Naruto stopped, staring at the Great gate of Konoha.
He smiled, thinking how wonderful everything looked.
It had been over two years since his last visit back, and that had come during a long rainy week filled with thunderstorms, book tests, and his routine medical check-up.
Today, Spring was in the air. The sky was clear. The sun was shining down.
It was the kind of day that could bring nothing but favorable omens.
"Uzumaki Naruto deserves some good luck. And, the best bowl of Ramen the village has to offer!"
It was great training with Jiraiya, but it certainly put a crimp on his social life. He might have seen more naked women than most of the guys in the Leaf, but it was always through a telescope, a knot hole in a fence, or on a cliff edge overlooking the waterfall pool.
It would be nice to see his friends. It would also be sweet if he could come across Sakura. Now that Sasuke the wonder boy was long gone, maybe she would see how much better it was to fall for someone with a good heart. Hell, she might coming running to his arms, if Lee was still chasing after her unsuccessfully.
Yes, after years of training, he had everything that Sasuke had. Talent. Power. An indomitable will. Everything. Well, everything except for pretty boy good looks.
How much did that really matter?
Somewhere out there, was a girl for the future Hokage. His brilliance and blinding charm would wear her down, shortly after his good fortune brought her into his life. If not Sakura, then who else?
Ino had grown into a real beauty. And, after Shikamaru had dumped her and taken up with Temari, her personality had begun to change for the better, after everyone had told her how much of a bitch she had been.
Ten Ten was even more of a looker. The last time he had been to Konoha, she had been chasing Neji with little success. Maybe she had given up on him. Naruto certainly wouldn't mind if she wanted to help him with his Taijutsu practice.
Hinata had also started to blossom. She would never have the striking beauty of the other girls, but she might end up the cutest one of the bunch. He just wished she wasn't still so shy and self conscious. But, who knows, that might have changed.
In any case, there were other shinobi Ten Ten's age, and some cute ninja girls younger than his own group. Not that he would restrict his eye to warrior women.
Why shouldn't the civilian gals have a chance at good luck?
Remembering a tune he had heard in the other village, he began to sing. It had the guards looking at him strangely as he passed under the massive stone archway.
took my troubles down to Madame Ru
You know that gypsy with the gold-capped tooth
She's got a shop down on 34th and Vine
Sellin' little bottles of Love Potion Number Nine…"
Walking down the avenue that would take him to his favorite old ramen haunt, Naruto caught sight of a group of young village women in nice clothing. They must be out on lunch break.
"Hi girls!" he shouted, waving. He put on his best smile.
The girls didn't even look in his direction.
They must not have heard me, he thought.
told her that I was a flop with babes
I've been this way since before I could shave
She looked at my palm and she made a magic sign
She said "What you need is Love Potion Number Nine…"
As he turned one corner, Naruto ran into a girl carrying a stack of parcels. They tumbled to the ground, some bouncing out into the street. One balanced precariously on the edge of a storm drain.
Speaking an apology, the young shinobi helped pick up all the packages before they could be trod on, making use of Kage Bunshin.
When the clones had all left, he asked the girl if she might like to join him for lunch.
"Sorry," the girl said, hurrying on her way. "I usual date guys from my species."
Scratching his head, Naruto pursed his lips. She must be the shy type. Probably thought that a ninja was out of her league, and was trying to make jokes to cover up her feelings of inadequacy.
Must be tough being a girl.
bent down and turned around and gave me a wink
She said "I'm gonna make it up right here in the sink"
It smelled like turpentine, it looked like Indian ink
I held my nose, I closed my eyes, I took a drink…"
The next group of ladies he came across were all carrying mops and buckets, wearing long aprons, their hair tied with bandanas. They must be maids or one of the city cleaning crews. Some of them were pretty cute.
Naruto began walking with a strut, throwing his chest out. He stopped and leaned against a tall lamp post, right where the women would have to pass. He bowed when they stepped around him.
"Good afternoon, ladies!"
The girls all looked at him…… looked at each other…… and then burst out snickering and laughing, some not bothering to hide their amusement behind their hands.
Naruto just shook his head.
didn't know if it was day or night
I started kissin' everything in sight
But when I kissed a guard down on 34rd and Vine
He broke my little bottle of Love Potion Number Nine…"
He began playing air guitar on his kunei.
The people walking by the cheerful ninja didn't know quite what to make of him.
Naruto didn't care. It was a beautiful day. He was starving after his long walk. And there were at lest twelve bowls of Ramen with his name on it.
As he looked for a vacant seat, he continued with his singing.
I held my nose, I closed my eyes, I took a drink
didn't know if it was day or night
I started kissin' everything in sight
when I kissed a guard down on 34th and Vine
He broke my little bottle of Love Potion Number Nine
Potion Number Nine
Love Potion Number Nine
Love Potion Number Nine
There was one seat open at a table filled with cute shinobi girls.
No doubt they would be glad to eat with a ninja of his caliber.
x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
A group of butterflies moved from flower to flower, almost looking like a living yellow cloud.
Barking, a young dog chased the insects, leaping from one side of a low hedge to the other.
Three shinobi labored under the weight of large glass bottles, carefully making their way down a series of broad concrete steps bordered by ornate metal railings. Other people using the path stepped onto the neatly cutgrass to get out of their path.
"Please be very cautious," Shino said. "The substances are not volatile, but the bottles are glass. It took a long time for the technicians to produce each batch." He shifted the bottle in his arms slightly.
"OK, Shino." Hinata struggled with her container. Her arms had begun to tremble some.
"Yeh yeh. Whatever you say, man." Kiba grunted, hefting his bottle a little higher. "Just what is this stuff any way?"
"Pheromones," the boy in the dark glasses answered, his voice muffled slightly by his high collar. "Or, to be precise, raw extract that my family will use to create various insect pheromones."
"Huh?" Kiba watched as Akamaru started running in and out of small spaces under the long line of shrubs.
"Pheromones and semiochemicalsare signaling chemicals that organisms can detect in its environment, which may modify its behavior or its physiology. They are usually wind borne but may be placed on soil, vegetation or various items. Each species of insect relies on some one hundred chemicals in its life, to engage in such routine activities as finding food and mates, aggregating to take advantage of food resources, protecting sites of oviposition, and escaping predation. It has been found that pheromones may convey different signals when presented in combinations or concentrations. Pheromones differ from sight or sound signals in a number of ways. They travel slowly, do not fade quickly, and are effective over a long range. Sound and sight receptors are not needed for pheromone detection, and pheromone direction is not limited to straight lines."
"Oh!" Hinata said, wishing that Kiba had not asked that question. If Shino got on one of his rare talking binges….
"Finding food might be good about now," Kiba laughed. "Though Akamaru might be more interested in finding a mate." He smiled a devilish smile. "Just like Hinata…."
Hinata gasped, coming very close to dropping her bottle.
"Pheromones are classified into several subcategories on the basis of the type of interaction they mediate," Shino turned to give Hinata a meaningful stare. She bit her lip and tried to be more careful. "Sex pheromones are chemicals that bring both sexes together. Aggregation pheromones are chemicals that cause an increase in the density of the animals in the vicinity of the pheromone source. Trail pheromones are chemicals secreted by workers of social insect to recruit other individuals to food source or to a new colony site. Alarm pheromones are chemicals that stimulate escape or defense behavior. There are other types too, if you wish to hear about them. Dispersal pheromones, maturation pheromones, and so forth.
"Ummm…." Hinata didn't want to be rude.
"Well-l-l-l-l-l-l-l…… no!" Kiba said., laughing.
Shino just stared at him, but it would be hard to tell that because of the glasses.
"Don't bust a gut, guy," Kiba said. "It's just that I've heard about similar stuff at home. Scents are real important to dogs. A dog that pees on a fire hydrant is leaving scents behind to claim territory. A female dog in heat releases scents that will attract all male dogs living within a radius of several miles."
Hinata swallowed hard, waiting for Kiba to make one of his embarrassing comments to her again. Fortunately, he didn't.
"The sense of smell is vitally important to dogs. Smells are a form of communication…… not just a way to mark territory, but also a method of tracking down friends and enemies. Lactating females release substances called that reassure the young pups. My family has shown how important a canine's own naturally-produced scents can be in helping the animal to stay calm in a crisis. Those might be pheromones too, right?"
"Yes," Shino said. "But, in dealing with mammals, however, scientists faced an entirely different problem. Compared to insects, whose behavior is stereotyped and highly predictable, mammals are independent and very complex. Their behavior varies greatly, and it is not always clear how pheromones work in them."
"So-o-o-o-o-o-o-o," Kiba said chuckling. "Might some pheromones be able to work as sex pheromones in people?" He smiled at Hinata, who looked away and blushed. "If Hinata put some in her perfume, the next time she saw Naruto…."
"Kiba-kun!" Hinata looked around to see if anyone had heard her team mate.
"That might be necessary," Shino said seriously. "Pheromone would work, whether or not the recipient creature was totally clueless."
That comment had Kiba howling with laughter. "Of course, it would probably be simpler if she simply told the guy that she liked him."
Shino stopped, remaining silent.
"You're right, Shino." Kiba shook his head and smiled. "With Naruto, that might not be enough."
x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
The girls laughed and whispered as they walked along.
While it might be a fine day for eating lunch outside at a café, it was also a wonderful time for gossip and daydreaming.
As they strolled along, Ari, Hotaru, Kaiko and the other younger girls made it a point to walk between Ino and Sakura. Ten Ten was observant enough to notice that, amused that her two friends still had their rivalry going strong. She would make certain to sit between them at the restaurant.
The younger shinobi were all excited, talking about the boys they favored, or who had asked whom out.
"But we'll make a pact," Kaiko said. "We'll never…… ever…… go after the same boy…."
Ari, Hotaru, and the others laughed. "Why would we ever do that?" Ari asked. "It's not like we're…." Hotaru started.
'SHHHHHHH!" The young girls as a group shushed Hotaru.
"We've grown beyond that," Sakura said, knowing what they were all thinking. "At least I have. Ino usually lags behind a bit!" She put a big smile on her face.
"Ah hah hah hah," Ino tittered. "Someone is lost in her dream world again. I'm glad that I don't have an 'Inner Ino,' so I don't get confused all the time." She chuckled. "And, it might be best if we don't discuss behinds…."
"You-" Sakura began turning red in the face.
"So-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o…." Ten Ten deftly stepped into the conversation. "The Girl's Dance is coming up next month. Who's everyone thinking of asking? Ino?"
"She's probably going to ask Shikamaru…." Sakura said, a nasty grin on her face. "Oooops……my bad…… he's already dumped her for Temari…." Her eyes widened in delight when she saw Ino stumble a moment. "Maybe she's better off with Kiba…… he likes dogs…."
"Please-" Ten Ten wasn't able to diffuse things that time.
"Shikamaru in not such a catch," Ino said, practically growling. "And Kiba's not that bad looking, actually. Unlike the boys who chase after a certain pink-haired girl with an enormous forehead" It was Ino's turn to chuckle. "The only reason Lee is interested is because of those weird eyes of his. They must not see things the same as everyone else. I mean, who else ever asks Sakura out on a date?"
"Well…." This time Ten Ten was able to get her words in edgewise. "If Naruto was still in the village, he would be pining away for one of his old team mates."
"Sasuke?" Ino asked.
Sakura ignored Ino, answering Ten Ten instead. "Geeez. Way to ruin my appetite. Naruto's a nice guy and all…… and he was a good team mate…. but ugh! He is not exactly dating material. It was always 'Sakura-chan' this and 'Sakura-chan' that."
"Uh huh," Ino said. "Just like it was always 'Sasuke-kun' this and 'Sasuke-kun' that…." She laughed. "I admit I had a crush on him, but you were pathetic…."
"You-" Sakura never got her words out.
"So, who was this Naruto?" Kaiko asked. "Wasn't he the boy who beat Hinata's cousin in the arena a number of years ago?"
"Right! I remember thinking he was kind of cute when I saw him blowing kisses to the crowd." Ari tried to remember what Naruto looked like.
"I've heard the name before," Hotaru said. "Some people don't seem to like him very much."
"Trust me," Sakura said. "He's not someone you'd be interested in. He was short, scruffy, loud, persistent, and obnoxious. Not to mention reckless and impatient. Those were his good traits." She laughed. "It was always Ramen, Ramen, Ramen, or Hokage, Hokage, Hokage…."
"He's gotten taller, but I doubt much else has changed, considering that he trains with that Frog Hermit." Ino waved her hand, as if dismissing Naruto altogether. "There's not a single girl in this village who would probably give him the time of day, just looking at him."
"Except for Hinata…." Ten Ten clarified.
"True," Ino agreed.
"Yes…… poor Hinata…." Sakura looked at each member of their little congregation, wondering if she had overlooked their diminutive friend. "Where is she, any way?"
"She said that she was helping someone with something, and would meet us at the café." Ten Ten answered.
"Let's change the subject, then." Sakura shook her head. "Anything but Naruto…."
x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
Naruto was in a bit of a huff.
Not only had the young shinobi at the Ramen shop been cold to his request to join them, they had also purchased the last of the ready noodles.
He was not about to sit around waiting while the chef made up the next batch!
So, arms pumping and legs moving quickly, he wove his way through the crowd, headed for his second favorite restaurant. Smiling, he decided to look on the bright side. There must be a reason that things turned out as they had.
Looking across the avenue, he caught sight of a young woman with pink hair, walking with a group of fellow ninjas.
It was Sakura!
His luck was looking up already.
"SAKURA-CHAN!" Naruto shouted, waved, then began running.
The girls, for their part, all looked in his direction when they heard the shout. Ino began grinning. Ten Ten shook her head. The younger girls all looked on, curious.
Sakura, her eyes going wide, mumbled "No way" and took off running. She aimed herself towards her destination and away from Naruto. But, she had misjudged his speed.
At the same time, Shino, Kiba, and Hinata had just about reached the bottom of the winding length of stairs.
"W-W-Was that Naruto-kun's voice?" Hinata asked, distracted. She placed one foot too far ahead, sliding off of the step. Only by slamming into Kiba's back did she remain upright. She fumbled her bottle, but sat down hard, securing it in her lap.
"Ha! That's what you get when you don't pay attention!" Kiba laughed. He had spoken much too soon.
Akamaru, hot in pursuit of a wild-eyed squirrel, ran right between Kiba's legs. Still not a large dog by any means, he was big enough to trip his companion.
"No! Not good!" Shino watched as Kiba's bottle arced through the air. Placing his bottle down, he made a run for the liquid-filled missile.
"Good catch, Shino." Hinata said, seeing her friend catch the large container.
Not much later, she bit her lip, seeing Sakura slam into Shino as he stepped out into the street. The bottle flew up out of the shinobi's arms.
Watching the bottle descending towards her head, Sakura reached up to make the grab.
"I'll save you Sakura-chan!"
Naruto pushed Sakura hard, causing her to trip and fall on Shino. The bottle crashed against the cobblestones, breaking with a loud sound, throwing a clear odorless fluid all over Naruto.
The young ninja frowned, wondering what had just happened. He sniffed his moist clothing, then smiled. It must have been water or something. No big deal. Looking around, he noticed Shino, Kiba, and Hinata. In addition to Sakura, Ino and Ten Ten were nearby, as were a group of girls he did not recognize.
"Kiba. If you would, please take Hinata's bottle from her. Quickly." Shino helped Sakura up, then headed to secure one of the two surviving containers.
"Why? Because she's a girl?" Kiba frowned. He gave Hinata credit for trying, but she shouldn't have volunteered if she couldn't get the job done.
"Exactly," Shino said. "But not why you think. We do not know if the solution that spilled will effect females in its current form." He looked down at Naruto. "It's best that we don't take any chances."
"That's ridiculous. The stuff won't… OOF!" Kiba was breathless after Hinata slammed her elbow into his belly while trying to push past him. He caught the bottle that started rolling down the stairs.
"Really?" Shino asked, one eyebrow raised.
As he watched, the girls began forming a ring around Naruto.