A Sugary-Sweet Christmas Story
It was that time of the year again. Time to divide up the money Squad 7 had earned over the year evenly and fairly among the shopping mall vendors.
"Man, I hardly have any money," Naruto gripped, shaking the meager contents of his wallet into his palm.
"Not that either of us have anyone to spend it on," sighed Sasuke, glaring jealously at Sakura, who had skipped off to buy Christmas gifts for her family.
"Still! If you guys are the only friends I've got, I want to get you something nice, at least."
"I know what you mean... hey, did we ever get paid for that stint with Old Man Tazuna and his Bridge of DEATH?"
"I don't think anyone got paid for that except my psychologist," Naruto sighed. "But boy, did he ever clean up."
"Ah, well, just a thought. Are you going to buy the Hyuuga girl something?"
"Hinata? Why? Do you think she wants me to or something?"
Sasuke shook his head, muttering, "so clueless."
"SASUKE-KUN!" yelled the sugary-sweet and menacing voice of Ino as she latched onto her prey's back.
"Here we go," sighed Naruto, Sasuke, Shikamaru, and Chouji as one.
"What do you want for Christmas, hottie?" Ino asked, oblivious to the hostility.
"For you to stop stalking me."
"Aw, don't be that way. Say, do you want to spend Christmas Eve with me? Me and Chouji and Shikamaru's families all get together every year, and we can all bring a guest..."
Sasuke wavered visibly. He almost expressed a positive emotion. A chance to spend Christmas Eve with friends...
"He can't," Naruto butted in, yanking his teammate away from Ino's iron grasp. "He's spending it with me."
"Aw, no fair," Ino muttered, leading her team off. "Well, see you around then, babe."
"That was a close one," Naruto laughed. "Imagine if I hadn't been there! You'd've been trapped!"
"Yeah, thanks a lot," Sasuke said sullenly. Great, another year of cold-cut ham sandwiches and Hallmark Original Movies alone in the two rooms of his house that he actually used.
"So," Naruto continued, "since you owe me for saving your butt and all, do you want to get together Christmas Eve? I'm sick of microwave dinners and Hallmark movies alone."
When the Sand Siblings were young, their questionable guardian Uncle Yashamaru, because he was lazy and cheap, and because he wanted to foster a hatred for Gaara in his older nephew and niece, had informed the trio of children that Santa Claus only came when every child in the house was asleep. This had troubled the siblings.
"But... Santa knows Gaara can't sleep, right, Uncle Yasha?" Temari had asked.
"I'm afraid he can't make any exceptions, Temari. Every kid in Suna would stay up," Yashamaru had told her, cheerfully humming "Jingle Bells" to himself. Holiday cheer mingled with sabotaging his little nephew's chance at a normal childhood, what more could he ask?
Temari, meanwhile, relayed the news to her brothers. "But don't worry. I'll write and explain everything."
She did write, but received no response. Recognizing in the Jolly Old Elf the behavior of one of many enemies of her little brother, and therefore of her family, Temari decided that they didn't need him, anyway.
"He'll come," she told her brothers. "But only if Gaara promises to stay in his room and not open the door until morning."
The boys had agreed, in awe that their sister could cut deals with forces as powerful as Saint Nick and his posse of flying reindeer.
That afternoon, Temari stole forty dollars from her uncle's sock drawer and bought stocking stuffers, helped by a friendly cashier who thought she was just the sweetest little thing.
And, come Christmas morning, Kankuro and Gaara found stockings waiting for them under the tree, and Yashamaru found there wasn't a damn thing he could say about it.
This year, the siblings were in Konoha for the holiday season.
"You sure you don't mind me going to this party?"
"Of course! Eat, drink, and be merry! Have a good time."
"I just feel bad... we usually all spend Christmas Eve together."
"Don't worry about that. We'll have plenty of fun on our own, right, Gaara?"
Gaara nodded quietly, and Temari and Kankuro went back to talking.
"Well, all right, if you insist,"
"I do. Shikamaru-kun's a sweet guy, I don't want you to stand him up."
"I wouldn't be 'standing him up', I'd just be... not coming to the party."
"But you like him, don't you? I mean, you two are... you know..."
"Then go get him!"
"You're taking this a lot better than I thought you would."
"What, did you think we would care? Dad might,"
"Oh, who gives a flip about Dad?" Gaara said suddenly. "Just go, already!"
Iruka sighed as he poured a cup of store-bought eggnog (non-alcoholic, of course), and stared at the sorry little Christmas tree he felt it was his duty to put up. In a few minutes he would stop prolonging the inevitable and turn on the Hallmark channel, but it was nice to have those few minutes to pretend.
The knock on the door was completely unexpected.
"Merry Christmas, Master Iruka!"
"Naruto?" Iruka gasped as the little blond boy sprung at him from the doorway. "Sasuke?"
"We've discovered that we can't get along without a third party, even on Christmas," Sasuke explained, taking off his coat.
"And, we thought that you might be lonely, too!" Naruto said with an endearing smile.
"Sakura wanted to come, too," Sasuke said, somewhat bitterly, "But she can't because her parents love her or some crap like that."
"And we tried to call up Team 10 and Team Gai, but Hinata's parents don't love her, but they need to keep up appearances, so everyone was busy."
Sasuke rolled his eyes. "Yeah, that explained the situation clearly." Naruto socked him gently on the arm.
"Anyway, Merry Christmas!" chorused the two visitors.
"Well, Merry Christmas, boys!"
Not very far away, four black-clad figures were busy breaking into and out of a young girl's bedroom.
"She's not even waking up," Kiba said as they hoisted Hinata out the door.
"I told you," Neji said.
"Well, I knew she was a heavy sleeper, but this is ridiculous."
"We turn left here, right?" Shino asked, adjusting his grip on his sleeping teammate's arms.
"Uh... I think so," Neji said.
"What do you mean, you think so?" Rock Lee whispered. "Neji, I thought you knew this place like the back of your hand!"
"I never said that. I said that I knew where her room was, and I was right. I've done my part. This was Kiba and Shino's idea, I might point out."
"You agreed to it," Shino hissed. "You know as well as we do that there's no reason on earth for her to spend Christmas miserable with Hiashi "Ebenezer Scrooge" Hyuuga and the rest of her crazy family."
"I'm all for it," Neji said. "But keep your voice down. Old Ebenezer'll shoot first and ask questions later if he wakes up in the dead of the night and finds us trying to shanghai his kid."
The quartet of kidnappers turned a corner, and Lee stubbed his toe on an inconveniently-placed piece of furniture and dropped Hinata's head.
"Be careful!" Kiba yelled, forgetting where they were.
"Who's there?" a little girl called out from the next room.
"S--t, Hanabi," Neji whispered.
"Bung her a glass of water and send her to bed," Shino suggested. "It'll be like When Neji Stole Christmas!"
"Are you drunk or something?"
"I may have had a little eggnog before I came, yes."
"Sis? Is that you?" Hanabi asked again. A light came on in her room.
"Crap!" exclaimed the four boys, picking up Hinata haphazardly and darting out the door.
"So, Shikamaru-kun," Ino said to her teammate at the buffet of their families' Christmas Eve Extravaganza. "Who's your mystery guest?"
Shikamaru just grabbed another hors d'oeuvre. "You'll see."
"Let me guess. Someone from Sand?"
Shikamaru just smiled. "My parents aren't going to be happy, let's just say that."
Chouji, who had been listening in, wrapped an arm around his shoulder. "Oh, they'll understand. They'll be a little shocked, but they'll get over it."
The doorbell rang. Shikamaru went to go answer it.
"So, you kids know who he invited?" Shikamaru's dad asked. Chouji and Ino nodded.
"Is it that Temari girl?"
Chouji shook his head.
"Her brother," Ino explained.
Mr. Nara looked a little befuddled. "But not her?"
"... So... why didn't he invite her?"
"Because he wanted to invite her brother," Chouji said.
"No!" Ino shuddered. "God, no. Kankuro. The normal one."
"Oh." Mr. Nara paused once more. "But... not Temari. Her brother."
Shikamaru, who had only been in the next room, greeting Kankuro, now re-entered the dining room with his guest. "Hey, Dad. This is Kankuro. Kankuro, this is my dad, and Ino and Chouji, but you know them, I guess."
Shikamaru's father continued to look puzzled. "No Temari? I thought you two were friends?"
Shikamaru shrugged. "Yeah, we are."
"So... why didn't you invite her?"
Sighing, Shikamaru looked over at Ino. "Do you want to explain, or should I?"
Ino, a little sick of the suspense, tugged at the man's sleeve. "Mr. Nara, Shikamaru's gay."
Shikamaru's dad blinked. "Oh."
Shikamaru grinned sardonically and wrapped an arm around Kankuro's waist. "Merry Christmas, I guess."
"Merry Christmas, son."
"Sorry about that," Shikamaru apologized to Kankuro once his father had left the room, a minute or so later. "I just wanted to break the news when they were a little drunk, so the Christmas party was an ideal time."
"Oh, no problem. That actually went over a lot better than I thought it would."
"Well, that's over with. Anyone up for Halo?" Chouji asked.
"Is she still asleep?" Lee asked as they trotted up the steps of Team Kurenai's home.
"You know, I think she is," Kiba said in awe.
"Unbelievable! We dropped her!"
"I wasn't joking when I said she was a heavy sleeper," Neji shrugged. "She's always been like that... she's slept through more violent kidnapings than this one."
"Uh, guys, we have a problem," Shino reported, pulling a sticky note off the door. "Kurenai-sensei's gone to the Jounin Christmas Party, she locked the doors, she's not going to be back until tomorrow, and my keys are in the house."
"Gai mentioned that earlier," Lee said. Everyone turned to stare at him. "What?"
"That means we're locked out of his house, too," Neji said.
"What? You didn't bring a spare key?"
"How was I supposed to know he was leaving? He didn't say anything to me. He never says anything to me. You're the Team Favorite."
"Gai-sensei does not play favorites!"
Neji rolled his eyes. "Lee, you can't be so dense as to believe that."
"Uh, Hinata doesn't have a coat on. She's wearing PJ's," Kiba said, stepping in between the two rivals, "Should we just take her home before she freezes, or..."
"NO!" Neji yelled, yanking off his coat and wrapping it around his comatose cousin. "We haven't come this far to give up now. We'll go to Tenten's."
With Shikamaru, Kankuro, and Chouji's little brothers and sisters wrapped up in a Halo tournament, Chouji and Ino decided to grab one of the larger snack platters and move it closer to the TV. They were choosing among the available plates when their parents noticed them, and Chouji's dad made an interesting observation.
"You two are under the mistletoe, you realize that, right?"
Ino and Chouji looked up at the little piece of greenery suspended from the ceiling, then back at each other, blushing.
"Come on, Chouji-kun," Ino's father urged. "Give the girl a kiss."
Ino giggled and rolled her eyes at Chouji, who shrugged and pecked her on the cheek. The watching adults "awed". Ino tapped her cheek thoughtfully, then smiled, grabbed Chouji, and frenched him.
Tenten's family owned a Chinese restaurant, because Tenten, and her family, were Chinese and liked to cook. She was spending Christmas Eve with them while her sensei was at his party and her teammates were kidnaping Hinata.
"She's working on Christmas Eve?" Kiba asked as they walked up to the lit-up restaurant. "And, it's after midnight, too!"
"She's not working," Neji explained, knocking on the door. "They live above their restaurant and put the tree up in the dining area, and then they spend Christmas Eve down there."
Tenten opened the door. "Neji? Lee? What are you guys—, Is that Hinata? Did you knock her out or something?"
"She's a heavy sleeper," Shino explained.
"Well, get in here before you all freeze to death! Mom, Dad, some friends are staying over!"
At the Akamichi residence, four teenagers were sprawled out in a pile, asleep in front of the television. Ino's father turned off the X-box quietly, being careful not to wake them.
"They're good kids," he whispered to his old teammates.
"That they are," Shikamaru's father agreed.
In the dining room of a nice Chinese restaurant, a group of kids were sleeping however they could; in booths, on the floor near the tree, or, in one girl's case, laid out on a long table with a boy's coat for a blanket.
The Hallmark movies had begun re-running. It took Iruka about five minutes into "The Christmas Wish" to realize that this was the first movie that had been on; he and the boys hadn't really been paying attention as they ate cold cut ham sandwiches and microwave dinners washed down with off-brand eggnog. It was not until later, after they had run out of jokes, that they started to share their favorite Hallmark moments with one another.
Iruka turned off his TV and gazed at the young men asleep on either side of them. "You two certainly have grown since you were at the academy, haven't you?" he whispered to himself. Noticing that Sasuke was shivering a little, he dug up a couple of blankets and draped one gently over each child. "Good night, boys. Thank you for coming. It's the best gift I could have asked for... if that isn't too corny for you."
A strange noise drew him to the window.
"Angels we have heard on high, Sweetly singing o'er the plains," a girl sang out in a high, clear voice.
That's funny, Iruka thought. We don't usually have carolers out here at this hour. Pleasantly puzzled, he drew back the curtain to watch the two bundled up figures outside.
"And the mountains in reply, echoing their joyous strains," the shorter figure answered his partner in a deeper tone.
"Glo--r-o--r-o--ria," the pair dueted prettily, "in excelsis De-o. Glo--r-o--r-o—ria. In ex-cel-sis De-e-eo,"
Iruka listened to them sing through the rest of Angels We Have Heard On High, feeling, for the first time in a long time, perfectly content on Christmas Eve. The caroler finally finished, and, starting up What Child Is This, continued on their rounds.
The taller caroler, the girl, stopped her song to tap the boy on the shoulder and point at something Iruka couldn't see. "Look, Gaara. It's snowing," she said, loudly enough to be heard from the street.
Iruka squinted. Sure enough, little white spots were swirling around faintly, brushing against the window pane.
A/N: Merry Christmas. (Or, if you don't celebrate Christmas, Merry "Everybody Else Talking About Christmas, Then Remembering You And Trying To Be Politically Correct" Season). I know I don't usually do yaoi-type stuff, but, hey, t'is the season. You must admit, they'd be cute together.
Anyway, love to all of you,