Naruto and all characters found therein (c) Masashi Kishimoto.

I've never been much of a girly-girl, if I'm going to be completely honest. I've always played rough, gotten dirty, and dressed in clothes designed for functionality, not fashion. If you were to ask Ino how badly I lack fashion sense, she'd be ranting for days about how much of a hopeless tomboy I am. I don't think I'd ever owned more than one kimono or yukata at a time, partially because my parents weren't exactly wealthy, and mostly because I'd never really enjoyed wearing them aside from festivals and weddings.

Enter Sasuke: beautiful, regal, and Mr. Desirable to just about every girl around my age in Konoha. I wanted to be girly for him. When I took notice of him, it was like my entire existence was suddenly anchored around him. Guys had never really been anything more than playmates up until Sasuke walked into my life, and it was like I'd completely missed the "ew, cooties" stage.

So, I tried to learn from Ino the intricate art of becoming a beautiful, desirable girl. But no matter how much filched makeup from her mother she caked onto my face, we couldn't get rid of my tomboyish personality.

I sighed as I stared into the bathroom mirror at the plain, familiar face staring back at me with my father's green eyes and my mother's pink hair. Pink may be a girly color, but it'd never done me any favors. It's awful trying to find clothes that don't clash with either your eyes or your hair (I eventually gave up trying so hard, but Ino would always lecture me if I dressed in something less-than-perfect).

I had a selection of inexpensive new makeup laid out on the counter in front of me, but I couldn't bring myself to choose something and put it on. What was the point of it all? Getting all pretty and girly is something that girls do to attract guys, right?

'What the hell am I doing, dolling myself up like this?' I thought, slowly getting more frustrated and confused by the minute.

I looked over at the yukata I had hanging on the shower curtain rod. Why dress up like I used to do for Sasuke?

When I was little, I'd gone to the Tanabata festival with my parents and enjoyed every minute of it. From the games to the lanterns to the food and finally to the fireworks and stargazing, it was the most exciting and magical night I experienced each year. When Team 7 was formed, the four of us would go together and enjoy the festivities until late into the evening. I knew I was only going with my teammates and not my parents because of Sasuke, mostly because I was delusional enough to think that, on such a magical night, perhaps some beautiful romance straight out of a fairy tale would come into being. The festival itself, after all, is to celebrate the rejoining of two star-crossed lovers.

And then Sasuke wasn't around to go to the festival. I still went with Naruto and Kakashi-sensei a couple times, but mostly I either went alone or with my parents. I would write on my Tanzaku every year the same thing: "To see him again." I sometimes fancied myself the mythical Orihime and Sasuke would be my very own Hikoboshi. I prayed every year the night before the festival that the following night would be the night we meet again.

A quick knock on the bathroom door shook me from my introspective musings, and I recognized the quiet presence of Itachi's chakra. I almost snorted at the slight irony he presented: if it wasn't one Uchiha on my mind, it was always the other. Well, not always… but most of the time.

Shaking my head to clear my mind, I looked over my shoulder and called, "What's up?"

"I left my hair-tie in one of the drawers," he answered. "Are you decent?"

Smoothing my hands down my dressing gown, I cleared my throat, still somewhat agitated by my thoughts from before and missing the feeling of joy I used to get from preparing to go to the festival. "Yeah, sure," I answered, opening a drawer and pawing through it to find a hair-tie for Itachi as he opened the door.

I felt his gaze on my back as I searched through the drawers, and I frowned as my search grew a little more frantic as the minutes passed and no hair-tie was showing up. Grumbling to myself, I started taking out the various brushes, combs and other random things that cluttered the drawer (wondering why there was even clutter to begin with, seeing as we had only been here a couple days), setting the various objects on the counter and accidentally knocking down a palette of eye-shadow and an eyeliner pencil, the latter of which rolled to a stop at Itachi's bare feet.

"You seem… agitated," he said softly.

I snorted before replying, "Probably because I am."

He bent down to pick up the dropped items and straightened, eyes focused on the two items in his hands. "What is troubling you?" he asked, eyes flickering to my face as he closed the door.

"It's nothing."

"Obviously it isn't 'nothing,'" he replied, "or else you wouldn't be fidgeting and tense."

I frowned. "It's… I don't even know. It's this whole festival thing. And dressing up. I used to love it, and now… Now I don't know how I feel about it."

I turned and faced the mirror, staring at my face. "I used to dress up with Ino. She and I would put on her mom's makeup and pretend Sasuke would ask one of us to marry him. After he left, I would wish every year for him to come home, for us to meet again."

Itachi was silent for a few moments until he asked, "Do you still wish to meet him again?"

I sighed. "Not after how he's hurt us," I replied, not even realizing I'd let 'us' slip until after I'd said it. "I-I mean me, how he's hurt me."

Itachi uttered a soft chuckle. "My brother is foolish. Had he been smart enough to realize what a beautiful girl he was leaving behind, he wouldn't have left at all."

Choosing to ignore whatever implications that statement held, I smirked and shook my head. "He is foolish, but I'm done waiting for him to magically appear at the festival. Maybe what I'm really stressing about is what I'm supposed to write on my Tanzaku?"

"I think what you're really stressing about is change, and how to adapt when things are no longer the same as they once were," he said quietly. "For now, you should focus on getting ready for the festival. Perhaps you'll figure out what to write on your Tanzaku after a night of frivolities?"

With that, Itachi left the bathroom, closing the door behind him as I continued to stare at my reflection.

"Change, huh?" I muttered. "Hm."

'Things certainly have changed since my genin years,' I thought to myself. 'But Tanabata will always be the same. Maybe tonight the festival will just be a festival, and fun will be fun.'

As I started to clear away the clutter and put things back in their places, I frowned. "I thought he needed a hair-tie…" I muttered, thinking back to when he could have possibly grabbed one without my knowledge, and finding no such opportunity. "Sneaky little weasel."

Inner nearly died from blood loss at the sight of my fellow Akatsuki dressed in kimono. I'd always had a thing for men in traditional attire, but my daydreams had never been quite this… well, dreamy.

Mentally shaking myself to keep from drooling, I pulled out my purple fan and fluttered it dramatically in front of my face (mostly just to hide my blush) and asked, "So, what do you guys think? Did Hana-san have good taste, or what?"

I twirled once in my flowery new midnight blue and soft purple yukata. I was really pleased with how I'd tied the light blue obi (I'd usually had help from either my mother or Ino-pig), and I loved the way my hair streamed down in tendrils from the up-do I'd put it in. It was simple, yet elegant, yet completely me. I wasn't pretending to be some girly thing for anyone, and I could just be a girl at a festival with my teammates with no worries about anything for once. I felt better already.

Hidan wolf-whistled, of course, and a throat was cleared here and there as varying words of appreciation were uttered between the six men standing around me in the hallway outside our rooms.

Ego satisfactorily inflated, I began walking down the hall with a smile on my face. "Come on! I'm hungry!"

Tanabata in Kawabe was almost exactly like the festival in Konoha, the only difference being it wasn't a ninja village, but a resort town. There were tons of civilians everywhere, and any fellow shinobi had their chakra masked so as to avoid detection and to blend comfortably with the crowds.

There were food stands everywhere, and specialty shops had paper kimono or purses, streamers and lanterns hanging outside their doors to usher in blessings from the gods. The first thing that hit us were the smells of all of the fried foods, and my stomach immediately started growling up a storm and generally making a nuisance of itself.

We broke off into groups, with the plan of meeting up for the fireworks at nine by the lake. Kakuzu bought me a few sticks of dango before he left with Kisame, Itachi and Hidan, and Deidara stuck around up until I stated I wanted to play games. Tobi, of course, wanted to spend time playing games with me for a while, but eventually he wanted to go torment "Deidara-sempai" some more before the fireworks began (apparently he couldn't go much more than a few hours without picking on his partner).

I didn't mind being left by myself; we all had different interests and wanted to enjoy different things at the festival. I walked around for a while until I came to a stall selling charms of different kinds. Some were for safety while traveling, some for luck, love, prosperity, creativity, et cetera.

"Well who'd have thought I'd run into a pretty little thing like you again all the way out here?" a deep voice asked from behind me.

I knew that voice…

I spun around and came face-to-chest with one of the most intimidating (yet incredibly kind) men I'd ever met. "Kuma-san!" I cried once I'd looked up, a grin stretching across my face before I could stop it.

His answering smile was all teeth, just as I remembered. "Sakura, right?" he asked. "What are you doing all the way in Wave? You're not on duty are you?"

I shook my head. "No, no! I'm here with some of the guys. Leader sent us on vacation, though he didn't phrase it quite like that."

Understanding flashed through his brown eyes. "Ah, I see. That time of year again." He winked. "Come on; let's go somewhere to talk," he said, offering his arm for me and inclining his head. "I've some information I need you to pass on."

I nodded, tucking my hand into the crook of his elbow.

Somewhat sorry to leave it at that, but it's nearly four in the morning and I'm tired and I'm starting to have trouble typing without my fingers tripping over each other (lol).

I did promise you guys some more Kuma a while back (quite a while back), so the next chapter will have a bit more interaction with him (though I've a feeling it will probably be the last we see him... at least for a long while). Sorry this chapter wasn't so funny or sarcastic or fluffy, but I've been in a more serious mood lately so I guess it's translated to this. At least I updated, yeah? *cowers*

It's been a really, really emotionally trying year for me. Real Life drama has been seriously harshin' on my creative mojo, here. But! I'm pushing through it. I will do my best, and all I ask is that you enjoy what I can offer, and be patient when I can't update. You all have been so great throughout this, and I'm so sorry I'm such a slow updater. :'c Your steadfast support has really been such an honor and a blessing for me as a writer. All my love are belong to you. ;]

Thank you to the anonymous reviewers! The only reason I don't like the anonymous option is because I can't reply to you all personally, but don't let that deter you! Keep reviewing!

As always,

Much love,