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Judgement (Or Lack Thereof)

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"Well, hey," Tenten says as they step inside the café and shake the rain off their jackets. "Isn't that Temari-san?"

Hinata glances over and sees Ino and Sakura and Temari sitting at one of the tables--their table, to be precise--and smiles when Ino waves at them. "Looks like it," she says agreeably. "I w-wonder what Temari-san is joining for. She's not a Konoha kunoichi."

Also, she still rather makes Hinata a bit nervous. Temari is harsh angles and sharp words, even when she's being nice.

"I guess we'll find out," Tenten says lightly. "What do you want? My treat."

"Just a hot chocolate," she says. "And thank you. I do appreciate it."

Tenten waves that off and makes her way towards the counter to place their order. Hinata, bereft of her company, heads over to the other girls.

"Sit with me," Ino demands, the moment Hinata reaches them. "I'm being bullied, Hinata! Make them stop."

Sakura snickers. Temari-san snorts.

Hinata gives the entire table a rather mild look as she slides into the seat beside Ino. "I do not think you have ever been bullied in your life, Ino-san."

That makes all three of them laugh.

"They're still ganging up on me," Ino says, unperturbed at being caught in a lie. "You've got to save me!"

"Save you from what?" Tenten asks, arriving at the table in a flurry of scarves and drinks. "Here's your hot chocolate, Hinata. I've ordered cake for the lot of us; they're bringing it out as a favour to me."

"Ino's just being dramatic," Sakura says. "More importantly, what kind of cake?"

"I said 'surprise me'," Tenten replies. "I'm not picky about my cake flavours and if any of you are, well, more for me. Shove over, will you?"

Obediently, they all shift over to make room for Tenten.

Tenten takes her seat like a queen, sliding in between Sakura and Temari. "So," she says conversationally, "you're new."

Temari gives her a bored look. "Not particularly."

"She meant new to this particular spot, with us," Sakura says helpfully. "Which you are."

"True enough," Temari concedes.

When she leaves it at that, which makes Tenten look put out, and Ino start silently giggling (Sakura doesn't bother with being silent), Hinata is, despite herself, also rather amused.

They are diverted from small talk when their cake is brought out to them. It is a fancy, mouth-watering concoction topped with vanilla wafers and chocolate shavings.

"I want all of it," Ino says.

"You can't," Tenten says severely.

Before Ino can do more than start to pout, Sakura says, "Talk about temerity, Pig. You can have it: if you want to be fat."

"Bite me, Forehead," Ino snaps, easily diverted. They bicker as Tenten rolls her eyes and divides the cake up into five equal pieces.

"How have you been?" Hinata asks Temari, not wanting to get involved in Ino and Sakura's conversation—it's turned into an argument about types of boys and, even having listened to them, Hinata isn't quite sure how; she suspects half the conversation is taking place in their minds.

Temari holds her silence for a moment, gauging, Hinata supposes, her intentions, because Sand shinobi are touchy that way. After that moment, Temari lifts one shoulder in a half shrug. "I've been fine," she says. Then, as if feeling that that has satisfied convention, she doesn't bother to elaborate.

"I've been fine too," Tenten says, smiling at Hinata. "My little brother, though? Not so much. He's been relegated to the bottom of his class since he keeps slacking off—my parents are super upset with him because he's got talent, he just doesn't want to use it."

"He sounds like Shikamaru," Hinata says, picking up her fork.

"Well, hopefully—"

"Who sounds like Shikamaru?" Ino asks curiously, cutting Tenten off.

Sakura lobs a napkin at Ino. "You're so rude, seriously."

"A-ano, I do not think throwing things is the best idea in the café," Hinata says, partly because she knows she's right and partly because Ino looks like she wants to retaliate and Hinata is far, far too close to the center of this to remain unscathed should they take it further. She touches Ino's wrist gently. "Ino-san, please."

Ino heaves a sigh that sounds torturously put upon, slumps back in her chair and then smiles at Hinata. "Since you asked so nicely."

"Thank you, Ino-san."

Sakura coughs something that sounds a lot like 'suck-up', because while Ino may be the instigator of more than half of their arguments Sakura is just as bad once she gets going.

Tenten elbows Sakura before Ino can even stop smiling. "Cut that out," she says, "or I'll eat your cake."

"You will not," Sakura says. "That'd be cruel and unusual."

"Aren't shinobi supposed to be cruel and unusual?" Temari asks, her voice so dry that Hinata has to look at her to see if she's kidding. (She is. Mostly. She does have a point.)

"We're supposed to be fabulous," Ino puts it.

"You can't accomplish missions on sheer fab, Ino," Tenten says wearily.

Ino preens. "I manage."

Given that they all know, including Temari, that Ino accomplishes missions due to her ruthlessness, her shameless mind-reading, and her obscene luck and ability to make the most of anything, they let that go.

If there is a fabulous one amongst them, it is certainly Ino, even though she's not the most powerful.

"I think I prefer being strong," Sakura says thoughtfully. "Rather than cruel, I mean."

"Cruelty has its place," Tenten says, probably since Temari looks vaguely discomfited and all of them know that Suna is a harsher village, even with Gaara as Kazekage. "Though it's not a stance that Konoha officially endorses."

Unofficially, well, everything goes.

"And we're all unusual," Hinata says mildly, taking a bite of her cake.

"Is it good?" Tenten asks.

She swallows and nods. "Very."

That neatly reroutes the conversation to the cake, where they all try it--though Temari only takes a few bites of hers before declaring it too sweet and that none of them are going to have teeth when they're old, and they all pretend not to notice Ino's hand steadily encroaching on Temari's plate since Temari doesn't want hers--and enthuse over it.

Ino gets both hers and what Temari doesn't eat. Sakura teases her and then promptly tries to steal a forkful herself.

Tenten calls them both children and Hinata laughs. Even Temari looks amused.

"But it is good cake," Sakura says, all wide-eyed innocence that doesn't fool anybody. "And I'm saving Ino from herself."

"Oh, really?" Ino asks. "Saving me from what? The horrors of cake?"

"Are they always like that?" Temari asks Tenten curiously.

"Sometimes they're even worse," Tenten says, grinning at Hinata. "Isn't that right?"

Hinata gives Ino and Sakura a look--neither shows any indication of paying attention to anything but their discussion about the cake and what constitutes fair shares of it--before smiling slightly. "They have not raised their voices yet," she offers, "or begun hitting each other. It is a good day for them."

The tragedy of it is that Hinata is only exaggerating a little.

Ino and Sakura are undeniably best friends and, Hinata sometimes suspects, soul-mates in ways that have nothing to do with sexuality and everything to do with love, but neither of them would ever claim that their relationship was quiet or calm or relaxed.

"I see," Temari says, though she looks like she really doesn't.

"It's okay," Tenten says comfortingly. "We don't know why we're friends with them either."

Temari blinks. "Does the fact that they invited me here mean I'm a friend?"

Hinata sips at her hot chocolate, and then asks the question that Tenten clearly doesn't trust herself to ask, "Aren't you?" She keeps her voice light and gentle without making it obvious that that is what she's doing.

"They're different off-duty," Temari says, after a moment. "I didn't realize how much."

She can imagine. Ino's ruthlessness and cleverness tended to be hidden under a façade of airheaded cheerfulness and Sakura's determination and strength were tucked away so that she appeared to be nothing but an ordinary girl, neither of them apparently remarkable, when they were off-duty.

Hinata does not know what either of them get out of the deceit, but that doesn't really matter. Even if she asked, they wouldn't tell her. (There is no point to a deceit if it is discussed and dissected and it is even-odds that they do it solely because it amuses them to do so.)

"They're still your friends," Hinata says, because she knows that Ino and Temari have gone on several lengthy missions together and that Sakura and Temari have a steady correspondence thanks to their close connections to the Kages of their respective villages.

"I suppose so," Temari allows. "We don't really operate that way in Suna. Everyone is who they are, generally."

"Most of us don't try either," Tenten offers. "I mean, most of us tend to try to be a little more harmless in the village, I guess, but their level of subterfuge is way too much work for me."

"You're lazy," Ino says lightly, and goes back to wrangling over the last bite of the cake with Sakura.

"I am not," Tenten says comfortably. "Neither is Hinata." She smiles at Temari. "It's just that we don't bother tying ourselves in knots with a pretty lie."

Temari snorts. "It's creepy."

"It doesn't hurt anyone," Hinata says quietly. "And it pleases them."

"Ino started it," Tenten says in a mock-whisper. "And Sakura copied her."

"I did not!" Sakura protests immediately.

"You so did," Ino retorts. "You copy me in everything."

"Uh huh," Sakura says. "Like you copied me by going into medical jutsu?"

"Can't you two shut up for a minute?" Tenten demands. "You're making Temari uncomfortable."

"…not really?"




Ino knows everything.

It's dangerous thinking that she does, especially since if she knows everything then her father knows everything times approximately a million since compared to him, she's practically blind, deaf, and dumb.

But still, compared to her friends, Ino knows everything.

She watches the way that Tenten looks a bit uncomfortable of Temari's questioning dismissal of her apparent discomfort and laughs lightly, like there's nothing that matters less in the world.

"I suppose we can be good," she says, batting her eyes at Tenten, who looks relieved since it was her discomfort, rather than Temari's that she'd been speaking about. "Can't we, Sakura?"

"I guess so," Sakura says, following her lead. (It's an old, bad habit of hers that Ino is not particularly inclined to help her break now that Sakura is mostly standing on her own two feet.)

"But, I guess, since I can't be bad," Ino continues blithely, "we should probably find something to entertain me with before I get bored."

It pleases her deeply that all of them, except for Sakura (who knows her far too well), look slightly concerned at the mere suggestion of her being bored.

"We could spar," Tenten suggests promptly.

"We could go to a movie," Sakura says. "There's a new one out that looks pretty good."

Hinata looks thoughtful before suggesting that they could go to a games parlour. Since that's the only one that Temari seems even the slightest bit interested in, and Ino really does want Temari to feel welcome, she throws her voice behind Hinata's suggestion with enthusiasm.

Because she's the one they don't want bored, it doesn't take much wheedling to get them all out of the café (after calling cheerful goodbyes and compliments on the cake to the café-minions) and a few streets over to the nearest games parlour.

Ino watches without acting like she's doing so as Temari's eyes scan the place with both curiosity and a guarded sort of delight. From Temari's thoughts she gleans that Temari's never been to a place like this before.

Hinata and Sakura quickly peel off to go and inspect the newest game machine--both of them come here frequently enough to know which is the newest, thanks to their association with Naruto, who has frequented this place for years, ever since discovering that the owners didn't care who he was or about the monster crammed into him--while she and Tenten stay with Temari.

"You've never been to one of these, right?" Ino says brightly, hooking one arm through Temari's and tugging her forward. "They're not super exciting, but they're fun. Over there's the fighting machines, and the pinball ones are that way. There's the more traditional 'parlour' games over in that room--they're mostly logic and puzzle games, though charades is a pretty fun one."

"There's slot machines and pool tables in the back," Tenten says. "You have to either be at least a Genin to get in, or over eighteen, because 'gambling is wrong'."

"What?" Temari asks blankly.

"It's a civilian thing," Ino says.

Which, she knows, answers everything and nothing. Tenten doesn't argue with her, though, and Temari nods like it makes sense, now that she knows it is a civilian thing.

She supposes it does, since civilians are weird as hell.

"What are they doing?" Temari asks, jerking her head over to where Hinata and Sakura are. Hinata has draped her jacket over the back of a nearby stool and has tied her hair back, while Sakura is stretching.

"They're going to dance," Ino says brightly. "See, the screens on that machine there, they're going to come up with the moves they're supposed to hit and on the platforms they're getting on there's corresponding symbols they have to hit in time with the screen to get a good score."

"Is it hard?"

Ino grins up at her. "Do you want to try?"

Temari hesitates. Ino shamelessly reads her mind to find out that Temari is worried about being terrible at it.

She nudges Tenten's mind with hers and shares that snippet. Tenten rolls her eyes at Ino, behind Temari's back, so the other girl doesn't get the wrong idea.

"I'm terrible at it," Tenten says casually. "I can keep over a hundred kunai controlled in a battle attack, but I become all awkward knees and elbows when put in time to music."

"You are a marvel of grace and coordination," Ino says, laughing. "Come on! Let's go!"

She bounces over without waiting for a response.

Behind her, Temari asks, "How good is Ino at this game?"

"She is disgustingly good at it," Tenten says, with a laugh of her own. "I try not to hold it against her."

(Temari turns out to be pretty good at it herself, which surprises everyone but Ino.)

It's probably the fact that they're all giddy with new-found friendship and stuff (the scientific term) that makes them think that, once they're gently (because they're tough kunoichi) but firmly (because it's past closing hours) shooed out of the parlour, that going out for a few drinks is a good idea.

And it is a good idea.

Sort of.

Ino has one drink and stops. It's just enough alcohol to make her feel even more amicable towards the whole world than she already is, but not enough to put her at any risk regarding her bloodline talent.

(Ino has gotten smashed exactly once in her lifetime and vows to never do it again; would you want to have an entire village's worth of thoughts pouring uncontrolled through your head and you unable to pull up even the flimsiest shield against it? No amount of liquid courage--not that she needs it--is worth that.)

Sakura only has one drink and stops because she's got a 4 AM shift at the hospital and Tsunade-sama would murder her if she showed up with a hangover or, worse, still drunk.

Tenten has five drinks and is still entirely sober because her metabolism is that of a beast and they're all pretty sure she stole Lee-kun's tolerance from him and combined it with hers, leaving him with nothing.

Hinata has three because any more than that and she gets weepy. As it is, she's cheerful and Ino much prefers that.

Temari has one, with the air of someone doing it only because the rest are, and Ino claps her on the back in one-drink solidarity and gives a silent cheer for peer pressure. It relaxes Temari, a bit, and that's only to the good, right?

Because Ino knows everything, she knows what a terrible idea it is when Hinata suggests that they all go practice throwing kunai because they haven't done any practice today--Ino doesn't bother to correct that assumption, which is wrong, on at least three counts, but no one else cares--and that it would do them some good to get outside.

Because Sakura, even a happy, slightly buzzed Sakura, is prone to fussing over details, she says, "I'm pretty sure that's a bad idea. I wish we could do something else."

"No way!" Tenten says brightly. "I think it's a great idea."

Seven drinks in and the alcohol is finally hitting Tenten's system.

"I wouldn't mind," Temari allows, smiling slightly.

Sakura looks at Ino with wide-beseeching eyes.

Ino has never, ever pretended to be a good person. She knows it will go terribly. She knows that this is a dreadful mistake.

But she's pretty sure it's going to be a lot of fun. Fun wins out over Sakura's (not-inconsiderable) puppy-eyes.

"Sure," Ino says, which makes Sakura sigh deeply. "I'm all for it. Let's go."

Fun is usually Ino's top (frivolous) priority.

That's why, when they leave the bar, she ducks her head and grins. It's going to be one excellent night, however it turns out.




If Sakura could read thoughts, she would beg to differ.

This is going to be awful, horrible, and she still finds it hard to believe that Tenten has agreed to it. It has to be the drinks, since Tenten is an absolute stickler for weapons safety usually. She sulks at Ino's back, until Ino falls back into step with her and slings one arm around her shoulder.

Hinata and Tenten are debating the pros and cons of various training grounds, while Temari listens intently.

It probably isn't the sort of thing Temari is supposed to hear--training secrets between villages and all--but Sakura doesn't want to be a total wet blanket about everything ever tonight.

"You're awful," she says, instead, not even bothering to try and shake Ino off. Ino is like a weed. It would be a worthless waste of effort.

Ino doesn't even bother to hide her grin. "I'm awesome," she says. "Want to take bets on who gets stabbed first?"

"Oh my god," Sakura says. "I can't believe you know medical jutsu with an attitude like that."

"Excuse me, but medic-nin have some of the most twisted senses of humour around," Ino says.

Sakura has to concede, unwillingly, that Ino is right. "Shut up."

"Such verbosity!" Ino laughs.

"I could thump you," Sakura offers. "I mean, if you'd prefer the no-words route." She wouldn't thump Ino very hard, because she loves Ino rather desperately even when she wants to strangle her (which would be right around now) but it would be satisfying.

"Let's not and say we did."

"That's the opposite of fun," Sakura complains. "Especially since it would be way less dangerous than the kunai."

"That's what makes the kunai so fun," Ino says flippantly. "Increased danger equals increased hilarity."

Sakura levels a long look at Ino, who returns it with an impish smile. "I know you're not that stupid," she says.

Ino retaliates by tickling her side. Sakura shrieks with laughter and squirms to get away. "Stop that!"

"Never!"

Sakura breaks free of Ino's grasp and bolts for the safety of the others. "Ino's being mean!" she says, giggling, like they're back in school, only back then she'd never have said Ino was mean, even in jest.

"Oh no," Tenten says, her grin turning a bit wicked. "Was she?"

"Absolutely!" Ino says, hooking one arm through Hinata's. "Have we decided where we're going?"

"The Academy's grounds are closest," Hinata says. "There's others that might be better, but--"

"They're too far away," Tenten says helpfully.

Temari snorts. "It would take us mere minutes to get to any of them."

Hinata smiles. "But we'd have to put the effort in, Temari-san."

"Do what you want," Temari says.

"I love being given permission to do things I was going to do anyway," Ino says, to no one in particular.

Sakura is torn between laughing and just giving up and shaking her head. "Let's go to the Academy," she says hurriedly, before anyone's mood can take a turn for the worst. "And get this over, I mean."

Tenten leads the way to the Academy, but Hinata is a close second and when Ino bails on Hinata to walk beside Temari, Sakura feels a bit… put out, despite herself. She's past the age where Ino paying attention to other people is soul-crushing and jealousy-inducing, but it's still a bit lonely when she's the only one of the five of them not included.

We need someone else, Sakura thinks. If Temari is going to stick around.

She doesn't mind if Temari does--she's interesting and, if she's not super talkative, they already have enough of that in the group--but she kinda wants to know now if Temari will.

"Are you coming or not, Forehead?" Ino calls, looking back over her shoulder.

Sakura speeds up and, because she can't let that name pass, she punches Ino in the shoulder. "Shut up, Pig."

"I still don't understand those names," Temari says mildly.

"It's a long story," Ino tells her brightly. "Let's not tell it now. Tenten and Hinata are already at the Academy and setting up."

Sakura winces. "We should hurry," she says.

"Why?" Ino asks. "We're not going to stop them."

Temari laughs.

It's really unfair that she does, because Sakura was all set to complain more and how can she now?

"I guess not," she says. "I just want this to go down on record as being Hinata's idea, okay? I had nothing to do with this."

In the dead of the night, the Academy is an imposing structure as they approach it. Though, Sakura concedes, that's probably mostly her just projecting her feelings onto it. Ino and Temari hop the fence without any signs of misgiving.

Sakura follows.

And finds Ino waiting for her, Temari nowhere in sight. Sakura blinks. "Where's--"

"I sent her on ahead," Ino says casually. "It's fine. I wanted to make sure you were good."

"Why wouldn't I be?" Sakura asks. "We're only breaking into the Academy, playing with kunai when we've all had drinks, and you think it'll be great if someone gets stabbed. No, Ino, I'm having a fabulous time."

Ino tilts her head slightly, the moonlight turning her blonde hair silvery and ethereal. She looks slightly unreal.

"If someone gets hurt, both you and I can deal with any of the injuries before they actually matter," Ino says.

"Injuries always matter!"

Ino waves that off. "You know what I meant. There's no danger of anyone dying or losing a ton of blood with the both of us around. Besides which, only Hinata and Tenten really drank anything. If the rest of us were called out on missions right this second we'd be deemed capable of performing them just fine. What's really up, Sakura?"

"You mean you haven't read it out of my mind yet?" Sakura asks, looking away. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Do you want me to read it out of your mind?" Ino asks. "Or should I guess that it has something to do with your mother again?"

There are downsides to being best friends with a mind reader. Especially when Ino knows her well enough to not even bother reading her mind.

Sakura sighs. "Yeah, sorry," she says, shoulders slumping. "It's just--the same old. Can we not?"

"If you stop taking it out on our evening out," Ino says. "And have some fun. It'll be great, even if there's some trouble."

"Because we can blame Hinata?" Sakura asks dubiously.

"Well, there's that," Ino says carelessly. "But mostly because I love you, and you're with friends, and nothing really bad can happen in that situation, right?"

These days Sakura is never sure if she hates or loves the fact that Ino still can make her feel better with just a few words. It seems like something she should've grown out of by now, only she hasn't.

"Yeah," she says, because she knows that Ino is waiting for an answer. "Yeah, I guess so."

"Excellent!" Ino crows. "Come on, let's hurry!"

Sakura laughs as Ino drags her into a run and they race each other on silent feet through the empty and dark Academy--they could go around, but where's the fun in that?--and it takes them barely any time at all to reach the rest.

They stop on the edge of the field and survey the situation.

Lanterns have been lit to illuminate the yard, which makes her worry that someone will come because stealthy this isn't, and three targets have been set up. Tenten is already flinging kunai at one of them, her aim perfect despite the amount of alcohol in her system. Hinata is talking to Temari, who is watching Tenten, as they pick up their own kunai.

"Hey!" Sakura says, outraged. "Why don't we get targets?"

"Maybe they're our targets!" Ino says in a whisper that's loud enough for all of them to hear.

"As if you could!" Tenten says. "I dare you!"

"Oh no," Sakura says, and makes a lunge for Ino, but--too late. Ino is gone, with a wild laugh, and even though Sakura knows how fast Ino moves when she wants to, she still has to admire the way Ino practically disappears.

A second later, a brace of kunai are sent flying at Tenten.

Tenten doesn't even bother to duck; she just keeps tossing kunai at her target and all but dances her way around Ino's attack.

From the way both Ino and Tenten laugh, neither of them is even remotely concerned about the potential for disaster inherent in this game.

Sakura makes her way over to the others in time to hear Temari say admiringly, "I want to try that."

Hinata looks, for the first time, the slightest bit doubtful. "Sakura-san is better at kunai than I am," she says, when Temari looks at her. "I do not think it would be much of a contest if I--"

"Your aim is fine," Sakura says, trying to remember that Ino has promised this will be fun. "How about I pair up with you, Temari-san, and Hinata-chan, you can be the random variable and toss kunai at both Temari and Tenten."

Both girls are silent as they think about that.

Tenten yelps as one of Ino's kunai gets her in the arm.

"Victory is mine!" Ino yells.

Sakura scrutinizes both of them before deciding that, yes, it's just a scratch. Tenten will be fine--is fine--and is laughing as she takes her place again.

"Yes," Hinata says. "Yes, I will be the variable. Temari-san?"

"Sounds good," Temari says, giving Sakura a long look. "I'll aim for the target--"

"And my target is you," Sakura says, smiling. "Got it."




Tenten knows that this game is ridiculous but she's having so much fun that it doesn't bother her one bit. Partly because if it bothered her, she'd get hit again. Ino isn't as good as she is, but Ino is still very good indeed and Tenten can't afford to be distracted.

Especially not with Hinata making her have to split her attention anyway.

She's bleeding from more than one spot, but none of the cuts are serious and when it's all over they'll be healed. From the yelps and laughs at one of the other targets, Temari and Sakura are in the same situation.

It's all going well.

Until it abruptly stops going well when a kunai toss goes wild and hits one of the paper lanterns with a thunk and, worse, keeps going. The lantern-and-kunai combination flies right out of the grounds… and then the crash of glass sounds loudly in the sudden silence.

"I th-think that we're done," Hinata says, her voice hushed.

"We can't just leave that!" Sakura whispers. "I mean, what if that burns down the village?"

"No one lives in that house," Ino reports, which relaxes all of them a bit. Hinata nods her agreement after activating her Byakugan. "But I think that's--uh--fire."

And it is.

"Anyone good at suiton jutsu?" Tenten asks weakly.

One by one they all shake their heads.

"I was afraid of that," she says.

"We could bail," Ino says, all faux-cheerfulness, "I mean, just ditch and claim that it was, like, rabid trick or treaters or something."

"It's not even October!" Sakura snaps. She never fails to rise to Ino's bait. "And oh my god, what is wrong with you?"

"You're so easy," Ino says, sticking her tongue out.

"The fire is still burning," Temari says mildly. "I suggest we either disappear or actually try to put it out."

"New question!" Tenten says. "Does anyone know any doton jutsu? You can put out fires with earth, right?"

Sakura takes a deep breath. "Depending on the kind of fire," she says. "That's the theory."

"We'll go with theory," Ino says. "Any takers on the jutsu? I don't have any for this."

"I've got a few," Temari says, looking slightly uncomfortable. "But they're not very--subtle."

"Neither is burning down the whole village!" Sakura says.

Tenten bites her lip hard to keep from (inappropriately) giggling. It's not funny, it really isn't, but Sakura is just so serious about it. (And Tenten knows she would care more if she hadn't drunk so much. She just feels too good to seriously worry about anything.)

"I think we should put it out," Hinata offers. "Even if our solution is… inelegant, it will reflect better on us, if we handle what we caused."

"It's all in your hands, Temari-san," Ino says.

Tenten realizes that, yeah, Ino is still totally enjoying everything this evening has been made of.

She hopes Sakura doesn't figure that out.




Temari reviews the handseals for the doton jutsu quickly, as Hinata, Tenten, and Sakura disappear into the night. Ino lingers by her, a grin lighting up her face.

"You should get going," Temari says shortly. "This is going to make some noise."

"I love noise," Ino says agreeably. "Should I run out and hire some people to be your claque? You could have a personal audience for this!"

"You are extremely irritating this way," Temari says. "I understand now why Hinata-san said it was a good day if you and Sakura-san were not hitting each other if you're always like this in the village."

Ino laughs. "So mean!"

"You don't sound offended."

"I'm not, really," Ino says. "Also you'd really better hurry because we've got ANBU presence starting to creep around and while I'm sure we could talk our way out of this… let's not, hm?"

Temari grimaces. "You're sure?"

Ino gives her a flat are-you-joking? look and Temari's grimace deepens. She doesn't apologize, since that would be ridiculous, but she continues on. "Right," Temari says, "then you might want to back up a bit. This will be messy."

Though likely not as messy as the flames that they can see, licking at the window frame, all twisted and red hot.

Ino steps behind her and stays there. Temari sighs. "Look, if we're caught--"

"Then it's better for you to get caught with me, than without me," Ino says lightly. "I am a Konoha shinobi from a well-respected Clan. You may be the diplomat from Sand, but if you get caught on your own setting fires in the village, you will be taken in as a terrorist and your actions will be deemed as an act of war. If we get caught, shut up and let me do the talking. And, I don't know, try to look harmless and confused."

Temari stares at her.

Ino blinks. "What?" she asks. "I am an arrant student of politics. I know this sort of thing and what I outlined is exactly what will happen if I leave you alone. Also, by the way, if you want to get out of here without me having to do the talking..."

She gets the hint. With a shake of her head, Temari focuses her chakra, reviews the seals one more time, and then, before she can think better of it, rapidly runs through the jutsu.




Sakura stares, appalled, at the sunken ruin that has abruptly appeared where the house-on-fire had been. "Oh my god," she says. "I know that Temari-san said it wasn't subtle, but I didn't think she meant—like that."

Tenten looks far too unconcerned for Sakura's tastes as she stretches and leans against the rooftop railing. They're a solid fifteen blocks away from the center of the damage, and up a few floors, so they still have a pretty good view. Tenten is smiling slightly.

Hinata's face is harder to read but Sakura is pretty sure Hinata's just glad that no one can pin the whole thing—

"It's your fault!" Sakura says. "You came up with the idea!"

"Sakura-san!" Hinata says, all big doe-eyes and dismay. "I didn't mean for anything like this to happen."

"But if it hadn't been for you, we would never have been on the Academy grounds!" Sakura argues, wanting to have someone to blame for this whole mess. Especially since only she is taking it seriously.

Sakura can see Ino and Temari making their way along the rooftops towards them and Sakura knows that bounce of Ino's ponytail. Ino is thrilled with the way the evening has gone and will be no help at all in fixing anything.

"Oh, come on," Tenten says. "You worry too much, Sakura. The fire's out. No one lived there. What more do you want?"

"I want everyone involved in this fiasco to remember that 'just because it's sharp doesn't mean you should throw it!'"

"But, Forehead," Ino says, landing beside her and grinning brightly enough that not even being illuminated only by the moon dims her joy. "They were kunai! We're supposed to throw them!"

And that is the exact point where Sakura just gives up and laughs. She laughs so hard that she nearly cries. There is no stopping any of them. It's already over. She has lost whatever battle there was to fight.

But there's one point she's going to take a stand on:

"It is still all Hinata's fault," she insists. "And we shall never speak of this again."

"That's a pity," Temari murmurs wickedly.

"Don't you dare start," Sakura says. "If you're going to be one of us, you've got to know when to let things drop."

"The answer," Tenten says, "is, of course, never."

And the night ends in laughter.