A/N:

The story really didn't need anything else, and may have been a few chapters too long in some people's eyes as it was. But, I have fun writing in this stoy's universe, and hope that a few people might have some fun reading more.

The topic of drinking set the stage for the story in chapter 1, but that topic isn't really something to laugh at in its own right. The facts and numbers used in this chapter came from sources on Google. While some people may feel offended that Naruto is painted as someone who would have any risk whatsoever of drinking more than he should, they should recall that he had tied things on big time at the beginning. It was the only time he had ever binged that way. But, it made it easier for him to take up seemingly innocent social drinking here and there.

Some might think that the other characters are viewing or treating Naruto in a mean manner. They are not. Everyone in Konoha sees our hero as a national treasure. They want the best for him, and are going about things in a crazy way that can only take place in a silly and over-exaggerated fan fiction story. If they didn't, there couldn't be a chapter 10.

x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

"This is a bit much!"

Naruto was frowning up a storm. His face looked like it had been chiseled from a very unhappy boulder or stone.

The grumpy ninja and his best beau, Hinata, were surrounded by an entire ANBU squad, their masks well-polished and their posture perfect. What was up with that? This seemed more like the escort of a dangerous criminal to trial than a group of messengers sent out to find and bring in an upstanding citizen.

"I agree."

In the past, Hinata would have said nothing. She would have figured that the Hokage must know what she was doing, or that she herself had done something wrong, even if she had no memory of any transgression. Now, thanks to Naruto, she began to look beneath the surface of daily events, and had begun to stand up for herself more and more. As wonderful as her boyfriend might be, she had come to understand that she was someone worthy and special herself.

"She's waiting for you inside," a woman said behind a porcelain mask, one shaped to resemble a cat with three red stripes. Yugao Uzuki. She stood before a large oaken door. "She is not in the best of moods."

That simple commentary sent a chill running up and down Naruto's spine. It was never fun to deal with a testy or ticked-off Tsunade, no matter what kind of history they shared. She could be a veritable tsunami, a true force of nature. But, sometimes, the calm before the storm was even more frightening.

"Send them in," the Fifth Hokage said, very quietly. That had Hinata blinking rapidly and swallowing hard. She reached her hand over and grabbed Naruto's. "The rest of you see to your mission."

The ANBU squad members vanished, as if they had never been there in the first place. Shizune walked out of the Hokage's office, her eyes looking down at her feet. She never met the gaze of the two summoned shinobi. She wasn't the only comrade of Tsunade making an exit. Another individual made a far less dignified escape.

"Bui bui buiiiii-iiii-iii-ii-i."

Ton Ton took off like a stuck pig. She ran under Naruto's legs and climbed halfway up Hinata before dropping to the ground and darting past the startled girl.

"M-" Naruto coughed, pausing at the Hokage's doorway. "Maybe Ton Ton needs to use the little pig's room really bad."

"R-R-R-" Hinata knew that Naruto was trying to convince himself that Tsunade couldn't be angry enough to send her favorite pig running for cover. Convince himself, and comfort her too. "Right."

"WHILE WE'RE STILL YOUNG."

It was a clear sign that Naruto's emotion growth had finally begun catching up with his physical changes, that he did not make a quip about the exact nature of the older woman's youth.

"Ma'am!" Hinata quickly stood in front of the Hokage's desk, which was as perilously piled with papers as usual.

"I'm here, too." Naruto couldn't help but act a bit childish and surly. He and Hinata had been eating a pleasant picnic lunch, at a small lake that had formed after Pain had destroyed the village. There was time for memorable moments now and then, following the finish of the most recent Shinobi Wars. "Shit!" That just slipped out when the Hokage put on the Tri-corner hat. That meant that things really could be serious. He placed a hand over his mouth.

"I suppose the two of you are wondering why I called you here today?" Tsunade made a steeple with her hands. "There are two reasons, actually. The most critical issue is being looked after by the Ansatsu Senjutsu Tokushu Butai. We'll get to that later." Her voice snapped like a wet towel whipped across a bare buttock. "An issue nearly as important brings you to my office."

There was a silent moment. The Hokage wanted the tension to rise a bit, since the topic at hand was indeed a serious one. Hinata stood ramrod stiff, tranquil and well reposed. Naruto follwed suit, but began to fidget now and then.

"I have had the two of you followed," Tsunade said.

"Us?" Hinata suddenly had a sweat drop. She had never done anything bad or immoral... but she could very easily remember an all night make-out session. All night and a good bit into the next day.

"F-" Naruto pinched himself. It was Hinata's gig, starting off with a single letter or syllable, before finding the motivation to speak further. "Followed?" He had a dozen sweat drops. Even though he and his best girl were rarely apart, they did need their me-time. He occasionally made a trip to his favorite video-store. Some of the anime titles he returned home with were hentai.

"Indeed," the Hokage said. "You." She met Hinata's gaze. "Followed." She looked over at Naruto. She leaned back in her chair. "Frequently."

"If this is because I picked those flowers in the Botanical Gardens." Naruto's guilt had risen up like a tidal wave within. He had figurative water pouring out of figurative ears. "There wasn't anything in Ino's shop good enough for Hinata!" He was frozen with apprehension, but still felt warm when Hinata's cheeks pinked.

"I hadn't heard anything about that." Tsunade began scribbling in a notebook. The Gardens were sacrosanct, housing rare plants from across the globe, including some species that had come close to extinction thanks to the actions of Madara and Nagato.

"F-" Naruto bit his lip. It was good that he stopped that time. A four-letterword had climbed to the edge of his lips, ready to swan dive off.

"W-" Hinata's voice was quite, but not as timid as it once might have been. "Was-" Still, she fought to speak up in front of the Fifth. "Was it the Hyuuga artifacts that I sold?" She had taken a large number of items out of storage and sold them. There had been priceless treasures that hadn't seen the light of day for many a year, and had been painstakenly unearthed during the rebuilding of the village. A retainer had said that her father was OK with the idea, but she had never broached the subject directly to her sire Had the retainer been mistaken or lying?

"No," the Hokage replied, her eyes softening. "I heard about that. The proceeds all went towards rebuilding the Orphanage." She nodded her head. "Your father thought that it was a splendid idea."

"Me too!" Naruto looked at Hinata and smiled a huge smile. He then nonchalantly turned back to Tsunade and said "As a reward for her selfless acts, you should let us go with a warning." He couldn't think of anything bad they had done. He was simply being proactive.

"I intend to," Tsunade said. That had the two ninjas relaxing. "But it's going to be a rather big warning." She brought a fist down hard on her desk. Piles of papers jumped a foot in the air, settling back down in tilted piles. A few sheets of parchment glided about the room like sugar gliders. "Or rather, a lengthy one."

"If that's the case, may I use the restroom, Granny Tsunade." Naruto had forgotten to pee before his picnic. Before the picnic and a gallon of punch. He was standing on one foot and then the other.

"A ninja must be patient." The Hokage grinned. "You wouldn't put teammates at risk during a mission, simply because you had to answer the call of nature, right?" She tapped a finger against her chin, watching as Naruto's foot stepping became a Konohan version of Riverdance. "Well. Because I don't want to have the floors cleaned again, I suppose I can be merciful. I might need to wait until I can find you a chaperone, so yout don't try to escape..."

"GRANNY!"

"Go ahead." The Fifth waved towards a water closet. "Next time, try thinking ahead. If you want to wear this hat some day-" She put the tri-corner headpiece on the messy desk. "-You can't be doing a bathroom jig everytime you address the village elders."

"Thank you!" Naruto took off faster than the pig had.

"This gives us a few moments alone, Hinata." Tsunade ran a hand through her hair.

The two kunoichi spent a few moments talking together. The Hokage was interested in how the younger woman was doing, and if a relationship with the boy of her dreams was eveything that she had hoped it would be. She also felt compelled to make certain that the young scamp was treating the girl the way hat he should, even though she had no reason to doubt him and his big heart. She put away her smile as she raised one hand, ending the conversation. Naruto was back, looking rather relieved.

"I have returned," Naruto said cheerfully, his trepidations forgotten. "You're right. I never should have had so much to drink!"

"It's funny that you should say that," Tsunade spoke grimly again, all touches of warmth gone from her face and voice. "Drinking." The way she said that world set the stage expertly. Both Hinata and Naruto immediately knew what kind of drinking she referred to.

"Granny?" Naruto sounded perplexed. He figured correctly that the Hokage was making refence to alcohol. But, he didn't have a drinking habit and Hinata never touched the stuff, except on special anniversary dates.

"We can all remember how you and Hinata came together," the Hokage said. She had heard about the bar scene... had been told about the shack encounter by Hinata... and had been a personal witness to all sorts of subsequent shenanigans. That had been a while ago. "And I got an earful from your teammate." She looked pained. "On more than one occasion."

"Sai took up drinking?" Naruto's joke fell flat. "Sakura. I know. That was a while ago. She told me she never wanted to pick up a high-ball glass again!" He wondered how his friend was doing. He hadn't seen her for a long while.

"We'll talk about Sakura soon enough." The Hokage crossed her arms. "Right now, it's Uzumaki Naruto that I'm concerned about. Son of the Fourth Hokage. The boy who brought the Fifth Hokage to Konoha. A young man who hopes to be the Sixth Hokage." She sighed. "You are always in the public eye. That's the price that comes with notoriety. You are a role model to the masses." She put her hands in her laps and leaned forward slightly. "You're someone that people care about."

"But-" Naruto couldn't get a word out. Tsunade held up one finger in a nostalgic way. That gesture still had weight.

"Before Pain attacked the village, you used to spend a good deal of time at Inari's," the Hokage claimed. "Hinata, you were usually there at the pub whenever he was."

"Hinata didn't do much drinking!" Naruto put his hands on his hips, jaw set.

"But you did, huh?" The Fifth had snared the village's noisiest ninja with seasoned ease.

"I-" Naruto frowned. "Every now and then." He adjusted his forehead protecter, loosening it a tad. "I didn't always get drunk..." He decided to offer proof of Hinata's innocence. "And... because I'm a hero now... the barkeep has imported a line of fruit drinks for Hinata."

"Good for the barkeep," Tsunade said. "And good for Hinata." She steepled her hands again. "You're going to say next that nowadays you go there mostly for the Pachinko, and for the new video game room."

"Wellll-lll-ll-l." That was exactly what Naruto was going to add, but the way that the Hokage said it made it sound like some kind of excuse or something. His eyebrows shot upward. He wondered just how far the Fifth's lecture might go. "Are you going to talk about the dangers of gambling?" The Panchinko could be played for fun, but could be used in gambling, too. "Or smoking?" He and Hinata didn't smoke. But, second-hand smoke was a big deal at Inari's, even though the establishment was larger, with a more open floor plan and much better ventilation.

"Those are worthwhile topics, aren't they?" Tsunade nodded her head. "Moderation in anything is important." Including lectures and lessons. "However-" She was interrupted.

"Video games!" Naruto had an addiction to the newer fighting-type consoles. "I hope you're not going to talk about banning them!" His mouth was running far ahead of his mind. "You know... you know... they're not all bad..." He was rather animated now. "I even came up with the idea for my two new jutsus from those games..."

"Really?" Tsunade made a face. "You really need a life, don't you?" She looked over at Hinata. "Make sure he gets out more."

"Hai!" Hinata answered quickly. Was the Hokage joking or serious? No matter. She could get a lot of mileage out of that order. Not that Naruto would mind!

"And make sure that he does not play that game based on Jiraiya!" Tsunade's hand's gripped the arms of her chair. She had been told about that video game. "That game is for adults only!"

"Yes, Ma'am." Hinata nodded her head. She had no desire whatsoever to change her boyfriend in any way; but, did let him know here thoughts on things in routine fashion.

"Don't worry, Granny-" Naruto hooked a thumb under one arm. "I'm not into that kind of game." He licked his lips. He had too much spunk for his own good. "But I was sent the artwork to review. You should see the way that your character looks." He paused for effect. "Especially in Boob-a-liscious mode. I've been told that it costs an extra two coins, but..."

WWWWHHHHAAAA-AAA-AA-AMMMM

Splinters flew. Papers darted about. A desk leg skittered across the floor. A drawer knob bounced out one window, striking a draft mule on the rump and sparking a series of accidents down on the main avenue.

The desk lay in ruins. Armed guards ran into the room, only to be crisply waved away. Shizune arrived breathless. "Lady Tsunade... was there a bomb..." She had left a number of packages on her mentor's desk. They had all been cleared by security.

"It's alright, Shizune." Tsunade stood up. She looked embarrassed. "I lost my temper." She searched for the Tri-corner hat, found it, and put it away some place safe. "But it might be for the best. A change of venues is in order. I've thought of a better place to hold my talk." She headed out the rear door and motioned for Naruto and Hinata to follow. They all walked in single-file fashion, like ducklings following a mother duck. After making their way along streets planted with young trees, they entered the Clinic. The Hokage steered the two younger ninjas into a ward that housed patients with various liver disorders.

"The liver is one of the largest and most complex organs in the body." The Hokage put on a white coat and took a moment to check a number of patient charts. "It stores vital energy and nutrients... it manufactures proteins and enzymes necessary for proper health... it helps protect the body from disease... and it breaks down or metabolizes harmful toxins from the body."

"Yes, Ma'am." Hinata had paid attention in Biology clase. She gave Naruto a quick elbow. He had begun yawning.

"Because the liver is the chief organ responsible for metabolizing alcohol, it is especially vulnerable to alcohol–related injury." She satred at Naruto, letting him know that his attention was not optional. "Even as few as three drinks at one time may have serious toxic effects on the liver if the drinker combines it with certain over–the–counter medications, such as those containing acetaminophen."

"Acetomo-" Naruto had heard that name before. But, he had never tried to say it for himself. "Ameceta-" He wouldn't be able to ask what the word meant if he couldn't wrap his tongue around it.

"Acetamenophen," Hinata rushed to say before her beau tripped over his tongue. "The pain reliever and fever reducer used in Tylenol and Konohex.

"Why didn't you just say aspirin," Naruto said sourly. He felt a headache coming on. He rubbed at both temple areas. "Or Ibuprofen."

"Aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid," the Hokage said, irritated by the interruption. "Ibuprofen... or iso-butyl-propanoic-phenolic acid... is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Neither of them is acetaminophen." She smiled an evil smile and took out a perscription pad. "Tell you what. I'll let you choose which you want. You look like you could use some."

"Aspirin, then" Naruto said.

"Fine." Tsunade began writing in cursive. "I'll write you up for a suppository." She handed the script to an assistant. It read: this is just a joke. Play along.

The gangly red-haired orderly gasped a fake gasp. "From the veterinary clinic, Lady. Are you certain-"

"Now!" Tsunade said.

"Yes!" The orderly blurted out. "I'll fetch it immediately, Lady Tsunade." He took off at a run. He stopped, turned, and asked: "Will he need another painkiller after having things... uhhh... inserted?" He ran off when the Hokage said 'Shoo!'

"You're-" Naruto was about to say 'You're joking, right?' He kept quiet, figuring that he knew the answer. He did squeeze his lower cheeks tightly together for a moment, just the same. "I apologize. I won't interrupt your lecture again. Please continue."

"Alcoholic liver disease... ALD... is a serious and potentially fatal consequence of drinking alcohol." The Hokage had walked her charges away from the patients. The last thing thay those ill men and women needed was a lecture. Some had walked too far down the wrong road. "ALD includes three conditions." She held up one finger. "Fatty liver." A second finger. "Alcoholic hepatitis." Finally a third digit. "And cirrhosis." She formed a fist, stuck out one finger, and shook that at Naruto. "Heavy drinking for as little as a few days can lead to fatty liver... steatosis...the earliest stage of alcoholic liver disease and the most common alcohol–induced liver disorder. Steatosis is marked by an excessive buildup of fat inside liver cells. That condition can be reversed, however, when drinking stops."

"That's good then. I-" Naruto was cut off. He made a face when he saw Hinata put a finger on her lips.

"Drinking heavily for longer periods may lead to a more severe, and potentially fatal condition, alcoholic hepatitis. Inflammation of the liver." Tsunade would give Naruto and Hinata a pamphlet later. "Scientists believe that if drinking continues, the inflammation we are talking about eventually leads to alcoholic cirrhosis in many individuals." Tsunade spoke in a stern voice. "Healthy liver cells are replaced by fibrosis, leaving the liver unable to perform its vital functions."

"But-" Naruto didn't like the sound of that. "You have medicines and scrolls that can fix it, right? Jutsus or surgery?" Her put a hand on his abdomen. He truthfully didn't drink that much, but he had begun worrying just the same.

"No," the Hokage said. "There is no fixing things. One look at Ibiki Morino's face ought to be lesson enough. There are somethings that cannot be repaired. Up to seventy percent of all alcoholic hepatitis patients go on to develop cirrhosis. But, some patients with alcoholic hepatitis who stop drinking may have a complete recovery from liver disease." She pointed over at a chart on te wall that held medical statistics. "Here's something you probably didn't realize. Cirrhosis is a major cause of death in the Leaf and the other large villages. It's currently the fourth leading cause of death in people ages 45 to 54."

"My aunt died from cirrhosis," Hinata offered solenmly.

"She was a wonderful woman," Tsunade commiserated. She motioned to the chart again. "Women are at higher risk than men for developing cirrhosis. That higher risk may be the result of differences in the way alcohol is absorbed and broken down. When a woman drinks, the alcohol in her bloodstream reaches a higher level than a man's even if both are drinking the same amount. The chemicals involved in breaking down alcohol also differ between men and women. This means that a woman breaks down alcohol at a slower rate, exposing her liver to higher blood alcohol concentrations for longer periods of time, a situation that is potentially toxic to the liver."

"I'll make sure that Hinata doesn't have another drink!" Naruto struck a pose without knowing that he did.

"Naruto-kun." Hinata smiled. He truly did care about her.

"Very commendable," the Hokage said. "But, it's her choice. You should worry more about Uzumaki Naruto, right?"

"Why do you keep saying stuff like that?" Naruto puffed up like a beach body builder. "I'm not a kid any more! I don't drink that much or that often." Those words rang hollow in his ears. He had gotten caught up in the atmosphere at Inari's on more than one occassion. He was a suker for acceptance, even after the whole village had rushed to see him when he defeated the Six Paths of Pain. He loved to make people laugh, and he admittedly liked feeling like the Big Man On Campus from time to time.

"Mmm-mm-m hmm-m." Tsunade narrowed her eyes. "Maybe you don't. But, addicts are the ones who deny the quickest and the most often, aren't they? You must have witnessed that kind of thing from some of the patrons at the pub." She looked around the ward, grateful that there were no adolescents or young adult patients there today. "While you may not be a kid anymore... for someone like you... it's not just about long term effects that alcohol might have on your liver."

"Ma'am-" Hinata took a step closer to Naruto without knowing it. There was a warble of concern in her voice. "Is Naruto at special risk?" She slid a few steps closer. "Is it because of the Nine Tails? Alcohol doesn't weaken the seal, does it?"

"That furry shithead probably gets drunk on blood," Naruto said without thinking. He apologized for his choice of words. Under his breath he added, "Or from licking his own balls." He felt a rumbling in his belly. Was that from something he ate? Or, had he pissed off the demon? Looking over at Hinata, he noticed that she was looking a bit dyspeptic. Huh? Oh! His last remark. He kept forgetting how good her hearing was.

"I hate to sound like I'm preaching when I'm actually teaching," Tsunade said. "But, as the Hokage... and as a medical ninja... I have a responsibility to talk about this subject. I was making reference to Naruto's age, but not to him alone. Teenage drinking is an issue that far too many parents either don't take seriously enough, or bury their heads in the sand to avoid altogether."

Naruto paid attention. He and his friends drank socially at times. It certainly hadn't seemed wrong to them. Sometimes, a cold brew or two helped them relax after a particularly prickly mission. A small shot of something harder helped lighten the mood and loosen the tongue at card night. Alcohol had helped them feel like adults, in a life where they could easily die a child.

"Some people turn a deaf ear to numbers," the Hokage said. "They seem to think 'this is about some other people', not about themselves or the people they care for. Currently, alcohol use among young people under the age of 21 is the leading drug problem in the Leaf, the Sand, and the Cloud. More youths... civilians and shinobi... drink alcohol than smoke tobacco or marijuana. Every day, thousands of youths under 16 take their first drink of alcohol. Last year, the surveys showed that one out of six Konoha Academy students were drinkers."

Both Naruto and Hinata looked surprised. But, since neither of them had been a part of the 'in crowd', they had no personal experience to refer to.

"Binge drinking is on the rise, especially amongst girls." Tsunade looked at Hinata. "Have you ever tried one of the popular Alcopops? They probably serve those at the pub now, seeing that they are becoming very popular with young ladies."

"Alcopop?" Hinata cocked her head.

"Jiraiya's Hard Lemonade," Tsunade offered as an example. "Sand Monk Ice... Killer Bee Breezer... Ichi Ichi Hard Cola... Six Paths Original Vodka... and similar drinks with colorful names. They include malt drinks with fruit flavoring... wine drinks with fruit or flavorings... and beverages with with distilled alcohol and similar flavors. It's those flavors make them very attractive to underage drinkers."

"I've tried some," Naruto said. "They do taste good. Real good." He had felt very pleased one night, when the crowd at the pub had bought him that kind of drink by the bucketload, after he had helped bring down Madara. He felt a bit silly now. In any case, he had lost any taste for that kind of beverage after getting too drunk much too quickly. Hinata had expressed her concern, too, in no uncertain terms.. That had struck him hard. "Maybe too good."

"The earlier that teens and preteens get hooked-" Tsunade sighed. She felt so frustrated. There still were war injuries to deal with. There were diseases that had grown common and widespread after the times of strife. She and the other mediacl specialists didn't need more to deal with than that. "It's truly terrible, the number of youths who die from drowning, drunk. That, and other alcohol related deaths. Suicide. Homicide. Accidents. And... death isn't the only tragedy." She met Hinata's gaze. "In the known Nations, tens of thousands of girls suffer date rape or alcohol-related sexual assault every year." She made it a point to emphasize that number. "Tens... of... thousands..."

"That-" Naruto's eyes looked like those of a feral beast. His canines lengthened a bit, and he was soon sporting a single chakra tail. He wished he could beat down each and every guy who would do something like that. He wished he could kick the crap out of the guys who laughed about it, or talked up the miscreants. "It-" He would never treat a girl in a bad way, himself. He was pretty sure that ever guy friend he had would act and feel the same way.

"..." Hinata was visibibly disturbed. She was a kunoichi, and had seen her share of evil and greed. Just the same, it was a shock everytime she realized just how different some people were from others. "I'm so lucky I found Naruto."

"Yes you are," Tsunade said, smiling. Naruto was the hope of the Village Hidden in the Leaves, in many ways That was one of the reasons that she was going to make absolutely certain that he did not ever fall prey to the social demons lurking in his life. One demon in his life was more than enough. "It just took a while longer for him to find you. But... good things are worth the wait... right?"

"Yes, Ma'am." Hinata looked at Naruto and felt both happy and proud.

"You bet!" Naruto felt the same way.

"It looks like I went off on a bit of a tangent. There was something in particular that I wanted to mention when I made reference to Naruto's age," the Hokage said. "Recent studies have shown that heavy exposure to alcohol may interfere with adolescent brain development, causing loss of memory and other skills." She frowned. "Brain development continues until about age 21. Developmental damage is irreversible. Fortunately, that's not been shown to result from light or moderate drinking." She sighed. "But, there's no line in the sand that separates moderate from heavy. It's a different level for different people."

Mmm hmm." Hinata nodded her head, but was not about to say 'I told you so.' Early in her relationship with Naruto, she had begun slowly and gently talked him out of making Inari's a hangout for drinking. She didn't know his limit, and knew that he didn't know his limit. She would rather risk his wrath and lose him, than create some kind of co-dependency. She hadn't succeeded entirely yet, but her boyfriend was worth her every effort.

"I've talked with the other Kages," Tsunade mentioned. "Each has seen a decrease in skilled shinobi. Even the Bloodline gifts can be dulled down." Her voice grew icy. "Some of the other villages have put men and women to death, for showing up drunk on missions. I hope I never see the day, here." She stood silent for a moment. Now was the time to bring up the serious part of the meeting.

"Granny?" Naruto recognized that look. The Hokage was about to bring up her key point.

"This is partly about you, Naruto." Tsunade put her hands behind her back. "I want to nip things in the bud, should there be any chance that you have taken a step on the wrong path." She looked at Hinata. "I know that drinking brought the two of you together, Hinata. But I would bet my last lottery winnings-" That said a lot, since winning and the Hokage did not go hand in hand. "-That you have a very good perspective on the matter, and that you have already begun your own efforts."

"Yes Ma'am!" Hinata stood straighter.

"Good," the Fifth said. "Because this is about more than Naruto. I want you both to do is be messengers. I want you to remember everything that I say today, so that you can turn around and tell it in a kind but firm manner to adults and children alike. I want you to give talks to the villagers, ninjas and workers alike."

"That-" Naruto liked being an ambassador. But, he felt his heart flutter a bit.

"You won't be traitors." Tsunade had correctly interpreted the look on Naruto's face. "The people at Inari's won't look down on you. It's not alcohol on trial here. It's about people treating it with the respect that it requires, and treating their fellow men and women responsibly. There is a price for everything." Having made her hard sell, she softened remarkably. It was easy to see that she had struck a chord in Naruto. It was even easier to see how much the two ninjas cared for one another. They had a remarkable support group in one another. There was no better choice for the important task at hand.

"Yes," Naruto said. He felt his unconscious worry dissipate. "Right!" A spark burned in his heart. There were many different ways to protect the people you love. He smiled, seeing the pride on Hinata's face. "We'll help in any way we can!"

""We'll do our best, Ma'am." Hinata said. "Naruto saved the village before. Now, the two of us will help the village save itself." She and Naruto listened patiently as the Hokage taught them the things that they needed to know.

"There's another matter we can discuss now." Tsunade tried to sound particularly grim. "It's the mission I sent the ANBU out on. It has to do with Sakura. As Hokage, I must follow the rules, no matter who is involved." Like everyone else, Naruto and Hinata knew how fond the Hokage was of her pink-haired pupil. "I received this." She let a scroll unroll in her hand. Naruto recognized his teammate's handwriting.

"Sakura wrote that?" Naruto pursed his lips. "What does it say?"

"She's informed me that she is leaving the village forever," the Fifth said. "She doesn't go into great detail, but does mention that she feels under too much pressure to stay in the land of her birth." She forced a sigh. "She wrote 'Please do not blame Lee'." She raised one eyebrow. '"She also wrote 'Feel free to punish Naruto'."

"..." Naruto stood stunned. He wasn't able to make a connection or offer a possible explanation.

"Maybe-" Hinata bit her lip like she had almost let the cat out of the bag. "Lee-"

"Hinata?" Tsunade wondered what Hinata might want to say. She really didn't have anyone shadowing her and Naruto, and was interested in gathering information, both in professional and personal matters.

"It... well..." Hinata looked torn. She didn't want to seem like she was squealing on her boyfriend.

"Don't worry, Hinata." Naruto met Tsunade's gaze. "I'll tell her." He sighed and put a hand behind his head. He was able to think clearly now. "Back on the day that Sakura got really sloshed last year, I teased her about setting her up with Rock Lee." He absentmindedly rubbed his rib cage. Most of the fractures had healed by now. "It helped get her out of the bar that day, for sure. But-"

"But?" Tsunade walked over to one clinic bed and took down a bag of antiobiotics that had finished running into one feverish patient.

"I kept teasing her about it." Naruto looked concerned. Had Sakura really run off? Was there something else going on that he didn't know about? Something with Sasuke, maybe? "No. Not really teasing. I made real efforts to set her up with Lee. I even got some of our friends involved, too." He smacked a fist into his palm angrily. "I made a real pest of myself. But... but I... I had a good reason!"

"O." Tsunade cocked her head.

"That night Sakura went on a binge the way that I did-" Naruto said. "Hinata told me something that Sakura had told her in confidence in the little girl's room. Sasuke had rejected her advances, and had essentially crossed her off of his list of future Missus Sasukes because he didn't want to risk having pink-haired sons." Naruto snarled. "That jerk! After all that Sakura and I had done for him. He could have been kinder than that!"

"And-" The Hokage hadn't heard about that part of Sakura's big bender. She blinked rapidly, picturing a house full of pink haired boys with sharingans. She hid a smile, imaging Sasuke taking out Itachi's eyes and leaving the sockets empty.

"Sasuke told me something one day, when we sat down and spoke." Naruto looked torn again. This time, it was because he was still having difficulties reconciling his freind's personality and drive. Sasuke was no longer an avenger. Now, he viewed himself as the final remaining seed of the Uchiha clan. He was as obsessed with that idea as he had been caught up with the desire to kill his brother at one time. "He had talked to a geneticist, and found out that hair color... like the Blood Limit... was dominant in his family. Even more so. While every child of his wouldn't have a sharingan, there was no risk of pink-haired Uchihas, boys or girls."

"And let me guess-" Tsunade worked to change a dressing on a patient as she spoke. "He had decided that Sakura was the best choice for a baby mama." She put a clip on a fresh bandage and wrote a short remark on a medical chart. "She is strong. He knew that she had feelings for him and-"

"She was a medical ninja," Naruto said, his throat tightening up. "She would be an ideal mother, very much able to take care of her Uchiha children in every possible way." His voice went up an octave. He was trembling. "He also said that he would make certain to choose his concubines wisely, too. One woman wasn't enough... wasn't enough to..."

"To safely bring the Uchiha clan back from the brink of extinction," Hinata said, letting Naruto catch his breath and calm down. "I overheard the conversation, waiting for Naruto." Hinata blushed. She was not usually an eavesdropper. "Sasuke sounded like he was entitled. Life... like the Council... the whole Nation... maybe the whole world... owed him something."

"I didn't want Sakura to learn about Sasuske's sea change." Naruto furrowed his brow. "I couldn't leave Sakura any time to think about Sasuke's change in heart if she did speak to him." Naruto frowned, sad. "It wasn't only about a change in heart. It was about someone breaking Saukra's heart. Again." His shoulders slumped. "At least she only broke my heart once." He brightened some. "And I ended up much better off!"

"Naruto-kun..." Hinata's cheeks dimpled.

"Well that's a bit of a relief," Tsunade said. "I thought you might have been blocking Sasuke's advances towards Sakura, so you could keep him to yourself."

"Huh?" Naruto went bug-eyed. "HUH?" He shook a fist at the Fifth as every patient in the room laughed, chuckled, or gave a cat call. "That's not funny. That's sick. Real sick. Only a degenerate would think something like that. A real weirdo!"

"N-... Nar-... Naruto-kun..." Hinata slumped to the floor. "Y-... You don't love me any more..." She hung her head. "Y-... You-... You like boys better..."

"Bui?" Ton Ton slid to a halt, a pilfered apple falling from her piggy jowls. "Bui!" She ran off to spread the news, mistaken. Fortunately, no human in the village could speak pork.

"Hinata... wait..." Naruto was slow to catch on, but catch on he did. "You... you made a joke like that... about me...."

"I-" Hinata looked shocked. Had her attempt at humor backfired big time?

"You-" Naruto bunched up his shoulders.

"It-" Hinata closed her eyes and rubbed her fingers together. She refused to believe that he might dump her for something like that.

"You rock!" Naruto walked over and gave his girlfriend a big hug, not caring who watched. He loved the way she was opening up, like a rare flower. And he couldn't be happier, seeing that she was willing to say and do things without worrying that she would tick him off.

"Shhhh-hhh-hh-h!" Shizune shushed Naruto, telling him that some of the patients were asleep, or were desperately trying to sleep. But, seeing the smile on some of the patient's faces, she couldn't keep up her scolding for long.

"Back to business," Tsunade said. "If Sakura crosses the border... with me holding a note like this one in my hands..." She looked a grim as death itself. "I will have no choice but to declare her a missing nin."

"But Granny!" Naruto felts as if he had stepped on a bare electical line. "She-"

"She knows all of our most important medical secrets," the Hokage said. "She knows a great deal of other sensitve information."

"But... you took Sasuke back in after all that he had done." Hinata spoke up. "And he had done-"

"We all know what he had done," Tsunade replied. "We also know what had been done to him, and who it had been done by. But, Uchiha Sasuke was a special case. Everyone knows that, too. If I keep makng exceptions..." She didn't want to draw things out. "Seeing how critical the situation is, I am suggesting that you-"

WHAM THUNK THUNK SKITTER SKITTER

The door to isolation ward burst, and fell into small pices that bouinced this way and that. The heaviest oaken door remant was held up by the bent knob, in the hand of a distraught green clad man.

"Lee!" It was Guy. He looked stricken. "O Leeeee-eeee-eee-ee-e." He located the Hoakage, dropped the door, and hurried to her. "Tsunade... Lee is gone... he left me a note..."

"Calm down, Guy." Tsunade shook her head. "If you don't, I will sedate you I'll burn that green suit and keep you in a backless white hospital gown for a week!"

"What happened to Lee?" Naruto asked the prideful jounin. "Another note?"

"It doesn't say much," Guy said, sniffling. There were tears in his eyes. "He says that he had heard that Sakura was running away. He said that he was somehow responsible. He said that he couldn't let a girl run away by herself." He started tugging at his hair in dramatic fashion. "I looked for Lee and couldn't find him. Do you know where my rival Kakashi is? I need to find him. His dogs would be a big help." He sniffed again. When he was told that the Copy Ninja was away on a lenthy mission, he moaned like a ghost in a horrible horror flick. "Leeeee-eeee-eee-ee-e... I don't want you to become a missing ninja!" He struck up Deeply Affected Guy pose and cried out:

"O LEEEEEEE-EEEEEE-EEEEE-EEE-EEE-EE-E!"

"Yow," someone said walking into the ward. "I thought that someone was getting a rectal exam with an IV pole or something." It was Kiba. Akamaru had come in with him until the Hokage gave Kiba and the dog a rather forceful gesture. No pets allowed. No furry non-pet companions, either. The dog rushed to wait outside.

"I thought that might have been an overly dramatic death call," someone else said. Shino. "Like the ones in bad movies and televison."

"I knew it was sensei," that was Neji. "I've hear that noise many times before. Hello, cousin." He bowed his head to Hinata, who gave him a smile and a curtsy. "Are you gathering shinobi with good scouting skills, Lady Tsuande." His question was answered without words. A number of chakra-censor type ninjas had arrived at the small gathering.

"Yes," the Fifth ansered. She spoke in more detail... assigned teams... and sent off everyone but Naruto and Hinata. "I will assign you two as the final team. With your knowledge of Sakura, you might be able to think of possible destinations. I will give you twenty-four hours to find her and convince her to come back. Lee, too." She dismissed the two startled shinobi.

Before heading for the Main Gate, Naruto and Hinata made a quick stop to grab weapons and provisions. Running, Naruto slid to a halt just before the two of them passed through the Great Gate. He smacked his forehead protector and grinned. He had an idea.

"We should stop by Inarai's!" Naruto grabbed Hinata's hand and began pulling her after him at breakneck speed.

"Naruto-kun!" Hinata dug in her heels, pulled free, and watched as Naruto stumbled and rolled about askew, like an orange and black tumbleweed. "This is no time for a drink. You told Tsuande and I that you don't drink much any more. You shouldn't drink under pressure!"

"I'm not," Naruto said. "If only so I don't have to pee every few minutes while hopping along the tree tops." He brushed off dirt and street litter, picturing himself doing dynamic making Akamaru-style. "If you didn't know it, that was a joke." He sounded a little bit cross at being questioned. But, he wasn't truly miffed. It was nice that someone had his back. "I thought that a few rounds of Pachinko might brighten up our spirit. That would make searching a whole lot easier!"

Hinata just stood there, tapping one sandal on the cobblestone curb.

"Alright... alright..." Naruto tugged at one ear. "No more jokes. I just want to see if Sakura might have stopped in on another binge, or if Lee might have ducked in there looking for her. Any clue might prove important."

The two of them made their way into the pub. Neither hadn't been there for a few weeks, but the crowd acted as if they had been there every night for an eternity.

"NARUTO!" "HINATA!" "HI GUYS!"

"Hello everyone," Naruto waved cheerfully. People gathered around him and Hinata like moths to a flame.

"I thought that you two had forgotten about us!" The barkeeper stopped polishing glasses. After lifting part of the bar top up on a hinge, the beaming man hurried over to pound Naruto on the back. "You two have been coming less and less, since the re-opening week." Inari's had been destroyed with the rest of Konoha. It had been rebuilt bigger and better than before, and now was directly attached to a family restaurant. The Pachinko room and a largearcade were connected to the eatery, not the bar.

"We thought it was because you were busy becoming a dist- a distillerater... no... a-" An enebriated man accidentally poured his drink on everyones' shoes. His friend, even more toasted, was busy licking it all up.

"A manufacturer," a beverage server said. "The store owner bought the whole line." He whispered in Naruto's ear, looking a a bit unhappy. "But... well... they don't taste that great... sorry..."

"Why are you apologizing?" Naruto wrinkled his forehead. "What line?"

"These-" The barkeeper headed back behind the bar, gathered an arm full of decorated bottles, and placed them on the bartop. "The LET IT FLY brand of alcoholic beverages. Bad Boy Bourbon." He pushed one bottle to the front. The label had a painting of a mischievous looking Naruto peeing on shrine and making a V-sign with his fingers.

"Let'r Rip Rum." The server held up another bottle. The label had a picture of Naruto letting one crack in Kiba's face. Seeing that, Hinata turned pink. She looked at Naruto. He hadn't sponsored a line of hard liquors, had he? Was that what he had been doing on his me-time? She had always guessed that it was naughty anime and manga.

"This one reminds me of me," a tipsy baker claimed. That had everyone shouting him down, especially the two disgusted women he had been trying to pick up. "Stiff Breeze Scotch." The man handed the bottle to Hinata. "Suck on it as much as you want." He groaned when the one woman smacked him on the top of his balding head with a high-heeled shoe that she slipped off. The other gal kneed him just below his bulging belly.

"I-" Hinata looked down at the label. Her eyes rolled up. Having passed out, she fell like a human domino. Her plummetting body struck one boozing real estate agent, tipping him and his stool over. The man and his chair struck a drunken hairdresser, knocking her onto a belching plumber, who tipped over in turn. Soon enough, a dozen patrons were rolling around in peanut shells and bottle caps.

"Hinata... Hinata... are you OK?" Naruto had a sudden crazy thought. Had an enemy agent poisoned the outside of bottle? He covered his hand in a bar towel, picked up the Stiff Breeze, and looked at the label. O. So that was the reason. The illustration showed a tall erect penis flying a flag with the Uzumaki family crest, looking as if fluttered in a strong wind. He got very pissed very quickly. "This is sick. Is it somebody's idea of a joke?" He looked around the establishment.

As it turned out, some rather realistic looking salespeople had pushed the drink line onto the shop owner, saying they had Naruto's approval. They had had official looking documents.

"Someone is going to pay," Naruto said. He watched as the origami woman helped Hinata to her feet and gave her a glass of Fizzy Peach sparkling water. "When I'm done with my mission, I 'm going to tell Old Lady Tsunade what happened." Everyone cheered. Not for the future Hokage's civic nature, but for the tossing out of the sub-standard booze. Naruto strutted, thinking they were cheering him as their idol.

"Hoo-rah," a retired shinobi said. "We won't have to drink that shit any more." He, like the others, had been buying the fake brand to be patriotic. Naruto wondered how many watering spots might have been hit by the same or similar scams. Because he did lend his support to good causes, it was all too easy to have shifty characters make ilicit use of his name.

"Or this one, either." A dwarfish street peddler stood on a barstool. He held a clear glass boddle shaped like a naked woman. The eyes were painted white. "White Eyes and Smooth Thighs." He chuckled, leaned back, and took a swig of the Tequila. He hit the floor shortly after Hinata did. The glass woman looked a good deal like her.

When things were finally back under control, Naruto and Hinata started to explain why they had stopped by the pub. As they spoke, they noticed a large number of coins rolling across the floor. A ruddy-faced concert pianist was having a rather difficult time getting money into the spiffy new jukebox. Finally finished, he fingered five numbers on the keypad. Music began playing, loud. Naruto nearly had to shout to be heard.

Grabbed hold of your coat tail but it come off in my hand,
I reached for your lapel but it weren't sewn on so grand.
Begged, promised anything if only you would stay,
Well, I lost a lot of love over you.

Naruto couldn't help but think back to the fateful night that he had been rejected by Sakura, and Hinata had wandered into the old Inari's and his life, like a glowing candle lighting up a darkened room.

Fell down to my knees and I hung onto your pants,
But you just kept on runnin' while they ripped off in my hands.
Diamond rings, vaseline, you give me disease,
Well, I lost a lot of love over you.

Hinata thought back to that night, too. She had run from Naruto, feeling as if her world had shatterered around her like a cheap mirror. She was glad that Naruto had coming running after her.

I boogied in the ballroom, I boogied in the dark;
Tie you hands, tie you feet, throw you to the sharks.
Make you sweat, make you scream, make you wish you'd never been,
I lost a lot of love over you.

"I bet you wondered why we chose that song," a toothless glockenspeil player said. He was best buds with the concert pianist.

"Because it's title Turd On The Run," the pianist said, listing heavily to one side. People shrank away from the man. His fingers may have been tickling the ivories on a regular basis, but they hadn't touched a white or black bar of soap for an unfortunate number of days. "You know... with Sakura on the run..." There were still some there who held a grudge.

"SAKURA SUCKS!"

The Konoha Rugby squad took years to get a new idea into their collective heads. They reacted the same way that had on the fateful night, whenever they heard the pink-haired medical ninja's name mentioned.

The next song kicked in while Naruto was dressing down the sports club and trying to find someone who might have seen or heard about Sakura.

I bought a brand new airmobile
It was custom made
It was a Flight DeVille
With an outboard motor
And some hideaway wings
Push in on the button and you can hear her sing
Now you can't catch me
No, baby, you can't catch me
'Cause if you get too close
You know I'm gone like a cool breeze

"WTF," Naruto said, stopping mid-sentence. What the hell was an airmobile? A Flight De Ville? A De Ville of any sort. "Hey!" He didn't appreciate the sense of humor. The song was titled You Can't Catch Me. He walked over to the barkeep. "Is there someway to shut that song off?" When he was informed there was no way short of turning the power off, he went and looked for a plug. He would reimburse the pianist. It was too dark to make anything out behind the music player.

New Jersey Turnpike in the wee wee hours
I was rolling slowly 'cause of drizzlin' showers
Up come a flattop he was movin' up with me
Then come sailin' goodbye
In a little old suped up mini
I put my foot in my tank and I begin to roll
Moanin' sirens, was the state patrol
So I get out my wings and then I blew my horn
Bye-bye New Jersey I become airborne

"Shit!" Naruto didn't have time for this. He needed to ask more people about Sakura and Lee. "Kage Bunshin No Jutsu." A half dozen clones appeared. "You guys take care of it!" He waved his hands in a prefunctory manner. That was not a wise move. They initiative that unorchestrated bunshin showed usually was very primitive, as if the only tool they had was a hammer and everything on earth was a nail.

Now you can't catch me
No, baby you can't catch me
'Cause if you get too close
You know I'm gone like a cool breeze.

BANG. THUMP. WHAM. CONK-CONK-CONK. BOOOI-OOI-OING.

Well, the rough handling didn't stop the sturdy jukebox. But, it did cause the mechanism to switch to a random song. The barkeep chased the clones out of the pub with a big straw broom. A majority of the patrons called out in disgust and anger, since the band playing was not the customary rock group that was cued-up during Naruto's and Hinata's visits.

Put your gear into fire
Lay your bullets on the ground
Turn your head to desire
There's a woman going down

"G-" Hinata coughed after she shot some of her fizzy drink out through her nostrils. "Going down..." She should know better by bow. She shouldn't listen to anything that the coarser and earthier barflies said, and she definitely should pay little or no heed to hard rock song lyrics.

She said she'll rack you up, all the way
Then she gonna spit you out, count your days
She says choice is yours, casually
So why don't you do what comes naturally

"Whoa!" An off-duty guard suddenly stood up and shouted. His cloudy mind cleared for a brief moment. He recognized the song. "This song reminds me of Sakura, too!"

"SAKURA SUCKS SUCKS SUCKS!"

Sink the pink, it's all the fashion
Drink the drink, it's old fashioned
Gimme water, gimme wine
Gonna show you, a good time
Sink the pink, sink the pink

"What does sink the pink mean?" A long-necked laundry ladyasked before taking a long sip from a fancy drink sporting a tall origami parasol. "Is it... is it..." She blushed, feeling as if she were living her life dangerously. "Is it something d-i-r-t-y?"

"It's about pool," a postman said, running a gnarled hand through his freshly permed hair. "The game, not the swimming place. Billiards." He shrugged, as if everyone should have figured things out for themselves. "You heard the song. Rack you up. Like racking up billiard balls."

"I don't think that's right," a loopy librarian remarked. "Balls one through eight are solid color balls. The one ball is yellow. The two ball is blue. The three ball is red. The four ball is purple. The five ball is orange. The six ball is green. The seven ball is burgundy-"

"I'll drink to that!" A sectagenrian souse popped the cork on a bottle of Vin de Bourgogne... burgundy. He began chugging, a bourgeoisie way to treat a fine wine! Spots of the Grand Cru vintage splattered the front of the his wrinkled white shirt and his knee-length gray beard..

"Hey! Hinata!" A young man wearing a heavy metal T-shirt took advantage of the break in the discussion to ask a purposely charged question. He had once confessed to her, after seeing her in the Pachinko room one night. Naturally, she had turned him down. "What color are Naruto's balls?" He figured that would get the girl to collapse, and have him look like a cool and clever guy.

"I'd guess blue," a reformed thief offered. He was reformed only because of a prior encarceration, one that begun after he had been captured by Team Seven. While he had made a change in his life for the better, he still had an axe or two to grind.

A number of people chuckled or laughed. 'Blue Balls' is a semi-mythical slang term, referring to a condition that some urologists call epidymal hypertension. The condition is caused by prolonged sexual arousal that leads to testicular congestion, due to prolonged and unsatisfied excitement.

"Guy cramps!" One beer guzzling frat boy said.

"Hot nuts!" That came from his equally drunk roomie.

"Stone-ache!" That came from a randy old school marm. The look she gave the two young men had them paying their tab and running out into the night without their club colors.

"AHEM!"

The librarian had everyone's attention, including Hinata. She had stood strong, refusing to black out. She was blushing pinker than a petunia, and her knees were shaking a bit, but she was going to be okay.

"The eight ball is black, as everyone knows." The librarian continued. He hadn't stooped the nonsense to protect Hinata. He simply hated to be interrupted. "The nine ball has a yellow stripe. The ten ball has blue stripe. The eleven ball has a red stripe. The twelve ball has a purple stripe. The thirteen ball has a orange stripe. The fourteen ball has a green stripe. And the fifteen ball has a..." He walked over and moved the bugundy bottles out of the reach of the man who had interrupted him. "...Burgundy stripe. See, no pink. So-" He was interrupted again, this time by a dimunitive diva in high heels and a push-up bra.

"That's not entirey true, Mister Smarty Pants." She fluffed a fur boa draped around her neck. "Some pool ball sets come in pastel variations on the main theme. Including pink." She was a fan of all sorts of parlor games, playing matches in high society, and also visiting various dives and gin joints found in different nations.

"But!" A hammered horticulturist stood up on a wobbly table to voice his opinion. "Pink balls or not, if it's in a song like that, there must be another meaning to 'Sink the Pink'!" He promptly did an impromptu nose dive.

"That is correct." The speaker stood in the open entryway door. It was the temple monk, Bansai. "Sink the pink is about having sexual intercourse. You know... sinking something pink into someone... or sinking into something pink." He sighed, seeing the irony. Him. A monk. The guy knowing the most about sex. "To some people it has a more specific meaning. To have sex with a virgin-" The bald man in official robes walked over the the bar and gave the barkeep a hand signal for the drink he wanted. "-And to pop her cherry."

"P-... P-...P-...Pop..." Hinata tried her best, but it was too much for her. "Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-" She folded up like a cot and fell over backwards. Naruto caught her, cradling in his arms.

"Make it a double," the unconcerned monk said. "It's been a day of coincidences, and I hate coincidences."

"What coincidences?" The origami woman spoke after handing Naruto a phial of smelling salts.

"Well... for one thing... I walk in this place, and everyone is talking about sinking the pink." Bansai took a deep drink and let out a long satisfied sigh. "Earlier today, Sentoki and Zenza were busy speaking with an annoying pink-haired girl. Pink and pink. See." The bald-headed brother burped. He hated pink.

"Nani?" Naruto's ears twitched. He had been about to tell Bansai to speak properly around young women. But, he focused on the clue that he had been given. He grasped ahold of it the way a drowning man clutches a a tossed life preserver. "NANI?" Just how many pink-haired girls were there in the Leaf village? In the entire world. "Hey! Can you tell-" Naruto couldn't get a word in.

"If she wasn't bad enough," the monk added. "That guy in green really freaked me out." Could that be a reference to Rock Lee? "Oooooo-oooo-ooo-oo-oh this and Aaaaaa-aaaa-aaa-aa-ah that! Geez Louize." His hand shivered as he brought a drink to his lips. "And those eyes. Big and perfectly round. I don't know if he even blinks!" He slammed the glass down. "That hair cut... I swear... his barber must use a bowl!" He tried to pick up the next drink, but it slipped from his fingers. He had a strange look on his face, as if he had caught a glimpse of the Other Side. "That suit... that hideous suit... that hideous green s-t-r-e-t-c-h-y jumpsuit!" That had to be Lee, alright!

"There there," the origami woman patted the shivering monk on the back. She slid him a folded paper ryama in the shape of a llama. That figure symbolized 'endurance under difficult circumastances,' as well as 'responsibility' and 'hard work'.

"Here," the barkeep said kindly. "This one is on the house." He slid a bottle in front of the monk. A number of patrons walked over and handed the drink purveyor a stack of folded bills. The monk wouldn't have to pay for another drink that night. No one should have to deal with either a pink-haired girl or a guy with a green stretchy suit, much less both at the same time.

"He can drink after I talk with him," Naruto said, nudging people aside. "Hey, Mister Monk! You said theat the pink girl and green guy were with Sentoki. Does that mean that they were at the Fire Temple? Today? When you left?"

"Yes," Bansai said. "I walked from there. The two were still at the Temple when I left. But why-"

"LET'S GO HINATA!"

Naruto grabbed Hinata's wrist and the two of them went barreling out of the bar. They moved so quickly that they couldn't hear a single farewell. They left the village running at top speed, and made their way to one of the surrounding forests. They sped from tree bough to tree bough, feeling as if they had to make up for lost time. If there had been any onlookers, they would have barely made out two blurs.

"Are you sure you're OK," Naruto asked Hinata, the sound of rushing wind in his ears.

"Hai," Hinata replied.

"I think I'm going to need to get you a crash helmet or something," Naruto said, mostly in jest, referring to her baroom blackouts. "We don't want you scrambling your brains or something." He grinned and closed his eyes, but only for a moment. A moment was more than enough.

"OOPHFFF!"

Naruto smacked face first into a large tree. He left a smoking Naruto-shaped depression, falling backwards covered in splinters. Applying chakra to his sandal soles, he managed to keep from plummetting to his doom.

Hinata rushed to his aid. When she saw that he was no worse for wear, she quipped: Who's going to need a helmet, Naruto-kun?" She grinned when a pair of squirrels ran down the side of the tree, chittered their displeasure, and ran off, fluffy tails trailing behind them.

"Gomen," Naruto said, red-faced. Him and his big mouth! He checked that mouth, happy to see that he still had all of his teeth. He looked at the tree. A huge crack ran down the center of it. "Sorry!" That second apology was for the tree.

Hinata leaned over and kissed the top of Naruto's throbbing noggin. "There. That will make it better."

"..." Naruto grinned like a happy idiot. It was little things like that which often set his heart to soaring.

The two continued on their speedy sojourn, reaching the outskirts of the Fire Temple in record time. The shinobi monastery was still in the process of recovery, following the tragic visit of Hidan and Kakazu many months before. There was nearly a full compliment of ninja monks again, following that bloody purge.

"Byakugan!" Hinata searched the Monastery and its grounds with her talent. If Sakura and Lee were still there, she would be able to recognize them by their unique chakra circulation patterns. "There!" Hinata turned and pointed. Her aim placed the target of her vision outside of the Sealed Iron Walls of the Fire Temple. "Sakura! Lee too!" She waited a moment and then nodded her head. "They're heading in that direction." She pointed again. "They must be following one of the main forest paths."

"Let's go then!" Naruto was just about to dash off.

"There's someone else," Hinata said. "Coming up from behind us. They must have seen us by now. We'll have to wait."

"Huh?" Naruto made a sour face. "I'm not waiting for anyone. Sakura and Lee are out there. If we wait too long, they may pass one of the boundaries!"

"It's the Fire Daimyo," Hinata said. She stood at attention, even though there was no one there yet but herself and Naruto.

"Crap," Naruto said, shaking his head. He put a fake smile on his face and turned to watch the approach of a fancy palanquin carried by a dozen burly looking guardsmen. Even Kages bowed down before Daimyos. The village rulers had the ultimate power, and their orders were followed no matter what. It would be mighty bad mojo to get on one of their shit lists. "I hope this doesn't take long. Maybe we can just bow and they'll keep moving past us." That was what usually happened. Most of the time, the palanquins were shuttered, and the dignitaries were busy eating fresh fruit and having their nails done.

"STOP! STOP! STOP!"

A high pitched voice called out orders. It sounded like a woman's voice, but belonged to a thin frumpish looking man in make-up and silken finery. "I heard what one of you men said. Uzumaki Naruto is standing on our road. What a wonderful coincidence-"

"Coincidence." Naruto muttered under his breath. "I hate coincidence, too."

"We wish to express our great and generous gratitude," the Daimyo said, going on to ramble about Naruto's role in protecting the Leaf from Nagato, and later Uchiha Madara. "Open the shutters. Open the shutters. The shutters the shutters the shutters. Now now nowwww-www-ww-w." He then asked one servant to see if they had packed the medals box, so that he could gift the young hero with a suitable and splendid award. He audibly pouted when he was told 'no.' Blowing his nose, he considred sending a runner back to their point of origin. When he finally turned to look at the pair of ninjas, he forgot all about medals and such. "O my gracious. That orange. That bright and blinding orange!" He reached over and rang a small bell. A servant covered his eyes with her perfumed hands. "Maybe I should outlaw that! Yes, outlaw it! Hmmm... should I outlaw that?" He asked that question to his advisor of the month. The Daimyo had been through more advisors than Baskin-Robbins had flavors, just that year alone.

"Perhaps we should do some research there, your greatness." The advisor knew that the Daimyo would soon forget this newest vexation.

"Yes... fine... that will do..." The Daimyo looked somewhat relieved. But, he kept his hands on top of the serving girl's hands. "Just like with that perplexing and perturbing pink. Did we outlaw pink hair? Why should anyone have pink hair?" He had run across Sakura and Lee the day before, and had then went on to cancel his trip to the Temple, when he found out that the palanquin had not been packed with shaved ice and liquid flavorings. They were in visual range of the edifice at the time, but that hadn't mattered.

"That is a very clever question, greatness." The advisor winked at Naruto and Hinata. "We're researching that, too." He cringed, hoping the subject of green, grotesquerie, and gagging wouldn't resurface. The Daimyo had come perilously close to soiling himself at the sight of Rock Lee.

"Enough... enough... I'm not some child, you know." The Daimyo removed all hands from his face. He kept one up like a horse's blinder, so he coudn't view Naruto below the neck-line. He wanted to see who was with the boy. "O! Those eyes are splendid!" He was referring to Hinata's eyes, of course. "White! So pure and white! I think I should have white eyes, too!"

"You can ask the monks about that, greatness." The advisor signalled the guards to begin moving again. The Daimyo was talking happily to himself, the two travellers forgotten.

When the palanquin rounded a bend and they were out of line of sight, Hinata used her Byakugan again. She and Naruto headed off after the pair of runaway shinobi. In no time, she caught sight of their prey with her normal vision. Their own presence was noted a few heartbeats after that.

"Sakura!" That was Lee calling out. "We've been found."

"Who is it?" Sakura aked.

"It's Naruto... and Hinata..." Lee stopped in the middle of the packed dirt and took up a fighting stance.

"Finally-" Sakura's voice carried a touch of exasperation. That soon evaporated. "Finally you have a chance to fight for me, my lo..." She couldn't get the last word to leave her lips. "My hero." Bushes still wiggled where the kunoichi had jumped into concealment.

"Uuuuu-uuuu-uuu-uu-uh! I will not allow you to capture my Sakura!" Leaves and moss fragments began to swirl in a loose spiral around the green-clad ninja. "I am prepared to open five of the eight chakra Gates. You will not wish to face me when I do!"

"My-" Sakura's voice soon rang throughout the dale. "MY?" There was a slight pause. Her voice changed, sounding sweet and loving. "I mean... stop it... you're making me blush."

"Oi! Sakura-chan!" Naruto stood with his hands on his hips. "Why are you hiding? It's me, Naruto!"

"I know who it is!" Sakura sounded different again. This time there was a touch of fear or shame. But, it seemed forced. "That's why I'm hiding. I don't want you to see me like this!"

"What's wrong, Sakura?" Hinata used the Byakugan. In a quiet voice she said to Naruto. "One hundred yards straight ahead... four steps to the right... behind that large yew tree."

"Thank yew." Naruto quipped. "You know... like the tree..."

"Naruto-kun," Hinata said waggling her index finger. "This is no time for acting silly."

"You're right." Naruto took a deep breath. He worked familiar hand seals. "Kage Bunshin No Jutsu. Multi multi clones!"

Orange and blck clad clones covered the forest floor, like a crop of newly grown toadstools. They began running this way and that, forming concentric rings of bunshin. They closed in on the hidden Sakura.

"NO! KEEP BACK! STAY AWAY!"

Loud impacts echoed this way and that. The ground shook. Clones were struck out of existence at an alarming rate. "All of you just leave me alone!"

As Hinata rushed to keep Rock Lee at bay, the true Naruto switched into Kyuubi chakra mode. He literally flew to Sakura, a yellow flash. He caught her fist, and gently let it fall to her side. "Sakura-chan... what is this all about... you..." He stopped, catching sight of her body. He belly was bulging remarkably. "Is this what it's about?" He pointed at her swollen mid-section. "You've been away for months and..."

Sakura had been away from Konoha for a number of months. The Great Shinobi Wars had left many of the great Nations in bad shape. Lawlessness was well under control, but various illnesses and ailments had spread further and faster than crime and anarchy. Medical ninjas from numerous larger and smaller villages were making the rounds, sharing what healing secrets they could, and offering whatever assistance was necessary.

"...You've gotten fat!" Naruto punctuated his pointing with hand thrusts. "Really really fat!" He motioned to the rounded Sakura. "You make Choji look like he's on a diet!"

"BAKA!"

Naruto flew backward, crashing through a number of trees, his jaw distorted by his teammate's blow. Hinata rushed to catch him, as Lee sped to stand by the pink-haired girl's side.

"I... am... not... fat!" Sakura stomped her foot. "I'm pregnant!"

That word echoed in Naruto's and Hinata's ears.

Pregnant. Pregnant. Pregnant. Pregnant. Pregnant. Pregnant. Pregnant. Pregnant.

"Pregnant?" Naruto stumbled backwards, his jaw falling like a trapdoor. "Pregnant, as in pregnant pregnant?" The gears in his mind had a difficult time connecting. ""Y-You..." He felt as if he had become a spirit, having floated free of his corporeal form. "P-P-Pregnant..." He looked over at Lee. "B-B-B-By..." The rush of noise in his ears could have come from an air raid siren. "H-H-H-H-Him..."

"..." Hinata brought her hand to her mouth. Should she stay silent? Should she offer condolences? Or, should she congratulate her friend? She was befuddled. Of all of the girls, Sakura should have been the best prepared. The clinic had every type of birth control known to modern science. She used the Byakugan one again. Her eyes narrowed. She wouldn't give things away, wanting to see how Sakura reacted.

"I... I didn't..." Sakura looked and Sounded crestfallen. "I didn't want you to see me like this. I don't want anyone to see me. I'm so-" She put her face in her hands. Crocodile tears rained out between her fingers. "I's so very ashamed." When Lee rubbed her back, she elbowed him in the gut out of reflex. She made a small noise, and rushed to comfort him. "I'm sorry, Lee. It's not really your fault."

"Yes it is," Lee said, standing taller, striking a Nice Guy pose. Light pinged off of his teeth in Guy-fashion. "It was I who violated your lush and innocent body!" Sweat drops formed at his temples. "It was I who shamefully planted my seed in your fertile garden!" He turned to look at Naruto and Hinata. "Sakura was drunk. She was very sad and very lonely. She offered me just one sip. I was a fool to accept it because-"

"Centipede brows!" Naruto stared at Lee incrediously. "You. That fighting style. Suiken. The Drunken Fist. A single drop of alcohol will make you lose control." He swallowed hard. "Lose control and become-"

"Unpredictable." Sakura said. "A furious fighting machine. An even wilder f-" Sakura made a strange choking noise. She couldn't finish with that rather risque follow-up.

"F?" Naruto rubbed his chin. "F!" He swung around to stare at Lee. "I-" He felt a shot of guilt. Had this all come about, because he had been harrasing Sakura about Lee? Was that what the saying meant? The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. "You. You are the last person I would expect to do something like that, drunk or not!" He folded his arms across his chest, a suspicious look in his eyes.

"I... you see... it... I... that is..." Lee looked like a millipede in reverse, stumbling all over himself. "I did not know who I was. I burned with the ferile and feverish flames of youth, my honor and friendship forgotten. I was the epitome of fornicating fury!" He tried to create a Bad Boy pose and failed miserably. His head hung. He couldn't force himself to take a leading role in something like this, even if he was just acting. "I couldn't help but succumb to Sakura's seduction."

"Sakura?" Naruto looked from Lee to Sakura. Was that any more believable?

"Seduction?" Sakura's eyes flashed.

"..." Lee looked like a deer frozen by an approaching headlights.

"Seduction?" Sakura rolled up one sleeve and then the other. An oni would have a prettier face than she did at that instant.

"Ahhh-" Lee began backing away, quicker and quicker, until he backed himself up against a hulking evergreen.

"SEDUCTION... YOU'RE PUTTING THE BLAME ON ME... YOU'RE MAKING ME LOOK LIKE SOME KIND OF SLUT?

"Sw-... sweet-... sweetheart..." Lee found that he was to frightened to move. "P-... Pum-... Pumpkin..." He was never one to give into fear. But, this was the most deadly situation he had ever found himself in. Fighting against Gaara and Kimimaro was sissy stuff by comparison.

"Sweet... heart... my... ass..." Sakura struck out with a single finger. When Lee ducked, she struck the tree. A loud peel of thunder rolled throughout the peacful valley. Three tree became sawdust in the blink of an eye. With the Inner Sakura screaming encouragement, she moved her eyes down at a quivering Lee, targeting him as if she were a Terminator. "Hasta la vista... baby..."

"Baby!" Hinata moved to restrain Sakura. "There... is... no... baby!" She hung on like a terrier as the other girl shook her well-muscled arm this way and that.

"That's it!" Sakura stomped her foot. Lee bounced a full two feet into the air. Naruto almost lost bladder control. Hinata let go when her friend's anger ebbed. "I will apologize to Tsunade later. I will accept her disappointment in me. But I can't put up with this charade any more."

"I am sorry," a crestfallen Lee said, his heart no longer in his throat and his testicles no longer hidng in his inguinal canal. "I... oooo-ooo-oo-oh... I am a failure..."

"You mean-" Naruto looked at a sulking Lee, and then over at a glowering Sakura. Hinata's announcement hadn't registered. "You mean that Lee is not the father." That somehow sounded more plausible, even though it still didn't sound like Sakura. "You got knocked up by some guy in another village?"

"IDIOT!"

Without looking, Saukra swung her arm like a gate. Naruto went tumbling ass over teacups. He bounced from tree to tree like a supercharged Pachinko ball. In fact, momentarily stunned, he slumped to the ground and made an odd little noise that almost sounded like ding... ding... ding...

"Naruto-kun!" Hinata ran to her boyfriend. When his eyes stopped spinning, and he told her that he was okay, she explained "Sakura is not pregnant." She felt a bit sheepish. Maybe she should have told him right away that her Blood Limit ability had allowed her to see that the huge swelling under Sakura's clothing was not a part of her.

"Lee!" Sakura snapped her fingers. Lee hurried behind her. "The straps! Undo them!"

"Yes," Lee said, fingers trembling. He might actually touch Sakura if he slipped. Carefully, he lifted up the oversized maternity dress that the apple of his eye was wearing, and slipped a number of belt-like straps from their buckles. When the last one was open, a heavy leather contrivance hit the forest floor with a resounding thud.

"The damn thing is heavy!" Sakura picked up the bilky leather object and dangled it in front of Naruto, who had limped his way back. "The Empathy Belly," she said. "Some OB-GYN clinics keep these for fathers-to-be to wear, so they can see what it feels like to be pregnant." She flicked a hidden switch and the sack-like object began moving. "It can simulate fetal movements. And it places pressure on the wearer's bladder, so he has to pee more frequently."

"And it leads to waddling-" Lee had been told about the device by Sakura and the Shizune Sakura had returned to the Leaf a few weeks earlier, but kept out of sight at Tsunade's order.

"Waddling?" Sakura's eyes flashed.

"Low back aches... fatigue..." Lee nodded his head. Wanting to be a good pretend father, he had donned the contrivance one moonless evening, and ran numerous laps around the village. "And... of course... irritability..."

"Irritability..." Sakura rolled up her sleeves again. "Of course..." She swung theEmpathy Belly like a bolo. She let it fly. It flashed towards Lee's crotch area. Yes, she had been irritable quite often. But, she did not appreciate hearing that truth. Not one bit. And she had not been waddling or peeing more often on purpose. Saying that she was on edge would be an understatement.

"Lee. Look out. Don't let the baby hit the ground." That was Naruto. He watched as Lee switched into action without thinking. He had pushed just the right button to make his buddy save his own skin.

"Ehhhhh-hhhh-hhh-hh-h!" Lee did a flying kick and caught the Belly with one arm. He landed safely, no harm done.

"That's no way to treat your sweet little bundle of joy, Sakura-chan." Naruto grinned. "Just what kind of mother are you?"

"I think you owe Naruto and I an explanation," Hinata said. "Although I think I already know the answer." She had a very sharp mind. The word 'coincidence' had come up a number of times that day. She did not think any of this was coincidence.

"I'm sorry for being such a loser," Lee said sadly. "It is my fault that the deception failed. I will take responsibility for the explanation." He felt doubly shamed, faltering in front of the girl he had a monumental crush on.

"You don't have to do that," Sakura said with a sigh. "Don't think that I didn't realize just how difficult this would be for you." Sakura knew how Lee felt. She didn't like it mind you, but she understood. Lee had wanted to get on her good side, so he had volunteered to help in the Hokage's plan. "I guess I do get a little irritable some times..." She shrugged. She managed to smiled a little smile. "Dealing with you was a lot easier that putting up with two numbskulls at the same time." She paused before saying "I wonder how Sai's doing?"

"Sakura-chan!" Naruto didn't miss that little dig.

"So... Sakura..." Hinata spoke up. "The Hokage sent you on a mission. You were to be reinforcement of her lesson, right?" She had her answer, watching the other girl's eyes. But, Naruto would need to hear more. "The shock of seeing you pregnant was a way to make certain that her message stuck, even after the truth was told."

"True," Sakura admitted. "We all know the dangers of alcohol, right? People behave different under the influence. Men fight more. People drive more recklessly. They engage in more risky behavior." She stretched a bit. He back ached from her physical ordeal. "Some women get into sexual situations where they end up with more than they expected. You know-" She patted her slender belly. "An unwanted pregnancy. Or a sexually transmitted disease."

"The Hokage wanted to make certain that Naruto wouldn't end up having a drinking habit." Lee looked torn, saying that. He didn't believe that Naruto had any issues with alcohol. But, how could he take even the slightest chance? Friends were the true wealth of the Leaf! "But... there was more... she wanted to make certain that your lectures to the villagers would be a success. She had been looking for a way to turn your spark turn into a bonfire."

"I care about you," Sakura said. Her features softened remarkably. She might get angry at Naruto from time to time, but she was very fond of him. She regretted the way that she had treated him at the dance. Seeing how happy Hinata was these days, she had begun wondering what might have happened if she had given into her original feelings. "And... well... I had started drinking some, too. Tsunade helped me see that. She helped me stop."

"Sakura is very clever," Lee added. It was an honest feeling, not an attempt at kissing-up. "She came up with the plan. She convinced the Hokage that it was a good idea. She carried that weight for you." He also wanted to be certain that Naruto didn't see any of this the wrong way. This wasn't about doubt. This wasn't about pessimism. This was about love. This was about optimism.

"I see-" Naruto winked at Hinata, having turned his head so that only she could see. "You are both a credit to the Will of Fire!" He hung his head, and tried to sound sad and dejected. In actuality, he was feeling impish. He was never quick to see the bad side in people or their actions. Everyone knew that. How many times had he turned an enemy into a friend? "I understand... just like on a mission... there are times when you have to put your duty before friendship." It hadn't been Sakura and Lee alone. Other shinobi had been in on this little con job. Well, maybe not Guy. Because of the way that Konoha's Prideful Green Beast routinely acted, it was hard to tell when he was overacting or simply acting normally.

"How could you," Hinata said. She wiped at an eye. There were no tears there. Well, there almost had been tears there when she had been touched by Sakura's an Lee's feelings for Naruto. They would do anything for him. "With all that Naruto has done for you. For the entire village." She turned away from Lee and Sakura. They thought that she had begun weeping. Rather, she was trying not to smile. Naruto was rubbing off on her. She felt a bit impish, too.

"Well, I'll be certain to tell Granny Tsunade that you two played your parts wonderfully." Naruto folded his arms across his chest and stuck out his jaw. "Of course, that won't be the only person we talk to. Right, Hinata-chan?"

"Hai!" Hinata tossed her hair. Where was her boyfriend going to go with this.

"I bet this was partly personal, too." Naruto snorted. "Sakura and Lee were probably jealous of the two of us." He had baited the hook. Now it was time to see if he could get his two friends to bite. "Everything has its price, does it not?"

"Right!" Hinata gave Naruto a V-sign. She knew what he was up to. It would be fun to play along, as long as they didn't overdo things.

"Cost?" Lee was totally at a loss. He was far too innocent a soul to think of any kind of scheme or subplot.

"Wait!" Sakura's eyes narrowed. She bit her lip and tensed her shoulders. She knew Naruto all too well. "You don't mean-" He might just decide that she and Lee had overstepped their bounds. But, he was never truly a resentful person, right. She knew him better than anyone except Hinata, didn't she?

"We need to give lectures that capture the heart of our audience," Naruto said, nodding his head. "We need to use true life examples. Examples that will make certain that the message sticks!"

"Sakura and Lee, knocking boots." Hinata felt light-headed, saying that. Her tongue felt thick, as if it were a boot tongue. "Who would have thought it?"

"Knocking boots?" Lee looked down at his feet, and then at Sakura's. They were wearing sandals.

"Bonking," Naruto said. He gave Hinata a look that said 'Be strong.' He wasn't going to be obscene. "Doing the humpty dance. Pen... e...tration...." He scowled. Lee stilled looked clueless. What was worse, the influence that Jiraiya once had on him, of the one that Guy had on Lee? No young man should be that naïve! "Nookie."

"Naruto-" Sakura was growing angry. She also couldn't help but feel a tad embarrassed.

"Huh?" Lee looked over at Sakura. "Do you know what he's talking about?" He watched in awe as redness spread slowly up from her toes, cresting at the nape of her neck like she was a human alcohol thermometer.

"Sex," Hinata said. Short. Sweet. And to the point. Lee froze.

"Hinata!" Naruto struck a sprinter's pose. "Let's go!" They had a brief advantage now.

"Sure!" Hinata and Naruto took off like twin cannonballs fired from the same cannon.

"LEE! EARTH TO ROCK LEE!"

Sakura never wanted to take advantage of Lee's feelings for her. That would be wrong. She wasn't that kind of girl, and Lee was too nice of a guy. But, this was a special situation. And, both of their reputations were at stake. Trapped by the suddeness of the situation, she wasn't thinking clearly.

"Sakura-chan?" Lee regained his senses.

"Lee. They're trying to hurt me." Sakura sniffled. She held both hands together, just below her neck. "You hate that, right?" Lee was the only person on earth who might get fooled by this act.

"Huh?" The question caught Lee by surprise, but his reaction was spontaneous. "Right." His eyebrows formed a shaggy 'V' on his forehead.

"They're going to tell stories about me. I will never be able to date a boy. I will be a laughing stock." Sakura hung her head and then fell to her knees. "You won't let them do that, will you?"

"No!" Lee glowed with a strange aura. He began pawing at the ground like a green bull.

"Then stop them!" Sakura lay flat with a heart-wrenching moan. "We have to convince Naruto to forgive and forget." She sprang back up and began running, the moment that Lee took off as if he were launched by a steam catapult.

"OOOOOOO-OOOOOO-OOOOO-OOOO-OOO-OO-OH!"

All four shinobi were speeding through the peaceful country side, passing through forest, glen, and dale at a miraculous pace.

"That'll teach'em." One league into their run, Naruto signalled Hinata and slowed down a touch. Neither he nor Hinata truly meant to follow up on their threats. It was just a giant burn in the making. They knew that the other two ninjas were acting out of true friendship, as well as following orders. Just the same, they wanted the others to remember something very important: "Pay back is a bitch!" He thought about stopping now. He had gotten the two all riled up. But, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. He truly appreciated the trick that they had played on him. He understood that they had wanted to put emphasis on an important lesson. He was simply doing the same.

"Ummm-" Hinata had looked over her shoulder. "We're not out of the woods yet, so to speak."

"Huh?" Naruto looked, too. "Holy shit!" He felt his hair go on end. Lee was closing ground rapidly, moving with an odd stiff-armed and stiff legged running style. "You don't think he would-" Their friend must be opening his chakra gates. How else could he be moving like a runaway locamotive?"

"We can't let him hurt himself, Naruto-kun." Hinata prepared to come to a complete stop. No joke was worth letting a friend get hurt.

"I'll stop him," Naruto said. "Watch and learn." He took a deep breath and shouted loud enough for anyone within a a half-mile to hear him. "Look out, Hinata! Lee is acting psycho again. He must have taken a drink and gotten sex-crazed again!" Of course, that had been a fiction on Lee's part. That didn't matter. All he needed to do was say what he said next. "He's probably trying to steal your panties!"

"Gah!" Lee went completely stiff, He hit the ground at high speed and plowed up an ever increasing pile of dirt in front of him. He snapped out of his fugue, stood up, and shook a fist at the rapidly retreating forms. "That is a lie! I would never do that! I am a true champion of justice!"

"Let's go champ," Sakura grabbed Lee's arm in passing, almost pulling it clear from its socket. "Buckle up!" She reached back and threw him with inhuman strength. He became a projectile, closing in on his two friends. "Stop them. We have to talk some sense into Naruto." She felt a bit foolish after saying that. She had allowed him to get her all worked up. She was becoming more certain by the moment that her teammate was teasing.

"I won't let you hurt Sakura!" Lee's lips were flapping, like those of astronauts and pilots being tested at high g-force. "If I do not stop you, I will run a thousand laps around the village on my hands! Ahhhhh-hhhh-hhh-hh-h!"

"Lee!" Naruto admired his buddy's fighting spirit and sense of right and wrong. But, he was not about to lose. "Don't be such a chauvenist! Girls can fight for themselves, right? No, they should fight for themselves!" He grinned. He hoped that Lee wouldn't hurt himself too much. "Sakura should say something like, 'If I don't stop them, I will give Lee a thousand lap dances'." He added a definition of that sexy specialty, to be on the safe side.

"Gurk!" Lee's arms and legs shot out straight and stiff rom his body. They moved so quickly, that his clothing stretched flat like webbing, instead of clinging tightly to his limbs. He looked like a freakish flying squirrel. "Eeeee-eeee-eee-ee-e-" He had absolutely no control, soaring like a pilotless fighter plane.

Naruto couldn't bear to watch. He heard a loud splash. Lee had flown out over a lake and then lost the ability to fly. He held a hand up and came to a stop. Hinata followed suit. They would check on Lee if they had to. However, there was someone more suited to that task.

"Sakura-chan!" Naruto's shout had him teammate zeroing-in on him. She arrived shortly thereafter. "Lee just fell into the big lake. He might need your help." While he and his fellow ninjas might seem indestructible at times, it never made sense to make assumptions.

"Like I'm going to fall for that one," a furious Sakura said.

"It's true," Hinata claimed. "If you don't go, then I will. There may be no time to waste."

"I wasn't going to spread any rumors anyway," Naruto said. Just as his is teammate was about to hurry on her way, he chuckled. "I should probably serenade her." He began singing loudly, sounding more like a toad croaking. He grinned, picturing Sakura sinking in the water, recovering Lee.

Sink the pink, it's all the fashion
Drink the drink, it's old fashioned
Gimme water, gimme wine
Gonna show you, a good time
Sink the pink, sink the pink

"Naruto-kun!" Hinata gave her boyfriend a rather painful pinch. "Behave!"

"Yes, dear."