Disclaimer:I do not own Naruto or any of its respective characters. This fanfiction is for entertainment purposes only. (Mostly my amusement.) However, if I DID own Naruto, it would be called "Neji and Hinata: Byakugan Babies Galore!" That has a nice ring to it...

PS: Read the Author's Note. It is addressed to you.

Author's Note:Well, where to start? Okay. For the benefit of those reading my stories regularly (or even occasionaly) these events take place right before Wake of the Storm in the Gifts series. For the benefit of everyone else, This is an unchaperoned party of Academy students. As this is an Alternate Universe, you will find many differances in my portrayal of the characters as opposed to canon. That said, I think you'll like the story. Also, everything I've written up to this point has been NejiHina. This SasuHina thing is a mere plot device for my larger stories. And, one more thing. If you don't like strong Hinata, don't read this (or any of my other stoies, for that matter.) ::wink::

Hey, one last thing. I was really looking forward to some reviews. I worked really hard on this story, and I want some feedback. Please...


Yamanaka Ino finished setting up the strobe-lights in her parents' large billiards room and bar. She and Sakura had managed to move the billiards table against the back wall, then slipped a thick plywood board over it, before draping a large purple cloth over that and stapling it in place so that it wouldn't slip. Now it looked more like a stage, which was the whole point.

Ino watched Sakura scoot bar stools up on either side of the makeshift stage.

"Wow," Sakura said, admiring the darkly festive atmosphere. "It really doesn't look anything like you parents' house anymore."

"Well," Ino placed a smug hand on one hip. "It better not, with all the work we did this morning." She smirked. The blonde took a peek outside the window, noting the rising sun as its white-gold light shimmered down upon the village. Sakura walked over with a bag full of limp black and silver balloons.

"I just hope you're right about this." She shoved a handful into Ino's gut in a gesture that was more punch than anything. "If Sasuke-kun doesn't respond this time..." She rolled her eyes in a way that made the fine hairs on the back of Ino's neck stand on end.

"One of us will get his attention. I'm sure of it." The Yamanaka tried to hide the evil gleam in her eye, but Sakura, always suspicious of the pig, caught the look and filed it away, along with the other bits of information she'd culled from her frienemy in these last few early hours.

"Yeah," the bubblegum-haired girl cackled with a grin. "I sure hope its me."

They stared at one another, their mutual desire for Sasuke scorching the air between them.

"I bet you do..." Ino smiled painfully.

"Hey, Sakura-chan! That's not fair! How come I wasn't invited?"

"It's Ino's decision, Naruto," she droned. "There's nothing I can do." They were on their way to Ichiraku Ramen for a late lunch. They had been given an extra credit assignment to help out at a few local businesses near the noodle shop. Sort of a precursor to the D-ranked missions they would receive as genin. Sakura didn't mind the work, it was easy after all. What she minded was being stuck with Naruto for the whole afternoon.

"She's your best friend!" The blonde ran in front of her, and was pushed aside by the kunoichi.

"Is she?" Sakura wondered aloud, while Naruto collected himself from the concrete, before falling back into stride beside her.

"You act like she is." He gave her that smug frown that always, always made her want to knock his teeth out.

"Look, Naruto," Sakura tossed exasperated arms into the air. "I've already asked her to reconsider. She won't, and there's nothing I can do about it!"

"Well, why not? Just tell me why she won't let me come," he begged.

Sakura forced herself to stare at his best puppy impression, all watery-eyed and sniffly-nosed. She let loose an irritated sigh.

"You know why, Naruto," she answered as gently as she could. The Kyuubi vessel's face scrunched in hurt, before clearing of any semblance of unhappiness. The wide grin etched onto his features now was a souless mask that Sakura had learned to identify during their years together in the Academy. Just looking at him made her heart ache. "I'm sorry, Naruto. I tried, I really did..."

"Ah, no worries, Sakura-chan." He leaned toward her, hands behind his head as they continued on their way. "When does the party start, anyway?"

The kunoichi nearly choked. "You're not going, Naruto!"

"Yeah, yeah," he waved a dismissive hand. "But you're going, and you are not walking all the way to Ino's alone in the middle of the night."

"I don't need a babysitter!" She snapped.

"Hey, it's not like that!" He waved his hands back and forth. "I just want to make sure you'll be safe." The kunoichi rolled her beautiful jade eyes, then flung long wisps of bubblegum pink away from her face. "I'm just gonna walk with you, and when we get there, I'll even arrange for someone to walk you home. That's all, Sakura-chan." He looked toward one of their classmates, who was attending to the menial task of roof repair across the street. "I know when I'm not wanted, and believe me... I don't wanna be anywhere that I'm not welcome."

Uzumaki Naruto and Haruno Sakura walked through the gate and onto Ino's front lawn. The whispers stared almost immediately.

"What is he doing here? I thought Ino had more taste than that," the little bitch pointed a finger at Naruto. Sakura sneered nastily in her direction, and the girl backed off into her clique.

"Ah, just ignore it, Sakura-chan," Naruto advised. His eyes never left the path ahead. "I'm used to it." The rosy-haired girl frowned sadly as the insults continued to pour in from the small crowds scattered throughout the lawn.

"I don't understand what Ino sees in them," she hissed loudly enough for the bitches to hear. Naruto caught sight of the one he was looking for; Nara Shikamaru sulking in the doorway.

"Some people might wonder what she sees in you," he grinned.

Sakura's face fell into a sadistic sneer. "Are you saying I'm like them?" She asked too softly. Naruto shrugged, then bolted to avoid her heavy-handed anger.

He ran all the way to Ino's door, slipping behind Shikamaru before the other boy knew what was coming.

"Naruto!" Sakura wailed. Shikamaru caught sight of her eyes, and cringed.

"What are you doing here?" The spike-haired ninja demanded. "If Ino sees you--"

"I'm not staying," Naruto replied, watching Sakura's slow, menacing approach. "Just came to ask a favor of ya, Shikamaru."

"And what's that?" Shikamaru dared to ask. Sakura was getting awfuly close...

The boisterous blonde snickered heartily. "You wouldn't mind walking Sakura-chan home, would you?" He gave his best foxy grin. "You being a gentleman and all, I figured you might actually enjoy it."

"What?" Shikamaru's face fell in an instant.

"That's the spirit!" The Kyuubi vessel slapped Shikamaru on the back, sending the boy flailing toward Sakura. The kunoichi dodged, and he tumbled down the steps, where he landed with a thud, and a long, drawn out groan. Sakura turned back toward Naruto, eyes gleaming with promised pain. Thankfully, the doomed boy was spared, for Ino chose that exact moment to bound through the door, snaring all of her accursed attention.

"Sakura! Where have you been?" Ino leapt for her, then tugged her inside without ever glancing at her uninvited guest.

Hyuuga Hinata looked herself over in the full length mirror beside her dresser. Her hair was neat, even if a little damp. She smiled, listening to the wind howl outside her bedroom window. By the time she arrived at the party, she'd have that windswept look Sasuke liked so much.

Clank... clank, clank...

Speaking of Sasuke.

Hinata glanced at her clock. She told him to stay outside the compound, to wait for her near the gate. She wrinkled her nose. But she'd also known he would ignore her request. Uchiha Sasuke simply didn't like being told what to do. Still, that didn't dampen her mood, or smooth her nerves.

The Heiress ran her hands down the wispy, short, cream-colored babydoll dress, hooking her finger under the wide, flowy hem. She reached until she felt the lace edge of her satin slip about an inch above. She just wanted certainty that her slip wouldn't be visible. Satisfied with the length, she took a moment to adjust the straps over her shoulders. The Heiress breathed deeply. The dress was a slight, nebulous sheath, wafting around her sculpted form, acsentuating and revealing the barest hint of curves. She retied the red ribbon around her throat, looping it gracefully, then her hands flew to cover her nervous giggle. Sasuke was going to love this dress!

Clank, clank... clank, clank, clank...

She looked over at the window, and the pebbles still being thrown against it.

Hinata skipped forward, then pressed her hands and forehead against the glass. In a pose that suggested he hadn't just been pelting her window with small rocks to gain her attention, Sasuke gazed up at her from the thick patch of grass below. He had dropped the pebbles in his hand a split second before she saw him, and she'd only noticed because of the slight spike in his chakra when he executed the speedy maneuver. The Heiress bit back a laugh. Was there no end to the tactics he would employ to make himself look cool?

She pulled up on the window. It didn't budge. Hinata checked the lock. It wasn't locked, so she tried again. Still, no movement. Finally giving up, she waved her hand, attempting to relay to Sasuke that she would have to sneak out of a different window, when the Uchiha leapt toward her.

"S-Sasuke!" Hinata backed away, startled.

With an amused smirk, he pulled a stiff wire out of his black leather kunai pouch. One thing she'd noticed about Sasuke, was that he never went anywhere unarmed. And for occasions such as this, he wore his weapons in style.

Sasuke bent the wire at a ninety-degree angle, then slipped the shorter side under the window. He then beckoned her with a finger. When she was close enough, he made a gesture indicating that she should bend the wire further to cradle the window. She bent it, then he motioned her to stay put. Hinata rocked back and forth on her bare heels, watching with a ghost of a grin as Sasuke tugged and tugged, but still couldn't open the window. He scowled, and she shrugged.

"I'll just go out another window," she said absently, hopping back to her dresser. She opened the top drawer, pushing her undergarments aside as she retrieved a plain ring with two keys attached. Sasuke glared at her back. Before Hinata could take one step toward the locked door across the room, Sasuke had the window up with a deadened thud.

Hinata gasped. "How did you--"

"So this is your room," he said, climbing inside. "It suits you."

"I didn't say you could come in," the Heiress frowned.

Sasuke's eyebrow arched slowly, while his black, black eyes fell upon the key in her hand. His pouty lips began to curve with glee. "Hinata-chan," he whispered. "I can see your panties."

The Heiress' pale orbs immediately shot downward. Her dress was short, but not that short! She was puzzled. There was no way Sasuke could see those... so, what was he--" Her eyes bulged, then she turned her head to a pair of racy little boy-shorts that she liked to wear during training-- hanging from the key ring!

She let out a high-pitched squeal, then stuffed the garment, along with the keys, back into the drawer. "Y-You didn't s-see that!"

"See what?" He feigned ignorance, amused by her scarlet blush. Sasuke stepped fully into the room, looking around in wonderment. Although, she noticed that he'd only given the bed a cursory glance, keeping his back angled toward it slightly. Out of respect? Maybe.

"Well," she twisted her hands together nervously, upsetting her jangling silver charm bracelet. "We'd b-better go before..." She didn't need to say anymore. Her suitor sauntered toward her, taking her waist in his arms, and drew her into a long, sweet-tasting kiss. She licked her lips when he finally released her.

"Where are your shoes?" He asked. She only pointed to the open box on her bed. He nodded. "And, do you have a jacket?" This time she managed a quiet 'no', while looking nervously away. "Alright," he shrugged out of his sharply tailored black blazer. "You'll wear mine." He settled the blazer over her shoulders, before leading her toward the bed, where he prompted her to sit.

Sasuke lifted the simple, but cute red pumps out of the shoebox beside her, kneeling down to slip them onto her dainty feet. Hinata clutched onto the tasteful little red purse she'd selected, as his eyes rose to meet hers. Then he stood, holding out his hand.

"Come on," he tugged her forward, the click of her heels sounding across the room as he led her to the window. Sasuke then scooped Hinata up in his arms, before leaping down to the grass below.

"Now," Ino pulled Sakura into the sparsely populated billiards room. She backed the other girl up against the stage. "We have to get Hinata up on this stage." Her grin was sly and menacing. "We have to get her drunk, and when she is, we just watch all that superior Hyuuga grace fall by the wayside." Her giggle was so sinister, it made Sakura's stomach turn. "Have you ever seen a drunken Hyuuga? It's a sight, let me tell you!" Ino's teal eyes gleamed and sparkled like fiery jewels. "And the best part?" She smiled in a way that could almost be described as sweet. "When Sasuke sees that she's just like the rest of us, he'll be forced to drag her down from that god-damned pedestal!"

"Hinata doesn't drink," Sakura answered quietly. "How are we supposed to get her,of all people, drunk?"

"Well," the Yamanaka made a sweeping gesture toward the banner hanging across the ceiling. "That's what this is for. She'll feel obligated to celebrate in her own honor."

Sakura read the banner. "'Congratulations! Sasuke and Hinata!'" Then, she began to fume. "You never said anything about this!" Her hands fell to her hips, as she leaned forward. "I thought this was just another one of your make-out parties! Just another 'Sasuke Free-For-All'! You never said anything about congratulating them on their engagement!"

Ino giggled sharply. "Would you have agreed to participate if I had?" A long pause. "And don't act so innocent. You had to know it would come to this."

"This?" Sakura swept her arm sharply through the air, drawing Ino's attention toward the banner. "This is dishonorable!"

"That's right," Ino said without a moment's hesitation. "Do you want Sasuke?" She asked, tipping her head to the side.

Sakura's lips pulled taut, and she glared down at her shivering fist. "Of course I want Sasuke," she spat back at her rival.

"Then what choice do we have?" Ino stepped forward, grasping the other girl's shoulders. "Tomorrow night, the Uchiha Clan and the Hyuuga Clan will come to the final agreement on the terms of the marriage. Their betrothal will be official, and we will have lost! Both of us!" Ino started shaking Sakura around. "To Hinata!" She stopped abruptly, to let Sakura's eyes roll back into place. "Besides," she slowly led her disoriented frienemy to the bar, where an exasperated Kiba had been conned into serving drinks. "The sign is just the bait. If Hinata thinks we're trying to make up, she won't suspect anything." She shoved Sakura onto a stool, then tossed her loose blonde tresses in Kiba's direction. "Bartender," she cooed. The Inuzuka just stared at her. "Get my friend here started with something smooth," she whispered coyly.

"Gotcha," Kiba said. Ino gave him a saucy smirk, before bounding off to greet more of her guests.

"I can't believe I got myself mixed up in this..." Sakura whispered, digging her nails into her knees. Was Naruto just kidding, or was she really like them?

"Mixed up in what?" Kiba was shaking some kind of liquid in a steel cylinder.

"Ah, nothing," she lied.

"Hn. You know, you really ought to ditch Yamanaka." She stared blankly at Kiba's tattooed face. "She's not lookin' out for you." Then, Kiba's expression turned serious. "And, there are others who are just waiting for a chance to look out for you, Sakura-chan."

She sighed, hanging her head. "Like Naruto? Lucky me." Kiba only shrugged, before setting a glass of pink liquid in front of her. He chanced a glance at the back wall, spying Aburame Shino lurking in the shadows.

"What's this?" She asked.

"Strawberry daiquiri," he answered. "Sweet and smooth. Just what the doctor ordered."

When Hinata and Sasuke walked through the gate, the whispers began anew. The Heiress was unconcerned about what any of them thought. It was none of their business, anyway. So, she held her head high, matching Sasuke's stride with ease. She pulled his blazer closer, to prevent the wind from ripping it away, which promptied the Uchiha to wrap his arm around her shoulders. Sasuke looked down at her, and she smiled.

"Are you excited?" He asked, face as stoic as ever.

"Well," she laughed nervously. "Yes, I am a little."

He chuckled, then his eyes focused ahead, at the doorframe holding a sweetly smiling Ino, and an equally impassive Shikamaru. "You just let me know when you want to leave," he said.

"We just got here," she whined. "I'm not thinking about leaving yet."

"When you do--"

"You make it sound like it's inevitable," the Heiress pouted.

"You trust Ino?" His eyebrow arched.

She took a moment to consider the perpetually scheming Yamanaka. Hmmm... Perhaps she should be wary. Then, she frowned a bit. No. She wouldn't let the past sully any future good will between her and Ino. She would give the other girl the benefit of the doubt, along with Sakura, for she knew neither of them could breathe without consulting the other.

"I'm glad she invited me," Hinata answered confidently.

They came up the front steps and Ino beamed, shimmying forward in the sequined, aquamarine, flapper-style dress and silver stillettos laced up her shapely calves. She pryed Hinata from Sasuke's embrace. "You have got to come in and see everyone, Hinata-chan!" She led the shy Heiress past the threshold, sparkling in the strobing light streaming from the house. "Shikamaru, you'll take care of Sasuke, won't you?" And they were gone, the click of their heels blending into the pulse of drum and bass.

"Great," Sasuke scoffed.

The Nara stared solemnly at Ino's 'guest of honor'. "Follow me," he said.

Shikamaru led Sasuke into the house, where the Uchiha was swarmed by his adoring fan-girls.

Through the throngs of ecstatic, frenzied young kunoichi, Sasuke saw Hinata being ushered into the billiards room. "Don't touch me," he hissed, while trying to push past the groupies. He watched with seething rage as Ino slipped his blazer off Hinata's shoulders, leaving it on the back of some random chair. Little cunt. The hell was she up to?

Shikamaru grabbed hold of Sasuke's arm, tugging and pushing his way through the mindless masses. "Out of the way," he sneered. "I doubt Sasuke wants to look at you overfluffed, clown-painted little harridans, anyway." Their shocked gasps were a refreshing spring breeze in the crowded house. "Don't act so surprised," he hissed.

Sasuke couldn't help but smirk. "So," the Uchiha decided to take the initiative. "What's this about?"

Shikamaru tore his hand away from Sasuke's arm when they had cleared the worst. "Congratulations," the Nara shrugged, irritably, "to you and Hinata-chan."

"Really," Sasuke's eyes narrowed. "So, what's with your attitude?"

"None of your business!" Shikamaru snapped. The two boys glared evenly at eachother. It had been a while since they were last made to spar, but both being (relatively) serious about the shinobi arts, they had payed careful attention to the others' weaknesses. Shikamaru was well aware of Sasuke's crush on Hinata, so it stood to reason that Sasuke was also aware of Shikamaru's crush on Ino.

"Oh, I get it," Sasuke smirked. He leaned in to where his words would be most effective. "Ino not paying enough attention to you?" Shikamaru groaned, then stalked away. "Figures." Sasuke watched the other boy storm off to vent his frustration on someone else.

When the Uchiha turned around to follow after his date, he saw a certain pathetic excuse for a ninja trying to pass his jutsu off as... well...

The girl smiled happily as 'Sasuke' began a comical demonstration. "And then I was like--" He made his eyes bulge in his best Sharingan impression. "Come get some!" He raised a fist in the air, shaking it around. His giggling companion sloshed her drink around as she clumsily tried to rub against him. He threw his arm around her.

"Oh, Ssassuke-kuuun," she slurred. "I had no idea you were so... (hiccup)..." She stroked his arm.

'Sasuke' leaned toward her, grinning. "Me neither," he answered.

"That makes three of us." The real Sasuke grabbed the imposter by the scruff of the neck, then dragged the flailing boy through the nearest door. Finally, he tossed 'himself' onto a bar stool and waited for the smoke to clear.

"What the fuck?" Naruto rubbed the back of his neck.

"You tell me, dobe!" Sasuke forced through viciously clenched teeth. "Since only one of us remembers I'm engaged!"

"Ah, hehe, sorry 'bout that," his eyes creased in defeat. "Oh, hey..." He sat up, searching the strobe-lighted room, "I saw Hinata-chan a minute ago." When he didn't elaborate, Sasuke scowled. "Guess she didn't realize who I was." Naruto pinched his chin between two fingers. "Man, is she ever hot..."

The Uchiha stared at his friend, willing himself not to drill his fist through Naruto's teeth. Instead, he whispered. "Don't look now. Ino's coming this way."

The blonde's striking azure eyes widened fully, before he launched himself over and behind the bar. "Is she gone?" He asked quietly.

"I don't know," Sasuke vaguely replied. "Looks like she's going to be hanging around here for a while."

"Awesome..." Naruto lied with force.

"Why don't you stay there. I'll come back when the coast is clear."

"Hey, wait!"

It was too late of course. Sasuke had already left. But, as he approached the small table where Hinata, Ino and Sakura were seated, he could hear Kiba's thoughtless growl.

"Naruto!" The Inuzuka yelled. "What the hell are you doing under there?!"

"That was like pullingteeth." Ino sat beside Sakura at what they had dubbed the 'VIP' table. Only problem was, they couldn't keep either one of their 'VIP's' there long enough to enact the plan. "Maybe I should have invited him, after all..." She was speaking of Naruto, of course, whom she'd just had to throw out personally.

"Would have saved me a lot of trouble," Sakura grumped. She took a sip of the daiquiri Kiba had made for her earlier.

Ino looked at her. "Is that the same drink?" She held out her own empty glass. "You really need to loosen up, forehead."

"Thanks, but I think you're loose enough for the both of us."

"Jealous?" Ino stood, shaking the table as she leaned heavily against it.

"Not in this lifetime..." Sakura rolled her eyes.

"Humph!" The Yamanaka flounced away into the swarm of bodies.

"Good riddance!" Sakura spat. She knocked her knees together, placing her hands upon them, while her eyes focused on the pretty paisley-print patterns on her pale green dress. She looked up just in time to see Sasuke and Hinata disappear around the corner. "Fuck!" She cursed, bowing her head again.

"I'm surprised, Sakura-chan." The voice was a familliar one, though not one she remembered hearing a whole lot of. She raised her face to meet the shaded eyes of Aburame Shino. "I've never heard you curse like that before," he said.

"Well, I don't usually." Her frown deepened. "But I--" She stopped, refusing to say another word.

Shino studied her as the previous song faded and was replaced. Her breathing slowed, and she looked out into the crowd; watching, searching. For what, the Aburame didn't know. Then, her eyes settled on empty space, and her lips began to move, ever so slightly. She was contemplating, and Shino was certain that the conclusion she reached would effect him in ways he never imagined. Then, he watched her mouth the lyrics for a moment, before her eyes darted back to his. Sakura shivered, pulling herself back behind an invisible curtain.

The corner of Shino's mouth curved the slightest bit. Sakura was a more complex flower than he'd initially thought. And it was foolish of her to think she could hide herself away from him now, after revealing so much in the span of a few stolen heartbeats.

"Sakura-chan," he held out his hand. He was a practical ninja. He knew he might someday regret this, but he'd be damned if he let the opportunity slip by. "Do you want to dance?"

Her brows creased together, and she looked somewhat pained. Then finally...

"Sure," she answered with a quick nod. "I'd love to."

The lovely, jaded, jade-eyed kunoichi accepted the offered hand, rising to melt into the crowd with her new dance partner. Shino placed a tentative hand on the small of her back, leading gently. The heat of the dance floor seemed to rush over them, and at once, sweet little Haruno Sakura had been transformed into a graceful, prowling creature, stalking around him like a hungry predator. Her piercing eyes saw straight into his own shaded orbs, and he knew... No matter what Ino or anyone said, Sakura would be a formidable kunoichi when she finally grew into that volatile temper.

"Sakura..." Her name fluttered off his tongue as any butterfly would, darting from blossom to glorious blossom. "Sakura," he repeated, and the lazy smile she gave him had the bug-ninja pressed against her back, smoothing his hands over the pale green fabric covering her torso and thighs. She really was like a flower. Even the fragrance of her lustrous hair was that of her namesake, the sakura blossom.

He breathed her in, daring to open his senses to the myriad of information that his bugs were so eager to share with him. 'Female smells good,' they said. 'Female tastes good.' Shino stared at the curve of her neck, and the tiny beetle taking perspiration samples. Maybe he should tell them to be quiet. Did he really need to know how good she tasted? 'Flower?' the bugs asked, completely baffled by the kunoichi. 'Where is the nectar?'

Indeed, Shino wondered. Where is the nectar? He trailed the tip of his nose over her heated skin, inhaling slowly. What exactly did she taste like?

Sakura giggled. "Shino," she whispered, snaking her arm up and around his neck, only to tangle desperate fingers in his thick brown hair. She turned, and soon they were face to face. But the moment she smiled that big, warm, sincere Sakura smile... Shino could have sworn he'd died and gone to Heaven...

Sasuke backed Hinata onto the second crowded dance floor around the corner. He held her waist firmly, while guiding her movements against him within the frenzied crowd. Her blush was absolutely adorable, and every boy within three feet of the Hyuuga Heiress was stunned still and silent when she actually started to move on her own.

"That's it, princess," Sasuke whispered against her ear. He nuzzled the red ribbon around her neck, before she felt his lips pressed onto her skin. Hinata gasped when the Uchiha's hand slid down her back and over her bottom, where his fingertips absently played with her dress, and the backs of her thighs. "Let the beat carry you..."

"S-S-Sasuke!" She tried to push away, but was spun around until all she could focus on in the haze of light and mist, were Sasuke's black, black eyes contrasting against his stoic expression. The smirk was slow in coming, but when it finally curved its way upon Sasuke's perfect mouth, Hinata was as helpless as the day she was born.

"Is something wrong, princess?" He enveloped her body in his own, while they swayed back and forth. Sasuke's touch was so subtle as he explored the flesh that she'd left bare for his eyes. Her arms... Her throat... Her lips... The kiss was electric, coursing through her limbs like liquid fire. They broke away, and Hinata was left drifting in the slow spiral of Sasuke's Sharingan.

"Y-Your eyes," her hand rose to block her vision.

"I can't help it," he answered, moving her hand away with an ease that startled her. Then, he pulled her closer. "You're so beautiful, I want to see everything..." The Heiress shivered under his scrutiny. "Don't be afraid," he said, watching her teeth sink into her lower lip. She took a step back, and he a step forward. "There's nothing to be afraid of." He entwined his fingers with hers, pushing her gently back until the Heiress could go no further. Hinata felt the cold wall behind her, and was acutely aware of the rise and fall of her chest while Sasuke's hands slid through her hair.

This time the kiss was gentle, slow and seductive. He wound his tongue between her teeth, and all she could do was grip onto his shoulders. Gods damn him. Gods damn that beautiful Uchiha. Sasuke knew her far better than she'd ever thought possible. He released her, as well as the Sharingan, and she shoved him right back onto the dance floor. He knew she liked the game he'd just started, but what he didn't know, was that the Heiress had already mastered it.

"Don't do that again, Uchiha." She put her hands on her hips. "Unless you want me to start a systematic shutdown of your chakra network."

Sasuke grinned that evil, narrow-eyed grin. "Then let's dance, Hyuuga."

Akimichi Chouji stood, imovable, in front of the entertainment center. There was a line of people trailing along the wall, all of them with song requests or 'suggestions' that would occasionally lead to an enthusiastic punch in the face.

"Next time watch your mouth!" Chouji pushed the drunken boy against a chair. "I don't care what the song makes you think. I won't have that kind of behavior in Ino's house!"

"Shit, man! I didn't say I was gonna do it!" The boy stood back up, balling his fists.

"Do what?" Nara Shikamaru leaned against the doorframe. He'd been in a foul mood all night, and now it looked like he had an excuse to toss someone out.

Chouji watched his friend for a long time, considering his mood and possible reaction, then said. "You don't wanna know, Shikamaru."

The Nara's brows drew together forcefully. "So, it's like that?" He was upon the hapless drunkard in less than a second. "How's about you spew your indecent innuendos someplace else!" He thrust the other boy to the floor, kneeing his back and pressing his face onto the hardwood. He twisted an arm back until his opponent/victim winced in pain.

Shikamaru hauled the boy to his feet, then marched him straight to the front door, where he was launched over the porch and into the dirt.

"You're banned for the next ten parties!" He shouted. "Pick your sorry ass up and get the hell off Ino's property before I come down there and mow the lawn with your face!"

The bruised and battered boy stood and hobbled toward the gate. "I'm gonna tell Ino what you did at school tomorrow!"

"Tell her whatever you want! It won't save you!" Shikamaru answered back with two well placed middle fingers. He slammed the door upon his return, and all of Ino's other guests made a point to stay as far away from him as they could get.

After patroling the rest of the house, he found himself back in the billiards room, standing between the two dance floors, and staring up at the 'congratulatory banner'.

"Dammit, Ino," he grumbled. He looked to his left, and saw that Shino had finally made his move. Then, he looked to his right, and saw Hinata enjoying the hell out of Sasuke's company. They were also dancing, if you could call Hinata's awkward stance and slight movements dancing. Shikamaru's lip curled in a sneer. At least he didn't have to worry about Sasuke anymore. Ino was enough work all on her own.

A swift movement caught his attention, and Shikamaru locked eyes with Kiba, behind the bar. The Inuzuka beckoned him forward.

"What?" Shikamaru snapped upon arrival.

"What are you gonna do about Ino?" Kiba demanded.

Shikamaru's frown was so intense, Kiba thought his face might fall off. "What makes you think I can do anything about Ino?"

"Come on, man." Kiba gestured his head toward the blonde bomb-shell as she slowly, but shakily made her way toward Sasuke and Hinata. "She's gonna make an ass of herself." He looked seriously at Shikamaru. "Put an end to it before it becomes an issue."

"How am I supposed to do that, huh?"

"Hell if I know. She's your girlfriend."

Shikamaru's face tightened in frustration. "Yamanaka Ino is not my girlfriend!" Yet... The unspoken word hung in the air.

The Nara banged his head on the bar, until Kiba yanked him up by his ponytail. "Look!" He forced his friend to watch Ino cutting in on Sasuke's dance. The kunoichi made some weak excuse, but managed to lead Hinata all the way back to the 'VIP' table. Sasuke shoved his hands into his pockets.

"I'll give you ten guesses for what's about to happen at that table," Kiba said. Glancing away, he noticed Sakura heading in their direction. "You're running out of time, Nara."

Shikamaru growled. "Fine," he hissed. "I'll see what I can do." Then, he stormed off toward the girls.

Kiba had intended to watch the ensuing fireworks, but was thoughtlessly interrupted when Shino called out his name.

"Kiba," the Aburame waited for acknowledgment.

"Hey," Kiba's face stretched into a wild grin. "How's Sakura-chan?"

Shino continued to wait, then finally said: "Fine."

"She sure is..." Kiba waggled his eyebrows.

"What's with Shikamaru?" Shino leaned against the bar, determined to change the subject.

"Well..." Kiba pointed toward the 'VIP' table. "He's commited to spoiling whatever Ino had planned for Sasuke tonight, so..."

"So, he's probably gonna end up with a black eye."

Kiba nodded. "At least."

"Oh, Sakura-chan!" Ino took a long sip from the straw floating in her drink. "I was just telling Hinata-chan how wonderful it is that she decided to come!"

Sakura scooted her chair up to the table. "Yeah, It's good to see you outside of school for a change." She smiled warmly.

Hinata crossed her legs, earning her a shout from across the room. "W-Well I-- I'm glad to be here," she answered, trying her best to ignore her drunken admirer. "I was beginning to wonder if you still liked me." She poked her fingers together.

"Or, if she ever liked you in the first place..." Sakura whispered into her daiquiri.

"What was that, Sakura-chan?" Ino managed to inject just enough venom into the words that Sakura sent her a frigid glare.

"Oh, nothing," she smiled a cavity-enducing smile.

"The party is really nice," Hinata said, looking around. "Thank you, Ino-chan." The Heiress layed a hand over Ino's. "I ap-p-preciate you trying to put all that ugly business behind us."

Sakura watched Ino's smile expand, though she squeezed her eyes shut to hide the malice within. "Oh, that's me," Ino beamed. "Just ask Sakura-chan how forgiving I can be." Sakura laughed to hide her contempt. "Hey," Ino leaned toward Hinata. "Do you want anything to drink?"

The Heiress rapidly shook her head. "N-No!" She stuttered. When she regained her composure, she declined again. "No thank you," she said, holding her hands in front of her.

Ino shrugged, fighting not to roll her eyes. "Are you sure? I bet Kiba could make you something really delicious."

"Um..." Hinata pondered a bit. "I didn't know Kiba-kun was here." She pursed her lips together, then smiled. "If Kiba-kun makes it, then yes. I will have a drink."

Ino was ecstatic. She lept to her feet, practically knocking over the table. Her and Sakura's drinks toppled over, spilling onto the tablecloth. All three girls jumped back to avoid the mess.

"Ooops!" Ino gathered the tablecloth, absorbing the alchohol into it. As she played the 'good hostess', Sakura noticed her pushing the liquid more and more in Hinata's direction.

"Hinata-chan?" Sakura tapped her shoulder. "You should just go have Kiba make you something. It may take Ino all night to clean this up." She leaned even closer. "Simple domestic chores like this aren't exactly Ino-pig's strongsuit."

The Yamanaka whipped her head around to face the Haruno. They'd been rivals since the day they had met. What had once been a healthy competition, had spiraled into the passive-agressive relationship that they shared today, only after Sakura had announced her intentions for Sasuke. Since that day, they had maintained only the husk of their friendship. There was little to nothing left beneath the lie.

"Why don't you do that?" Ino bared her pearly-whites in a severely strained grin. She ushered Hinata toward the bar. When the Heiress turned her back, Ino yanked Sakura's arm so hard, the other kunoichi seriously considered sticking her with a senbon needle.

"Hands off, Yamanaka!" Sakura screeched. She balled her fist and snatched her arm away.







They launched themselves at one another. Before they could connect, however, Nara Shikamaru slipped between them, holding them at bay long enough to get a firmer grip on Ino. The blonde elbowed him in the nose-- but he didn't let go.

"Gods dammit, Ino!" He shouted at his childhood playmate. "Knock it off!" She flailed and thrust her body toward Sakura, who waited just outside of her reach.

"I've had it!" Sakura flipped her long, loose bubblegum locks behind her back. "Shikamaru, I hope you can control her, because I am at the end of my rope!"

"Give it to me!" Ino screeched. "I'm sure there's just enough left to tie a noose!"

"Calm down, Ino!" Shikamaru growled. She swung at him again, then sent her foot sailing toward his groin. He knocked it aside with his shin, before hooking her around the ankle, then he seized both of her wrists in one hand, and with the other firmly held her waist. He had her constrained, and she was not happy about it.

"Let me go, Shikamaru!"

"Why?" Sakura snapped. "If Shikamaru had any sense, he'd tie you up and dump you in the shower, Ino-pig!"

"Aarrraaaghhh!" Ino wailed. "When I get my hands on you..." Sakura gave her a catty smile, before turning to leave.

The Haruno had intended to walk herself home, but as she approached the pathway between the two dancefloors, she noticed Shino drifting on the edge of the second one. Sakura was as curious as ever to know why he always wore shades-- especially indoors, and in a dark room like this. She smiled and waved. A lot of things about Aburame Shino had surprised and intriuged her recently. With the return of his confident nod, she was blushing and selfconciously rubbing her arm while he walked casually toward her.

"Sakura-chan," he said. "I was hoping you would accept my company for the evening. Another dance, perhaps?"

"You still want to?" She was stunned. She hadn't expected anything more than those three songs they'd shared. That's the way it always was at Ino's parties. A couple of dances, and if two shinobi-in-training still liked eachother by the end of it, maybe they'd end up making out in the hallway, or something. Rarely was a second dance offered, since most were off enjoying their next conquest. Not that she'd ever participated in such activity, since no one had ever expressed an interest in her before tonight.

"Hai," Shino answered.

"Well, I... don't think Ino still wants me here..."

"Ino doesn't mean what she says."

Sakura shrugged. "She sure fooled me," her eyes slid downward. "But, that's what I get for believing I knew anything about Ino."

"Don't be so hard on yourself, or on her." He cradled her hand in his. "It's still early. Stay. Dance."

"But, it's Ino's house--"

"Shikamaru will take care of Ino."

"Why is everyone so confident in Shikamaru, all of a sudden? He never get's off his ass," the kunoichi huffed, throwing her arms in the air.

"Unless it's for Ino. Then..." He shrugged.

Shino had a point. Whenever Ino came up with a scheme, Nara Shikamaru was never far behind. Rarely was he an active player, but he was always there for her protection, and he never let her get hurt. Sakura glanced over her shoulder, spying the Nara as he dragged their foul-mouthed hostess through the sliding glass door, and onto the patio. Through the hazy glass, she saw Ino preparing herself for an attack, but she froze, unmoving in the darkness. Sakura squinted her eyes, struggling to make out the shape sprawled lazily over a bench.

"The Nara Clan's Shadow Possession," Shino answered her unspoken question. "Now, they'll talk."

Nara Shikamaru stared at the seething girl in front of him. He'd long ago learned to ignore the sound of her screeching voice when he put his foot down, denying her yet another opportunity to harm herself. Why didn't she ever listen to him? Would save her a lot of trouble if she did...

"Shut up, Ino," he said, and she gasped.

"How dare you talk to me that way!"

"Just who are you, Ino?" He questioned, while raising his arm to control her's in a way that was both satisfying and excruciatingly painful. She never let him use his jutsu on her, so it was satisfying to know that he could lure and capture her so easily. It was painful because he knew she'd never submit to this interrogation, otherwise. Shikamaru reached back and she matched him, grasping onto the cord that controled the blinds. He yanked his arm down, and by the force of his will, Ino closed them off from the rest of the house. He chuckled. "I remember a nice girl living in that skin only a few years ago."

"Let me go, this instant, Shikamaru!"


"Do it, Shikamaru, or I'll--"

"You'll what?" He stood from thr bench, and her spine went rod-straight. He walked toward her, and she was compelled forward by his ease of movement. They stopped, merely a breath away, and the Nara whispered. "You gonna punch me, Ino? Little kunoichi gonna slit my throat?" He tilted his head, eyes following the line of her nose as she did the same. "Or, are you gonna kiss me?"

Her teal eyes bulged, and her face went horribly white. "Shikammm--" His lips covered hers.

Ino kept her mouth shut tight. Then, she felt the shadow-ninja's tongue lightly teasing the crease of her lips. He played with her, daring her to open her mouth. Daring her to let loose one sharp retort.

"What's the matter, Ino-chan?" He pressed his forehead against hers. "Got nothing to say?" He waited. His jutsu held her body still, but he'd allowed her enough control for her troublesome mouth, if she dared to use it... "Come on, Ino-chan. Surely you're itching to tell me something..." He caught her face in his palms, then pulled her forward onto his lips once more. When he released her, she gasped for air. "Why is it that I can only kiss you in private? Why won't you tell anyone about us, Ino-chan?" He trailed his hands through her silken, tresses. "Why do I have to keep my precious jewel hidden away like this?"

Ino shivered. "Shikamaru..." She took a deep breath. "We were never--"

"I know, I know," he cut her off. "We were never official. But, why not? Why does Sasuke deserve so much of your attention?" Her lips snapped shut, closing around the words she was about speak, and he saw the beginnings of tears forming in her sparkling eyes.

She was hurting, but not because of him. It was because she'd done something she now regretted. Normally, Shikamaru would end the confrontation before the first tear was shed. He never wanted to be the cause of that kind of pain, but he needed to say this, and she needed to hear it.

"Did you think I didn't know about you and Sasuke? You thought you could keep me so busy with your guests that I wouldn't notice you sneaking off into the closet? Huh?" He strained to mantain control. "All those parties. All that time. The lies, Ino."


"You've been lying to me for over three months."

"Not three!" She wailed. "Only two months! I know it sounds like a lot but--"

"Yeah, that's right," he stroked his chin, and she mimicked him perfectly. "He cut you off after it was clear he was getting Hinata." Then, he scowled. "It's been six weeks since then, and you're still clawing after him." She opened her mouth to speak, but he silenced her with a grunt. "Don't dig a deeper hole," he said. "Just answer the question."

She narrowed her eyes, obviously upset at having been forced into this confrontation. The tears were closer to the surface now, but not quite ready to spill over.

"Well, Ino?" Shikamaru prodded. "Whose are you? Mine, or his?" When she didn't answer, he clenched his teeth, and his fists. "Yamanaka Ino, I promise, if you push me aside, I'll never come back."

She blinked slowly, as if resigning herself to that inevitability, then turned her face away from him. Her dull, saddened eyes scoured the pebbles at her feet, and Shikamaru watched her for a long time. He had released her of his jutsu, but she stood there just the same. Unmoving, unspeaking... uncaring.

The Nara sighed once in grim frustration. "See you inside," he hissed, before pushing past her and into the house.

"Oh, no..." Hinata whispered, as Shikamaru emerged from the patio alone. "Shikamaru-kun looks really upset." Kiba poured her drink, adding a few cherries and a straw.

"I know you like these, so..." He grinned, scratching the back of his neck. "I gave you extras!" Then, he caught sight of her subject, and sighed. "Not good." He frowned.

"What?" Hinata asked.

"Well," the Inuzuka stalled a bit. The Heiress just waited patiently. She knew he'd tell her, eventually. "It's not something that he wants discussed, so..."

She batted her eyelashes. "Tell me, Kiba-kun."

He turned to gaze into those wide, white pools. "You're usually so perceptive, Hinata-chan. I'd have thought you'd have read between the lines by now."

"Read between the lines?" She pondered this a moment, recalling the strange behavior she'd witnessed from nearly everyone she knew. From Ino's uncharacteristic sweetness, to Shikamaru's attitude, things were not as they should be. "I'm afraid I am at a loss," she smiled, deciding to take the path of least resistance. Kiba would tell her, in his own way...

The Inuzuka matched her smile carefully. "What do you think Uchiha would look like if he went out there expecting you to throw yourself at his feet, but only got his guts ripped out by a pretty smile and a few meticulously chosen words?"

The Heiress scrunched her brows together, then covered her gasp with a dainty hand. "Oh, no..." She repeated. The Heiress uncrossed, then immediately recrossed her legs to the other side as Kiba leaned over the bar to snatch a peek. She did a lot of that, he'd noticed.

"Lookin' good in that dress, by the way," he winked.

Hinata blushed terribly, turning her face away. "D-Don't say such things," she scolded.

"Why not?" The Inuzuka leaned closer.

"Why do you think?" Sasuke shoved him aside with a shoulder. Kiba snarled, but stepped far enough back for the bastard to relax, a little. The Uchiha tried to stare him down, but Kiba wasn't as impressed with him as some others were. He even dared to smirk when Hinata smiled into her drink, upon her first quiet taste.

"Mmmm... Kiba-kun, this is really scrumptious..." The Heiress licked her lips and shyly batted her eyelashes.

Sasuke glared at Kiba. "What's in that drink?" He demanded.

Kiba scowled. "There's no alcohol in it, if that's what you're wondering."

"Really..." Sasuke took a sniff of the drink as Hinata sipped from her straw.

"Sasuke-kun!" She jerked her head away. "That's really disgusting!" She set the drink down. "Now I can't even enjoy it."

A very confused and preturbed noise escaped the Uchiha. "What?" Sasuke asked. "I never touchedit..."

She pushed the glass away, sliding it angrily toward Kiba's waiting hand. "I don't want it," she said, and it was final.

Sasuke sighed. "Make her another one," he ordered.

"That'll be five bucks," Kiba held out his hand.

The Uchiha narrowed his cold, black eyes. "Ino, Sakura and Hinata drink for free."

"Everyone else pays," Kiba answered. Sasuke stole a glance at his betrothed, watching a slow smile creep upon her rosy cheeks. Was she punishing him?

"But, it's for Hinata-chan," he insisted. Kiba only shrugged.

"You ordered it," the dog-ninja grinned.

Sasuke heard a speculative giggle from Hinata's direction. Finally, he forked over the cash.

"No rush, or anything," he flicked the bill at the amused bartender. Then, he turned to glare at his date. "In the meantime..." He took her small hand, planting moist kisses along her wrist. "We'll be on the dancefloor."

Nara Shikamaru crossed his arms over his chest, while he lingered near the entertainment center to watch Chouji program the next set of tracks. He was royally pissed, but being the honorable Nara that he was, couldn't just leave without fullfilling his obligations. So he stayed, keeping himself out of sight. Fortunately for him, Ino had also stayed away, and that was the real reason he'd been able to continue patroling her house.

"Can I have a word with you?" He asked Chouji once his friend had finished.

Chouji waved away the next group of people and their requests. "Is there a problem?" He frowned.

Shikamaru slouched further, the grimace on his face making him look gaunt and tired. "Yes. No." He hesitated. "I don't know," he sighed. "It's Ino..."

"Is she alright?"

The Nara shrugged. "I guess... Haven't seen her in the last fourty-five minutes."

"Hmmm," Chouji pondered. "So, you talked to her? What'd she say?"

"Nothing," Shikamaru hissed. "She wouldn't look at me, and she wouldn't answer."

"Wow, buddy," Chouji patted his shoulder a bit too roughly. "That stings." An irritated groan was Shikamaru's only answer. Chouji led his friend around the corner, where he forced him onto a bar stool. "So, what's your plan?" He inquired.

"There's no plan," Shikamaru scoffed. "I'm through with Ino."

"You're joking."

Both boys looked up to meet the disbelieving face of Inuzuka Kiba.

"No, I'm not," the Nara answered testily, warning him with narrowed eyes.

"You must be," he leaned toward him. "With all the work you put into that girl, how could it not be a joke?"

"She's too troublesome. I'm tired of cleaning up her messes, and following her around like some kind of puppy."

"There's nothing wrong with puppies," Kiba snapped.

"But there is something wrong with crazy fucking razor-harpy kunoichis!"

Kiba snorted. "That's every kunoichi who's ever lived, pal," he answered.

Shikamaru glanced around until he caught sight of the Hyuuga Heiress, melting into Sasuke's arms for a slow dance. "Hinata-chan," he said. "Hinata-chan isn't like them."

The Inuzuka scoffed loudly, remembering Hinata's adept handling of Sasuke's temper earlier. "Now, I don't know for sure, but I'd be willing to bet cash that the Hyuuga Clan raised the biggest, baddest razor-harpy in this house tonight."

"What was that all about, anyway?" Sasuke inquired of his fiancee. He looked into her eyes, still a little miffed by her reaction to that mutt, Inuzuka. "You made me look like a jerk."

"You made yourself look like a jerk," she answered. "I simply allowed you to see yourself from our perspective."

"But, what if he put alcohol in your drink?" He ground his teeth, while he twirled her so elegantly in time to the music.

"He didn't," she answered, catching his hand again.

"He could have." He pulled her forward, noting how well her delicate form fit against him. "If Ino asked..."

The Heiress tried to mask the exceptionally annoyed twinkle in her eye. "He would never," she defended Kiba, but gasped when her chest pressed against her suitor's, taking her breath away.

The Uchiha rested his lips upon her neck. "How do you know?" He demanded. Hinata paused for a deep but quiet breath.

"Because Kiba-kun respects me, and because I trust him," she said.

The Uchiha had a scornful look on his face. "What kind ofraport could you have built with him at the Academy? We're only shinobi-in-training, after all."

"I've made many friends since going to train outside of the Hyuuga." Her voice was knife-sharp. "You should know them. Their your friends, too."

"Yeah, yeah," Sasuke pouted. He had to concede this time. The princess had bested him.

Hinata giggled, drawing him back to her pretty smile. "Let's just have a good time, okay?" Sasuke's only answers were narrowed eyes, and a very mischeivious smirk.

"I'll show you a good time, princess," he cooed.

Haruno Sakura held fast to Shino's shoulders. She was intoxicated by this boy and his strange interest in her. How long? How long had he been waiting for a chance to talk to her, and to touch her like this? The Aburame carefully positioned long strands of pink behind her ear, smiling all the while. He had a handsome smile...

"Shino-kun?" She whispered. He tilted his head in answer. "What..." She breathed deeply. "What... I mean why..." Sakura turned away from him as his arms tightened around her. Why on earth was she so nervous? She'd never been this nervous with Sasuke. Finally, she met his eyes again, peering past the darkness shrouding them. "Why do you like me?" She blurted out.

If he was surprised by her question, he didn't show it. "You are unique," he said. "And lovely," he twisted a pink strand around his finger. "And talented."

"Talented." She giggled nervously, while he rocked her to the slow, sensual beat. "I don't have any special jutsu," she scoffed. "About the only thing I'm good at is knife-throwing and little genjutsu."

"You have other talents," he gave a sly smile.

"Like what?"

Shino laughed. "I hear you've got a killer right hook."

The glass door slid open, and Yamanaka Ino returned to her party.

The jewel of the Yamanaka family strode inside, closing the door behind her. She had stayed outside, too afraid to come back, to cowardly to send her guests away. She sniffled. If Shikamaru were still here, she might have asked him to close the party. But, he was gone now, and he wasn't coming back.

She swept the hair out of her eyes, desperate to see what she did not want to see. Sasuke held Hinata closely, swaying deftly to the music. Ino squinted her eyes, fighting back the tears that had yet to fall. She hated crying. Tears were weakness. Tears were ugly. Ino would be beautiful no matter what. So, she resisted the tears, and tried to resist the heart-ache ripping her guts to shreds.

Shikamaru had left her, and he wasn't coming back...

"Shika..." She whispered, as Aburame Shino waltzed by with Sakura on his arm. Ino said nothing as they passed. Sakura looked so happy, and jealous though she was, the Yamanaka couldn't bring herself to ruin the smile plastered all over her rival's face. Sakura looked good with Shino. She sniffled again. Almost as good as Hinata looked with Sasuke.

"Hey, it's our song." Ino gasped at the voice she was so sure would never whisper in her ear again. Strong arms circled her waist, and a stream of hot breath danced down her throat. "Come on, Ino-chan. Don't make me beg."


"Shhhh," he turned her to face him. His dark eyes were calculating, intense. "Don't think about anything else," he said. "Just me." The Nara led her backward through the crowd, and onto the dance floor. "Give me your attention, Ino-chan."

Ino swallowed the sob stuck in her throat. "Sh-Shikamaru?"

"No more games, Ino-chan. It's you and me from now on." She didn't speak; couldn't speak. "It's alright if you don't believe me yet. But, Ino-chan..." He kissed her cheek. "I need you."

Here teal eyes widened, sparkling with unshed tears. "No," she broke away from him. "No, I can't do this." Her head swayed from side to side. "I can't. I just can't," she pushed him back and tried to run, but Shikamaru grasped her wrist, stopping her.

"Ino," he growled. "Stop acting like a baby."

"Shut up, Shikamaru!" She glared down at where he held her. "Get your hand off me!"

Shikamaru smirked angrily, before shocking her with a firm, demanding kiss. "You shut up, Ino," he held her bottlm lip between his teeth. Her captured lip began to quiver, as his scorching eyes finally penetrated her cold exterior.

"Shika-kun..." And she melted.

"Time to close shop, Ino-chan." He chuckled, never releasing her lip from his teeth. "Let's get rid your guests."

"Party's over," Shikamaru ushered the inebriated ninja out the front door. "Go home and sleep it off." As the last of them stumbled down the porch steps, he called out. "Anyone who rats out Ino gets a broken arm!"

"And a broken neck!" Chouji added weight to the threat, by pounding a fist into his hand. Sakura, Shino, Hinata and Sasuke were the only ones left standing on the porch. Kiba had been among the first to leave when his services were no longer required.

"Hn," Sasuke grunted. "Where's our hostess?" He sneered.

"Right here, Sasuke." Ino stepped over the threshold, joining them outside. "What do you want?" She snapped.

The Uchiha walked right up to her. "You didn't do anything," he hissed. "I'm shocked."

Ino's face went cold, then her teeth clentched painfully. "Get the fuck out," she snapped again.

Sasuke smiled, and leaned forward until he felt the breath steaming from her nostrils. "Bitch," he said, then walked away. Shikamaru growled for a long, long time.

As they walked across the lawn, Hinata accepted Sasuke's hand. The Heiress wasn't pleased with the way he'd left things with Ino, but was glad at least that the Yamanaka had conceded defeat, and was willing to let Sasuke go. Things were changing fast, and Hinata felt herself being swept away in the whirlwind. Sasuke was commited to her, and she was commited to... No. There was no sense in thinking about Neji tonight.

"So how was it?" Her fiance asked as they slipped through the gate. "Was it everything you thought it would be?"

"No, not everything," she said, leaning her head against his shoulder. "It..." She bit her lip. "It was better."

Sasuke peered down at her, allowing the slight smile, before he erased it completely with his usual, stoic mask. "Then, it was worth it."

Ino watched only until Hinata and Sasuke had left her property. When they passed the gate, she turned on her heel and stormed back into the house. Sakura sighed, starting to follow her, but was held back by Shino.

"I'll walk you home," he said.

She looked back toward where Ino had disappeared, then faced Shino again. "I think I'll stay and take care of Ino," she declined his offer.

The Aburame waited a moment, just looking at her. After a while, he shrugged. Confused, the Haruno looked back at the door, only to find it closed and locked tight. Shikamaru was no where to be seen.

"They locked me out," she whispered in disbelief.

"So it seems," Shino hooked one of her fingers with his own. "Come on, Sakura-chan."

Sakura slouched, sulking beside the bug-ninja. "She doesn't need me, does she?"

"No, Sakura-chan, she doesn't."

"Alright then," the pink-haired kunoichi straightened her spine. "Let's go."

Inside the house, Yamanaka Ino collapsed onto the floor. She'd tried so hard to force down the tears, but they came anyway, pouring forth from her eyes like geysers of white-hot pain. She wrapped her arms around herself, keening for the loss of someone she'd never truly believed was hers. But, that was life, wasn't it? Harsh, cruel, and completely without mercy. So, she sobbed. It was the only thing she could do.

"Ino-chan," Shikamaru folded her up in his lap, as he sat down beside her on the floor. "It's okay to cry sometimes. Even for a kunoichi."

"But I look so ugly when I'm crying!" She wailed. "How can you even stand to look at me?" Her arms began to flail, and he had to pin her to his chest.

"You're always beautiful, Ino. Even when you're ugly." He thought of all the awful things she'd wanted to do tonight; all of the awful things she'd done in the past. "Even though you're a harpy," he finished.

"Shika..." Her tears were soaking through his clothes, and she clutched desperately to him. "Shika..."

Nara Shikamaru did not approve of the way it had happened, but the shadow-ninja couldn't deny that he liked having Yamanaka Ino's undivided attention. He stroked her hair as she wept, lending her his strength, comforting and protecting, as he'd done openly for years. Ino was better than the sky. Ino was better than the clouds. She was his jewel, and no matter how much he had to work, or how troublesome she became, he would always be her biggest fan.