The small room adjoining the Hokage's chambers was filled with shelves.
Each shelf and sturdy cabinet held dozens of scrolls, books, manuscripts, and reports. The room also doubles as a storage room of sorts, as evidenced by the folding chairs, a small impromptu kitchenette, gifts sent to the Fifth from other nations, and numerous sundry items.
"Why isn't Shino here?" Ino looked over at Shikamaru, who was leaning up against one cabinet with a sour look on his face.
"Ask Kiba," Shikamaru said. "Shino's his teammate. It's not my job to keep track of everyone. That would be…"
"Too bothersome," Choji said, frowning when he opened a small refrigerator. The appliance was plugged in, running, and quite cold. But, it was also empty.
"Shino got home long after the rest of us. That's all I know." Kiba picked up a ceremonial headpiece sent from a distant country and placed it on his head. The long colored feathers kept brushing against Ten Ten's face, finally causing her to sneeze.
"What makes you think Shino is even going to show up?" Ten Ten asked, taking the headpiece off of a laughing Kiba. "We don't even know why we've been called here, or why we have to wait in this room."
"Well, some of the answers are obvious." Neji was flipping through the pages on an old Kemai Butai blotter on S-class criminals. "All of us here were involved in the plan to put on a charade meant to influence the Hokage's decisions." He didn't flinch saying that. Some of the others turned pale or twitched. "Since this room abuts the Hokage's, we are being kept here until she wants to speak to us."
"Great idea, Shikamaru." Kiba scowled. "I wish we all could be geniuses."
"Hey! Don't blame him!" Ino put her hands on her hips. "No one forced you to go along."
"Ohhhh-h-h-h-h-h… that is correct!" Lee struck a pose, prompting Kiba to put the headpiece on him. "This was not about Shikamaru. It was about Naruto and Hinata." He blinked rapidly when Kiba placed a long ceremonial spear in his hand, the enameled weapon taller than them all. "Should we have acted, or not acted. That is what really matters. We could have done nothing, surrendering to bad fortune. Instead, we took action against the troubles that faced us. If we have to die for doing what was right, we enter our final dreams knowing that we would not abandon our comrades to proud oppressors, despised love, or the insolence of office. Ahhhh-h-h-h-h-h-h-h…"
Everybody stood stunned at first. Then, looking at one another, and seeing how Lee looked holding the spear and headpiece, they all burst into laughter.
"Lee," Neji said with a rare smile on his face. "I seriously doubt that our actions deserve such a drastic punishment. We were only practicing. None of us made any attempt to influence anyone."
"Nice speech, though." Kiba took the spear from Lee, stood on top of a chair, and then held the weapon up. "Should we have acted, blah blah blah. If we have to die for doing what was right, blah blah blah." He dipped the spear and prodded an unsuspected Ino in the rear, causing her to stumble and fall against Shikamaru. "Oppressors, love, office, yada yada yada…"
"You can stand back up now," Shikamaru said, frowning at a blushing Ino. He looked over at Choji, whose face clearly said that he wished Ino had fallen against him.
Lee looked down at his feet. Gai-sensei would have liked his call for justice. He looked up at the sound of a jangling door knob. The door to the outside hallway opened. Looking somewhat stiff, Shino walked in.
"Aburame Shino, I recognize you!" Kiba spoke as if he was some grand official. Letting the spear fall and tossing away the feathered head-ware, he jumped down to speak with his friend. "What took you so long man? And what happened after Anko discovered what we were doing? Did she grab you and drag you before the Hokage or something?"
Shino actually shivered at the mention of the word 'Hokage.' While he refused to answer, his response had not been overlooked.
"Something happened with the Hokage," Ten Ten said. "It must have been pretty bad!" That had everyone standing a bit more uneasy. "I wonder if we will have to face the same thing…"
"Gah!" Shino bit his tongue too late. That exclamation came out of its own accord.
Kiba swallowed hard. "Shit! It must have been something bad." He met the gaze of each of his fellow shin obi in turn. "Damn! That's what happens when the Hokage is a woman!"
Shino held a hand over his mouth to make certain he remained quiet. The Fifth was indeed a woman. His thoughts went back to his ordeal. That kind of thing most definitely would not happen again. He was slightly relieved to realize that his friends had no idea what happened. Yet.
"That's sexist!" Ino put her hands on her hips, glaring at Ino. "I doubt Shino would have felt any differently, if Sartutobi had done the same thing to him. Right, Shino?"
"Erk!" Shino couldn't help himself. There were certain things that he just didn't want to imagine.
The shinobi all looked at one another and muttered in quiet worried tones. Shino was usually quiet and reserved. If his punishment was fearful enough to make him act the way he ways, what was in store for the rest of them?
"Don't anyone mention that Kurenai was involved in the original planning," Kiba said, standing up for his sensei. "Neither she or Kakashi were at the forest, to be seen by Anko.
As it turned out, Kakashi and Kuernai were already in the Hokage's chambers. When the door to their room opened, Jiraiya motioned for them all to come out. The Legendary Sannin walked with a pronounced limp. One eyes was swollen shut, and one jaw looked more like a grapefruit than part of his face.
"Before we get to the more serious matters at hand, I have a minor and related issue to deal with." Tsunade sat behind her large paper-covered desk, leaning back in a large ornate over-stuffed chair. Standing at either side of the desk were Kurenai and Kakashi, neither or whom showed any sign of concern when the shinobi were led into the center of the room.
"You guys are probably screwed!" That helpful comment came from Naruto, who was standing in a group with Hinata, Sasuke, and Sakura.
"Naruto-kun…" Hinata tugged at one of his sleeves. "Shhhh!"
"This had better not take too long." Hyuuga Hiashi looked eager and annoyed at the same time. He had asked four Clan Leaders from different families to accompany him. He wanted witnesses, should the Hokage try any tricks. He would be glad to have his peers see his triumph, if things went well. And, should the Uchiha boy keep to his latest choices, each of the men had worthy sons of marriageable age. Now that the arrow was already in flight, he would make certain that it would find some target.
"Dumb ass…" Sasuke scowled. It was hard to tell if he was speaking about Naruto, Hiashi, or both.
"Sasuke-kun…" Sakura just stood doe-eyed. Saukse could have just sworn an oath capable of shriveling each leaf on the large potted plant sitting near Tsunade's desk, and she would have reacted in just the same way.
"Anko!" Tsunade looked over to the side. Stepping out from behind the assembled gentleman, the dark-haired jounin made her way to the front of the room. For reasons unbeknownst to the other individuals, she was looking rather subdued. The tongue lashing she had received from the Hokage had been epic in proportion, even though it had been Jiraiya who had applied to elixir.
"Ma'am…" Anko looked over at the Frog Hermit. True, she had agreed to go along with his scheme. But, he would pay, just the same.
"Why don't you tell everyone what you saw in the forest?" Tsunade meant for her to describe what she had seen regarding Neji and the rest.
"Right! I can't wait for the part that Shino had an ass's head, and…" Jiraiya left things hanging there. He knew that Tsunade didn't want anything about her behavior around Shino discussed. That didn't stop her former partner from waving the possibility about like a flag. "Oh… forget I said that…"
Anko spoke quickly and accurately, mentioning everything she had seen and heard. That had Naruto and Hinata looking over at their friends, surprised and very happy. Naruto gave Lee and the others a nice guy pose that shamed anything that the bushy eyebrow boy and his sensei could do. "Come on Hinata, you too." He nudged Hinata. She did her best to strike a pose.
"Ahhh-h-h-h…" Lee smiled. A moment later, he wiped a tear from his eye. Ten Ten and Neji looked at one another and sighed.
"You forgot the light shining off of your teeth part," Kiba called over to Naruto.
"Is that what we need to be discussing here today, Mr. Inuzuka?" Tsunade drummed her fingers against the top of her cluttered desk. She looked down by Kiba's feet. "At least Akamaru is behaving. He's the only one from Team Kurenai that hasn't given me any trouble." She was unable to look over at Shino.
"Sorry, Ma'am." Kiba swallowed hard.
"In any case, I find it very interesting that the group of you had decided to work on some kind of play." The Hokage steepled her fingers and rested her chin on top. "I'm kind of surprised that some of your senior shinobi didn't catch wind of thinks, and council you against such a reckless act." Slyly, she looked over at Kakashi, and then Kurenai. Both remained completely still; but, a single sweat drop formed on the Copy Ninja's brow. Tsunade noticed and smiled. "Neji, as the jounin in the group, why don't you explain to me what you hoped to accomplish, and the reasons behind your actions."
Neji stepped to the fore, bowed, and did as he was asked. After that, the others were called upon to add their own explanations.
"That's treasonous," Hiashi said, his face a mask of anger and contempt. "To think that the shinobi of the Leaf would attempt to influence the decisions of the Hokage."
"Stuff it!" Naruto said, ignoring the finger that Hinata held to her mouth. "You ought to know that nothing can change Granny Tsundae's mind, unless you have some kind of magic potion or something." He wrinkled his nose, wondering why Ero-sennin was laughing.
"Insolent little…" Hiashi stiffened, unaccustomed to being talked to in that manner.
"ENOUGH!" Tsunade's shout had a number of people covering their ears. She had been looking at the Frog Hermit when she spoke. "We will all observe the proper decorum here. While you are not the one under scrutiny now, brat…" She glared at Naruto, feeling no need to follow decorum herself where he was involved. "That doesn't mean I can't find something to criticize about you, too!"
"What else is new?" Naruto grumped, tugging at one ear. "If you ask me… mrffl brgrll frbrll…" Hinata had shocked everyone by putting her hand over his mouth.
"Good girl," Tsunade said.
"Thank you, daughter." Hiashi's words shocked everyone even more.
"Now, back to business." Tsunade tapped her finger against her cheek. "I really don't like the idea of ninjas interfering where they have no business getting involved." She watched as Hiashi nodded and then began whispering amongst his fellow dignitaries. "However, these were extraordinary circumstances that threatened to touch us all. I'm glad to see that you were willing to come to the aid of your comrades, and had chosen to put on an act, rather than put the welfare of those friends ahead of the village." She looked over at Kakashi who nodded, thinking about his father.
"Be that as it may…" Hiashi closed his mouth when the Hokage raised her hand.
"I think that I will make your punishment fit the crime," Tsunade said. "This is Jiraiya's idea… probably the only good one he has had in years…" She grimaced, looking over at her fellow Sannin. He made a facetious gesture with his hands and bowed to her. "Since you were all determined to put on a charade, I think you will have the chance to do something in the same vein."
"Yes," Jiraiya said. "I am quite partial to romantic tragedies…" He looked over at Tsunade. "So, I suggested that you all be made to put on a number of performances. The gennin, chuunin, and jounin will all be invited to watch your presentations, as a way to break up tedium that fills their days. So, you will indeed be doing a great service to your fellows."
"I've set the number at three," Tsunade said. "After hearing Ino speak, I must say I would like to see the story of Thisby and Pyramus made into a play. "Anon comes Pyramus, sweet youth and tall, and finds his trusty Thisby's mantle slain; whereat with blade, with bloody blameful blade, he bravely broached his boiling bloody breast; and, Thisby, tarrying in mulberry shade, his dagger drew and died." She brought her hand to her mouth. There were still some aftereffects to the elixir she had been given.
"Bravo," Jiraiya said, clapping his hands. "Bravisimo. You should be in the play as well." He didn't flinch when Tsunade looked daggers at him.
"We could do a play about Hero and Leander too," Ino said brightly. She took a step back when her companions all turned to stare at her. This was not their idea of fun.
"How about a 'Midsummer Night's Dream'?" That sneaky question came from Kakashi, whose mask made it easier for him to keep a straight face. He had recognized the striking parallels between the Bard's work and the things that had happened in that forest.
"NO!" Tsunade said firmly, bringing her fist down on her desk. "Absolutely not!" Most of the assembled group looked at each other perplexed, as they had never read that play.
"I'm quite partial to 'Romeo & Juliet'," Jiraiya said. "I believe that Shino would make a wonderful Romeo. Now, who should we choose as his lady love?" Too slow, he was unable to duck before being hit in the face with a large paperweight that Tsunade threw.
Shino froze. He was not normally very religious. Just the same, he prayed that his name was not brought up again. As it turns out, lady luck smiled upon him. Their sentence levied, the shinobi were allowed to leave so that the main business at hand could be discussed.
"We found ourselves caught up in a very difficult situation," Kurenai said, when she was asked to describe her role in the initial meeting with Hiashi.
"Yes," Kakashi put in. "It was like something out of an antique fable," he added, seeing Jiraiya give him a secretive thumbs up. "Lovers. Madmen. Seething brains. Nothing as harsh could have found its way from some poet's pen." He winked at Kurenai, who was learning to appreciate his gifted tongue and keen sense of humor. "It might make a good book," he said to the Frog Hermit.
"AHEM!" Tsunade was not amused.
"I was caught between acting like a responsible shinobi of the Leaf…" The Copy Ninja looked over at Hiashi. "…And, as a friend and teacher. I thought that the best thing I could do was give an ear to both parties, and arrange for more time so that everyone could think things through." He wasn't about to say 'So that the Hokage could find some way to knock down some arrogant jerk's plan'.
"Well, we have all managed to so just that." Tsunade placed her hand on an old yellowed scroll. She looked over at Sasuke. "Mr. Uchiha, it seems that you were one of the principle players in this little drama. What do you have to say about all this?"
"This is your last chance to come to your senses," Hiashi put in before being silenced by a sharp look from the Hokage.
"He already did," Naruto said, smiling. That smile would do more to unsettle Hinata's father than any word he could have used. "Right, Hinata?" He put his arm around her, amazed that she didn't pull away this time.
That didn't sit to well with Hiashi either. He frowned as his peers began asking him whispered questions.
"I will not speak in too much detail," Sasuke said, instructed to leave out any mention of elixirs and antidotes. "Suffice it to say, I found myself in a strange state, one where I no longer had any desire to follow through on my quest for Hinata's hand." He looked at Sakura for a moment, before looking away, feeling strangely uncomfortable. "When my head cleared, and I was myself again, I realized that some of the feelings I had felt were true. I just never…"
He couldn't get the words out. He had been so caught up with thoughts of power and vengeance in his earlier years, that he never allowed himself to have any positive emotions. He had felt something, when Sakura had tried to keep him from running off to meet with the Sound Four. He had felt something much stronger when given that troublesome potion. But, after Jiraiya convinced him to take the antidote, he still had nascent feelings for his pink-haired teammate.
"Thank you," Tsunade said, not wanting Sasuke to say more than he was comfortable saying. He still had a long road ahead of him, winning back the trust of the village and his friends; but, this was a good first step. "As we can all see, the decree involving Uchiha Sasuke's and Hyuuga Hinata's marriage is no longer in effect, since the boy is withdrawing from any such compact."
"True." Hiashi took a few steps towards the Hokage's desk. "The Uchiha boy has made his bed, and will now be forced to lay in it."
"Hey! Sakura! You're a medical ninja." Naruto's face screamed with mischief. "Make certain Sasuke remembers the condoms!"
"That's not…" Hiashi's face clouded over.
"N-A-R-U-T-O!" Sakura balled up her fists much in the way that Tsunade was wont to do.
Kakashi met Jiraiya's gaze. It was a shame that the Fourth couldn't be there to see this. He would have been amused.
"Dumb ass." This time, there was no question who Sasuke was referring to.
"As I was trying to say!" Hiashi was practically shouting in an attempt to regain everyone's attention. "The suitor may have changed; but, my right to do what I wish with my daughter remains." He nodded back to the other Clan Leaders. "As it turns out, there are a number of young men I will be choosing from. You will be hearing from me again in the not too distant future."
"I see," Tsunade said, keeping a smirk off of her face. "I suppose we must all follow the ancient rules, whether or not they are written into our current book of laws."
"Indeed!" Hiashi smiled triumphantly, his eyes lighting up when he saw the look on naruto's face. "It is the duty and honor of anyone within the Leaf to follow the letter of any law that has not be overturned or abolished in formal fashion."
"Yes!" "That's right." "So true." Hiashi's peers seconded his statement.
"Really?" Naruto began walking towards Hiashi until signals from both Kakashi and Jiraiya had him stopping. "Is there any old law that says a guy can kick some jerk's ass, if the loser tries to use some freaking rule to make his daughter do something that would break her heart?" Naruto turned to look at Hiashi. "Just asking…"
Tsunade had to fight a grin. Usually, Naruto's attitudes were directed towards her. This time, she could sit back and enjoy someone else being the beneficiary. God save the clans if he ever did make Hokage! "I haven't come across any such law, Naruto." She pointed a finger at him, and then motioned for him to walk back over to Hinata. "As I understand it, you were given a choice of marriage, death, or a nun's habit. Isn't that true, Hinata?"
"Yes, Ma'am. I choose…" Hinata swallowed hard, tears coming to her eyes.
"Actually, you don't have to choose." Tsunade couldn't keep the smile off of her face.
"WHAT?" Hiashi shouted, a rare event for a man who prided himself on his control. "That is… that is…"
"It is quite within the law, actually." Jiraiya beat Tsunade to the punch, swiping the ancient scroll before the Hokage could. "Here… read this…" He tossed it to Hiashi.
"This is… but…" Hiashi went pale as he read the first section of the scroll. "It's not an official law. This scroll is cracked with age. It… but how…" He ran down. He knew that he was well and truly stymied. All of his plans were null and void.
"Right!" Tsunade said, slapping her hand against her chair arm. "The old rule says that a Clan Chief who unseats his Heir no longer has any say over the life of that person. The law is the law, and rules are rules."
"Yes!" Naruto pumped his fist. Hinata began crying, happy tears this time.
Hiashi's face fell. Not saying another word, he turned and left the room. His fellow dignitaries left, some of them looking eager to spread word of Hiashi's defeat.
With the audience at an end, Tsunade sat back in her chair and rubbed her temples. Finally, the matter had been put to rest. She still needed to think about the damn elixir and potion that the perverted hermit had devised, but that was an issue for another day. She could outlaw its use, but that probably wouldn't have any effect on the hairy old goat.
The others all set off on their own business. Naruto had promised to buy everyone Ramen who wanted some. Hinata just wanted to go wherever Naruto went. Sakura and Sasuke orbited around one another like planets, uncertain what they should do or hope for.
As Jiraiya was walking down the large hallway, he found himself in a cloud of noxious gas. Soon thereafter, he felt liquid splash against his eyes.
"It's your turn now," Anko said, standing over the fallen man. "I'll go get someone or some thing special for you to see when you wake up." She had used the last of the elixir. No one had thought to ask for it.
When Kurenai and Kakashi came walking down the hallway, they saw Jiraiya make his way to his feet.
Turning, the Fog hermit looked at Kurenai and smiled. "Sweet Kurenai. Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, and summer's lease hath all too short a date. Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, and often is his gold complexion dimmed; And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance or nature's changing course untrimmed; But thy eternal summer shall not fade nor lose possession of that fairness that is you"
"Wh-Wh-What…" Kurenai instinctively moved away from Jiraiya, backing into a wall.
"The elixir," Kakashi said. "No doubt Anko kept a bit of it for her own use."
"Lovely lady, all the world's a bed, and all the men and women merely bedmates." The legendary Sannin leered at the startled jounin. "I wish to nurse on you like an infant. I want to discover bashful joy like a schoolboy. Sighing like a furnace, I will sing you a lover's ballads, before dying in your arms like an old man."
"Gr-Gr-Great…" Kurenai frowned, seeing that Kakashi was just standing calmly by.
"Glad he wasn't looking at me," the Copy Ninja said.
"Beautiful maiden, you are worthy of greatness." Jiraiya held his arms wide open. "Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great. Some achieve greatness. And some have greatness… thrust… upon them." He began walking towards a frantic looking Kurenai.
"There's nothing to worry about," Kakashi said flatly. "He's already taken the antidote, suspecting that Anko might play some kind of trick."
"Traitor!" Jiraiya said. He looked over at Kurenai. "What can I say?" Listening a second, he smiled. "It sounds like someone is coming back, wanting to see the fruit of her labor. Don't let on that I am unaffected!"
"So, it's not too much fun to be on the other end of a prank is it, Legendary Loser!" Anko smiled a wicked smile when she walked up, holding a gerbil in a small cage. It was the best she could do in such a short time. She was too late in making it back from the pet shop She looked over at Kurenai. "Are you the apple of his eye?"
"Yes," Kakashi answered for Kurenai. "You missed the pretty speeches."
"Wonderful!" Anko crowed. She liked Kurenai after a fashion; but, the other girl seemed to proper much of the time. This ought to do her some good, just like the Aburame boy's ordeal had done him. "It's great when a trouble maker gets his just desserts!"
"Glad to hear you say that," Jiraiya said, tossing the last of his elixir in Anko's eyes with one hand while working hand seals with the other. He rubbed his hands together when she slumped to the floor, fast asleep. "You two want to stay and watch?"
"No!" Kurenai grabbed Kakashi's arm and started pulling him down the hall. "We have a date to go on."
"Have fun!" Jiraiya said. Chortling, he added "I know that I will." Stretching, and stiffling a yawn, he performed Kuchiyose No Jutsu.
"Yo! Boss!" Gamakisu… a cousin to Gamakichi and Gamatachi… bowed his head when he saw who summoned him. "What's up?"
"We're going to see if an old fairytale is true or not." The Frog hermit smiled.
"Huh?" The large frog scratched at the side of his snout. "Whoa!" He was startled when Jiraiya picked him up suddenly.Embarrassed, he peed all over Anko like a small normal toad might, just as the dark-haired woman was waking up.
"There's always some story where a girl kissing a frog finds a prince…"