Disclaimer: If I owned Naruto, we would all be in serious trouble.

Warnings: This fic has bad language. Virgin ears be warned!

Chapter 15: Viva la Liberte

The house belonging to Iruka Umino and Naruto Uzumaki was spotless. Really. Every floor had been swept, every surface dusted and polished, every book carefully put away, shoes put into the closet, video game controllers put neatly beneath the TV with their proper console, empty ramen containers thrown into the trash. It was probably the cleanest either male had ever seen their home before, and Iruka vaguely thought about having Naruto invite friends over more often. This was the first time he'd ever gotten the blond to actually help him clean.

"Naruto, you done with those potatoes yet?"

"All peeled, dattebayo!"

And cook, for that matter. Naruto really didn't know how to prepare anything that didn't require pushing the buttons on the microwave, but that didn't mean he couldn't help with some of the more simple and yet time-consuming tasks. "Good. Think you can get the butter out of the fridge for me?"

"I'm on it!"

Hell, Naruto had never been this helpful with anything. Just as two sticks of butter were set on the counter ("I wasn't sure if you wanted all of it."), the doorbell rang, making a head full of blond spikes pop up like a happy puppy's. "Someone's here."

Iruka did everything in his power not to chuckle at how adorable the boy looked right then. "Well, go on. Answer it."

Seeming to realize then that yes, that was indeed the proper thing to do, Naruto launched himself at the front door like a rocket, skidding across the smooth entryway floor in his socks and barely avoiding a painful faceplant into hard wood. Taking just a second to catch his breath, the boy flung the door open, eyes widening in sheer delight at the sight that greeted him. "Sakura-chan!"

"Hey, Naruto." The girl shifted a bit awkwardly, glancing down at her watch. One-fifty. "I'm not too early, right?" Since she'd been walking (quite a far walk at that) it had been difficult to time it exactly.

"Not at all! C'mon in! Here, let me take your coat."

Shrugging out of the warm material and absently noting how good a host Naruto could be, the girl examined her surroundings, smiling at what she saw. It was exactly how she always imagined Umino-sensei's house would be. A decent-sized, middle-class house, not overly spacious, but not too small. Warm, everything just seeming bright and cheery, a number of tasteful landscapes gracing the walls, the occasional collectible knick-knack here and there, giving the house a nice look that clearly lacked any real feminine touch but at the same time couldn't be considered a typical bachelor pad. She decided she liked it.

"Ne, Sakura-chan."

Startled out of her thoughts, the girl blinked in surprise at the now slightly blushing blond. "Hm?"

"You look really nice today."

Immediately she felt herself start to blush as well. Why did he have to say that so seriously? "No, I don't, Naruto, and you know it." A regular pair of form-fitting denim jeans along with a pink and white sweater from Wal-Mart did not count as 'looking nice'. In fact, she'd spent nearly an hour that morning agonizing over whether or not to wear something nicer, thinking maybe at least a skirt would be more appropriate for the occasion, but had decided against it simply because of her long walk and how cold it was outside.

"No, you really do!" the boy insisted, waving his arms for emphasis. "That shirt looks good on you. And I really like your hair like that. It's cute."

Sakura felt her cheeks get hotter as she reached up to touch the two tiny pigtails she had pulled her now much shorter locks into. "Thanks, Naruto."

Grinning like a madman now, he quickly reached out and snagged the girl's wrist. "C'mon, come say hi to Iruka!"

Being dragged into the kitchen which was already beginning to emanate delicious smells, Sakura was greeted with the sight of her old elementary school teacher chopping up carrots and wearing a light blue apron adorned with cartoon dolphins. "Hello, Umino-sensei."

"Sakura! It's good to see you! Look how much you've grown."

She did her best not to blush again. What was it with these two and praising people? "It's good to see you too... Do you need any help with anything? I'm not too bad in the kitchen."

Her offer was immediately waved away with a smile and an order to Naruto to show her to the den, where the blond immediately collapsed into the cushions of a well-worn couch. "So, you wanna watch TV or somethin'? There's football on, but I don't think you'd really wanna-"

"I love football."

Naruto blinked in surprise as the girl primly took a seat next to him. "Yeah?"


"Awesome, dattebayo!" Making a wild grab for the remote, he turned on the TV to be greeted with a game already in progress. After a few minutes of silence he hesitantly asked, "So who d'you think's gonna win?"

"The Cowboys."

"Oh yeah, how come?"

He wasn't exactly expecting her answer to be an in depth list of stats, highlights, and general examples about not only the team in question but the other team as well. He stared. "Oh."

"Yeah, plus the quarterback is— What the hell? Are you fucking blind? That was holding, you incompetent MORON!"

"Uh, Sakura-chan—"

"Jesus Christ, where do they find these useless dumbfucks? Honestly, anyone could see that that was clearly— THROW THE FUCKING BALL FOR GOD'S SAKE!"

Naruto wasn't sure whether or not to be scared. Luckily for him the doorbell chose then to ring. "Ah, someone else is here. Be right back, Sakura-chan." Flying to the door once more, he wrenched it open to be met with a familiar scowl and glaring dark eyes.


"Heh, teme."

There was a moment of silence as they stared each other down, then, "C'mon in. Sakura-chan's already here. She's... watching football."

Sasuke paused in the process of taking off his jacket, shooting Naruto a smug look. "Che, stupid dobe. That's how you impress the girl you like? Turning on football?"

"She said she wanted to watch it!"

"Sure that's what she said. Girls don't really watch football."

Naruto opened his mouth to snap back a sharp reply, but then stopped, grinning slyly instead. "Okay, teme. Anyway come on in the den."


Naruto led him to the room, poking his head covertly around the corner and frowning. Shit, there was a commercial. No, no, no he couldn't— "Say, teme," he whipped around, blocking the entrance to the room and nearly causing Sasuke to collide with him, "you thirsty? I can get you somethin' to drink if you-"

"I'm fine, dobe."

Well, of course he was. But since an advertisement for Clorox Bleach could still be heard in the background, "Come say hi to Iruka then. Just for a minute."

Sasuke grunted his approval of the suggestion, and after popping briefly into the kitchen to greet the cheerful teacher, Naruto led him back around to the den once more. Only this time the game was back on. Okay, showtime.

Naruto made a sweeping motion with his arm. "After you."

"Hn." Sasuke entered the room walking over to the couch while Naruto held his breath from the doorway. He really, really hoped Sakura was as into the game as he thought she was...

"Hn. Sakura."

"Huh?" Green eyes barely left the TV screen. "Oh. Hi, Sasuke. WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT, YOU LAZY BUM?"

Yes! Success! Looking brighter than the sun, Naruto walked up to the stunned raven, shooting a cocky smile his way. "What was that you were saying earlier, teme?"

Sasuke blinked stupidly.

"Ne, Sakura-chan." Naruto sat next to the pink-haired girl once more. She didn't even yell at him when he purposely let their legs touch. "Dallas has that new receiver, right? He's supposed to be good."

"Good?" Sakura gave him a scandalized look. "Good doesn't even begin to cover it."

It only took about two more minutes of chatter and watching the game before Naruto became aware of one very important fact. The sullen raven sitting at the other end of the couch had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. None whatsoever. And damn if it didn't make him feel good. "So what'd you think, teme? Should they put in Smith or Jones?"

Sakura finally turned to really look at their classmate for the first time since he'd arrived, clearly waiting for his answer. Sasuke glared. "I'm thirsty. I'm getting a drink."

"Eh? But I just offered you a drink like a minute ago!" Naruto cried as the boy left the room, not surprised at all by the diversion tactic. He knew how much it would bother the super cool, elite Uchiha to not know something. This was great. "So, Sakura-chan, about the tailback..."

Sasuke slunk into the kitchen, asking Iruka politely (if a bit moodily) where the cups were and helping himself to some water from the tap. He wasn't really thirsty, but it would look strange if he said he was getting a drink and then returned without one. Damn dobe, setting him up like that. And yes, he was quite aware the blond had set him up. Like he gave a flying fuck about football. The only sport he was even mildly interested in was soccer, and even that he hadn't played or watched in years.

Heading back towards the den, the doorbell rang just as he was passing the front door. He paused, uncertain, but from the sound of it, Naruto hadn't even heard the bell over the string of profanities Sakura was letting lose. Well, it wasn't like Umino-sensei would care. Might as well make himself useful.

Of course, opening the door he expected to be met with Gaara's glare or Sai's stupid smile. He wasn't expecting to come face to face with his Biology teacher, chewing on a toothpick like always. He stared. "Shiranui-sensei?"

"Hey, Sasuke. Happy Thanksgiving."

Sasuke stared some more.

"Oh, the game's on, great. Who's winning?"

More staring. "... Ask Sakura."

The toothpick twitched. "Sakura?"


Shiranui blinked.

"Yeah. Sakura."


"Chouji, come on down! Shikamaru's here!"

"Coming, Mom!"

Shikamaru listened to several bumps before the distinct sound of heavy footsteps bounding down the stairs could be heard and Chouji emerged into the substantial kitchen of the Akimichi household. He shot his friend a grin. "Hey."

"Hey, Shika. Happy Thanksgiving." He spied the lazy boy's parents across the room and quickly gave them a smile. "Hello, Uncle Shikaku, Aunt Yoshino. Happy Thanksgiving." Though as they'd gotten older, the children had started referring to each other's parents more formally outside the house, when they all got together like this old habits came back.

"Hello, Chouji." Yoshino was quick to bustle across the room and give the large boy a hug. "Well, don't you look handsome. Unlike some people." She shot her son a withering glare which he pointedly ignored.

Chouji blushed a bit and looked down with a muttered thanks. He hadn't dressed special or anything, just a thin, dark green sweater made of a soft material he really liked and a pair of khakis. It was the type of thing he normally wore, but he supposed compared to Shikamaru's threadbare jeans and worn-in hoodie he did look well-dressed. He'd always just liked slightly nicer clothes, that was all. Shikamaru liked being comfortable.

"Hey, you get that new game?" the genius interrupted his thoughts, and he quickly nodded, his enthusiasm clear.

"Yeah, let me get it."

"Oh, you boys and your video games," Yoshino sighed with a huff. "It is a holiday you know." She stared Shikamaru down. "You could try spending some time with your family and being more sociable."

Shika stared back, blank and bored.

"Leave 'em alone, Yoshino," Shikaku muttered from his seat at the table. "They're not hurting anything, and they still have to eat dinner with us old folks. Let them enjoy the day."

While Yoshino continued her rant, more to herself now than anyone else, Shikamaru shot his father a thankful look. He didn't have the energy to deal with his mother right then.

There was the ringing of the doorbell, some movement, and then a minute later Chouza entered the room with a familiar blond by his side. Shika smiled up at the tall man. "Hey, Uncle Inoichi."

"Shikamaru." He was granted a warm smile. "How have you been?"

"Fine. You?"

"It could always be worse."

Chouji reappeared and exchanged his own greetings with the man, one thing quickly becoming abundantly clear. "So, uh... where's Ino?" he asked shyly. Because despite the lack of communication the two boys had had with the pretty blond prior to the after school program starting up, Thanksgiving had always been the exception. Their dads always got together every Thanksgiving, meaning Chouji's and Shikamaru's mothers and the three kids themselves were dragged along as well. It was the one day a year where they all seemed to get along without fighting. They just let their parents drink themselves into a stupor while they sat back, ate turkey, and played a shitload of video games. It was tradition.

Inoichi shifted a bit at the question, averting blue eyes away. "She's with her mother this year."

Shika frowned and exchanged a glance with his larger friend. That was odd. Ino had always spent every major holiday with her father, regardless of the time of month. Always, ever since the Yamanakas got a divorce. Were there some kind of new custody issues being brought up all of a sudden? At least now Ino's particularly hostile behavior on Monday made sense. She must have known by then she wouldn't get to spend the holiday with her dad. And in typical Ino fashion, she had turned her disappointment into anger.

Though sometimes Shika really did have a hard time blaming her.


"Can you believe they let them score there? That was just... it's beyond pathetic!"

"Bad call by the coaches."

"I know! That was really one of the stupidest fucking—" Sakura froze immediately, irate chatter dying as she was sharply reminded this was her teacher she was talking to.

Genma chuckled. "Hey, we're not in school. Say what you want." The toothpick permanently affixed in his mouth rolled across his lips. "I'm gonna go check on Ru."

The children silently watched him leave before Naruto lightly told the others, "Don't ever call Iruka 'Ru'. He hates it, that's why Genma does it."

"Genma," Sasuke intoned, eyes narrowing a bit.

Naruto laughed sheepishly and scratched the back of his head with a nervous grin. "Yeah... Look, guys, I'm sorry this is kinda awkward. I didn't even think to tell you Genma was coming because I'm used to it. Y'know, seeing a lotta the teachers outside of school. I'm really sorry."

Gaara, who had silently shown up some time ago and taken a seat sullenly next to the pouting raven on the couch, muttered, "Don't worry about it."


"Yeah, Naruto, it's really no big deal," Sakura insisted with a wave of her hand. "I mean, it is weird, but like, a different kind of weird, not a bad kind. Actually Americans are really overly formal when it comes to student/teacher relationships. There's so many laws and stuff it's kind of ridiculous; like all teachers are out to molest their students or something. In a lot of Asian countries, it's common for students to invite teachers to their house for dinner, or for teachers to visit a student's home and speak directly with their parents if the student's having trouble in school."

The blond perked up. "Oh yeah?"

She tilted her head. "If the Travel Channel's to be believed."

"Shiranui-sensei's not bad anyway," Gaara added softly.

Naruto nodded emphatically. "Yeah yeah, he's a really nice guy. And like he said, we're not in school, so just try not to think about it. You don't need to, like, behave or anything around him."

Sakura was the one who seemed hesitant this time. "You're sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure! What, you think he'd give you detention or something?"

"Well... no, but—"

Genma returned then, toothpick gone, but only because he was currently in the process of guzzling down a can of cheap beer. The kids watched as he resumed his previous seat in the armchair, eyes wide in three of the four cases. He shot them a grin. "I told you; we're not in school. It's my holiday too, y'know."

They all noticeably relaxed.

"When's that creepy guy getting here?" Gaara asked after several more minutes had passed and Sakura and Genma were deep in conversation about the game.

Naruto's face fell. "Oh. Sai's not coming."

"Huh?" Sakura immediately turned away from the honey-haired man, pink eyebrows raised. "Why not? He seemed... well, as far as Sai goes, he actually seemed excited to come."

"I know, right?" Naruto pouted childishly and crossed his arms over his chest. "He just came up to me in the hall yesterday and said he couldn't make it. Didn't explain more than that or nothin'."

"Hn." Sasuke glowered. "Who cares about the freak?"

"Yeah, his loss," Sakura agreed with a dismissive wave of her hand. "He would probably say something to ruin the whole day anyway."

"Yeah but..." Naruto looked pained. "It just seems weird."

"He is weird," Sasuke deadpanned and no one could argue that point. After a brief pause, the conversation went in another direction, all four children, particularly the three from Kakashi's group becoming more relaxed and comfortable with each other. No one said anything more about their pale classmate.


"Stupid jerk, give it back!"

"Hey, you kids leave that alone!"

"Mooom, I'm hungry."

"Stop poking me!"

"Tsume, we're outta beer."

"Watch your language, young man!"

"Get'm, Akamaru!"

"Misaki Inuzuka, you put your sister down this instant!"

Kiba had oft endured taunts and teases from his friends and other acquaintances that he lived in a zoo. While he had to admit his home did hold quite a few more animals than the average American household (all of the canine breed, of course) and most of his family members did come off as a bit rough in their speech and mannerisms, that wasn't generally an accurate statement. However, whenever the holidays rolled around and his entire extended family which included his mother's four brothers and their copious amount of children (the majority of whom were still under ten years of age) came over...

Kiba diligently pried a four year old limpet off his leg and pushed through a pair of arguing eight year olds, trying to find his sister. He had to admit, he was a bit irked she had abandoned him since they usually stuck together during such times, but maybe she was just helping his mom with the last of the cooking. Not that Hana could cook to save her life, but she could at least set out plates for the food to go on.

Shoving his way to the kitchen, he let the swinging door fly loose behind him, smirking a bit when it smacked one of his drunker uncles in the back. That's what he got for not even waiting until after dinner to over-indulge. Brown eyes scanning the steam-misted room, he saw his mother, grandmother, and two of his aunts but... "Hey, Ma, have you seen Hana?"

Tsume spared a brief glance over her shoulder at her youngest before turning her attention back to the boiling pot in front of her. "No, but check out front. She might be waiting for her friend to get here."

Kiba blinked stupidly, mind a little slow at comprehending the words. Friend?

Admittedly confused, he left the kitchen once more to wade through the sea of bodies and reach his front yard. Sure enough, there was his sister, without her coat he noticed, standing and talking to... Oh.

Kiba tried not to stare, but it was hard. Hana had always been on the tomboyish side, anyone who knew her would tell you that, but the girl she was currently talking with... well, she just screamed over-zealous, feminist lesbian. Not that Kiba had a problem with feminist lesbians seeing as his sister was a bit of one herself, but when you saw someone who just looked so stereotypical... The girl had short, spiky hair, dyed so blond it was nearly white, her clothes had all clearly been bought in the Men's department, a black and red baggy sweater beneath a large, camo army jacket, denim jeans a bit loose and sagging. She didn't have any makeup on that Kiba could decipher, but she did have her nails painted, light pink interestingly enough, and wore several rings on her right hand... which he couldn't help but notice when the girl reached up to tuck a loose strand of his sister's hair behind her ear. He promptly made a face. Couldn't Hana have found someone with a bit more fashion sense? He'd seen plenty of girls who actually managed to pull off the whole wearing guys' clothes thing and made it look good. This girl was not one of them.

"Kiba!" Hana cried in surprise, catching her little brother out of the corner of her eye. "What are you doing there?"

"Lookin' for you," he said with a shrug, making his way casually down the front steps of the porch and sauntering over to the two girls. "Who's this?"

"Ah, this is Lori. Lori, my brother."

Kiba eyed the girl a bit more once he got closer, noting she at least had a pretty face. "Hey."

Lori's gray eyes narrowed a bit, like she was sizing him up, before she stuck out a hand. "Nice to meet you, Kiba."

The teenager tried not to wince at the amazon's firm grip, nor let on to just how much he would have to crane his neck in order to look her in the eye. Why couldn't he just grow? Though this girl was quite tall...

"C'mon inside, it's cold out here," Hana interrupted his thoughts, obviously talking to her... friend. "Though remember, I warned you before..."

"Your family's crazy, I get it," Lori responded good-naturedly, pushing past Kiba without a second glance. "It's not like mine's exactly a cakewalk."

Hana smiled brightly at the other girl, taking her hand in a very familiar way and leading her into the current chaos of the Inuzuka household. Neither one of them looked back at the slightly stunned fourteen year old still standing on the front lawn, trying to figure out why it felt like he had just been blown off.


"Top left."

"I see it."

Fingers flying over the buttons and joysticks of the controller, Shikamaru targeted his prey, took aim, and... died. "Troublesome."

Chouji sighed, leaning back against the couch cushions and reaching idly for another potato chip. "We were definitely better at this last year. Not having Ino here makes a big difference."

Shikamaru frowned, and his friend knew that to be his silent agreement. For a minute they sat there, not speaking, until, "I really need a smoke. Let's take a walk."

"Got anything besides Marlboros?"

A lazy smirk. "I might." Which was how the two boys found themselves five minutes later ensconced in a small patch of woods down the road from the Akimichi's house, passing a pipe between them and keeping an ear out just in case someone decided to come along.

"So," Chouji said slowly, once the world had begun to grow a little fuzzy, "what do you think's really going on with Ino?"

Shika inhaled deeply and held his breath, waiting for the smoke to take effect. Once he'd finally breathed out he admitted, "Dunno; but if I had to guess, I'd say it's a custody thing. Her mom probably wants more money again."

"Uncle Inoichi already pays her over half his salary," Chouji muttered darkly.

"Exactly. Which is why this time he's probably trying to hold out instead of just giving in like he usually does. Which is why that bitch didn't let Ino come over this year. Because it is her half of the month technically."

"But it's not fair! She makes Ino miserable!" The large boy cast his eyes downward, obviously distressed. "She's the reason everything got all messed up in the first place. I don't see how she managed to get custody at all."

"She managed," Shika drawled, "because the American court system rarely sides with a man over a woman in a child custody case."

"But Uncle Inoichi's a great dad! And that... that woman-"

"I know, Chouji."

A plump bottom lip disappeared between off-white teeth, brown eyes clouded. Chouji leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees, lacing his fingers together and staring at them, like they held all the answers to his problems. "Isn't there anything we can do? Y'know, to help?"

Shikamaru started to shake his head before being cut off by the rather vehement, "We have to do something!" from his best friend.

Startled for a brief moment, Shika stared at the brunette, bloodshot eyes growing shrewd. His lips twitched. Chouji didn't have any kind of outbursts like that very often, certainly never bothered to defend himself with that kind of fervor; but then, how could he forget to take into account just who they were talking about. Looks like time and distance didn't change some things. "Well..."


There was a knock at Neji's door, soft and hesitant, forcing him to tear his pale gaze away from the text in front of him. "What?" he snapped with absolutely no trace of patience. He needed to finish reading both this chapter and the next in his History book, then he had a rather large assignment for Chemistry not to mention his Physics homework which was always a bitch to do, and that English essay still needed revised... He would maintain his perfect grades. They would not slip. And interruptions like this were hardly conducive to his efforts. Furthermore... he knew exactly who it was at his door. No one else would knock like that.

The door opened a crack to reveal eyes so alike yet so different to his own peering in at him. "N-niisan. I... I made d-dinner so—"

"I have absolutely no time to indulge your foolish whims about a ridiculous holiday that has lost all of its original meaning, stuffing myself with poultry and potatoes while you stutter incessantly and your sister whines about the hardships of being a spoiled, rich brat. Unless your father is home and commanding my presence, which I'm quite certain he's not, seeing as it's his habit to place his work above any semblance of family that remains in this horrible place, then please see yourself out. I'm busy."

There was a pause as it took Hinata a minute to decipher his words, making him smirk smugly. While his vocabulary was above that of the average teenager, he admitted in full that yes, he did go out of his way to speak in such a manner around his younger cousin more so than he would anyone else. He enjoyed watching her struggle to figure out the big words and complex patterns of his speech. It was just one more way he was superior to her. It was one more reason he should be heir to the Hyuuga estate. Not the pathetic little girl in front of him who could barely string a proper sentence together without falling apart.

Once she was sure she had indeed understood his meaning, she pushed the bedroom door open further and inched slowly inside a step or two, obviously afraid to go any further. Considering Neji had already narrowed his eyes dangerously at her approach, that might have been a good thing.

"I know you don't want to e-e-eat with us, niisan. B-but I brought you this."

Neji's gaze softened ever so slightly as he watched her set a plate ladened with food (mouthwatering food at that) down carefully on the bedside table by the door. The moment that was done she began to back out of the room once more, closing the door after her. He heard the whispered, "Happy Thanksgiving," right before it shut with a soft click.

The silence that he normally craved in his room suddenly felt oddly suffocating, and he glared at the food left behind, irrational anger rearing its ugly head for reasons he didn't even bother to try and understand. He petulantly considered just not eating it... but his stomach chose that exact moment to give a rather loud growl, letting its displeasure about being neglected all day known. He pouted. It was stupid, after all, to let perfectly good food go to waste just because he couldn't stand the person who'd made it. Stupid and childish.

Snapping to his feet and crossing the room swiftly to retrieve the plate, he brought it back to his desk, digging his fork into the waiting mashed potatoes and gravy as his eyes strayed back towards the print... Dear God, that was damn near orgasmic. The food, not the French Revolution.

Yes, it really was stupid to let perfectly good food go to waste.


Ino sighed as she stepped outside, forcing a puff of her breath to rise in front of her like smoke in the cold air of the rapidly darkening evening. A sudden gust of wind made her shiver and cross her arms over her chest in a futile attempt to trap some semblance of warmth. She hadn't put on a coat, hadn't thought of it really. In fact, she wasn't entirely sure why she was standing in the parking lot at all, she had just... needed to get out. Even though her mother— Akira wasn't home to drive her away, the silence of the condo had been nearly as intolerable. Lonely. And she wasn't supposed to feel lonely, not today. It was a holiday. She was supposed to be with her father, she was supposed to be watching him get wasted while he tried (and failed) to keep up with his two best friends, she was supposed to be playing video games and eating until she felt like she would burst and laughing with Shikamaru and Chouji... She was supposed to be happy.

Why did she never feel happy anymore?

There was some noise as a resident of the complex came out to the large dumpster and threw in a few trashbags. Hurriedly schooling her face to a neutral boredom, the blond glanced over disinterestedly, starting a bit when her eyes met a familiar face. "Oh... hey." She shifted uncomfortably, unsure of what exactly to do or say. She barely even knew this girl, but yet she did know her, though she hadn't known they lived near each other. It seemed just... overly rude to not say anything. And Ino was only really rude when she was around her other friends from school. "How are you?"

Tenten for her part, narrowed her eyes shrewdly, trying to figure out just what game the younger girl was playing. Why, exactly, was Ino Yamanaka bothering to talk to her? "Fine." She paused, lips pursed. Were they making smalltalk? "You?"

"Oh. Fine." She tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear, feeling off balance by the whole encounter. "How's your, uh... Thanksgiving been?"

Wary brown eyes surveyed her carefully before answering, "Boring."

Ino perked up a bit. "Yeah?"

"Yeah... My mom's at work."

Ino felt herself unconsciously relax at the hesitant admittance. She was bored because she was alone on the holiday? Well, that was certainly familiar territory. "Yeah, my mom's... well, she's out too." She shrugged. "I guess I just sorta... decided to take a walk. Or something."

Tenten nodded, understanding well enough what she meant. Silence could be louder than any other noise. Though this still all seemed awfully complicated considering she was just trying to take out her trash. "Well, guess I'll see you at school. Happy Thanksgiving."

"Yeah..." Ino watched the other girl, whose hair was down and pulled back into a low ponytail for once, she noticed, turn and go back into her own upscale condo, glancing back and giving an awkward wave before shutting the door behind her. That had... well, it had been a bit uncomfortable and stiff, but really it hadn't been too bad. She wasn't sure what she'd been expecting, but somehow she hadn't been ready for Tenten to talk to her in a normal, fairly polite way. It was just... all the other girls talked about her all the time. She was so rough and aggressive... supposedly...

Sighing and finally letting the cold dictate her actions, Ino retreated back into her own condo, wishing the day and the whole three day weekend after would end so she could just get back to school.


"Ooooh. I ate too much." Sakura leaned back in her chair with a pleasant sigh, hands coming up to massage her middle. It felt like she weighed about a thousand pounds. "It was all really good, Umino-sensei."

Iruka attempted to act nonchalant, but it was obvious he was preening under the praise. "Thank you, Sakura. Gaara, I hope you got enough to eat."

The quiet little red-head nodded his assurance. He hadn't been able to eat the turkey, obviously, and the stuffing... well, he just plain didn't like stuffing, definitely not after it had been encompassed in a vessel of meat; but he'd loaded up on potatoes and green beans and corn and rolls and yams... Were yams a type of potato?

"Thank you, sensei," Sasuke intoned softly but politely, eyes averted just to the left of the man's head as he did so.

Iruka chuckled at the typical Uchiha behavior. "You're welcome, Sasuke. Naruto, why don't you guys go back in the den so I can get this stuff cleaned up."

Naruto hummed his agreement and got up to do just that, discreetly wrapping tan fingers around Sakura's wrist to lead her. He nearly crowed aloud in triumph when she did nothing to shake him off, too sleepy from overeating to get angry. Sasuke glowered solemnly at the sight but said nothing.

All four teens flopped down on the couch, and for a minute just sat in silence. A minute was all Naruto could really handle in silence, of course, so he demanded loudly, "So whatcha wanna do? We could watch TV or play X-box or somethin'."

Sasuke didn't really want to do either with the people currently occupying the room, but neither did he want to go home this early. Itachi was undoubtedly still wide awake and waiting for him. If he went home now, his brother might try and force him to do something 'family' like. "Hn. Doesn't matter."

"I wouldn't mind playing video games," Sakura added her own input, "but I'm not going to lie. I suck at them."

If Naruto had even heard the second part he didn't pause, having leapt from the couch like it was on fire the moment the girl had spoken. After a few wires had been properly connected the X-box 360 was on and running with controllers handed out.

"Okay," Naruto cried happily. "The name of the game is Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. We're playing two on two... Sakura-chan's on my team."

Sasuke grunted while Gaara rolled his eyes at Naruto's usual antics.

"Okay, listen up, 'cuz I'm only gonna explain the controls once. Listening, teme?"

"I've played before, dobe!"

"With who?"

"... The game is mostly meant for a single player, dobe."

Naruto chuckled before carefully explaining the controls (much more than once) to Sakura. Which was how they started their four hour Call of Duty marathon that went until just after ten at night. Mostly because after Sasuke and Gaara had consecutively won twenty-three games in a row (Naruto really didn't mind that Sakura was absolutely awful at the game. She was still on his team!) the blond and pinkette got lucky and managed to scrape out a single victory. Once that had happened Sasuke refused to quit until he had won at least ten more. Uchiha pride and all.

They were actually still going strong when the raven's phone buzzed in his pocket, making him frown. "Naruto, pause it."

"No way!"

"I've got a call, dobe, pause it!"

"Eat me!"

Sasuke growled.

Sakura whacked Naruto over the head. "Pause the game!"

"Right away, Sakura-chan."

Sasuke fished his phone out and glared fire at the screen. After another moment's hesitation, he pushed the green button. "What?"

The others all watched in amusement, unable to hear the person on the other end but entertained by Sasuke's reactions all the same.

"Naruto's... Later... No... I said no... I don't care... I said I don't want a ride!" The Uchiha was now beginning to look furious instead of just annoyed. "I don't... Fine... Yes..." He hung up without bothering to say goodbye. "I'm getting picked up in about fifteen minutes," he announced moodily.

Naruto nodded and unpaused the game. When it was time for Sasuke to go, he somewhat reluctantly offered Sakura a ride, which she hedged around before politely declining. She herself left five minutes later, thanking Iruka again for having her over and, while not verbally thanking Naruto, let her appreciation be known. Once she was gone it was just Naruto and Gaara left, the little redhead studying the blond with narrowed eyes. He wasn't positive, but he was pretty sure none of Kakashi's group had any idea just how well they got along. Almost like they were real friends.

Well, three/fourths of the group at least. Sai could hardly be included. The others hadn't even given him a second thought.


Sai didn't enjoy his Thanksgiving like the others. There was no turkey dinner for him. No football or video games or playful jokes. He was alone, the whole day. In the dark. Hungry. Because he'd forgotten himself. Forgotten his previous lessons. And Danzou wanted to make sure he never forgot.

Wow, that took waaaay too long to get out. My bad.

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