"Hey! Let's go to the dance together, kay?"
"Why would I go with you? I'm going with Kakashi."
"What??? Kakashi asked you?"
"No, but he will."
"You're so confident that he'll like you."
"Come on! He's a guy! I'm a cute girl! If he's not going to ask anyone, why wouldn't he say yes to me?"
"He's so not interested in you."
"Some supportive best friend you are! Come on, let's go find Kakashi!"
Neji was not amused. "Detention."
Kakashi nodded. "Yep."
"For being late."
"To your class."
"Is this a joke? Why are you even here?"
Kakashi blinked. "I teach this class. Why wouldn't I be here? And class started five minutes ago."
Neji looked at the nearly empty classroom. Only Hinata and a boy he didn't know sat quietly in their seats. "Could've fooled me," he muttered, taking a seat.
At least he'd be in detention with the rest of the class. Though, come to think of it, an hour after school with just Naruto, Chouji, and Sakura to keep me company is not exactly a good thing…
Tenten sighed. "This is weird. I'm so used to walking with Neji…" She stood outside the school and debated her options.
Lee sidled over. "Are you in need of a youthful escort, Tenten?"
Tenten managed a grin. "That's okay, Lee. I'll manage on my own." She left quickly, not giving herself a chance to change her mind.
The walk home for Tenten was fairly long, in bad weather even a full hour. In a year, she'd be driving to school. Now, Neji picked her up in the mornings with his limo. But in the afternoons, when they were both awake, they liked to walk together and talk. Today, the walk felt like it lasted for days, though. With no company but her mp3 player, Tenten felt defenseless, somehow. I need to carry around some weapons, she thought to herself, picturing kunai and shuriken. She laughed at herself. Kunai? What is this, the Middle Ages? I need some pepper spray! Her house was a little too close to Akatsuki's tiny little lair for comfort, and she always felt a small degree of nervousness when walking down the two streets of theirs that dipped into her walk home. Well, not when she was with Neji. He somehow always made her feel safe…
She smiled to herself and took the long route home, away from Akatsuki. She wouldn't tempt danger.
Ino was concerned about Shikamaru. Lately, he'd become even more reticent than before, and she knew Shikamaru better than anyone else. If he wouldn't talk to her, something must be very wrong.
"Shika!" She bounced over to him, not letting him see her worry. "Walk me home today!"
"I always do," Shikamaru mumbled.
She took his hand and was surprised when he yanked it out of her grasp. "Shika?"
He sighed. "This is so troublesome."
That stung, though it shouldn't have. "Shika!"
"Sorry. Let's go."
They walked together, Ino chattering away and Shikamaru absorbed in his own thoughts. As they passed Suna High, though, he looked up, the slightest glimmer of interest in his eyes.
Ino folded her arms. "Okay, Shika. Tell me what's up."
Shikamaru looked startled. "Oh. Nothing."
"Pineapple Head!" That Suna girl…Temari…was running toward them, a wide grin on her face. "What took you so long??"
"Troublesome Woman," Shikamaru said by way of greeting.
Ino glared at Temari. "Shika, kick her butt." Shikamaru ignored her.
Temari smirked. "Come with me."
"Whatever." But Shikamaru followed her all the same.
"Shika!" Ino blurted out, outraged.
He turned back, and she saw that for the first time in days, he looked like himself. "Sorry," he said finally, and turned away.
Ino watched, gaping. She was so surprised she forgot to scream.
Tsunade folded her hands under her chin and stared at the crowded teachers' room. "I've decided that we'll be having a dance next Friday. Anko! Make it happen."
Anko nodded, smirking. "Gladly."
Kurenai looked at Tsunade, confused. "We don't usually have the Homecoming Dance until next month."
"I don't care," Tsunade shrugged.
"The students need a break," Shizune put in. "With the recent…trouble, there's been a definite drop in morale. This should shake things up."
"I'll get right to work on it," Anko grinned. "Give me a day, and the whole town will be talking about it."
The teachers dispersed, and Rin turned to talk to Kakashi. "Seems like Tsunade's worried."
"Could be," Kakashi said vaguely.
Rin gave him a look. "You're still running dangerous errands for her, aren't you? This conflict isn't going to be resolved by the teachers. It's up to the next generation to make peace. And not some crazy old pervert and his sidekick who wander around, spying on Akatsuki."
"Now, now, now," Kakashi said innocently. "Jiraiya's not my sidekick." He earned himself a slap on the arm.
"I can patch up most things," Rin told him. "Cuts, bruises, even broken bones to some degree. But I can't patch up a dead man. So start taking this seriously."
She stomped off, and Kakashi sighed. "It was nice while it lasted."
"What?" Asuma asked curiously.
"My years as a bachelor."
Asuma stared. "Are you and Rin…?"
Kakashi raised his only visible eyebrow in grim amusements. "I now have a substitute mother among the faculty."
"Is Tenten there?" Neji tried not to let the worry coursing through his head show. "I tried her cell phone and there was no answer."
Tenten's mother sighed. "That girl… She didn't come down for dinner, so I assumed she was with you. Just a minute. She must be asleep or something."
Neji waited, cursing his stupidity. Why'd you just panic because she didn't pick up her phone?? That's not the guy she likes, some overprotective pansy who worries when his girlfriend isn't around… In fact, you-
"She's not there." Tenten's mother sounded unconcerned. "She must be out with one of her girlfriends. I'll tell her to call you when she gets in."
Neji thanked the woman and picked up the phone. Sakura was with me, Hinata's upstairs and alone…maybe Ino? But truthfully, Tenten wasn't so close to the other girls. They were too…well, girly, and Ino most of the three. The odds that Tenten would hang out with her were slim.
He tried her anyway. No answer.
He tried Tenten again. Nothing.
Maybe they went to the city and are on a subway? Maybe they're in Ino's room and left their phones in the kitchen? Maybe…wow, I really am overprotective. I wonder if I'm stifling her.
He called Ino again, and this time she picked up. "Is something wrong, Neji?" she asked, her voice muffled. It sounded like she had been crying.
"Is Tenten with you?" he asked impatiently. He didn't have time to be nice and do the whole drama girl thing.
"No," Ino sniffed. Clearly, she just wanted to be asked about why she was upset.
Neji couldn't care less. "Then something is very wrong," he murmured, and hung up the phone without even saying a goodbye.