Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or the song "Hello" by Martin Solveig and Dragonette - I'm just borrowing them for a little fun.
Urgh, I hate myself for being so late with this chapter, but I have a japanese exam coming up after tomorrow so all my free time has been spent studying! Also seriously guys, over 300 reviews?! I'm so blessed, thank you so much, your reviews are always awesome and inspire me so much, I love you all! :)
This chapter is dedicated to DiamondDreams789FIFi, my 300th reviewer, who has an awesome team 7 profile pic :)
Enjoy, it's extra long...
"Naruto, tell me!"
"Nope, not happening."
"God, you're such an ass sometimes."
Naruto grinned brightly as he leaned next to Sakura's locker waiting for her. "I know."
"Fine if you're not going to tell me, then you can go away," Sakura retorted, slamming her locker shut in an attempt to convey her frustration.
"Sakura-chan, it's just a joke," Naruto chuckled beside her. "You don't need to get all worked up about it."
She sent him a cold look, as she shifted her strap on her shoulder. "Yeah well how am I supposed to know? You won't tell me what the damn joke is. I invited you over last night to help you with next week's Maths test and not only did you invite Shikamaru and Kiba along without asking me first -"
"But you like them," Naruto interjected, confused.
"- I actually helped you guys all evening wth homework, well except Shikamaru because let's face it the guy's a freaking genius, and I even cooked curry for all of you but all you did was spend the evening making fun of my cat."
"You're right, I'm sorry," Naruto apologised, failing at hiding his grin.
Sakura looked back at him skeptically. "If you're truly sorry then tell me what's so funny about my cat's name. Who else is named Itachi?"
"Don't you dare tell her, man!" a voice interrupted behind them.
Sakura turned to see Kiba behind them, followed by Shikamaru.
"It would ruin the glorious moment of her confronting Itachi in person," Kiba continued, a large smile on his tanned face.
"And making a fool out of myself?" she asked with a scowl. "Jeez, thanks guys! Remind me never to cook for you again."
She promptly walked away, ignoring Kiba's exclamation that he was just kidding and Naruto's footsteps trailing behind her.
"Sakura-chan, we're just joking," the blond called after her, eventually catching up.
"You know what?" she told him, suddenly noticing Sasuke further ahead beside his locker. "If you won't tell me who Itachi is, then I'll ask someone who will."
She hurried forward towards Sasuke, decided to ask him about Itachi. She felt a lot more comfortable around the Uchiha ever since he had opened up to her after their study session in the library. Something between them had changed. Sasuke seemed a lot more relaxed around her and sought her out a lot more at school than she would have thought. He no longer left whenever she joined him and Naruto and more often than not the raven-haired boy would sit beside her at lunch.
That was why she felt confident enough to approach the brooding Uchiha despite Naruto's protests behind her.
"Hey Sasuke," she greeted him swiftly. "So, who's Itachi?"
His reaction, however, wasn't what she had expected.
"What?" he answered, his voice cold as ice.
"I asked who Itachi was," Sakura repeated, hesitating slightly as she realised that asking Sasuke out of the blue might have been a bad idea.
"Is this your idea of a joke?" he asked scathingly.
Sakura remained speechless, Sasuke's words stinging her badly even though she had no idea what was wrong.
"Sorry, man, it's my fault," Naruto interrupted, stepping between them. "She seriously has no idea who Itachi is."
Sasuke paused, his narrowed eyes glaring from one face to the other.
"Whatever," he finally replied, still obviously pissed before walking away.
What the hell was that? Inner Sakura yelled in the back of her mind.
"Let's just get to class," she cut him off before turning away to greet Tenten, Hinata and Neji.
Sakura remained frustrated and angry by the guys' stupid joke and decided not to mention Itachi's name for the rest of the day. She was afraid her stunt with Sasuke that morning might have shattered whatever fragile bond they had formed, but it seemed he remained his usual self - quiet and brooding.
The week was already ending and Yuugao-sensei was driving the cheer squad even harder than before for their second routine.
Especially since the purple-haired coach was adamant in perfecting a new stunt.
"Alright, now hold it," Yuugao-sensei exclaimed, as Sakura's foursome practiced the scorpion. "You need to hold it for at least ten seconds before I'll be comfortable adding it to the routine."
Sakura kept her muscles tight and remembered to breathe through her nose as she kept her scorpion position: arms holding her left foot over her head as her right foot was held by Tenten, Hinata and Kagura.
"Beautiful, Sakura, " Yuugao-sensei encouraged her, standing closer to Kagura for support just in case. "Don't forget to smile though. Tenten, Hinata, Kagura get ready to turn clockwise. The public need to see your scorpion."
Sakura tried to keep her balance as her right foot shifted beneath her, slowly turning on itself. They had spent all week practicing this particular stunt and Sakura had trouble doing it in time with the music. She usually lost her balance before the end. Ino and Fuki had already perfected it, but they had been cheerleaders a lot longer than Sakura.
"Okay good, you guys are getting the hang of it," Yuugao-sensei called out, stepping backwards. "And now for the last part, kick twist. 1, 2, 3, 4…"
Sakura let go of her leg, wrapping it around herself with her arm as Yugao-sensei had taught her on Monday and twisted her body in the air before being caught by the girls.
"Your dismount still needs practice, Sakura," their coach finally told them, her face scowling slightly. "We'll practice on the trampoline more next week but since we're running out of time, we'll just go with a pop cradle dismount for now."
Sakura nodded, feeling slightly put off she'd be the only flyer sticking to the easier dismount.
"Don't worry about it," Tenten whispered behind her. "It took Ino months to manage a scorpion, you should be proud."
"You're doing great, Sakura," Hinata added with a smile, her cheeks red from their hard practice.
Yuugao-sensei clasped her hands as their routine song blasted through the CD player and the three groups immediately turned to face her.
"Alright, let's try the stunts together, from the beginning."
Sakura stood in position and closed her eyes a second, listening for her cue. Their coach had choreographed a series of stunts and made sure it synchronised with the last chorus of the song – the most powerful one.
The flyers were supposed to launch themselves in the air on the first "hello".
I just came to say hello, hello, hello, hello
I'm not the kind f girl to get messed up with you, hello
I'ma let you try to convince me to, hello
Barely thirty seconds of chorus. Thirty seconds to execute three different stunts flawlessly, ending with the scorpion and for Ino and Fuki, a kick twist basket toss. Thirty seconds to impress Yuugao-sensei or be stuck practicing in the dojo until she was.
"Very good, girls," their coach finally conceded, watching them critically. "You all managed to hit your cues just right and looked all synchronised. Now, let's do the whole routine again once more in five and then we'll call it a day."
Sakura suppressed a loud groan as she headed for the side benches with her friend, looking for her water bottle.
"So who's Konoha playing against tomorrow?" Sakura asked, realising she hadn't heard the guys talk much about the upcoming game.
"Takikawa," Tenten spat out, surprising Sakura.
"It's an elite high school near the border with Kusa," Hinata explained to her. "They're not very good, but what they lack in talent, they make up for in insults."
"They're fucking stuck-up assholes," Tenten supplied, grabbing a towel to wipe the sweat off her face. "They always try to rile the guys up during games."
"They gave Naruto-kun a really hard time last year," Hinata continued quietly, looking down at her hands and before Sakura could ask her more about it, Ino arrived to talk about her birthday party.
"DEFENSE! DEFENSE! DEFENSE!"
Sakura shouted alongside the girls, although there was really no need to encourage Konoha's defense when they were clearly crushing their opponents.
Beside her, Ino waved her pompoms around excitedly, jumping and kicking and nudging Sakura to do the same.
"I don't see why they need us," Sakura exclaimed, trying to make herself heard over all the screaming and shouting behind them from the crowd. "It's not even half-time and they're obviously owning the other team."
Okyo beside them overhead the pinkette and gave her a stern look.
Sakura smiled sheepishly in return and resumed her chanting with the squad.
"Besides," she added more discreetly, stepping closer to Ino. "None of the players from Takikawa are cute."
"Why would you need to check out the guys from that lame school when our players are so much hotter?" Ino retorted, a sly smile on her lips as her blue eyes glanced appreciatively at the seniors running by.
"Maybe because they're all taken?" Sakura reminded her, blowing a stray piece of hair out of her face.
Ino's smile widened as she nodded at the raven-haired player wearing the number 8 jersey and currently giving Takikawa's defense a hard time.
"Sasuke isn't," she stated simply.
Sakura shot her a look that clearly told the blonde what she thought of that idea. "That's not happening."
"And why not? You two seem to be getting really friendly with each other, he actually sits next to you at lunch," Ino continued, clearly unphased by Sakura's dismissal.
"It's only because we have to work together for our English project," the pinkette argued in return, cheering along with her teammates as Naruto dunked.
Thank God I didn't tell Ino about the kiss!
"Pfff… that's bullshit, Sakura," Ino teased her, keeping her gaze on the court. "Don't think I haven't noticed you check him out when you thought no one was watching."
Sakura looked up in surprise at Ino, who winked in return.
"Don't worry, no one can fault you for that, I mean what's not to like?" Blue eyes turned to fix Sasuke once more. "At least you have excellent taste. And besides, Sasuke checks you out just as much."
At that, Sakura's head turned sharply towards the Uchiha, who ran past them, successfully driving the ball to the hoop and making a jumpshot. The crowd behind her erupted into loud cheers and Sakura tried not to let it affect her when the Uchiha's dark eyes sought her out.
Don't let it get to you, she berated herself, quickly looking away. He's just a player, he isn't boyfriend material.
And yet, despite her thoughts, Sakura couldn't stop the smile tugging at her lips and ignored the knowing smile Ino gave her in return.
"Hey, what's up with Naruto?" Tenten interrupted them, turning to Sakura. "He looks like he's about to murder someone."
Sakura immediately looked out at the court again and spotted her best friend, being double-teamed, with a sour look on his face.
As far as she knew, Naruto thrived on challenges during games so Takikawa's defense strategy would normally thrill him and increase his already inflated self-confidence. Why then was his head downcast and his whole body tense with anger?
"I have no idea," Sakura admitted, feeling slightly guilty she hadn't noticed before. What the hell's going on?
The whistle blew loudly signalling half-time and Sakura tried to control her nerves as she realised it was time for the cheerleaders to do their thing.
The players stepped off the court, each heading to their respective sides and as the Konoha Shinobi headed to their bench where Gai-sensei waited for them, Sakura kept her gaze on Naruto hoping to catch his eye.
He eventually looked up and gave her a small smile.
"Are you okay?" she mouthed to him, concerned. It was pretty rare for Naruto to get so worked up like that.
He gave a short nod before turning his attention to Gai-sensei as Takikawa's cheerleaders invaded the court, ready to start their show.
Sakura turned towards her own teammates and tried to focus on Yuugao-sensei's words as she gave last minute advice.
"Alright girls, I know we didn't have much time to practice, but you are ready. Be careful on the stunts and bases be focused and ready at all times to catch the flyers. Falling on a hardwood floor is no joke. And one last thing, have fun and remember to smile!"
Once Takikawa was done, the Kunoichi took over the court. Sakura had to start from Takikawa's side of the court for the opening tumbling routine and alongside Tenten and Kagura, she approached warily. Once the opposing team noticed their presence, they were immediately assaulted with dirty looks and whistles from the players and Sakura immediately felt her face burn.
Don't you dare let those assholes get to you, Inner Sakura yelled in the back of her mind. So you're showing a little skin, who cares? You're going to nail that routine and show them how awesome you are!
Sakura took several deep breaths, ignoring everything around her until the music suddenly launched. All the cheerleaders started clapping in time to the opening of the song and enticed the crowd to follow their lead. Sakura kept a smile on her face despite her quickening heartbeart and counted down the beats inside of her head.
And just as the music picked up, all three girls launched themselves into a tumbling pass, crossing paths with other teammates in an intricate pattern they had practised all week, and ending with a scissor kick.
As the performance continued, Sakura did her best to jump, kick, dance and fly all in rhythm, making sure her body was taut and her lips smiling.
She never noticed Sasuke sitting on the bench, towel over his head, watching the show.
Never noticed the way his intense gaze was fastened on her.
Kinda like this game but there's something you should know
I just came to say hello, hey
Before Sakura knew it, the end note hit and she was facing Ino, doing the splits as the squad struck a final pose. The public erupted into loud cheers and whistles and Sakura felt relief flood through her. She had nailed her stunts and her cues and judging by the look on Yuugao-sensei's face, it seemed the routine had gone without a glitch for the rest of the girls as well.
The second half of the game began and the tension between Naruto and Takikawa began to escalate. Within minutes, Sakura noticed the players taunting him although she couldn't hear what was being said.
The rest of Konoha's players seemed just as pissed as Naruto about Takikawa's behaviour, increasing their number of steals and drives. The squad began to chant even louder for Konoha in support of Naruto and the blond scored point after point, smashing Takikawa's defense.
"Do you guys even know how to play basketball?" Sakura heard Naruto jeer at them as he ran to reposition himself.
Don't taunt them, idiot, Sakura thought, noticing the dark look on some of the opponent's faces. They were clearly getting riled up in return and the tension between the two teams was almost palpable by the start of the last quarter.
"No-name loser… thinks he's better than us," Sakura overheard two of Takikawa's players as they stood close to the sidelines and turned to Ino, worried.
"Don't worry, the guys can take care of themselves," Ino tried to reassure her, but Sakura kept a close eye on Naruto nonetheless.
This is going to end badly.
And what Sakura dreaded, eventually happened. As the Konoha seniors attempted a power drive, causing most of the players to crowd around the hoop, the players double-teaming Naruto used the frenzy around them to purposely shove the blond backwards.
Naruto fell hard on the ground and immediately the game stopped although the referee's whistle was barely heard over the outcry of the players and the crowd. Instantly Sasuke was by Naruto's side, giving him a hand up as the Konoha seniors pushed their opponents in retaliation and Kiba cried bloody murder from the benches.
The court turned into a mess of players intimidating each other with shoves and shouts and it wasn't until the coaches from both teams intervened that things eventually calmed down.
Sakura had never seen anything like it, but was glad to spot Naruto walking back to the bench, apparently fine, but still replaced by Shikamaru for the last few minutes of the game.
Tenten turned up beside her, shaking her head. "I thought foul play was reserved for the championship but apparently not."
"What? You mean this kind of thing has happened before?" Sakura asked, surprised.
"Just wait until you see how Oto's team plays," the brunette answered, scowling at the thought.
"I hope Naruto-kun's okay," Hinata interrupted, her lavender eyes staring at the bench.
"We'll go check up on him after the game," Ino suggested just as the final whistle blew and the squad and crowd cheered loudly for Konoha. Takikawa got their asses handed to them and the players quickly disappeared into the locker rooms as the court was overtaken by the local press and fervent Konoha fans wanting to congratulate their team.
Sakura hastily retreated back to the locker room intent on finding Naruto as soon as possible. She showered and changed as quickly as possible leaving the girls behind as she headed for the boys' locker room.
Once she got there, she noticed Gai and Kakashi standing outside the locker room and answering questions for a couple of journalists but no sign of the players.
A couple of seniors eventually appeared, smiling at Sakura as they passed by and she was about to ask them about Naruto when she suddenly spotted Sasuke and Shikamaru exit the locker rooms.
"Guys," she called out, stopping them in the corridor.
The sombre looks on their faces gave her pause.
"Where's Naruto?" she asked, worried.
Shikamaru glanced sideways at Sasuke before he answered. "He already left."
"What? When?" she asked, ruffling through her bag for her phone.
"He left as soon as the game was over," the Nara continued as Sakura retrieved her phone and searched for Naruto's number.
"Why the hell did he leave? I thought we were all going to Ichiraku's! Why didn't he -"
Sasuke's hand caught hers before she could make the call.
"Sakura," he spoke up, his voice surprisingly gentle. "The dobe left because he wants to be alone."
From the look on Sasuke's face, he had obviously already tried to reach out to the blond but was unsuccessful.
Sakura pinched her lips in worry. "What did those assholes say to him?" she asked quietly, slipping her phone back inside her bag.
Shikamaru heaved a sigh. "Takikawa is an elite boarding school that only kids from clans attend, mostly clans from Kusa since it's so close to the border. In any case, they're prejudiced when it comes to Naruto because they consider him inferior and like to rile him up during games."
"But Naruto's an Uzumaki for goodness sake!" Sakura argued.
"Yes, but the Uzumaki clan is scattered throughout the five nations with little money and no power," Shikamaru countered before adding in a low voice. "And Naruto's Namikaze heritage is supposed to remain secret."
"I know," Sakura answered, wondering how much Naruto's friends knew about his parents and their death. "But still…"
At that moment, Kiba and Neji came out from the changing rooms and the girls arrived soon after as well. Sakura followed them to Ichiraku's for dinner, riding in Ino's car, but couldn't stop thinking about Naruto all the same.
She knew he had already suffered from prejudice growing up as an orphan in a town where family name and heritage meant everything. Being adopted by Iruka and taken care of by Jiraiya whenever he came back from his travels had softened his suffering and loneliness, but he still craved to be recognised as an equal by his friends and the people surrounding him. The fact that Takikawa had targeted him during the game no matter how good of a player he was and in front of so many people must have hit the blond real hard.
Sakura tried not to worry about her friend and respect his wish to be alone for the evening but it was hard to eat miso ramen at Ichiraku's and not think about him. It just wasn't the same without him.
Checking her phone for the hundredth time just in case he had sent her a text or called and finding nothing, Sakura gave up and joined the excited chatter around the cheerleaders' table about Ino and Shikamaru's joint party.
The following day, Sakura was sitting on Ino's bed, looking at the clothes scattered all around her. She had arrived earlier with her friends to set up everything at Deidara's house where the party was actually taking place and then they had all followed Ino back to her poolhouse to get ready.
The girls had then proceeded to raid Ino's wardrobe to find Sakura a dress.
"Sakura, try that black dress on, I'm sure it'll suit you," Ino told her, handing her yet another dress as Tenten and Hinata were looking at Ino's extensive collection of shoes.
"My mom would kill me if she saw me wearing this, but I refuse to change into yet another dress. This one will do," Sakura told them, looking at the way the tight black dress with lace on top hugged her body. "I still don't get why you wouldn't let me wear my own dress."
"Because the dress you brought makes you look cute," Ino stated matter-of-factly, pulling out a pair of ankle boots from her walk-in closet. "But this dress makes you look sexy."
Sakura turned to Tenten and Hinata, who shrugged in return. Their outfits had already been 'Ino approved' and Sakura had to admit, her friends looked hot.
"Alright fine, but quit bitching about my clothes because otherwise I might just change my mind about your present!" Sakura exclaimed, pulling out a small velvet box with a big gold ribbon around it.
"What? You guys got me a present?" Ino squeaked, faking surprise.
"It's from all of us," Sakura told her as the girls gathered around Ino. "Tenten picked them out and we all pitched in."
"Happy birthday, Ino!" Hinata exclaimed as Tenten crushed the blonde into a hug.
Ino quickly opened the box and looked genuinely surprised when she saw the earrings her friends had picked out. "Wow, they're gorgeous! I was a little scared when you said Tenten chose my present, but I love them!"
"Hey!" Tenten replied, pretending to be offended and trying to snatch Ino's new earrings away. Sakura and Hinata laughed until eventually Ino thanked them all again and pulled them into a group hug.
"Ino, you forgot one of your presents," Hinata pointed out, noticing another wrapped box on the blonde's desk.
"Oh, that's not for me," Ino answered, picking up the box. "It's my present for Shika. I was hoping to give it to him earlier today but he didn't come by. I guess he forgot."
Sakura noted the hint of sadness in her friend's voice but didn't comment on it.
"Or he didn't want you nagging him for getting into a fight," Tenten teased, sitting back down on the bed.
"What fight?" Sakura immediately asked.
Tenten stared at her, startled. "Wait, Naruto didn't tell you?" she asked with a frown. "He called the guys after we left Ichiraku's last night saying he wanted to go drinking. Sasuke, Kiba and Shikamaru followed him through Konoha all night until they apparently stumbled upon a few of the players from Takikawa."
"I'm sorry, Sakura, we thought you knew or we would have told you sooner," Tenten explained, turning to Ino who looked just as perplexed. "Haven't you heard from Naruto at all today?"
"No, he hasn't answered any of my calls," Sakura admitted, feeling annoyed at the blond for ignoring her all day. "Are they okay? Did they get into trouble?"
"Neji nii-san said they were fine, just a few bruises," Hinata spoke up. "Although I wish they'd stop fighting so much."
"Yeah well once they get here, we can give them an earful," Sakura answered, before kneeling down in front of Ino's mirror and starting on her make-up.
Deidara's house was just as big as Kiba's and twice as crowded that night. Sasuke couldn't keep the scowl off his face as he maneouvred through the crowd alongside Shikamaru and headed for the outdoors pool where they had seen the girls hang out.
The amount of people invited by Ino was astounding as usual and it seemed she had outdone herself decorating the whole place into a huge jungle. Real tropical plants plastered the walls and ceiling with fake animals perched between the leaves as a layer of fog covered the floor indoors. Outside, torches had been planted all around the pool alongside animal statues and Sasuke spotted Ino from afar, fluttering about welcoming guests and dressed in a provocative leopard-print dress, which caused Shikamaru to do a double take.
Watching her disappear among the crowd again, Sasuke signaled Shikamaru towards the outdoor couches. He quickly noticed the cheer squad sitting in a group and then scowled even more when he saw the swarm of guys hanging around them.
He sought out pink hair and when he finally spotted Sakura it took him a moment to tear his eyes away from the tiny black dress she was wearing with leopard print ankle boots that showed off her toned legs.
What the hell is she wearing?
Eventually, Sakura looked up and noticed their presence. She immediately headed their way but stopped short when she spotted Sasuke's face.
"Oh my God!"
Sasuke winced as she poked the large bruise on his cheek.
"What the hell happened to your face?"
"You should see Kiba," Sasuke growled, catching her hand before she could prod him again.
"I did," Sakura said dryly, crossing her arms over her chest. "He was here earlier and told us exactly what happened last night. He looks like an idiot. You all look like idiots. What the hell were you guys thinking?"
Sasuke glowered at her words. "It's the dobe's fault."
"He dragged us through half a dozen bars wanting to get wasted and looking for a fight," Shikamaru explained, lighting up before offering a smoke to Sasuke, who gladly took it. "If we hadn't followed him, those guys would have pounded him."
"But Naruto isn't like that," Sakura retorted, nervously pulling at her hair, which Sasuke noticed had been loosely curled for the night. "He's not the type to go out looking for fights."
"He's not in his right mind," Shikamaru added, cigarette between his lips. "He's angry after what Takikawa said and did and I don't blame him."
He turned away at that point as a pretty blonde sitting by the pool called out his name, wishing him a happy birthday.
"I need to find Naruto," Sakura said after a moment.
"Leave the dobe to me," Sasuke told her, knowing Naruto wasn't in the right state of mind to be lectured by Sakura.
"I just want to talk to him, Sasuke," she answered, searching among the crowd. "Do you know where he is?"
Sasuke watched her carefully, exhaling a string of smoke. "He's in the kitchen doing shots. Just don't come crying to me when he blows you off."
Sakura gave him an incredulous stare. "Right, thanks."
"Sakura," he called out, just as she turned away. "Come find me after you're done. We need to talk."
He noticed her large green eyes widen slightly at his words before she nodded once. "Sure, I'll search through the jungle," she joked, laughing lightly. "Shouldn't be too hard."
He raised an eyebrow at her and she smiled prettily in return before walking away.
Sasuke watched her disappear inside the house and remained rooted by the pool finishing his cigarette as he thought about what he would say to her. He had decided that since nobody had told her about Itachi, he would take it upon himself to warn her against his brother and make sure she never approached the bastard.
Unfortunately, he didn't remain alone with his thoughts for long.
Sakura made her way through the crowd and smoke, stopping every so often as classmates and sometimes complete strangers greeted her. It was still weird for her to be recognised in or outside of school as the pink-haired cheerleader and having strangers call out to her as if they were her friend, but it wasn't a bad price to pay for being on the cheer squad.
Reaching the kitchen where the main bar had been set up, she heard a lot of shouting and cheering inside. Not knowing what to expect from Naruto, she hesitated slightly before walking in.
Whether he's angry or depressed, I just want to be there for him, Sakura thought, remembering all the times her blond best friend had been there for her in the past.
She spotted him in the center of the crowd, wearing his letterman jacket and his arms tightly wrapped around a girl Sakura didn't recognise. She quickly realised she didn't recognise any of the people surrounding him except a couple of seniors she'd seen around school. The rest seemed to be college students.
As people started to notice her, she called out to him. "Naruto."
He turned around and the grin on his bruised face fell when he saw her. She approached him, a little intimidated by the strangers around them and waited for them to give Naruto and her some space. The brunette in Naruto's arms eventually stepped away as well, glaring at Sakura as she did.
"Hey, where the hell were you?" Sakura finally asked. "I tried to reach you all day."
"Yeah, so I noticed," he answered, leaning back against the kitchen counter. "Seriously Sakura, ten missed calls?"
His snarky tone startled her, but she tried to let it affect her. "I was worried."
He rolled his eyes at her. "I'm fine."
Really? Because the black eye and cut lip on your face beg to differ, Sakura thought bitterly, but decided not to mention them.
"I was surprised to find you in here doing shots," Sakura said honestly, trying to ignore the unfriendly stares she was receiving from his drinking buddies across the room. "I thought you said you weren't drinking tonight, not after last week."
A hint of irritation flickered across his face before he downed the rest of his drink and tossed the red cup aside. "Yeah? Well I changed my mind."
Sakura was speechless. She could deal with Naruto when he was moody or downright angry, but this sort of detached, don't-give-a-fuck attitude of his, was new.
"Naruto, why are you being like this?" she asked quietly, realising that perhaps she should have listened to Sasuke.
"Like what?" he answered with a fake smile that made her want to smack him.
"Yo, Uzumaki, forget the cheerleader and come do another round of shots," one of the guys called out, causing everyone in the kitchen to snicker at them.
Sakura glared sharply at them, ready to lash out when Naruto stopped her. "Sakura, you should probably leave."
She looked back at him dumbfounded. "What?"
"Go back to the others," he told her before turning his back on her and rejoining his so-called friends, who cheered at his return.
Sakura remained rooted to her spot for a few seconds, too hurt to say or do anything before she eventually walked out of the kitchen and headed back into the crowd.
"Sakura, stop sulking and come dance," Kagura ordered, getting up from the couch.
"But he was such a jerk!" Sakura retorted angrily, finishing her beer. "And I was already dancing with you earlier!"
"Yeah, but you were so distraught over Naruto, you barely noticed all the guys making moves on you," Kagura insisted, fixing her dress. "And I have my eyes on that hot baseball player, who's currently on the dance floor."
"I'm not really in the mood," Sakura told her. She would have much rather discussed Naruto's dismissive behaviour with the girls or even Sasuke but unfortunately Sakura had lost them ever since she had come back from the kitchen. "But you should go for it."
Kagura eyed her from above and shook her head. "Sakura, forget about Naruto already! Guys are just like that. When their pride gets ruffled they feel the need to prove some kind of point and start acting like complete Neanderthals. He'll get over it soon and then he'll come begging you for forgiveness."
Although unconvinced by her words, Sakura nodded, finally giving in and standing up. "Okay, you're right, let's go -"
"Wow look at Chiaki, that sly bitch," Kagura exclaimed, looking through the crowd gathered all around the pool.
Sakura turned to look and through a tiny gap between people she could spot Chiaki opposite them, sitting on someone's lap in a chair, laughing softly as she whispered in the person's ear. From where she was standing Sakura couldn't see the lucky guy Chiaki had decided to sink her claws into.
"That girl knows exactly what she wants and how to get it."
Sensing a little jealousy in Kagura's voice, Sakura was about to tease her about it when the crowd moved just right, revealing the back of the chair.
And Sasuke's spiky, raven-black hair.
Sakura kept on staring at the couple, trying to ignore the familiar sinking feeling in her stomach. After a moment, her disappointment soon turned to anger.
Come find me after you're done? Is he kidding me? I looked for him everywhere and that's what he was doing the whole time! Flirting with Chiaki?
"Come on, let's go dancing," Kagura ordered excitedly, grabbing Sakura's hand and pulling her along.
Sakura followed the senior obediently inside towards the make-shift dance floor until Kagura suddenly stopped and pointed once more at something through the crowd.
Sakura spotted Tenten walking rapidly away towards the bathroom, pulling Ino by her elbow. Sakura took one look at Ino's face and knew that something was wrong.
"I'd better go check on them," Sakura shouted over the loud music, an apologetic look on her face. "Promise we'll dance later, okay?"
"Don't worry, it's fine," Kagura answered, waving her off. "Go take care of the birthday girl."
Sakura gave her a smile before following her friends down a narrow corridor towards the bathroom. A string of girls were queuing for the toilet and Sakura found Tenten and Ino a little beyond the toilet door, half-hidden in the shadows, Tenten's back shielding Ino from view.
"Girls, what's going on?" she asked, trying to keep her voice low.
She immediately noticed Ino's eyes were red and puffy and the look of anxiety on Tenten's face.
"Sakura, he totally ditched me," Ino exclaimed, her voice cracking a little as she carefully dabbed the corner of her eyes with a tissue, trying not to ruin her make-up. Her words slurred slightly showing hr drunken state.
"What? Who? Who ditched you?"
"Shikamaru," Tenten answered, giving Sakura a look clearly conveying that there was history there.
"I wanted to give him his present and when I couldn't find him, Kiba told me he'd gone upstairs," Ino continued, "Tenten even saw him leave, but I can't go up there, Dei would have a fit."
"There's a private party-type thing happening upstairs," Tenten explained, noticing Sakura's confused look. "You know, college students, lots of alcohol, drugs and whatnot."
Sakura nodded, understanding what her friends meant and recalling that Deidara had mentioned the same thing happening at Kiba's party.
"I can't believe I fucking organised all this shit by myself this year," Ino continued, tears welling up in her eyes again. "Every year, we would usually organise it together. He'd forget half the things I asked him to do but he'd stay with us – with me throughout the entire night no matter what shit Dei and his friends got upto elsewhere. He'd be here and we'd exchange our gifts, but ever since Sai -"
She burst into fresh tears and Sakura felt her heart ache at the sight of her friend crying. Tenten did her best to soothe her, stroking her arms with her hands.
Damn it, why are guys such assholes sometimes?
"Well why don't Tenten or I go talk to him or something," Sakura suggested, trying to ease Ino's pain.
"I – I don't know… could you?" Ino asked, dabbing her eyes again.
"No, absolutely not," Tenten said sternly, shaking her head. "You know we can't go upstairs, Ino. It's clan members only and you know what they do to people who try to sneak in. Especially girls."
Sakura decided not to ask what Dei and his friends did to girls and thought of who could help instead. "Well then, what about the guys? We could ask one of them to go talk to him instead."
Not Naruto… or Sasuke… Sakura thought to herself, but realised Ino didn't seem too keen on asking help from one of their guy friends.
Tenten suddenly waved her hand above her head and Hinata arrived, squeezing her way past the toilet line.
"Sorry, I guess Sakura found us before you found her," Tenten apologised to their purple-haired friend, who shook her head in return.
"It's okay, I had a feeling she would find you first," Hinata told them before turning to face Ino. "Ino-chan, are you okay?"
Ino shook her head unconvincingly as she tried to keep her tears at bay.
"How about Neji?" Sakura suggested again. "Tenten can explain the situation to him and he'll keep a secret, right?"
Tenten looked unconvinced. "I don't know. Neji really hates those guys. Besides, I'm not really sure where he is right now, I left him to find Ino earlier…"
"Sakura," Hinata spoke up, turning to face her. "Is something wrong with Naruto-kun? I just saw him by the entrance earlier. He was with -"
She paused looking slightly uncomfortable about what she was about to say next.
"He was with some college students I didn't recognise although two of them were Deidara-san's friends. They were – they were buying drugs."
Her words immediately alerted Sakura. "What?"
"Was the creepy guy with the purple eyes there?" Tenten asked her.
"And you saw Naruto buy drugs from this guy?" Sakura asked incredulously.
I'm going to kill. I'm going to fucking kill him. What the hell is he thinking?
"No, from the transfer student who was with Deidara-san and his friends at Ino's pool party last month," Hinata continued, before turning to the blonde. "The one from Suna with red hair."
Sakura suddenly felt her breath hitch in her throat.
"You mean, Sasori?" she asked, her voice barely above a whisper as she stared at Hinata in shock.
"You know him?" Ino asked, no longer crying. "Girls were all over him at that party."
"He's Kankuro's cousin and he's a fucking drug dealer," Sakura cried out, staring at Ino in horror. "What the hell is he doing here?"
Ino looked back at her, confused. "I don't know, I guess Deidara invited him. I only met him that one time."
"Besides he hates Naruto," Sakura continued, suddenly remembering the blond's last visit to Suna. "Why would he sell him anything? Shit, this is bad. This is really bad. I've got to find, Naruto. I'm going up there."
"No wait, you can't!" Tenten exclaimed, grabbing Sakura's arm. "You seriously have no idea what these guys are capable of."
"Oh I have some idea," Sakura said darkly, remembering her years in Suna, "but, I have to make sure Naruto is okay."
Tenten stared anxiously at her before turning to Ino for help.
"If they ask, tell them Deidara sent you," Ino informed her, looking worried as well. "And if things go badly then tell them about Tsunade-sama and they should back the hell off."
Sakura didn't like the idea of using her aunt's status to solve her problems but if it was the only way to help Naruto then she'd do it. She nodded in return and turned on her heel.
"We'll send the guys after you as soon as we find them," Sakura heard Tenten call out behind her as she hurried back towards the main jungle-themed room where the crowd danced to the latest tunes blasting loudly from huge speakers. She elbowed her way towards the entrace and the main staircase, grateful she still had a clear head to deal with whatever was happening upstairs.
The grand, curving staircase seemed a little intimidating but fighting down her feelings of panic, Sakura climbed the stairs, careful not to trip in her heels and determined that no matter what happened at the top, she wouldn't leave without Naruto.
She wasn't about to let her best friend go down the same dark path she had when she was dating Kankuro. No matter what a jerk he had been to her earlier.
Reaching the top, she looked down the dark corridor and noticed a couple of people leaning against the wall at the far end. As Sakura approached, she realised the couple were in fact making out heatedly against the wall and took no notice as Sakura passed them by. She heard talking and soft music and smelled cigarette smoke before she reached the corner.
Once there, another dark corridor opened to her left with large alcoves all along the walls, each with a candle-lit table with and a couch. She noticed a few people sitting, drinks in their hands and chatting away. They seemed older than Sakura. College students probably. Further along, she noticed more couples making out and she even saw the outline of a guy leaning back on a couch in a dark alcove with a girl on her knees between his legs.
Looking away, she noticed an open archway at the end of the corridor with a couple of steps leading down to some sort of lounge with blue lighting, soft music and a bar.
No one seemed to notice her as she walked, but she barely managed to get within two steps of the lounge before a deep voice spoke up behind her.
"Looks like a li' birdie got lost."
Sakura's head swiveled to the side and came face to face with a silver-haired stranger.
"I'm looking for a friend," Sakura said warily. The dangerous glint in his dark eyes didn't reassure her one bit.
"Ya hear that, Kakuzu?" the silver-haired stranger replied, sardonically. "The lil' birdie thinks she can come here looking for her friend. She obviously didn't get the fucking message."
All traces of laughter vanished from his face as he glared at her.
"We don't take too kindly to groupies sniffing around here," he said dangerously, causing Sakura to unconsciously take a step back.
She felt a presence behind her and quickly looked over her shoulder, realising that a rather muscular and tanned man stood directly behind her.
She supposed he was 'Kakuzu'.
"Look," Sakura started, not liking how the two guys were cornering her. "I'm not a fangirl. I'm just here for my friend Naruto, I need to talk to him… and Shikamaru I guess if he's around. After that, I'll leave."
"Uzumaki and Nara, huh? Well you must be either really fucking stupid or pretty bold if you think we're going to let you in like that," the silver-haired man retorted with narrowed eyes.
"Deidara invited me," Sakura added quickly, hoping she didn't sound unconvincing.
His silver eyebrows raised at her words. "Really? That's odd because Dei's been out all evening. Had to take care of some last-minute clan stuff. You wouldn't be fucking lying to me now, would ya sweetheart?"
A large hand suddenly clamped down on her shoulder from behind, keeping her in place.
The silver-haired man stepped closer and stared her down. "What's your name?"
"Your last name, sweetheart. Nobody fucking cares about your first name here."
"Haruno," Sakura eventually told him with a glare and watched as he glanced up and exchanged a look with his friend. She immediately recognised that look. She had been on the receiving end of it all her life.
She's a nobody, it meant.
"Well then, Sa-ku-ra," he continued, his voice deceptively sweet. "We're going to give you the same choice we gave all the other horny bitches that try to sneak in uninvited."
"I'm not trying to hook up with them, I just want to talk," she repeated through gritted teeth.
He took no notice of her words and flashed her a wicked smile. "You can either play a little game with us or you can leave. Choice is yours. But play our little game right and you'll be free to go inside and look for your friends."
"I'm not playing games with you," Sakura said firmly.
She didn't like the way his smile twisted into a smirk. "Well then sweetheart, your other option is to join me in one of the alcoves and use your pretty lil' mouth to convince me to let you go."
He traced his fingers down the side of her face and Sakura suppressed a shudder.
"So, what do you say?"
There was no way in hell she was following that asshole in a dark alcove. Besides, she'd come for Naruto and she had promised herself that she wouldn't leave without him.
"Fine," Sakura spat out, raising her chin defiantly. "I'll play your sick games, but I want you to tell me where my friends are first."
Kakuzu let her go and the stranger snaked his arm around her waist, guiding her towards the archway.
"Follow me inside and I'll tell you anything you wanna know."
He turned to face her and in the direct light Sakura noticed that his eyes were in fact purple.
"After you," he murmured, amused, and as Sakura took her first step down into the lounge, she couldn't help but think that she was diving head first into a tank full of sharks.
Naruto's being a prick and out of character (it won't last) and the Akatsuki finally make a real appearance, well at least Hidan and Kakuzu. Yeah, I know Hidan's already appeared before, but now Sakura meets him too. And you can only guess who else will be in that lounge... :) Anyway, which Akatsuki guy are you most excited to see? Personally, Hidan's always been my favourite because he's so crazy so it's fun to finally get to play with him.
Please drop me a review to keep me going and for future updates, be sure to check my profile.
A fabulous weekend to you all, sai xx