The entire room was abuzz.
Nothing like this had ever happened before. If the two Legendary Sannin had their way, nothing like this would ever happen again!
"Uzumaki Naruto!" No one ever remembered hearing a Hokage shout like that outside of battle. Shizune and Sakura had never heard their medical supervisor sound that bad, even in the messiest of surgeries. "This time you've gone too far." Her statement was backed up by practically everyone in the room.
"Yondaime would be turning over in his grave!" Jiraiya stood on a pair of chairs, his face a mask of anger. "I can't believe you would do this to me, after everything I have taught you. I know we have our differences sometimes…" The great ninja fought the urge to form Rasengan right then and there. "This is inexcusable!"
I DON'T KNOW. I THOUGHT IT WAS GREAT
"This… in my house… at my daughter's ceremony… after we accorded you the courtesy…" Hiashi looked stunned. He was far too shocked to be furious. That would come later. "I suggest you make your way home as quickly as you can."
"Oh… Naruto-kun…" Hinata was close to tears.
Kakashi placed his book down on his chair. He pulled his forehead protector up, exposing his sharing an eye. "I'm with you on this one, Gai. As much as I hate to do that."
"Yes, it is hard to admit my superiority, my age old rival. But, you can cannot deny that now, after seeing how your student behaved, compared to mine. Now, we can school him together." The light shined off of Gai's teeth.
Neji, Lee, and Ten Ten looked at one another, wondering what the big fuss was all about.
Asuma took out his cigarette, and flicked it at Naruto. Kurenai took out a pair of kunai, leaving everyone wondering where she could have hidden them in that form-fitting formal gown. Anko licked a rather wicked looking knife. The look in her eyes had hardened shinobi cringing.
YES. I THINK THAT WOMAN WANTS YOU. IT WOULD BE THE ICING ON THE CAKE
"You'll pay, doing that to Sasuke-kun!" Sakura knocked over a coupe of chairs. She looked way too much like Tsunade there. It was freaky. She put a hand to her own head. "Forget I was ever your friend!"
"Dumb ass." That was all Sasuke would say. His eyes promised Naruto revenge. It was something he had some experience with. He should never have been invited to this ceremony, given his reputation. Naruto should have known better than to include him in his childish fit of pique.
"I'll get you, sooner or later." Kiba's face was worse than that of a Half Beast clone. Akamaru yapped loudly, causing the foxhounds outside in their kennels to make a loud racket. "You could have just taken things out on me. I started it. You didn't have to drag everyone into it!"
Shino didn't say any thing. He sent a female bug towards Naruto. The remainder would follow when he was ready.
"I thought you were my friend," Shikamaru said to Naruto. "This goes way beyond bothersome. This was an attack on my Hokage, my sensei, and my friends." he placed his hands together in his usual contemplative manner.
"Doesn't bother me. There's still plenty of food left." Choji shrugged and opened a bag he snuck in. It had been a while since he could visit the 'groaning table' set up a couple of rooms over.
"Jerk!" Ino's face might have been the scariest of all.
"Do you understand what's going on?" Temari asked her brothers. She was in a bad mood herself, but only because Ino got to sit by Shikamaru, while she was stuck with Gaara and Kankurou.
"I have no idea," Kankurou replied. Maybe it's some strange Leaf tradition."
Gaara smiled. He knew exactly what was going on. His respect for Uzumaki Naruto grew again.
"Want some fish?" The fish merchant stood up and offered some salted mackerel around. The farmer and his wife gladly accepted some.
Hanabi didn't say anything. Making a face, she walked right up to Naruto and kicked him in the shin. After that, she went over to stand next to a disconsolate Hinata.
The Hyuuga elders were crying outrage and promising retribution. A number of dignitaries from other families had been invited. They were no less upset. Ebisu, Ayame, Ibiki, Konohamaru, Udon, Moegi, and a few other odd invitees looked confused, wondering why the dignitaries were carrying on the way they were. Iruka sat over in one corner looking befuddled. He had fallen asleep at one point. When he woke up, all this was going on.
HOWL. SHOW YOUR TEETH. STATE YOUR DOMINANCE
'Good idea, bezoar.'
"I will speak now, if I may." Naruto spoke in a very calm voice. He sounded polite to some. To others, they thought he was rubbing things in. "Thank you." he looked over to Hiashi and Hinata and spoke again. "I'm sorry. I only ask that you wait a few minutes before you pass final judgment on me."
"There can be no excuse!" Tsunade was standing with her hands on her hips. Angry, she had thrown her tricorner hat into the back of the room. That had been what had awakened Iruka, not all the shouting and commotion. "Just as your so-called teacher said."
"I'm listening, runt." Jiraiya folded his arms over his chest. "This should at least be good for a laugh." He cracked his knuckles. "One last chuckle."
Naruto looked around the room, making eye contact with everyone. Kiba was completely bald now. So was everyone who had joined him in making fun of Naruto's ceremonial hairdo. Each and every person who had joked, smirked, laughed, or shown any disrespect had been shorn, thanks to his Kyuubi-lent possession talents. Those who had remained quiet, or had spoken up in his defense, were just as they had been when they arrived at the Hyuuga estates.
"I could point a finger at Kiba, since he was the one who started it." Naruto looked over at his irate friend. Akamaru was leaning against him whining, his hair shorn away too. "I could blame you all, since you were all too eager to join in." He looked back at Hinata, sad to see her crying. It would all be over soon. He hadn't wanted to upset her. "But, that is not my Ninja Way." He struck a pose that had Lee jealous and Gai forgetting his baldness. "I know what I did was wrong. You can do whatever you want to with me, after I have my say. I promise that I will not put up any resistance. I wouldn't fight my friends, in any case. But I owe a great debt of gratitude to Hyuuga Hiashi and his family, and would not start a fight in their home."
"Naruto-kun… why…" Hinata looked at her boyfriend, trying to understand.
"You all heard some of my story tonight. I thought that I saw tears in some of your eyes. You also heard a lot of what Hinata had to say. I thought you would be rooting for me. For the two of us. Still, I heard a lot of angry talking from the Hyuuga elders before I came out here, when they didn't think I was around." That had Hiashi looking up, searching out the face of his clan members. "Before any of you sat down, members of other families said even worse things about me, but also had unkind things to say about my girlfriend and her father." Naruto clenched his fists. Hinata bit her lip. Gaara nodded, then bent over to whisper in his sister's ear. "I know it was just a joke on Kiba's part. Most of the others were only poking good-natured fun. That would have been alright on any other day. I'm used to it. It's often fun. Kyuubi knows that I do more than my share of it in return. But today was different."
IT'S GETTING TEDIOUS. KILL SOMEONE. MOUNT ONE OF THE WOMEN
"It wasn't easy getting sent away to train, away from my friends. I didn't have friends for so long, that it was difficult leaving them behind." Naruto began pacing back and forth, holding everyone's attention. "Up until that point, with few exceptions…" He smiled at Hinata. "… I was 'That Naruto'. No one gave me much encouragement, except my teammates." He nodded to Sakura and Sasuke who glared in return. Kakashi didn't look too thrilled himself. "After defeating Kiba and Neji…' Naruto gave Hinata's cousin a two finger salute. His friend returned it. "… And after holding Shukaku at bay…" He smiled over at Gaara, who actually smiled himself. "… and after helping a large hairy oaf bring back a woman Hokage…" He put his hands on his hips and stared at an enrage pair of Legendary Sannin. "… folks were finally beginning to show me some respect. At least some people did. Most of the townspeople who knew about my special friend still treated me like I was that monster, not the one chosen to contain it."
Hinata twiddled her fingers together. She didn't know whether to be upset, or to feel compassion for Naruto.
"I made a mistake," Naruto said. He looked over at Hinata again. "If I had a chance, I'd do it all over again." He turned and looked at the crowd. "I admitted my wrong doing. I did my punishment. I know that the results of my efforts didn't give me amnesty. I didn't ask for it. But, I would at least have liked some understanding." His gaze speared a number of high ranking family members. "Unfortunately, the Hokage can't make something like that into a law. Even someone who will remain nameless…" Naruto pointedly looked at Sasuke. "…May end up being forgiven before I am. And when he is, he will probably be a shining genius again, the man who will revive his family."
"That's right!" Sakura began blushing, haven spoken up. The hushed whispers were proof that her friends knew who the medical ninja in training thought should be the girl to help out with that revival.
"Actually, I don't care much about that," Naruto said. "There was one person who noticed me long before anyone else did. My efforts and words actually meant something to her. Although I was too stupid to see all that she might be, she worried about me when I left the village. When everyone else was busy working on their own lives, she sought me out. It wasn't easy. Her father once thought poorly of her. He thought a great deal less of me." Naruto turned to look at Hiashi. He bowed, meaning no insult or disrespect.
KEEP THIS UP AND YOU WILL KILL THEM ALL. YAWN. PATHETIC
"But, you all should have learned a lesson from Hinata long ago. People can change. While he might not think too highly of me at the moment, her father made efforts to change as well. That cannot be an easy thing for someone set in his ways, especially if he is a clan leader. He invited me to take part in Genpuku. I was somewhat dismayed at first…" Naruto grabbed his ponytail and flipped it in his hand. "The only reason I accepted was to make Hinata happy." He looked over at his girlfriend, who actually managed a quick smile. "I had promised, and you know what my word means to me. I would do anything for those people precious to me." He looked over at Gaara. His friend knew that all too well, after the battle in the forest. But, that truth had also helped him begin his own reconciliation with his brother and sister. Temari blew him a kiss, which he hoped Hinata didn't see. Being a wise ass, Kankurou did the same. "When I got here today, I found that I had other reasons to go through with the ceremony. I actually…" Naruto stopped a moment. He had to wait a while before beginning again. "I actually felt like I belonged."
Hinata looked up at her father. He nodded, his face still grim. After that, Hinata walked over to take Naruto's arm. Without saying anything, a number of people began walking forward. Iruka was the first. He was joined by Neji, Lee, the Sand siblings, and others.
"Thank you," Naruto said, making certain he wouldn't shed a single tear.
I WOULD VOMIT IF I COULD. THIS IS WHY HUMANS SHOULD ALL BE TOOTHPICKS
"I did my ritual bath," Naruto said, continuing. "I had my hair cut away. I received a secret name and an honored gift. I was allowed to sit in on Hinata's Tea Ceremony. The Lord of this household welcomed you all, and made a very gracious speech. You were invited to here Hinata tell her tales. I even managed to tell some of mine, before you couldn't contain your humor at my expense any longer." Naruto looked at each of the bald individuals in the great room again. Some of them looked away, while others looked somewhat sheepish or ashamed. A few were still very angry, despite everything that they had heard."
"Naruto… I…" Kiba looked upset. He sat back down when Naruto raised his hand.
"There is only one more thing I have to say before I let you do with me as you will." Naruto's face lit up. He smacked his hands together. "GOTCHA!"
Naruto had indeed made an amazing effort, using Kyuubi's powers to place a possession on every single person in the room. For some of them, nothing looked different. For others, a majority of the guests had looked bald, felt bald, and even sounded and smelled bald. It left him totally exhausted, but it was worth it. He only hoped that he wouldn't get in much trouble for it. In reality, everything was as it had originally been, before the room had exploded in laughter at one of the jokes about Naruto and his near baldness. When he dissolved the Kyuubi effect, everyone realized that they had been hoodwinked. No one had lost a single hair.
"I should have known…" Jiraiya put his hands in his head. Having been able to resist one of Naruto's possession attempts earlier, on the day the boy had left for Mount Monado, he never would have guessed that he would be vulnerable to something like this. He was glad to find his bushy mane intact. He was not so glad to have been caught in the joke. The story would be all over town in a day or two.
"You… you… you…" Tsunade couldn't get her words out. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and held it.
The reactions from other guest was mixed, but most were good sports. Some thought that it was a wonderful show. The fish salesman gave Naruto his largest fish. The farmer snuck him a beer when his wife wasn't looking. Hinata quickly took the beer away.
"There was a very similar prank pulled by one of the ancient gods in…" The elderly scholar began reciting a tale that only he knew.
"Who invited him?" Naruto asked Hinata. She just smiled.
Naruto swallowed hard. There was something he had to do. He walked over to Hiashi and bowed. "I know that was a bit flippant, Sir. I really did get angry at the disrespect, but I controlled my temper. It was all in good fun."
"Next time…" Hiashi gave Naruto a very pointed look. "If there is a next time…" He shook his head. "Let me know ahead of time."
"I… you…" Naruto was at a loss for words. "You would have let me do that?"
"Father?" Hinata looked shocked herself.
"In answer, I will tell a fable." Hiashi's remark had Naruto blinking rapidly, Hanabi clapping her hands, and Hinata sighing. She had enjoyed the first dozen or so stories that Naruto had told her many moons ago, but had wanted to go cold turkey for a while.
"A Lion, fatigued by the heat of a summer's day, fell fast asleep in his den. A Mouse ran over his mane and ears and woke him from his slumbers. He rose up and shook himself in great wrath, and searched every corner of his den to find the Mouse. A Fox seeing him said: 'A fine Lion you are, to be frightened of a Mouse'. 'It's not the Mouse I fear', said the Lion; 'I resent his familiarity and ill-breeding'."
"Do you know the meaning of that one, Naruto?
GOOD STORY. THE FOX WAS THE ONLY DIGNIFIED ONE
Naruto nodded. He opened his mouth, but before he could speak, someone answered for him.
"Little liberties are great offenses." It was Jiraiya. He had walked over to join in on the conversation.
"Exactly," Hiashi said. "If this had happened a number of months ago, I would have had the guards throw you out in the street. I would have then sat in the Hokage's office untiul she signed my petition."
"Naruto-kun…" Hinata grabbed Naruto's hand.
"But now?" Naruto stood tall. He would respect Hiashi's judgment. He hoped that Hinata's father would respect him.
"Be careful not to be too prideful," Hiashi said. "It took a lot to teach me that lesson." he nodded when Naruto lowered his eyes. "I'm still learning it." he smiled down at Hanabi, and actually mussed her hair, causing a watching Nanny to swoon. "That wasn't the only tale I had." he looked at Hinata. "You don't have to listen, daughter." That had Hinata blushing and saying that she would stay. She had mentioned Naruto's excessive use of fables at the dinner table once.
"A Monkey once danced in an assembly of the Beasts, and so pleased them all by his performance that they elected him their King. A Fox, envying him the honor, discovered a piece of meat lying in a trap, and leading the Monkey to the place where it was, said that she had found a store, but had not used it, she had kept it for him as treasure trove of his kingdom, and counseled him to lay hold of it. The Monkey approached carelessly and was caught in the trap; and on his accusing the Fox of purposely leading him into the snare, she replied, 'O Monkey, and are you, with such a mind as yours, going to be King over the Beasts?'"
ANOTHER GOOD ONE. A WISE HYUUGA IS AS RARE AS A TALKING MONKEY. NO, I TAKE THAT BACK
Naruto bit his tongue. When Kyuubi had pictured a talking monkey, it was Naruto's image that came to mind.
"Was that for yourself, or our young prankster?" It was Tsunade. The look on her face made it difficult to tell if she was angry, amused, or both.
"Both," Hiashi answered. "For me, I have to remember that being clan leader does not necessarily make me a good man, or a person of any wit." He nodded his head after the Hokage did the same. "For our unpredictable acquaintance, I would say that putting on a good show is not the best way to earn respect. Even if it's very clever."
It was Naruto's turn to nod his head. He squeezed Hinata's hand and whispered "I'll make it up to you." He had his own tales to tell, whether Hinata wanted him tell it or not. "May I say one, Sir?" Naruto looked out over the crowd. "It's kind of important. In case a lot of people lodge complaints with Granny…. I mean the Fifth Hokage."
Tsunade nodded. She put a hand on Hinata's shoulder when the younger woman sighed. Hiashi said "Be my guest."
Naruto cleared his throat. He had done a lot of talking and was growing a little hoarse.
"A Lion, growing old, lay sick in his cave." He stopped. Looking at Tsunade he said "I'm just repeating the story that my sensei told me, word for word." He didn't want her to get the wrong impression. "All the beasts came to visit their king, except the Fox. The Wolf therefore, thinking that he had a capital opportunity, accused the Fox to the Lion of not paying any respect to him who had the rule over them all and of not coming to visit him. At that very moment the Fox came in and heard these last words of the Wolf. The Lion roaring out in a rage against him, the Fox sought an opportunity to defend himself and said, 'And who of all those who have come to you have benefited you so much as I, who have traveled from place to place in every direction, and have sought and learnt from the physicians the means of healing you?' The Lion commanded him immediately to tell him the cure, when he replied, 'You must flay a wolf alive and wrap his skin yet warm around you.' The Wolf was at once taken and flayed; whereon the Fox, turning to him, said with a smile, 'You should have moved your master not to ill, but to good, will.'
WONDERFUL. I SEE THESE YEARS WITH ME HAVE RUBBED OFF ON YOU. WHEN I KILL YOU, I SHALL DO IT MOST QUICK
Tsunade pursed her lips. She stepped hard on Jiraiya's foot when her old teammate began laughing. "I'll keep that in mind. Since you are so good with stories, I will extend your time with the children for another month." She smiled, held up a single finger to Naruto, and went off to do damage control.
"B-B-But…" Naruto clenched his fists. Damn conniving opportunistic ungrateful old woman!
"See?" Hinata took the opportunity to pipe up. "It never does any good to overdo things. No more stories, Naruto-kun."
Naruto looked over at Hiashi. Hinata's father looked stern for a moment, but nodded his head. Sometimes guys needed to stick together. He was not going to get involved in that kind of squabble between boyfriend and girlfriend.
"This one is for you, Hinata-chan." Naruto bowed to Hinata. "Because you are so pretty."
"Maybe the boy learned something from me after all," Jiraiya said, rubbing his chin.
Hanabi stuck her finger in her mouth like she wanted to gag. She tried to look innocent when her father scowled in response.
"The Fox and the Leopard disputed which was the more beautiful of the two. The Leopard exhibited one by one the various spots which decorated her skin. But the Fox, interrupting her, said, "And how much more beautiful than you am I, who am decorated, not in body, but in mind."
I WON'T BE THE ONE WHO KILLS YOU. HOW DISAPPOINTING
"Naruto-kun!" Hinata actually stamped her foot. That had her blushing and looking down at her feet. Hanabi grinned a huge grin. Hiashi sighed.
"Maybe not," Jiraiya said in a grumpy voice.
Naruto chuckled. Hinata should know better than trying to tell him what he could or couldn't do. Watching Choji make his way back over to the marvelously set dessert table, he pointed.
"A very hungry Fox, seeing some bread and meat left by shepherds in the hollow of an oak, crept into the hole and made a hearty meal. When he finished, he was so full that he was not able to get out, and began to groan and lament his fate. Another Fox passing by heard his cries, and coming up, inquired the cause of his complaining. On learning what had happened, he said to him, 'Ah, you will have to remain there, my friend, until you become such as you were when you crept in, and then you will easily get out'.
"Father, I will return to speak with our guests in a little bit." Hinata bowed. She grabbed Naruto's arm and began dragging him behind her. That had a number of their friends looking, pointing, and laughing. "I have some things to talk with you about, Naruto-kun!"
"You were alone with him those years?" Hiashi looked over at Jiraiya. "You had to teach him? It must have been very difficult."
"You don't want to know…" Jiraiya sighed.