Inspired by a random thought of mine that went something like, "It's sort of depressing that many of my male-hockey-playing friends and cuss worse than Hidan when they're on the ice..." (Or worse, when they're forced OFF the ice.) And let's just say that hockey is a big part of my life, k?

A Friendly Wager

by green see-through ghosts

WARNING: Bad Language up ahead. Also a bit of male-hockey player bashing. (Don't worry, I still love you, Caleb! (and the others, but they won't read this, hmmm?)

AN: This might be the last complete Hidan/Temari for a bit, for many reasons, but mostly because I hate beating a pairing to death...which is possibly what I'm doing with this one.


"Yes!" Temari hissed, her hands clenched around the gray-painted iron railing so hard that her fingers were white with the pressure. "That's it -- NO! SKATE! Ha-ha-ha! Way to go GOALIE!"

The oddly-energetic blonde slapped her palms against the rail as a shrill whistle sounded, turning to look at her brother as a mirthful grin shot across her face. "Did you see that save?!" she shouted to one in particular, unable to contain her joy.

The two siblings stood together at the pole on the edge of the lower balcony of the huge and nearly empty ice-hockey arena. The wide rows of bleachers behind them were spotted with various family members of the two bantam teams currently playing, but most of the hard-core fans, such as Temari and her brother Kankuro, were standing in the front in order to get the best view of the two teams skating the ice below.

"Yes, Temari," Kankuro sighed in a dull tone. He was leaning forward with his elbows against the rail, curly brown hair mused and sharp black eyes rimmed with red moisture. "I saw that save." Still, Temari wasn't so sure; her brother had been staring at the group of girls down by the boards for a long time, and even that lacked his full attention. Anyways, with the mood he was in, she somehow doubted that he even really cared about the outcome of this game.

"Listen," he sighed. "I think I'm going to go sit down, okay? I'm not feeling so great."

"Okay," Temari said after a long moment. "Just, you know, watch. For Gaara, okay?"

"I know, I know," Kankuro exhaled as he turned away, pulling his black hood up over his hair. Unlike Temari, he had no interest in hockey, but for the sake of his little brother, he'd watch. "I'll sit up at the top."

"M'kay," Temari said. "I'm going to stand behind Gaara, then." Kankuro didn't respond, so, with a low sigh, Temari turned away from the pole and made her way across the wide, cement platform, down the slippery stairs, and onto the rink-level. The twenty-two year old was wearing blue jeans, a knit hockey hat pulled over her coarse blonde hair, and a black sweatshirt, over which was her little brother's away-jersey. It smelled like the locker room, and the bright green trim clashed with her teal eyes, but she'd looked worse before.

Temari parked herself behind the goalie of the white-jersey team. He didn't acknowledge her, but then again, she didn't expect him to. A good goalie never acknowledged his fans, no matter how much he needed them. Temari could stand there for years -- and would, probably, if Gaara's hockey career went anywhere -- and still, the boy would never give her more than a nod.

The music playing through the loudspeakers was grainy and digitalized, but she could faintly recognize it as something by Three Days Grace. God knows she heard enough of it at home and in her own locker room; she should have been able to recognize it more easily. But for some reason, things always seemed disconnected whenever she watched Gaara play; it was as if he stole the connectivity of other aspects of the arena and used them in his own movement. One thing was for sure, and that was that Gaara was a wall that no puck could ever pass. If his stats were anything, it was perfect.

The puck dropped, and the crappy music shut off abruptly, giving way to the ricochet of the puck against sticks and the boards. Temari pressed herself close against the glass, her fingers locked in an upside-down steeple; it was a calming habit that a close friend and teammate had taught her after watching how she nearly hyperventilated during her little brother's games. The motion really did help, if she could keep her mind calm enough to put it into action.

Put Temari on the ice with a stick and some gear, and she'd be fine -- great, in fact. During high school, she'd had a reputation for being an absolute beast, taking out guys and girls alike. Only one thing scared her when she was playing, and that was the idea of losing. But stick her behind her little brother's net, helpless to do anything but support him telepathically, and she'd just about lose her mind.

Gaara's team, the Tanukis, were in control of the puck, but it was an extremely close game, made obvious by the zero-zero score in burning crimson letters at either end of the rink. Still, it was only the middle of the first period; they had plenty of time to score.

Smart and steady, Temari whispered to herself. They just need to play smart.

A blue jersey caught hold of the puck and slapped it down Gaara's way in a desperate attempt to clear his zone; it was an easy icing call. Gaara lifted his stick up in the air in signal to the referees as he moved out to collect the puck; as one of the three refs blew his whistle, he tapped the black rubber cylinder over to the striped-jersey man before skating back to his net. Temari avoided make eye-contact with him; Gaara was in his zone, and didn't need her to shake him out of it.

Not that she was delusional enough to think that she could.

The game continued. The arena was filled with the sounds of the puck slapping the boards, players crashing into one another and the ice, and the ever-so-often blow of a whistle. In the grand scheme of things, this game was pretty insignificant. But Temari knew that even one loss -- hell, even one goal-- would set Gaara down a road better left un-traveled. And indeed, she hated to see her brother depressed. So, despite the unimportance of this particular match, she watched raptly, her eyes locked on the puck's swift and jolty movement across the ice.

Needless to say, she was more than a little out of the general flow of life. Life for her was the game before her eyes -- indeed, the very world of hockey. So when a hand came down hard on her shoulder, fingers grasping her jersey with unnecessary roughness, she was a bit surprised.

Okay, so she was startled out of her mind and, subsequently, the game.

Not the kind to use words when force would do, Temari spun around, hand already clenching into a fist.

"Hey, do you know where the hell locker room sixteen is? These shit-heads have been looking for it for like, ten fucking minutes."

Temari glared at the young man standing in front of her, eyeing him doubtfully. For sure, he had a hockey bag slung over his shoulder, and yes, he was wearing black and red warm-ups, but this guy looked about the furthest thing from a hockey player that she had ever seen. Maybe it was the fact that his silvery white hair, which was at total odds with his extremely young face, was slicked back at the hairline, combed straight away from his high, peaked forehead. Or maybe it was the color of his eyes -- lavender? Who the hell had lavender eyes? Maybe it was simply that his face was different than the face of any other hockey guy she'd seen -- a bit refined, dare she say delicate?

"Back outside, take a left, down four doors," Temari said. "Even an idiot couldn't miss it."

"Like I said, these guys are shit-heads," the guy said. Temari's eyes narrowed; he was entirely oblivious to the insult she'd poked at him.

"Whatever," she sighed as she turned back around.

"Hey, thanks," the guy called as he turned away, heading back towards his teammates.

"Whatever," Temari muttered again. In less than a moment, she was entirely engrossed in her brother's game again, the interruption passing by as if it have never been.

The first period ended at a score of zero-zero, and the two teams both skated off the rink to make room for the zam. Gaara glanced back at her as he skated off, his helmet pulled away from his face to reveal teal eyes a few shades lighter than her own. He nodded at her, and she returned the gesture, fighting to keep from grinning too big. He'd label her sentimental if she wasn't careful, and as the surrogate mother of two teen boys, the last thing she needed was for Gaara to think she'd gone soft.

Temari turned away from the glass divider and began striding down the cement path towards the main bleachers. She could see Kankuro sitting by himself up near the top, hood up and headphones in his ears. Well, what could she say; the three of them were kind of an antisocial family.

Before she'd made it halfway down the lane, a large group of hockey guys dressed in hellish warm-ups swarmed through the main entrance. With a small sigh of disgust, Temari continued walking, not even taking the trouble to slow her pace. Some guys, mainly hockey players, could be so obliviously rude sometimes…

She'd just managed to reach the stairs unscathed when a cocky, masculine voice called her back.

"Hey, blondie, do you know where the announcer's box is?"

"Are you blind or something?" Temari snapped, spinning around on the bottom stair to come face to face with the silver-haired player. "It's right there." She pointed at the long, narrow tabled set up on the balcony over the rink. It was currently unoccupied, but if there was a big game coming up next, that would soon change.

"Thanks," the man said without following her finger. "What was your name, again?"

"I didn't give one," she snapped. And, without acknowledging that he even spoke, she turned around and continued up the stairs, rolling her eyes.

"You wanna give me one now?" he asked mischievously, following her a short distance up the stairs.

"Get lost, loser," Temari snapped. And, without taking a second glance at him, she continued across the shiny cement, waving at her brother in mock cheerfulness. Not that Kankuro noticed; but, pretending that there was someone you were moving towards -- especially another guy -- was always a good way of getting rid of a weirdo who was actually psycho enough to hit on a beast like her.

--

"Sorry, Boss," Hidan sighed, dropping down in the chair behind the orange-haired captain of his team. "It's a no-fucking-go."

"Damn," the infamous leader of the Akatsuki Men's Twenty and Up Comp Team hissed. He leaned forward against the railing and glared down at the spiky-haired blonde and her black-hooded brother. "I was counting on her for information," he sighed, gray eyes narrowed in intense dislike of the situation. No one bothered asked Pein why he'd picked her, or why he seemed to be so desperate when there were plenty of other Tanuki fans around.

"What about the boy?" asked the manager of the team, a blue-haired and blue-eyed female named Konan. Unlike the team captain, she was entirely calm and, if Hidan hadn't of known any better, seemingly devoid of emotion. Instead of the red and black warm-ups of the men in the reserved seating section above the hockey rink, she wore a knee length black trench-coat over a black shirt and white shirt, her blue hair cut short and tucked behind each ear. Leather boots extended up to her knees, adding a good four inches to her height.

"Too punk-ass," the orange-haired Pein sounded.

"So's the girl," Hidan muttered.

"Damn. And I really need to know who their goalie is." With a deep, languid sigh, the man leaned back in his chair, lips pursed. "Have another go at her, Hidan," he sighed. "We need to know who the Tanuki Comp Team goalie will be for next tomorrow night's game, alright? I heard one of them was injured, but I don't know which."

"Sure-fucking-thing, Boss," the silver-haired Hidan said with a grin. "Although, really, you know, I'm going to have to spend fucking days doing rituals to make up for flirting with a heathen." He glanced over at his snickering teammates. "Not to mention having to beating the fucking shit out of you guys," he added.

"Just get with it, Hidan," Pein sighed, leaning forward in his chair again as the two bantam teams took the ice.

"What-fucking-ever," Hidan sighed as he jumped to his feet and headed out of the reserved room again. He left a strange scent in his wake -- a smell similar to the sterile-odor of a hospital operating room.

"Konan," Pein said softly after a long moment, tilting his head towards the manager. "Has he been cutting himself again?"

"Yes," she said simply.

"Damn," Pein hissed. "I need him in top form tomorrow."

"Don't worry," Konan said coldly, turning away from her leader to watch the silver-haired man approach the blonde one level below. Her sleek profile, outlined against the sharp white walls of the arena, showed a smile curve her lips. "Pain is his top form."

--

"Do you mind if I stare at you up close instead of from across the room?"

"What. The. Hell-" Temari snapped, spinning around in her seat to throw the silver-haired hockey player's hands off her shoulders. "-are you doing?"

"Just making a little healthy conversation," he said innocently, hopping over the railing and dropping down on the bleacher beside her. Temari instinctively scooted away; he filled in the gap. "You know, that outfit would look great in a pile beside my bed."

"What- who the hell are you?!"

"Name's Hidan, blondie. It's what you'll be screaming out in ecstasy come midnight."

--

"You know," Konan said, eyebrows raised as they watched the blonde-haired girl throw a punch in Hidan's direction, her first flashing past his cheek, "I don't think Hidan was a good one to pick if you wanted subtlety."

"I figured he'd know how to flirt well," Pein said with a sigh, wincing as the blonde kneed Hidan in the groin. "I mean, we see him with girls after the games often enough."

"Maybe she's just different than most girls," Konan suggested with a shrug.

"Maybe," Pein agreed, chin in his hand as Hidan ducked under a punch, tumbling back on his heels to avoid her fist.

"Should I send assistance?" Konan asked curiously.

"No," Pein said. "This is far more entertaining than watching the zamboni drive." Konan nodded slowly.

"I'd have to agree with you on that," she said as Temari's fist connected solidly with Hidan's jaw, sending the man flying into the wall.

--

"This spot taken?"

Temari growled under her breath and spun towards Hidan, hands clenched tightly.

"God, you're fucking psychotic!" he complained, stepping quickly away from her. "I just want to stand here!"

"Well, then, yes, that spot is taken," Temari hissed.

"Okay, well, you can tell the invisible fucker standing there to fucking move," Hidan snapped.

"You're annoying," Temari snapped back.

"You're fucking psycho," Hidan retaliated.

"Can you just go stand somewhere else?" Temari barked. "I'm trying to watch the game!" She turned abruptly away from him, shoving her hands inside her pockets as she leaned her forehead up against the glass. After a moment of silence, Hidan glanced over at her, eyebrows raised.

"What the fuck is interesting about this?" he asked confusedly. Temari ground her teeth together in frustration.

"That's my kid brother in net," she growled. "And if you don't mind, I'd like to watch him play, and it'd be even better if you would shut up and stop distracting us."

"Us?" Hidan laughed. "Shit, you think you're some counterpart in his mind, or something?

"Look," Temari sighed. "You're really annoying me."

"Get over it, blondie," he said cheerfully. "Because I have no immediate plans to fucking leave." And with that, he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned sideways against the glass, watching her instead of the game.

Temari ignored him. If it was any time other than during Gaara's game, she would have murdered the guy. But, her brother was more important than any sort pf petty discomfort she experienced.

After a few minutes, she began to notice that this Hidan was muttering under his breath. The words were too indistinct for her to be able to discern what he said, and as far as she could tell, they weren't spoken in a malicious tone. Still, after another five minutes, the constant muttering began to get on her nerves.

"Would you please shut up?" she demanded, turning her head less than an inch to glare at him.

"No-fucking-way," he said, glaring right back at her. Sighing deeply and muttering a few choice words of her own, Temari turned back to the game, the constant rustle of his faint murmuring echoing in her ears. Just ignore him, she told herself. He just wants attention. It's not worth missing Gaara's game…it's not…

With a low sigh, Temari turned away from the boards just moments before the horn blew to signal the end of the second period. No, she told herself as she began moving towards the stairs, away from Hidan. It's still not worth it.

"Hey, where you going?" Hidan sighed. "We were just about to get to the good part." Before Temari knew what was happening, he had an arm around her waist and had pulled her around to face the rink again, his side pressed against hers. "This is when-"

"I beat the shit out of you?" she suggested, not even bothering to slide away.

"-you tell me who's in net for the Tanuki game tomorrow night," he finished simultaneously.

"What?" was all Temari could say in blank shock. Fifty feet away from them, the yellow and white zamboni took the ice, leaving a trail of gleaming water shining on the rink behind it.

"Oh, come on," Hidan laughed, tightening his arm around her waist. "As if I'd honestly flirt with you."

"What the he-" Hidan pressed his forearm over her mouth, reaching up with the same hand to wave at the zam driver as he passed by.

"Try to make it look natural, blondie," he muttered. "There's people watching, you know." He sighed deeply, as if she couldn't possibly understand what he was going through. "Look, just tell me who the goalie is, and I'll leave you alone. Got it?" He glanced down at her expectantly just as she reached up and pulled his arm away from her face.

"No, you leave me alone or I spill your brains on the ice tomorrow night."

"Oh come on, blondie-…what?"

"I said," she repeated, enunciating each word with deadly clarity, "leave. Me. Alone. Or I. Will spill. Your brains. On the ice. Tomorrow. Night."

"…You've got to be fucking kidding me." Hidan stated. "You're a Tanuki?"

"Right," Temari confirmed, stepping away from him as he loosened his grip.

"Shit," Hidan muttered under his breath. "Of all the fucking psychos that Pein could pick for information, and he picks a fucking Tanuki."

"Excuse me?" Temari said, leaning a little towards him. "I couldn't quite catch that. It's all the mumbling."

"Come-fucking-on, blondie, just tell me his damn name," Hidan snapped as he stepped forward, gesturing vaguely with his arms.

"Get out of here, looser," she ordered, voice soft and vicious. "I don't trust you enough to tell you my own name, let alone my goalie's."

"What the hell is it with you and goalies?" Hidan snapped.

"They're only the most important part of the team" she said sarcastically with a roll of her eyes. Wondering why she wasn't still itching to leave, Temari turned towards the rink again, leaning her elbows against the outer ledge of the boards. It was as if now that she knew what he really wanted -- well, now that she knew the freak wasn't actually hitting on her -- she was put at ease. The zam finished its first, slow circle around the very edge of the rink and began to speed up on the open ice.

"No-fucking-way," Hidan stated. "It's all about the face-off, blondie."

"Are you kidding?" Temari sneered. "Any team would be trashed without a good defense, including yours."

"You'll see tomorrow night," Hidan said, shaking his head in denial as he leaned his elbows against the same ledge her own were on. "Our offense will fucking rip you apart, trust me."

"Would you stop harassing me?" Temari sighed, moving away from him as he bumped his shoulder against hers.

"A defense doesn't do much good if they can't keep up with the offense," he continued. "And trust me, blondie, you won't be able to keep up."

"Is that a challenge?" Temari growled, suddenly dead serious as her eyes narrowed ferociously.

"I don't know, is it?" He laughed at her anger, but remained still even as she moved another few feet away. The girl didn't speak, which wasn't quite to Hidan's liking. "If I'm going to fuck myself," he thought out loud, thinking of the cleansing ritual that his god demanded for this sort pf friendly banter, "I might as well do it thoroughly." The zamboni drove past them again, dropping extra water on the goalie's crease area; goalies were notorious for ripping the ice up more than any other players.

"Why do you keep mumbling?" Temari droned, turning to glare at him as she straightened up.

"None of your damn business," Hidan said with a grin. "So, is it a challenge?" he continued without giving her a chance to really respond.

"Not on my part," Temari said bluntly, crossing her arms over her chest with a shrug. Hidan eyed her carefully out of the corner of his eye, his scheming mind racing. She was acting so damn stoic; if he wanted to get her to agree with something stupid, he'd have to get her riled up first.

And he figured he knew the perfect way to do it.

"Just afraid of losing, aren't you?"

"Whatever," Temari laughed harshly. "I have faith in my team, you know." She eyed him up loosely, sneering at what she saw. "Trust me, we'll win."

"Trust me, you won't," Hidan laughed, sliding closer to her along the boards.

"Yes, we will," Temari said firmly.

"Willing to bet on it?" Hidan asked cheerfully, bumping his shoulder against hers. For once, Temari didn't move away.

"Depends on the bet," she said, immediately wary.

"Just a friendly wager," Hidan declared. "If you win, I'll be a bore and leave you alone for good. If I win, you get to come to church with me on Sunday."

Temari turned her head and stared at him blankly.

"…Is that some sort of…perverted innuendo?" she asked, eyebrows furrowed.

"No!" Hidan yelled, jumping into a fully upright position. The zam passed by again, half-way finished with spreading water over the rough ice. "Damn it, blondie, I'm serious!"

"No way," Temari stated. "Church?" She eyed him carefully, then shook her head. "It's gotta be some innuendo."

"I'm fucking insulted," Hidan said, leaning sideways against the glass. "Maybe you're just afraid of spirituality?" The way he said it, Temari could easily have imagined the word sexuality in its place...

"No ," she said, still skeptical. "I just didn't pin you as the type, is all."

"Well trust me, blondie, I am," Hidan said, reaching up with both hands to smooth his hair away from his face; in that one moment, he looked as much like a holy man of the church as Baba Yaga. Temari stared for a moment, then turned away, stifling a sudden laugh. "So, what is it?" he asked, bringing his hands back down and shoving them in the pockets of his black and red jacket. "Deal or no?"

"I don't need to make a deal with you to force you to leave me alone," Temari said without looking at him. She rested her chin against her folded hands, acutely aware of his lavender eyes focused on her face.

"Yeah, cause you've done a fucking fine job of it already," Hidan laughed.

"Look, Hidan, or whatever your name is," she snapped, turning towards him with her eyes narrowed sharply. "I haven't tried real hard yet."

"Prove it," Hidan taunted, a satisfied smirk on his face It's was Temari's turn to hesitate.

"I don't need to," she finally said, turning back towards the rink to watch the zamboni make his final round. She'd been warned by security once already; any other physical altercation might result in her missing the rest of Gaara's game. "And...because I have faith in my team...I'll accept."

"Good fucking deal," Hidan laughed as he clapped her on the shoulder. "Make sure you wear something nice for church."

"Hopefully you've got your eye on someone else to harass."

"Sure thing, blondie."

"It's Temari, okay?"

"Whatever, blondie."

--

"They seem to be getting along now," Konan said softly, stifling a yawn as the younger Tanuki team took the ice, followed a moment later by their opponents. She motioned towards Hidan and the blonde, just tiny figures along the boards of the rink.

"What are you talking about?" Pein growled. "There's enough room for half the team to squeeze in between them."

"But they're still talking," Konan pointed out.

"I guess," Pein admitted with a shrug.

"Let me guess," Konan said with a soft smile at Pein. "Getting along constitutes something entirely different to you than to me?"

"You could say that," Pein muttered, winking sidelong at her as he leaned forward on the rail.

--

Hidan had said his goodbyes -- "See you tomorrow, blondie. Okay? Blondie? Oh, come-fucking-on. Fine. Fine. See you, Temari." -- and was gone by the end of the third period, which was just fine with Temari. The junior Tanuki team won 2-0, and Gaara achieved his tenth shutout of the season. Still, Temari was distracted as she walked around the rink to meet up with the pale Kankuro, who really wasn't looking too great, and remained relatively silent as they met up with Gaara after he'd dressed out.

He was, as usual, good-humouredly emotionless, his quiet and blank stare meaning nothing but his inability to express. His crimson hair was wet with sweat; it dangled over the thirteen-year-old's eyes, which were half a dozen shades lighter than Temari's own teal. Temari pulled the redhead into a hug without asking permission; this way, he never had the chance to say no.

"Did you have fun?" she asked, her chin pressed against the top of his head.

"Yes," Gaara said shortly, allowing her to cradle him for a moment longer before stepping back. His black and silver hockey bag was thrown over one shoulder, green warm-up jacket unzipped far enough to reveal a black tee-shirt to match the black jeans. Temari usually refrained from calling him her little Christmas tree, but it was certainly difficult when he wore the green jacket.

"Good," she said, nodding down at him with a short smile. "Ready to go home?" Gaara nodded once and turned to head down the hall. Though he rarely showed any signs of weakness, there was a certain shuffle to his steps that spoke of exhaustion, and his head was bent forward a bit more than usual. Without speaking, Kankuro reached out and pulled the heavy hockey bag away out of Gaara's grip, slinging it over his own shoulder instead. Neither boy spoke, but no words were necessary for the two. Kankuro's approval was made clear by his acknowledgment of his younger brother, and Gaara could tell him what he was thinking with one flick of his devastatingly solemn eyes.

Temari and the boys made their way through the empty arena and the more crowded concessions and tickets lane. A couple of boys Gaara's age, all sweaty and wearing post-win grins, congratulated the redhead on his game. But it wasn't until they reached the door that someone stopped them, and this time, the newcomer wanted to speak with Temari.

Understandable, since Genma Shiranui was the captain/coach of her team.

He caught sight of her from across the room and broke into a jog to catch up, calling out her name to keep her from exiting. She stopped in mid-step and turned around to face him, eyes slightly narrowed. When Genma approached her out of practice, it usually meant he had a favor to ask, and today was most likely no different. Not that he wasn't a good captain; Genma was just busy with life. He'd smile in passing, make all the jokes in the world at your expense, and was always there if you really needed to talk to him about something, but Temari sure as hell wasn't one to worry the captain with meaningless talk of disagreements on the team. If there was a problem, she trusted the assistant captains to take it to Genma, and that was only if the man didn't notice it for himself.

"Hey," he said, grinning at her around the ever-present lollypop stick bouncing in the left corner of his mouth. Temari didn't know the reason he was always sucking on candy, and, quite frankly, did not want to know. The only time it was ever missing was when there was no room for it around his mouth-guard. "Are you going to make it for practice tonight?" the black-eyed man continued.

"Do I ever miss one?" Temari responded sarcastically, raising an eyebrow.

"Of course not," Genma laughed, shaking his too-long brown hair away from his face as he grinned. He was older than most of his team, but that age difference came in useful in the captaining and coaching of the group. "I can't make it home before practice, so I was wondering if you could pick Yugao up for me."

"No problem," Temari said truthfully.

"Thanks," Genma said with a grin, waving goodbye to her brothers as he turned to head back to his conversation.

"Hey, Genma?" Temari asked, stepping forward as the tension she'd felt since her conversation with Hidan came to a head. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"

"Huh? I mean, sure," her captain said, turning around only to be spun back by Temari as she pulled him over to a circular table beside a concessions stand.

"You two can go out to the car," she told her brothers, speaking over her shoulder. "I'll be there in a sec."

"We'll wait," Kankuro managed to say as Gaara dragged him towards an energy-drink vending machine.

"That stuff will stunt your growth," Genma called, shaking his head with a wry smile on his face. "Kids," he said with a laugh as he turned back towards Temari, entirely missing the bird that was flipped his way by Kankuro. Strangely enough, even that didn't make Temari smile. "What's up?" Genma asked, switching his lollypop to the opposite side of his mouth as he grew more serious.

"The Akatsuki," she said simply. The word was all it took for Genma's eyes to narrow into brown slits.

"What about 'em?"

"They're undefeated, right?"

"Currently," he said, a sly tone stealing into his voice. "Not for much longer, though. I don't plan on letting their record beat ours."

"Right," Temari said simply. "How do they play?"

"That's right!" Genma exclaimed, eyes narrowing again. "You missed that game, didn't you?"

"Gaara had a high fever," Temari said with a shrug. truth be told, Gaara's temperature had been off by merely a two degrees, but Temari couldn't bear to leave him alone when he was feeling even a little sick.

"Well, they play smart, and they play fast," Genma said, his voice shifting to a more business-like tone. "But mostly, they play rough."

"Dirt rough?"

"Well, it all depends on the refs," Genma said. "But if they can get away with it, they'll play dirt. Extreme dirt."

"Not outside the rink, right?"

"Why?"

"One of them…uh, started a conversation with me today," Temari said slowly. "During Gaara's game."

"Conversation?"

"He wanted to know what the name of our goalie was," Temari said, carefully watching Genma to gauge his reaction.

"What'd you say?"

"Something about spilling his brains on the ice tomorrow night," Temari said with a shrug. "But that's not the point," she added as Genma seemingly choked on his sucker, lifting a hand to his throat as a round of horrendous coughing issued from his mouth, his shoulders shaking with the intensity. Temari might actually have been worried if she hadn't been able to tell that he was actually laughing hard enough to give his abs a real workout. "Would they do something to hurt Baki off the ice?"

"I…don't…think so," Genma coughed. "No," he continued with a shake of his head as he got his full breath back. "Especially not with that kind of protection." He stared at her for a moment, then dissolved into a fit of giggles all over again, almost stuffing his fist into his mouth to keep from laughing any harder.

"Hey," Temari sighed, somewhat offended. "I was serious, you know."

"Yeah, I know!" Genma laughed, rolling his eyes as if the idea of underestimating Temari was simply ridiculous, if not life-threatening. "But, you know, Akatsuki has no girls on their team. They're…sexist? They have a female manager, though…what'd he say?"

"Nothing original enough to remember," Temari shrugged. Genma looked disappointed; he'd been anticipating the comeback.

"Well, he shouldn't bother you again after that," he chirped, grinning at his teammate.

"Um, no," Temari said, thinking guiltily of the wager that stood between her and Hidan. "Nah, I don't think he will."

"Good," Genma said. "I'll call Baki about it just in case, though. Is that it?" Temari nodded, already turning to pull her brothers away from the vending machine. "Remember to pick up Yugao," Genma reminded her.

"Alright," she called over her shoulder. She waved back at him, and Genma grinned, shaking his head as he crossed the room to rejoin the group he'd been talking with.

There was no denying the truth -- the upcoming game with Akatsuki made him nervous. He'd been to three of their games, and he'd seen the elbow the massive, oddly colored defensemen threw up whenever he hit. He'd seen the powerful extra stride the heavy right wing added to his charge when going in for the hit. He'd seen the tripping, the punches, the roughing. He'd heard the insults.

Akatsuki stopped at nothing to win. And, as much as he hated to admit it, Genma was having second thoughts about playing...truthfully, about letting the girls play. Of course, there was no way he could keep them off the ice; for one thing, The Tanukis would have to forfeit, for another, he'd be dead within 24 hours or less. In no way did he doubt their skill. It was just…they were small. Well, smaller. And if he knew Akatsuki at all, he knew that they'd target the smallest first.

Genma rolled his sucker around in the corner of his mouth, scowling at the cement floor that flashed by beneath his feet. He knew that Yugao, Anko, Yugito, and Temari would hate him if they knew about his misgivings, but up until a few minutes ago, he hadn't been able to help it.

But now, he figured that, with players like Temari, the nervous fluttering…hell, the nervous flood, was all in vain. Those girls were tough. You didn't become the best female hockey players just by wanting it. No, they fought, they worked, they sweated blood just as thick as the guys. No way they could lose with attitude like that…

….right?


Alright, I'm almost finished with this whole piece, but I wanted to ask a few questions of the readers before I finish. If you could give me your opinion, it would be absolutely lovely.

Question One: Play-by-play hockey or more of an overview style? I could go on and on, but I don't want to if it's something that most readers will just skim over.

Question Two: Is it worth it for me to designate Akatsuki positions? AKA, do you care?

And reviews in general would be great :)