The Link

Epilogue: Icha Icha 100

"So what happened to the house?" Kakashi inquired as he sat beside Naruto one fine summer day in Ichiraku ramen.

The fox-boy shrugged. "Oh, it's still standing, don't worry. Neji sealed it off with an easy jutsu so nobody would dare wander inn and steal our stuff. And Tsunade-baachan did say that we could come back there anytime we want – it was better than watch her house slowly rot off anyway."

"Did you ever get an inkling why those Rain nins attacked you?"

Naruto shook his head. "Don't care. I have enough on my back what with the Akatsuki guys."

Kakashi nodded slowly. "Why did you let Orochimaru go?"

Naruto looked at him as if he were mad. "What are you saying? He's my sensei. There's no way I'll let him be hanged!" the fox replied stubbornly. He poked his ramen idly. "Besides...he gave me his word that he won't go attacking Konoha anymore. I trust him, Kakashi-sensei."

The Sharingan wielder gave a resigned sigh and decided not to push the matter further. Naruto got really scary if you argued past his patience. So you trust Orochimaru would no longer attack, huh? They would all have to wait and see then. Naruto's work on the Serpent was still to be put to the test. Tsunade was not very happy when she found out that Naruto let Orochimaru escape. And they were in Konoha when it happened, too! Oh, the irony...

"I heard from Gai that you made Anko faint the other day." Kakashi grinned under his mask. "What the hell did you do?"

Naruto grinned cheekily. "I showed her one of my new techniques. She fainted on the spot as cobras peeked out of my sleeve and said hi to her."

"Ohayo..." said a fatigued voice.

Naruto and Kakashi turned around, surprised, to see Hyuuga Neji enter Ichiraku's clad in his full Anbu suit. Neji looked worse for wear – there were dark circles underneath his eyes and Naruto noted that his cheeks deflated for a few crucial centimeters. Neji sat down on Kakashi's other side and ordered a sushi platter.

"Still working hard to pay back Tsunade's flatscreen, eh?" Kakashi smiled at the Anbu.

Neji nodded wearily. "Five missions every day, Kakashi! Five! And I thought I saw the last of those D-ranked chores when I had been Genin! And that's still not counting in my Anbu assignments..." the Hyuuga gave a pitiful moan as he pillowed his head onto his armored arms.

"I'm sure you'll be able to pay it back one day, Neji." Naruto said pleasantly.

"I sure wish..." the Anbu squeaked.

Another unexpected customer burst in on the ramen stand. It was Konohamaru, looking very excited over something. He was clutching a golden hardbound book that Naruto recognized at once as Icha Icha Paradise 100. Konohamaru seemed to be looking for someone.

"Hey! Did you see Sasuke-sensei?" the Genin demanded.

Kakashi, Naruto and Neji shook their heads. Konohamaru was just about to leave when Naruto rose.

"Wait, Konohamaru, can I see your book?"

The black-haired Genin gave him the book as if handing out his firstborn son. Kakashi and Neji stood up and crowded behind Naruto. Their jaws dropped open in perfect, unrehearsed unison.

"It's the best of the bunch!" Konohamaru said passionately, his eyes bright. "You wouldn't believe the mess I got into by the bookstore just to get one of those! The publisher just released it this morning, and the line outside the bookstore is still growing and growing! Do you have any idea who the cover girl is? She's the most beautiful woman in the world!"

Kakashi went blue at the comment, and Neji had to cover his mouth with his hand. Eyebrows twitching, Naruto looked hard at the cover. Orochimaru was certainly unrecognizable on the book. Icha Icha Paradise was etched at the top in a great, loopy red script, and Orochimaru looked like he – no, she – was blowing the huge 100 toward the reader.

"Aren't you getting one, Kakashi-sensei?" Konohamaru exclaimed. "The stocks are fast running out!"

The Sharingan wielder shook his head. "I'm afraid I'll pass it up."

"WHAT? Hatake Kakashi, not buying Icha Icha 100!" Konohamaru repeated, aghast. "Call a medic team, quick! He's gone mad!"

Kakashi shuddered and went to pay for their food. Neji cackled and returned to his meal while Naruto handed the book back to Konohamaru.

"So you think she's the most beautiful woman in the world?" Naruto sneered.

"Yes, she is! Nobody can rival that face! And that pale, creamy skin beats even the finest porcelain! Oh, I think I'm in love! Bye, Naruto-niichan!" that was all and the hyper Genin dashed out of the restaurant, screaming for Sasuke.

Naruto returned to his seat, cackling. "How do you think they'd react once they find out who the mysterious cover girl is?"

"Oh, I wouldn't be surprised if the medic squad's kept busy by heart attacks." Neji commented. "I'll be damned a thousand times over in hell before I buy that book."

Kakashi only shuddered some more and refused to talk. Naruto laughed at the expression on his face.


The Uchiha looked up at the high-pitched squawk that came from one Jounin named Nara Shikamaru. "What?" he demanded.

Shikamaru quickly shoved a golden hardbound book under his nose. Sasuke's eyes widened at the sight of the voluptuous black-haired cover girl. The Uchiha immediately grabbed the book from Shikamaru's hands to gape at it. "I-it's out! Where did you get this? When? Why? How? It's out! IT'S OUT!"

"Yes it is! Yes it its!" Shikamaru answered just as eagerly. He snatched the book from Sasuke's trembling hands and rubbed his cheek against the cover girl's face. "She's so pretty! She's so lovely! She's the best of them all! I WANT TO KNOW HER NAME! I want her to be my girl friend! OOOOOOOH!" He planted a sloppy kiss on his book.

"I – must – get – my – own – copy!" Sasuke choked out. He pivoted on his heels and dashed toward the nearest bookstore.

"Sasuke, wait! You won't be able to get a copy if you didn't reserve for one! Hey!"

But the Uchiha was already too far away to hear. Shikamaru shook his head and resumed kissing the book in his hands.

Kabuto was giggling like a boy as he made his way down the shadowy hallways of Orochimaru's house in the Hidden Sound village. There was a rather flat, squarish box in his hands. He giggled some more as he came to a stop before Orochimaru's door and gave an excited knock.

There was a timid "Enter!"

Kabuto went inside as he ripped the brown paper from his package. A golden hardbound book fell into his clammy hands and the medic gave a gasp of wonder. "So pretty!"

"What is it?" Orochimaru asked. The Serpent was busy writing a petition-of-sorts on paper. "If you came here just to annoy the hell out of me, I suggest taking your useless butt from the room before I kill you." He murmured.

Kabuto managed to glare at the back of Orochimaru's head. "Orochimaru-sama, it's here!"

Frowning, the Serpent looked up from his writing. "What? What is here?"

The silver-haired medic was shaking with excitement as he handed out a golden, hardbound book. Raising one eyebrow, Orochimaru took the book and turned it around in his hands. His eyes got so big that they could have popped out of their sockets.

"Isn't she pretty, Orochimaru-sama!" Kabuto said tearfully. "I've never seen a face angelic! And her complexion! And her...her boobs!"

For some reason Kabuto could not understand, Orochimaru suddenly snapped. Roaring, the Serpent ripped the book into shreds and stomped and spat onto the pieces on the floor.


"My book! Noooooo!" Kabuto wailed as he tore at his hair. "My precious Icha Icha book! Noooo!"


Cursing vehemently as if there was no tomorrow, Orochimaru left the room. His angry footsteps sounded behind him. A sobbing Kabuto was left to pick up the pieces of his destroyed book.


Gaara looked up expectantly from the paper he had been reading. One of his many body guards entered with a package in his hand.

"Give it to me, quick!" said Gaara, eagerly extending both hands forward.

The brown paper came away fairly quickly. Gaara smiled the tiniest of excited smiles as he ran his hand delicately on the golden cover. "Did you have a hard time getting this for me?"

"Oh, unbelievably so, sir. There was a riot in the bookstore."

Gaara felt a hint of evil satisfaction that did not show on his face. "Was Kankurou there?"

"Yes. But he was unable to grab himself a copy because the bookstore ran out of stocks five minutes before he got his turn on the counter. I must say that Master Kankurou was the start of the riot."

The young Kazekage gave an evil laugh. "Oh, I will make him suffer. He did not lend me his 99th book because I had suffered the out of stock problem. Now it's his turn on the spits! I will not lend this book to him, and he will suffer miserably as he watches me read it to his face!"

"Kazekage-sama is cruel."

Green eyes fixed onto the Sand Jounin. "Oh yes. I am cruel."

Anybody else who would have seen Gaara at that time would say that he was the perfect image of evil as he sat on his enormous swivel chair, clutching the golden book close to his chest and teeth bared in a feral smile.

Sasuke was complaining loudly as he made his way back to his house, Shikamaru had his arm around the Uchiha, trying his best to comfort the raven-haired Sharingan user.

"Come on, it's not that bad."

"Why! Why did it have to run out of copies just as I came forward? I don't understand! They cheated me! They didn't want me to buy one! Nooooo!"

"Come now...look, I'll lend you mine as soon as I finish reading."

"Shikamaru! Really?"

"I promise, mate."

"Ooh, my savior! Thank you!"

"No problem!" and then as an afterthought, "Ch, only because your complaining is way too troublesome!"

The two Jounins walked side by side, exchanging ideas about who the cover girl might be and how pretty she was. Oh, if they only knew...

The End