There weren't all that many people on the streets of Konoha at this early hour, just a few shops opening early and the occasional ninja getting an early start on their training. Therefore there were few witnesses to a weapon smith by the name of Kuroda as he staggered along one of the main streets. Accompanying him, but being careful to stay upwind, was Inuzuka Tsume, who displayed a small degree of compassion by agreeing to make sure that he'd make it home. Of course, she was only doing this by dragging him to his feet on those occasions when what little was left of the man's balance deserted him.

The two of them were part of the rather small minority of the players from last night's game of cards that hadn't decided that it would be safer to stay in the bar for the immediate future. Once rumour went around and exagerated their losses, the theory went, their families would actually be relieved that the exagerations weren't true and be slightly more forgiving about what they had in fact lost and who they had lost to.

Besides Tsume and Kuroda, those leaving had included the Uzumaki-gaki and his two new Neechans (Tsume cackled at the thought), Aburame Shibi and the Hokage. The Hokage had left a couple of ANBU on guard over the bar to make sure that no one drunkenly decided to expunge their shame through seppuku and sent another off to the Hokage tower warning them that he wouldn't be arriving until quite late today, if at all, and not to bother him unless there was a verified bijuu attack for him to take his frustration out on at the general perversity of the universe. With just a little luck, Danzo would make himself an irritation and Sarutobi would put him out of the village's misery but that would probably be too much to hope for.

Shibi had been entrusted with taking the 'bank' for the game and the assorted chips retained by various players and having the damage worked out. Unless there was an awful lot more money in the bank than Tsume thought, then at least some of the gaki's winnings would have to be properties that had been put up in lieu of cash and whose owners couldn't afford to redeem them today. How much would depend on how much the various losers could scrape together.

Tsume herself wasn't badly off. She'd lost a fair bit of money, but she'd learnt from years of playing against the rest of the Konoha Council never to bet more than she was prepared to lose. The bit that stung a little was that Kuromaru had convinced her to wager one of his pups, but that was basically his call and unless the Uzumaki-gaki fucked up somehow she'd let it ride. She wasn't sure if Kuromaru's mate would though.

Kuroda was in a similar boat actually. Unlike Tsume, he'd managed to stay about even in financial terms and would be able to afford to redeem his shop from the bank once he sobered up. Of course, what he had lost had been...

"Daddy!" squealled a little girl, her hair in two unevenly-sized buns as she ran out of the shopfront towards Kuroda. "What happened? I woke up and you weren't here!" She wrapped her arms around his legs possessively, which unfortunately put him off his balance again. "Daddy!?"

"Eh, don't sweat it, kid," Tsume told the girl as she caught hold of Kuroda under the armpits. "He's just been up too late so he's real sleepy. Show me where he sleeps and I can put him there."

The child hesitated, looking up at the fierce looking kunoichi and then nodded. "Okay," she agreed. "We can put him here!"

Inside the shop, behind the racks of weapons, was another room, this one opening onto a rear yard and containing a hearth and anvil along with all the other tools necessary to produce high-grade ninja weapons. The girl, Tenten, guided Tsume to lay Kuroda out on a couch that sat next to the hearth. "Daddy naps here sometimes," she explained. "And the stairs are too narrow to carry him up. Is he going to be alright?"

"I'm sure he'll be fine," Tsume said. "He's just tired and once he wakes up he'll be thirsty. Make sure you wake him before noon though, he's got to meet the Hokage this afternoon."

"Really?" Tenten said, wide-eyed. "I met him last week, he was really nice. But Daddy's a very heavy sleeper, I dunno if I can wake him."

"Trust me," Tsume said with a smirk. She picked up one of the smaller hammers and placed it on the anvil. "You just keep hitting the anvil with this hammer and I'm sure it'll wake him right up."

Tenten's face was guileless as she studied the anvil and hammer carefully, making certain that she understood her instructions. She didn't see Tsume's smirk at the thought of Kuroda's likely reaction to being woken like that, along with the news that he would have for little Tenten.


As far as Mitarashi Anko was concerned, there was only one way to wake up that was worth a damn and it was all too rare that she could find anyone that would wake her the way that she liked, shuddering and moaning. This afternoon, as the sun reached it's height, she managed to segue right out of a dream involving Kurenai, slave costumes, chocolate chip cookies and some guy who must have had a horse somewhere in his ancestry to a shuddering woken state as someone stirred very pleasently against her sensitive bits.

Wherever it was seemed familiar and safe, thus Anko didn't snap to full alertness as she would have in the field. Instead she slowly catalogued her impressions, building up a picture of her situation as she tried to remember what had happened last night. Judging by the slight headache, it had involved alcohol, but not too much. Oh, this was Kurenai's bedroom. Maybe she'd finally had her wicked way with innocent lil'Kurenai-chan! If so, then she'd definitely want to make a habit of feeling like this.

Turning her head, she saw Kurenai's face, somewhat flushed, framed by her raven black hair and the white of a pillow case. Oh good, she mused, languidly moving one arm down to caress the head that was resting against her chest. It is Kurenai-chan... Wait, Kurenai's head is over there so whose head is on my boobs? A threesome? Kurenai-chan is more kinky than I thou- She glanced down and saw a head of short, spiky blond hair and memory flooded back to her.

"Oh... shit..." she muttered out loud. The Hokage would have her head if he thought that she was taking advantage of her new master.

"Anko?" muttered Kurenai. "What are you doi-oh-oh-oooooh...!"

"Both our heads," Anko mumbled, not in answer to her friend's question, as she sniffed and detected the scent that she expected. Carefully, she untangled herself from the possessive arm that Naruto had thrown across her, and shifted a pillow to lie under his head in place of her chest. Sliding out of bed, she scampered around the room to Kurenai and began to pull her friend away from Naruto. Somehow, Naruto's knee had managed to get between Kurenai's legs, the cause for her friend's 'excitement. "Damn, kid. Uh, master. You're going to be a real menace to society in a couple of years."

With Kurenai seperated from Naruto, Anko looked around. She'd seen glimpses of Kurenai's bedroom before, through windows or if Kurenai left the door open, and of course, she'd been through it a couple of times when Kurenai was away, looking for blackmail material. The only things that looked at all out of place was the skirt draped over the door handle (which she retreived and slipped on again - no point making matters worse by flashing the kid... no, flashing her master, better get used to that... and how bad could it be? She'd had a master before, there was no way that Naruto would be as bad as Orochimaru and there was a seductive feeling of liberation to having someone else that the big decisions could be deferred to.

Plus, Kurenai had agreed to wearing 'servant outfits' and Anko knew just the thing. All she'd have to do was talk Naruto-sama around and go get a tailor working. Anko giggled. Oh yeah, this was going to be so much fun!

"Mumble... jiji... grunt... we... having... fish Ramen today?... mmm... smells fresh..."

Anko fell over laughing at what Naruto was mumbling in his sleep, the sound waking Kurenai, who sat up suddenly, her dress sliding off one shoulder. "Anko? What are you doing... I had the strangest dream..." Naruto rolled over, bumping Kurenai's hip. "Anko... it was a dream, wasn't it? You didn't lose me in a game of poker and then molest me in front of half the Council, did you? There's some completely innocent reason that there's a six year old in my bed... and that there are wet patches on my sheets..."

"No... yes... yes... no..." Anko replied. "And you weren't complaining last night."

"No, no, I suppose I didn't," the other chuunin admitted. "But I was drunk."

"And not complaining," Anko smirked. "Very much not complaining..."


The Sandaime Hokage shook his head sadly once he got back to the bar and saw that although the little group drowning their sorrows had been depleted slowly as the small hours of the morning as those trying to forget the previous night were collected by various clan members (It wasn't as if the wives and older children of the players didn't know what it meant when they weren't home by the morning after the game) some of them were still drinking like teenagers. The Ino-Shika-Cho trio were hanging off each other just to stay upright

"Honestly," Yoshino Nara muttered. "You know that you need to be up in time to take the children to the picnic. You don't expect your wives and I to make the food and run around after the three of them, do you?"

She drove her husband and his teammates out of the bar, cracking the whip ferociously. Since the whip was made of razor-edged chain links rather than rawhide, it was reasonable to presume that it was a combat implement and not a kinky toy. Although rumour had it that Yoshino was a dab hand with whips in that context - Sarutobi had never quite dared to check with his crystal ball.

He wasn't getting younger, after all, and he'd not be much of a Hokage confined to a hospital bed receiving blood transfusions.

"Oi, Dad," came a rumble from the door.

"Asuma?" Sarutobi blinked, looking up from the pile of scrolls. The stocky young shinobi looked somewhat less martial than usual, since he was on leave from his assignment guarding the Daimyo of Hi no Kuni. The fact that he had his nephew strapped to him didn't help in that respect. "Goodness, is it that hour already?"

"Yeah, well," the younger Sarutobi muttered, tapping a cigarette out of a battered packet. "Hiding here to do your paperwork doesn't mean you can avoid your share of babysitting. I haven't had a smoke in six hours and that's enough of a sacrifice."

"This isn't my usual paperwork," the Hokage sighed. "There were three new players last night and one of them broke the bank. Naturally, I get invited to arbitrate the division of what spoils remain..."

"I guess it's just fate," Asuma smirked. "Serves you right for taking the job back, Dad. Anyway, here's the mighty Konohamaru and Sis says that if you smoke around him then she'll surgically implant your crystal ball in your nutsack."

Sarutobi accepted the child with a slight frown at his son's lack of filial respect. It seemed that junior needed another lesson in why he wasn't clan head. Now how to... ah, of course.

"Oh, you were dating Yuuhi Kurenai, weren't you," he asked absently.

"Sure, why?" Asuma asked. "Was she asking after me? Guess she must know what she's been missing."

"Actually, she's just entered into a relationship," his father told him with feigned innocence, putting Konohamaru down on the table, next to his hat. "She's one of the winner's winnings - the betting got a little fierce last night and all sorts of people wound up getting wagered. So now she's his property."

Asuma's eyes went wide. "Kurenai-chan was wagered to someone?" he exclaimed, the revelation causing him to miss the way that Konohamaru's eyes went wide at the big, triangle thing that wrinkly-face kept on his head. It was big and red had the curtain things hanging off the back...

Maybe it would be his friend?

"Oh yes," Sarutobi agreed. "That wasn't even the most extreme of wagers - Fugaku's wife and sons were on the table at one point..."

"Eh?" came a voice from the bar and the head of the Uchiha clan entered the main room, evidently four sheets to the wind. "You mention my name, Sarutobi?"

"Just mentioning last night's game, Fugaku."

"Oh yes," he nodded. "Can't remember much with the victory drinking, but - Hokage-sama, why is your hat moving?"

Sarutobi turned and realised that the large hat that marked him as Hokage was indeed moving slowly across the table. Reaching over, he plucked it into the air to reveal his crawling grandson. "I don't think it fits you yet, grandson," he chuckled.

Konohamaru glared, reached for the hat and then wailed when he realised it wasn't in reach. Not fair! He wanted the big hat! Meanie!

"Haha," Fugaku chortled. "Thought that I was seeing things there. Anyway, I guess I must have won big to judge by my wallet. Join me in a drink, Asuma?"

"Actually you lost far more than you won, last night, Fugaku," advised the Hokage. "Don't you remember?"

"No, not a..." Fugaku replied cheerfully. "Wait, no, I do remember... I lost..." His eyes went wide, Sharingan exploding into full activation as a sudden rush of adrenaline flushed the alcohol's comforting blur from his system. "Just out of interest, Sarutobi, are there any S-rank missions on your desk - you know, the sort of thing a man can go on with a solid expectation that he won't be coming back?"

The old man sighed. "No, Fugaku. Just... no. Go home, face your wife like a man and tell her how you lost her to a six year old boy in a game of poker." He paused and rubbed his beard. "Perhaps you'd better tell the rest of the Uchiha about how you lost The Secret first... you might not be in any condition to do so once Mikoto-chan is done with you and I'm certainly not going to be the one breaking the news to them."

"I lost the Secret?" exclaimed the suddenly white-faced Uchiha. When the Hokage nodded, he simply fainted dead away.


Naruto didn't want to wake up. Wherever he was sleeping was warm, with a softer bed and covers than he'd ever experienced before in his entire short life... and he felt safe. Protected.

If this was a dream then he never ever wanted to leave it.

"Naruto-sama?" whispered a voice next to his ear, a voice that he recognised from somewhere, but it was too much effort to try to recall where from - the mental focus required would surely snap him awake. Instead he burrowed down under the covers in denial.

"Wake up, Naruto-sama," the voice said again and a finger poked gently against his cheek. He opened his eyes reluctantly and saw a pair of crimson eyes staring down at him from a pretty face that he had only seen properly last night.


"Good morning, Naruto-sama," Kurenai told him. "Did you sleep well?"

Naruto blinked. "It wasn't a dream? I've really got Neechan? Yay!" he shouted and bounced right out of the bed and onto Kurenai, who staggered backwards under the unexpected impact, barely getting her arms around Naruto to stop him falling to the floor. "Kurenai-neechan..." he said happily, rubbing his cheek against hers.

Anko stood in the doorway and chuckled at the way Kurenai's eyebrows were twitching. "Getting all maternal already, Kurenai?"

The smirk was wiped off her face as Kurenai pried Naruto off her and held him out towards Anko. "Give Anko a hug too, Naruto-sama," she told him and Naruto quickly complied.

Anko froze as she felt the little boy wrap his arms around her neck and he had to hang by his arms for a moment before the kunoichi closed her arms around him, taking almost exagerated care not touch him anywhere that the Old Man might object to. She didn't really give a damn about what most people thought, but Sarutobi had taken a chance on her and she wasn't going to screw that up.


Uchiha Mikoto smiled as she watched her husband sleep. This wasn't the compassionate smile that she wore around her children, it was the slightly more predatory expression that betrayed her history as one of Konoha's more dangerous jounin. There wasn't any particular reason for directing those tendencies against her husband right now, but with a little luck he would convince himself that he'd forgotten something and would go to great lengths to make up with her. She felt in the mood for some pampering, particularly since Fugaku could hardly claim poverty given the wad of cash he'd brought home from the poker game last night.

He'd evidently spent some of it celebrating already, to judge by the expensive wine that she could smell on his breath even from halfway across the room and he'd staggered back to the Uchiha compound, assisted by a pair of the Military Police, some time after the sun had risen. Fortunately, he'd arrived shortly after Sasuke left the compound for his pre-Academy tuition, so their younger son hadn't had to deal with the trauma of seeing his father drunk as a skunk.

Yes, she was definitely overdue for some pampering - to judge by the rumours that had been being noised around by those Uchiha who kept themselves in touch with the local gossip, several of Konoha's most distinguished inhabitiants had been taken to the cleaners by someone and would be economising their expenditure for a while. That meant that the going rates for all sorts of luxury treatments would be dipping markedly - by the Sharingan, she might actually be able to get her hair cut by the great Hoshi Masote without having to break into his shop at night and remove some of the Hyuuga from the advanced bookings!

Carefully masking her smile, she produced her husband's daisho from a chest in their bedroom, along with a whetstone and began touching up the edge of the weapon. It wasn't the entirely functional weapon that she had used during her ANBU career, instead being the ancestral weapons that had been handed down through the Uchiha family for generations. There was something about the calming sound of whetstone against the antique steel that always put Fugaku in a pliable mood...


There was a deadly silence in the small park where the Nara, Akimichi and Yamanaka clans had gathered. Even the six-year-old Chouji had stopped munching on his potato chips... and for an Akimichi was too shocked to eat was a very bad sign.

"You lost the Sankyu?" Chouza's wife said in a voice of absolute horror. The Sankyu was her absolute favorite place to eat in the entire village and because she was married to the owner she'd not only received complementary meals there, she'd also been able to ensure that any receipes she particularly liked from elsewhere were added to the menu.

Chouza grimaced. The idea had been to break the news gently by detailing the losses one item at a time. Unfortunately, the first thing he'd admitted to losing had caused this much trouble.

"There there, dear," Yoshino said, patting her friend's shoulder. "I'm sure your husband can buy it back, there's some 'gentleman's agreement' that they have with the other players. If he's a little short Shikaku can lend him the difference."

"Um," Yoshino's husband said, looking away. "Uh, well, I can't. I'm a bit short myself."

The look on Yoshino's face was the one that she usually wore when the links of her chain whip slowly clanked out of her sleeve in readiness to use. Fortunately, Shikaku had had the foresight to suggest she wore a short-sleeved dress to the picnic, so she wasn't carrying that particular weapon. "Shikaku, just how much did you lose? Exactly?"

"It's alright, Yoshino," Akimichi Chime reassured her friend. "We'll just have to have one of the other restaurants reorganised until it's like Sankyu's. Perhaps Moritake's would be a good choice - the location's almost as good."

Chouza coughed and hung his head.

"I... see..." Chime said slowly. "You lost Moritake's as well. Did you lose anything else? We had thirteen restaurants yesterday, so how many do we have today? Nine? Seven? Four?" The pitch of her voice was rising steadily as Chouza shamefacedly shook his head at each of her suggestions. "Two? One? None?"

Chouza's head stopped shaking and began nodding. Then he doubled over as his sweet and delicate (by Akimichi standards) bride buried her not at all delicate fist is his chest, just below his ribs. "I would appreciate a verbal response, Chouza!"

"I don't think he can talk right now," Inochi said. "Breathing may be a bit of a problem as well." Chime's glare turned upon the Yamanaka clan leader, promising him the receipt of prolonged and legendary torments in the near future. Inochi prudently stepped behind his own wife but she treacherously sidestepped, leaving him exposed to Chime's wrath.

"You!" the large woman snapped. "You're going to tell me everything that happened last night."

"Last night?" Inochi asked in a small, guilty voice that had sounded far more innocent inside his head. He shivered under the glare of Chime, Yoshino and his own dear wife. Oh, and little Ino-chan, who was showing far too much enthusiasm for the game of Bullying Papa at times.

Ino, in fact, decided to move onto the next stage and smacked her father with one little hand. Inochi rubbed his knee while he stared at his little princess. Not that she'd actually hurt him... but there was something about those innocent blue eyes staring up at him that pulled up every guilty memory about last night's Poker game...

"Bad Daddy."

His sweet, innocent, helpless little daughter... that he'd given to the Demonbrat... and the care of Orochimaru's apprentice...

The three women stared in shock as Inochi began blubbering, going to his knees and wrapping his arms around Ino, mumbling something about not letting anyone hurt his baby-girl.

"Chime," Yoshino said slowly. "Whip."

The Akimichi matron reached into her purse and pulled out Yoshino's chain whip, handing it to her friend, who cracked it at her husband.

"I wondered why you didn't want me to bring this today," she said matter-of-factly. "Now, tell us... everything."

"Everything?" Shikaku squeaked.

Crack. "Everything."


"Neechan?" Naruto asked. "What happens now?"

"Well," Kurenai said. "I think I remember the Hokage saying we should meet him at the Hyuuga Mansion so that you can take ownership of it. But that isn't for..." she checked the clock. "Um, two and a half hours yet. So there's time to get cleaned up, and to get something to eat."

Naruto's stomach rumbled and he looked down. "Uh, food sounds good," he said sheepishly. "Do I really have to go wash first?"

"Well, do you like the smell of food, Naruto-sama?" asked Kurenai. "And what about how you smell when you're all sweaty? Don't you think that that might spoil the smell of the food?"

"Oh!" Naruto exclaimed. "That makes sense, neechan." He paused and sniffed the air. "Uh, what's that smell, neechan? It's coming from the bed."

Kurenai flushed. "Er... you move... Naruto-sama... when you're asleep..."

"Huh? What's that got to do with it? My bed doesn't smell like that back at the orphanage."

"I'll tell you when you're older," Kurenai told him, remembering her own parents saying something similar to her when she was a child. "But the sooner you're washed, the sooner we can get some food!"

Naruto dashed for the door to the bathroom, accepting the change of subject without question. A moment later, he poked his head back around the door again. "We can go to Ichiraku's for ramen, can't we? I wanna give old man Teuchi a present, cause Ayame said it was her daddy's birthday yesterday and he was getting presents and stuff."

"Of course, Naruto-sama," Kurenai agreed. "Do you want help finding a present?"

"No, I got it!" Naruto replied, vanishing again, this time an event followed by the sound of running water.


The three of them had barely managed to step out of Kurenai's door and Anko was trying to tease the nature of Teuchi's present out of Naruto when she was interupted by a triumphant cry of: "We've got you, you little brat!"

In fairness to the pair of Uchiha Military Police, they weren't exactly thinking clearly as they descended upon Naruto. After failing to catch him the night before, they'd been faced with a choice between spending the whole night staking out the restaurant or returning home with their tails, metaphorically, between their legs.

Uchiha Fugaku was generally very reasonable about such failures. He understood that while the Military Police were elite shinobi with activated Sharingan and the best training and equipment that they could reasonably be provided with, there would be occasions when individuals might not quite reach the expected standards. He felt that such failures were best dealt with by extra training, docked wages and less demanding duties for the offenders. Given a choice between spending the night on the roofs of Konoha's commercial district or the next six months as gofers for Uchiha Mikoto when she went shopping, the pair had not unreasonably opted for the rooftops.

Unfortunately, they'd missed Naruto's departure from the game, since he'd been carried by Kurenai and the pair had quite naturally been distracted by Anko as she walked out the door, stretching out before she put her coat back on for the walk to Kurenai's apartment. They'd been defeated by their hormones, would it be reasonable to blame them? Of course not.

So after a long, cold night, the ANBU had finally stopped guarding the door and they had stormed in, impressing nobody except the pathetic drunks that they better knew as the elders of Konoha - fortunately, Fugaku had been too involved in drinking the bar dry to notice them. The policemen had therefore spent most of the morning searching Konoha for their quarry, fully intent on ensuring that Naruto was in custody at the Police Station before Fugaku sobered up.

The end result of several hours of frustration, on top of everything else that had gone wrong for them, had made them perhaps a little hasty and they therefore made the trivial mistake of not checking the area around Naruto for other people - after all, no one would be hanging around with the fox-brat, would they? On any previous day they would have been correct. Today... today was a very different day in the life of Uzumaki Naruto. Kurenai and Anko were both experienced chuunin and they reacted automatically to the attack on their new master, just as they would have on any assignment to act as bodyguards. One moment Naruto was between the two young woman, each hand held in one of theirs and the next moment Anko had grabbed him and leapt out of range of the threat while Kurenai moved to block the attackers.

The two policemen stared at what they had caught hold of. It didn't look like the fox brat. For one thing, six year old boy's didn't have breasts, especially the well developed ones that the two Uchiha's hands were currently clutching at... Their eyes slowly crept up, somewhat reluctantly, away from Kurenai's cleavage and towards her face, which was darkening noticabley.

"We're gonna die, aren't we," the older of the two Uchiha observed weakly.

Kurenai nodded grimly, producing a kunai. "Good guess."

The younger Uchiha swallowed, and then fatalistically squeezed Kurenai's breast anyway. He felt her killing intent focus upon him and flinched, her crimson eyes looking far too much as if they should have had tomoe spinning in them. "Hell, if you're going to kill me anyway..." he said, grinning nervously.

The crimson eyes narrowed. "Actually, given what you just did... I've decided not to kill you," she said, although her killing intent didn't waver in the least. She put her kunai away. "I'm going to give the job to someone else."

"Hi!" Anko said brightly, appearing between the two, kunai in both hands. "My name's Mitarashi Anko... yeah, that Mitarashi. His apprentice. And your hands? They're trespassing into places only my hands get to go to..."

One of the Uchiha simply fainted dead away at the implications of what he'd just heard and there was a crash that the participants in the little tableau as an ANBU up on a nearby roof was propelled backwards off the roof by a fountain of blood that erupted out of his nose, falling into a dumpster with a shocked look on his face. The elder of the two, possessed of more control over his hormones... or possibly just better survival instincts... turned to flee. He got about six steps along the street before a small foot hooked in front of his ankle and sent him face first into the ground. He rolled over just in time to see Anko's knee approaching his face.

"You've got good instincts," Anko praised Naruto once she was sure that the Uchiha wasn't going to get up immediately. "That was a nice piece of teamwork."

"It was quite good," Kurenai agreed, dragging the other Uchiha across to them by one ankle. "But you made one mistake, Anko."

"Eh? What do you mean?"

"You're not the only one who can touch them," smirked Kurenai. "Naruto, could you come and check my breast to make sure those nasty policemen didn't hurt them?"

Anko rubbed her thighs together unconciously as she watched Naruto standing next to the crouching Kurenai, rubbing her breasts to check for injuries. "But... that's not fair," she whined.


Somewhere beneath the Hokage Tower, in a disused sub-basement, is a closetful of broken weapons. If anyone really wanted to do the research, they would find that the weapons were trophies from the Second Great Shinobi War, damaged when the building they were in was burnt to the ground during the Third Great Shinobi War. How they wound up in a closet under the Hokage Tower is a story so long and stullifyingly boring that it has driven men mad. In fact, it's currently documented in a scroll locked safely away by the Torture and Interrogation Division for use in extreme cases.

None of which would be relevant, except that the back of the locker, if you put your finger into a knothole at just the right angle, can be moved aside. Putting your finger in the knothole at the wrong angle, will result in a splinter and the wound being so infected that you have less than a day to live.

If ROOT hadn't been disbanded more than a decade before, this would be where Danzo would be giving orders to his subordinates in that subdivision of ANBU. Since ROOT was dissolved, neither Danzo nor any theoretical subordinates were there and no orders were given. Thus, none of the following conversation actually took place. Are we clear on that?

"It would appear that the Hokage is absent from his office," Danzo observed from his desk, where he sat, the lower part of his face hidden behind the upraised fingers of his hand, on the heel of which his chin rested, with the effect that no one on the other side of the desk could see his mouth moving. "Also, Uzumaki Naruto has not yet returned to the orphanage and neither Mitarashi Anko nor Yuuhi Kurenai has reported for duty this morning."

Sai was standing at attention on the other side of the desk, which meant that he could just barely see over it. At least he didn't have to stand on a stool to give his reports though. "Mitarashi Anko's residence is not occupied," he reported calmly. "The temperature of her bedding indicates it has not been used for the last day."

Danzo frowned. The next logical step was to check Yuuhi's apartment... but the operative sent to do that hadn't returned yet. In fact, he was rather overdue. Which meant that the only question was whether to send Sai to accomplish the mission than an older operative had probably failed at, or have him seek out and recover the other operative.

Of course, all of this was secondary to discovering what had happened at the game after he'd left... the reports that he was receiving were contradictory but it was clear that most believed that the Uchiha Secret had been up for stakes, which might be an opportunity to obtain the Secret while it was outside the safeguards that the Uchiha usually set up to protect it. But Sai clearly couldn't be expected to deal with an operation of that importance just yet.

"Your next assignment is to locate your brother," Danzo ordered. "He is overdue to return from investigating Yuuhi Kurenai's apartment..."


Teuchi chuckled as he saw Naruto run into the stall. "Good afternoon Naruto," he said warmly. "You're looking hungry today."

"You bet I am!" Naruto declared. "I haven't had any breakfast yet so I'm gonna want a lot of Ramen!"

"Ayame!" Teuchi called. "Naruto's here and he's hungry - put some more broth on the stove. So, Naruto! How many bowls are you in the mood for today? Five? Six?"

"Uh..." Naruto looked thoughtful. "Ten! And I gotta buy for my neechans too so ten each, that's... um..." He started counting on his fingers. "Three tens is thirty, right?"

"Thirty bowls?" the ramen chef exclaimed. "Naruto, that's an awful lot of Ramen. Are you sure that you want to spend that much money? It'll wipe your allowance out for a week!"

"I don't think it'll leave him short," Kurenai said drily as she entered the stall.

"Hi Kurenai-neechan," Naruto said brightly. "Are you done with the policemen?"

"Police?" asked Teuchi. "What have you been up to this time, Naruto?"

"Nothing that wasn't to his profit," Kurenai said, taking a seat on one of the stools. "Anko is finishing up," she told her master, "But she'll be along in a minute."

Teuchi looked at Kurenai measuringly. He'd never met the chuunin before and he was surprised to find that young Naruto was so familiar with her, and presumably another kunoichi as well. "So then," he said mildly. "Naruto was planning to buy thirty bowls of ramen - ten for him and ten for you and his other neechan - Anko, you said?" There was something about that name that pulled at his memory but he couldn't place it.

Kurenai smiled. "That might be just a little too much, Naruto-sama," she told him. "If I ate ten bowls of ramen then I'd blow up like a ballloon. One or two bowls will do nicely for myself and Anko."

"Naruto-sama?" came an exclaimation from the kitchen and Ayame pushed her head around the door. "Goodness, why are you calling Naruto-kun that?"

The kunoichi grimaced although she was quick to wipe the expression off her face before Naruto could see it. "There's a high stakes poker game every week or so. Naruto won me last night."

"You were the stakes in a poker game!" Ayame gasped. "That's horrible! Who'd wager a person in game of cards."

"Well, that should teach them," Anko declared, walking in cheerfully. She looked at Kurenai's finger, which was pointed directly at her face and blinked, raising her own finger towards the same target. "Is there something on my face?"

"Just answering a question," Kurenai replied. "Ayame wa-ah?" she trailed off in surprise as Anko moved forwards a little and started sucking on the accusing finger. "A-anko, what are you doing?" she protested, failing remove her finger as Anko had her wrist in a gentle but firm grip.

Naruto shrugged. His neechan played weird games sometimes.


Fugaku woke with a gasp of horror, eyes assuming the thousand yard stare of the severely traumatised - which was far enough outside his usual habits that Mikoto paused in sharpening her sword to look at him in concern. "Are you alright, anata?" she asked.

"Mikoto-chan?" he said in surprise and then relaxed slightly. "Oh, thank the Gods. It was just a nightmare."

"Oh?" she asked, walking over to the bed and sitting next to him. "It must have been a bad one, I've never seen you look so terrible when you woke up."

"Awful," he confirmed, hands shaking. "It must have been something I ate - it'll teach me to stay late at work instead of coming home for your cooking, dear."

"Why don't you tell me about it," Mikot said sweetly while alarm bells went off inside her head. Fugaku had finished work early yesterday and eaten dinner with herself and Sasuke before going to the poker game.

"I dreamt that I lost the... light of my life," he said, quickly editting the priority of the disasters that had befallen him in the dream. "It was terrible. Dreaming that at tonight's poker game we all had too much to drink and started making ridiculous wagers. That I was somehow crazy enough to lose everything in a wager - the Uchiha Family's Secret and even you, Mikoto, to that Uzumaki brat. Perhaps it's a sign from the Gods that I shouldn't play poker tonight."

He looked at Mikoto, who had a strange, angry look in her eyes. "Um, Mikoto? Sweetheart?"

"I'm not feeling very sweet," his wife said in a distant, hollow voice. "And you've just broken my heart."


She reached out and pulled his wallet off the table at the side of the bedroom, showing him the large roll of ryou inside it. "You played poker last night, 'dear'. You won all this money. But what did you lose?"

Fugaku squeaked nervously as he saw Mikoto's hand close around the hilt of her katana.


It was fortunate that the Uchiha family were blessed with uncommonly good eyesight, even before the Sharingan was taken into account, rather than uncommonly good hearing which would probably have been damaged by the high pitched screeching that erupted from the upstairs of the Clan Head's house.

The first conclusion that those members of the clan who happened to be in the vicinity of the Uchiha Compound was that the inarticulate sounds originated from a furious Uchiha Mikoto. Not all that surprising really, since most of them had heard by now that rather significant amounts of money had changed hands at last night's poker game. The last time that that had been at the expense of the Uchiha clan, Mikoto had had to cancel a hairdressing appointment and then rebook out of shedule, which had put her in the awkward position of having her hair cut at the same time as the Yamanaka clan...

The hairdressing of the various clans was always a matter of infinite delicacy when it came to scheduling and the only reason that sharing hairdressing time with the Yamanaka was considered worse than sharing with the Hyuuga was that the Hyuuga Clan flatly refused to share hairdressing time at all. Ever.

An explosion of glass and wood proved that the initial assumption regarding the source of the screeching was incorrect. A second later, Mikoto leapt out of the broken window, a katana in one hand. Scarcely a swordslength ahead of her, and not always quite that far, her husband was demonstrating that even the most dignified member of the Uchiha clan was capable of some quite high pitched noises if motivated properly with a sharp blade that to judge by the damage to his clothes came rather too close to the front side of his trousers.

"Kikyo," Mikoto said to her aunt by marriage as she paused, her husband temporarily treed on the side of a building. "Would you be so good as to tell Sasuke that he's spending the night at yours tonight. Itachi too if he gets back from his mission. Their father and I have some matters to discuss."

Fugaku made another shriek of terror as the drain pipe he was holding onto came away from the wall and he barely managed to dive away from another sword cut by his wife. His hair wasn't quite so lucky and a few dozen black hairs were sent flying by the breeze as Mikoto dashed after him.


"I gotcha you a birthday present, Teuchi-ji-san!" Naruto announced once the life-giving marvel (better known to the inhabitants of Konoha as Ramen) was in bowls in front of Naruto, Anko and Kurenai. "Just like Ayame got you last week!"

"You did?" Teuchi exclaimed. "Naruto-kun, you didn't have to do that."

"But I wanted to," declared Naruto, sticking out his lower lip.

Ayame (who by past experience had discreetly placed herself behind Naruto - the stools were rather a precarious perch for a boy as small as Naruto and he jumped around a lot) put her hands on his shoulders. "Dad just means that it's really nice of you to think of him," she reassured him. "What'd you get him?"

"This -" cried Naruto dramatically, reaching into his pocket. "Er, wait, I was sure it was in that pocket. Wait a minute!" He slurped down the last of his first bowl and then started patting himself down. All three females in the small stall started giggling helplessly at his antics and Teuchi had to reach quickly across the counter to stop Naruto from standing on the stool to get better access to the pockets in his shorts.

Kurenai also caught hold of the boy's collar. "Wait a moment, Naruto-sama," she said and released him so that she could kneel and retreive a small scroll from the floor under his stool. "Is this what you're looking for?"

"Yes!" Naruto confirmed loudly and hugged Kurenai before accepting the scroll. "Thank you, Kurenai-neechan!" He turned to Teuchi and presented the scroll to him with a bow. "Happy Birthday, Teuchi-san!"

Teuchi opened the scroll and scanned the contents. His eyes widened and he leant back against the frame of the stall, but he said nothing.

"Daddy?" "Ji-san?"

"Er, what did you give him, Naruto-sama?" asked Kurenai.

Anko nodded. "Yeah, I haven't seen anyone look like that since I hid some porn in the Academy biology text books last year."

"N-naruto-kun," Teuchi said in a strangled voice. "Where did you get this? It- it can't be real, can it?"

"It's..." Naruto hesitated. "Old man Hokage said that whoever had it owned a stall in the market. Isn't that right? Don't you like it?"

"Like it!" Teuchi half-shouted. "I've always wanted a stall in the market but those blasted Akimichi would never rent one for anything I could afford. But how could you possibly have title to a stall in the market?"

"I won it last night off one of the Akimichi," Naruto said proudly.

Teuchi hugged the scroll against himself with a blissful smile.


Danzo stared at the battered shape of his agent. "You know, I like to think that I have high standards," he said. "So there is doubtless a good reason that you look like you fell of a building into a dumpster?"

"Well... I did fall off a building into a dumpster," the ROOT member confessed. He glanced around and noted that Sai was at the far end of the room. He lowered his voice. "Although in all fairness, I'd probably have recovered by now if the kid hadn't cut off the circulation to my limbs when he tried to bandage me."

"And why did you decide to go dumpster diving when you were on a mission?" asked Danzo harshly.

"Mitarashi Anko and Yuuhi Kurenai," was the quick answer.

Danzo frowned. "Yes... that was you mission. And?"

"Well, they were the reason I fell into the dumpster."

"I realise that they're very attractive kunoichi," Danzo said heavily. "But try to control yourself. I very nearly recruited them last night, what good would that have been if you couldn't function around them?"

"You nearly recruited them!" the younger shinobi exclaimed, his eyes shining with respect. "I'm really glad to hear that, sir. Do you think that there's still a chance? Having a couple of hot babes like that around, well that would be damn good for morale and them being into each other like that, that would be... sir... Danzo-sama?" He paused and waved his hand in front of Danzo's suddenly glazed eyes.

No reaction.

"Jeez," he muttered. "What happened, some kind of genjutsu?"

Tentatively he reached for his superior's shoulder, only to pause as Sai caught his wrist. "Onisan," the boy said seriously. "Don't disturb Danzo-sama when he's in his happy place."


"Hey, Itachi!" Shisui called. "Glad I found you!"

The Uchiha prodigy gave him a brooding glare and then went back to a close examination of the water passing under the bridge. The oddly introspective pose was at odds with the ANBU field uniform that Itachi wore.

Unfazed by the lack of a verbal response, Shisui leant against the railing. "There's a bit of a row going on at the compound," he explained. "And you probably don't want to get involved - the longer you can plead ignorance the better. Fugaku-jisan's really put his foot in it this time."


"You know the poker game that he has once a week?" Shisui asked. "He got in over his head and bet a lot more than he should have."

Itachi sighed. "How much did he lose this time?"

"It's not so much how much," Shisui said cheerfully. "Rumour has it that family members were being wagered by the end. Some punk kid's picked up a harem's worth of girls apparently."

"We... don't have any female cousins of marriageable age, do we?" Itachi asked. "That aren't married, anyway."

"No, Itachi. We don't."

The younger of the pair abandoned his pose of indifference. "I think you can tell me the whole story Shisui," he said. "I'm pretty much braced for the worst at this point."

Shisui looked a bit worried. "Well, I got this from Uncle Jiro, who happened to overhear Sarutobi Asuma talking to Hayate, but apparently since you don't have any sisters, Uncle Fugaku bet you and Sasuke."

"To some punk kid?"

"Yeah, I don't know who exactly."

"I'm going to kill him," Itachi said calmly. At some point he'd drawn a kunai and was digging it into the bridge rail.

"Uncle Jiro, your dad or the kid?"


His cousin looked worried. "Well, don't go off half-cocked, you know? There's a bunch of other people who ain't pleased at either of them. Your Mom's livid, I think he bet her away as well. She stormed off to the Hyuuga compound - don't know why exactly, but the way she was talking to Uncle Fugaku, I think he's going to be sleeping on the couch a while."

"No," Itachi said firmly. "He's going to die, Shisui. Mom and I can kill him together, it's important to share these things with family. Sasuke can stab him a bit as well, once we've put him on the floor, but he's not going to get away with this. He pimped me, Mom and Sasuke out. To some guy. Fuck knows how much much money he's lost -"

"Actually, he doesn't seem to have done so badly," Shisui managed and flinched as Itachi's head snapped around, Sharingan spinning furiously. Despite his best efforts he couldn't keep his cousin from grabbing him by the front of his shirt and dragging him down to stare into those blood red eyes.

"You're telling me that my honoured father wagered members of his own family rather than a few filthy ryou!" Itachi snarled. "Is that what you're telling me, Shisui? That I'm worth less to him than his damn wallet? What's he going to do next, cousin? What's going to be next? Will he sell our Sharingan to Cloud? Or no, one better. He'll use the Secret as a wager. He'll cost us the one thing that keeps the other clans from turning upon us for taking their jutsu, just for some damn game! Is that it, Shisui? Is that what he'll do!?"

Shisui pushed back. "Dammit, Itachi, get a hold of youself!" he snapped. "I agree he's a moron dammit, why do you think the clan's up in arms about him." He waited until Itachi had released him and his sharingan had relaxed slightly before muttering, "Besides he's already lost the Secret -"

There was a meaty thunk as a kunai sank into Shisui's chest and he froze, hands reaching impotently for the blade that pierced his heart. Without the slightest visible emotion, Itachi twisted the kunai slowly and when he drew it out of his cousin, the dead expression of his eyes was matched entirely by the fading light in the slain Uchiha's.

With ease, Itachi lifted Shisui onto the rail and pushed him over the edge and into the river. The body floated away on the water, but Uchiha Itachi spared the meat not a single second glance. If Shisui was too stupid to see that the loss of the Uchiha's most valued secret, the 'ultra secret' as his mother described it, changed everything, then he was too stupid to live.

For that matter, the same could be said of the rest of the clan.

And Itachi would not hesitate to correct any lenience on the part of the universe towards them.


"Naruto-kun," Teuchi said reluctantly. "I can't accept this from you."

"Wha-?" Naruto and Ayame paused in mid-dance.

"It's too much, Naruto. It's wonderful that you've won this but it's your chance to set yourself up and I can't take this away from you," the old ramen chef said. "This is your ticket to always having money coming to you."

"B-but, I won lots of money," Naruto protested. "Heaps and heaps. I want you to have this. Can't I give you a present like other people?"

Teuchi stared at the boy's big, teary blue eyes, torn between accepting to keep Naruto happy and refusing so that the orphan would have something to fall back on. This is the right thing to do, he thought, holding out the deed towards Naruto. Kurenai reached out as if to accept the scroll...

...and closed Teuchi's hand around it.

"Accept your present, Teuchi-san," she told him. "Naruto won so much money and property last night that the Hokage is probably still counting it for him. He's probably won enough to buy as much ramen as he could eat."

Ayame giggled. "There isn't that much ramen in the world, even if you can afford it, Naruto. Do you think you could ever get tired of ramen?"

Naruto frowned, all concern over Teuchi's acceptance gone. "No," he decided solemnly. "I want to eat ramen all the time!"

"Well then," Teuchi declared, turning back to his stove. "In honor of my birthday, a free bowl of ramen for everyone!"


Hyuuga Hiashi groaned piteously as the bright afternoon sunlight cut across his bedroom and stabbed at his barely open eyes. With heroic force of will, he turned his head away from the light and saw the pitiless visage of one of the Hyuuga Elders.

One of Hiashi's guilty secrets was that ever since he and Hizashi were boys he had never been able to keep the three elder members of the Hyuuga family straight. As a result he had found it expedient to never refer to any of the greek chorus of vultures by any term other than a deferential 'Elder', however much they carped at him.

"Elder," he rasped and masked a wince as he realised how dry his throat was.

"Hiashi," carped the elder. "Concerns have been raised about your leadership."

With some small effort, Hiashi bit back his immediate reaction of: 'you're bothering me about this NOW?' and levered himself upright. Fortunately, he had apparently sleeping fully clothed so he didn't have to dress whille being carped at. Unfortunately, he was wearing the same kimono that he had been wearing the day before and it was rather evidently the worse for wear.

"Naturally, we would like to put these concerns to rest," the second elder added, emerging from where he had been lurking in the shadows. What had he been doing there? Hiashi wondered? Looking for evidence of Anti-Hyuuga-behaviour in the sock drawers?

"There are questions that we have been unable to answer however," the last of the three vulture-like old men hissed from the doorway.

"Rumours that we cannot verify," continued the first elder. Hiashi would have found the seamless transition between the three to be unnerving, if he hadn't known that when they weren't carping at him, they spent all their time practising how to carp at him. Frankly, that was pretty damn unnerving all on its own.

"What questions do you want answered?" he asked, glaring at them. It was a pretty good glare, he knew. The Hyuuga were naturally talented at glaring at people, what with not having any actual pupils that could be used to determine where they were looking. Hanabi was always glaring at him, perhaps because he couldn't give her milk the way that his wife had. Neji's glare was definitely above average as well. Hinata wasn't doing so well though. Hiashi added a frown to his expression at that thought. The elders didn't flinch though. Obviously more practise would be required.

"Last night's poker game has already passed into legend," advised one of the other elders.

"The one whose nature may not be spoken of participated."

"Entire clans have been humiliated, brought to financial ruin."

"Can you assure us, Hyuuga-sama, that our clan does not face this fate?"

"I -" - wagered and lost two Hyuuga maidens. "I -" - the mansion, wagered on a worthless hand. "I -" - the famous Hyuuga Hot Springs, foundations of the clan's wealth... "No. No, I cannot assure you of this."

There was a deadly silence in the room.

"The Hyuuga Clan will stand together in these difficult circumstances," the first elder said finally.

"Our solidarity is our strength," agreed the second.

"We are, of course, firmly behind you," confirmed the last of the elders as they left Hiashi's chambers.

The latter, at least, Hiashi could be sure of. The elders had always been at his back. Usually measuring it for the fit of their kunai.


Tenten looked up at the clock on the wall of her father's workshop. Kuroda hadn't moved from the couch were the woman had left him early that morning and his snores strongly suggested to his daughter that he could remain asleep for several more hours yet.

This, of course, would be a problem. Kuroda had taught Tenten the importance of planning - you didn't just start making a sword for example - first you made sure that you had all the materials and tools to hand, and then you planned out each step of the process. This methodical approach had been served Tenten well so far and she had fallen back upon the habit now. It took her about half an hour to walk to the Hyuuga compound. Her father could probably walk faster than she could, but it was the only measure that she had. And if he was going to see someone important like the Hokage then he should clean up and put on some clean clothes.

Tenten had prepared fresh clothes for her father, laying them out in the bathroom and she'd made sure that there was soap and towels in the bathroom while she was at it. Now all that needed to be done was to wake daddy up... although she'd wait until the last minute of course. He was obviously in need of as much sleep as possible if he was still asleep now. Perhaps he was ill?

She checked the clock again. No, she was out of time. She'd have to wake daddy now. Hopefully he wasn't feeling too ill. Carefully she lifted the hammer that Tsume had left lying on top of the anvil. Raising it high (but not over her head, daddy got really upset the one time that she did that), she brought it down upon the anvil with a mighty clang.

Kuroda started and flung his arms up over his face. Tenten looked at him hopefully but when no more noises came, the smith relaxed again.

Oh well. She'd just have to hammer the anvil a bit more. Clang clang clang.

Her father yelped and held his head. Slowly his eyes opened and he turned, flinching at every movement, towards the anvil. Each clang sent stabbing pains through his head.

"Tenten, stop playing with daddy's tools," he ordered weakly.

"Daddy, you're awake!" she announced proudly and lowered the hammer once more, causing him to flinch. This time Tenten didn't lift it again, instead rushing over to start pulling him off the couch. "Hurry daddy, you've got to wash quickly or you'll be late."

Rather than responding immediately, Kuroda took the time to hug his daughter thoroughly. "It's a good thing that you're here to keep me organised, sweetheart," he told her. "But could you get me a big glass of water while I wash up. I've got a little bit of a headache."

"Okay, daddy!" Tenten chirped and ran off to the kitchen.

Kuroda shook his head and winced as his brain rebounded of the inside of his skull. He looked up as Tenten poked her head round the doorframe, much too soon to have made the round trip to the kitchen.

"Daddy? Are you dating that nice kunoichi who walked you home?"

The smith groaned and buried his head in his hands.


"What the hell happened to you?" Tsume asked Kuromaru, dropping the sandal that she'd been putting on as she saw her partner. The huge grey hound looked as if he'd gone through ten rounds against Maito Gai - he was limping, scratched in several locations and appeared to be totally exhausted.

With some effort the Inu-nin managed to get his tongue back into his mouth where it could shape his words into human speech. "Might have been a bit rash last night."

"There's no way that Mesuinu ran you into the ground?" the jounin exclaimed. "She's gravid for crap's sake. She can't run around much when she's this close to giving birth!"

"She's also smart enough to learn a few lessons from the old monkey," Kuromaru snorted, referring to the Hokage.

Tsume frowned. "What do yo-"

"Traitor!" howled a grey blur as one of the Inuzuka hounds charged around the corner of the house. "Fox-loving bastard!"

"Oi oi oi..." Tsume yelped and jumped up onto the side of the fence, taking her sandal with her.

Kuromaru clawed his way up to her side in sheer desperation. The fence would need some repairs in the immediate future as a result. "She's 'delegated' our punishment to Ikeike," he growled.

Tsume gulped. Kuromaru's mate, Mesuinu, was the largest bitch in the Inuzuka pack but her littermate Ikeike was easily the most vicious. "You don't suppose I could take the blame?" she offered. The terms of the 'treaty' between Inuzuka and the hounds put some limits on what could be done to humans, as the weaker members of the pack.

"Not a chance," Kuromaru grunted. "Your punishment is to see me get mauled." The fence shook as Ikeike shoulder barged it. It wasn't really designed to take the sort of punishment that the bitch could inflict.


"Yeah. Any master plans?"

"Only one," Tsume noted as the fence shook again. One of the posts looked like it would snap any minute. She pulled on her sandal. "Remember what we did when the Iwa-nin overran outpost seventeen?"

Kuromaru howled a challenge at Ikeike, indicating that he did remember, and the moment that she'd paused to brace against his attack, the dynamic Inuzuka duo showed her a clean pair of heels.


By tradition, the Hyuga did not have guards at the gates of their mansion. After all, any guards would be obvious targets for any attack from outside the compound and with the Byakugan it wasn't really necessary to have lookouts. What the family did do, by tradition, was keep a reasonably highly placed member of the Branch Family stationed inside the gates at all time to provide a suitable welcome to returning members of the family or important visitors. The unspoken corollary was that said Branch Family member was expected to deter any unimportant visitors.

As a result of this, when Hyuga Aramaki hurried to open the gates in order to address those who were approaching the Hyuga mansion, he was in theory prepared to deal with anything from an invading team of Cloud ninja to establishing precedence between the matriarchs of rival clans to a hyper-active Uzumaki Naruto carrying glue, paint and toilet paper... although in practise he'd feel some trepidation at the latter. While cunning use of wigs disguised it from the rest of Konoha, the Hyuga family were well aware that their elders' hair was no longer long, black or flowing as Hyuga tradition demanded and it was hard to see who else could be to blame.

Activating his doujutsu, Aramaki glanced through the gates to confirm the identities of the new arrivals. To his credit he took no more than an instant to assess the situation and take the appropriate measures.

As a result, the chuunin was hugging the crossbeam of the gates and screaming for assistance (from his mommy) by the time that Kuroda kicked the gate flat as he thundered through it with a shout of "STOP FOLLOWING ME YOU (&HOLES!"

Tenten, perched jauntily on the weaponsmith's shoulders was hanging on with both hands and also shrieking, although in her cases it was less in complaint and more: "Whee! This is fun! Run faster Daddy! Daddy knows so many funny words..." Kuroda winced slightly - about half because he'd just taught his daughter another word that he shouldn't have and and half because Tenten's shrieks were quite high pitched and right in his ear.

Only half a pace behind Kuroda, Tsume and Kuromaru entered side by side, trailed by a slightly smaller Inuzuka hound, this one female, who was snapping her jaws at Kuromaru's hindquarters. "Kuroda! For shame!" Tsume shouted, grinning broadly, "Don't use words like that in front of your daughter!" The three disappeared between two buildings but Aramaki was in no position to note this, distracted as he was by the sudden arrival - in parallel - of Fugaku Uchiha and the famous Ino-Shika-Cho team, glancing nervously back over their shoulders.

"Hiashi!" screamed the Yamanaka matriarch... uh, patriarch in a shrill voice. "You have to help us! One for all and all for one! Brothers in suffering!"

"I'll give you suffering!" howled Nara Yoshino as she led the pack of women through the gate below the trembling Aramaki, only half a step ahead of Akimichi Chime. "Cut them off before they get to the other gate!"

"Just don't get in my way," Uchiha Mikoto snapped, waving her katana around rather more wildly than her professional training would have merited, causing Fugaku to duck back and press himself against the wall behind him. "You lowly women can't imagine the depths of foolishness a husband can manage when he's gambling!"

"Excuse me?" Yoshino asked sweetly, turning her attention away from her cowering husband. "Did you just call us lowly?"

"Don't even start on this, Nara," hissed Mikoto. "My husband - who's going to lose his testicle privileges when I catch him - gambled far more than he should have last night."

"Well you're hardly the only one!" Yoshino snapped, cracking her chainwhip sharply.

"The fucking cretin wagered me!"

"Perhaps he had a perfectly understandable desire to get you out of his misery, Uchiha-san."

"What did you say?!" Mikoto shrieked.

"Ahem?" Chime interjected nervously. "Ladies?"


The Akimichi matron cleared her throat nervously as the two kunoichi turned their killer intent upon her. "They're getting away?" she observed weakly, pointing at the four erring husbands.

"Shit!" The men scattered with the ease of the trained and exceedingly well motivated shinobi that they were. The women did likewise, although their motivations had less to do with fear and more to do with righteous wrath.

Aramaki continued to cling to the beam for a moment, letting his Byakugan scan the area for any other menaces. No, nothing. He was safe. Slowly he relaxed his grip on the beam, letting his legs dangle and...

"What are you doing up there?" asked the Hokage in a curious voice.

"Aaaah!" shrieked Aramaki girlishly and released his grip, falling to the floor. "Aaah!" he screamed again as the Hokage leant over to look down at him, before the chuunin scrambled to hands and knees and crawled away underneath the mansion mewling.

Sarutobi looked down at Konohamaru, who he was carrying by using his official Hokage hat as an improvised cradle (the infant seemed to like playing with it and the kami knew, today would be shrill enough without having a colicky baby to deal with). "I didn't think I was that frightening," he noted. "Of course, young Aramaki always was a little highly strung."

"Now then, Konohamaru," he added to the child as he walked further into the Hyuga compound. "I think Hiashi has a little girl about your age. Perhaps you can play with her while I get this straightened out..."


"Do we have to got back there, neechan?" Naruto whined as the three of them walked towards the orphanage, each of the chuunin holding one of his hands.

"Don't you want all your stuff, gaki?" Anko asked. She wasn't especially fond of the place herself - up until six years before her happiest memory had been the day that her teacher took her away from the place - but with a little more perspective she could honestly say that it hadn't been all that bad.

Naruto shook his head violently. "I got all my stuff with me, Anko-neechan. Can't we just go right now?"

Kurenai and Anko looked at each other over the boy's head. "You're sure that you don't want anything, Naruto-kun?" Kurenai asked.


The kunoichi looked around and then smiled when she saw that one of Konoha's many small parks was nearby. The orphanage had been built near to several of them so that the children would have somewhere to play. "Well I'll still need to pick up your paperwork, but maybe you and Anko can go play in the park while I collect it."

Naruto's eyes went wide. "Really!?" he asked hopefully. "Can we play on the swings, Anko-neechan?"

Anko shrugged. "I guess so."

"Come on," the little boy shouted, suddenly pulling on her hand. "I bet I can swing higher than you can, neechan!"

"Oh yeah!" Anko yelled. "We'll see about that. I can swing higher than anyone!"

Kurenai stared after them. "One of them's going to be a very bad influence on the other but I can't for the life of me tell which one." Then she shrugged and walked into the orphanage. Collecting the paperwork shouldn't take too long.


"What do you mean you don't have any medical records for him?" Kurenai snapped.

"Oh well, that brat's always running off so I never could lay hands on him when the medical checks were done," the orphanage manager shrugged. "What can you do?"

The chuunin's eyes narrowed, "Does that include the ones that took place before he was old enough to crawl?"

"Hah, when was that brat ever not able to cause trouble?" the man snorted. "I don't know who talked you into taking him in, but you're letting yourself in for nothing but trouble, kunoichi."


Naruto almost fell off the swing - would have if Anko hadn't caught him - when the manager of the oprhanage ran screaming out of the building. Of course, since the manager had his hands pressed firmly against his armpits and was flapping his elbows up and down in a manner that could, if you looked at it right, be said to be somewhat reminiscent of a bird's wings, Naruto wound up on the floor anyway when Anko fell backward off the swing, laughing her head off and incidentally giving a free show to Kurenai as she walked, somewhat self-satisfiedly, out of the orphanage.

"She turned me into a duck!" the manager screamed at a random passerby, who tried to ignore the crazy man. "A duck!"

Naruto started laughing too, tears running down as he saw the man humiliating himself.

"Oh what am I to do!" the man wailed melodramatically. "I can't do anything but quack at people!"

"Are you crazy?" a woman asked, pulling her own children away from the manager. "You are talking normally! Well, except for not making any sense!"

"Stop quacking at me!" he shouted, pointing at her accusingly.

Naruto stopped laughing. "Hey! Leave her alone, crazy old man!" he shouted.

The manager turned and his eyes went wide as he saw Naruto, all three feet of him, marching towards him with a determined look.

"N-n-n-oo!" he wailed, taking to his heels. "Don't let the fox get me!"

"Kurenai-chan," Anko said wickedly. "What did you to him."

Kurenai adopted an innocent expression. "Me? Why do you think I had anything to do with it?"

Anko grabbed her by the hand. "You've got to teach me how to do that! It's so funny!"

"Maybe he just had a nervous breakdown," Kurenai speculated. "Anko, stop that," she added as the other chuunin spun her by the arms until she was loosely grappled in Anko's arms, the Snake Sannin's former apprentice's face resting on Kurenai's shoulder.

"If you tell me then I'll..." Anko's voice dipped to a whisper that even Naruto, standing only a couple of feet away from them, couldn't make out what she was promising.

The look on Kurenai's face - particularly the number of colours that she went - made it clear that she understood exactly what Anko was offering. "We'll, uh, talk about it later," she promised, insincerely, her face a bright crimson. "I got the paperwork, such as it is, so we can go to speak to the Hokage now."


"H-hokage-sama," Aramaki snivelled. "Mitarashi Anko, Yuuhi Kurenai and th- uh, Uzumaki Naruto are approaching the gates."

"Very good, Aramaki-kun," Sarutobi said, just a trifle coldly. He turned to Hiashi. "Hold Konohamaru for a moment would you? I should go and greet your new landlord."

The Head of the Hyuga clan flinched slightly at the reminder, but accepted the infant. Konohamaru promptly wailed as his grandfather walked away. Bring back the triangle thing! Meanie!

"Hiashi," one of the elders said, drawing on his elite ninja skills to speak audibly over the infant's screaming without having to shout so loudly that half the village would here him. When you're a Hyuga, you see, you know how to do things like that. "Remind me again of what precisely you owe to that boy." He pronounced 'boy' to rhyme with 'scum', another neat trick that only an elite Hyuga could have accomplished.

"The mansion," Hiashi said, restraining Konohamaru with some difficulty. "Two Huyga Maidens. And, uh, about four million ryou."

"And the Hot Springs?" another elder asked, deploying his words with almost surgical precision.

"I staked those to the bank for a half million ryou," Hiashi explained. "As long as we can come up with the money, we can hold onto those."

"That's something," the first elder conceded. He paused as the third elder shook his head firmly. "It's not?"

"We have almost a million ryou still at hand," pointed out the second elder. What's the problem?"

The last elder pressed his hands together so tightly that they paled, the blood forced almost entirely from his fingers. "Have you forgotten what day it is?"

Hiashi paled. The Uchiha had their Secret (although how long it would remain a secret in the hands of Uzumaki Naruto was debatable), but the Hyuga had a secret of their own: the means by which they retained primacy in the booking of appointments with the renowned ninja hairdresser Hoshi Masote. The secret, quite frankly, was that on one day of each month, they paid his book-keeper three-quarters of a million ryou to give them the prime slots in the appointment book.

Today was that day.

If the Hyuga didn't pay...

Hiashi's knees started knocking together. He might have to share a booking. The elders might have witnesses, when they revealed the terrible scars caused to their formerly proud hair by that... by Uzumaki. The pride of the Hyuga men in their immaculate ebony locks of hair could be fatally undermined.

"We'll just have to do without the Hot Springs," he whispered. "We've got a whole month to get the money together for next month's payment, we'll just have to manage it somehow. Otherwise..."

The elders looked at each other. "A month without Hoshi Masote's diligent attention is not to be borne," the third elder agreed hastily.

"It remains only to decide on the two maidens to be given to... him," the second elder concluded, pointing discreetly at Naruto as the boy and his two chuunin possessions were escorted into the garden of the Hyuga Mansion by the Hokage.

"Isn't convenient that you have two daughters," the first elder hissed malevolently at Hiashi.

Konohamaru, sensing the mood, wet himself; the moisture clearly apparent to Hiashi. It figured, he decided. The sun was high in the sky, he'd lost his home, main source of income and two daughters to the most despised person in all of Konoha and now he'd been pissed on by the Hokage's only grandchild. This really wasn't his day...