The smoke in the room was thick enough to carve with a kunei.
Older men, dressed in fancy robes and keeping their swords on the table, puffed away at cigars, cigarettes, and kiseru-style pipes. There was even a hookah and some other form of water pipe.
Naruto slammed his empty glass down, and then belched. He stared at one of the pipes, glad for the moment of distraction. The damn thing looking like a f-cking work of art. Must be carved out of Meerschaum, what some call "sea-foam stone." Imported stuff.
What the hell did that matter?
He had money. A fair amount. Whatever Jiraiya had left in his frog purse, any way.
It might be good for getting his drinks, but didn't help him get what he had really wanted.
"Oh? You didn't like that one?" The bar tender raised an eyebrow.
"Huh? Nah. Wasn't talking about the sake. It was fine. Quiet fragrance. The kuchi-atari exploded gently. Sweet. Low acidity. Delicate airy presence. Slightly earthy, with a nice tail. Yeh, it was fine." Naruto ran his finger around the rim of his glass, then sighed, staring at nothing in particular.
"Ah. Still don't want to talk about it?" The man took away the glass, putting a fresh one in its place. He took out a rag and wiped around the knife stuck deep into the counter top. He left the cloth sitting over a rough area of the wood.
"No." Naruto looked at the rag. It covered a name he had carved there some time after his first hour or so of drinking. He had scratched it out entirely about twenty minuets ago.
That would add a bit to his tab.
But…… like he thought before…… money wasn't his problem.
"Something to do about the big dance tonight?" A man with a long mustache took a shot of something on ice. His face was red and his eyes nearly closed. With a wave of his cigarette holder, he pointed towards the bowls of bar food. The barkeep went to get one.
"Yeh. Enough said." Naruto nearly spat on the floor.
"No date?" A large woman with sculpted hair fanned herself. The bar in front of her was covered with origami shapes she had made between drinks. "I know what that's like." She began folding a piece of gold foil.
Naruto didn't answer the woman. "Sir" The depressed young chuunin waved to the bar tender. "We've done Jumnai-shu… and Honjozo-shu types… I think it's time we moved onto something Ginjo-shu." He opened the frog, them tossed a couple of coins out in tip. His stool wobbled a bit when he reached too far, but he managed to glue it to the ground with chakra.
Yeh. He had a lot of that too. Learned a lot of powerful shit from that old hermit.
But, what good did it do him?
He coughed. The freakin' smoke was getting to him. Even though he hadn't smoked anything himself. What had granny Tsunade lectured them on once?Oh yeh. Tobacco started off far over the seas.
'The cultivation and use of tobacco were fundamental elements of the social and economic order throughout much of the pre-Columbian New World.'
'In countless different Indian culture areas, tobacco played a major role in religious observances. The fragrant smoke from burning tobacco leaves served as incense in offerings to the gods. Augurs and sooth-sayers studied the motions of tobacco sparks and smoke, in hope of foretelling the future. Among numerous tribes of North America, the peace-pipe was important in ceremonies, including armistices.'
Really? That made him feel so much f-cking better.
'The remarkable stimulant properties of tobacco were utilized by early American Indians in curing wounds, swellings, coughs, tooth-ache, rheumatism, and stomach disorders. Tobacco was administered to patients in several forms, and was used in emergency treatment for snake and insect bites.'
A lot of good any of that did. There was no mention of a cure for broken hearts. Stupid freakin' Pre-Columbian jerk wads.
"Did shomeone shay dansh? I like to dansh…." A thin balding man with large misshapen ears stumbled and fell against Naruto. "Wanna dansh, girlie?"
Naruto frowned, wrinkled his nose, then pushed the drunken idiot away. It smelled like the man had made it a habit to bathe in beer and nothing else. He recalled the Hokage's lecture on soap, but quickly forced those thoughts away. His mind kept pulling up useless facts, trying to distract him.
Like that would ever work!
"Good idea, young man. But, are you sure you want to keep drinking?" The bar owner nodded to a guard, who removed the man laying on the floor. Seeing Naruto turn a thumb up, he continued. "As you probably know, Ginjo-shu is Sake above and beyond the average Sake; it is fruity, aromatic, served slightly chilled, made with special rice and methods, and certainly not what most people know as Sake."
"Yes. Ginjo is to regular Sake what single malt scotch is to the lake of regular scotch, or what 100-agave tequila is to regular tequila." A squat monk in a new clean robe pointed to the table top, smiling at the assistant bar tender. "I think I will have twelve year malt to start. Might get to the tequilla later."
Everybody seemed to be a damn encyclopedia. That just made Naruto grumpier, despite the fact that he was primed and ready to spout off on any subject he knew something about. Heck, he'd take a valiant swipe and those he didn't know, too!
"Only about eight to nine percent of all Sake brewed is Ginjo-shu…which means anything with the ginjo word on the label is better than more than 90 of everything out there…." The woman passed an gold origami crane to Naruto. "I should know. Sake has been my best friend for the past five years."
Naruto looked at the folded paper shape. Gold crane. That meant: 'You have a heart of gold.'
Yeh. Maybe he did. Whole lot of good that did, too. Fat chance he was going to grow much overnight, or get boyish good looks. He could put on an arrogant air, and look down at everybody. Maybe that's what everybody liked. It was what she wanted.
Even after everything that damn traitor did.
Nothing in the damn world made sense, But, why should it? His life had been screwed up from shortly after he was born. Thanks a lot Yondaime! Wish I could kick you in your damn ass! Cheers to you bastard fox!
How he hated that demon.
F-cking fox. All the wrong people wanted it. All the people that mattered were scared of him because of it.
It was wonderful being a freak.
"Here we go." The barkeep placed six bottles of Sake on the table. "These are the best that I have. If you make it through these, I suppose you will want to try something Daiginjo?"
Sure. I don't like to stop until I see things through to the end. It's my Ninja Way!" Naruto belched again, not bothering to excuse himself. Pointing at the brand he wanted to try first, he knocked over his snack bowl.
His Ninja way.
What a crock of ever-lovin' shit!
A good heart. A determined mind. Fire in his belly, literally and figuratively. And a bit of good luck.
The heart part he had already thought about. He had been determined, too. But that didn't mean anything to her. Guess loyalty and admiration didn't matter any more than fondness and a big crush… or saving her life when they were younger.
And where was his luck when he needed it? Lot of good Kakashi's advice had done.
'Just be honest. Tell her your feelings. What more can anyone do than that, The rest is up to her.'
Damn Copy Ninja.
So damn smart. At least I don't hide my face.
It had been up to her. And everything fell down on him. His hopes. His dreams. His belief that he could be just like the normal guys. No, not normal. 'Relatively normal.' No shin obi had hopes for a normal life.
He had heard that a ninja's life could be very lonely. But, that wasn't true for everyone. So… why him?
Shikamaru had two girls to choose from. Ino was a bit of a clingy bitch, but she had a sweet body. Strange eyes, sure…but great legs. And Temari… she was one hell of a looker… a feisty chick with a model's body. Lucky shadow loving bastard! Luck was wasted on him. Two prime babes, and he acted more bothered than excited.
'Girls are troublesome,' Shika had said, sitting on the stool next to him. He had heard that Naruto was holed up in the bar. 'Two girls are twice as big a bother. And… never forget… if you chose the wrong woman, you will be sorry. Ask my father.' He had left when Naruto remained silent, unreceptive to friendship, concern, or advice.
Naruto drank the Sake down fast, not bothering to savor it. He pointed to the same bottle. Shinkame. This time he would do it justice.
There was a series of noises, like small objects falling from a medium height. Coins began rolling across the floor; but, the drunken soldier at the jukebox didn't seem to care. One out of ten coins he tried made its way into the slot. Punching in numbers, he accidentally knocked his enamel-blazoned helmet into a woman's lap. Its long plume left her sneezing.
It had been hard for Naruto to make out the details of his surroundings. The light was so dim, coming only from a small number of authentic wall sconces and a score of blown glass candle globes lining to well worn bar top. The old feel of the establishment fit his mood. He felt like his heart had been thrown into a dungeon, sharing some cramped space with rats and the dried husks of other hearts.
What was taking the guy with the axe and black hood so damn long? No. The executioner would pass his cell by. A clean fast death would be a kindness reserved for life's other prisoners.
I can't get no satisfaction,
I can't get no girl with action.
'cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can't get no, I can't get no.
Oh. Great freakin' song selection. Just what we all need here. Maybe you should wear the damn helmet next time you go to battle. Keep from getting clobbered with club and offensive jutsu.
When I'm ridin' round the world
And I'm doin' this and I'm signing that
And I'm tryin' to make some girl
Who tells me baby better come back later next week
'cause you see I'm on losing streak.
I can't get no, oh no no no.
Hey hey hey, that's what I say.
Trying to make some girl. Shit, he hadn't been trying to make her. He hadn't even worked up the courage to tell her exactly how he felt. He was just asking her to a dance… not to suck face… or to roll around on some mattress with him. As if he even knew what that was all about.
Why did she have to react that way?
I can't get no, I can't get no,
I can't get no satisfaction,
No satisfaction, no satisfaction, no satisfaction
The story of my damn life. When I was old enough to talk, I wanted someone to talk to. All the parents pulled their kids away. And those looks? For a three year old kid?
The milk of human kindness.
When I was older, I still couldn't get anyone to care. No matter how many stupid things I did for attention. They all laughed. But no one gave a damn about me. Until I was part of a team.
"Barkeep! Where are the good eats? This stuff isn't fit for dogs!" A tall man with more jewelry than his frumpy date pushed a chair away with his feet. "With the price you charge for this watered down booze, you should at least have good eats!"
Shit! That flaming a-hole just had to say something that had him thinking about other friends. Perfect. As if he could possibly feel any lower. Even Choji had a date tonight. The girl must have been something special to him. She was eating from his chip bag.
If someone like that chubby weird-hair guy could find a girl friend, why couldn't he? Yeh, maybe he had limited his choice, but what was wrong with that?
If you see what you want, go after it!
Kiba certainly did. Again and again and again. Shikamaru had said that their hormonally-charged friend was like a dog in heat, even though he was a guy, not a dog. Even Akamaru didn't see that much action.
No. He should shed a tear and hang his head in sorrow. Poor Kiba. Dog-Boy had a tough life. The clown had been surrounded by girls outside the dance hall. They were all fighting over the smiling slob, trying to see who would be his partner at the shindig.
I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colours anymore, I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes
Wow! We have a winner! Another good song choice, dickwad. But, the words were true enough. She had been dressed in pretty summer clothes. But, she wanted to go to the dance alone. What would it have hurt just to go as friends?
'That might give you false hope.'
Well, he'd take that! False hope was better than no hope at all!
I see a line of carts and they're all painted black
With flowers and my love, both never to come back
I see people turn their heads and quickly look away
Like a newborn baby it just happens everyday
Sure, it was hard falling in love when you are shinobi. It's even more risky to fall in love with another ninja. Death can come at any time. But, why worry about that? What better reason was there to try and find happiness while he could?
'It's better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.'
Something like that.
I look inside myself and see my heart is black
I see my red door and I must have it painted black
Maybe then I'll fade away and not have to face the facts
It's not easy facing up when your whole world is black
Naruto stopped his hand in mid air. He had been bringing the glass to his mouth.
Face the facts.
That's just what he was doing here tonight. Facing the damn facts. Maybe it wasn't brave or wise, but it suited his mood.
When your whole world is black.
He clenched his teeth. Not paying attention, he relaxed his arm, pouring the Sake into his lap. His world had been black from the start. So, what color do you paint things when they're already black? Why doesn't the singer offer some insight on that?
Naruto sang one verse over again, changing it to his liking. "I see my red chakra and I want it painted black." He was way off key. The soldier put his helmet back on and covered the ear holes. The woman accidentally tore the paper she was working with.
Why stop there.
He should dye his hair black, too. Maybe get a pair of contacts made, with spiffy sharingan shapes painted on them. And some new clothes. Would that satisfy her?
"Ninja, huh?" One old man staggered up the bar, his cane made of twisted wood. His right leg was fake. "Your voice one of your weapons?" Everybody within earshot laughed at that one. "Only person I ever heard sing worse than that was Sarutobi. And some hairy guy that hangs around with toads."
"Me big ninja. Strong. Heap big hero!" Naruto spoke sarcastically, holding up his arm and making a muscle.
"I was too," the man said. "Cost me my leg. There's gotta be something more than life than fighting and training. Here… one of these might be a good start…." The man slid a basket of fortune cookies to Naruto. "Sure as hell can't hurt!"
Gotta be something more in life?
That's what he had been trying for.
It was what he wanted to forget tonight, no matter how many bottles ended up on the trash heap.
He picked up a fortune cookie, turning it around in his hand. Squeeze too hard, and it would crumble. But, ultimately, that was the whole idea. Downing another drink, he tossed the cookie in the air, then watched as it hit the counter. It didn't break.
That cookie was a lot like him. Tough enough to be tossed around. But nobody really cared what was on the outside, right? Truth is, fortune cookies often taste like cardboard. It's what's on the inside that everybody wants.
"The history of fortune cookies dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries when China was occupied by the Mongols." The old man cracked open his own cookie… read the message… then nodded, a sage look on his tired face. "The traditional lotus nut paste moon cakes were used to hide secret messages regarding the date of a popular uprising against the invaders." The man raised his hand for another frothy mug of beer.
Naruto cracked open his cookie, then nibbled on a piece. Oh, glorious day! Another authority. Maybe the guy would still have his leg if he had become a librarian like he should have. The sullen boy wasn't in the mood for a history lesson, but listened just the same.
"The cakes were distributed by the patriotic revolutionary Chu Yuan Chang… disguised as a Taoist priest… safe in the knowledge that the Mongols had no taste for lotus nut paste. The uprising was successful, and so the basis of the Ming Dynasty was formed."
Naruto read his fortune:
LUCKY IN LOVE
That's really funny. Big f-cking joke, Fate. Thanks for caring, Destiny. What are you guys going to next, give me a big cut and pour lemon juice on it?
He could feel the anger burning inside of him.
It just wasn't fair!
"Hey… red might be your color… but that look just doesn't work." The woman looked frightened. Eyes wide and lip quivering, she slid another origami creation to Naruto.
It was a frog.
Naruto took a bowl filled with stirrers and straws off of an old battered silver platter. He looked at his reflection in the flat piece, and then sighed. His eyes were fox-like. His facial markings were accentuated. He had fangs.
Wonderful. Looking down at his hands, he saw that they were now claw-like.
He must be even more upset than he thought. If that was possible.
He picked up the frog. They had learned how to make that shape as children in school. Because of the symbolism. Frogs are believed to bring about positive changes in your life, and are said to be the bearer of good fortune, promoting success, wealth and prosperity. That's why there is frequently a frog near a cash register in Chinese restaurants..
The word for 'frog' in Japanese also means 'return.' So people often carried a small frog with them, so they could return home safely.
Positive changes. Success. Wealth and prosperity. Right! Frogs and fortune cookies. Good things must be on the horizon.
What a crock!
Besides, he had plenty of experience with frogs! A hell of a lot of good that did him tonight! Well. He had to be honest. There had been good things that had come as a result of his learning to summon. But, kuchiyose no jutsu wouldn't help him get a date. The kind of girl Boss Frog could set him up with would have webbed feet and a tongue longer than Orochimaru's used to be.
He had to think of the dead Sannin. That naturally had him thinking of Sasuke. That bastard. They had tried to save him on more than one occasion. He thanked them by trying to kill them. And then… when he was finally dragged back to Konoha… and his punishment was reduced because the elders wanted the Uchiha line revived… he was dumped back in Team Seven at Sai's expense.
Deep down in his heart, he was glad that Sasuke was back. But, there was no way he would admit that at the moment. Even though his gloomy and self-obsessed friend wanted nothing to do with any girl, she had started right back where she had left off… even though she had begun having feelings for the boy who had stayed behind… the ninja who had risked his life... the one who had been trying to follow through on the Promise of a Lifetime.
Anyone who thinks there is justice in the world deserved to feel as bad as he did!
Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste
I've been around for a long, long year, stole many a man's soul and faith
And I was 'round when Jesus Christ, had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate, washed his hands and sealed his fate
Yeh. Great. Perfect. Another uplifting tune. Good fortune was on the way! And Tsunade was as young as she looked. Sure. If you believe that, I know someone who can make some sweet swampland for you to buy.
Pleased to meet you Hope you guess my name
But what's puzzling you Is the nature of my game
I know her damn name.
And there is no game. Not for me, any way. She wants to play with some selfish son of a bitch who ran off to that long-tongued scum bag, just so he could get revenge. It wasn't like he had been the only one to lose people he loved.
I watched with glee, While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades, For the Gods they made
I shouted out
Naruto…too drunk to care…shouted out "Who killed the HOKAGES," completing the line.
When after all, It was you and me
Let me please introduce myself, I'm a
"F-cking girl…." Well, that wasn't part of the song. But, it worked for him.
of wealth and taste
And I laid traps for troubadors, Who get killed before they reached Bombay
Pleased to meet you Hope you guess my name
But what's puzzling you Is the nature of my game
Stupid bitch should puzzle this!
Naruto said something obscene under his breath,
Just as every cop is a criminal, And all the sinners Saints
As heads is tails, Just call me
'Cause I'm in need of some restraint
So if you meet me, Have some courtesy, Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politeness, Or I'll lay your soul to waste
He had been freakin' polite. And his soul had still been laid to waste. That is, if he even had a soul. Maybe Kyubi ate the damn thing. Or maybe the bastard fox was his soul.
Now he was starting to get religious.
Naruto lost track of time. He talked with knowledgeable folks about Sake. He spoke about the trials and tribulations of his early life. Well, he spared a moment here and there for that kind of thing when he wasn't regaling the patronage with his gripes about a certain medical ninja in training.
The bell on the door rang. It rang repeatedly, as the person trying to get in was having trouble. A retired elder had downed one drink too many and fallen in front of the large oak door.
Someone squeezed past just the same.
It better not be Shikamaru again. Or Lee. His bushy eyed friend had threatened to use Lotus, if that was necessary to drag Naruto away from the bottle. Naruto had swung at him when he said that he had actually managed to dance with a certain girl that night. It had been a dream of his, and it had finally come true.
It had been Haruno Sakura, of course.
Maybe he should forget about the freakin' sharingan contacts. Black hair is still a good idea. That, and he could kill a couple of black cats and sew them above his eyes. No, he had enough bad luck already. He could paint a pair of fox tails black. That would be bushy enough. Good symbolism, too. Right, bastard fox?
It's a good thing Kyubi couldn't answer. If he heard voices, it would be time to head home.
He did hear a voice.
"N-… N-… Naruto-kun…."