Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Masashi Kishimoto, not me.
Co-written with Lost to the Hoping. (I think we edited. A bit. Perhaps. A tad.)

-x-

Sand Trails Ch 27: Setting Goals

Aah, career week. The purpose of which was to sit each student down from tenth grade up with one of the teachers and discuss what they would be doing with their lives. Career wise, obviously.

And we open the day with Akasuna Sasori, resident psychotic and general artist. His career counselor? Ibiki, since the only other volunteers—Asuma and Gai—were out for rather obvious reasons. I.e. they didn't know how to handle the mentally cracked boy.

Ibiki sat down across from the redhead now in his office, having arrived a little late (Sasori looked annoyed, but didn't bitch to the counselor about wasting time, thankfully). "I apologize. Tobi got stuffed in a trashcan again. I had to make sure he didn't suffer more than physically."

Sasori snorted. "Idiot," was his imparted opinion.

Ibiki graciously ignored that, and just plunged into the business they were here to discuss. "So, Akasuna-san, we are here to discuss your possible future careers. I have a list of your classes and grades here, and a few suggestions—"

"Theatre."

Pause. Ibiki blinked at the redhead. "Oh. Um. Theatre... er... Any reason why?" he asked, glancing at the senior's schedule. He wasn't taking drama, but he had in 11th grade.

"Puppets."

Dark eyes lifted to meet dark eyes. Silence. Then, "Erm... and should you not be able to—"

"Theatre. Puppets."

"... ah."

xXx

"Kisame-kun! Come in, come in!"

Rolling his eyes, the big blue teenager walked in, sitting with the muffled thump. The chair squeaked.

"Yo."

Beaming wide smile, glinting perfect white teeth, shiny black hair. Gai-sensei was about as polished as the teacher could get.

"Any ideas then? You're about to start on a wonderful journey towards the prime of your life! It's time to take chances! Inspire others! Draw from the youthful—"

Perhaps it was the strangled yawn, but Kisame was betting it was the flip of a page that brought the PE teacher up short.

A slight change to the quality of smile on Gai's face had Sharky blinking. The teacher straightened in his seat and folded his hands on the desk.

"Ahem! Perhaps we should look into your strengths?"

Fifteen minutes later, Kisame was dismissed from the session. He made sure to say goodbye to both Gai and Kakashi as he left.

xXx

The Gym teacher was waiting patiently for Gaara's arrival, and as soon as the redhead had sat, he began. "Sabaku-san. Thank you for coming. As you may have heard from your fellow students, this session is a career talk." He looked at sea green eyes, but Gaara said nothing, and he eventually went on.

"According to your records, you have excellent grades in Gym, Geometry and World History, and you—"

"Is that all?"

Tenzo paused. Frowned faintly at Gaara, who stared back expressionlessly. "... you are of course required to sit in here and listen for at least ten minutes," the Gym teacher replied.

Thin lips pulled into a faint sneer. "I'll take the detention." He got up and left.

xXx

Red lips pressed into a line as she watched the youth leave the office. It was hard reaching some of the delinquents of the school, but Kurenai liked to think that at an effort to do so did make a difference.

Evidently Mr. Jashin hadn't thought so.

With a sigh, the teacher brought the discarded papers back into the pile. Though, this meant the next student could have more time. She smiled, not even needing to look at the next name on the list.

"Kiba! You can come in now."

xXx

"I like to think about being a tattoo artist," Temari said sweetly, batting her eyelashes at the man across from her.

He twitched. "A tattoo artist?" her father gritted out. "Not allowed."

"But I'll be an adult. You have very little say. Still! I will take your opinion into account." She got up, leaned over the desk and gave the principal a kiss on the cheek. "Now I have lunch, daddy. See you."

"Sabaku-sensei!" he yelled after her. The door shut in her wake.

xXx

"Interest?"

"Entrepreneur."

"What area?"

"... Stocks."

"Fall back?"

"Medicine."

"Sounds good enough for me. Thank you, Chuushin. You may go."

"Thank you, Ibiki-sensei."

xXx

"I understand your plans are to take over the family business," Genma drawled.

Itachi inclined his head. "Among other things, yes," he allowed.

The shop teacher bobbed his head in a nod. "Good, good. And should that prove to not be a viable option...?"

The youth paused, tilting his head. "At that point, I will enter into the Uchiha police academy. As you know, we have branches of our family in both business and law enforcement. Either is viable, and both are unlikely to fall."

The kid had a point. "Alright then. Dismissed."

xXx

"Kankuro."

There was a shifting in the chair as the middle Sabaku sibling made himself comfortable. "Yeah?"

"What are your plans?"

Shrugging, the stocky teen leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. "I'm thinking of going into chemistry. Maybe get a job in the government playing with rats."

"And if that fails?"

He flashed teeth. "Could go into physics."

Like Temari before him, Kankuro didn't look back as he left his father's office.

xXx

"Naruto get back here!" Tsunade screamed, trying to go after the other blond. But she lost him in the crowds of students hurrying to their next class. The nurse scowled and stalked back to her office to find the next person waiting patiently for her to begin.

She grumbled and sat. "Hyuuga-san."

"Tsunade-sama."

She met lilac eyes, and sighed. "What are your plans for future careers?" she asked.

The youth tilted his head, expression placid. "I had thought about studying in the family martial arts dojo for a while longer. Attending college of course."

"Of course."

"And the rest... is not your concern." He would forever be Hinata's bodyguard, after all. And that was what he would do for the remainder of his life. Paid, of course.

"I see." The blonde frowned at him. They stared at each other for the rest of the mandatory fifteen minutes, and then she sighed. He wasn't going to crack. "Dismissed."

xXx

The chair creaked when the teenager sat down. Genma and Kisame shared a solemn look and then cracked a smile simultaneously.

"Your furniture sucks."

The toothpick switched sides. "Not mine. School's."

"Your budget sucks."

The toothpick bobbed as Genma shrugged. "Eh." A paper slid across the desk. Kisame looked down.

"Huh." Sharky picked up the paper, scanning the lines and the blocked in amounts of time. "Kyuubi-san too, hm?"

"Yep. Interested?"

Snorting, Kisame waved the paper at the teacher. "You work fast."

Brown eyes slid to the side as Genma shrugged again. The student didn't need to know that he had slipped into the office after Kakashi had been run out by Gai. "You didn't answer."

"Bring in Hidan and Kakuzu, then I'll consider it." The blue boy leaned back and crossed his arms, smirking.

The toothpick switched sides again. "Not Itachi-san?" he asked, raising an eyebrow and leaned back in his chair as well.

A wave of the hand. "He's got plans already. After, maybe. Maybe."

The Advanced Metal teacher hummed. "I'll get back to you on that then." He stood up and held out a hand; Kisame matched his movements. "Thanks for stopping by."

xXx

Haku stepped into his teacher's office, the door clicking shut behind him. The other male looked up, and gave him a tiny smile. "Hi."

"Hello," the soft-spoken boy replied.

The Culinary Arts teacher waved a hand for Haku to take a seat. "You're here for a career talk," he explained. "But you probably knew that."

Smiling faintly, the boy nodded. "Yes. I had overheard the masses." He took the offered seat. "But you already know what I'll be doing."

"Fifteen minute requirement," Zabuza said with a shrug. He shifted a bit under the smile Haku gave him. The youth had been getting more and more insistent the closer he got to his eighteenth birthday. "So?" He picked up his bottled water, hoping he'd be able to cool himself off. Was it just him, or did the heater break?

"I'm going to be a husband."

Zabuza choked.

xXx

The door closed behind her and Sakura stepped a few paces to the side before sighing and sagging against the wall. How did Gaara live with this guy? He was so intimidating!

The fifteen minutes were mostly a waste of time, since her earlier talk with the Suna principal had been only a few days prior and had been as detailed as possible. She hadn't wanted her first encounter with authority to think she hadn't thought it through.

She wanted to go back to Konoha, but doing so was going to take a few hurdles to get through.

It helped that the greener city (talk about grass is greener!) had a medical college that was more advanced in the area she was interested in. So it wasn't that much of a stretch to study there. A few other students were planning to go as well. Only they were leaving in two years whereas she was going this fall.

Still, the career talk had brought some new information to the table. Sabaku-sensei had been busy and thus surprised her. He had tossed a few pamphlets on the table along with business cards and a local contact. The rest of the thirteen minutes was spent reading the material while he did paperwork.

Lifting up the card and reading the chiropractor's name again, Sakura smiled. Intimidating as he was, the principal did actually care that his students got somewhere in life.

That smile stayed with her as she straightened and walked down the hallway.

xXx

"Yo."

"Hello Shikamaru."

"Holy shit!" The phone dropped, the clatter loud through the speakers. Itachi waited. "Uchiha? How did you get my phone number?"

That was a stupid question. The older Uchiha sibling cut his eyes to his brother who was giving the phone a disgusted look. They both waited.

"Er... Never mind. What do you want?"

Sasuke shifted forward. "This is about Sakura. We think someone fired Haruno-san on purpose and moved them to Suna."

There was a pause. "Why do you think that?"

Something in the boy's voice had both the Uchiha's eyes narrowing. "You've thought of that already," Itachi said flatly. Sasuke was sitting back, gaze down, mind at work.

"It was too perfect," Shikamaru replied. "She was almost given a job the next day. It would have been considered a promotion if it had been within the same company. The only inconvenience is that the new position's in Suna."

"How long have you had that opinion?" Itachi demanded. It had already been months, why hadn't he spoken earlier?

The line was quiet again before Shika responded. "The company belongs to your father. I wasn't sure it hadn't been you yourself that had sent Sakura away. Sasuke didn't say anything, but you wouldn't let him know anyway. I've been doing some digging—"

"Aniki wouldn't do that."

Shikamaru fell silent as Itachi glanced at his brother. Sasuke had his head down, face half-hidden by his bangs. "He loves her." When the teenager looked up, his expression was aloof once more. "Besides, if he wanted to break up with her, aniki would have told her face to face."

So this is what it was like to get a compliment from a brother, Itachi thought noting the warmth that he felt at Sasuke's words. Little wonder his own words stunned Sasuke. It was nice.

There was a cough from the phone. "Well, I only know what you tell me Sasuke."

Ouch.

Sasuke had the grace to blush.

Shaking his head, Itachi turned his attention to the phone call once more. "You said you've been digging?"

"Yeah... Um, couldn't get very far. Your family's network is pretty damn tight."

That went without saying. They dealt in security after all. "That won't be a problem for me," he said flatly. "Did you find anything outside of those sources?"

"Wait," Sasuke interrupted. "You said you didn't get very far. That means you still got in."

Itachi blinked and gave his brother a proud look. He hadn't caught that. "He got in. Impressive."

On the other side, Shikamaru shifted and muttered something under his breath. "Got in; found nothing." The Uchiha's both gave the phone a skeptical look. "Well, nothing that Itachi-san won't find in five minutes."

"One minute," Itachi intoned, swinging around in his chair and pulling up the company's website. Logging in wouldn't even take thirty seconds from here.

"Aniki?" Sasuke watched over his shoulder as the logo flashed up and the login screen was presented.

There was more muttering from the Nara kid. "Are you going in right now?"

The younger brother didn't turn his head, but answered anyway. "He is."

"... Can I come over?"

Itachi paused, lifted a brow and looked at Sasuke. Family secrets were going to be wide open to anyone in the room and he didn't know Nara. "Ototo?"

His brother blinked, frowned, and blushed. However, Sasuke's eyes were clear when he brought them up to meet Itachi's again. "Yeah. Come over."

"Cool. I'll be there in twenty."

Itachi nodded to Sasuke. "I'll tell mother we're having company."

"Later then." Shikamaru hung up.

The brothers looked at each other. Itachi cracked a smile. "Not bad."

The Uchiha black eyes rolled as Sasuke snorted. "Just get her home."

xXx

"You're not allowed to go." The redhead stood between Sakura and her door, eyes blazing, arms crossed, looking half-mad and it was only three thirty in the afternoon. "I'll lock you up," he added, slightly desperate, though obviously pissed the fuck off.

Five feet from blessed air conditioning and Sakura was gaping at her supposed best friend in Suna who was denying her relief from his goddamn sunshine.

"We've had this discussion already Gaara," she ground out. The area between her shoulder blades was beginning to itch.

He shook his head hard. "It doesn't matter. It's not going to happen. It won't happen. Ever. You should just give in."

Her left eyebrow twitched. "Can we do this inside? If I'm going to pound your ass for being obstinate, I want to be comfortable while I'm doing it."

The left eyelid twitched, and Gaara uncrossed his arms, taking a step and poking her shoulder in a move he'd probably picked up from her. "We can go inside. But you need to know, Sakura. This is real life. Not a fantasy. And you're just going to end up being stuck here. That's life."

Is that so? Sakura sneered at him. "Fantasy huh?" A fantasy that his own father was supporting her in. She swatted his hand away, stepping around him for the door.

Gaara frowned. "Yes. A fantasy, Sakura. So I'm not worried." He actually smiled at that. "Because you won't actually be leaving! See you!" He turned around and started to march away.

Key. Lock. Door. Cool air. Close door. Blink. What the fuck?

I think Gaara's lost it. Sakura peered through the peephole.

He was almost out of sight... when he stopped and his shoulders slumped. He shook his head, took a step, stopped again. The redhead turned, glancing back toward her house, unaware she was watching. He frowned.

Sighing, and knowing that she was about to spend the next three hours in voluntary irritation, the pink-haired girl swung the door open.

"I offer pickled radishes," she called out to him. "Get in here!"

"You're not leaving!" he retorted automatically, then paused. "Oh. Um. Okay. Thanks?"

With her luck, Suna probably thought she was sleeping with the idiot. Waving at him to come in, she left the door slightly ajar and retreated to the kitchen where it was even cooler. Fucking Suna kids. The sunshine was doing it. Probably. Yeah. Too much sun.

Perking, the redhead ran inside and closed the door almost cheerfully behind him. He paused to take off his shoes and shake the sand from his pants, then joined Sakura in the kitchen. He smiled. "Radishes?"

With her one eyebrow raised and her chin in her palm, the now seated girl did not look impressed. She pointed at the fridge. "Go at it."

He paused, eyes narrowing slightly on her in suspicion. Then he edged over to the fridge and opened the door, standing behind it. Satisfied she hadn't booby-trapped the thing, he got out the pickled radishes and started eating them. From the jar. Men.

Sakura wrinkled her nose before shrugging. The stuff was for his exclusive use anyway. "You going to sit down?" she asked. He was still standing there with the fridge open. Granted the extra cool air was probably nice, but still. "And close the door."

"Um, about that 'kick my ass' thing," he said reluctantly, shutting the door of the fridge.

Head tilting, she smiled. "Yes?"

Chewing and swallowing took a moment, but he eventually continued. "I think I'll stay standing." He shrugged. "To prevent it, obviously."

Well, she wasn't going to beat him now, here in the kitchen. Her mom would flip. Her smile dropped away. "I've already applied, Gaara." That had happened a week ago, during the career talk. Subaku-sensei hadn't seen a reason to delay.

"They'll turn you down then," he replied bluntly.

"It's possible," she admitted flatly. The principal had warned her that there would be no slacking off allowed in the plan.

He nodded smugly and took a pointed bite of his snack. "I will kiss my sister if you get it." Pause. "Luckily, you won't."

Her grin was sudden and vicious. "Make it Kankuro and, if you're right, I'll never complain about pickled radishes ever again."

Sea foam eyes narrowed. "Deal."

xXx

A/N: Somewhere, elsewhere, Kankuro suddenly feels a chill.