Well. Even though I wasn't totally inspired for this chapter...I haven't updated in awhile. Since this has been the longest, I thought I might even though I have finals (what am I saying...I don't study for those anyway...) Voila! Chaptero...17 I think it is? Wow.

Disclaimer: I wonder about those people who don't put disclaimers...could they be the mangakas writing fanfiction for their own stories? (Speaking of which, I wonder if there are any mangakas who read fanfiction for their own stories...)

Anyhow, the way 'naruto' is referred to has changed. This has nothing to do with the plot, I just felt like writing it more delicately, I guess? Maa.

Chapter 17:The Cat Stays in the Bag

Timetable: I skipped the last four days. I might do a flashback if it strikes my fancy.

Swish. Domm. A sandal-clad foot stopped neatly against the stone wall.

Swish. Domm. Again. Again. Again.

The owner of the foot smiled; sultry-like. The flowers in the small garden adorning the side of the Hokage tower were slowly wilting; fall was turning into winter.

Swish. Domm. The foot came up again, but this time, did not fall back to the wall. "Hey, Gaara!"

Psuedo-Naruto grinned cheerfully. He turned and looked up at Gaara, who was standing next to him, on top of the wall.

"I thought you hadn't noticed me," Gaara stated, monotonous as always.

Psuedo-Naruto kicked his feet and pushed himself off the wall, landing with a dull 'thud.'

"Well, it took me awhile. I'm not a -kage, you know." Naruto's grin widened. The whiskers stretched and warped on his cheeks.

Gaara stared down at Naruto over his crossed arms. "You've changed." he said.

Naruto looked away. "Is that so?" he grinned once more; only this time, it took on a strange slant. At least to Gaara. "Is that so?" Naruto repeated more quietly.

Gaara deigned to sit on the wall. "A year ago you would never have gone out of your way to convenience someone. You would have had us meet in town, somewhere halfway, not so near to where I'm staying.

"Furthermore, you would not have met anyone in a garden, excluding Sakura. Even then, you would still have preferred some ramen joint." Gaara eyed the Psuedo-Naruto, but not suspiciously.

Naruto chuckled. Should he even be referring to himself as the Psuedo-Naruto? He rubbed at his cheeks self-consciously. No makeup came off; there wasn't any there in the first place. He only pretended to be himself, his old self, when he was in front of his old 'friends.'

"What's wrong," Gaara repeated what he had asked five days ago.

Naruto paused. He leaned back against the wall, beside Gaara. "Nothing."

"Liar."

"Like you would know? I thought you were antisocial."

"A shinobi can tell."

"But not a friend?"

"I didn't know you were speaking to me as a friend. If you were, you would tell me what's wrong."

Naruto dropped his grin in shock. It was soon retrieved. "I hope you don't lose your voice from talking too much."

Gaara stared at Naruto. "I'll get in trouble for making you suspicious, you know. They'll yell at me."

Gaara looked at Naruto, a little puzzled. "There's no one around."

"I know. But if there were, I like to think that you wouldn't ask me such awkward questions. It would be quite callous." Naruto tilted his head back and pulled at the cotton of his jumpsuit.

"I wouldn't. I would seize anyone spying and question them."

"Of course."

"But you haven't answered my question."

"You're absolutely right," Naruto countered.

"So do it." Gaara stared straight ahead. "You have offered me some compromising information, even if I don't understand it, Uzumaki."

Naruto flung his head forward again and heaved himself back up onto the wall. "Oh? You've learned how to blackmail? I'm so sorry for corrupting you!"

"..." Gaara glared at Naruto from the corner of his eye.

"Hai, hai." Naruto held up his hands in defeat. "I'm just tired of Konoha, a bit. Maybe I have wanderlust, but I always did want to be amazing, didn't I?"

Gaara twisted to face Naruto. "Then come to Suna with us. You could work there."

Naruto shifted his elbows to rest on his knees. "...No. I'd rather not."

"Why?" Gaara asked. The dust on the ground stirred, despite the fact that there was no wind.

"I have my own plans about that. I don't want you to interfere with them, either." Naruto looked at Gaara. His eyes were determined, insidious.

"No?"

"No. I'll tell you what, when I've finally succeeded, I'll come and show you!" Naruto's determined eyes disappeared. "But until then, you have to act like I'm just how you expected me to be. Deal?"

Gaara stared at Naruto's wily face. "...deal." he replied after much thought.

-

"Saa!" Naruto jumped off the wall again. Gaara stepped down, more dignified. "We'll go see the town, ok? People will think we're weird if we just sit there all day!"

"Right..."

Naruto pranced towards the streets where the shops were. "We'll go eat first. It's almost noon."

Gaara followed at a sedate pace.

"We can go get–" Naruto began. He was cut off by Gaara's stony silence. It...it spoke to him.

I hope you don't plan to take the Kazekage to a ramen stand for lunch. I really hope. The silence literally screamed in his ears.

"Eemm...we can go to that barbeque place! It's really good, run by the Akimichi's. I'm sure you know about them, they're a fairly...prominent clan around here!" Naruto laughed it off, like the fool everyone knew him to be, and Gaara moved to walk beside him.

After all, the Kazekage couldn't be seen deferring to someone.

-

Ino walked along at a fast clip, carrying the groceries for tonight's dinner. Apparently, Kakashi had been conned into another meal by her mother-and Ino had been conned into cooking it. It was Ino's bad luck that she had only found out today; planning had been hell, and finding everything even worse.

Right now, all she wanted to do was go home and eat to her heart's content. (Not that she would; she wasn't a shinobi any longer, so she needed to watch her figure closely.) She decided to pick up a meat bun at a nearby vendor instead.

The squirrel on her shoulder grasped at the meat bun, taking out a large chunk for its efforts. "Stop that! I'll feed you at home," Ino chastised.

"Ano–sa–an-en----ee ent-o--the..." a loud voice trailed through the crowded marketplace. It was...Naruto? No, Arashi! On duty, however.

She should still say hi, though, shouldn't she? The squirrel chittered excitedly.

Arashi–no, Naruto, she should think of him by that name- hadn't noticed her. He was animatedly chatting with Gaara. Gaara had the same bland expression on his face as always, not that Ino had much experience with his expressions anyway. The most she had seen was his stoic face and his kill-Lee face.

Naruto and Gaara were walking toward her; they still hadn't noticed her standing there, meat bun in hand. Ino felt a little irritated for being ignored. Despite her twitching brow, she raised her arm and waved.

"Hey, Naruto!" the meat bun swayed in the air.

"Aree?" Naruto looked around. "Ino-chan?"

Ino closed the distance and encroached in Naruto's space. "Thought you wouldn't notice me, baka!" She leaned in and giggled. "You're here with Kazekage-sama?" She bend her knees in a makeshift curtsy; her hands weren't free, and in any case she wasn't wearing a skirt.

"Hai." Gaara responded.

"Aah..." Ino paused in shock; she hadn't expected Kazekage-sama to speak to her. Kazekage-sama seemed the type to only talk when necessary.

Naruto didn't seem to pick up on her uncomfortableness; but he broke the awkward silence anyway. "We're going to the BBQ place for lunch, would you like to join us?"

Typical insensitive Naruto; inviting guests on what was obviously a private date. Ino had to hand it to Arashi, he was doing a marvelous job of impersonating the loudmouth.

"Sorry, Naruto, Kazekage-sama." Ino smiled and hefted the bags of groceries. "I have to cook dinner, okaasan invited Kakashi over for dinner tonight. And I have to clean." The squirrel scrabbled for purchase on her shoulder; it squeaked in protest to the sudden movement.

"Maaa, that's too bad, Ino-chan." Naruto crossed his arms and nodded, agreeing with...himself? "Well, see ya around."

"'Bye." Ino offered a parting wave and continued her weary trudge home. The squirrel flicked its tail as a fairwell.

Gaara looked behind at the girl as Naruto led him to lunch. "That girl...looks familiar. She was a ninja?"

"Yeah, Yamanaka Ino. She fought Sakura at the Chuunin exams, remember? Well, maybe you don't." Naruto said, glancing back as well. "She quit, anyway. She's a Sasuke fan, you know."

"...I remember. She seemed angrier before. But I wouldn't know." Gaara looked forward again.

"Yeah, she was a read tightwad before she quit being a ninja, if you know what I mean. But since she quit being a shinobi she seems much happier. Actually, I noticed Sasuke eyeing her a couple of times. He might consider her prime wife material." Naruto chuckled; then he felt a chill.

Bonk.

"Talking about me, dobe?" Sasuke dangerously uttered.

"S-sasuke! Fancy meeting you here! We were just talking about you!" Naruto rubbed his aching head tenderly.

"I know. I heard. Don't." Sasuke hefted his heavy plastic bag of nin-drinks; perfect to keep any ninja hydrated and energized.

"Ahaha. But you were at the same marketplace, you wouldn't be keeping tabs on Ino, would you? You sly dog..."

Sasuke made to hit Naruto again, but remembering Gaara's presence, restrained himself. "Che. Bye." He needed to get ready to stake out the Yamanaka property; Ino's mother was intent on fixing Ino up with Kakashi-sensei.

"And he is more sinister." Gaara noticed.

"Really? I thought he'd loosened up a bit." Naruto rushed the rest of the way to the barbeque restaurant, not wanting to be interrupted again.

They had been sitting in silence for a few minutes when Gaara opened his mouth. "Are you...going to be taking the jounin examination."

"Heh? Jounin?" Naruto looked over in surprise.

"You've been a chuunin for a few years. Sasuke is already a jounin, isn't he?"

"So what? Not everybody's Sasuke."

"But you're at least jounin level. You know that."

"Maybe, maybe not."

"Naruto." Gaara pressed.

"You know...Gaara...I recall you agreeing to not interfere. You'll know in due time." Naruto stared across the table in utmost seriousness.

Gaara stared back solemnly. Naruto slapped his hand on the table.

"Bwa-haha! Come on, don't be like that, Gaara-chan!" Naruto laughed raucously. A couple of Akimichis cheered for him in the background, not realizing who his companion was.

"Anyway, Gaara, it won't make a difference what my ninja ranking is, soon. We'll get it figured out."

-

"Arashi-kun." Tsunade tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "Well, we planned something. It isn't great, but it'll have to do."

Arashi leaned back in this seat he had pulled before her desk. "And?"

"You were only supposed to have one week off as Naruto, to be with Gaara-dono. So, on the week of the chuunin exams, I'll arrange a series of missions for you.

"On the first stage of the exam, I'll have a two-day mission planned. For the second, which is five days as always, you'll allegedly be gone on a ten day mission. That will give you a few days to prepare for the second stage and a few days to recover from any injuries incurred during the second stage of the exam, or any injuries you may receive in the even of a preliminary final. You will be given access to my own healing afterwards. We cannot give you preferential treatment.

"Then during the next month you will have few missions so you can train with your team. We arranged a mask for you to wear as a disguise; the Kazekage has sharp eyes. Another extended mission will be 'assigned' right before the third stage." Tsunade folded her hands primly.

Arashi stood from his slouched position. "Very well, then. I'm sure it will be fine." Arashi smiled a golden smile. "Thank you very much, Tsunade-hime."

Tsunade felt her heart melt again. Who cared if the boy got a little abusive...he was just like a prince.

TBC

Wow...I was reading over previous chapters and...geeze...I was weird...but you know, I don't remember writing half of this stuff...Well, at any rate, I'm glad I stopped putting notes in the middle of the story. There weren't a lot anyway.

Anyway, I'm not really satisfied with the chapter, I'm still trying to work out exactly how everything happens, but I'll just go with the flow...

Please review and ask any questions necessary! Actually I think there were a few discrepancies last chapter with the days and stuff...very confusing.