Fourth Kiss: The Mint Drop Conspiracy

(For She's a Jolly (Not Really) Good Fellow!)

He yawned wide enough to put a small cave to shame, all his white perfectly aligned teeth showing to the world.

It was a good thing that the world could care less about seeing his teeth at that moment though, because otherwise he might have been guilt tripped into putting a hand to his mouth. And everyone knows guilt trips are so much trouble. It's one of those things that are a well-known fact without needing anyone to say them out loud.

He was too lazy to brush away the little tear in his eye that had formed with much thanks to his overly wide yawn. He was lazy by default but the ungodly early hour seemed to aid him greatly in reasoning his laziness.

But just why the hell did he seem like he was the only one of the people gathered together in the semi-dark room displeased with the fact an ugly as hell ink monster had woken him up practically in the middle of the night for a no good reason?

Her internal clock was something the blonde quite prided herself in. More accurately, its sharpness was.

When she put her mind to it, she could get up at any time, regardless how much sleep she had got the night before, without even needing an alarm clock to aid her in that because she infallibly woke up before it went off. It was a quality much appreciated in hard-working ninjas aspiring for a higher rank in the shinobi world, after all. Wouldn'tyou take pride in it if you were her?

And even though alarms were useless, unnecessary things to the young woman she always, always set one, just in case something went awry one morning for some inexplicable reason; kunoichi who hadn't foreseen any possible hitch in their plans were frowned upon and that was the last thing she needed. She was a model employee of the Land of Fire Shinobi Force and thus couldn't afford any mistakes, even in her daily routines.

The pre-dawn on the twenty-third of September was no different than any other morning though, and as such met a surprisingly self-aware Yamanaka Ino pushing herself up in her bed and switching off the alarm of her clock before it had even the slimmest chance of making its presence known.

So began yet another day just like any other, boring and tedious in its usualness.

His mind was foggy but even in the worst of cases he was sure he was thinking much more clearly than the pink-haired kunoichi who was standing in front of the throng of people gathered at her call. (Or at least they seemed like a throng to his garbled mind. If he had been in any better a state, he would've realized that nine people hardly made for a throng by any standard.)

A small part of him felt a stab of annoyance at the obvious fact that he looked like the only one to have been dragged out of bed for this lunacy of a meeting.

A meeting the reasons for which were yet to be clarified.

Not a very favorable fact in the young man's books when it came to congregations at four freaking thirty in the morning. Hell, even the sun hadn't risen yet and they were wide-awake because Haruno bloody Sakura had had an epiphany she thought important enough to share with most of the former Rookie Eleven.

She better have a damn good reason for messing with his sleep. He didn't like to be roused for just about anything. He had a child to take care of and he didn't make for a very nice caretaker when he hadn't had his rest.

Besides, sleep was sacred; it was not to be disturbed by anyone or anything unless someone was dying. Actually, make that unless someone damn important was dying. Yeah, that sounded more like it.

And the Fifth's apprentice had made him mind-curse more for the last minute than he had out loud for years and that was saying something because he'd seen his fair share of shitty, complicated missions during that time.

Finally, she mercifully spoke up and pulled him out of his misery. (So he had the gullibility to think at first.)

And, oh, the downright imbecility that spilled forth from that pretty mouth of hers…

She stretched her arms up as far as they went while still in bed, her limbs seeming much longer than they actually were in her doing so. Then she got up and did some morning warm ups to force the last remnants of sleep from her system.

Once those were over and done with, she pulled the blinds to her large windows. The brilliant early autumn sun greeted her just beyond the horizon, its warm orange rays stroking the still sleeping village of Konoha. She reached out and opened the windows as wide as they went, inviting in the lungful of clean oxygen-rich morning air.

When that task was complete, she went straight to her impeccably tidy bathroom where nothing was ever out of place. She stood upright before her sink and mirror above it, eyeing herself critically—and thereby taking quick stock of wrongs that should be righted—before beginning her morning grooming.

She took a quick shower to wash off the sweat that had broken over her creamy skin from the exercises and to freshen up for the upcoming day. That, and cold water was the most healthy way of closing pores.

Once out of the stall, her shiny white teeth were the first to be brushed and morning breath the first pest to be ridded of. Next came the face wash and cream applying. Those took her remarkably little time compared to any other young woman her age, every onlooker would be able to tell, and that was the result of good discipline—yet again something not anyone could boast with that the girl got the lion's share of.

She then quickly selected some garments of clothing to don for the day—her pick was quick, precise and with no time wasted on useless dithering.

Toiling right behind the dressing was the diligent hair brushing. She pulled her mesmerizing free-flowing mane of pure platinum into a perfect pony-tale with obviously practiced ease and once again studied her countenance in the mirror.

In front of her stood the perfectly primped up 'I'm-a-professional-shinobi-who-can-kick-your-ass-into-the-next-dimension-but-I-am-without-a-doubt-a-woman' Yamanaka Ino, ready for another ordinary day in Konoha.

He didn't even have the will-power or dignity to keep his jaw from slacking at what he had just heard.

This had to be the most retard plan in the history of retarded plans. And that was quite saying something because there were very few plans that he actually thought as worthwhile such.

No; in fact, calling what Sakura had just spilled out 'a plan' was insulting to all self-respecting plans and plan-makers. No; what she'd said was definitely no plan—it was just insanity.

And to think that she fully expected him to be a part of it!

Was Nara Shikamaru the only person who realized that there was no way in hell this would end well?

Let's lay it out once more so he'd make sure that there wasn't perhaps some keen sense in this that he had missed the first time.

What the medic had dubbed it was 'The Mint Drop Conspiracy'. That had been quite enough of a warning what lay ahead of the genius special Jounin. And he sensed trouble in it. Lots of trouble, too. Because anything called a conspiracy boded ill for all featured parties. Yet another reason for him not to want to have anything to do with this absurdity.

But anyway, the idea was this: Sakura had planned a grand party for Ino in the evening. However, the presents that everyone had paid for were yet to arrive and thus had come the great enlightenment to the pink-haired girl in that ungodly hour—why not make it a completelysurprising surprise party? It would be amusing to make Ino believe that no one remembered her birthday, she said. Just about she started thinking that the world is a horrible place to be, they would all come out and shout "Surprise! Happy birthday, Ino!" to their favourite blonde kunoichi and she would be more than happy to know that everyone had indeed remembered the date of her birth and had even gone out of their way to organize something so huge, just for her.

Of course, here Shikamaru couldn't stop himself from believing Sakura absolutely lacked brain function because if it wasn't so then she just didn't know a thing about her so-called best friend. For if there was one thing Shikamaru knew about his long-time teammate, it was that Ino hated to be made to believe she was forgotten, if even for a fraction of a second. Call it vanity or fear of rejection or any other fancy label you might want to slap on it but it was just the way she was and you gradually grew used to her eccentric character.

For this reason, Shikamaru didn't think that lying to their friend all day would be a very good idea. Someone was definitely going to get seriously hurt if they acted on this idea of Sakura's and quite frankly he didn't want it to be him.

He had to admit that the emerald eyed medic had truly gone quite far to assure that she had fool-proofed her plan—she had gone to the Hokage and asked the elder woman not to appoint any of the former rookie eleven to any out of town missions today so they would all be around when the celebration started officially. He had no idea (and wasn't really sure if he wanted to know) what trick she might have used to convince the Fifth because Hell was more probable to freeze over before Tsunade-hime allowed the income in the village to lessen just because one of her employees had a birthday.

But the fact was a fact—they were all to pretend in front of Ino that they didn't know what day it was and, when she tried to pry anything from them, they would say that they had somewhere to go or work to do and get away as quick as possible before they spilled the beans.

However, there were some people who weren't part of the plan and others not present there that were, and sharing it with outsiders might compromise its success, Sakura had elaborated with all her insane drive. And so, to recognize those who were part of it from those who weren't, they were each given a package of mint drops that they were to offer Ino should she talk to them and they had to be carried somewhere where they could be seen so their co-conspirators would know 'friend from foe'.

The last part was the thing that most eluded Shikamaru's logic—what was the point of that exercise? Couldn't Sakura just tell them who was part of the plot and who wasn't? Or did she think that Jounin class shinobi on a break couldn't remember a few names? Names of people they surely knew, nonetheless. No, no, seriously, that girl was off her rocker. He just gave up and submitted to her will because if he didn't she would probably screech at him till he eventuallydid give in so he might as well spare himself the headache.

This was going to be a long, long day…

Couldn't he just fast-forward to the next?

Ino sat on the table in her apartment's kitchen, grabbing a large grapefruit from the fruit bowl on the counter as she passed by it, quickly taking a plate and knife from the cupboard beforehand. As she sliced the citrus in two hemispheres, her azure gaze strayed to the calendar hanging on the wall in front of her out of habit.

And that's when she noticed it. The twenty-third of September. Her birthday. Her one special day when all was supposed to be done for her convenience, so she would remember the day with a grin when the years passed. The one day in the year when something special should happen, something extraordinary, to make it a worthwhile year to have lived.

The blonde sighed dreamily as she ate her modest breakfast, staring into a lovely future of being with her friends all day, talking, laughing, being together and having fun and kicking ass at work and finally buying herself that new washing machine that she had so diligently saved up for after her old one broke. (Washing everything by hand was a good exercise but otherwise a total waste of time and effort—she had so many other, better things to do with herself instead of slaving over housework and chores.)

And, oh, if she only knew how gravely mistaken she was when she thought that it would all go smooth and well…

The Nara looked around at the faces of the people gathered there besides him, absent-mindedly registering their reactions—some were quite ecstatic, others were much milder about their happiness with the occasion that had brought them all together and there were also those whose expressions he couldn't quite read because they appeared to be sleeping with their eyes open. What he had been looking for in the crowd though he couldn't find even through his best efforts.

"Any questions?" Sakura's voice rang over the crowd and her grass-green eyes scanned the people. "Yes?"

"Where's Naruto?" asked Shikamaru, finally getting the chance to voice his puzzlement. The shadow that crossed Sakura's countenance only furthered it for the time being.

"Ah, yes, him…" the girl of the former Team Seven muttered disdainfully, a vein on her (rather vast) forehead pulsing into visibility. "Well, about him…"

Almost a world away, in the comfort of the warm bed covers, sprawled with his limbs pointing in every which way, laid the human carrier of the most fearsome tailed beast alive.

Said beast container's sound rest was interrupted only for a mere second when a stray ray of sunshine managed to penetrate the tightly drawn curtains of his apartment, causing him to snort, smack his lips several times and toss himself to his other side, fully intending to sleep in till the light became too bright to ignore any longer.

And even then he would get up with the greatest distaste in the world because a guy deserved his rest, damn it!

Shikamaru sweatdropped at the information that he had been served. So Naruto got the right to sleep in and be spared all this idiocy and he, the Nara son, the person who was practically allergic to retarded half-assed plans which were such in name only, did not?

True, Sakura had pointed out correctly that the blonde rascal wasn't the best person to trust with an "exciting secret plan" because of the great chance of him blabbing prematurely to the last person he should and thus ruining the surprise but that was just beside the point!

There definitely wasn't any justice in the world.

And the ominous feeling that he had had in the beginning, that this gathering and the purpose behind it spelled trouble, only intensified when the crowd, having mulled over well the received instructions and their brains having had the time to register it at last, cheered in agreement with it.

Oh, the horribly long and mentally challenging day that awaited him…

Why couldn't Fate just give him a break every now and then?

A/N: And this is how far my creative genius would get me for two weeks, my dearest readers. I haven't been inactive just to spite you. Quite the contrary—I pushed on to get it at least THIS far BECAUSE I love you guys so much. But there's only so much one can achieve with will only. (sigh) My muse has fled me for the holidays but I hope it will come back as soon as school starts (tomorrow) and that next time the update would be more rewarding. I hope that you'll find it in your hearts to forgive this injustice of me.

Part one of Fourth Kiss complete. Expect more as soon as I can catch that pesky Muse bitch of mine. Till then!