Chapter 5: What Do You See?
Neji settled back down as he watched, a bit anxiously, his cousin leave with the loud Naruto and his teammate.
Ino waved at him, "Yo. TenTen will keep them in line and they probably won't even get a look at an actually snipe."
They certainly won't. Both Gaara and Kankaro thought, one with a sigh and the other with deepest pleasure.
"Now, who's turn is it?"
"Leave it, Ino." Neji grumbled. "There's not enough of us left and it's a stupid game anyway."
Ino snarled lightly, "What do you mean? There's six of us, plenty of …"
"Four of us." Neji interrupted.
Kankaro did a quick head count, "oh well, if you don't count my sister and the DEAD MAN over there, then you're right." He drew up his lips in disgust as he watched his Temari and Shikamaru continue their kissing. Their hands roaming lovingly over each others face and back.
Neji sighed, the puppeteer was missing the point. He was about to let the sand shinobi have a piece of his mind about sending Hinata on a fool's errand when they all sensed someone coming toward them.
Everyone turned, well, except the two currently wrapped up in each others arms as if the world would end if they stopped.
Ino suddenly squeaked and held her nose. Gaara sniffed and his eyes widened marginally. Kankaro cursed and Neji backed away as Sakura returned.
Sakura was a very pretty young lady with pink hair and always meticulously groomed. But right now she looked ….
"What happened????" Ino shrieked as only Ino could.
Sakura slumped down, ragged holes in her over-tunic, steam rising from her hair which appeared to be flat on one side and sticking out in uneven clumps on the other. Her face was green as she breathed through her nose and her hair was bright blue with messy streaks of purple and brown. And the stench.
"Woah." Kankaro breathed out, carefully trying not to smell Sakura. "I think that's killed my appetite."
"Heh." Was all Gaara could manage. He didn't trust himself to speak. He was usually blunt and rude, but to comment seemed disrespectful somehow. And he'd been trying to be better with relating to other people. So he kept his mouth shut and tried not to breathe.
Sakura glared at them all. Then she raised one hand, stained black, and threw a book at Ino with all her might.
"Oooomph!" Was all Ino could manage, not even bothering to duck. "What happened?"
"Damn man has booby traps on EVERYTHING!" Sakura scowled.
Kankaro snorted and then started laughing. Ino quickly joined in, even stoic Neji started to grin and then choked as he tried not to laugh, failing miserably. Only Gaara remained quiet, but there was a hint of a smile – a small one, but still a smile.
"B-bu—but you knew that!" Ino shrieked piercingly.
Kankaro rubbed his ear with a wince and then threw a left-over sticky bun at her. "Wow, your voice is a weapon. Stop that!"
"He's your sensei, didn't you know about the traps?" Neji wheezed out between laughter.
Sakura sniffed, and then made a face as she caught her own stench. "I knew about most of them. Got into the apartment fine. Crossing the main room was fine, few tricky seals, but nothing he hadn't taught us."
Ino snorted, "and then?"
"Damn man had booby-trapped his bookcase." She looked down at herself mournfully, "and I was wearing my new over-tunic too."
"You can't go home like that, your parents will NOT understand." Ino sighed,
"let's go hit the Academy showers after we stop to let me find you something to wear. My parents are out late, so it'll be easy to get in and out without questions."
Kankaro smiled evilly, "why don't you just take her home then and let her clean up there?"
Ino scowled and threw the bun he'd hit her with back at his head, "'cause I don't want to have that smell in my house!"
"C'mon Ino, and I appreciate your help. It's more than others can do." She looked around glaring at everyone else, catching sight of Temari snuggled tight in Shikamaru's lap.
"Huh?" She pointed. "What's up with that. That wasn't part of the plan."
Plan? Thought the three males.
Ino sighed heavily as she stood up, motioning Sakura to follow, "that's getting old." The two disappeared together.
Kankaro whooped and ran toward where the book thrown at Ino had landed. "And then there were five."
The Sand puppeteer ignored the Hyuuga as he gleefully began flipping through the pages of the Copy-Ninja's book. "HAH! To me go the spoils, and better yet, if asked I had nothing to do with it. I didn't come up with the game, the dare, or the theft!" He plopped down and started reading.
Gaara sighed and looked at Neji, who was looking right back. They spoke for a while and timed passed as the two compared lives at the Sand and Leaf villages. Politics were discussed, weather, and for quite a while they discussed battle strategies. Each circled carefully around the other. The night grew longer as they fell quiet. The only sounds left were of the two kissing and murmuring to each other and Kankaro turning the occasional page. Every once in a while he'd catch his breath or giggle, but that was about it.
"Why were you looking at Hinata?"
"Why not?" The red-haired shinobi replied. "I did nothing rude." At least he thought not.
"No but …"
"WHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOOOOOO!! Victory! We did it! WE DID IT!" The boisterous yelling was quickly followed by three dirty and ragged looking individuals. Naruto held up a sack with a wide, WIDE grin.
"We caught a snipe!"
Kankaro's eyes boggled, then he carefully put down the book and turned to stare at Temari and Shikamaru. "You try anything, and I mean ANYTHING from Chapter 3 and I'll torture you before I kill you, Shikamaru." He looked up and then jumped a bit as he realized Naruto and the others were back, "Oi, what have you there?"
"A SNIPE!" Giggled TenTen.
Neji boggled, TenTen giggled? He hadn't known she could even do that.
"Oh it is not!" Kankaro smirked. "There's no such thing."
Naruto held up the sack which was currently moving quite vigorously and making snarling noises. His grin said it all.
Hinata smiled, "It didn't take long at all, although it was dirty work." She wiped at the dust on her jacket.
Kankaro and Neji both got up and looked into the sack, looked up at each other, and then with wide eyes stared back down into the sack.
"What is that?" The sand shinobi asked.
"Never seen it before." Neji whispered.
TenTen giggled again and told them that they'd run into Shizune on the way back to the group and she'd assured them that the creature was indeed hard to catch and quite valuable. "Although the name she used wasn't 'snipe', but something long and weird sounding."
"And she said the meat was poisonous and not good for ramen." Naruto pouted, "But still worth enough to pay us each the equivalent of an A-ranked mission."
Kankaro and Neji eyed one another and then turned to head out. Kankaro stuffed the purloined book into his things and they turned to leave.
Gaara asked quietly, "where are you two going now?"
Kankaro grinned, "if these three could catch one, we can catch three!"
"Indeed." Agreed the Hyuuga. "Coming he asked?"
"Ah well, don't stare at her anymore. It IS rude." The Hyuuga stated quietly as he left.
Gaara nodded. He waited until the two were well gone before asking the still overly excited trio, "What's really in the bag?".
"That would be my doing." Sakura explained as she rejoined them with the grinning Ino. She'd used the time to clean her hair and was once again dressed nicely, even if Ino's clothing was a bit tight on her. Except her face was still green.
Gaara stared. Apparently she'd not been green from the way she smelled, but from something in the trap itself.
Sakura blushed, "I have to find a way to get this off before Kakashi-sensei gets back."
Ino pulled her away, "let's go ask Kurenai, she can keep a secret. And then we'll get that book and put it back before … Hey! Where'd the book go?" Both girls looked around frantically.
Gaara shrugged. "I'll tell you if you'll tell me about the 'snipe'."
"Genjutsu. We saw these three coming back all down and discouraged and since I do know what a snipe hunt is, decided to turn the tables. Hopefully they'll be out there searching a while." She thought about it, "a LONG while."
"How did you know about the 'snipe hunt'?" He asked. It's a common game in the Sand village, but no one here knew about it at all.
"Oh, well, the Hokage tried it on me last month, but Shizune told me about it before I made a fool out of myself."
Hinata and TenTen dissolved into laughter. "Did you see their faces? Serves them right."
"Now, where's the book?" She asked, her green face serious.
"In Kankaro's things." He said quietly. "Good luck getting it back," he added as an afterthought.
Sakura grumbled. But then brightened, "You probably wouldn't help, but I'll get Temari to do it for me."
"How?" Gaara wondered aloud.
"Blackmail." She said, then raised her voice so the two who were still wrapped up in each other could hear. "I have to have a talk with Shikamaru's mother tomorrow about poisons and antidotes, and who knows what other subjects may come up." She smiled at Gaara, "Later."
Gaara looked curiously over at his still romantically occupied sister, wondering. But Temari didn't even respond. He supposed he could tell her tomorrow and together they might stand a chance of prying Kankaro's dead fingers off the smut book.
Naruto was still excited, but Hinata was yawning and TenTen offered to walk with the girl back to her new apartment. Hinata still wasn't used to living on her own, but by all appearances was trying to make a decent go of it all. Her father had told her he'd allow her to keep her apartments in the family's complex, but after he'd removed her as his heir, she'd moved out.
Naruto interrupted them, "Naw, I'll walk Hinata back, it's out of your way TenTen." He pulled the suddenly beaming, and terrified, girl behind him. He bent down on the way out and grabbed a stone, chunking it at Shikamaru's head as he passed.
Expecting the Shikamaru to duck, he stopped suddenly as the rock hit dead center of the chuunin's head. They all turned to stare as the clone poofed out of existence.
"Wow," TenTen muttered. "How long have they been gone?" No one answered. "Better yet, what have they been doing?"
Gaara growled low, "so that's what Neji meant. He knew they were gone."
Naruto shrugged and Hinata blushed, without a word they turned to leave.
TenTen grinned. "Well, maybe the plan worked after all."
Gaara looked at her quizzically, "If the plan was to Naruto and Hinata together, then it failed. Utterly."
"What do you mean? And what did Neji mean by not staring?"
He waved off the question as of no account, "Naruto still doesn't see her, he' just being himself and walking her back. Don't read so much into nothing. And as for Neji, well he just didn't want me looking at his cousin."
TenTen placed her hands on her hips and stared at him. He wondered if she was being rude, or if girls were allowed to stare. "Just why were you staring at Hinata? Are you interested in her?"
TenTen stopped and goggled at him a moment, "ree-ally?" The thought of the shy girl with Gaara, the scariest shinobi she'd ever met, well … it didn't bear thinking about. "No, you're all wrong for each other."
Gaara cocked his head and looked at her. "By interest, did you mean romantic?"
"Well, of course I did." She replied, somewhat snottily in her best Ino imitation.
He only shook his head at her.
"Well, if not a romantic interest, then what did you mean?"
"She interests me." He said that as if it was crystal clear. Then sighed when TenTen only shrugged, "She has feelings for Naruto, but nothing ever comes of it because she lacks the confidence in herself to make him see her. Temari and Shikamaru interest me too. They danced around each other and obeyed the 'rules' governing them until tonight's game allowed them a chance to breach those conventions."
TenTen just looked at him in confusion. "But I don't get it, how does all this interest you?"
Gaara took a breath and held it a moment, then slowly released it. "What this all means is that if you want to be romantic with a person then you can't hang back and wait for them to come to you. You have to make them see you. And you can't let society keep you from acting or you might miss your chance. Do you see?"
TenTen frowned, "yeess, I guess so."
"No you don't."
She frowned as he stepped into her personal space. His arms were fast as they gathered her close and she realized he'd grown taller since she'd last seen him. They were close to eye level to each other now. He leaned forward and kissed her lightly, letting her decide whether or not to deepen that first touch. She did, and he followed quickly.
As they kissed, TenTen felt the marvel of the moment and sank into an embrace she'd never even considered before. He pulled back and looked at her with a gaze that left her breathless. "I'm not Hinata and I won't be shy and waiting for you. I'm not going to bother letting politics or rules keep me from doing that," he kissed her again, "whenever I want."
She caught her breath and stared at him in utter shock, but could feel her resistance crumbling.
"So, TenTen. Do you see me now?