The lights in the room pulsed along with the music.
A large number of speakers dotted the walls, just like they did the rooms adjacent to that one. Extensive sound-proofing blocked out the singing from the other KTVs.
For the three girls standing together, the facilities lacked only one thing. They wished that the medium-sized room, referred to as a karaoke box or KTV, had some way to deaden to sound of the boys singing within it.
"I can't take much more of this," Ino said. It had been funny at first. Then, it had been sad. Now, it was excrutiating.
"Me either," Ten Ten said, fingers plugging her ears. "That's why I told you we should ask more girls along." Their usual gang had more guys than gals.
"I'd run to the restroom again," Sakura claimed. "But, I've been their ten times already. They might think I'm some kind of drug addict, or that I'm… well… you know…." In some of the seedier places, all sorts of things took place in the bathroom stalls. This entertainment center was brand new, but she didn't want to take any chances with her reputation.
"Just take along a tape of Lee singing," Ino said. "There won't be any question why you're hiding there." She shivered. It had been awful when Kiba tried to rap. He was a gian of the worst kind. But, nothing had prepared her for Lee. In honor of his sensei, he had done opera, since the flamboyant Gai took inspiration from arias. Opera, for crying out loud! He had chosen Romeo and Juliette. At least that fit the theme for the night.
"Oh no…." Ten Ten brought a hand to her mouth. It was probably a trick of the flashing lights, but it almost looked as if her hair buns started drooping. "I didn't think he'd sing…." Shino had gotten up, taking the microphone from a rather proud-looking Lee. "He passed the last time…."
Shino flipped through a large book of song listings. Making a selection, he found that the song he wanted wasn't in shop, on cassette, CD, DVD, or laser disc. But, the karaoke machine was one of the newest models, having the ability to fetch music via a dial-up telephone network. As his request was downloaded, he worked to adjust the pitch of the playback. Flipping one switch, he displayed the lyrics up on a large projection screen.
"Ahem." Shino coughed to get everyone's attention. "I will begin now." He nodded when he saw Kiba activate the video recording system that was used to capture the highlights of karaoke singers performing out in that venue. He assumed it was because his performance would be spectacular. The look on the faces of Shikamaru, Choji, Naruto, and Sai clearly said otherwise.
"Do a good job, Shino." Hinata brought her hands together, offering support to her teammate. Sometimes, she was too sweet for her own good.
The music started thumping. The lights blinked on and off, keeping pace with the bass rhythm. Shino pulled his cowl further over his face and adjusted his glasses, waiting for the words to appear. Then, he began singing:
"She sits alone waiting for suggestions
He's so nervous avoiding all the questions
His lips are dry, her heart is gently pounding
Don't you just know exactly what they're thinking…."
"No!" Sakura turned pale. She knew that song, having heard it on a radio at the Medical Center. It had caused quite a commotion in the geriatrics wing.
"What's wrong?" Ten Ten looked over at her friend. She was about to find out.
Shino was obviously getting into the song. He swayed back and forth as he sang, and then shocked everyone by pushing his cowl off of his head. His warbling continued:
"If you want my body and you think I'm sexy
come on sugar let me know.
If you really need me just reach out and touch me
come on honey tell me so
Tell me so baby…."
"I think I'm going to be sick." Ino held her belly. She hadn't eaten all that much of the complimentary buffet. She had more than a couple of drinks, but that wasn't what had her feeling queasy.
"Tsunade said that they built this place as a reward for our hard work…." Sakura clutched at the railing leading up to one of the platform areas holding chairs and tables. The old warehouse building had been refurbished, with the intent of making a relaxing environment for the youth of Konoha.
"It feels like we're being punished." Ten Ten drank down a cup of sake, hoping that might help some. It wouldn't make the singing any better, of course. But, maybe she could become mellow enough so that she didn't care. Music had long been a tradition of their ancestors. But, over time, especially the years after the Nine Tail's attack, dancing and singing had faded from the lives of families, clans, and couples. Before tonight, she thought that the Hokage's plan to revive some old customs in a modern way had been a stroke of brilliance.
The girls looked over at their male counterparts. Naruto was holding his gut, rolling on the floor. Choji had started dancing, before he caught everyone's eyes on him. Neji looked like he had been carved from stone. Shikamaru placed his forehead down on the countertop.
"He's acting shy looking for an answer
Come on honey let's spend the night together
Now hold on a minute before we go much further
Give me a dime so I can phone my mother
They catch a cab to his high rise apartment
At last he can tell her exactly what his heart meant…."
"Ahhhh-hhh-hh-h…." Lee pumped his fist, looking like he was going to say something about the burning fire of youth. "You are an inspiration, my friend!" He posed. "This is your Ohako." That was the word that karaoke singers had for the one song which they are especially good at, one which they repeatedly use to show off their singing abilities.
"You are the K King," Naruto called out, obviously being sarcastic. Someone called the 'King of K' was supposed to be sophisticated in karaoke singing. He was still a bit miffed at the way that everyone had reacted to his turn at the microphone. It was all a matter of taste! He even had a group of Bunshin acting as back-up singers.
"Really?" Sai still looked confused. The whole karaoke experience hadn't made any sense to him whatsoever. "So… to do well… I should emulate him…."
"NO!" Sakura, Ino, and Ten Ten all shouted out at the same exact moment. They gathered together near the rear of the room when the waitress arrived with a fresh round of drinks.
"So… do you have it…." Ino glanced over at Hinata, who was still watching Shino sing. She tried extra hard not to look suspicious. "This would be the perfect time…." The guys had all had more than their fair share of drinks, Naruto included. Only Lee had kept with milk.
"Yes… I do… but…." Sakura looked down at her purse. She had taken something out of her medical kit and placed it there.
"Do you still have feelings for Naruto?" Ten Ten arched one eyebrow. "I thought that you said you weren't going to allow yourself to think that way about a teammate…."
"I'm not…." Sakura took out a small phial of amber liquid. It was a new type of anesthetic, undergoing filed trials. The agent worked a great deal like alcohol, with one drop having the effect of a jug of rice wine. "It's just… you know… it seems wrong…."
"You shouldn't think that way," Ino said. "Hinata's our friend. We wouldn't do anything to hurt her. This may be her best chance."
"It may be her only real chance," Ten Ten said. She sighed, looking over at Neji. She thought about asking Sakura to do the same thing for her, if it worked for Hinata. Looking over at Ino, she saw her fellow kunoichi cast a quick glance in Shikamaru's direction.
"OK… but just one drop to start with…" She took the dropper out of the small bottle and held it over Hinata's drink. The shy white-eyed girl was the only one drinking soda. Her eyes went wide for a moment when Ino reached out and squeezed her hands, emptying the entire dropper. "Hey… wait…." She watched as Ino grabbed the glass and walked it over to Hinata.
The medication worked immediately, once it was taken into the bloodstream. As a result, a few minutes after Hinata had sipped her drink, she started wobbling from left to right, backwards and forwards. Her lids were half closed, and her voice had grown slurred. When Choji finished singing his song, Ten Ten put the microphone in her hand.
"Your turn," Ino said.
"For Naruto," Ten Ten whispered into Hinata's ear. "It's your Way of the Ninja. You need to let him know how you feel."
"He wants to know," Sakura said, still feeling somewhat uncomfortable. "Don't keep him waiting any longer. He's shy… lonely… and he needs acceptance." It was a testament to how out of it Hinata was, the way that she bought that hook, line, and sinker.
"Ummm-mm-m… OK…." Hinata nodded her head before hiccoughing. "Hic…." She flipped through the song book, looking for something she was familiar with. "Here…." She pushed the appropriate button, and then turned to face Naruto. He was looking at her, a look of curiosity on his face. Everyone was looking at her. What would she choose? They didn't have to wait for long:
"Tale as old as time
True as it can be
Barely even friends
Then somebody bends
"She had to choose Disney…." Ino put her hand on her forehead.
"Shhhh-hhh-hh-h…." Sakura shushed her. "It's who she is. Maybe we can get her to loosen up later." She sighed. "One step at a time…."
"That's right," Ten Ten added. "Besides… I think the title is apropos…." The whole group of them there now knew about Kyuubi, thanks to that bit of unpleasantness with Akatsuki.
"Just a little change
Small, to say the least
Both a little scared
Neither one prepared
Beauty and the Beast…."
"Hey! Naruto!" Kiba had no idea what the girls were up to. He didn't have reason to guess that they were up to anything. But, somewhat tipsy, he knew a choice opportunity when he saw one. "I think Hinata is singing to you…."
"You need not listen to him any more now than you normally would." Neji said that after standing, walking over to Kiba, and putting clamp-like pressure on the other shinobi's shoulder. "Do you need another drink?" He ignored the belligerent look his friend gave him.
"But…." Choji was about to blurt something out until Shikamaru tapped him on the hand and shook his head.
Hinata had done a very nice job of singing. At Ino's insistence, she was allowed to keep singing. Whispering to the drunken girl, she told her to turn things up a notch. Naruto still looked as clueless as always. Clueless and terribly lonely. Lonely and in need of a nice girl to admit her feelings for him. Smiling, she walked back over to Sakura and Ten Ten just as the next selection appeared on the screen:
"Some day my prince will come
Some day we'll meet again
And away to his castle we'll go
To be happy forever I know…."
"More Disney…." Ino hung her head, tipped back her head, and downed the last of her drink. "That will never work…."
"It might!" Sakura tried to be cheerful and optimistic. But, deep inside, she felt the same way that Ino did. By the look of her, Ten Ten was thinking similar thoughts.
"Some day when spring is here
We'll find our love anew
And the birds will sing
And wedding bells will ring
Some day when my dreams come true…."
"That's a hoot!" Naruto snorted, spraying sake all over Sai. He obviously wasn't looking for any kind of hidden message.
"You bet!" Choji was laughing so hard, that fragments of potato chips were flying everywhere.
"Ohhhh-hhh-hh-h…." Lee stood up on a table, a faraway look in his eyes. "It's so moving…." He turned to look at Sakura, picturing her in a princess' raiment. That had the pink-haired girl ducking behind her two friends.
Shikamaru looked up at the ceiling. If he used his imagination, some of the colorful splotches of lights looked like clouds.
Hinata was oblivious to Naruto's actions. She was very much into her singing, her getting her to admit things in song that she could never otherwise put into words. When she finished with that song, she quickly moved on to the next:
"Can you feel the love tonight?
The peace the evening brings
The world, for once, in perfect harmony
With all its living things…."
"Perfect harmony…." There were stars in Lee's eyes. "With all living things…."
Hinata changed her voice, singing the male part exquisitely:
"So many things to tell her
But how to make her see
The truth about my past? Impossible!
She'd turn away from me…."
"So many things to tell her…." Choji sighed, surprising Kiba by turning down a snack tray. "How to make her see…." He looked overe at Ino.
Hinata switched back to her normal voice, seeing parallels in the song:
"He's holding back, he's hiding
But what, I can't decide
Why won't he be the king I know he is
The king I see inside?"
"The king…." Shikamaru scowled. Thinking of kings had him thinking of Shogi. Thinking of shoji had him thinking of Asuma's death, and the things that his sensei had whispered to him at the end.
Hinata sang louder than ever before, belting out the chorus part with conviction:
Can you feel the love tonight?
The peace the evening brings
The world, for once, in perfect harmony
With all its living things
Can you feel the love tonight?
You needn't look too far
Stealing through the night's uncertainties
Love is where they are…."
"Maybe if I drink enough, I'll see cute and cuddly animals everywhere." Ino was obviously not a big fan of Disney. She was also drowning in her own emotions, wishing there was some way to get Shikamaru to notice her in the way that she wanted to be noticed. If the problem was the whole 'Don't fall in love with your teammate' spiel, then she would gladly change teams, regardless of the family tradition!
"Cute…." Ten Ten looked over at Neji again. She couldn't tell if he was clueless, or simply didn't care. "Cuddly…." Hyuuga Neji was anything but cuddly. In her eyes, he was magnificent, the epitome of everything a ninja could be. "He'd turn away from me…." She was afraid what might happen, if she told him how she felt.
"Hinata!" The usually quiet Shino called out. "It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing!" That had everyone staring at him, and then each other. "Let your hair down, girl…."
Hinata nodded her head. She was feeling brazen. Well, brazen for her. The substance that Sakura had used to spike her drink was having a greater and greater effect as time went on. Punching up the next song on her list, she took the microphone, struggled with called upon her chemical courage, and closed the distance between Naruto and herself by half. She could do this. Her usual fear was gone. He was the reason that she always tried so hard. Why should that change now? She would sing her very best. For him:
"There you see her
Sitting there across the way
She don't got a lot to say
But there's something about her
And you don't know why
But you're dying to try
You wanna kiss the girl…."
Hinata walked even closer to Naruto. She pictured herself sitting with him, in a quaint boat on a beautiful lagoon. She wondered if had he ever kissed anyone? She hadn't. There was no doubt who she wanted love's first kiss from.
"Hey… why is she coming over here?" Naruto sat up straighter, a sweat drop appearing on his face. His conscious mind was as clueless as it comes. But, something in his subconscious was a good deal more hip. Either that, or the fox demon had taken notice.
"And to think," Kiba said with a shake of his head. "He wants to be Hokage some day…." He thumbed his nose at Neji. It looked like Hinata would get her point across without any help. He frowned. That had been Neji's intent.
"Ooooo-ooo-oo-oh…." Lee was acting giddy again, even though he had obviously abstained. Even a single drop of liquor would have had him wrecking the place. "A noble goal!" He smiled. Light from the spinning disco ball reflected off of his teeth. He had missed the point again. "We should all support him in his lofty endeavor!"
"I'm not that bad," Sai muttered to himself, looking at Lee. He then glanced over at Naruto and Hinata. Maybe he would learn something about male-female relationships tonight. He rubbed his eyes. What was he thinking? It was Naruto, after all.
"Yes, you want her
Look at her, you know you do
It's possible she wants you, too
There is one way to ask her
It don't take a word
Not a single word
Go on and kiss the girl…"
"It's working!" Sakura couldn't believe her eyes. Naruto was obviously uncomfortable. She knew him well enough to see that. Hinata was still shuffling closer, verse by verse. This was all so nerve-racking!
"You might be right," Ino said, rubbing her hands together. "There's a first time for everything." She grinned. "But… he's still Naruto…."
"This is good for Hinata, either way." Ten Ten took the cherry out of her drink, ate it, and then tossed the stem onto a tray of empty glasses. She crossed her fingers.
"Sing with me now
My, oh, my
Look at the boy too shy
He ain't gonna kiss the girl…."
Ain't that sad
Ain't it shame, too bad
You gonna miss the girl…."
Hinata had come to stand in front of Naruto. All of his friends had walked away, giving the two of them space. Smirking, Choji had gone into a small alcove at the side of the room, adjusting the track lighting so that it all shown down on the two ninjas. Despite all that, Naruto still looked like someone had asked him to decipher the Rosetta Stone. The last line of the verse had been sung with a hint of sadness.
"So close…." Ino said in a whisper.
"And yet so far…." Shino finished the same thought independently, across the room.
"This is so bothersome," Shikamaru griped. He didn't care if Naruto realized how Hinata felt, or not. He just wanted the nonsense to be over, one way or another. If she was going to act like that… Hyuuga Hinata… who could say what the other girls might do?
"Shit!" Kiba grimaced. Neji or no Neji, he was going to help. In his way. With the choice of Hinata's next song. He still couldn't believe that Hinata was acting the way that she was. But, he was wise enough to want to make hay while the sun was shining. "Here… Hinata… sing this…."
"What did you choose?" Ten Ten had walked over, with similar intent. She whispered into Hinata's ear. "Make sure you dedicate the song. That way, there won't be any doubt." She watched the screen, waiting for the words to show up.
"Ummm… OK… I will…." Hinata closed her eyes and held her breath. This was it. He would know how she felt now, for sure. She promised herself to sing whatever song her teammate had selected. "This… ummm… this next song is dedicated to you…." She felt even more unsteady on her feet than before. "Naruto-kun…." She began singing:
"Ooh, now let's get down tonight
Baby I'm hot just like an oven
I need some lovin'…."
"H-… H-… H-…." Naruto slid right off of his chair, banging his head hard after his rumpe bounced off of the carpeted floor. "Hinata…." He swallowed hard. This must be some kind of a joke, right? How else could someone like Hinata do something so out of character? But, the tightness in his chest was a good sign that he knew better than that.
"Bingo!" Kiba thumped himself on the chest and gave Naruto a 'V' sign. Hyuuga Hinata singing that song? Wonderful. His being the one who got things done? Great. The look on Naruto's face? Priceless!!! But… just wait until she got to the next set of lyrics….
"Hot like an oven?" Sakura clutched her glass too tightly. It shattered in her hand.
"Lovin'…." Ino felt her face grow warm. Had they created a monster? She suddenly felt scared. How long would the drug last? What if Hinata took things even further, going beyond the song? What if Naruto followed suit? How could they explain this to her the next day?
Hinata knew that the words weren't appropriate. She also knew that she wasn't ready for anything intimate, least of all loving. But, she had become a karaoke animal. There was no way that she could stop. All she could do was put her heart and soul into the song, down to the very last drop:
"And baby, I can't hold it much longer
It's getting stronger and stronger
And when I get that feeling
I want Sexual Healing
Sexual Healing, oh baby…."
"Good god!" Choji squeezed too hard on a bag of pork rinds. Food flew everywhere. A fair amount of it formed a pile on Shikamaru's head, before sliding off onto his lap.
"That's…." Neji clenched his fists. If Lee didn't hold him back, he might have taken down Kiba then and there. He shivered, thinking what might happen in the Hyuuga household, if word of this made its way to his uncle's ear.
"So…." Sai cocked his head, his eyes narrow, and his trademark smile on his lips. "Naruto… does this kind of confession put you in the mood…." So much to see. So much to hear. So much to learn.
Naruto simply stared at Hinata, as if seeing her for the very first time. This wasn't genjutsu, was it? No. His friends would have known if it was. Judging by their reaction, this was the real deal. But… how… she….
"You're the one who made me try hard," Hinata admitted to a startled Naruto. "I'd do anything for you…." That was true. But, saying that in the current context implied a lot more than she had intended to say. She continued singing:
"Makes me feel so fine
Helps to relieve my mind
Sexual Healing baby, is good for me
Sexual Healing is something that's good for me…."
"Uhhhh-hhh-hh-h…." Lee wasn't watching his step. Eyes wide beyond belief, he fell off the edge of his table, knocking himself out cold. That had Sakura going over to administer First Aid.
"I… this… it's…." Sakura was at a loss for words. "Is this a good thing…." She didn't know. At that moment, it felt as if her brain were fried. She forced herself to pay attention. She had meant to make sure that Lee's airway was clear. She had stuck her finger in his ear instead.
"I don't know," Ten Ten said in a whisper. "That's not!" She pointed, having caught sight of something.
"Oh no!" Ino had seen the same thing. A red light on one of the wall consoles was flashing. Someone had switched things such that the live feed from this room was going to the other rooms, too. "Kibaaaa-aaa-aa-a…."
"Get up, Get up, Get up, Get up, let's make love tonight
Wake up, Wake up, Wake up, Wake up, 'cos you do it right…."
"I…." Choji looked embarrassed. No, he was too shocked to be embarrassed yet. "I just wet myself…."
Shino leaned back in his chair, glasses reflecting the light, as he slowly clapped his hands.
"So…" Sai walked over to where Sakura was holding smelling salts under Lee's nose. "Would it bring him around faster, if you tried sexual healing…." Curiosity killed the cat. It came damn close to killing the former Root member. Air knocked out of him by a punch, he flew threw the air, slid down the wall, and sat moaning in a crumpled heap.
"My baby, ohhh
Come take control, just grab a hold
Of my body and mind soon we'll be making it
Honey, oh we're feeling fine
You're my medicine open up and let me in
Darling, you're so great
I can't wait for you to operate
I can't wait for you to operate
When I get this feeling, I need Sexual Healing..."
Hinata stood looking at Naruto for a few moments. It was amazing, how she could sing all that, without the words registering. When things finally caught up with her, she passed out. After Sakura had rushed to her side, breaking out the smelling salts again, the white-eyed girl stood up slowly and handed the microphone to Ino. She couldn't bring herself to look at Naruto, who was busy looking for distractions, trying to force himself to read the fine print on a tag that was attached to the back of one of the chairs.
"I… ummm… I think I'm finished…." Hinata cleared her throat. The anesthetic medicine still working, she blurted out the next thoughts that came to mind. "Now… ummm… I think it's time for Ino to tell Shikamaru how she feels…." She saw her friend drop the microphone. "After that… Ten Ten… I think brother Neji should know how you feel…." She blinked rapidly, seeing her friend turn dark red in the face. "Sakura… Lee seems very lonely to me… maybe you could…."
"Sakura-chan…." Lee looked at Sakura. He blew her a kiss. Where one flying heart started, others soon appeared. It was like a flock of red birds flying in the medical ninja's direction. "I still love you…."
"No… freaking… way…." Sakura began jumping, dodging, and sliding. If only one of those hearts touched her, she would stay in the shower for an entire week!
"Listen up everybody!" Ino had regained her composure. Speaking into the microphone, she knew what she had to do. "I… we…." She motioned for Sakura and Ten Ten to walk closer. "We have a confession to make…."
"You're gay?" Sai cocked his head again.
"No you idiot!" Ino fought to keep from losing her temper. Usually, she thought the boy's obtuseness to be cute. Not now! "What I'm trying to say is…." Someone should tell the others about the medicine they had spiked Hinata's drink with.
"That can wait," Kiba said, working the buttons on one of the consoles. "I want to see the good parts again…." He sorted through various scenes stored on a video disc. Pressing play, he projected Hinata's image on the screen. "Wait until Kurenai-sensei gets a load of this…."
Sakura looked at Ino. Ino looked at Ten Ten. Ten Ten looked at Sakura. No one needed to say a single word. Nodding their heads in unison, they all shot forward, like arrows fired from a bow.
"Hey… wait… what…." Kiba tried to fend off the three angry girls. No one came to his rescue. He was going to be sore in the morning!
Naruto couldn't help himself. He had to look over at Hinata. The song might be over, but he was still flushed in the face.
"Sing it to her…." Choji said, before singing and humming along. "You're my medicine… open up and let me in…." He had always worried that he was the only boy who had never gotten anywhere with girls. The look on Naruto's face clearly told him otherwise.
There was a loud thump, audible even over the thrashing that Kiba was getting. Everyone stood up, to see what it was. A body lay sprawled on the floor.
Hinata had fainted again.