This chapter brings the four part continuum full circle. Sai had started things off, talking in front of a crowd. Now, weeks later, Naruto finishes it, speaking to his own audience.
The room was packed with shinobi.
With everyone talking at once, the volume was quite high. A number of people had their fingers in their ears.
"I still don't think this is a good idea," Naruto told Hinata, the two of them off in a smaller room connected to the meeting hall. "I can't believe that Ino talked me into this." He tugged at one ear, making a face. He was the speaker, not Tsunade or one of the village authorities. "I know you must think this is a disaster waiting to happen."
"Everyone has been asking us," Hinata said primly, picking lint and dried ramen noodles off of Naruto's jump suit. "They often find us when we want to be alone." She made a face, before remembering how she should behave. She put her hands on her hips when she saw that Naruto caught her actions, and quickly clasped those hands together. "I'm sure this will be a help to them." Quiet, shy, and unassuming, she still had a scheme of her own. "You'll do fine." Checking the area three times to make sure no one could see them, she gave her boyfriend a quick kiss.
"Okay," Naruto said, shrugging. "I trust your judgment." He tried to look and sound serious, but failed. "Actually… it's because you're too damned cute to resist…." He smiled when Hinata's ears turned beet red, even though he felt his own face grow warm. "Besides… if they're stupid enough to be sitting out there… they deserve whatever they get…." He though he saw Hinata nod her head, before she looked like she was examining her fingernails.
The two of them peeked out from behind the large fabric curtain. All of their friends had shown up, most of them voluntarily. The crowd consisted of Chuunin and Genin, with Neji being the lone Jounin that they recognized. Ino had been rather industrious, putting this together. Of course, it was for her own benefit. Naruto and Hinata had somehow managed to find one another. They had also gotten Lee and Sakura to got out on a date, even if it had only been as chaperons and potential enforcers, there to make certain that Naruto received the makeover that his shy and unassuming girlfriend wanted. Maybe, given that turn of events, some of the other ninjas could finally find themselves pairing off.
"I think it's time," Hinata said, looking at her wristwatch. "It wouldn't be polite to keep them waiting very long." She nodded to one of the building's maintenance men. He worked the ropes that pulled the curtain back. Staying in the wings where Naruto could see her, she watched as the rowdy young man made his way over to the podium.
"Hey!" That was Kiba's voice. No surprise, really. "It was worth it just to see that." He smiled, eyeing his friend's rather sedate outfit. Gone was the blinding orange and black. The wild hair was gone too, replaced by a layered cut. "I guess we all know who's whipped!"
Naruto scowled. He glared down at his rather rambunctious friend. Having spent time with Jiraiya, he knew all too well what kind of 'whipped' Kiba was talking about, even if some of the other's didn't. He doubted that Hinata had a clue. She was too naïve and innocent for that.
"I don't care what the reason is," Shikamaru could be overheard saying to Choji. "This is far too bothersome." He made it a point to ignore Ino, who had insisted that her two teammates accompany her.
"Amen," Shino said. He hadn't wanted to come to this, either. He doubted any good could come out of it for him. All it would do, would be to remind him of his differences.
"Ahhhh-hhh-hh-h…." Lee's changes had only lasted so long. The green suit, bowl cut, and bushy brows were still gone; but, the mannerisms could be restrained for only so long. "Sakura deserves a lot of the credit!" The pink-haired girl had been a force of nature, teaming up with a rather curious Sai to keep their teammate in line. Lee had done what he could to offer moral support to Naruto. That, and restrain him before he could be thrown in jail for attacking that flamboyant hair cutter.
"Yes… she… does…." Naruto muttered under his breath. He liked the orange jumpsuit. But, that didn't matter. He was a man of his word. And, truth be told, he didn't really mind doing things that made Hinata happy. However, he didn't care much for everyone else's reaction. His frown deepened when Sakura stood up to take a bow, prompting a playful round of applause. "She should remember who's holding the microphone," he said between clenched teeth. His eyes narrowed when Ino, Choji, and Ten Ten made quips of their own.
"We should probably hear from Hinata," Sai offered, looking as casual and am used as always. "No doubt she is the true architect of their relationship. He smiled, remembering something that Sakura had said. "Then again… if someone like him can do this… perhaps anyone can…." That had a number of people hooting and whistling.
"That might be true," Naruto said, after tapping his finger against the microphone. He glanced down at Sai and smirked. "But… as we all know… you don't need to worry about that…." He waved his arm in dramatic fashion, like the master of ceremonies at a circus. "You can draw up a willing girlfriend any time you like." He made a big show of kissing his hand. "I bet it's a bitch, though… all those paper cuts…."
"Burn!" Kiba leaned back in his chair and chuckled. He didn't need any help with the fairer sex. He had more lady friends than he could shake a stick at.
"But…." Sai cocked his head. He thought about offering a denial. No. Why interrupt the proceedings? Naruto was here for everyone's benefit.
"Just joking!" Naruto nodded in Sai's direction. "Sai's a great guy, ladies." He clapped his hands together. "A really great guy. He can't help the way he was trained. He's still learning about his emotions, and the way people relate to one another. He's a bit clueless, too. Right?"He looked over at Ino. She made a sour looking face. "But… he's a good friend and teammate… very dependable." He smiled. "Some girl might like an honest and hard-working guy she can wrap around her finger. Train him right, and who knows what you might get." He was already talking like a big shot, throwing his chest out some. Hinata rubbed her fingers together, watching.
"Thank you…." Sai looked perplexed. "I think…."
"You should remember one thing!" Naruto sounded serious. "Looks aren't everything." He folded both arms over his chest. "Some people think that Sai looks a little like Uchiha Sasuke. I don't care about that kind of stuff. All the girls used to chase after Sasuke, though." He frowned, looking down at Ino, Sakura, and Ten Ten. "But… we all know how that turned out…." In all actuality, he didn't. Sasuke's final fate had yet to be determined; but, the day of reckoning was fast approaching. Speaking about the missing ninja tore Naruto up inside. But, the point he made was valid. A lot of girls had written Naruto off. A lot of guys had brushed Hinata aside. Even he had been blind to her.
"We know all that 'looks' cliche," Kiba called out. "How else would you have gotten a girlfriend!"
"Hey! Kiba! That's realll-ll-ly funny!" Naruto put on a false smile. He brushed his hand through a few whisps of orange chakra that appeared, as if he could calm himself down that way. It was OK. He had the pulpit and was more than willing to make use of it. "I know you don't have any trouble getting
dates." That much was true. He had heard his friend brag about it enough times. They all had. "Some girls like the loud, headstrong type, right? Bathing and personal grooming don't matter to everyone." He smirked, seeing Kiba stiffen. "They probably won't mind being treated like a bitch in heat, I bet. And, girls just love guys in leather coats."
"Hey… I…." Kiba didn't have a chance to get a word in.
"Brave… strong… good with animals…." Naruto began pacing back and forth on the stage, extolling Kiba's virtues. "Has those cool markings on his face…." He paused, running fingers across his cheek. "Mine are real, though." That had Hinata saying 'Naruto-kun.' But, her voice didn't have her usual tone of conviction. "But… we all know what his major attraction must be…." He paused for effect, not about to be dissuaded by Kiba's growling comments. "Who could be any better… you know… doggy style…." That had everyone speaking up at once. A rather exasperated Shikamaru put a hand over his face.
"Naruto!" Sakura didn't sound too pleased. As usual, she was Team 7's propriety police.
"This might not have been such a good idea," Choji said to Ino. The look on her face was a sight to see. She opened her mouth to speak, but was beaten to the punch.
"Get down on your knees and bark like a dog, baby…." Naruto smiled, having done a near perfect imitation of Kiba's voice. "Aroooo-ooo-oo-o…." After Naruto howled, Shino and Lee had to restrain Kiba. "Of course… I would not be surprised… if Akamaru likes to watch…."
"I could see something like that be true," one of the Genin girls said.
"Totalleee-ee-e…." One of her friends agreed. Like the other girls, she turned to look at the struggling boy. To some, Naruto's joking had chilled them to Kiba. But, for a small number of girls, it wouldn't be too far from factual to say they were intrigued.
"You're dead, Naruto!" Kiba's eyes were glowing. His hands were curved like claws. It almost looked as if he had begun a Jūjin Bunshin transformation. "Just you wait…."
"This kind of thing is not what I was after." Ino stood up, hands on her hips. Maybe she should have known better. But, Naruto had seemed to have matured more than she would have expected. No doubt Hinata was having a positive effect on him. That is, until tonight!
"I know," Naruto said, feeling somewhat guilty. He had come here with the intention of sharing what little advice he had on dating. He had learned a lot through trial and error, over the past few weeks. "Sorry. I shouldn't let myself be so easily provoked." For a while after that, he spoke personably, occasionally looking over at Hinata and asking for her two cents on things.
"One thing we all probably know…." Naruto couldn't help being a smart ass again, for a moment. "Except, maybe for Sai…." He smiled. "It's normal for someone our age to be interested in dating…." He held his hands out. "If we have the time… and if we can get all of that shinobi stuff off of our minds…." He had gotten distracted himself, caught up with Akatsuki, training, and the like. If it hadn't been for Ino's double date idea, he still would be unattached and unlikely to change any time soon.
"Like that can ever happen." Shikamaru sighed and made a face. Asuma had said he had the talent to be Hokage, but not the desire. That was all so true! If he wasn't so talented at his profession… if the village didn't need his considerable… and if his father hadn't been part of a very similar triumvirate… he would rather be anything but a ninja. "If it could, why should anyone want to waste their peace and quiet with someone else…." Even Temari hadn't been able to win him over entirely, even though she had come close. Going home after their date and seeing how his mother hen-pecked his father did a lot to let the air out of his balloon.
"I can think of a number of reasons!" Kiba spoke up loudly again.
"Down boy!" Naruto grinned, looking down at Kiba. "Not everyone is a nag," he said to Shikamaru, correctly guessing his friend's thoughts. He made it a point not to meet Ino's eyes at the moment. She was a very nice girl. But, she certainly could be bossy! "It can be nice sharing quiet time with someone." He looked back at Hinata.
"That's right!" Ino leaned forward in her seat, trying to meet Shikamaru's gaze. He simply slumped further in his chair. "If someone like Naruto can enjoy spending quiet time with someone, anyone else can, too…." She put her hand to her mouth. That didn't quite come out the way she wanted it to.
"Naruto?" Choji grinned. "Quiet?" He chuckled. "That would be a miracle…." A large number of people spoke up, agreeing.
"You shouldn't have said that," Shikamaru said with a sigh. He was genius enough to know how Naruto might react. Things had been troublesome enough already, as far as he was concerned.
"I can be quiet!" Naturally, Naruto's voice reached its highest volume yet, with that reply. He coughed. "I mean… I'm not always loud…." He looked over at Ino, Shikamaru, and Choji. Now it was their turn to be in his sights. Out of his vision at the moment, Hinata nodded her head. Things were going well, without any need for scripting. "But at least I can be enthusiastic about things… unlike someone I know…."
"Don't bring me into this." Shikamru frowned. He had no doubt about what Ino's motivation had been in organizing this talk. "What a drag."
"It's amazing how someone can be so lazy and easygoing, and still have two cute girls chasing after him," Naruto said. He remembered pushing his friend into the arena, when he had been considering accepting a forfeit, instead of facing Temari. "He'd rather take a nap, or get involved in the kind of games that old men play…." He began marching back and forth again. "He was the first to make Chuunin, even though he called himself 'the number one coward' and 'the number one at running away'."
"Shikamaru's no coward…." Choji looked very serious now. He didn't like to hear anyone make fun of his friend.
"He is when it comes to girls." Naruto put both hands behind his neck. "Even though he's a brilliant strategist, and could keep ten moves ahead of any girl…." He held his hands the way that Shikamaru did when he was formulating a plan. He looked down at Kiba. "Hey! Kiba! What would you do if someone like Temari was interested in you?"
"Are you kidding me?" Kiba stood up. "Schwiii-ii-ing…." He thrust his hips this way and that. "That girl can give me a fan job any time she likes!"
"Temari's not so great," Ino groused. "No matter what Mr. Sensitivity thinks." She gave Kiba the evil eye.
"You shouldn't be too jealous," Sai offered, having been reading up on envy and other human emotions. "I'm certain that Kiba would feel the same way about you." Not understanding the whole 'schwing' business, he had expected Ino to smile and tell him 'Thanks.' The look on her face had him stiffening. At his side, Sakura hid a grin.
"I think Shikamaru just needs to see how nice it is having someone care for him." Naruto looked down at Ino. She was nodding her head fervently. He smirked. "We know you have a mature outlook, no matter how bossy and troublesome you think girls are. You said you want to 'marry someone who is
not ugly, or beautiful. Have two children, first a girl, then a boy. Retire after your daughter is married, and your son has a job, and spend the rest of your life playing Shogi. And to die before your wife'." He rubbed his chin. "Before you can have a wife… you'll need to have a girlfriend…."
"That's right." Ino drummed her fingers on her chair rail, hoping to see some kind of spark in her teammate's eyes. As usual, she was out of luck.
"Spare me." Shikamaru closed his eyes.
"Just think of the fringe benefits." Naruto tried to sound serious again. "With the Shadow Imitation Technique, you can grab multiple targets at once, if you know what I mean…." That had Ino turning bright red. She knew exactly what Naruto meant. Hinata was too naïve to catch his drift, otherwise she might have felt a bit woozy. "Hey, you could even do that when you were sitting with two girls. Sayyy-yy-y… a girl from the Leaf on the left… and a girl from the Sand on the right…."
"That would be…." Choji's eyes looked intense. He was imaging just that. Snot began dripping from both nostrils. He couldn't help but look over at Ino.
"Menage a tois," Kiba offered helpfully. This was great, when he wasn't the one being singled out.
Shikamaru knew it wouldn't do him any good to deny anything. Besides, why should he make an effort in replying to something like that? Ino, on the other hand, took great offense, and was quick to get to her feet.
"Now's not the time to volunteer… with everyone watching…." Naruto said to Ino. "I'm sure that Shikamaru will take your application under consideration some day." He checked back with Hinata for a moment, searching her face. She didn't give him one of those admonishing looks, so he decided to continue. "You graduated as one of the best kunoichi in our class. You would probably do just about anything for flowers. You have just the type of outgoing personality that someone like Shikamaru that needs." He chuckled, thinking of something. "You know the Shōsen Jutsu… Mystical Palm Technique… what guy wouldn't like that?" Naruto's play on words was referencing a multi-purpose technique used by medical ninjas to heal wounds and perform surgery.
"…" Ino opened her mouth but couldn't get her tongue to work. Kiba slapped Shino so hard on the back that he almost knocked his glasses off. Lee asked Ten Ten what Naruto meant. That had his teammate turning red in the face. She couldn't help but look over at Neji then, who immediately looked uncomfortable with the attention.
"Naruto-kun." Hinata had caught on that time. She grabbed onto one of the control ropes to steady herself.
"That is indeed a useful technique," Sai put in, wanting to compliment Ino. She had trained as a combat life-saver, and that kind of skill was very valuable when medical ninjas were not around. "Because it is done with chakra, she does not need to cut through clothing to reach organs."
"Heh… heh… heh…." Kiba looked like he had just won the lottery. "He said 'organs'. He knew that would get a rise out of Ino. It did. She looked like she couldn't decide who she wanted to kill first, jokester Kiba, clueless Sai, or troublemaker Naruto.
"And let's not forget the Shintenshin no Jutsu," Naruto continued. "The famous Mind Body Switch Technique." He rubbed his nose, ready for the punch line. "Now that could be pretty kinky…."
"You shouldn't say those things about Ino," Choji said. It was his turn to get out of his seat, now. It wasn't a secret, the fact that he had a crush on his female teammate. "She's a nice girl!"
"You're right," Naruto said, nodding his head in admiration, happy to see the rotund boy stand up for their common friend. "This should serve as a notice for all you other girls." Naruto swept his arm across his body, taking in the entire crowd with his gesture. "Remember what I said about not judging a scroll by its cover? Choji's a really great guy. He may have the kindest heart of anyone here." He meant that. "And no one better ever use the 'F' word for him!? He clenched both fists. He was not joking at that moment. When he heard a number of hushed responses, he quickly added "I meant the three letter 'F' word."
"What other 'F' word is there?" Sai asked Sakura that, knowing that it was unacceptable to call Choji 'f-a-t'. An instant later, he found himself tumbling through the air, landing on Shino's lap.
"You're not my type," Shino said, pushing the other boy to the floor. He wished that a girl had fallen there instead, since he personally felt that the only way he would ever find a soulmate was if Fate could drop one in his lap. Courtship for Aburame males was not as easy as it was for everyone else, for obvious reasons.
"Choji is big-boned," Naruto insisted, smiling when those words gave him another off-color idea. "He's pretty muscular now, and not nearly as obese. You girls should keep that in mind. Big men often have big…."
"N-A-R-U-T-O-!" Sakura, Ino, Ten Ten, and Hinata all spoke up at once.
"I can vouch for that," Sai put in, wondering why the girls had reacted that way. "I have shared the showers with Choji and.…" Just as he had been about to sit down in his seat again, his teammate sent him flying.
"But wait… there's more…." Naruto sounded like someone hawking a miracle kitchen utensil on TV. "Not only that, but you ladies should all remember that he can do Bubun Baika no Jutsu… the Partial Multi-Size Technique…." He paused for effect. Looking down at Kiba, he could tell that his friend knew what was coming next. "That allows him to increase the size of any body part."
"Any…." Lee swallowed hard. He was feeling a bit inadequate at the moment.
"I wonder if someone else can learn that?" Ten Ten looked ready to faint, after realizing that she had spoken her thoughts out loud. Everyone turned to look at her. Neji had a sweat drop on the side of his face, even though he didn't know why.
"It might prove useful for someone following in Tsunade's footsteps," Ino quipped, trying to shake off the embarrassment she still felt. "Certain people aren't as blessed as others." She didn't bother looking over at Sakura. She'd know who and what she was talking about.
"Ino pig…." Sakura growled. The arms of her chair broke off in her hands.
"Truly?" It seemed that Sai never learned. Limping back to his spot, he ended up in the rafters this time.
"Why don't we all settle down and take the subject seriously." Naruto somehow managed to say that with a straight face. Everyone went silent, staring at him incredulously. "Shinobi teenagers really don't know how to date." He knew that all too well. Practically all of them did. "We've learned a lot of things in the classroom, and on the practice fields. But, there are a lot of things we don't otherwise have reason to know. How to respect someone's person space…."
"Or personal places…." That was Kiba. Of course. He looked up to where he figured Hinata must be standing, wishing he could see his teammate's face. He heard a thump. That would be her falling onto her rear end. He grinned, put his hands behind his head, and leaned back in his chair.
"The do's and don'ts of a give and take relationship," Naruto added, ignoring his raucous friend. He coughed, unable to look over at his girlfriend. They hadn't done anything with 'personal places.' That did not mean he hadn't thought about that, however. "Looking for people who share the same values we do, not just someone who's convenient, or catches our eyes." He spread his legs apart and looked somewhat stern. This message was for all of the people who kept intruding in on his time alone with Hinata. "People need privacy. They don't want to have to talk about everything they do."
"Yes," Hinata whispered. If she had a coin for every time one of her girlfriends asked her what she had done with Naruto the day before, she could start her own business, or keep her boyfriend in noodles for months on end.
"I hope you know all the do's and don'ts." That was Ten Ten, feeling compelled to speak up on behalf of Neji, who she knew would remain silent in a gathering like that. No doubt he would be concerned about the honor and well-being of his cousin. "And you better respect her privacy… and her… well…." Her voice ran down. She blushed slightly. "You know what I mean."
"I certainly do." Naruto wasn't angry at Ten Ten's concerns, since he felt very much the same way. But, once again, he wasn't very pleased about people making assumptions about him, or telling him what he had to do.
"None of us…." Neji did decide to speak up, if only to reassure his friend that he had no worries about Hinata, since he trusted Naruto implicitly. He was too late.
"But, I wonder if Neji knows that Ino asked me to speak on this subject for Ten Ten's sake as much as her own." He tugged at one ear, seeing both Ten Ten and Ino sitting up straighter in their seats. Ten Ten was waving her arms frantically, as if she could somehow hold back the tidal wave hat was coming. "You might have been luckier if he still believed that people's destinies were already decided. Astrology can't predict everything, you know!" He knew that astrology was one of Ten Ten's hobbies.
"Ten Ten?" Lee was not always the quickest to catch on. "Is that why you are always spending so much time training with Neji?" His eyes widened. "Gai-sensei never mentioned any such thing." To Lee, if Gai didn't mention something, it wasn't worth considering. That, despite the fact that Sai had spilled the beans when he as standing before many of the people present there today.
"Who can blame her?" Naruto smiled. Lee had handed him the perfect segue. "Neji's a pretty great guy. He was the number one rookie of his Academy class. Some people thought he was the strongest Genin trying to become a Chuunin during those first exams. He was the first of my friends to make Jounin."
"Why don't you two get a room, then?" Kiba guffawed. "Maybe Hyuugas are like potato chips, right Choji?" He thumbed his nose at Naruto. "Once you have one, you can never stop. Naruto… Hinata has a little sister too, you know…."
"It would do you well to be more serious," Shino said with a droll tone of voice. "Your joking around will get you in trouble some day."
Naruto opened his mouth to make an angry retort. But, he was learning. He was in the catbird seat at the moment, standing on stage with everyone's eyes on him, microphone in hand. "Let's have a show of hands," he called out. "For all you girls here today, how many are impressed at Kiba's razor sharp wit?" He looked around the room. "How many are more eager to go out on a date with him than you were before?" Only one girl raised her hand. Looking embarrassed, she tried to sump down in her chair to avoid notice. "Hmmm-mm-m… I'm sure there's a lesson to be learned there…." Kiba didn't look so very pleased with himself any more.
"Maybe more people should listen to me," Shino remarked.
"Great." Sakura sounded dejected. "He getting himself all worked up again." She scowled at Naruto. "Practice is going to be a pain in the neck for the rest of the week."
Sitting next to her, Sai rubbed his neck. It already hurt, thanks to his pink-haired teammate.
"Where was I?" Naruto scratched at the back of his head. He snapped his fingers, looking over at Ten Ten. "Oh yeh! Neji. A great catch for any girl who might have a crush on him. We all know that the most powerful techniques are normally kept within the Main Hyuuga family. Even though Neji is part of the Branch family, he learned those jutsu. Know how? Simple observation!" He reached inside of his pouch. "Just think what he might be able to do after looking at this." He tossed a copy of the latest Icha Icha book to his white-eyed friend. The usually calm Neji bobbled it like it was a hot coal. He did not like being the center of attention. Especially not now, with the particular subject at hand.
"Naruto-kun." Hinata did not seem very pleased with that last move. But, one has to break eggs to make an omelet.
"Just think about it…." Naruto promised himself to apologize to Hinata later. He couldn't stop now. He was on a roll. "He could touch you in sixty-four places before you knew it…." He saw Ten Ten turn beet red. "The Byakugan is just like X-ray vision. He can probably see through clothes, right?" That had Neji looking away. He wasn't about to admit that he had tried to misuse the Hyuuga talent that way.
"Can it?" Ten Ten put her hand to her mouth when Neji refused to look at her. Then, she smiled a shy smile. Maybe he had noticed her after all.
"Neji…." Lee's mouth fell open. "Did you…." He began blinking rapidly. Sakura's image came to mind. That was wrong! It was indecent! She was one of the fine flowers of Konoha! After this talk, he would need to run one hundred laps around the village.
"I can almost imagine how cute Ten Ten would look," Naruto said. "With those hair buns on… and nothing else…." That had Neji twitching. Hinata too. Naruto shook his head at her, as if to say 'I said almost'. "I bet it makes you want to take her for a Heavenly Spin…." After he said, that, it looked like neither Ten Ten nor Neji would be able to speak for a while.
"Naruto!" Sakura sounded rather peeved again. He had stepped way over the line that time. "Stop being such a pervert! I knew it was a bad idea, your training with that old hermit. I bet Hinata doesn't appreciate that kind of talk."
"Unless she's doing the spinning!" Kiba listened again. He smiled. The impact was even louder this time. No doubt Hinata had toppled over like a cut tree.
Naruto looked down at his teammate, tapping a finger against his cheek. He knew that there would be Hell to pay, if he spoke out about her the way he had done about everyone else. Then again, he was Uzumaki Naruto! He was not about to back down from any kind of challenge. "Sakura… Sakura… Sakura…." He sighed in put on fashion. "You'd think all of the boys in the village would be chasing after you. I mean… pink is really hot…."
"Wh-… Wh-… What?" Sakura brought her hand to her cheek and blushed. Was Naruto making some kind of confession in front of all of them? Might he have started to realize that Hinata wasn't the right girl for him? Her anger vanished. She should have been suspicious right from the start, but was far too distracted. Even the 'Inner Sakura' appeared in her mind, seeing that her emotions were tied up in a knot.
"I can't understand why Lee is the only one interested." Naruto didn't intend to be cruel to either Lee or Sakura. After all, he had gone to great efforts earlier, trying to make the two of them happy if he could. "You're bright, having the highest scores in our class. You're almost as cute as Ino." He owed
Ino that one. He also knew instinctively, if anything would get him treated like a pinata again, it would be that comment. "But, not nearly as cute as Hinata." To be Hokage some day, he had to learn to be a good politician. Just the same, as far as he was concerned, Hinata really was the cutest.
"Na… rooo-oo-o… to…." Sakura had to be restrained by Sai, who had created a number of ink clones. "Just… you… wait…."
"When we first joined Team 7, your stamina and overall talent were far below average." Naruto knew that he might as well go for broke. He had already earned the full-Sakura treatment. "About the only thing you could do was get rid of genjutsu, and say 'Sasuke-kunnnn-nnn-nn-n'…." Sai's creations were having a tough time now. "But, you put all that behind you. After training with Old Lady Tsunade, you've become really impressive…." That had his teammate calming down. As it was, Sai was splotched with ink. "You also look more like a woman now." He thought back to when he had returned from training with Ero-Sennin. Sakura had actually come close to flirting with him, asking if she had changed. She had been royally pissed off when he said that he didn't notice any difference.
Sakura instinctively smoothed her hands down along her sides, accentuating her somewhat more mature curves. That had poor Lee's eyes going so wide, that his eyelids got stuck.
"I know!" Naruto smacked his fist into his palm. "It must be the forehead!" That zinger had Ino clapping her hands, her anger at Naruto forgotten for a moment.
"THAT'S IT!!" Sakura pushed Sai and his ink creations aside with ease. She began walking through the rows of seats in front of her row, leaving a trail of destruction in her wake. She jumped up on the stage, rolling her sleeves up both arms.
"You won't hurt Naruto-kun." Hinata rushed out from where she had been standing. She would never let anything happen to him, while she was around. Today, she would be especially protective, since by keeping quiet, she had allowed things to progress the way that she had initially hoped for.
"Don't try to stop me," Sakura seethed. "You know he deserves this." She laced her fingers together and cracked her knuckles.
"Cat fight!" That was Kiba. He wasn't being observant as much as he was getting his hopes up. His words had the opposite effect. Both girls looked at one another… looked over at Naruto… and then looked down at their feet. Giving Naruto a look that promised a vengeance that Sasuke would die for, the pink-haired girl returned to what remained of her chair.
"Thanks, Hinata-chan." Naruto smiled when Hinata blushed. No matter how many times he added on the '-chan,' she would turn pink in the face. Girls!
"Ohhhh-hhh-hh-h…." Lee stood up now, his eyes ablaze. "Do not think that you have escaped retribution!" He stood on top of his chair. He was posing again. "You are my good friend, and I owe you a great deal… but I will not let anyone treat Sakura that way…." That proclamation had the pink-haired kunoichi hanging her head.
"All of that hard work…." Naruto shook his head, remembering how hard he and Hinata had worked, trying to change Lee's habits. He frowned. All their efforts gone to waste! That had him feeling ticked off at the moment. He squared his shoulders and resumed his routine. "You're a very admirable guy, Lee…." He gave his friend a 'V' sign. "…Despite having Gai for your sensei." He knew there couldn't be a lower blow than that one. "I hope you won't have the same luck with women that he had…."
"G-… G-… G-…." Lee was sputtering now. "Gai-sensei is the best! The women of the village just do not know how to appreciate someone like that. They are still trapped in the Dark Age of the past!" That certainly didn't win him any female admirers.
"But they do know what they have in you," Naruto said. "Lee is the genius of hard work. He's someone who would stand up for their honor, no matter what. He can create more sticky hearts than anyone else in Konoha!" He had to keep from laughing. Sakura turned as white as a sheet. "Now that the green stretchy suit, bowl hair cut, and big bushy eyebrows are gone, what's not to like?"
"I'm sure you will tell us," Shiakamru said, chin resting on his folded hands. He didn't object when a sympathetic Ino rubbed his back.
"Uhhhh-hhh-hh-h…." Naruto struck a pose. "The burning youth of this village can never hope to reach the level of excellence that Lee has set." He thumped himself in the chest. "Not to mention, but he's also a really cheap date, ladies. It only takes one drop of alcohol to get him drunk. He turns into a real wild man after that, if you know what I mean."
"…" It was Lee's turn to be speechless. Yes, he did indeed go wild, thanks to the Drunken Fist. But, it was not wild in an amorous manner.
"And just when those other guys might be running out of juice…." Naruto grinned. He was having way too much fun. "B-a-n-g-!" The way he said that, had a number of people jumping out of their seats. "He can open five out of the eight chakra gates: Opening…." He held up one finger. "Rest… Life… Pain… and Closing." He held up four more fingers in succession, smirking as he did so. "For you lucky girls, that opens the sixth gate… Joy…." He had no reason to mention the two remaining gates, Shock and Death.
"Lee!" Ten Ten rushed to help her teammate. It looked like Lee was overheating. Neji and some of the other ninjas joined her.
"They should rename the book the Chakra Sutra," Naruto remarked, showing no mercy. Lee began flopping around like a fish, his imagination running wild with him. It was more than his honest and innocent mind could handle at that moment.
"It might be a good time for you to leave, Naruto-kun." Hinata walked over to stand by Naruto and the microphone.
"You're probably right, Hinata-chan." Naruto turned to leave. But, he had caught sight of something. No. Not something. Someone. Shino. His stoic and matter-of-fact friend rarely smiled or showed emotion at all. But, the mysterious shinobi placed a lot of value on friends and teamwork, and had a tendency of holding grudges. Naruto remembered how he failed to recognize him when he returned to the village, even though he easily recognized Kiba and Hinata. Shino had harped on that for months! "Not… just… yet…."
Naruto created a long line of Bunshin. They all put their fingers in their mouths and whistled loudly. When he had everyone's attention again, he said "I don't want to forget Shino!" He grinned. Maybe his friend would have appreciated being overlooked this time. "Some girls probably think that kind of mysterious look is sexy." Shino was wearing a grayish-green, hooded jacket over a black, high-collared, buttoned shirt similar to his old outfit.
"Who!" One girl's shout had a number of other girls echoing her.
"More than you think," Naruto replied, lying through his teeth. "Now… I know what some of you might be thinking… those who don't know him too well…." He shivered, thinking the same thing himself. "It's kind of creepy… his being infused at birth with a special kind of chakra-eating insect…." The girls in the front row were turning green in the face. One looked to have developed a bad case of the hiccoughs. Either that or she was gagging. It wasn't any fun, picturing someone as a walking bug's nest. "But… I'm sure that the more sophisticated women can look beyond that…."
"Don't count on it!" A number of girls had shouted that out at the same time.
"Ahaaa-aa-a!" Naruto pointed his finger at one of the girls. "I know what's really worrying you!" he nodded his head. "You're worried that bugs might come flying out of his p-.…" He couldn't get the word out. Hinata had shocked everyone watching by clamping her hand over his mouth. Shino and everyone else were glad that she had. "Mrphlbrphlgrbl…."
"That's enough, Naruto-kun." Hinata shook her head. She knew exactly what Naruto had almost said. She still felt weak in the knees. "Hurry on out the back while I kept their attention."
As Naruto left through a back door, wanting to get a head start before his unhappy friends decided to show him just how upset they were, Hinata timidly approached the microphone.
"Testing… testing…." The shy girl didn't feel comfortable speaking in front of this many people. But, she had gotten exactly what she had hoped for. It would all go to waste, if she didn't drive the point home. "Ummm… I…."
"We don't have all day," Kiba said gruffly. "We have someone to catch and beat to a bloody pulp."
"Exactly," Shino added.
"It's…." Hinata coughed to clear her throat. "It's best to try and find your own way to win someone's heart." She looked over across the rows of ninja. "Don't keep pestering us for advice…."
Everyone went dead quiet hearing that. They could believe that Hinata had been so forceful, in her own way. Naruto must be rubbing off on her.
"That is all." Hinata pushed the sliding switch that turned off the microphone. She headed off after Naruto. She knew exactly where he would be headed. The Ichiraku Ramen Bar.
She might be quiet. She might be shy. But, that did not mean she was stupid.
Her plan had worked like a charm.