Do You Hate Me?
Title subject to change, rating PG13 to be on the safe side.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, I do own the plot of this story (for as far as there is one) and the extra characters I may or may not add.
Response to reviews at the bottom, be sure to read the A/N's.
Response to reviews at the bottom, be sure to read the A/N's.
Chapter 15 – Laying the Foundation - Part III:
Only just three years old, a little girl grinned happily as she played on the shaggy rug in the living room with the sparse toys her house provided. Taking a sideways glance though, she saw her little brother approaching and pouted immediately. She turned to him and quickly hid the wooden doll she had gotten on her birthday a few months ago. For some strange reason, her little brother just wouldn't stop trying to get his hands on it. Obviously she wasn't going to let that happen, it was hers and hers alone.
"No, Kankuro! This is my dolly! Go play with your own toys!" She yelled in a bossy tone, already knowing what he was after.
"Dowwy! Dowwy!" Her brother giggled, a small amount of drool dribbling from his lower lip as he stretched his chubby arms out to his sister. "Temawi, dowwy!"
"It's Temari!" The girl said, infuriated that her smaller brother couldn't even pronounce her name properly. "No, you can't have it!"
"Dowwy!" Kankuro protested as he tried to stand up, immediately falling backwards on his backside.
"No!" Temari shouted and stood up, holding the pale wooden doll above her head. Her brother's eyes widened at the now insurmountable task of getting the object he so greatly desired, and did the only thing he was able to do.
Cringing as the earsplitting bawling hit her eardrums mercilessly, Temari ran quickly out of the living room, her four pigtails of which she was so terribly proud of, bobbing up and down as she left her crying brother behind. When she reached the hallway and stood at the bottom of the stairs that led to the first floor, she let out a breath of relief.
Her emerald eyes glanced about, looking for another spot where she could play but couldn't find anything. She took a step in the direction of the kitchen, but cringed again when she heard someone shout her name from upstairs.
Temari's brain seemed to be able to produce only one thought, did her mother hear Kankuro crying and was she going to be punished? Shaking her head from side to side fiercely, she dismissed that thought. No of course she wasn't going to be punished; her mother loved her more than anything, which was something the little girl had always been eager to exploit.
But she couldn't help but squeak and hide behind the large plant that stood next to the front door as she heard her mother call out to her again, a tone of urgency apparent in her voice.
Flabbergasted... Struck speechless...
That pretty much summed up the reaction of Ino and Shikamaru as they stood, mouths agape, watching the scene in front of them.
"N-naruto..." Ino started feebly, pointing half-heartedly at the boy standing a fair distance from the two. Shikamaru nodded dumbly, pretty much understanding what she was trying to say.
Naruto... The number one hyper-active brat of Konoha, was holding nothing other than a ten foot long, massive red blade in his hands...
Well... Attempting to hold it anyway.
A silver-haired man, who previously went unnoticed by Ino and Shikamaru, scratched the back of his head and stared in disbelief at Naruto. "Naruto..." He chuckled nervously. "I think you might have overdone it a little..."
Features straining in obvious exertion and concentration, Naruto turned to the Jounin as he wobbled back and forth; desperately trying to keep the blade balanced so it wouldn't tip over and possibly kill the two of them at the same time. "I know that damnit!" He grunted, blinking the perspiration out of his eyes that dripped from under his spiky bangs, which were no longer held up by his forehead protector.
'His chakra-control was already terrible, but...' Kakashi thought, cutting his musings short to focus his attention on the two speechless spectators. "Hey Ino, Shikamaru, what are you two doing here?" He asked casually, his tone oddly amiable in the presence of something so unearthly and strange.
After a moments pause, the Jounin saw that he wasn't going to get a reaction while his student was juggling the humongous blade in his hands. Kakashi walked up behind him and unceremoniously gave him a shove between the shoulder blades. His concentration shattered, Naruto gave a cry of surprise and fell flat on his face. Fearing the blade was going to chop him in half, he quickly rolled on his back, closed his eyes and flung his arms in front of him protectively. But when after a few seconds he was still intact, he cracked open one eye ever so slightly and saw that the sword had simply disappeared.
Kakashi chuckled again. "Oni no Kiba will dissipate if it leaves your hands, Naruto."
"Oh." The blonde boy deadpanned and picked himself up from the ground, patting himself down in a vain effort to clean himself. Naruto might not have been very focused on personal hygiene and his appearance in the past, but ever since Temari had cornered him and threatened to separate his limbs from his body when he came home after training for a few hours, covered in grass-stains, dirt and another whole assortment of icky things, he did indeed pay more attention to how he and his clothes looked. And even though it was a pain in the ass to have to keep watching out for his cleanliness, Naruto just had to look at Temari once, and then he knew it was just worth it.
Smiling behind his mask, Kakashi shouted at Ino and Shikamaru again. "Hey, you two, come here!"
Snapping out of their awe-inspired daze, Ino swallowed hard and Shikamaru scowled, but both of them walked towards Naruto and his sensei, albeit slightly reluctantly.
When they approached the two who, just moments before were obviously practicing a very dangerous technique, Ino's bright blue eyes sparkled with wonder and let out a high-pitched squeal, producing a sigh of annoyance from her black-haired companion.
Pointedly ignoring him however, Ino conjured up her most dazzling smile and stared at Naruto. "What was that?" She asked, bubbling with barely contained excitement. Her inquisitive, though slightly, well maybe not slightly nosy side would never live this down if she didn't find out what the teammate of her rival was doing a scant minute ago.
Taken aback by her energetic question, Naruto blinked and started stuttering, unable to form a proper response. He was saved however from having to answer, when Kakashi clapped a hand on his left shoulder and answered for him. "I'm afraid we can't tell you Ino."
Unperturbed, Ino decided to take another approach. The deadly puppy-dog eyes technique, which she had perfected so many years ago and was now irresistible to all the men and boys of Konoha. She looked up at the Jounin, watery blue eyes pleading and a trembling lower lip pouting cutely as she clasped her delicate hands in front of her chest. "Please?"
Giving no other indication of being affected by this lethal technique other than the slight narrowing of his only visible gray eye and a twitch in the corner of his lips, which was hidden by his mask at any rate, Kakashi shook his head. "No, I'm sorry."
Ino was scandalized. Someone had actually defied the puppy-dog eyes? She turned to Naruto, who had recovered from her first reaction, and tried it on him as well, but was also denied when he shook his blonde head.
But while Ino was trying to 'liberate' the answer she so desperately craved, Shikamaru stayed silent. From the first moment he approached Kakashi and Naruto and saw them up-close, he couldn't help but feel there was something odd going on here.
Shikamaru narrowed his eyes and inspected Kakashi. He didn't find anything wrong with him, he still hid his face from the general public and as the silver-haired man stood there nonchalantly with his hands in the pockets of his black slacks, Shikamaru guessed that the Jounin was probably still lazier than him like he always had been.
Focusing his gaze on Naruto, Shikamaru immediately did a double-take. Blinking as if to convince himself his vision wasn't impaired in any way, the Chuunin noticed straight away that Naruto was impossibly taller. Shikamaru was sure that only a few weeks ago, Naruto had been shorter than himself and now he was easily an inch or more taller.
But that wasn't what surprised him the most, when he stared into Naruto's eyes, he noticed they were altered. Naruto's once blue eyes were flecked with bits of its original colour but were now also a deep red. The overall effect was bizarre to Shikamaru to say the least.
Naruto, who was looking at Ino, noticed Shikamaru staring at him and quickly averted his eyes, staring at the ground and hoping that the Chuunin wouldn't say anything. The last thing he wanted was to make a scene out of all this and preferably keep as many people as he could in the dark about his current condition.
Ino's ranting fading to an irritating buzz in his ears; Shikamaru picked up on Naruto's desire to stay quiet about his recent changes, and kept his mouth shut. Not that he would have told anyone about it anyway, it would have taken him way too much energy to do so and Shikamaru wouldn't really want to be a person to be accused of being a gossip. No, he would leave that title to Ino.
Regardless, Naruto was spared from having to give any lengthy and possibly uncomfortable explanations in case Ino ever decided to notice the changes he had undergone. Quite suddenly, a loud and booming explosion echoed in the distance. It was followed just a few seconds later by a dissipating rolling shockwave that carried clumps of dirt, leaves and tiny rocks that peppered the four Leaf-nins as they turned their heads as one to stare at the source of the commotion in shock.
Naruto's eyes widened. "Temari-chan!" He gasped, and ran off in the direction of the explosion, leaving Kakashi to follow a split second later and Ino and Shikamaru wondering what the hell was going on before they too followed the distressed Genin.
Temari fearfully crept up the stairs of her home, holding her breath every time the rickety wood would creak under her light weight. She really wanted to be a great Kunoichi like her mother, the great Tanigawa Suzura, and being noticed before she even arrived on the landing just wouldn't do.
When Temari was finally at the top of the stairs, she peeked just over the last step and looked around carefully with her big emerald eyes. She knew that her mother was probably not going to yell at her, her mother never yelled...
Hardly ever anyway...
The only person she would yell at was her father, but that only started about when her mother became pregnant again. Though just a small child, Temari was clever enough to realize that was because her father had changed. He had become the Kazekage when she was born and would always play with her, but when her mother had told everyone that she was going to get a new brother or sister, he had turned so cold... So frightening...
Now was not the time to think about that though, Temari had a mission, and that mission was...
"Eep!" Temari cried out, nearly toppling over as her mother swung open one of the doors on the first floor, holding her swollen belly containing her yet unborn child, then focused her eyes on her daughter directly.
Though looking surprised for only a moment, Suzura's eyes curved in a happy crinkle as she beamed at Temari, who, quite honestly, was scared out of her wits at her mother's sudden appearance. Laughing softly, Suzura scooped her now sobbing daughter in her arms and held her tightly as the small girl's teary sobs died down to muffled sniffs into her mother's shoulder as she latched on to her intricate lily patterned kimono with her small fists.
"There there, Temari-chan." Her mother cooed, patting and rubbing the little girl's back affectionately. "Don't cry."
After a few more moments Temari leaned back, still held in her mother's arms and rubbed her teary eyes with the back of her hands and locked the now slightly puffy orbs with her mother's. She liked her mother's eyes, more because they were as brilliantly green as her own than anything. For some reason it made her feel special and strong just like her mother.
"Am I in trouble?" Temari asked meekly as she sniffed once more, unable to stop herself. "Because I made Kankuro cry?"
Suzura grinned. "You made Kankuro-kun cry huh?" She inquired. "Let me guess, he wanted to play with your doll again?" When Temari nodded, her mother continued. "I swear, there is something really wrong with that boy."
Temari giggled and nodded again.
"But..." Suzura said and bumped Temari upwards with her arms, earning herself a squeal of delight from the little girl. "...no, you're not in trouble, Temari-chan. Though maybe you should give him your doll to play with once in a while." She said, admonishing the girl slightly.
Pouting immediately, Temari shook her head. "No I don't want to. He always drools on everything!"
"Well yes, he does that I guess..." Suzura nodded in agreement, causing her sleek blonde hair to fall into her eyes, immediately tucking it back behind one of her ears. "Oh, I know!" She exclaimed, snapping her fingers. "How about we buy him his own doll this week?"
Temari's scrunched up her face as she pondered about this. Kankuro getting a doll just like that? That seemed hardly fair now did it? "Can I have one too?" She finally asked softly and slowly, batting her eyelashes as she tried to impress her parent with her childish charm.
"We'll see, ok?" Suzura laughed, and set Temari on one arm, reaching for the door behind her with the other as she turned towards it. "Now, I've got something to show you, but close your eyes first okay?"
"Okay." Temari said and closed her eyes, wondering what her mother was going to show her. Maybe it would be more toys for her to play with! Or maybe a pretty kimono like her mother wore so often! Maybe even some of those pretty and shiny metal things her mother was so fond of! Just barely able to contain her excitement, it took every ounce of Temari's willpower not to take a peek and spoil the surprise her mother had in store for her.
"Ok Temari-chan, you can open your eyes now." Her mother whispered in her ear and set her down on the ground.
The little girl shivered in delight and beamed a brilliant smile. Opening her emerald eyes, she gasped and felt them grow wide and round like coins.
Lying on a dusty old table in a dark room she had never entered before, was the biggest and most beautiful fan she had ever seen.
Though no light seemed to filter in from anywhere, the perfect coat of onyx-black varnish that covered the heavy sturdy wood seemed to shine. The tightly woven cloth between the two pieces of wood consisted of cotton and other materials, clearly meant to last for an eternity.
Stepping in front of Temari, her mother picked up the fan and balanced it with both hands in front of the amazed little girl. With a flick of her wrist, Suzura unfolded it and revealed the cloth which was painted a pale beige along with three circles with an equal spacing between them; they were the same colour as the varnish on the wood.
"For me?" Temari asked, her voice barely louder than a whisper.
"Yes." Her mother said, her tone a deathly serious one, which unnerved her daughter a little bit. "Listen to me carefully, Temari-chan."
Tearing her eyes away from the beautiful fan, Temari looked Suzura in the eyes, staying silent so her mother could continue.
"Just in case I'm not going to be around when you get older, I want you to know about this. This fan is a very powerful tool, be sure to take care of it and it will take care of you. Do you understand?" She asked, something flashing across her eyes which Temari could not identify because she had never experienced it herself...
"Yes, I understand." Temari said, somehow comprehending that this was a very serious matter. "I'll protect Kankuro and my new brother or sister right?"
Her mother gave a sad smile, rubbing her belly absentmindedly. "Yes Temari-chan, become strong and protect them both." She said and refolded the fan, setting it back on the old table, the dust dulling the sound of wood hitting wood just barely.
Grabbing Temari's small hands with one of her own and rubbed her daughter's head with the other, Suzura kneeled in front of her and bent forwards to place her lips on Temari's forehead. "Just remember, Temari-chan. I love all of you so very much..."
An overly bright array of bright colours assaulted Temari as she cracked her eyes open, and consequently shut them immediately with a groan. To make matters worse, her head felt like someone was continuously ringing a massive brass gong inside of it. Blindly grabbing the sides of her head with her hands, she gingerly started rubbing her temples in an effort to alleviate some of the pain she was experiencing.
A small pressure near her head alerted her to the presence of someone else, but she had no idea who it was. She felt her hands gently being pushed away to be replaced by a pair of gruff and calloused hands that took over the pain-reducing effort. Temari couldn't help but smile...
'Mmm, that feels good...'
"We really have to stop meeting like this, Temari-chan."
Her smile widened into a grin. "What makes you say that, Naruto-kun?"
The massaging hands paused momentarily as Naruto chuckled somewhere above her face. "Well, I kinda like being in your room and everything, but I don't like it when you or I have to have an accident for us to have some time to ourselves."
Temari nodded in agreement but only slightly, even her neck hurt. "What the hell happened?" She asked. Everything before waking up just seemed like one big blur.
She could hear Naruto sigh wearily. "Me and Kakashi-sensei were training, and you and Kumiko went off to spar remember? We heard this big explosion and I arrived just in time to see you lying smoking in a really big crater."
"Smoking...?" Temari inquired, smacking her lips, noticing just how thirsty she was. She really felt like a big pile of... Well... Crap.
The weight pressing the thin mattress down above her head shifted slightly and she heard a clinking of glass, followed by the unmistakable sound of liquid being poured into said glass. Without opening her eyes, Temari tried to sit up, but was immediately pressed back down by Naruto. She was grateful, because every move just made her body ache painfully in places she had never known about before.
With his help, Temari lifted her head slightly, her muscles groaning in silent protest, and felt a glass being pressed against her lips. She opened her mouth and eagerly downed the cool liquid inside.
Temari had never been more grateful for a glass of water in her life.
When she had swallowed the last gulp of water, and heard Naruto put down the glass on the tatami-mat beside her futon with a dull clunk, Temari opened her eyes again. Her emerald eyes blinked rapidly for a few moments, allowing her to adapt to the light that shone through her windows. She tilted her chin slightly and looked upwards to see a grinning face with ruby and sapphire eyes look down at her.
"Good morning." The face said simply.
Temari grinned in return. "Good morning."
Despite enjoying his tender ministrations, Temari really wanted to know what had happened, and therefore, with a soft groan escaping her lips, sat upright and leaned back against the blonde youth. "Smoking?" She inquired again.
"Hehehe, yeah, you were kinda singed there, Temari-chan!" Naruto laughed. "Looks like you and Kumiko-san went a little bit overboard."
The buzzing in Temari's head multiplied tenfold upon hearing the girl's name and flashes of the events that transpired the day before flashed in front of her eyes.
A great ball of crackling energy... Unleashed by that katana from Kumiko when she unleashed some technique she had never heard of, let alone seen with her own eyes.
A rage unlike she had ever known filled her heart...
What had happened to...
"My fan!" Temari shouted suddenly, jolting forwards and immediately regretting it as she clutched her head when waves of pain rolled throughout her skull. "What happened to my fan?!" She tried again in a hoarse whisper.
A profound sigh behind her told Temari all she needed to know and she felt her heart plummet into the pit of her stomach. Naruto stood up from behind her and walked over to the side of her room, picking up a small nondescript brown sack she hadn't noticed up until now. Her eyes trailed the sack when Naruto sat back down, this time in front of her, and watched him empty it on her blanket.
"I'm sorry Temari-chan, we tried to find as much as we could, but..."
Temari stifled a sob when she saw the remains of her most trustworthy weapon. The last remaining link to her mother was reduced to a pathetic collection of woodchips, splinters and singed scraps of cloth.
"Kumiko-san didn't mean for it to happen..." Naruto began, unsure of what to say. How could he? He didn't know about the true meaning the fan had for Temari.
Temari's emerald eyes blazed briefly before unshed tears brimmed at the edge of her eyelashes. 'Kumiko... This is your fault... You're going to pay!'
With a deep and shuddering breath, she locked her eyes with the now ruby-sapphire orbs of Naruto. The intensity of the emotion stirring in her emerald depths startled him and he was now truly at a loss for what to do. He did the only thing he could think of and wrapped his arms around Temari's shoulders, pressing her gently against him.
While most people would take that chance and let it all out, Temari tried to bottle up as much of her scrambled emotions as she could.
She wanted to turn into something more useful than tears...
The Sand-nin clutched Naruto's black shirt, with the orange Uzumaki swirl so prominent on display on the back and front, his jacket lying forgotten, carelessly thrown over the only chair in her room. "Please Naruto-kun... I... I need to be alone right now..."
A brief silence followed her words. "Are you sure?" He asked softly, not wanting to leave the girl when she was so obviously upset.
"Please..." Temari urged, setting her palms on his chest and pushing him away slightly. If he was going to stay any longer, she was sure she was going to crack and break down right then and there. She wouldn't be able to forgive herself if she did...
Naruto's heart was torn. He really didn't want to leave Temari like this, but he didn't want to disrespect her wishes either. And to make matters worse, he had obligations elsewhere that needed to be fulfilled. He knew that Kakashi was waiting for him to continue their training, seeing it was cut short when Naruto rushed to Temari's aid when he had heard that deafening explosion the day before.
But for all the pain the destroyed weapon caused Temari... If he didn't get stronger, the consequences could be direr than a destroyed weapon...
Silently, Naruto looked down at his girlfriend, whose face was now obscured by her spiky sandy-coloured hair as she stared at her lap.
Finally deciding that enough was enough, he placed his hands on both of her cheeks and gently, but firmly, forced her to look at him. His eyes crinkled as his lips curved into a tender smile filled with unspoken understanding, just before he leaned forwards and pressed them ever so gently on hers.
He stayed like that for a long time, all the while, eroding and whittling away at Temari's erected barriers that kept her emotions, though barely, in check.
When he drew back to draw breath, a small crack appeared into the barrier. When he repeated his actions, once again placing his lips on her own, the crack widened, letting the emotions gush out without abandon.
A small sob escaped the Kunoichi, followed by another with their lips still pressed together.
When Naruto ended the kiss, she couldn't hold back any longer and desperately clung to the his body like a near-drowning swimmer would to a life raft on an endless ocean. The sobs followed each other in rapid succession now, and she squeezed Naruto with all the strength she had.
Tears, like glittering diamonds, fell from between her scrunched up eyelids, and leaked out from the sides of her eyes, unperturbed by the fact that the girl didn't want them to fall. The blonde boy rubbed her back and stroked her hair slowly, understanding the need for her to have an outlet, and began rocking her from side to side gently...
"Shhh, Temari-chan, it's going to be alright. It's going to be alright..."
In Naruto's mind, things really couldn't get any worse. His somber face was a perfect reflection of that assessment and didn't go unnoticed by his sensei as he stood in front of him, trying to perfect the technique they had already spent two days practicing now.
"Naruto, what's wrong?" Kakashi asked, tugging on his flak-jacket after staring at the boy try, and subsequently fail, to concentrate on precisely regulating the necessary chakra to form a keen-edged katana that wasn't horrible oversized.
Letting out a profound sigh, Naruto looked up to the silver-haired Jounin. "It's Temari-chan..."
"Ah." Kakashi stated simply and smiled behind his mask. "Girl problems huh, Naruto?" He added with a wink.
"No-no! It's not like that!" Naruto exclaimed, waving his hands in front of him wildly to accentuate his point. "There's just something really wrong, she's been really sad since that fight with Kumiko-san."
"Really? I would've thought she'd be happy, she did more or less beat Kumiko didn't she?"
Indeed, even though Temari had been knocked unconscious, scant seconds later, the girl who she'd been 'sparring' with, exhausted, bruised and just all-round beaten up, followed her to mental oblivion soon after. In a way, she was worse off than Temari; her wounds would no doubt take longer to heal.
After she had woken up, she had expressed her regret at having attacked Temari with that particular Jutsu, even though she had powered it down considerably to avoid any permanent damage. And she had... She just didn't realize the low-voltage lightning strike would blow up Temari's prized battle-fan when her lightning-imbued katana connected with it...
"No... I don't think that's it..." Naruto said hesitantly, rubbing his chin with his thumb and index finger. "I think it has something to do with her fan. But, if it's just a weapon, she can just buy a new one right?"
"Hmmm." Kakashi let out, mirroring his student's pensive gestures. "I don't know Naruto. There might have been something special about that weapon. Tools or no, Shinobi can get very attached to them."
"Oh." Really not knowing what else to say, Naruto lowered his eyes and stuck his hands into the pockets of his comfortable black jacket. Wiggling his hands about, his right hand suddenly touched a small grubby package and fished it out. Inspecting it closely, he recognized it as the thing he had bought days ago, on the day he went they all went to the Hokage's office to receive their mission-briefing.
The package was still in its original packaging, a plain dull brown wrapping paper, bound tightly closed with an ordinary bleached string. Naruto could have smacked himself in the head. Why hadn't he given this to Temari in the first place? It was bound to cheer her up.
"Kakashi-sensei!" He said excitedly and held the package up before him. "I..."
"Naruto, you bought something for me?" Kakashi interjected, swiping the package out of his student's hands and already started to unwrap it.
"No, I..." Naruto started after a brief moment of surprise, but was again interrupted by the Jounin who had finished unwrapping the package and had lifted it to eyelevel to inspect it.
"Naruto, what would I need this for, this would be more appropriate for a girl you know."
"I know that!" Naruto shouted angrily and stole the item back, coveting it with both of his hands. "It's for Temari-chan, not for you Kakashi-sensei!"
"Ah, sorry about that Naruto." The silver-haired Jounin chuckled and rubbed the back of his head before his visible eye drooped sadly. "But..." He muttered softly and turned around to face away from the blonde boy. "It would have been nice if a student of mine would have bought something for his poor old teacher..."
"Kakashi-sensei..." Naruto began softly, his anger having left him like a popped balloon. "I didn't know..."
"Haha, just kidding!" Kakashi laughed, the drooping eye now curved in a happy crinkle as he turned around once more.
A cluster of veins threatened to explode on Naruto's forehead as he raised a shaking fist and clenched his teeth tightly. "Kakashi-sensei..." He growled, a score of threats left unspoken but made oh so clear.
The older man must have noticed it, because he quickly cleared his throat and spoke up. "So, you bought that for Temari?"
"Y-yeah." Naruto stuttered, slightly confused from jumping from one emotion to the next, and let his arms drop feebly to his sides yet clutched the package securely with his right fist.
The Jounin bent over slightly to stare Naruto squarely in the eyes. "She'll love it."
A silly grin framing his face, and ruby-sapphire eyes downcast, Naruto nodded. "I hope so."
Behind his mask, Kakashi smiled. 'You are truly one of a kind, Naruto...'
The next day found Temari walking across the quiet streets of Konoha, walking aimlessly to clear her whirling mind after she had been able to drag herself from her room. Not even the precious rays of sunlight that filtered through small holes of the clouds above could lift her saddened spirit.
Even though she didn't want to admit it, she had felt slightly relieved after crying on the shoulder of the one person she knew she could trust above all others. In just a short time, Naruto had grown more precious to her than even her own brothers. Gaara used to be a homicidal maniac, and Kankuro a plain whiny person, but they were still family...
Still, they just didn't seem to compare to the bubbling youth that now occupied a very special place in her heart.
Yet even though the Kunoichi knew she was being silly, she couldn't help but feel ashamed as well. This, coupled with the overwhelming feeling of being unable to do anything about her current situation angered her. Temari fantasized about making the white-haired girl pay for causing her so much grief.
Two things stopped her from actually playing out one of the fantasies. One, she really didn't think Naruto would appreciate her killing his new teammate. Two, aside from upsetting the person she now cared so intensely for, all of her fantasies seemed to come to a very messy end which would no doubt result in her being kicked out of Konoha along with her brothers.
A stifled scream of exasperation escaped her lips and she glared at the ground before focusing her attention on a small piece of rock, worn smooth over the amount of time it had lain there. Now it just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. With her pent up frustration and the awkward feeling of helplessness reaching a boiling point, she kicked the innocent stone with the point of her sandaled foot with all her strength.
The rock pelted haphazardly through the air at near supersonic speeds, and Temari felt insurmountably better, until she cringed unwillingly when she heard someone cursing just a few yards away.
"OUCH! Holy crap, what the hell was that?!"
Temari narrowed her emerald eyes and stared in the direction where the masculine voice shouted from. That lazy drawl even though he was obviously in pain... That odd black pineapple hairdo... That insufferable scowl on his uncaring face...
Eyes widening in recognition, Temari pointed a near accusing finger at him. "You! What are you doing here?!"
"What?!" The black-haired young man shouted in return. "What are you talking about, I live here you troublesome woman! What did you do that for?!"
Temari was about to respond, but the victim of her "rock-bullet" apparently wasn't done venting his indignation about the current situation.
"Damnit, I can't even walk around anymore, stupid women hurting me just for the fun it. They never leave me alone! Why me, damnit!"
"Hey!" Temari screeched. She was glad to have someone on whom she could shamelessly vent her emotions on before she would, quite literally, explode. "Shut up you lazy bastard. I thought things were always too troublesome for you, why are you getting so worked up over this!"
The boy stomped over to the Sand-nin who now leant back slightly, placing the back of her hands on her hips and sticking her chin into the air defiantly. "My name is Shikamaru, address me properly! I'll get worked over this if I damn well feel like it! I'm tired of being pushed around by you people!"
By "you people", the Chuunin of course meant the female gender...
All of Temari's spiky pigtails swayed back and forth and up and down as she unperturbedly continued her verbal lashing of her unsuspecting victim. "Like hell I'll address you properly, you egghead!"
"Egghead?!" Shikamaru blinked in surprise, before his dark eyes narrowed in anger. "You woman strut around all high and mighty all the time, what in Kami-sama's name do you stick up your ass to make you act this cranky!"
With that comment, something inside Temari's had snapped like a brittle twig.
Blood was pumped by the bucket load to her face, making her almond-shaped eyes feel like they were nearly going to pop out of their sockets, and made her face redden increasingly.
She wanted to maim... To kill... To just hurt someone... Anyone...
Judging from the fact that Shikamaru's anger dissolved for the dawn of slight fear, the unspoken message was made quite clear to the budding Chuunin.
Thinking quickly, and silently thanking whatever spirits were out there for his intelligence, Shikamaru formed a single hand seal and muttered something under his breath.
Reason having completely left her, Temari didn't recognize the seal that should have been obvious to her and stoked the flames of her burning rage fiercely. But when she wanted to move forward and wring the boy's neck and ultimately squash it like an overripe piece of fruit, she found her body unresponsive as it had been only once before.
Her anger only dying down slightly due to surprise, Temari roared at him. "Release me, damn you!"
Shikamaru's frown hid the slight feeling of fear he had felt just moments ago. Exchanging verbal insults with a woman was all well and good, but really, Temari didn't seem to want to stop until she had actually killed someone.
In this unfortunate case, him...
"Jeez, calm down will you?" He said in a lazy drawl, recovering from his own uncharacteristic outburst, which only served to irritate the girl further.
"Calm down? CALM DOWN?!" She screamed at him, flecks of spittle sent flying as her behaviour grew more and more hysterical. "Don't tell me to calm down you asshole! RELEASE ME! RELEASE ME NOW!!!"
Shikamaru closed his eyes for a moment, trying to adapt to the increasing strain of Temari rebelling against his technique, before he reopened them and stared at her enraged features silently. 'Man, what's wrong with her... She's scary...' He thought as a few droplets of sweat began to roll down his temples.
He tried to ignore the raving girl as she very nearly began to foam in the mouth with all her cursing and snarling. But after years of watching clouds and playing strategic board games, he had patience to spare. It seemed to him that it would do them both some good if he would just keep silent for a while.
Not that he had any problem doing that anyway...
Temari wasn't aware of the amount of time that was passing. All she wanted to do was exact holy vengeance on the infidel that had dared restrain her. 'Screw the consequences' was the unspoken motto that ran through her head constantly. Someone was going to pay, whether the unlucky target of her rage was innocent or not, she didn't care anymore.
Why was everyone in this whole village against her? Why were they all intent on making her suffer? Those were the questions that dominated Temari's mind. But immediately as she began to think about those two questions, another small part of her mind piped up in defiance.
'Is that really true? Someone doesn't you know.'
Temari didn't really know how to respond to that. 'Yeah, someone doesn't...' She agreed with that little part of her mind.
But when that thought hit her, it was as if a stopper was being unplugged somewhere, and drained her of her anger at a frighteningly rapid pace. Yet Temari didn't want it to go, and tried to remain enraged, it was so much easier than...
"Hey, are you done now?" Shikamaru asked, interrupting her thoughts.
Emerald eyes swiveled to look at the black-haired youth who still kept her prisoner with his trademark technique. Shikamaru was startled to find another emotion flitting across her eyes so quickly.
'Are all women like that?' He questioned himself. He was thoroughly amazed, if somewhat annoyed, that she seemed to go from angered to what seemed to be sadness so quickly. 'What in the world would she be sad about?'
Indeed, even though he had only met her a couple of times, Shikamaru had actually thought that Temari would have been able to take all the crap shoveled on top of her and brush it off as if it was nothing, and then some. Well that and she would probably use that super-oversized fan of hers and beat it to death.
Speaking of which...
"Is this because of that dumb fan of yours?" Shikamaru stated bluntly, finding it too troublesome to beat around the bush.
Temari's eyes narrowed slightly before she averted her gaze and muttered something softly. "That's none of your business... Let me go..."
With one dark eyebrow nearly disappearing into his scalp, Shikamaru folded his arms in front of his chest with Temari mirroring his movements unwillingly.
"Why are you being so weak?" Shikamaru asked, taking one step closer to her and subsequently forcing the Kunoichi to do the same.
"What! I'm not being..." Temari began hotly before Shikamaru silenced her by speaking up himself.
"Yeah you are. What, are you pissed off because your weapon blew up?"
Mouth opening and closing like a goldfish drifting aimlessly in a bowl of water, unable to get away from the intense scrutiny of its owner, Temari remained silent.
Shikamaru took that as a yes. "And now you're pissed off at that white-haired girl for destroying it. For being stronger than you?"
"She wasn't stronger than me, she was just lucky!" Temari retorted, wanting to get away from his unrelenting questions.
"What a hassle..." Shikamaru sighed and shook his head from side to side slowly. "Then why are you getting so angry? Can't you just buy a new one and kick her ass in a rematch or something?"
"That's exactly the problem; I can't buy a new one. It was very..." Temari blurted out before she knew what had happened and proceeded to mentally kick herself for letting it slip.
'Ah, now we're getting somewhere.' Shikamaru thought to himself. "It was what, one of a kind? Very valuable to you? Was it from some dead relative or something?"
"Shut up! That's none of your damn business! Now leave me alone!" She shouted in vain, before returning to glare fruitlessly at the ground.
Feeling he had hit the jackpot there, Shikamaru wanted to give her a piece of advice before he would let her go. Because in all honesty, it was becoming increasingly difficult to remain his hold on the woman and he just wanted to be alone for a while...
With no women annoying him.
"Man, it's way too troublesome to hold onto grudges you know. Just let it go. Get a new weapon or something. I doubt the one who gave you that stupid thing in the first place would want you to get so worked up over this."
Whether she liked it or not, his words hit home and she was too startled by the blatant obviousness of it that she didn't immediately notice him releasing her. Only when she heard a soft grinding of sandals and the gritty sidewalk she currently found herself on, did she look up again.
Having turned his back on Temari, Shikamaru spared her a final glance over his shoulder. "Stop being so angry, it makes you even more troublesome than you were before." And without waiting for a reply, he strode away, hands casually stuck in his front pockets.
She wanted to scream, to cry or blow something up. But for some reason, she felt herself unable to do anything but stare at the seemingly perpetually bored Chuunin until he disappeared around a corner in the distance.
Temari stood there for a few moments longer, trying to process everything that had transpired just now, until with a faint smile, she turned around as well and headed home.
Whether he had intended it or not, it seemed that Shikamaru's words had helped Temari more than he could possibly know. Even though she would probably never forgive Kumiko for destroying her most precious possession, she would divert her energy to more worthwhile tasks. After all, they had a mission coming up soon, and Temari would not become a burden to anyone.
"Lee-kun! Lee-kun!" Sakura yelled energetically as she ran towards a boy with a peculiar bowl haircut.
"Sakura-chan" Lee smiled. "You're early."
The pink-haired Kunoichi smiled in return and skidded to a halt a few feet in front of her training-partner, nearly slipping on the slick grass. "Yeah! Shizune-sensei let me go early. She told me I was doing really well!"
"Great job!" Lee congratulated her, giving her a thumbs up and a toothy smile that sparkled even without the aid of direct sunlight. "Youth power will prevail!"
Sakura grinned and nodded happily, returning the hand gesture. "Hell yeah!"
Unable to keep up the pretense, Sakura quickly broke down into a peel of giggles. Even if she had often called Lee and his antics creepy, she loved the way he could make her smile and laugh. There was just nothing above the feeling of being able to cut loose and be silly with someone.
Lee on the other hand, loved to make Sakura laugh. In the aftermath of bringing back Sasuke, he found she didn't smile or laugh nearly enough anymore. Even if it were short moments like this, he treasured them dearly. Because despite his promises to himself...
"Sakura-chan..." Lee muttered sadly, trying his best to keep his face neutral.
"Hmm? Did you say something, Lee-kun?" The pink-haired girl asked, fingering her braid as she shifted her gaze from the sky to the Taijutsu-user.
"Oh!" Lee exclaimed, surprised that she had heard him and began waving his hands in front of him franticly. "No, no, it's nothing, Sakura-chan!"
"Eh?" Sakura uttered and closed the distance between the two of them by a few steps to look him squarely in the eyes. "You are sure acting weird today, Lee-kun." She stated bluntly.
With a blush staining his cheeks, Lee jumped backwards and struck his favorite "good-guy" pose once more. "Really, it's nothing. Now let's go train some more, you want to be prepared as much as you can for your most important mission!"
Thinking better than pursue the route of questioning Lee further about his odd behaviour, Sakura nodded slowly and began moving towards the middle of the field to begin her daily exercise.
Lee let out a small sigh of relief. 'I'm sorry Gai-sensei, I'm too cowardly to bare my heart to my beloved Sakura-chan.' He thought to himself, apologizing to his mentor for his lack of courage. But when he heard Sakura shout out to him, waving him over with a radiant smile, he felt his insides turn to jelly. 'Maybe after your mission. Wait for me... Sakura-chan...'
"Why are you doing this?" A voice asked, startling a timid girl with short navy-blue hair who was currently busying herself with arranging several day to day items in one of her cabinets in her room.
"E-eh? Neji-nii-san. What are you doing here?" The girl stuttered, turning around to look at a boy with bandaged arms folded across his chest.
The black-haired youth blinked slowly before he stared intently into the girl's pupil-less aquamarine eyes. "Why are you doing this, Hinata-sama?" He repeated himself, purposely ignoring her question.
"W-well, I... I..." Hinata stuttered. Even with the improved relationship with her cousin, she still seemed unable to relax in his presence and began fumbling with her fingers as she always did when she was nervous.
A near inaudible sigh reached her ears and she lowered her eyes reflexively. A dull clunking came closer and with a squeak; she felt her hands being grabbed by those of her cousin. She looked up into his eyes, expecting to see a disapproving frown, or at least a scowl that told her he was displeased with her. Yet she only saw a neutral expression, and maybe... A small glimmer of concern?
"He doesn't love you like you do him." Neji stated calmly, correctly guessing what troubled her.
"I-I know..." She breathed, lowering her eyes once more. "B-but I have to s-see him one more time b-before he goes a-away."
With what seemed a comforting squeeze, Neji let her hands go and turned around to walk out of Hinata's bedroom. Pausing momentarily at the doorpost, he turned around to say something. "Hinata-sama... Do not worry, there will be others..."
Hinata looked up, surprised, but found that Neji had already disappeared from view. She shook her head from side to side. Her cousin's actions still puzzled her. True, he still acted cold towards... Well... Nearly everyone and everything, but it was different than before. Normally it was disdain, and you always knew he looked down on you.
Shaking her head more forcefully, Hinata cleared her mind of those thoughts. Today would be the last time she would pine over the spike-haired boy she had admired for so long. With strides filled with purpose, she exited her room and walked through the near cavernous hallways of the Hyuuga manor.
Hinata would finally allow herself closure from the boy that had unknowingly granted her so much happiness and pain.
The week had gone by fast for Naruto. Aside from sleeping and eating, he barely had any time to himself. Nearly every waking moment had been spent on trying to perfect the technique his sensei, Kakashi, had developed for him. And even though he still had some trouble with it, he was able to form a suitable length for the blade he was supposed to learn how to wield properly.
For Kumiko, who trained a few yards away from Kakashi and Naruto as they kept trying to mold a large amount of chakra into a form that resembled a sharp-edged katana, the trials of Naruto were slightly comical.
The variations of Naruto's attempts were as different as night and day. One moment he overdid it, resulting in a towering and unwieldy blade that had sliced a poor old tree through the middle when he had stumbled, while on the next, he conserved too much chakra, which produced a diminutive knife barely fit for slicing an apple.
Yet for all his failures, Naruto persevered and had finally begun learning the basic sword techniques from the Hidden Moon refugee. Though Kumiko had learned him a lot in such a short time, she probably would have taught him more had she not been clutching her midsection in a fit of giggles due to Naruto's antics. For some reason, the blonde boy managed to mess up every single kata she had demonstrated.
The most memorable moment had been when he was supposed to spread his legs, but seeing it had rained earlier that day, he slipped, resulting in a wonky sort of banana-split that made Naruto moan in agony, and made Kakashi wince and groan in sympathy.
Despite all of the trials and tribulations, Naruto's unwillingness to give up shone through. And even though he was far from being able to compare to any master-swordsman, he knew enough so he wouldn't cut himself, or others, by accident, and would be able to attack any possible enemies with some basic moves.
Even with these things to keep him busy, Naruto juggled the rest of his time between spending it with Temari and spending a few precious hours with her brother, Gaara. Naruto had decided to take him out and head into the village to do something fun... Sadly, when Naruto meant to do something fun, it usually resulted in going to the only place where he was truly comfortable when he wasn't at home.
Ichiraku Ramen Bar.
Gaara on the other hand, didn't find this truly upsetting. After all, he had never experienced a social life of any kind back in Sunagakure. And even though he didn't find ramen nearly as delicious as the hyperactive blonde seated next to him, who was slurping away bowls upon bowls of the soupy brew, he was grateful for someone going out of his way to willingly spend time with him.
Gaara was still quite ignorant of the whole friendship thing, but if it included spending time with people that actually seemed to like him, he figured that it couldn't be half that bad.
The day before their mission would have had actually started, Naruto wanted to spend the full day with his still brand-new girlfriend. He wanted to know everything about her. Suspiciously enough, Kakashi had given him the day off to do something for himself that day. His suspicions were well-founded, because when he had dragged Temari away from one of Konoha's many training-fields to take a leisurely walk across the village, he was whisked away by a hulking figure seated atop a frog the size of a small house.
It had been none other than the perverted hermit, Jiraiya.
After screaming himself hoarse over a period of thirty minutes, Naruto had nearly emptied his vocabulary of curses and doom-inspiring threats. When he paused to draw in large gulps of precious air and a few sips of water from a nearby brook that crisscrossed across a small field the sennin had taken him to, Jiraiya took the opportunity to first whack him hard over the head for his insolence and then proceeded to inspect the new changes Naruto had gone through seemingly overnight.
Naruto seethed as the old man prodded and poked him, uttering nothing else than several hums and 'I see, I see's', before he finally slapped the massive hands away from his body and demanded an explanation on why he had been taken so suddenly.
Jiraiya of course, first had to live up to his self-proclaimed title of "super pervert" before he gave an answer.
Thus, the next fifteen minutes had been spent talking to and questioning Naruto about things that made his face go aflame and made him sure that his head would pop off from his body if it would have continued any longer. Luckily though, the hermit took pity on him and explained to him why he had taken Naruto to their remote location.
When he had finished, Naruto was left standing stunned.
It seemed that Jiraiya wasn't going to teach him any new flashy new Jutsu's, or a brand new technique of any kind. But he was going to refine one that Naruto already knew. Before the blonde Genin had a chance to object though, Jiraiya shut him up with the simple promise that if he mastered this, a brand new way of fighting would be open to him.
After that, and with surprisingly little resistance from Naruto, the hermit and his ad-hoc student had spent the rest of the day going through the training Jiraiya had set out for Naruto.
When all was said and done, Naruto was allowed to drag his sweaty and tired self back home... Where he promptly fell asleep on the doorstep with his jacket half-removed from his being and his keys still wedged in the lock of the front door.
Gaara, never one to sleep much, if indeed at all, quickly noticed the slight commotion and swiftly dumped Naruto on the exhausted blonde's own futon.
Blessed with the ability to be refreshed after a single night's rest though, Naruto was already jumping about in the early morning. Though the jumping was mostly caused by a very sadistic Kankuro, who didn't want to be late because of a snoring Naruto and had dumped a bucket full of icy water over him.
His gloating over the wet sputtering and frantic scrambling of Naruto was cut short however, when he turned around and came eye to eye with a very angry Temari.
Subsequently, and with only one punch, Kankuro was sent flying through the entire length of the significant hallway of the second floor, and now nursed a bump that threatened to become the size of a small mountain.
After a hearty breakfast, and with Sakura swinging by so they could all leave together, though first they had to revive the pink-haired girl who had fainted when she saw the changed Naruto, the group of six Genins went off to the main gate of Konoha. So Naruto found himself now, walking hand in hand with Temari, answering her questions about his abduction the day before. Temari's brothers, Sakura and Kumiko trailed only a slight distance behind.
"...I mean, Ero-sennin can be so annoying!" Naruto exclaimed.
Temari laughed. "But it wasn't all that bad though, right?"
Squeezing her hand affectionately, Naruto shook his head. "No it wasn't. It was actually pretty cool what he had to teach me, but I can't tell you guys what it is though. He made me promise."
"Ugh, seriously, you guys make me sick." Came a disgusted mutter from behind them.
"Shut up, Kankuro!" Temari shot back, her mirth quickly gone from her voice.
"Jealous are you?" Kumiko chimed, eager to annoy the puppet-user, and directed a wink at Gaara who had turned his head to watch the brewing confrontation between the girl and his brother.
"W-what? No!" Kankuro spluttered, outraged. "How dare you!"
"Quite easily, doll-boy."
"Damnit! I'll kill..."
"Please, Kumiko-san, Kankuro-san, be quiet. It's still early, people are sleeping." Sakura interrupted, playing the peacemaker.
In truth, her nerves were on edge. Sakura was eager to prove herself on this mission, and wasn't sure if she could take any backhanded sniping of each other's traits during the trip to meet up with Kakashi.
Things sure had changed recently, and Kankuro wasn't sure if he liked it. Due to Naruto's odd growth-spurt, Kankuro was unable to take advantage of his previous height advantage. It didn't have that much of an effect in the first place, but he liked to think so anyway. Now, the new resident, Kumiko, with her face still slightly bruised from her fight with his sister, had taken to continuously annoy him.
Kankuro folded his arms across his chest after making sure his two puppets were still fastened securely on his back and let out a sound of indignation, which in turn produced a broad grin on Kumiko's face.
Nearby, undetected by the small group, Hinata stalked across the nearby rooftops, taking occasional peeks at the two figures who led the group. Even though the sight of Naruto being so close with the girl from the Hidden Sand Village whom she barely knew about hurt her unlike anything else she had experienced before, a small pained smile curved her lips.
Heart hammering in her chest and fingers clenching almost painfully on the edge of a large wooden sign she hid behind, she snuck a final glance at the duo.
"Naruto-kun... I'm... Happy for you..." She whispered softly and disappeared, leaving nothing else than a single teardrop on the wooden boards as proof of her ever being been there.
A short distance away, Naruto suddenly stopped and turned around.
"What's wrong?" Temari asked, confused.
"Hmm?" Naruto uttered, taking a few more seconds to scan his surroundings before turning around once more to face Temari. "Oh, nothing, Temari-chan... I just thought..." He paused, unsure of himself. "I just thought... That someone was watching us, that's all..."
Temari stared at him for a few seconds, her emerald eyes taking in the true concern apparent on his features, then placed her lips briefly on his cheek before tugging on his hand to entice him to continue walking again. "Come on, Naruto-kun. Let's go."
Fifteen minutes later, five of which spent waiting for a certain silver-haired Jounin, a record for him they were sure, they found themselves before the imposing gates of Konoha. Kakashi had promised them to brief them while they walked and without waiting for any response, walked towards the pair of guards that stood before the gate.
A brief conversation, and a fair few of suspicious glares directed at the Sand siblings and Naruto later, the gate consisting of rows upon rows of very large and thick tree trunks, was slowly being swung open with deafening creaks to let the party out.
Kakashi took in the different responses that were silently or not so silently being portrayed by the six Genins. Naruto of course, made his joy apparent loudly, eliciting a few giggles from Temari as she tried in vain to curb his outrageous nature.
He didn't know what Gaara thought, but then again Kakashi thought hardly anyone would be able to see past that calm exterior of his.
Sakura, naturally, growled in annoyance to Naruto's antics and Kankuro seemed positively giddy with glee of being able to escape from being cooped up in Konohagakure.
But Kakashi was most worried about Kumiko. With so little time having past of the tragedy that had befallen her and her clan, he had protested with having his team being put on this mission so soon. But after a lengthy talk with the fifth Hokage, she had convinced him of the necessity of going on this mission with all of them.
He just hoped they would be able to get it over with soon, and seeing Kumiko look so worried as well, Kakashi was sure she agreed with him.
"Suzura" is a play on "Suzuran", which means "lily of the valley", seemed like a fitting name for the Sand sibling's mother. "Tanigawa" means "Valley River".
Kata: A string of basic body positioning and movement exercises. You could say it is some kind of dance.
A/N: Hey guys... Long time no update huh?
I apologize for that. Really. But University is truly killing me. All my time seems to be sucked up by it, which is annoying as you can very well imagine. But the new chapter is here, longer than any before.
That counts for something, right?
Before I go to the review response I've got to say a few things.
First: Apparently I'm taking quite a risk in responding to your reviews. Karrafear, an author of great renown, was hit by the merciless crew and they deleted a story of hers because it was too "interactive". Ah well, if my fic gets deleted, I'll count on you all to bring my review-count right back up to speed eh? : )
Second: Hah! You really though I was gonna spoil so many things so easily? The gift, the deal with Kyuubi, the mission and the thing Jiraiya taught Naruto are going to be revealed later. LATER. Hah again for good measure!
Yes, I know I'm evil. A certain Swede reminds me nearly every day.
Third: Quite a few of you will agree with me on this, but the title of this fic is sorta crappy. I'm stumped on what I'd change it into, so if any of you have any suggestions, I'll be more than happy to hear them out.
One more thing, some of you might be wondering why I did what I did with Hinata. Well I figured I would stick to the overal theme that seems to be going on in the manga. Naruto's just unaware of her feelings, and the theme of her love going unnoticed by him is being reflected by me like this. I hope I didn't dissapoint anyone, but this is how I feel it would happen.
One more thing, some of you might be wondering why I did what I did with Hinata. Well I figured I would stick to the overal theme that seems to be going on in the manga. Naruto's just unaware of her feelings, and the theme of her love going unnoticed by him is being reflected by me like this. I hope I didn't dissapoint anyone, but this is how I feel it would happen.
Now, without further ado, and hoping that I'll be able to update sooner next time, I'll get to the review response!
refused: I could tell ya to update as well, but meh, that would tax you too much now wouldn't it? Just, y'know, post a new chapter before this year ends, yeah? :P
Princess-Tsunade: Hehe, sorry about the abundant kiss-scenes Princess, but what can I say. I love Temari! Thanks for all the compliments and stuff, but you're a great source of inspiration though. : ) I hope you're feeling better and everything, and I also hope you will do/did well on your finals. Don't let anything get in the way of your studies!
blazer6: Well I won't spoil new techniques so easily I'm afraid. About Naruto's change in height. No, I'm sorry, but he won't magically turn into a buff and awe-inspiring Adonis overnight. Muscle comes with training, not from a Chakra-infusion. The special thing about Naruto's eyes, well, you'll just have to wait and see I'm afraid. Oh by the way, thanks a million for making me laugh like you did with that review you gave "refused". Me, a big-shot, hah, now that's a good one. Naw really, we're buddies, I beta his stuff and he looks over my stuff. It's a good deal methinks, although he might disagree since my chapters keep getting longer and longer...
Yondaime-samaKazaraYume: Take your time, god knows I do! Thanks for the review and for still continuing that fic you dedicated to me! (really, it's an awesome gesture, thanks a bunch!) : )
Kuwabaras pupil and I.P.Freely: Hmm, though the idea of kicking ass is alluring, I'm afraid I'd lose readers though. I don't think they'd appreciate me kicking their behinds eh? Thanks for the review, uh, both of you. :P
Keltosh: Aye, I share your views on Sasuke. But you know, I have to mention him at least a couple times eh? And I can't really bash him without reason... Well I could, but then I'd lose lots and lots of readers. Anyway, about the characters being overpowered? They are growing up, so naturally they'll learn new Jutsu's and the like, but don't worry, they won't become one-man armies in the blink of an eye. I don't think I'll let that happen even with Naruto, and he's got Kyuubi on his side.
Max Knight: Hehe, sorry if I'm torturing you, but I can't spoil everything from the get-go, that would ruin everything. And Jiraiya and Tsunade don't have something going on. Don't know if I'll do that either, we'll just have to wait and see.
Maruku-Kenshin: Kumiko will probably have a pairing, who it will be is still uncertain. Thanks for the review!
Anime Lance: I hope you've found a bit about sword-fighting etc, I could sure use it for my future chapters. Thanks in advance.
Omnis Morganis: The feeling is likewise my friend, now update as well before I fly over to wherever you live and bonk you on the head for not updating sooner. :P (have I used that threat before?)
EfrainMan: Hehehe, more fights are on their way, don't worry. About the pairings you considered, well... As I always say, we'll have to see what happens eh?
S-Wanderer999: First of all, thanks for all the suggestions and tips, can't guarantee I'll use them though... But anyway, I disagree with you about the elements. Call it a pokémon system or what not, but I think that certain elements have weaknesses to other elements. Though as the Shinobi or Kunoichi grows in power, and thus their attacks might be powerful enough to nullify disadvantages, I think that there should be a certain weakness if the two Shinobi's and/or Kunoichi's are at somewhat the same level of power. As far as the summoning goes... Well I can guarantee that there will be no summoning of awesome demon-beasts. I can't say anything about a future bond between Naruto and Temari though... : )
sand-nin-gurl: Hmmm, okay, here's the update... Took longer than I expected though, I hope you didn't commit seppuku (the ritual suicide). Hehe, I said it before in a review, but thanks again for the picture, it's awesome.
Aleh: Yeah, sorry about that, only noticed that later on. I'll change it when I've revised my earlier chapters. But seeing I've got my hands full on releasing the new ones...
SilverNightsFreedom: She already wrote ahead. Something I should have done too I guess, but I'm nowhere near as good as Princess-Tsunade is though.
bLack: Yep, I realize it was corny, and don't worry, it's on the top of my list of things to edit when I get to revising my chapters.
Luna: Housewife hmm? Well I suppose you're right in a way... But then again, she's used to taking care of things for her brothers and all that...
Rik V: I could kick your ass for saying I should update more frequently... But then I'd lose a reader eh? Sorry about the sporadic updating, but university is really leeching all of my free time. And as for not listening to suggestions? Well I think you're wrong, there have been numerous suggestions in the reviews that I've received that I've held in the back of my mind. Some of them coincided with the ideas I already had, and some actually sounded good so I implemented them somewhat. But anyway, thanks for the review... I think. :P
Blaboy: Yep I'm dutch. Naruto is gaining some power from Kyuubi. No invasion of the body snatchers routine... And as for training and Jutsu's go... Maybe.
Calophi, clicke, Kyubi-Naruto, Raidin, arekuruu-inabikari-no-She, stoictimer, Skuld's Sentaro, Sirus183, Crutches, TimeShifter16, Misato001, Inferno-Dragonz, Zedrik, kashisenshey, Stratagemini, nonengel, Stonebridge, Gopu, Salsar Thiran, Hisoka316, SilverMoonlight, warprince2000, Chaos-Empersonified, Ilovehoagies, Stonebridge, Yisulain, Greg, azereath: Thank you all for your reviews. I appreciate them all very much. Believe it or not, they are part of what keeps me writing this fic.