Chapter 8

"Alright, since we're all armed with sparklers and dango, lets head over to that field over there!" Tobi said excitedly, his arms loaded with boxes of coloured sparklers. Deidara and Kisame nodded in agreement, and ran after him.

The field was a very wide open space in the middle of the festival grounds. Lots of children dressed in kimonos were holding lighted sparklers and running around, chasing each other. The sparklers were like mystical magic wands, and caught Deidara's attention immediately as soon as they had found a spot to sit on.

"Oohh...those sparklers are so pretty, hn," he mumbled to himself as he watched a few small kids run past him, waving those lighted metal "splints" in the dark. Now you see, glowsticks weren't as pretty and exciting when it came to playing with sparklers outdoors.

Tobi smiled and looked at his injury on his arm as he unwrapped a box of sparklers. His heart felt all warm and tingly as he remembered that moment when Deidara had torn part of his shirt and used the cloth to bandage up the bleeding wound. Oh heavens, how heavenly that moment was -

"Hey, Tobi, unwrap those sparklers, would you? You're staring at your injury - is it painful?" Kisame asked as he ate some dango.

"Uh - uh - no, it isn't painful," replied Tobi quickly, snapping out of his thoughts and hastily unwrapping the box of pink sparklers, "just itchy."

Kisame chuckled. "Don't worry," he said reassuringly, "the itch will go away sooner or later, so just bear with it for a few more days, okay?" He brought out a box of matches and a packet of candles. He lit a match and melted the bottom of four candles. Before they cooled and hardened, he stuck them onto a nearby rock and lit them. They glowed in the darkness, like fireflies, but only brighter.

"Alright, Deidara, come and light a sparkler!" Kisame called to the youngster standing out in the field, admiring the pretty sight of the sparklers, and the loud "PIU!" sound they made when they were lit.

"Geez, he looks like a kid who's just seen a candy rack," said Kisame, "but you can't blame him; I guess this would be his first time he's ever seen sparklers..." He smiled and proceeded to light a blue sparkler.

"PIUUUUUU!"

Deidara spun round, only to see Tobi covering his ears and Kisame holding a lighted sparkler. The older man was waving it around like a magic wand, and the light seemed to leave a trail of golden light in the air everytime Kisame waved it about.

Kisame grinned. "Now, why don't you try it for yourself?" he asked Deidara, holding out a yellow sparkler to Deidara, who was standing 2 metres away from him.

Slowly, Deidara walked towards the outstretched hand and took the sparkler. He moved the metal stick closer to the lit candle, and watched as the small flame burned the tip of the sparkler. Seconds later, a loud "PIU" sound was heard echoing throughout the night sky; the sparkler was lit and the flame was nice and bright.

Deidara's eyes sparkled like polished diamonds as he waved the sparkler in the air and ran around like a child, obviously feeling very elated. Tobi felt himself blush as he witnessed this; it was so beautiful. Deidara's face was illuminated by the bright glow of the sparkler, and what's more, he was smiling.

"..." Tobi was unable to say anything. He watched as Deidara's sparkler went out after a moment, and the latter's face held a disappointed look. After looking at the burnt tip of the sparkler, Deidara seemed to have gotten an idea, and he quickly ran over to the boxes of sparklers. Discarding the burnt sparkler, he lit two orange sparklers and ran to an empty spot on the field.

"Huh? Deidara, where are you going?" Kisame asked, chewing on his dango.

"Kisame-san, Tobi, watch me! I'm gonna perform!" he called out, and stretched out his two arms. He turned around and around, and leaped gracefully off the ground, like a real dancer. The bright light of the sparklers left glowing trails of temporary light behind them as Deidara skilfully flicked his wrists and withdrew his arms back again. Tobi and Kisame were caught by this sudden performance.

"Deidara, you..." Tobi stopped halfway, unable to say anything more. It was too beautiful.

"...he's certainly got a talent for dancing, don't you think?" Kisame asked, lighting a blue sparkler.

Now, on the other side of the field, Sasori and Sakura were playing with sparklers too. Sasori was lazily munching his dango, and Sakura was lighting up some candles. But the wind was too strong, and soon, all the flames were out, and all the matches were used up. She sighed as she stood up.

"Do you think we could borrow some matches from - Sasori? What are you staring at..."

Sasori had dropped his stick of dango onto the grass, and was staring wide-eyed at a certain person dancing so freely on the field. Needless to say, he was captivated by the beauty of the whole scene. But that didn't end there.

"It looks a lot like...Deidara," he muttered as he stood up slowly.

"...the person whom we met at the BBQ shop?" Sakura asked as she looked at the moving figure. Slowly but surely, the lights of the two sparklers in Deidara's hands were going out. Soon, darkness took over the spot which used to glow with bright radiance.

"...Lets go, shall we?"

Sakura looked up at the redhead. "Huh?"

"Over there. The wind shouldn't be too strong over there. Besides, I'd like to say hello to him," said Sasori as he looked at his friend.

Sakura felt a pang of jealousy hit her as she nodded slowly. Sasori was never this enthuasastic about being at the festival, until now. She sighed and helped Sasori carry the boxes of sparklers and candles over to the rocks where Kisame and Tobi was. As the duo made their way over, Deidara walked over, and gasped.

"Ah, you're Sasori!" he said as he took a closer look at the redhead, who smiled, much to Sakura's dismay.

"Yeah, and you're Deidara," said Sasori, "say, were you dancing just now? It was pretty much a spectacular sight."

Deidara's ears turned pink. "Ah...that was a dance from last year's school parade," he said sheepishly, "you saw me?"

"Yep. From the other side of the field," answered Sasori.

Kisame examined Sasori. "Hey, Deidara, is this your friend?" he asked, pointing at Sasori.

"We met at the bookstore," replied Deidara cheerfully, picking up another sparkler, "and you're Sakura, right?" He looked at the pink-haired girl, who smiled back at him.

"Hello, I'm Sakura Haruno," she said as she tried to hide the displeasure she was feeling.

"She's my classmate and friend," said Sasori, "and say, could you please let us borrow some flames?"

"Flames?" Kisame repeated, "as in, the fire for your sparklers? Go ahead, we have plenty." He stepped aside, revealing four lit candles sitting on a flat rock.

Deidara smiled. "C'mon, lets plaaaay!" he exclaimed as he grabbed two sparklers and lit them. He took Sasori's hand and led him to the middle of the field, and handed him one sparkler. Both of them laughed and waved the lit sparklers about, until both of them somehow managed to collapse on the grassy floor.

Sakura looked quietly at the whole situation before her very eyes. As she turned around to light a sparkler, she noticed Tobi standing quietly by the side, watching Deidara play with Sasori, and realized that he didn't look very happy. She somehow felt that she had something in common with the boy, and asked, "are you okay?"

Tobi looked at Sakura for awhile, then forced a smile. "Yeah," he lied, turning around and sitting down on one of the bigger rocks, "em...is Sasori-san your boyfriend?"

"Eh?! N-no..." Sakura stuttered, surprised by the sudden question. 'But I'd be really happy if he was...'

"Oh...I see." Tobi shuffled his feet uncomfortably. 'So, Sasori-san isn't Sakura-san's boyfriend...' He looked enviously at Deidara who was jumping about like a playful monkey.

"You're Deidara's friend, aren't you?" Sakura asked, looking at the shy boy. Tobi nodded silently, without looking back at the girl. 'Though I wish I could be something more than that...'

"I...see." Sakura watched as Sasori's sparkler went out, followed by Deidara's. 'So, this boy must be another illegal fighter ... and that shark-looking man over there...' she thought, referring to Kisame.

Deidara and Sasori walked over half a minute later, panting heavily. Sakura had never seen Sasori let himself go this much before - he was completely relaxed and happy. The pink-haired lady was jealous - so far, the "Ice King" had never melted to her, yet he was melting so quickly with this mere 'acquaintance' of his? Was it because of the sparklers, or was it because of other things? Sakura could not help wonder.

Tobi was also confused - why was it that Deidara could be so nice to a stranger? An almost-stranger, or so he thought. He didn't like it - why was it that Deidara treated him like an ordinary friend when he had tried so hard, but to this almost-stranger, he treated him as if they were best friends...

"Hey, Tobi, hn! Whatcha thinking?" Deidara's voice snapped Tobi out of his thoughts.

"H-huh?"

"Haha, dumbass," said Deidara, laughing, "now, here. You've been spacing out for quite a while now. I've been watching you from afar, you know." He handed Tobi a lit sparkler as Tobi blushed.

'Been watching me...from afar?'

"Now, c'mon. Lets go play. Ah, Sakura, lets go play too! If you're like this lazy guy called Kisame who only knows how to eat dango," he eyed Kisame, "then there'll be no fun in your life! Lets go to the field now!" He grabbed Sakura's and Tobi's arms, and led them to the middle of the field. After that, he rushed back to light six sparklers, and gasped in wonder as they lit up quickly. Handing one each to Tobi, Sakura and Sasori, he started dancing about again. He was so happy that Sakura felt somewhat touched by his childishness. In the government sector, almost everyone was somewhat solemn and tied down by work. There was no room for such innocent, pure happiness and whatsoever.

But still, she didn't feel so comfortable after seeing Deidara hold Sasori's hand again. She wondered why the redhead didn't bother to shake it off and keep his distance, like he usually did to other girls, including Sakura.

'Even when Shikamaru held his hand for a joke...he was not very pleased,' she thought, 'but here he is, enjoying every second of it! What's with that Deidara boy...does he possess some kind of magic power - of cupid, possibly?'

Suddenly, Deidara tripped over a rock in the field, and lost his balance as the sparklers in his hand fell onto grass. Sasori's eyes widened as the younger boy fell onto his chest hard. He too, dropped his sparkler. Sakura and Tobi stared.

"Ugh..."

Sasori looked worried. He looked at Deidara as the latter slowly recovered from the shock. "Are you alright?" he asked.

"...I'm alright, thank you." Deidara said quietly, immediately withdrawing from Sasori's side. "I'm sorry..."

The redhead smiled a little. "It's okay, I'm glad you aren't hurt."

Deidara smiled back sheepishly, and stooped down to pick up the lit sparklers on the grass. He then handed one over to Sasori.

"Here," he silently, blushing unconsciously, "your sparkler..."

As Sasori took the sparkler from Deidara, jealousy raged within Tobi's and Sakura's hearts. Sakura's mouth was wide-open in shock, and Tobi was taken aback by what he had just seen.

'That...what was that?!'

'Sasori was blushing; I am positive that I saw it!'

'...was that on purpose?!'

'But they're merely acquaintances...'

'Deidara...hugged Sasori-san?' No, that's not a hug...right?'

Suddenly, the air was filled with exploding sounds. Everyone looked up, only to find exploding flowers of fire, decorating the dark night sky. So colourful, so bright, so heartwarming...

Deidara was greatly amused and excited. He loved anything that exploded, especially fireworks. He stared with wide-open eyes at the lovely sight before him.

Boom! Boom! Piuuuu! Boom! Crackle, crackle...BOOM!

Sakura looked up at the sky. "Fireworks...they're so beautiful..." she whispered as turned to look at Sasori. She felt a bit sour as soon as she saw what was in front of her.

'It was supposed to be me and Sasori, together...' she thought as she clenched her fist, "two of us, watching those lovely fireworks ... so, why is this happening?'

'Ah, I forgot to tell Deidara about the fireworks,' thought Tobi as he looked at Deidara, who was thoroughly enjoying the show. His smile was so wide, so tender. Tobi felt his cheeks grow warm. But as his eyes spotted Sasori beside him, the green-eyed monster came again.

'I wish...I was beside Deidara,' he thought as he watched the redhead look up at the sky.

Sasori was currently standing beside Deidara, smiling at the wonderful fireworks. It certainly was a touching, heart-warming scene. He knew Sakura and the rest of Team Defence must've felt the same. A moment later, he realized that he was standing beside Deidara, and couldn't help staring at the younger boy's face.

Pure happiness. Sasori hadn't seen that in a long while. All he witnessed and seen were unhappy things, like deaths and injuries. This time, he was able to see for himself, what was true joy.

The redhead found his heart beating faster as he gazed at Deidara. For some reason, he felt a peculiar tingling sensation rush through him. The boy wasn't a movie star, or a pretty lady...sure, Deidara looked a bit like a girl, but even so, there was no reason for Sasori to feel like this.

It was something which he never experienced before. Sasori found himself lost in his thoughts as time seemed to stop altogether. He couldn't figure out what had just happened. What, and why? The great Sasori, who wasn't known to smile and feel happy, to feel warm inside, to have too many emotions ... and here he was, feeling confused, yet happy at the same time.

'This - this is...'


Meanwhile, Itachi and Hidan were busy fighting Ino and co.

"Say, how did you know about us, scumbag?" asked Naruto as a ball of energy formed in his right palm.

"I hacked the government archive and information bank a few weeks ago, and found your names and pictures," replied Hidan, grinning as he wielded his large scythe, which was glowing.

"In any case, we're gonna capture you two and take you all back to see Tsunade-sama!" Hinata said fiercely, clenching her fist. She then punched it forward, and the ground exploded below Hidan's feet. Hidan quickly leapt off his original spot, cursing.

"Lady Hinata," he said sarcastically, "if you wanna fight the hard way, I shall do it."

"Go ahead," barked Ino, "cos' Hinata isn't weak. In fact, she's stronger than you!"

"Pffh! Stuff and nonsense. Well, I'm getting tired of all this crap coming from you people," complained Hidan as his scythe suddenly disappeared into thin air.

"Played enough, Hidan?" Itachi asked in a monotonous voice.

"Yeah, sure did. But they aren't worth fighting. You can do the final touch now, Itachi. I don't wanna waste my energy on these people." With that, Hidan turned around and walked away casually, angering Naruto.

"Oi, you, stop there! What do you think we are? We aren't weak, so get back here and fight, dammit!" he shouted, charging towards Hidan suddenly, the energy sphere in his hands getting bigger and bigger by the second. Hidan sighed, spun around and smirked. His scythe suddenly appeared out of thin air, and he grabbed it and slashed Naruto's right arm quickly, destroying the energy sphere immediately.

"Geez, you're way too early to fight me, kiddo. It was fun playing with you kiddos, but I wanna grab some dango, so I'll let the intellectual professor, Itachi Uchiha, deal with you guys. Trust me, you'll be finished off within seconds." Hidan then walked away from the willow grove. Naruto glared at his back, then directed his fury towards Itachi.

"Heh," he said cockily, "it'll be even easier to capture you now, jerk."

"Yeah," added Ino, "after all, what could you possibly do alone? Look, your comrade has left you...how pathetic."

Itachi didn't say anything. He merely raised his arm and rested his eyes on Naruto. Out of nowhere, a large blue flame burnt Naruto's entire body, making him yell out in pain. Ino gasped, and Hinata stared in shock.

Finally, the naive boy fell to the ground, half-dead. There weren't any burns or wounds on his body, strangely. But, his face was pale, and his pulse was very weak.

"Naruto-kun!" Hinata ran towards the injured teenager and knelt down beside him. No response.

Ino looked angrily at Itachi, her eyes filled with horror and rage. She gritted her teeth as Itachi checked his watch.

"It's already 12.30am, Ino-san. I've gotta check on my friends. I won't be staying here any longer. Do take Naruto-kun home and let him drink plenty of water," said the Uchiha, giving her one last cold look. With that, he simply walked off.

Ino could not contain her anger anymore. She shook her fist at Itachi and yelled, "You're gonna pay for this, Uchiha Itachi! And all your illegal-attacker friends!"

Itachi did not reply. Instead, he continued walking out of the willow grove, until he reached the brightly-lit festival stalls.

'...He must be taking part in the GMC too, since he knows how to use magic,' thought Ino as a bead of sweat rolled down her forehead, 'in that case, we can find out more about him and his comrades if we search through the info library.'

She then helped Naruto up, together with Hinata, and they brought him home immediately.