africana - school = lots of free time. africana + lots of free time = more stories/updates!

Hey all. This is a procrastination story. I work on it instead of doing what I'm supposed to be doing i.e, homework, essays, writing other stories. Which means I can't predict when the next chapter will be out. =(

"I'll be in and out, I promise. Ten minutes—tops."

His eyes said everything his mouth would not; the irritated complaints, the angry expletives, the blatant refusal. She clasped her hands together, widening her eyes to seem more innocent, as if this was her first offense. His narrowed. Hers glistened. With a grumbled sigh of defeat, he situated himself into her sofa, arms folded in wait.

Her lips spread into a sheepish smile, her eyes apologetic. "Sorry, sorry! I know you hate being late. Sorry." Creeping steadily towards the stairs, she continued her hasty apology, her hands clamped together. She uttered one last plea of penitence before charging up the stairs, two at a time.

The sound of running water filtered through the walls. He sighed again, settling deeper into the cushions of the couch. Sometime during her education, Sakura had failed to learn the concept of time. It wasn't something so hard to comprehend; minutes and hours and such. But somewhere in the treacherous brambles of Sakura's mind, she understood a time interval of 'ten minutes' to equate to half an hour, sometimes more. He listened to her scattered humming over the pattering of the water. He could never understand it. But he put up with it because she was his friend—his closest, even more than Naruto.

Considering how their friendship started, he found it quite astonishing that they were as close as they were. After he had voluntarily returned to the village and served his one year of imprisonment, Sakura had uncharacteristically regarded him with an air of coldness for weeks; communicating—when necessary—with short, brusque sentences or blatantly ignoring him altogether. Naruto had kept up the angry charade for only a day: once he had gotten the opportunity to sock him in the jaw, their relationship had went back to normal. Thoroughly irritated with Sakura's behavior, he had approached her and suggested that if she were to punch him, she too, like Naruto, would be cured of her anger. She didn't hesitate. And the treatment didn't stop. In the end, it turned out all Sakura had wanted was an oral apology. The punch, she said, was just too irresistible to pass up.

Absently rubbing his jaw, he glared as the minute hand on the clock completed another revolution. It wasn't like he was in a hurry to leave; he just hated being late. He and Sakura were supposed to meet everyone at Ichiraku before heading off to the carnival. A twenty one year old man, going to a carnival. Of course it wasn't by choice—he was entirely opposed to attending any social gathering that garnered the attendance of either children or Naruto. He couldn't stand being surrounded by intolerable whining, unbearable excitement and unnecessarily loud laughter.

And the children were rather irritating as well.

But Sakura, with her need for social interaction, had thought it would be "fun", especially if everybody—meaning those nine people Sakura said were his "friends"—came. His avid protests had fallen on deaf ears, her mind already made up. "It'll be good for you Sasuke; you could use the social interaction. Besides, do you really want to be shut up in your house when there's a carnival in town?"

He did, and he had told her as much. She was unrelenting. "Well what you want doesn't matter. I want to go and that's a good enough reason for you to go.'

"That's illogical. Why do I have to come if you are the one who wants to go?"

"Because I have had to spend nearly every Saturday night holed up in your dreary cave of a home because you have some sort of phobia of people and never want to go out. I've suffered silently because I didn't want to say anything and put you in a 'mood'. So now you are going to suffer silently and escort me to this carnival like the gentleman you should strive to be." Nodding confidently twice, she turned back to her paperwork.

Slouched on the couch opposite her desk, he had bitten back the next point to argue his case: She didn't have to come to his house every weekend. He had never actually invited her over, and she had never promised to commit to this weekend ritual. But without fail, every Saturday night that she wasn't at the hospital or he wasn't on a mission, she was at his doorstep, holding something to share with him: a movie or carry-out food or a candid picture of him or a violet she had found pressed between the pages of a book.

Even after a year of camaraderie, he wasn't sure what brought her back every Saturday; why she'd rather hold a mostly one sided conversation in his "dreary cave of a house" than meet up with Ino or TenTen, who badgered her nearly every Saturday to go out with them. He had this itching desire to tell her that she didn't have to come every weekend—she wasn't obligated to keep him company. But he could never bring himself to say it; mostly in fear that if he did, there would be a resultant domino effect: next he wouldn't see her on Fridays, or Thursday, or Wednesdays and eventually, she wouldn't come back at all.

So he had refrained from saying anything else and mumbled a defiant "Hn", an answer that he and Sakura both recognized as a sound of defeat cloaked in the disguise of anger. She had smiled up at him, as her hand continued in its scribbling across the paper. "Excellent. Pick me up at four."

And here he sat, fifteen minutes past four, waiting impatiently for Sakura to finish draining all of Konoha's water reserves with her never ending shower. And even though he was waiting to go to a carnival—he shuddered—and there was nothing preventing him from silently making an escape, he stayed; knowing that it would hurt Sakura if he left. He groaned, leaning his head against the back of the couch, his eyes glaring at the ceiling. When had he become so considerate?

"Hey teme." He lifted his head at Naruto's greeting, glaring as his sickeningly bright orange clad friend slurped noisily on his cup of instant ramen. How could a person be so naturally obnoxious? Just looking at him was irritating. "Naru—"

"Sasuke! How goes it?" Much to his dismay, Kiba, wielding several skewers of dango, stepped through the open doorway and plopped down heavily on the loveseat. Shino and Neji quietly entered and opted to stand against the wall. Chouji could faintly be heard rummaging through the cupboards, the crinkling of bags frequent.

"How did you get in here?"

Naruto inhaled another mouthful of noodles before flashing a cloying smile, as if there was some tidbit of information he was aware of that no one else was. "The question is, Sasuke: how did you get in here without this!" He presented a silver key, dangling from the hoop around his finger.

Blankly, Sasuke stared at the key. "Sakura let me in."

"Oh. Well—" Naruto's face crumpled as he attempted to come up with another clever accusation. "The point is; why do you have a key to Sakura's house?"

He was unmoved. "More importantly, why do you have my key? It was attached to my wallet."

Naruto balked, wondering how he had somehow become the accused rather then the accuser. He turned away from Sasuke's glare, moving towards the olive loveseat perpendicular to the couch. His voice was a mumble. "Well, last week I came over to borrow some money but you were in the shower so I just slipped a few bills out of your wallet since you would've probably lent it to me anyway. And then I saw this key and I knew it wasn't your house key 'cause yours isn't silver and I really wanted to know where this key led to so I borrowed it to… find… out…" His words trickled to a stop as Sasuke's eyes narrowed. Breaking the silence, he cleared his throat.

"Anyway—you haven't answered my question." More noodles disappeared into his mouth.

Disgusted, Sasuke watched as Naruto tipped back the cup, scavenging for the last drops of soup. "Sakura gave it to me in case of emergency."

"Mmhmm. And what kind of emergency would that be referring to? She's feeling lonely one night and needs a little…company?" Kiba quipped as Naruto's eyebrows wiggled suggestively.

Suspicious, Sasuke's eyes narrowed. "What are you insinuating?"

"Oh, nothing." Naruto's mock innocent expression melted into a devious smile. "Only that you and Sakura are totally secretly dating."

"Or at least having sex." Kiba added to which Naruto heartily nodded.

"Or having sex."

"I also believe that you are concealing a relationship with Sakura." Neji announced.

"That's ridiculous."

"Is it really, Sasuke?" Neji's lips curled into a small scheming smile. "Nearly all of your time is spent together. I have not seen you without Sakura by your side since last October."

He had always taken Neji to be a sensible man; quiet and private—a kindred spirit. But he was becoming less and less tolerable as time passed.

Speaking through a mouthful of dango, Kiba mumbled nearly incoherently, "And not to mention—" he swallowed loudly. "And not to mention, you two are nowhere to be found on Saturday nights. Suspicious? Yes."

"And most importantly: you let her touch you."

It was quiet for a moment as Sasuke processed Naruto's reasoning. "I let her, touch me."

Naruto nodded deeply. "Uh huh. Last week, I saw her squeeze your arm when she was leaving for work."

Sasuke's perplexed expression was beginning to evolve into one of irritation. "How does that prove anything?"

"Anytime I even try to lay a finger on you, I get a punch in the kidney."

"Because I don't want you to touch me."

"But you want Sakura to touch you?"

Aggravated, he had begun to confirm Naruto's question. But as his tongue formed the first syllable of 'yes' his brain caught the trap and clamped his mouth shut with an audible snap. He didn't mind when Sakura grabbed his hand or patted his arm or smoothed his hair, but that didn't mean he necessarily wanted her to. She was just one of those people who liked physical contact. But they had all taken his silence as confirmation and mischievous smiles began rapidly spreading across their faces.

"Congrats man; Sakura's one of the hottest girls in the village." Kiba assured. "There's no reason to hide your love."

Before he could snuff out their false assumptions, he heard the kitchen door swing open, followed by the scuffling of several bodies, Ino's loud announcement of her arrival echoing against the walls.

Damn it, damn it, damn it.

"You said four o'clock Sakura and it's almost half past the hour! You better be—hey, what are you guys doing here?" Sasuke watched in horror as the last of his "friends" filed into the house; Shikamaru trudged slowly across the room, slumping into the recliner opposite the loveseat, Hinata gingerly sitting on the side of the couch that intersected with the loveseat, TenTen plopping down onto the ottoman after roughly shoving Kiba's feet off of it and finally Ino, comfortably situating herself between him and Hinata.

"Sasuke and Sakura were taking too long to show up so we came here to see what was going on." Naruto explained.

"Same." Ino responded, habitually tossing her hair.

"Where's Lee?"

"Training. He said he'll meet us at the carnival." TenTen explained. "That is, if he doesn't pass out from exhaustion before then."

Ino looked around absentmindedly; her eyes pausing as she looked at Sasuke, scrutinizing his tense posture. "What's got you in such a bad mood?"

He wished that by the grace of some higher being, Naruto would lose his ability to speak. Or at least develop a sudden case of severe laryngitis. But much to his disappointment, Naruto flashed him a knowing smile before setting in motion the chaos that was to ensue.

"Sasuke's upset because I found out about his secret affair with Sakura."

Die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, d—

"I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!" Ino cried jumping up. "I believe you all owe me fifty dollars."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa—I never agreed to a bet!"

"I specifically remember you shaking on it, Kiba. You also might have signed a written agreement." Shino murmured quietly.

"Shut up, would you?" Kiba stage-whispered.

"Hey! I found out about it; I shouldn't have to pay anything!" Naruto whined.

"I refuse to relinquish any money to you until the conditions of their relations are confirmed."

"Cut the crap Hyuuga—you lost so pay up!" Ino whipped an accusing finger around the room. "All of you—pay up."

Calmly, TenTen held up her hand. "Wait a second Ino, Neji's right. You bet that they would have sex first; we bet that they'd start dating first. If they're secretly dating, you owe us money." TenTen leaned forward, peering around Ino at him. "Are you?"

He felt his neck burning. His frown deepened. "We're just friends."

Ino sank back into the couch, her eyes expectantly appraising him. "Friends with benefits?"

"Just. Friends."

"Come on, Sasuke: why the continued denial? We all know there's something more going on with you and Sakura." Kiba pressed, attempting to stretch his legs onto the ottoman as TenTen shoved them off.

"Nothing is going on." His voice was nearly a growl.

Smirking, Neji joined the conversation. "If that were truly the case Uchiha, then why are you accompanying her to the carnival? Knowing you, you would never attend willingly."

"That's right. " Kiba mused, grinning. "You always used to bow out of these things."

"So did Neji." Sasuke quickly retorted.

"That was before I became involved with TenTen. As her partner, I'm obliged to attend such trivial 'get-togethers'. What is your excuse?"

They were all staring at him with the taunting little smiles of instigators. He heard Naruto make a sound resembling the cracking of a whip.

"Nothing is going on." He repeated sternly.

"Sasuke, you can try to deny it all you want but the proof is here in my hand." Naruto held up the key, dangling it joyfully in front of the small crowd.

Shikamaru's drooped gaze studied the object. "It's a key, so what?"

Naruto grinned. "Oh, it's not just any key. This is the key to that door." He pointed helpfully. "And it belongs to Sasuke."

The collective gasp of the three females resounded through the room, Ino's hand shooting out to snatch the item from Naruto's grasp. They looked at it in wonder.

"A key to your house: the ultimate item of trust." Ino mused, gazing at the metal. Her eyes flickered to Sasuke's face. "Either you guys are seriously dating or you're amazing in bed."

Hinata jarred Ino's arm, her voice disproving. "Ino!"

"Well he must be! She gets off work, there's Sasuke in the bed; ready for her. Why else would she give him a key?"

"In case there's an emergency?" Hinata suggested.

Skeptically, TenTen regarded Hinata. "Give me a break. What kind of emergency garners the need for a spare key? If her house is on fire, that key won't help anyone."

Naruto nodded approvingly, glad that they were following his train of thought. "So what kind of 'emergency' is the key for?" he prodded.

"A sexual emergency." Kiba followed, a smile spreading across his face.

"Or in the event that Sakura is hospitalized, Sasuke is able to retrieve items from home that she might need." Shino proposed.

TenTen rolled her eyes. "Come on Shino, you can't possibly believe that there's nothing going on between those two."

"But I do. Sasuke does not seem like a man who finds the need to justify himself. If he were to enter into an affair with Sakura, he wouldn't deny your claims so adamantly: he would instead ignore you altogether. So nothing has happened, yet. Although with the obvious attraction between the two, I hardly see it remaining that way."

Ino nodded to her self, thinking. "Hmm, possibly. But I still think they've totally been getting it on." She turned back to Sasuke, taking note of the steadily growing red hue his skin was taking on.

"There's no need to be embarrassed, Sasuke. Lots of people have secret sex escapades. We all knew there was something more to your 'friendship'."

"What are we talking about? Chouji inquired as he entered the room, his arms filled with various snack bags.

"Sasuke and Sakura are having a secret affair." Kiba informed him, placing each of his feet on either side of TenTen. She dug her fingernails into his exposed skin.

Chouji blinked a few times before smiling; a connection being formed in his head. "Is that why I saw you buying flowers a couple of days ago?"

He glared; imagining thousands of roasting skewers puncturing the pudgy ninja's body. Who had granted any of these people the gift of speech?

"Flowers? What flowers?" Ino asked, her gaze flitting from Sasuke's still form to Chouji's crumb covered face.

He grabbed a handful of chips. "Yeah, I saw Sasuke walking out of some shop with these red flowers—" the crunching of the chips cut off his words.

"What kind?" Hinata asked.


"What kind! What kind!" Ino repeated impatiently. Chouji continued munching. "I don't know. Does it matter?"

Ino groaned, exasperated. "Of course it does! It matters a lot."


"What was that Shino?" Hinata asked.

"He bought tulips."

"How do—"

"They're upstairs in the hall. My insects have always been particularly fond of their scent. It excites them."

TenTen broke the ensuing silence. "That's, uh, interesting."

Ino scowled before murmuring to herself. "Tulips, tulips. Yellow represents happiness, red represents—" she turned to Sasuke, her eyes glistening, voice rising several octaves. "Red represents a declaration of love!"

They were squealing. Squealing and 'awing' and spewing all sorts of high pitched girlish coos. Kiba and Naruto's mocking squeals added to the cacophony; their deeper voices horrendously imitating the noises emitting from the women's throats. He couldn't bear this any longer. Each time he spoke, the situation worsened; each minute he didn't speak, the situation worsened. He was at a loss.

"Sakura was feeling sick so I bought her flowers to cheer her up. I only got those because I liked them. That's. All." He creased his eyebrows, hoping his stern glare would emphasize his words.

"Perhaps your subconscious is trying to tell you something Sasuke." Neji offered politely, unfazed by the dark glare he received. "Perhaps you hold a certain affection for Sakura that you are not consciously aware of."

Rot in hell, rot in hell, rot in hell, rot in hell, rot in hell, rot in hell, rot in hell—


"Yes!" Ino gasped grabbing his arm. "It makes perfect sense: you haven't made a move on Sakura because you haven't realized that you're in love with her."

Hinata clasped her hands together, her eyes unfocused in a wistful haze. "Just like that movie with Sakamoto Riichirou…"

"Where he doesn't realize he's in love with Hana until she's diagnosed with cancer…" TenTen continued.

"And then she dies in his arms before he gets the chance to tell her." Ino sighed, her hands clutching her heart. "I cried for hours." Each girl nodded solemnly.

"You know that's just a movie, right?" Shikamaru drawled.

"An ineffective reflection of true relationships." Neji added.

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure you can't relate a real life situation to some chick flick." Kiba mentioned, warily studying the women's gazes that glistened with romantic visions.

Eyes narrowed, Shikamaru caught the way Ino's eyes flashed, her mind already calculating possibilities. "Don't get any ideas Ino…"

"Guys, I just got an idea." She gushed eagerly to the group. "The most perfect idea—" she gasped to herself, as if overwhelmed by the magnitude of the thought. "This might be the most important thing I do in my life."

"What are you planning now?" Chouji asked, his voice weary.

Quickly, Ino turned to Sasuke, grabbing his hand. He looked blankly at her slim fingers entwined with his. And then at her face. And then more pointedly at their hands. And back at her face. He was sure his eyes were accurately portraying the annoyance welling up inside of him. But she only tightened her grip; adding her other hand to the pile.

"Sasuke," she began, her voice heavy with earnest, "I won't let what happened to Sakamoto Riichirou in A Kiss Before Sunrise happen to you."

"Sakura is of perfect health." Neji interjected. Without breaking eye contact with Sasuke, Ino silently held her hand up in response to the interruption.

"You don't know it yet, but you're in love with Sakura—"

"I'm n—"

"And it's our duty as your friends to help you in your romantic endeavors."

She turned to the group, ignoring Sasuke's attempt to disapprove. "We have one goal: to get Sasuke and Sakura together by any means necessary. In order to achieve our goal, I propose that we form a committee; designed to aid Sasuke with his efforts to woo Sakura."

"A committee." Shikamaru repeated as Ino nodded eagerly. "And what exactly are we doing in this committee?"

Rolling her eyes, Ino responded. "We're helping Sasuke with his romantic endeavors! Pay attention, would you?"

"Yeah, but what exactly are we doing?" Kiba elaborated. "Are we locking them in a closet or handcuffing them together or what? What kind of help are we talking about here?"

TenTen looked up at him with an expression of incredulity. "You consider those things romantic?" Kiba returned her gaze. "You don't?"

"What if we fill Sakura's living room with Ichiraku coupons and say they were from Sasuke? " Naruto suggested excitedly.

Neji sneered. "And what is that supposed to do?"

Rolling his eyes, Naruto explained his reasoning. "Win her over; duh. Girls like it when you fill their houses with things."

"I think it's a good idea." Chouji encouraged.

"Thank you Chouji!"

"No, girls like it when you fill their houses with flowers, and chocolates and teddy bears—not coupons for fatty, calorie-filled food." Ino corrected. "Besides the assistance Sasuke really needs has more to do with communication than anything else. Brick walls are better at vocalizing their feelings than Sasuke here."

"Ouch." Kiba laughed.

Hinata peeked carefully at Sasuke, noticing the rigid twist of his mouth. "I don't know about this Ino. Maybe we shouldn't get involved. Maybe Sasuke is waiting for the right time."

Despite the fact that she thought he was in love with Sakura, Sasuke decided he liked Hinata. She was reasonable and far less irritating than the rest of them.

Ino waved off her comment. "Please Hinata—waiting for the right time? It's been nine years and you haven't found the "right time" to tell 'you-know-you' how you feel; what makes you think Sasuke, the walking hunk of ice, will find the "right time"? We can't wait until he grows enough balls to declare his love: Sakura's only going to remain fertile for so long."

Kiba's mouth fell open, his face reddening. "Uh…."

"That is not a subject you should freely discuss, Ino." Neji reprimanded, his cheeks lightly swathed in red.

Ino scoffed. "Stop being so sensitive. Menopause is a natural thing; it happens to all females.

Frustrated and confused, Naruto turned to face Hinata; leaning in to loudly whisper his question. "What's menopause?"

She blushed at their proximity then balked at his naïveté, causing her to stumble awkwardly over her words. She nearly cried with happiness as Shikamaru came to her rescue.

"Don't worry about it Naruto." Shikamaru assured; unfazed by Ino's boldness.

"But I want to know!" Naruto pressed. Sasuke looked on thankfully as they all began speaking at once, the focus of their conversation shifted away from him.

And then, from her room upstairs, Sakura unknowingly wrenched their attention back to him.

"Hey Sasuke? Could you come zip me up please?"

Immediately they fell silent, grinning at him with this look in their eyes. Ino shooed him towards the stairs. Naruto winked at him. Kiba gave him two enthusiastic thumbs up. Even Shikamaru was smirking. What were wrong with these people? He had a strictly platonic relationship with Sakura: what was preventing them from absorbing that information? He glared at them, his eyes daggers.

"Sasuke, please?" Dear God, she was whining. Did her whining voice always sound so provocative? Their smiles were swelling.

"She's begging for you Sasuke." Naruto murmured. "Aren't you gonna give her what she wants?"


He watched them attempt to choke down their laughter. A short guffaw exploded from behind Naruto's hands. "What are you waiting for Sasu-chan?" Kiba mocked.

Damn it, damn it, damn it to hell.

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