A/N: It's RoRo's fault. She made me read Gantz. Plus I now work seven days a week. And I went of vacation for two weeks.

However, the last two chapters have been slightly reworked by RoRo and I, so they were posted (again. Sigh. Please don't be confused about this).

Also, RoRo deserves a pat on the back for beta-ing this chapter, seeing as I wrote it in the dead of night when I couldn't even make out my keyboard so everything got all messed up, aided by my sleep deprived brain.

Contest: Thanks for the entries, everyone! We'll judge… later… soon… THANKS FOR THE ENTRIES! :D

Disclaimer: I have a panda pillow pet. You know you're jealous.


Chapter 53

Stop, Drop, and ROLL

I couldn't sleep. Itachi hadn't returned to the room yet and it had already been an hour since I'd rejected him in the hallway. The others were snoozing peacefully. Kisame was snoring gently, like a chainsaw and Deidara's twitching feet led me to believe that he was having a dream in which he was running. Sighing, I sat up and stared around the room, wide-awake despite the early hour.

I stealthily slipped out of bed and crept, ninja-like, over to the back wall, cautiously stepping over Kisame to gaze at the framed piece of notebook paper hanging beside the closet doors. It was the rewritten copy of the Bang Buddy Agreement (the original had perished in the explosion at the end of last year).

I'd read the accursed contract many times before, but it was impossible to do so again in the darkness. I could only see my own reflection in the dark glass, staring back at me. How dare Itachi break the contract and make a move? I wasn't prepared for that. It was against the freaking rules! They had all agreed, long ago, not to ask me out, and to let it be my call. Even though that had been infuriating most of the time, I thought that it was a very good rule. After all, as confused as I was back then, I probably would have jumped at the chance to date any one of them.

Now I was still confused, but I wasn't dumb enough to start dating a guy just for the hell of it like I would have before. Hugs and kisses were fine by me. I could deal with those. It felt nice. It hadn't ever meant anything more to me than a symbol of close friendship and stress relief. We were just friends, but we communicated in a more physical way than most. This wasn't something that applied to just Itachi; it was true of my relationships with all the guys I trusted.

Unconventional? Yes. But who gives a shit about convention? I, personally, couldn't care less if people looked down on me for being strange and expressing myself in a different way. That's their problem, not mine.

So how the fuck did it all go to hell? Exactly when did everything turn to shit? Itachi wasn't someone who just confesses the second he thinks 'oh, she's cute, maybe I like her.' No, this had to have been something that had been building for a while. When had it started? Did the others know? Was that why they'd left us in the hallway—to give us space? Was Itachi the only one who'd finally stopped straddling the fence of friendship and 'something more', or had some of the others joined him?

I resisted the urge to groan. This was beyond frustrating. I couldn't even figure out my own feelings half the time, so how could I possibly accept theirs? There was the whole Pein thing to dwell on, of course. Had I just fallen out of love with him? Immediately, I knew that wasn't the case. My interest in Pein had been fangirl-ish at worst and desperate at best. There wasn't any love. It was more of a platonic-romance than anything else.

Thinking back, there had been an extensive list detailing the numerous reasons why I liked Pein, and it was exceptionally embarrassing. Of course, Pein was handsome, interesting and mysterious (at least he seemed like it at the beginning). The truth was that these shallow reasons were frighteningly similar to the ones I used to justify my crush on Sasuke—and that was just revolting. Admittedly, my interest in Pein had run deeper than my adoration for Sasuke. I admired Pein's leadership skills, the way he could be both be leader of the Akatsuki and also run the Rinnengan at such a young age. Pein was smart, and deep down; he was friendly once you got to know him.

I remember the day we met. I was shaken up from the Orochimaru encounter I'd suffered earlier, and he was able to provide the security I was so desperately seeking. (After he finished mugging me in the women's restroom, of course). In fact, the mugging only added to his appeal. It showed he could both be funny and intimidating.

Beyond that, Pein was an orphan like me, and looking back on it that was probably what sold me on him. Even before my parent's deaths I'd been a friendly person, but after they passed, I'd become desperate for someone who understood me. Pein was the only person I'd met who'd had a similar experience. Of course, Naruto was also orphaned, but his parents had died the same day he was born, so he hadn't felt the same magnitude of loss. This was just one of the many reasons why my friendship with him had fallen apart. Now Pein, I could relate to.

Despite all the things that made us compatible together and the reasons he was so desirable to me, there was no denying our lack of chemistry. There were sparks, for sure, but no fireworks between us. As soon as I became a little bit more comfortable with myself and realized that I would be fine, when I accepted that Orochimaru wasn't actually hiding behind every corner I peeked around, when I knew more than anything that I would always have friends to pick me up when I fell down, I didn't need Pein to be my emotional crutch anymore. As soon as that usefulness was gone, there wasn't anything left between Pein and I but familiarity, friendship, and physical attraction, which were things I already had with all the other guys.

Thus, Pein and I changed from lovers to 'just friends'. We went our separate ways with no hard feelings and a sense of kinship.

So if Itachi asked again, I could explain that that was why Pein and I hadn't gotten back together and it had nothing to do with me switching my interests. However, I reminded myself, there was still the Deidara argument to address.

Deidara was the only boy in the room I hadn't kissed. As far as I knew, he was the only boy in the Akatsuki I hadn't kissed. For god's sake, I'd made out with Kakuzu and not him! Despite our lack of lip contact, this had never really weighed that heavily on my mind. Deidara and I were close and I didn't need a physical representation of that to know it was true. He was my best friend. I felt closer to him than I did to anybody else in our group.

I loved everyone in the Akatsuki, even Kakuzu in a grudging sort of way. Everybody brought something to the table that I liked, but I lately just seemed to gravitate towards Deidara. It wasn't because he looked like Naruto—I knew both Naruto and Deidara so well that I couldn't really see any resemblance other than "they're both blondes" and "they both have blue eyes". And it wasn't because he hadn't kissed me, because kissing didn't really affect my feelings concerning a friendship. Unless, of course, someone I didn't want to kiss me kissed me—cough, Orochimaru, cough.

There was just something about Deidara and I that clicked. And slowly but surely, I think I was beginning to understand what it was. Deidara was erratic, and eccentric. He was nice and smart and he hated math and we had all of these things in common. But most of all, we shared one thing that made us inseparable. We both possessed an unquenchable, desperate desire to be free: to escape anything and everything while turning the world on its head in the process.

That was our chemistry.

Also, we were batshit crazy. He blew shit up; I toyed with a group of dangerous sex gods. We had this insane and impulsive gene in us that made us do things without thinking, whether it was me yelling obscenities out of a minivan window at a soccer mom as Pein and I drag raced her through the suburbs or him, justifying the action of buying a cadaver for his best friend's eighteenth birthday. This psychological defect that we had no problem expressing to each other was what brought us together, and the closeness we built by inadvertently bonding over it was why I liked Deidara as much as I did. I can still recall his face on my birthday last year. It was the first time I saw him ride his motorcycle and I couldn't help but think how... free he looked. I remember wishing he could always look like that.

It was hard to explain to others why all of the things that made him crazy endeared him to me, but it all made sense in my brain. Our similar interests and mutual understanding made us close, but nothing brought us together like our insanity. At the very core of our beings, where our most basic desires lay, we had something in common. That made him more irresistible to me than any longed-for make out session ever could.

And that's why we were best friends.

The only question remaining: Did all these things make Deidara and I best friends, or did I really love him like everybody seemed to think I did?

That can of worms was one I really didn't want to open. My relationship with Deidara wasn't one I felt warranted real reflection, else I might risk mucking up everything we already had with unnecessary feelings that, in the end, I might have misinterpreted anyway. However, I didn't see another option. It was best to get this "examination" over with now.

Being a teenage girl who had never had a serious boyfriend before, I wasn't exactly sure what love was. From the outside, it appeared to be, say, two friends who liked to have sex. But I was pretty sure that wasn't all there was to it. I thought back to how Haku and Zabuza had looked at each other earlier that night, and I knew it must be something deeper than a physical attraction. Did I look at Deidara like that? I wasn't sure, I'd never checked in a mirror.

Shit, this wasn't going anywhere. Abandoning my chain of thought (It was only leading me in circles, anyway) I resumed my quiet pace through the darkened room, all the while being careful not to tread upon any of the teletubby heads that littered the floor. I snuck into the bathroom and splashed some water on my face to clear my head. It was probably too late at night for me to be thinking about this kind of emotional bullshit that I'd spent a lot of time trying to avoid, but it was way past due.

I stared at my reflection in the mirror. A tired, pink-haired girl gazed back. Suddenly, everything seemed to hit me at once. I was exhausted, my thigh hurt, and I was still slightly buzzed. You can't let these things distract you, Sakura. I reminded myself. I'd put this off long enough, and, despite the cliché, there was no time like the present. Okay, reflection. I thought. Idly I contemplated the fact that my present train of thought was an excellent indicator of my current mental state. Give it to me straight. Is this the haggard face of a woman in love? I asked.

My reflection stared back at me, unresponsive, with a determined look in her eyes.

Yes. We love Deidara.

Shut up, Inner, I know that's you. I was asking my reflection, so keep your opinions to yourself.

Inner Sakura huffed. I ignored her. I knew I loved Deidara. The problem was, was I in love with him? I contemplated my reflection for a while longer but no answer came. My life should be a daytime drama. I thought wryly, finally exiting the bathroom before once again employing my ninja moves to walk through a room of sleeping teenage boys without waking any of them and crawling into bed. I curled up into a ball in the center of my mattress and pretended that I was asleep.

Bonbon, who had previously been curled up on my pillow, stretched languidly and them padded over to where I lay, cocooned in a fortress of blankets. She clawed at the bedspread, succeeding in pulling more than a few threads loose before she turned around three times and settled into her new nest for a good night's sleep. She yawned once, her sharp white teeth glinting in the moonlight until she once more rested her head on her paws. Within minutes, her deep purring filled the room. I snuggled closer to the tiny kitten, and before I knew it, I was asleep. I dreamt about socialism and its possible effects on American society today. Oh yeah, I have deep dreams sometimes. It's not all about getting stabbed in the foot, kissing Deidara, and musing about Wonderland. Despite my dreams, the most pressing issue on my mind had not been resolved: what exactly are my feelings for Deidara?

When I woke up, I had this feeling that it was going to be one of those days. The bad kind of days, where you just want to curl up with a good book or a nice laptop and waste the day away because getting up and trying to be a productive and responsible member of society couldn't possibly lead to anything good. First of all, I was tired. Being on hospital pain killers had disallowed me from any heavy drinking at "Homecoming" last night so I wasn't hung over, but it had still been a late night of partying. Plus, the drugs still circulating my system were only increasing my lethargy. And to top it off, my leg hurt like hell.

Meanwhile, Bonbon was pawing my face and meowing, her lamp like green eyes boring into my own. I swatted her paw away. "Knock it off," I grumbled and pulled the blanket over my head. Bonbon, who hated to be ignored, unsheathed her claws and tore my blanket to shreds. I glared at her through the tattered edges of what used to be my favorite blanket. Bonbon only cocked her head to the side innocently, licked my nose with her rough tongue, and then sat back to stare at me expectantly.

I finally realized what it was she wanted through my sleepy haze. I crawled out of bed and flopped lifelessly to the floor before I managed to pull myself up into a standing position. From there, I dragged my lead feet all the way to Tobi's bed and flopped down on the floor again. Feeling very much put out by this much movement so early in the morning, I reached under the pirate's bed and pulled out Bonbon's empty food bowl.

My other hand opened the drawer in Tobi's bedside table and expertly extracted a bag of cat food. I measured out the proper amount, dumped it in Bonbon's food bowl, and pushed the bowl towards her where she sat waiting impatiently. Figuring I might as well not half-ass the task of taking care of her, I dug her water bowl out and proceeded to army crawl to the bathroom where I used the sink to pull myself to my feet before promptly collapsing on the toilet seat so I wouldn't have to stand anymore than absolutely necessary and filled Bonbon's water bowl with the tap.

After that was done, there was the litter box. I stared at it for a moment before I shrugged and wrote it off as a bad job. Then I scribbled out angry instructions to clean the blasted thing on a post-it note and stuck the note to Tobi's forehead. I'm just that productive. It was at this moment that I realized Itachi had arrived sometime in the middle of the night, as he was sitting up in his bed, rubbing his sleep-filled eyes. I must have woken him up. I guess even ninjas aren't perfect. Yawning, he turned his bright red eyes on me, looking both exhausted and remorseful. Whether he was remorseful over what had happened between us or over how much he'd drunk and his major hangover, I wasn't actually sure.

Sighing, I figured this was a now or never awkward conversation that needed to happen. I valiantly struggled to my feet from my place on the carpet and walked towards the door. When I reached it, I turned to look at Itachi and raised an eyebrow as to why he was still in bed, staring at me confusedly. Clearly, this conveyed my desire to talk to him privately—I didn't trust anybody in the room to refrain from eavesdropping, no matter how asleep they looked. Itachi swiftly ripped off his blankets and followed me into the hallway.

Once the door was shut behind him, I took the liberty of leaning against the wall, crossing my arms, and putting on my best interrogation face. Itachi, for a change, did not look at ease with the situation as he awkwardly leaned against the door to our dorm and gave me an appraising look, inviting me to speak first so he could measure my reaction to what had happened.

I decided I'd concede him that. "This is your chance to explain." I gently informed him as I pushed off the wall and stood up straight, uncrossing my arms so I didn't look so frustrated or unapproachable.

Itachi scratched the back of his head in a frustrated sort of way. "What do you want me to say, exactly? Because I'm sure I said enough in my inebriated state last night to give you an excellent idea of my opinion of you."

I stretched nonchalantly to work some of the stiffness out of my shoulders. "I just don't want things between us to change." I stated honestly.

"Neither do I," Itachi responded, to my immense relief.

I smiled. This was good. This was going just the way I wanted it to. I liked Itachi and I really didn't want to lose him as a friend over something as petty as unrequited love. "Alright, then, we're going to stay friends." I decided. "However, the Bang Buddy Agreement clearly didn't hold up, so I think you and I need new rules." I suggested.

"Makes sense," Itachi agreed. "Let's start by you agreeing not to lead me on anymore."

I scowled. "That's not fair. I did not lead you on."

Itachi gave me a look.

I glared. "How was I supposed to know you were going to interpret everything like that, anyhow?" I demanded angrily. I counted to ten in my head. "Okay, okay, let's just say we're both at fault here, me for being a generally overly affectionate girl and you for being a wishful thinker." I conceded. "Now, let's just set down the rule of no more kissing."

"No more flirting with me, either." Itachi added, nodding in agreement.

"I don't even know how to flirt!" I protested.

Itachi gave me a disbelieving look.

I rolled my eyes. "You're the flirt," I accused him childishly.

Itachi raised an eyebrow. The left eyebrow. Nobody ever seems to specify that but me. It was his left eyebrow that he raised.

I ignored his patronizing look. "I want a toaster." I declared and walked towards him. Using a successful version of a very forceful hip sway, I bumped Itachi out of my way, yanked open the door, and reentered our dorm.

Itachi followed me, exasperated. "Yeah, okay, let's just pretend like that wasn't completely random!"

"It wasn't random," I argued. "Those are the terms of our agreement. You get me a toaster and I'll forgive you."

"Forgive me for what?" Itachi asked in a sharp whisper, his voice noticeably lower among the sleeping Akatsuki.

"For making things between us so painfully awkward." I responded offhandedly. "I want a Harry Potter toaster. One that burns a lightning bolt scar into my breakfast each and every day."

Itachi looked stupefied. "A… Harry Potter… toaster?" He repeated.

"Yes, good listening skills, Mr. Uchiha. Ten points to Slytherin for your intelligence." I said sarcastically.

Itachi started angrily at that. "Why am I in Slytherin?" He asked.

"Well, for one, you were doing a very nice impression of either Crabbe or Goyle just there, and two, you have red eyes, just like the Dark Lord." I said simply.

Itachi deadpanned. I grinned at him over my shoulder before I skipped over to Tobi's bed, where I promptly jumped upon the slumbering pirate. "Tobi! I'm hungry, let's go get breakfast!" I yelled.

Tobi sat bolt upright, wide awake. "Breakfast?" He asked.

I nodded.

Tobi grabbed me by the hand and raced out of the room, wearing only his boxers. He ran all the way down to the school cafeteria, which held only a handful of students: the early risers of the school. Tobi and I got in line for cherry pop tarts, bagels, and plenty of pancakes. Once we had staked out a table and begun our feast, the other boys, who were all deliriously tired, half-dressed, and grumpy, lumbered in to join us and bitch and moan about how all my screaming and carrying on had woken them up early on a Saturday. (Oh, the humanity!)

After breakfast and a few angry death threats beginning with "if you ever wake me up early again for something other than a strip tease, I will…" we retired back to the dorm to just hang out.

Itachi left with Kisame to go in search of a Harry Potter toaster. Tobi, upon discovering the post-it stuck to his head, cleaned out Bonbon's litter box and then left with Zetsu to go shopping for his favorite shampoo and some toothpaste. Without the pirate or the fish to make fun of, the room fell into an awkward silence.

"Well, shit, un." Deidara said, throwing down his losing poker hand and abandoning the fledgling game he'd had going with Hidan and Sasori. "Let's do something else, un."

The four of us pondered this for a few moments. "Stick thousands of plastic forks in the school's lawn?" suggested Sasori thoughtfully.

"Been there, done that, un." Deidara waved it off.

"Capture underclassmen and shave their heads?" I supplied.

"Sasuke's hair has been growing back lately…" Sasori contemplated.

"Let's go to a strip club." Hidan said out of the blue.

Sasori turned to him wide eyed. "Yes. Let's do that!" He yelled and hopped to his feet, rushing from the room.

Hidan was right behind him. He spared Deidara and I a glance over his shoulder to call "peace out, suckers!" back at us.

"Well, then." I said dryly, feeling very much rejected.

"Hmm. Well, Sakura, you want to do something fun, un?" Deidara asked mischievously in his deep, lilting voice.

"What'd you have in mind?" I asked eagerly.

Big mistake.

-Several hours and a frightening motorcycle ride later-

"Wow," I whispered, looking around at the grassy landscape. The slight breeze was causing a pleasant rippling effect in the grass. Nearby trees cast black shadows in the hot afternoon sun. "I haven't been here in awhile." It was amazing how the sight of the vaguely familiar landscape could lift my spirits from what they'd been when I had awoken that morning.

It was the very same place Deidara had brought me for my birthday a million years ago. I hadn't seen it since that day, a very memorable one as far as days go. I'd come close to kissing Deidara, gained my beautiful iPod, Waldo, and had been introduced to the Bang-Buddy Agreement. (A/N: please see chapters 18 and 19).

After I got off the bike, so did Deidara. I stood at the edge of the hill and stared at the vast expanse of landscape. In an hour's time, the sun would set behind the distant trees and the sky would light up pink and gold and all my favorite shades of blue and for a few minutes, you'd be able to see the sun and the stars at the same time. But the picturesque scenery was nothing compared to the company.

Deidara came up behind me while I was lost in thought and promptly pushed me down the hill before throwing himself down after me. We were rolling like little kids, getting grass stains all over our clothes and kicking up grass and dirt everywhere. Instinctively, I crossed my arms in front of my chest in the proper rolling position to avoid getting hurt. My leg stung a bit but it was secondary to my amusement. As I tumbled down the hill, becoming more and more dizzy, I began laughing because I hadn't actually rolled down a hill since I was very little and the nostalgia the action stirred made me feel very happy the way only something from your childhood can.

I guess when I was a kid, and when most people were kids, rolling down a hill was freedom enough for us. And we could entertain ourselves just by rolling down a hill for hours on end, whether it was in our front yard or at a sports game or anywhere, really, so long as we had nothing better to do. Somehow, when we were little, rolling down a hill was both mindlessly entertaining and fun and the perfect activity for when friends came over to play. We'd all laugh our heads off. Then we grew up.

We grew up, and we stopped rolling down hills and we stopped being able to laugh so easily. Instead, we worried about everything, even grass stains. But here I was, rolling down a hill, simply enjoying the feeling and reveling in the fact that this was a very large hill, and wondering when in the hell did I stop thinking rolling down hills was fun. Because it sure as hell is and I've been missing out all these years in which I wasn't rolling down hills. It felt like a luxury, even though all it took was a body and the right setting.

So why had I allowed myself to forget this feeling? So much had happened. I'd gotten old. Or, at least, my younger self would consider any fifteen year old elderly. But I felt old sometimes, weighed down by baggage like an old lady, so I acted like a kid, and I acted without thinking, and I laughed when I was rolling down hills even though I was way past that age.

But I couldn't really act like something I wasn't forever.

I wasn't really a kid anymore. My parents weren't around to fix my mistakes. I had been attacked by a very dangerous pedophile. A few days ago, there had been a knife in my leg. Rolling along behind me was a great guy that I somehow couldn't admit to liking because I was too goddamn afraid. I was terrified. And I knew that when I was younger I would have allowed myself to fall in love with him and tell him so immediately because I'd always felt so secure in myself and was so confident that even if I were rejected, I had my father's chest to cry into and my mother's soothing hand to pet my hair and nothing had ever threatened me before.

When I reached the bottom of the hill and finally stopped rolling, I was sobbing. Deidara, still rolling down the hill, stopped and stood up immediately and ran down to meet me. He skidded to a halt on his knees by my side. "Are you okay? Is your leg hurting, un?" He asked, appearing flummoxed because just a minute ago I had been laughing.

"I'm fine, I'm fine." I blubbered, lying on my back, covering my eyes with my palms. "I'm so stupid. I'm sorry, Deidara."

"What's wrong, un?" Deidara asked helplessly.

"I'm so," I sobbed. "Old!"

Deidara froze. That was not what he had been expecting. "I'm sorry?"

I hiccupped and let a few more tears leek through my fingers before I began to get a hold of myself, before I finally managed to sit up and wipe the last of my tears from my eyes. I hugged my legs to my chest and spoke to my shoes. "Do you remember being fearless when you were younger?" I asked quietly.

Deidara pondered for a moment about the time, many moons ago, when he had blown up Kisame's parents' two-car garage. The only thing that had survived the blaze was Kisame's Dad's old pickup truck, Big Blue, which would later be gifted to Kisame's cousin, Suigetsu. Deidara hadn't thought twice about blowing the garage up or about the consequences. He had simply wanted to, and so he had, trusting in nothing more than fate to deliver him from the repercussions. "Yeah, I guess so, un." Deidara answered evenly.

"Me too," I said. "But lately I think I've lost the nerve I used to have. I'm not as fearless as before but I like to pretend that I am." I explained, still addressing my toes.

"It's all just a part of growing up, un." Deidara responded.

"I guess so," I conceded. "But I miss it. I wish I had more guts so that I could be as fearless as I was then. Then I probably wouldn't have ever let Orochimaru get so close, and I would never have mistakenly led Itachi on and caused him to ask me out." I muttered.

Deidara stiffened by my side. "Itachi asked you out, un?"

I nodded. "Last night."

"What happened?" Deidara pressed.

"I turned him down, but we both sort of lost our tempers. We made up this morning, but I still feel like I've done something wrong." I snuck a glance at Deidara's stunned face, before craning my neck to stare at the rapidly changing sky. "When my parents first died, I was so afraid of being alone that I latched onto you guys very quickly and for a while, I just went with the flow because I was afraid of doing anything to upset you that would cause you leave me." I confided. I'd never told anybody about this, but I knew I could trust Deidara. He'd be way too embarrassed to tell any of the other guys about this.

I took a deep breath. "I knew I was leading you guys on. Especially when you guys came out with that stupid Bang-Buddy Agreement." I glanced to the top of the hill where I'd first been faced with the offending contract. "But I was having fun, so I didn't stop. I told myself not to worry, to just keep pressing forward, and that everything was fine and it would all work itself out because we were all good friends, so it's not like anything between us was a big deal.

"But it was a big deal, because Itachi asked me out, and his feelings were hurt and so were mine and I never, ever wanted anything like that to happen. I'm too old to live by a code that says "damn the consequences, I'll do what I want". I can't just "mingle with chaos" and pretend like that's normal, acceptable behavior. I need to think for myself and allow myself to feel what I feel, instead of just running away like I always have by distracting myself with yet another guy from my harem." By now, I was crying again, silent tears that ran down my face as my hysteria mounted.

Deidara, seeing my disquiet, cautiously slipped an arm around my shoulders and allowed me to sob quietly into his chest until the worst of my panic subsided. He was silent for a long time after that, until I lifted my gaze to his face, waiting for a response. "What do you feel, then?" He asked seriously.

"I feel terrified. I'm scared of being alone now that Mom and Dad are gone. I'm scared of Orochimaru and I probably always will be. I'm frightened that I might have to break a few more hearts in our group because of my own stupid mistakes. And I'm afraid to tell you, of all people… how I really feel." I admitted, turning my head to stare vacantly at the stars and feeling very small.

At this, Deidara pulled me even closer to him, until I was almost sitting on his lap. "Well, I think you're an independent woman who can get out of any scrape, even if your parents aren't here to pick up the pieces. As for Orochimaru, that's something for you and a trained shrink to discuss, but you've just got to remember that we'll always be here to protect you. And when it comes to the guys, let them make their own mistakes. If they confess to you and you don't feel the same, it's their fault for interpreting your actions incorrectly in the first place. But, I'm curious. What is it you feel about me, un?" He asked teasingly, but I wishfully thought that he also sounded hopeful.

I smiled wistfully, comforted by the familiarity of Deidara's teasing. I scraped together my long lost courage and decided that it was time to put my recently discovered feelings into words. Only today had I realized that love was a lot more than friends with benefits could ever be. I trusted Deidara unconditionally. We had a lot in common. We respected one another. I liked parts of him he didn't, and vice versa. We were physically attracted to one another. And, beneath all of that, there was more. I was drawn to Deidara like a magnet. He could always make me laugh. I could cry in front of him. We were close in ways that were indescribable.

I had found my answer.

Now I finally knew where I, personally, stood. I stopped worrying about what everyone else thought. I was me. I could only take responsibility for myself. I was imperfect. I wasn't even particularly gorgeous or anything like that. But none of those things mattered because I was in love and it felt like being a kid again, rolling down a large hill, laughing for no noticeable reason other than for the sake of laughing. In that moment, I felt like a woman much older than myself and simultaneously like a small child gazing adoringly at the great big world, thinking foolishly that nothing could harm me.

"I'm in lo—" My confession was cut off by the engine of a monster truck fast approaching us.

When I looked up, sure enough, there was the Tobi Mobile, once more cutting off yet another romantic interlude between Deidara and I. Tobi was hanging out of the window, wailing my name at the top of his lungs. He hurriedly parked the truck and tumbled out of it with the rest of the guys. They ran, sometimes falling in Kisame's case, down the hill to where Deidara and I sat.

I was immediately engulfed in talk, including much apologizing for the Bang-Buddy Agreement, several rude comments about Itachi, and some questions as to what Deidara and I were doing alone together. From what I could gather, the rest had found out about Itachi and had chastised him to no end for upsetting me. After that, they produced the Bang-Buddy Agreement for reference to once again ridicule Itachi's behavior but I seized it, ripped it from its frame, and tore the paper into shreds.

The boys stood dumbfounded as I nonchalantly made confetti of the accursed thing. "As I was saying," I said primly and turned back to Deidara. "Before I was so rudely interrupted by a certain monster truck's engine: Deidara, I'm in love with you."

And with that, I was strongly tempted to turn on my heel and run away but I forced myself to stand there and stare into Deidara's eyes for however long it would take for him to respond.


A/N: Well, I'm glad that's over. Sorry there was so much narrative in this…

A comment of Chapter 51: I feel like Itachi, as a caterpillar, would look a lot like Heimlich from A Bug's Life.

RoRo's Comments:

Don't apologize to your readers. Apologize to me! I'm the one who had to edit it all! (Wait, you already did). Well, I had to get that out anyway. Also…

Voldemort must forever be referred to by Sakura as "the Dark Lord". That's how Death Eaters refer to him. And even though Sakura has a part of all of us in her, she is most especially like you, ChaCha. And I know that in your heart of hearts you wish you were a Death Eater. So there.