Author's Note: Sasuke makes me want to run a railroad nail through my forehead.

'Italics' are flashbacks/Inner-Sakura's thoughts or persons on other end of phones, and lyrics (haha)

'Bold Italics' are thoughts in flashbacks and/or Inner-Sakura/Sakura speaking at once.


"Costumes"

The next two days passed quickly, though they felt unbearably long to the medic with the busy and chaotic hustle and bustle of the hospital. So when her blonde bombshell friend informed her with a look of superiority – one that said 'you owe me' - that the entertainment they'd been requested to provide for tomorrow was taken care of, Sakura had been grateful and decided against prodding the woman for details. She had completely forgotten about booking performers for her godson's birthday party.

.o.o.o.o.o.o.o.

It was to Sakura's dismay that Temari was waiting with Ino when she exited the elevator on the lobby floor of Hidden Leaf and they dragged her to the nearest pub –amusingly dubbed Post Coitus – to eat, and of course, to have a few drinks. After their orders were placed and the waitress had gone to fetch their drinks, Temari fixed her gaze on the rosette expectantly. Sakura stared back, eyes feigning innocent curiosity; forest green narrowed dangerously at the pathetic attempt, but it was worth a try. Sakura sighed in defeat and resignation; she may as well get it over with as Ino had probably already told the older female all the juicy bits and they were just torturing her by making her relate it again for shits and giggles. Quite possibly it was the way of doctors to bask in the misery of others… Or maybe that was just in Temari's case… and Ino's. Perhaps it was just blondes who took joy from the torture of pure innocents such as herself… That had to be it, as Naruto was known to cause and partake in such acts - knowingly and unknowingly – frequently, and the same could be said of her boss.

'What the hell are you on about? 'Pure innocents such as yourself'? You didn't get into any questionable substances at the hospital did you? We are in no way Pure or Innocent; just ask Mr. I'm-Pierced-Everywhere-King-Hotness. Oh, wait. You ran like a coward and didn't get any information from him!' Sakura wisely chose to ignore the ranting of her inner-beast.

'Hey! Don't igno-'. Wonderful. That pillow was her new best friend. Sakura pulled from her thoughts and retold the story once more for Temari. The arrival of drinks brought a pause to the tale as Ino quickly downed the Pink Flamingo placed before her while she and Temari took experimental sips to ensure they were made to their liking. The pigtailed female seemed satisfied with her Double Take Sour, and Sakura herself was content with the Naked Pretzel she'd requested. She finished relating the events by the time the food arrived, but that didn't mean they weren't going to discuss it further while they ate.

.o.o.o.o.o.o.o.

"You ran away?" Temari cast a look at Ino before returning her incredulous gaze back to Sakura. The medic downed the last of the alcohol in her glass and bit the inside of her cheek in embarrassment.

"Well, what did you want me to do? I was late for work as it was." A snort sounded to her right; a scoff from the left.

"Pathetic. Forehead, you really are a loser." Emerald irises expanded around slit pupils as Sakura cast narrowed eyes on the leggy psychiatrist.

"I have to agree with the Boar. Obviously he wanted you to stay or you would have been booted out on your ass as soon as he was up. Considering he took a shower and allowed you to continue sleeping in his bed, in his rather expensive living quarters, means he wanted something more from you at least." Instincts told her she should begin planning her escape now; unfortunately, she was trapped between the two females and wouldn't be going anywhere lest she launch herself over the table and she was fairly certain that wouldn't go over well in any case. She needed more alcohol – now.

"I don't even know the guy! And you guys don't know him, either. Seriously, what if he had been expecting something – like payment! He was probably a man-whore and I saved myself some money." Determination set into her features as she spoke. When no response came from either of her companions she glanced right to left in curiosity at their silence. Ino's right hand hovered over her mouth, stifling laughter, her eyes shut tight as tears leaked from the corners of heavily shadowed lids. Sakura frowned and moved her gaze to Temari, who she found was staring dubiously at her with brows arced.

"You should stop hanging around Naruto." Temari supplied bleakly.

"Your brother is dating him!"

"That's beside the point; Gaara is immune to stupidity. It's why they work."

"I am not stupid. And Naruto's a better friend than you two could ever hope to be." An indignant sniff accompanied the statement as Sakura crossed her arms over her chest petulantly. Temari eyed her skeptically, resting an elbow on the tabletop and her cheek against her upturned palm as she lifted the glass of liqueur she was currently working on to her lips.

"Aren't you the least bit curious about him? I mean, he supposedly lives on the penthouse level of the Rin'Negan and he seemed to want to keep you around." A tiny red parasol was flicked across the table at Sakura courtesy of Ino.

"Can't we just drop it, it isn't like I will ever see him again anyway, and it is getting late." Forest green eyes rose to inspect the vibrant "Time to Buy Neon" clock hanging against the wooden paneled far back wall decorated with a variety of multicolored neon signs ranging from a yellow and scarlet guitar to a white and blue Snoopy and the classic "It's 5:00 Somewhere" quote. The big hand ticked to the next minute, bringing the time to ten forty-five P.M. Ino huffed in annoyance at having to leave early, and Temari grudgingly had to agree; however, there was a party they had to attend the following day, and it was to her chagrin that it was being held at Uchiha Sasuke's home. The only reason the asshole had any friends to invite to his firstborn's seventh birthday was because he had somehow managed to snag the sweetest woman alive as his wife and his best friends were Naruto and Sakura, and even their friendship often teetered on a fine line.

"I'll see you tomorrow." Temari stood along with her companions, threw a few Ryo on the table, and headed for the door with them. They separated at their respective vehicles and left the bar's parking lot.

.o.o.o.o.o.o.o.

"Seriously?"

"Seriously."

Two sets of eyes, each pair varying with emotion, stared at the unkempt, grungy male before them as he held a clipboard out expectantly.

"You advertised that performers came with the costumes!" The blonde female's screech was met with a blank stare; obviously, the male did not realize he was seconds away from being ripped apart by the woman.

"Clearly, they don't."

"Clearly, I'm not signing that damned form, then!" A throat cleared to the left of the arguing duo, breaking the stare/glare down that was happening.

"Just sign it, Yamanaka. We can't do anything about it now, the party's already started." Sky blue eyes narrowed darkly at the pigtailed blonde.

"Fine." Ino snatched the pen and clipboard from the man, signed quickly, and shoved it roughly into his chest.

"Here's your copy. Remember to have them back by Monday." The irate psychiatrist ignored the proffered receipt as she hefted one of the two large boxes up and stomped into the house. Temari sighed at the temperamental blonde and moved to take the slip of paper and second box without a word to the man.

.o.o.o.o.o.o.o.

Sakura blinked owlishly as a rather large box was dropped unceremoniously on the floor before her. Viridian rose to meet irritated blue.

"Presents are usually wrapped. And it's not my birthday, it's Itsuki's."

"I know that! These are the panda costumes." Ino huffed in annoyance as she sank to the hardwood floor across from the rosette. Sakura's gaze slipped back to the box before returning to the blonde questioningly. The door to the room slipped open and shut as Temari entered carrying another box.

"Are they midgets? That's somewhat cruel… Stuffing them into a box and all…" Temari snorted; Ino glared.

"No! They didn't come with performers at all. What the hell are we supposed to do now? I'm not going to be the one that tells Sasuke, he's enough of a dick as it is." Sakura frowned at the comment and opened her mouth to defend her friend when Ino cut her off before she could start.

"I know! You two can wear them!" Sakura launched to her feet in a flash, bracing herself against the box, arm extended forward, and finger thrust in Ino's face.

"Hell no, Pig! You have to wear one if we do. This is your fault anyway." Nostrils flared to points at the accusation.

"Excuse me? It was partly your responsibility, too. Don't just throw the blame on me."

"Why would I wear one? This isn't my screw up. Uchiha-douche knows better than to tell me to do anything." Ino eyed the other blonde and smirked.

"Simply because you're in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"Alright, but we're settling this my way then.

.o.o.o.o.o.o.o.

Two sets of green and one pair of blue eyes stared determinedly at one another across the first brown cardboard box waiting for the signal to begin.

"Ready?" Two curt nods in response. 'Shannaro! Let's win this shit!'

"GO!" Each woman chanted in unison as her fist moved away from her palm and back down.

"Rock. Paper. Scissors!" At the last word, the hands shifted to form one of the three acceptable symbols for the game.

"Hah! Owned. Scissors cuts paper. You two lose." Ino and Sakura glared at Temari who grinned triumphantly at them. Ino grumbled something about cheaters under her breath while Sakura, resigned to the fact that she lost, proceeded to open the box in front of her.

"Damnit, these better be clean." Sakura's eyes rolled at her friend's comment as she bent the flaps of the box over the sides and peered inside. Reaching in to grasp the fluffy material, Sakura caught a whiff of sweat and cheap cologne mixed with Febreeze and scrunched her nose up in disgust at the smell. 'We aren't actually going to wear that are we? It smells gross! Who knows what's been done inside of it!' Sakura chose to ignore her inner – she didn't really have much of a choice in the matter at this point.

"Sasuke is so going to owe us…" 'Hell yes he is. This sure as hell isn't what I want to be doing on Saturday!' Ino made a noise of agreement as she examines one of the two Panda heads that completed the suits. She sniffed at it experimentally before jerking back, her face contorted in revulsion.

"Gods, if the inside smells as bad as the outside I think I'll be sick." Ino craned her head in Temari's direction and stared the taller female down.

"No one is to find out I'm wearing this, got that? If anyone asks where I went, make something up!" Temari scoffed derisively.

"I'm not that cruel, jeeze. Your secret is safe with me. I'd let Hinata and Sasuke know though." Ino groaned in defeat.

"Fine… but no one else, alright?"

"Right."

"Well… Let's get these on then. I'm sure Sasuke's ready to have one of his tantrums." Temari moved forward to help the two women into their outfits.

.o.o.o.o.o.o.o.

"So you'll tell Sasuke and Hinata what's going on and just them right? Man, I hope I'm not missing out on any hot guys for this." Temari pulled on the girl's long platinum ponytail before tucking it into the suit and zipping it up. Ino hissed at the stinging pain, her hand rising to rest at the base of her ponytail.

"I know, so shut up Yamanaka, and get out there and entertain the little kiddies." Sakura's laughter filled the room at the expressions on the two blondes' faces.

"Aw, don't you two just look adorable in your little panda costumes?" Ino growled and turned to yell angrily at the Suna native just as a brilliant light flashed and the sound of bubbles filled the room. Only a second passed before what had occurred registered in the psychiatrist's brain and a screech of horror filled the room.

"TEMARI! You better delete that picture right now!" Said female swiftly made her exit from the room, her laughter echoing down the hall.

.o.o.o.o.o.o.o.

Temari was just exiting the house into the backyard when a soft voice called her name from the right. She turned to face a petite woman with pale silver eyes and skin to match with long violet blue locks pulled into a loose braid that fell over her left shoulder. Temari smiled politely at Uchiha Hinata as she came to a stop just before the other woman at the edge of the cement patio.

"Temari-san, have you seen Ino-san and Sakura-san? They were here earlier, but now I cannot seem to locate either of them…" The eldest Hyuuga daughter was kind and polite, and just too adorable to be married to the youngest asshole Uchiha in Temari's opinion, but the brunette found good in places Temari would never even think to look.

"About that… Apparently the place Ino booked the Panda Performers from doesn't exactly provide the performers, just the costumes, so she and Sakura are going to be the entertainment for the rug-rats today." The sandy haired doctor grinned at the other women as her eyes widened.

"Th-they don't have to do that!"

"Oh, let them, Yamanaka was just bursting with joy at the opportunity to do this, really. Let them have their fun. Now, where can I get a drink?" Temari's polite smile morphed into a mischievous grin as she wrapped an arm around Hinata's shoulder and steered her towards the long refreshment table to the left.

.o.o.o.o.o.o.o.

"I'm going to KILL her! I swear if she shows anyone that picture… !" Sakura rolled her eyes for the second time that day at her best friend's idle threat and pulled at the cuffs of the costume she wore. It was itchy and uncomfortable, smelled no better on the inside than it had on the outside and it was too large, she was going to end up tripping over the extra material in the footing.

"Let's just get this over with. We'll just stay out there in it for a few hours then come back in and take it off."

"Fine… let's go then." They stared silently at one another; Sakura's eyebrow twitched as Ino bit the inside of her cheek. They burst into laughter simultaneously; the blonde releasing snorts and huffs as she cackled while the pinkette doubled over in her silent chortles.

"Oh… You!.. Haha… You look ridiculous!" Snorts accompanied the exclamation. Sakura straightened and wiped at the tears that pooled in the corners of her eyes.

"You don't look any better. No wonder 'Mari took a picture. Wow." Sakura leaned over to retrieve the head that completed the panda.

"You think we should go out the sliding-glass doors, or out the front and around the house to the outside entrance to the back?" Ino blinked at the question and shrugged, panda head tucked snuggly under her arm.

"I guess the front, it would be weird for two strangers dressed as pandas to come out of the house, wouldn't it?"

"My thoughts exactly." With that, the two friends exited the room and headed down the long hallway to the stairs. From there they made their way to the entrance of the house and out the door.

.o.o.o.o.o.o.o.

The Uchiha's lived in a rich neighborhood; each house was at least two stories and the lawns were well kept and manicured – it was actually a bit of a contest between the families to see who had the best one.

Upon reaching the side entrance to the backyard, Ino slipped casually behind Sakura. Sakura paused with her hand on the handle of the wooden door and turned slightly to look at Ino.

"What exactly are we supposed to do to entertain these kids?"

"Erm… I dunno..."

"Damn." 'Hahaha! Epic fail. You two are so stupid.' Sakura growled internally at her other and shoved a mental fist into her mirror-images face.

"Well, er… I can juggle?"

"Juggle?" It was hard to decipher reactions and emotions when their expressions were hidden beneath giant panda masks, but Sakura was at least eighty percent sure Ino would have a look of indignation on her face at the incredulity in her tone.

"Yes. Juggle. Have fun figuring out what you're going to do!" With that, Ino pushed the gate open to the backyard and sauntered in – at least, she sauntered as well as a person in a costume too big could saunter.

Sakura watched as Ino walked away and frowned; what the hell was she going to do? 'Find Naruto-baka, he's good at thinking up childishly funny things.' And for once, Inner-Saku had supplied her with helpful information. Now all she had to do was find Naruto.

.o.o.o.o.o.o.o.

To her relief, it didn't take long once she was in the nicely sized backyard to find the blonde next to the pool with his redheaded lover. Sakura made a beeline for the couple chatting, fortunately, alone with one another and not many were surrounding them – it appeared Lady Luck was on her side in this endeavor. Naruto's back was facing her, but she found Gaara's piercing gaze had zeroed in on her as soon as she began her approach. Sakura stopped beside the edge of the six foot deep pool and to the right of the now-silent couple who peered – one curiously and the other suspiciously – at her.

"Guys, it's Sakura." Naruto's eyes widened and Gaara's apprehensive gaze faded to a blank stare at the quiet admission. Now if Naruto could just keep his mouth sh –

"Saku –" If the man wasn't gay she would have kissed him; however, she could only silently thank him with a sigh of relief and the tenseness of her shoulders relaxing as Gaara brought his hand up to silence the loud blonde.

"I do not think she wishes for others to know that she is parading around as a panda, hence why she whispered." Naruto grinned sheepishly and ran a hand through his unruly locks as the redhead let his arm drop to his side once more.

"Right, sorry!" The cerulean-eyed male stared at her quietly for a split second before the question he had been ready to shout came back to him.

"Why are you wearing that?!" His eyes widened as a thought crossed his mind, "Teme didn't make you did he?!"

"No, Naruto. We just had a bit of a mix up and this is the solution. I need your help though. I have… no idea what to do to entertain these kids and I was wondering if you two could maybe come up with some ideas?..." The corner of Gaara's lip twitched upward as Naruto's eyes widened further.

A commotion to the left cut the blonde off before he could even respond as Aburame Shino, Inuzuka Kiba, and his rather large dog, Akamaru, exited from the sliding doors into the backyard. Akamaru quickly trotted away from his owner, greeting everyone in his path as he made his way through the scattered groups. A light breeze picked up and the canine stopped to sniff the air as it swirled by and into his nostrils, his eyes closed as he enjoyed the cool wind. The beast's eyes popped open and narrowed as they zoned in on the costumed person standing beside the pool.

Sakura's eyes widened in horror as Akamaru took off at full speed towards her. It all happened quickly after that. Akamaru leapt and collided with her mid-air, his weight knocking her off balance and backward. Naruto shouted her name as both he and Gaara reached out in an attempt to grab her before she could hit the pool. The head of the panda outfit flew, but she couldn't be bothered with noting where it landed as she hit the water with a massive splash.

'Well… this sucks.' Sakura couldn't agree more as she sank to the bottom of the pool. 'We should just stay down here.' Their agreement had to end somewhere, she mused, as she maneuvered her body so that her feet were parallel to the cement flooring and she launched herself towards the surface. She refused to meet any of the many stares fixed on her as she swam to the ladder to pull her drenched body from the warm liquid. She kept her gaze focused straight as she lifted herself one-step at a time to the pool's edge, but paused as a hand entered her vision. Curious, her eyes roved over the hand, up the length of a white clothed arm to the person's face.

Emerald orbs peered blankly into a dreadfully familiar visage; one covered in piercings, – 'Very attractive, and not at all gaudy, piercings.' – smooth lips curved into an inviting smirk, exotic ringed eyes set in slanted openings and brown hair so light in color it was orange. A squeak was the only sound that escaped her lips before her grip on the ladder's railings loosened and she fell back into the welcoming water.


Author's Notes:

Holy crap! It has totally been FOREVER and a DAY ! I'm so sorry it has been so long, but a crapload of things have happened in the last few months. I can't really say that my muse has died, it hasn't, I've just not had that much time and this chapter was kind of really hard for me to write… lol ! College started back up and I was recently diagnosed with Adult ADHD-Inattentive type. So, it's more like ADD, I just can't pay the f*** attention ! My ability to hyper-focus on things has been nipped in the bud – hence why I haven't been popping out any stories in the last few months.

Anyhow, I hope this pleases those of you that have been waiting, I tried to make it longer than the others, and I left it as a bit of a cliffy. The next chapter will be mostly from Pein's P.O.V. leading up to the current events and then a little further into them meeting up again !