A/N: Uh...yeah. I've messed with this a little over the years, and I finally cobbled together a chapter five. I'm not back, or anything, but I've got some free time (read: my husband's workload is four times bigger than mine) so if the inspiration strikes I might keep working on this. Three points:

I recently reread the old stuff, but I'm still not sure my characters are "in-character." I've evolved in the last two/three years so they may never be. I'm sure there are also loose threads that I probably lost.

Reminder/warning: If I ever finish this, I can guarantee that it will piss you off at some point. There are far too many OTPs and there's no way I can make everyone happy when I'm dealing with a matrix of ten people.

This chapter probably sucks. I've been staring at it so long that it looks like someone glued Scrabble tiles all over my monitor.


Chapter Five:

The One With Shell Jewelry and a Puffer Fish

Shikamaru, Temari and Neji sat in a circle on the floor of the hut. Between them lay ten small things they'd salvaged from the beach. Each piece represented one of the islanders: a pink shell for Sakura, a sea urchin for Naruto, a clam for Hinata. Earlier in the morning Temari had found a sea slug that she wanted to stand for Shikamaru, but he rejected it and broke off a piece of brain coral instead. He thought he was clever; she thought he was arrogant and ridiculous. But he was super pretty, so she put up with it.

Beside the "playing pieces" she'd drawn a five-by-five grid in the sand, and she'd written each person's name along the top or side of the square. Now they had a deductive reasoning board, and with it they hoped to solve all future problems of match-making on the island. They had no intention of playing God or forcing people together. But their friends were brain-dead right now and needed a little bit of guidance. As the strategists of their respective "cells," Shikamaru and Temari had taken up the task of figuring out who would work best with who, which pairs couldn't be trusted alone together, which pairs would only be happy for one hot, sweaty weekend. Neji didn't need to be here for this, but since Shikamaru and Temari were number one in the "can't be trusted alone together" category they'd earned themselves a babysitter.

"I'm thinking we set up five date sites along the beach," Temari said. "Far enough apart that we're not on top of each other, but close enough so that no one ends up...you know. On top of each other."

The boys nodded.

"Now," she said, "our number one priority is to determine who would be the most open to marrying Hinata. The way I see it, there are two people who might prefer marriage over shacking up." She pointed to the sea urchin and a puffer fish. "Naruto and Chouji. They just seem like family guys to me."

Shikamaru cleared his throat, and when Temari looked at him he tilted his head toward Neji. Temari ignored him. She put an X on the grid between each girl and her former teammate(s): that meant between Sakura and Naruto, Tenten and Neji, Hinata and Kiba, and an X between both Ino and Chouji and Ino and Shikamaru. The X's didn't mean anything per say. In the end, each girl was going to pick her own man. But no one needed to have a date with her old teammates; they knew them too well already and that was the whole problem.

She caught Shikamaru's eye and drew a big, deliberate X between Neji and Hinata. He frowned. She also put an X between Kiba and Ino, who had already been hanging out enough together to constitute a "date." More than enough. She didn't know if they were serious or just screwing around but in her opinion they could benefit from some cooling-down time.

"Might as well put one between us, too," Shikamaru said. "Me and you."

"Good point." She drew another X. "Now, let's figure out a few more things. First: is there anyone in this group that can be trusted to be alone with anyone else?"

"Hinata can be trusted with anyone who won't initiate contact," Shikamaru said. "But that's probably only Chouji."

"Okay." She made a note in the grid box between Hinata and Chouji. "Who else?"

"I can be trusted with you, Temari," Neji said. He offered no explanation, and Temari didn't demand one. But it did make her wonder. Of all the guys, Neji was the only one who hadn't hit on her. She wasn't flattered when the other guys did it; flirting wasn't even a fully-conscious behavior for hormonal young men. But it sure was cute. Kiba's blatant innuendo. Naruto's clumsy but good-natured suggestions. Chouji's shy compliments. Shikamaru's smoking gaze, and his searing touches whenever he thought he could get away with it. Not half so clever as he thought he was, but she kept letting him do it, so he didn't need to be more clever than that, did he? A hand on her shoulder. Then a knuckle down the length of her spine. Then fingertips above her knee as they sat in the dark near the fire, creeping higher and higher until she was finally forced to cross one leg over the other and put a stop to it...

Shit, what had she been thinking about? Oh, right, Neji hadn't hit on her yet. She hadn't seen him hit on anyone at all, but it was possible that his vibes were just too subtle for her to pick up on. Maybe he was even stronger than she thought. Or more stoic.

"Trust yourself with anyone else?" she asked him.

"Not necessarily," Neji said.

"What about you, Shikamaru?"

"If I can be trusted with anyone, it's Ino," he said.

"If?"

"Look, do you want the answer that makes you happy, or do you want the truth?" He didn't look all that happy; he looked green.

"Fine," she said, trying not to be annoyed. She couldn't set these people up based on absolute trust, anyway. It just seemed useful to know who would be least likely to start fucking in the woods at random. For one thing, people who could be trusted together might not make good matches, as counter-intuitive as that seemed. If there wasn't one person in the pair that was willing to get things started, how could the relationship go anywhere?

She made a few more notes, then went back to her main priority: Hinata. According to this, Hinata shouldn't be alone with Kiba until she'd explored other options. Shikamaru and Neji were obviously both a No. That left Chouji and Naruto, who, luckily, were the two she hoped might be willing to marry her.

"What do you guys think about these two?" she said.

Shikamaru shrugged. Neji looked tired.

"Come on, help me out here. This wasn't even my idea in the first place." She brought the clam, the sea urchin and the puffer fish together and tried making pairs with them. In her opinion the clam made a better couple with the sea urchin, but what the hell did she know? She was terrible at stuff like this. "Hinata and Naruto, or Hinata and Chouji?"

"Whichever," said Shikamaru. Neji said nothing.

"You two are useless." Ino, now she would have been a good one to bring into this discussion, if only she wasn't compromised herself. If there was romance to be found somewhere, anywhere, that girl would find it.

Suddenly, Shikamaru snatched up the puffer fish and got to his feet. "I'm going to put this in the water so it can breathe. It keeps looking at me like I'm a murderer." She didn't know what he was talking about at first, but on his way out of the hut he deliberately let his foot knock Neji's playing piece, the abalone, toward her. It took all her self-control not to pick up the brain coral and hurl it at him.

At the door of the hut he glanced back at her one last time. Just ask him, he seemed to be saying, before he disappeared around the thin curtain. He was serious about this. Serious that Neji might be willing to marry Hinata. The problem was that Temari was equally serious about performing no such ceremony. But by making this decision by herself was she forcing her will on two people who might otherwise hook up?

Maybe it wouldn't hurt to ask.

"So," she said.

He glanced up.

"How are things?"

He raised an eyebrow at the banal question. "Fine."

She drummed her fingers on her knee. Neji didn't fidget at all; he rarely did.

"What are you thinking about?" she said. She cringed at how stupid she sounded. He gazed at the clam and the sea urchin, lost in thought, and didn't answer at first. But just when Temari had decided that this conversation was going nowhere, he said:

"Do you want the answer that makes you happy, or do you want the truth?"

She laughed, until she realized that he wasn't kidding. Something was really eating him. "The truth," she said.

"I'm thinking about you."

There wasn't anything romantic about the way he'd said it, but it still made her pause. Maybe because, in true-Neji fashion, he hadn't qualified it or apologized for it. He had to know how on-edge everyone was these days, too ready to flirt and be flirted with. Anything at all could be a compliment. Anything at all could be a threat.

"Why are you thinking about me? Have you been waiting to talk to me?"

"I'm remembering when I first saw you on the beach."

She laughed cynically. "You mean when I was half-naked?"

"Yes."

Her laugh died, and Neji looked at her with that blank, intimidating frankness. She heard a thump-thump and realized it was her own heartbeat, pounding behind her ears.

"Neji..."

"Did I do the wrong thing, by telling you that?" he said. "I thought we'd decided that transparency was safer." Behind the question she heard something she was getting used to, the self-conscious frequency of a man who is, in terms of romantic experience, still just a boy. He was embarrassed.

"There were four half-naked women on the beach that day. Were you thinking about all of them, or...?

"No."

"Give me something, man," she said. "I'm getting worried. Why me? Is it because I'm right here?"

His eyes locked on hers, and her muscles tensed in preparation for fight or flight. No, she was lying to herself if she pretended that those were her only two options. Neji was a beautiful guy. And he wore great deodorant. She was committed to Shikamaru, but to act like she wasn't tempted would be disingenuous.

"It's because you're safe," he said.

"What do you mean?"

He let his gaze shift for the first time. "Shikamaru's made it clear with the rest of us that he won't tolerate any- -interference- -between the two of you."

Temari grinned in spite of herself. The idea of Shikamaru getting dominant on these guys...well, it amused her. She couldn't even picture it. "What exactly did he say?"

"He said, 'If you're thinking there are five girls on this island, you're wrong. There are four girls and a rock.'"

She snorted and picked up the playing piece that Shikamaru had chosen for her. At least now she knew why it was a rock. "So that's 'making it clear?'"

"Clear enough. We understand each other."

"Are you afraid of him?"

He frowned slightly. "I respect him."

"So you encourage naughty daydreams about me because your 'respect' for Shikamaru would keep you from acting on it? Sounds like flirting with disaster."

"Better than flirting with...other things." He seemed pained, and she realized that he wasn't just thinking about her boobies for the hell of it, he was actively trying to keep himself from thinking about some other girl's boobies. Or maybe he was crazy turned-on all the time and his libido had settled on the one woman he knew he wouldn't be tempted to put the moves on.

"Neji?"

His eyes snapped to her face. She wondered, though, how much he could see without looking directly at her. Without the byakugan, were his eyes just normal eyes?

"Who is it?" she asked. "Is it Tenten?"

"I'd rather not talk about that with you."

She laughed. "But it was totally okay to talk to me about how you've been using me."

"I don't know that I would call it 'using-'"

"It depends on what you do," she said carefully, "when you're thinking of me."

His eyes got distant and he seemed, if not ashamed, at least quieted. "I'm using you."

He was struggling to hang on to his self-respect. He'd been the captain of this ten-man cell at one time and he was a very proud individual. But he knew his pride was a facade at the moment. And even though it was impossible for him to put the facade away, he couldn't respect himself if he kept the truth concealed behind it. So he told her what he felt he could let go. And what he desperately needed now was to not be respected less simply because he'd been honest.

She decided to let that subject drop. Shikamaru would be back soon, and if she was going to ask Neji about Hinata she needed to do it quickly. For whatever reason, Shikamaru didn't seem to think that he should be around when she asked.

"I need to talk to you about something," she said. "Although, I'm not sure it'll be appropriate after that last conversation."

"We'll see."

"It's about Hinata. And marriage."

He said nothing, waiting. She didn't want to ask the question at all but, for Hinata's sake, she couldn't leave any option unexplored.

"This is none of my business, so feel free not to answer me. But Shikamaru suggested- -I mean, he mentioned something about Hyuuga customs..."

Neji sighed and brought a finger to his forehead. He massaged the seal there, his eyes squinted shut. She hastened to make herself clear.

"I'm not asking, or even hinting, that you do anything about this. I was more...gauging your interest level. Rather than write you off as an option, we thought it might be worth it to..." She sighed, already frustrated with this forced formality. "Listen, if the thought makes you want to vomit, let me know and I'll move on. No sweat off my back. It's not like Hinata has said anything about it."

"I am bound to serve Hinata-sama in whatever way she needs me to. If the choice was between me and no husband at all, I would do my duty."

Temari opened her mouth to explain to him that she had no interest in allowing any of her girls to enter into some sort of arranged, "dutiful" marriage, but he cut her off.

"I would do my duty, and I would not find it..." His eyes met hers. "...unpleasant."

"Oh."

"But I don't think I'm the best choice for Hinata-sama. Nor do I think that she would be the best choice for me. But, as Hyuugas, I'm confident that the two of us could find happiness if that was the direction we were forced to go."

Temari struggled with herself before reaching out and brushing the X away from the square between Neji and Hinata. Neji watched her with expressionless eyes. This went against every instinct she had, but for the health of this little village a Hyuuga marriage might end up necessary in the end. But only if Hinata wanted it.

"I'm going to hang out with Kiba tonight," she said. "I'm hoping he won't be annoyed about wasting a date on me. And I'll put Ino with you, if you don't mind. I don't think she's settled on Kiba; she's just testing the water the way she always does. With her whole body at once."

"I don't mind."

"It's good to know about this." She pointed at the clean square between Neji's name and Hinata's. "But I'm not sure it makes things any better. Imagine how complicated it'll get if you fall in love with someone else and then Hinata decides that she wants you."

"Fall in love?" he said, an eyebrow raised. Temari sniffed.

"Excuse me. I mean, 'get sprung on.'"

"Still not clear enough."

"I mean, whatever it is you men intend to do when you pick a woman."

"'Pick a woman' works just fine."

"Well, aren't you a male chauvinist bastard after all."

He allowed himself a small smile. "Don't fool yourself. The man you want is more chauvinistic than I am. Not to mention a bigger bastard."

O O O

Hinata hunched down under the spring until the water was touching her chin. It was too cold to stay in so long this early in the day, but she did her best to tolerate it while Ino tugged and twisted her hair into braids. Ino, however, was getting fed up.

"Hinata, this isn't working. I can't do your hair when your hair keeps falling back in the water."

"I don't want the boys to see me," she said. It was easy to be honest with Ino, who only judged her when she needed to be judged.

"They're not going to see you," Ino said.

"But Temari-san said they could be peeking from behind any tree or rock..." Nervous, she glanced all around her for probably the fiftieth time. She still couldn't see any hint of a boy, but that didn't mean they weren't there.

"I know what she said, and that's why we're at this spring. Because the guys don't know about it."

"Kiba-kun could find it."

"I made sure Kiba-kun knows that he'd be taking his life into his hands if he tried. Besides, Temari is keeping an eye on the guys while the rest of us get ready. So just relax and sit up here on the edge where I can reach you." She patted the ground beside her.

Comforted a little, Hinata used her arms to push herself out of the water and onto the edge of the flat boulder where Ino was sitting. The stone was warm from the sun, and she shivered as the warmth began to seep into her bare skin and chase away the cold. Ino smiled.

"Better?"

She had to admit that it was.

Ino was still smiling as she finger-combed out a section of her hair. Normally this was one of Hinata's favorite things, to let Ino wash and comb and pull and play with her hair. It was something they did as often as they could, because it felt so good and because there was never anything more pressing to do. But they'd never done it for this reason before.

To impress boys.

Secretly, Hinata doubted that the boys would be impressed by pretty hair. For one thing, boys never said anything about a girl's hair. That was something she'd learned when she was fourteen, that when boys notice something about a girl, it's not her hair. She never once overheard a boy make a sly comment about her hair to his friends. Never saw one point to her and then gesture rudely about the size of her hair.

That's what she liked about Ino. Ino noticed lots of things. She noticed when Hinata added some little decoration to her rabbit-skin top, or doodled on herself with squid ink. She noticed when Hinata was worried, or afraid, or when she had something really important to say but couldn't think of the right way to say it before someone else started talking. Some people thought Ino was self-absorbed, but after four years on this island Hinata had learned that Ino was everyone-absorbed. Her heart was so big that she could worry about herself and still have enough compassion for everyone else. Maybe that's why Hinata found her so easy to love. Because when she loved Ino, Ino noticed.

"My, we're thoughtful," Ino said. She carefully separated out another strand of Hinata's hair. "Worried about your date?"

"A little bit."

Ino said nothing; she knew that the first thing Hinata said wasn't always what she actually meant. It was like a handicap, a mindless stutter, and Hinata still hadn't figured out how to get over it.

"I wish I still had my coat," she finally explained.

"That heavy old thing? No offense, but I say good riddance. It made you look like a rice ball with legs." Then Ino's eyes got bright and sparkly, the way they did when she was figuring something out. "Unless you'd rather look like a rice ball."

"Boys don't notice rice balls. I mean, not in the same way."

"Actually..." Ino said with a smirk, "I would say it's pretty similar."

"But rice balls are food."

"And men are very, very simple. You should see how confused and happy they get when you cook for them. Or when you smell like yakiniku..." Ino glanced at her meaningfully. "I'm just saying."

The sun, along with Ino's gentle touches, warmed Hinata through and made her sigh with contentment. It was too bad they couldn't stay like this forever. Not that she wished the boys hadn't come; far from it. But things had been simpler before. The five of them had finally come to terms with life on the island, a life without men. They'd gotten comfortable. But then the boys had come along and reminded them all of what they'd been missing, and now a lifetime of nights curled up with Ino didn't seem quite as satisfying as it had before. It was obvious that Ino felt the same way. Things were changing. Good changes, maybe, but it made Hinata want to relax and soak up moments like this before they were gone.

Ino watched her, a hint of sadness in her eyes that reflected Hinata's own feelings.

"I just want you to know, I'm not giving you up to just any joker," she said. "There's not going to be any settling for you."

She didn't need to worry; Hinata had come to that conclusion herself. If there was one thing she had plenty of on this island, it was time to think. To examine herself. And she'd discovered a pattern in herself, a tendency to get attached to headstrong people that barely took notice of her. Starting with her father. Then Neji-nii-san. To an extent, Kiba-kun and Shino-kun fell in this category, too.

And Naruto-kun.

Ino called it hero-worship. Searching for god where god didn't exist. She said she understood it because she had done it, too. But it was so much a part of Hinata's fabric that she didn't know how not to do it. If she was honest with herself, it was the same pattern that had drawn her to Ino. But Ino, by some miracle, had actually reciprocated. And in doing so she'd taught Hinata that there was something in her that was worth loving.

She had no intention of letting some boy get intimate with her if he couldn't see it, too, whatever it was. It wasn't strength that brought her to that decision, it was terror. She couldn't be that exposed to someone who didn't love her; the thought alone made her want to shrivel up and die.

"You're shaking," Ino said.

"I'm not going to do it."

"I know, sweetie. No one's going to make you. I'd kill anyone who tried."

Hinata nodded.

"But I really don't think you have anything to worry about," Ino said. "Just because the guys are hornier than a bunch of toads doesn't mean that they're stupid. If they pay attention at all, they're going to see how beautiful you are."

Hinata buried her face in her hands. "That's why I need my coat," she said. "I want them to pay attention to me, not to my..." She couldn't bring herself to say it.

"You don't get it, Hinata. Your body is one of your most important virtues. I'm not being shallow; I'm telling you the truth."

Hinata glanced up at her, uncomprehending.

"It's easy to be humble when you have nothing to be proud of. But you're the prettiest woman on this island and you're humble anyway. That makes you the prettiest, and the best. A guy would have to be a moron not to understand that."

Ino said stuff like that now and then, but Hinata never knew how to respond to it. So she traded places with Ino and began to work on her hair instead. There was a lot of it, and it took a long, long time to braid it and secure it well enough that it wouldn't come out. But they worked all afternoon, and Hinata enjoyed every moment of it. When she was done, they gave each other pedicures and manicures with Kiba-kun's nail clippers.

She was quiet while they helped each other groom, and Ino only spoke now and then to point out an animal or comment on the weather. By the time they were done, it was hot enough that they had to dip back into the cold spring water to rinse off the sweat. Then they lay down on the boulder, side by side, shivering in the sun.

"I want your word, Hinata," Ino said. "No settling."

"No settling," she agreed.

"If your guy doesn't love you at least as much as I do, he can't have you."

"I know, Ino-chan."

Ino studied her face, as though she was looking for some sign that Hinata might crack. Then, apparently satisfied, she sighed and admired her clean nails. "I wish I had some makeup. I can't compete with you without it."

"I wish I had my coat," Hinata muttered. Ino laughed, rolled over and kissed her softly on the lips. Her fingers grazed Hinata's stomach and Hinata shivered again, although this time it was neither from fear nor cold.

"You're not half as prudish as you act," Ino said. "If you were, you never would have let me anywhere near you."

Hinata let her head roll to the side as Ino kissed her neck, her shoulder, with a tenderness that said that this phase of their lives was coming to an end; the end, in fact, was already here. But maybe, just for a few moments more, they didn't have to let it go.

O O O

Kiba didn't mind that he was going to be stuck with Temari for Date Night One. And he wasn't bummed that she wasn't bothering to get pretty for him. She wasn't on the hunt like the other girls, and she seemed to be fundamentally against the idea of dressing up, anyway; he overheard her tell Tenten that the guys didn't need any encouragement to find the girls "attractive." True enough.

What bothered him was this: if he was going to be with Temari, that meant Hinata and Ino were going to be with other guys. And there was nothing he could do about it except sit here and brood.

He saw Sakura and Tenten first; they emerged from the woods near the mouth of the river like a pair of beach princesses, with shells draped around their necks and woven into their hair. He grinned at their resourcefulness; beach debris was boring as hell until you used it as accessories on good-looking girls.

Then Hinata appeared, her face tilted down and her cheeks pink with embarrassment. She walked toward him, each step closer making it harder for him to breathe. Dear god, when had she gotten so beautiful? Had she always looked like that and he'd just missed it? Her body rivaled even Temari's, except that Hinata still had the soft features and graceful movements of a much more delicate woman. He couldn't believe he'd spent so many nights sleeping beside this, on a tiny futon in a tiny tent with only...well yeah, okay, Shino was there, too. But still...what a dumbass.

She smiled at him as she approached, and when she got close enough she held out something. His nail clippers. She bowed slightly as he took them from her and slipped them into his pocket.

"Hinata, you look absolutely gorgeous." She flushed fire-red and said nothing. "So, which of these clods gets to take you out tonight?"

Her lips formed a name: Naruto-kun. Poor kid. She must be in complete knots about this. If he was honest with himself, it knotted him up a little, too. He was past being hot for her; at least, he was so preoccupied with Ino's tits that he didn't dwell on Hinata's. But that didn't mean the other guys weren't dwelling on them. He wanted to believe that at least one of them would treat her right, but he knew them too well to be comfortable about it.

"Kiba-kun?"

"Hm?"

She had her fingers twined together, fidgeting while she gazed blankly at his chest. She glanced back over her shoulder at Naruto, who was having an animated discussion with Tenten and Sakura. Then she looked up at him again. He realized for the first time that he could see her eyes clearly; she'd twisted her bangs back into the rest of her hair and had nothing to hide behind.

"When you were on your island," she said, "and it was just you and the other boys, did you ever..." She looked at him hopefully, like maybe he would know where she was going with this, but he honestly had no clue.

"Did I ever what?"

Her fingers fidgeted some more. "I mean, when it was just you and Naruto-kun. Did you ever..." Her voice got very quiet. "...tell him?"

He laughed. She looked hurt at first, but he shook his head firmly. "No way, Hinata. Never."

Suddenly, she hugged him. He caught her reflexively, folded her into his arms without thought. She'd only ever hugged him once before: the first time they saw each other on the beach two days ago. He'd figured it was an impulse of the moment and never expected it to happen a second time, but now here she was again, relaxing against his body like warm velvet. He caught himself falling into the comforting scent of her; the honey and sun-warmed linens, the sea water, the coconut and bananas she'd eaten for lunch. The pheromones and musk. Salt and grass. And layered on top of that was something else: the complex perfume of another human. Ino. Huh.

"Thank you, Kiba-kun," she said.

"Uh-huh."

While he was still reeling from the hug, she trumped herself; she stretched up on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek. But this proved to be too much for her, and she dropped away and scooted back a couple of feet. She looked embarrassed but happy. He didn't know what to say. He barely recognized the brave little minx who stood here in Hinata's skin; didn't recognize her, but cared for her just the same.

Ino appeared behind Hinata and fussed with a few of her braids. "Careful. All your hugging is undoing my hard work."

Kiba's eyes fell on her, and speech and intelligence fled him. Where the other girls were beach princesses, Ino was the goddess of the sea. Delicate jewelry made of tiny shells draped over every curve of her body: around her neck, her waist, her hips. Necklaces trailed down her collarbones and between her breasts, wrapped around her wrists and ankles. It was like the naughtiest, barliest-there lingerie he'd ever seen.

"Ino..."

"Got a little something on your face," she said. She pretended to wipe drool away from his bottom lip. The necklace taunted him the way it played in the Wonderland of his dreams, slipping in and out of her cleavage with the barest movement of her head. This was bad. The stuff they were wearing was sexy enough before, but he didn't know the girls actually had it in their power to make it sexier. He imagined the other guys checking her out, staring at her, touching her, and sudden fury rose up and threatened to choke him. Shikamaru had it easy, lucky bastard. His woman was covered head-to-thigh in a giant t-shirt. The guys only looked at her when there was no one else to look at.

Seized by inspiration, he tore his t-shirt off over his head and thrust it toward Ino. Her eyes widened with genuine surprise and she stared at the shirt, then at him, then at Hinata. Then back to him again.

"What is this?" she said.

"My shirt. You should wear it."

"Why on earth would I do that?"

"To keep those perverts from looking at you, obviously. They don't need to see you dressed like that."

She laughed. "Who do think I'm wearing this for?"

"Aren't you wearing it for me?"

"I'm not going on a date with you tonight, but am I?"

"But..."

"Just because Temari let Shikamaru take her off the market doesn't mean I'm ready to go." She spun slowly, and when she was facing away he could see the thin strands of shells that peeked out from under her skirt in the back and draped around her thighs. "This body is a grand-prize trophy, Kiba. I don't give myself to the first player. The best man has to win."

With that, she took Hinata's arm and led her away. Her white-blonde braids danced witchily behind her back, and Hinata glanced back over her shoulder, her eyes full of compassion.

"Ino..." he began, but Ino waved a regal hand.

"You wanted to play. Let's play."

Play? She called this playing? What was it, a jealousy game? She'd picked the wrong opponent if she thought she could beat him at a game like that. He could have every woman on this island eating out of his hand; hell, he could have them eating out of his lap.

Temari came over and called everyone together; the evening's pairs drifted toward each other while she laid down the rules for Date Night. Naruto made his way to Hinata, who had a hand wrapped in Ino's hand and wasn't letting go. Ino put her lips close to Hinata's ear and whispered little encouragements too quiet for anyone else to hear, but Kiba heard them: Stand up straight. Shoulders back. You have nothing to hide. Look him in the eye. The more he's looking at your eyes, the less he's looking at your ya-ya's. Kiba couldn't help but smile. Ino played the sassy blonde now and then, but she was a lot deeper than that.

It was time for the couples to go their separate ways. Ino gently pried Hinata's hand loose from hers and touched her shoulder in goodbye. While Naruto was looking around he coincidentally caught Kiba's eye; Kiba quirked a warning eyebrow, but Naruto just smiled stupidly and led Hinata away.

Ino slinked up to Shikamaru and hugged him around the waist. Then she shot a glance over her shoulder at Kiba as if to say, You're not the only man on this island. Shikamaru brought a distracted arm up and dropped it over Ino's shoulders, but he never paused in his conversation with Neji. Kiba smirked. He couldn't be jealous of Shikamaru; Shikamaru's attention had been on one thing all day long, and that was Temari's ass.

But then Ino let go of Shikamaru and took Neji's arm, claiming her date for the night. Unlike Shikamaru, Neji let his eyes drift toward Ino, let them linger a little too long where shouldn't have been lingering. Ino smiled beautifully at him and Kiba could smell it, sex leaking from everyone of Neji's pores. Neji. Cool as ice, so no one but Kiba ever knew that he was just as depraved as the rest of them. And Ino was going to wear that for him. On the beach. In the dark.

Motherfucker.

Neji turned away, and Ino took the opportunity to look back at Kiba and raise a seductive eyebrow. Then she pushed her hips out and gave them a wiggle that made the all little shells tinkle. Twitching her tail at him.

She had no idea how much danger her tail was in.


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