share… I will have the La Tarte Au Citron for dessert." murmured Shino smoothly, switching between the two languages easily while deftly ignoring Hana's comment about showing off.
"I'll have a lemonade to drink, the roasted vegetables stuffed with meat for the appetizer, the rack of lamb for the main, a side of the green beans for the table and the strawberry napoleon for dessert." said Kiba, handing his menu over to the waiter and watching him leave to put in their orders.
"I see that there is nothing wrong with your appetite, Hana." remarked Kiba.
"If you're asking if I'm trying to toss up an organ as well as the contents of my stomach… then the answer is no." replied Hana with an audible sniff.
"If Hana wasn't having any morning sickness, then how did you figure out that she was in the family way, Shino?" asked Kiba quietly.
"I was concerned when I caught her trying to eat the entire contents of the fridge in one sitting three days ago." murmured Shino, looking sideways at Hana.
"Well, that's nothing unusual, Shino…I've always had a healthy appetite." countered Hana with a shrug.
"Hana…I had done the grocery shopping that morning before I left the house to do a consultation. I arrive home two hours later to find three quarters of the refrigerator's contents on the kitchen counter and you sitting there stuffing food into your mouth like it was your last meal." replied Shino dryly.
"What did you do, Shino?" asked Kiba, now more than a little amused.
"He calmly sat down in front of me, pulled out his cell phone and proceeded to make an appointment for me to see my doctor for a checkup that day." murmured Hana disgusted.
The waiter arrived back at the table with the drinks and a small basket of bread for the table.
"Could bring another basket of bread, please?" asked Shino as Hana happily snatched the basket out of the surprised man's hands.
Kiba waited until the waiter went back to the kitchens and watched his sister rapidly devour the bread in silence before finally replying, "I don't see why you are so put out by all this, Hana… it's not as though you're not aware of exactly who you're dealing with…"
Hana paused in the process of quickly popping slice after slice of the freshly baked bread into her mouth, swallowed the bite in her mouth before murmuring grumpily, "Yeah, yeah… the infamous bug man himself… he knows all… he sees all…even cockroaches fear him. I…was just hoping that he had given me time to discover it on my own… it would have been nice to surprise him once in a while."
Kiba watched as Shino reached out and gently tilted her chin, so that she was looking up into his face which was largely hidden by the hood and dark glasses.
"Hana. It was a surprise. The last thing I was expecting when I took you to get checked out was to be loudly congratulated on my impending fatherhood by that crazy doctor of yours." replied Shino quietly, making Hana blush before she turned back to the bread basket.
"Yeah…well, that made two of us…" grouched Hana morosely as she stuffed a slice of bread into her mouth and chewed aggressively.
"Hana… this doesn't change the way I feel for you… If you are concerned about whether or not I will still find you attractive, I will be more than happy to show you…" countered Shino calmly.
Hana's eyes widened in shock and embarrassment at her lover's words before she started choking on the piece of bread she was chewing on.
Kiba grinned wolfishly as he watched Shino gently pat Hana on the back.
"Shino… not in front of Kiba…damn it!" gasped Hana, red scarlet from embarrassment and almost choking on the bread.
"No, Hana… don't make him stop on my account… this is pretty entertaining. I am beginning to see how he keeps you in line." returned Kiba with a wolfish grin.
"I have had no complaints on my technique." murmured Shino calmly.
Hana groaned in dismay as her brother laughed knowingly at her lover's comment.
The young woman was relieved to see their waiter arrive back at the table with their appetizers in hand.
She watched the man slide the plates onto the table and was surprised by the slices of pan seared Tuna atop the green salad.
"Yes, Hana…you still get your tuna…it's just been cooked rather than marinated." replied Shino, a hint of amusement in his voice at his lover's obvious shock.
"Oh……..thanks." mumbled Hana before ducking her head down, picking up the fork and popping a piece of tuna into her mouth with a contented sigh.
"It's a good thing that you do so well in your business, Shino… I have a feeling that my sister is going to be expensive to feed for a few months." said Kiba with a small smile as he watched Shino move one of his hands and place of top of Hana's other hand, resting on the table.
Shino turned his shade covered eyes towards Hana once more and gave her a long look of contemplation before finally murmuring with a wry smile on his firm lips, "I find that I don't mind that at all, Kiba."
"Are you sure you don't mind not going to see a movie?" asked Ino as she walked alongside the large man.
"No, Ino… it doesn't bother me. We both agreed that there weren't any movies showing that either of us was interested in seeing. I think the park is a great idea." replied Akamaru easily.
The lights flickered on in the large open city park as the couple entered through the black wrought iron entrance gates.
"Do you wish to walk around the pond or do you wish to find somewhere to sit down?" asked the blonde as they moved easily through the evening crowd towards a small cluster of colorful shops.
"When I get the opportunity to come down here, I usually make a bee-line to the little tea shop and sit outside on the covered patio overlooking the lake. It's really quite peaceful." replied Akamaru with a smile.
Ino exclaimed brightly, "Akamaru! …that's a lovely idea! Let's go!"
The large man allowed the petite woman to grab his arm and let her drag him through the main pathway until they reached the entrance of the little tea shop.
"Akamaru! It's been a while!" called out a female voice in delight.
The man turned at the sound of the voice before stepping forward and sweeping a tiny red haired woman into a welcoming hug.
Ino watched him finally put the older woman down gently before turning to wave Ino over to their location.
"Mariko, I know it's been a while but work has been keeping me busy …I brought a friend with me this time….Mariko, I would like you to meet Ino." murmured Akamaru as a ruddy blush stained his cheeks.
"Oh ho… it's about time you brought a pretty girl with you to my shop, Akamaru! I keep telling you that you're much too handsome and sweet to be on your own." crowed the woman as she swept Ino an admiring look.
"Ah…Mariko…don't embarrass me." responded Akamaru gruffly.
"Oh pooh! Don't you dare get all coy on me now, boy! It's good to see you here with someone else for a change…I suppose you want a pot of green tea and a tray? I am sure Ino would love to try my sponge cake." replied Mariko with a sassy grin.
"Ah, Ino…do you want green tea or would you prefer something else?" asked Akamaru, silently wishing the old woman didn't make him sound so desperate!
Ino chuckled softly and replied with a smile, "Mariko…I would love to try your sponge cake… it sounds delicious and yes – a pot of green tea would be nice."
"Akamaru… why don't you and Ino go sit down… I will bring out your order to your usual spot." Said the older woman as she shooed the body guard towards a French door at the back of the shop.
Akamaru opened the door and let Ino walk through to little back deck overlooking the lake.
"Akamaru, I can see why you come here in your spare time… it's really beautiful…" murmured Ino reverently as she took in the glow of the park lights dancing on the inky surface of the water.
Akamaru walked over to small table and pulled out the chair for Ino before sitting down and giving the view a look.
"Yes, it's nice here…I like the quiet." concurred Akamaru with a soft heartfelt sigh.
"Yeah…well, I imagine in your line of work… it makes a nice change." replied Ino covertly watching the large man seated next to her, his gaze fixed on the scenery in front of him.
"Ino…my job isn't that exciting… I spend most of the time shadowing Kiba and that's no hardship…" responded Akamaru easily.
"You two go way back, huh?" asked the blonde softly.
The body guard turned his face to the table and smiled at the woman sitting across from him and replied with a nod, "Yes. My family has served the Inuzuka Family as their personal bodyguards for generations…it's a proud tradition that I am happy to carry on with."
The somber mood on the deck was broken when a cheerful voice called out, "I imagine you're hungry, eh Akamaru?"
Ino bit back the grin as she watched the large man stand up and walk over to assist the old woman with the large serving cart.
"Shoo, you young scamp! I don't need help!" griped Mariko halfheartedly as Akamaru deftly grabbed the two tea trays and carried them over to the small table.
"All this is for us?" asked Ino in dismay as she eyed the two full trays dubiously.
Akamaru bit back the groan as he realized Mariko had brought his usual order as well as extra.
"Well, of course! Akamaru here has quite the appetite…" replied the old woman with a satisfied smile.
Akamaru felt the apology on his lips die when he caught the blonde's eye and she smiled at him, understanding in her eyes.
"We're starving, Mariko… this is lovely…thank you." murmured Ino with a smile as Mariko put the rest of the items from the cart onto the table.
The couple waited until the woman wheeled the cart back into the tea house, humming a happy tune before Akamaru gruffly said, "Ino… I'm sorry…it seems our plans have changed once again… you don't mind, do you?"
Ino shook her head and replied with a smile as she picked up a small petite fort, "I'm not complaining…this sure beats pizza."
Akamaru looked up in surprise from his task of pouring the tea before he chuckled and countered with a blush on his cheekbones, "Yes, this is definitely a large step up from taking you to a pizza and a movie… it's beginning to feel more like an actual date now."
"I was surprised that you wanted to take me out, Akamaru. I mean…it's the last thing one would expect from a guy I threatened to kick his ass." murmured Ino, going red in embarrassment.
The large bodyguard chuckled softly, handing a cup to Ino and replied with an easy smile, "Well, it's not often that I come across a woman who isn't at all intimidated by the way I look."
"What's wrong with the way you look?" asked the blonde woman with a frown as she took the cup from him.
"Well… uh… I'm not what you would call attractive and I'm not what you call a graceful guy." confessed the large man gruffly, placing a couple of the finger sandwiches onto the plate in front of him.
"I don't know… I think your looks are rather striking… you certainly made me look twice that day." returned Ino with a sassy grin as the large man flushed a dark ruddy red.
"Anyway…just because a man is handsome, doesn't necessarily mean that he knows how to treat women…" continued Ino dourly, looking down at the empty plate in front of her, deep in thought.
"Bad experience?" asked Akamaru softly, wanting to know what caused this beautiful woman so much obvious pain that he'd seen glimpses of in her expressive eyes but he was reluctant to push her for details.
Ino looked up and shrugged before selecting a couple of the sandwiches and murmured, "You could say that…" murmured Ino dryly as she raised her green tea and took a sip.
"I'm sorry, Ino… I can relate though…" murmured Akamaru as he picked up his cup and looked out at the lake.
The young woman studied the man's profile and watched the emotions flit across that expressive face of his before she finally softly asked, "What happened, Akamaru?"
"It's not a glamorous story, Ino… are you sure you want to hear it?" countered the bodyguard.
Ino glanced sharply at Akamaru as she heard the deep pain within his tone.
She sat up straight as she carefully placed the delicate bone china tea cup onto the table, licked dry lips and replied quietly, "Yes…I'm sure, Akamaru."
The body guard sipped on his green tea reflectively for a while before finally murmuring, "It was fine in the beginning…"
"Yeah… it usually is…" countered the blonde with a grin.
Akamaru broke into a relieved smile and nodding continued, "We had been dating for a while before I told her I loved her and I was thrilled when she told me that she felt the same way…"
"So – you fell for this woman hard and thought it was mutual…but that wasn't the case, was it?" prompted Ino, fascinated and more than a little saddened by the large man's story, knowing that it didn't end well for Akamaru.
"No, it turns out that it wasn't… I ran into her while I was out and about with Kiba…I caught her getting hot and heavy with another guy." responded Akamaru with a grimace.
"Ouch! So what happened when you caught her in the act?" murmured Ino sympathetically.
"She tried to brazen her way out of it… justified her actions by calmly explaining that if I wasn't such a boring homebody…she wouldn't have been forced to find excitement else where." replied Akamaru despondently.
"The little bitch!" hissed out Ino in disgust before picking up one of the little sandwiches and biting into it aggressively.
The large man felt inordinately pleased with the blonde's reaction and was feeling marginally better about talking about what was a painful time in his life.
"What did you say to her?" asked Ino softly as she swallowed the morsel and watched the smile threaten to break out on his face.
"I told her that I couldn't live with someone who needed more than I could give her and I informed her to come by in a couple of days to pick up her stuff, hoping that it would be the end of it." responded the bodyguard before popping the dainty sandwich into his mouth with a sigh.
"I see…but she wasn't ready to let go, correct?" murmured Ino sourly as she picked up her cup once more.
"Yes…it turned out that she still wanted me but she also wanted the option to date other men." replied Akamaru with a nod.
"In other words, she wanted an open relationship and she expected you to agree to her terms. I bet you were none too pleased to hear that, hmm?" concurred Ino as she took a sip from her tea.
"No, I'm sorry to say that I was less than understanding. I point blank told her to pick up her stuff and never darken my door step again." replied Akamaru with a frown.
"She didn't leave without a struggle, did she?" asked the blonde quietly, swallowing the hard lump lodged in her throat.
"No – she made my life a living hell for six months before she finally found someone else who would deal with her and her terms." murmured Akamaru, feeling the old hurt resurfacing.
"Oh kami…" whispered Ino in horror.
"When she died a couple of years ago… I vowed that I wasn't going to go through that kind of pain again…" continued the large man in that soothing low tone of his.
"Akamaru…knowing that you felt that way…why did you decide to ask me out?" questioned Ino, not aware that she was holding her breath anxiously waiting for his answer.
"Ino...when you threatened to kick my ass, I found I was smitten…and I couldn't stop thinking about you… I suddenly realized late one night that I can't keep pushing people away because I'm frightened of getting hurt… I need to move forward and leave the past where it belongs…" replied Akamaru with blunt honesty before taking a sip of the neglected green tea.
Ino put down her tea cup and unconsciously reached her hand across to rub at her sleeve, feeling the ridge of scar tissue through the fabric.
"Ino…you don't have to tell me what happened…." murmured Akamaru watching the blonde rub her arm absently with a thoughtful look on her face.
The young woman looked over at Akamaru and was startled to see the understanding in his eyes.
"Akamaru…I want to tell you…but not right now… I need a little time." said Ino quietly.
"When you're ready to talk about it, Ino…I will be there to listen." replied Akamaru before leaning forward and picking up the tea pot.
Ino felt the relieved smile return to her lips as she raised her cup and nodded for the man across from her to refill it.
"I will warn you though…Mariko will be back in a few minutes to see if you like her sponge cake…" murmured Akamaru easily, a teasing smile playing on his lips.
"Well, we better get to work on these trays then, hmmm?" countered Ino with a knowing chuckle, taking a sip of the freshly poured tea.
"Hey, isn't that Sakura leaving in the company of the Akimichi?" asked Hana in unholy delight as she nodded at the couple in the distance walking over to the exit.
"Well, it didn't take her too long to start fishing for another meal ticket." murmured Kiba in disgust.
"Awww…Are you still pissed that she got sick of waiting for you to make up your damn mind?" asked Hana in a chiding tone.
"Shut it, Hana – I caught her screwing Neji Hyuuga…and now she's putting the screws to me for more cash." growled back Kiba in outrage.
"Kiba… you know something, I'm rather surprised she didn't find someone else to warm her bed sooner… maybe then, you would have woken up to yourself. The woman spent more than half a decade sitting in that gilded cage of an apartment you set her up in, keeping herself beautiful on the off chance that you would call her…she was just a commodity to you…some precious little trinket you trotted out whenever you felt like female companionship." snapped back the striking brunette woman, now on a roll.
"Hana… the woman threatened to emotionally blackmail me while I was on a date with Hinata and you're defending her actions?!" responded Kiba in a dark and dangerous tone.
"Hana…" murmured Shino in quiet warning, only for his lover to abruptly cut him off.
"No, Shino… don't you dare take his side in this or you will be sleeping on the couch, bug man. Yes – Sakura is a shallow and conniving creature but she deserved to be treated better than the way you treated her." replied Hana heatedly.
Shino wisely held his tongue and watched the two Inuzuka siblings verbally tear into each other.
No – he didn't want to spend the rest of his life sleeping on the uncomfortable couch… thank you very much.
"Oh? I treated her like a queen and she does this to me?!" countered Kiba outraged at his sister's defense of his old mistress.
"Nooo…you treat the woman you're currently seeing like a queen and only because she comes from a good family who actually do give a damn about her in their own fucked up way…" murmured Hana with a knowing smirk.
"How do you know all this?" asked Kiba with a scowl, knowing for a fact that Akamaru wouldn't tell Hana about his date.
"Oh – please, Kiba… give me some fucking credit for having brains here. I am screwing your surveillance expert and my best friend is your bloody accountant… I took a look at the report Shino did for you and Aya made a comment to me in passing that she felt that the new woman was someone special because the only receipts she's received have been for flowers, which means that you respect her enough to not want to take her to your bed just yet." responded Hana in a hiss before turning her narrowed gaze on the man seated beside her looking at her with obvious disapproval.
"Don't you dare give me a hard time about snooping, bug boy…the threat still stands…" warned Hana waspishly.
"I'll deal with your snooping and mood swings later, Hana…but she's right, Kiba." concurred Shino in a low voice after awhile.
"You too, Shino?" asked the Inuzuka, feeling oddly hurt at his friend's comment.
"Your sister does have a point. I admit that Sakura could have chosen a better way to tell you that she was tired of the arrangement between the two of you…but I had noticed when I met you for lunch that day, you didn't seem heartbroken when your relationship with her had ended…more like you had been dealt a blow to your pride." replied Shino calmly as Hana vigorously nodded her head in agreement.
"Kiba… admit it. You never loved Sakura." said Hana.
"I liked Sakura… a lot." responded Kiba with a stubborn tilt of his jaw.
"Kiba… you're splitting hairs… liking someone is not the same as love and you sure as hell know that." countered Hana with a growl.
"What do you suggest I do, Hana… let Sakura think she can control me by the balls?" barked out Kiba as several heads swiveled in their direction.
"Keep your damn voice down! I am merely suggesting you give her request some consideration because she sure as hell earned it waiting on your ass….you cheated her in the love department…the least you can do is make sure she is financially comfortable…it's not as though you can't afford it." hissed out Hana.
"So, you want me to reward her for screwing around on me…" huffed Kiba more than a little disgusted by his sister.
"And how many times did she screw around on you? Don't tell me that you don't know because I know for a fact that you got Shino to regularly run checks on her and look over the surveillance tapes from her security cameras." countered Hana archly with a raised eyebrow.
The retort that Kiba was about to launch at his sister died on his lips as he pondered that question.
His sister was right…Neji was the only visitor the pink haired woman had received into her apartment and bed.
Was he really that dense that he didn't for one moment, consider that he may have inadvertently pushed her into the arms of another man by his own actions?
"Hana…enough. I think you have made your point plainly clear in this matter." murmured Shino in censure, watching the look of realization dawn on his friend's face.
"Kiba…you don't have to give her the full amount…I just think she's entitled to a little more after dealing with the years of uncertainty she faced in her relationship with you…that's all." replied Hana quietly.
"Hana…I won't make any guarantees but I will consider it." murmured Kiba grudgingly.
"That's all I ask, Kiba…" replied Hana with a sunny smile on her face, still looking at her brother expectantly.
"What is it now, Hana?" growled Kiba, wanting to finish dinner and head home to the relative peace and quiet of the townhouse.
"So, this Hinata must be pretty special, huh?" asked Hana, not bothering to keep the hopeful tone out of her voice.
Kiba felt his face get unusually warm as he murmured, "Yeah… she is."
"She's the one, isn't she?" countered Hana quietly as she carefully watched her sibling's face.
"I'm not sure…everything is still in the early stages…Can a person fall in love with someone on their first encounter?" asked Kiba with a half smile.
Hana turned startled eyes towards Shino and could see the knowing smile hiding just behind the heavy collar.
Damn it to hell! The smug baka called it!
"Yes, Kiba…it's possible." replied Shino calmly as he reached over and gave Hana's hand a gentle squeeze.
Hana felt her face flush red as her fiancé's comment before murmuring gruffly, "Kiba…why don't you call her and see what she is doing tonight…it's not as though you have any pressing clan business or other commitments to attend to this evening."
"You don't mind if I ditch you after dinner?" asked Kiba in surprise.
"Hell no… not if this woman turns out to be my future sister in law…" replied Hana with a wide grin.
"What are you two going to do?" queried Kiba, still reluctant to abandon his best friend and his sister.
Hana felt herself going three shades of red when she heard a smoky voice murmur, "Don't worry about us, Kiba… I am sure I can think of some way to entertain Hana for the remainder of the evening."
Kiba let out a low knowing chuckle as he pushed himself up from his seat countering, "Yes, I can well imagine….okay, if you are sure that you don't mind then I will go and take care of the bill…have fun, Shino… Hana – I will call you in the morning."
Hana waited until her brother walked off, his cell phone already in his hand and pinned her lover with narrowed eyes.
"How the hell do you plan on entertaining me for the rest of the evening?" hissed out the brunette, highly suspicious of his motives.
"Why do we go home and I will show you instead?" replied Shino smoothly.