The Book of Naruto
Second Testament / And They Spread to the Four Corners of the Earth
"Ero-sennin," Naruto called. The legendary ninja ignored him in favor of downing another mouthful of sake. "Ero-sennin," Naruto raised his voice. Unfortunately, the music playing in the background still drowned out his voice. Naruto narrowed his eyes at the blushing pervert, who had begun chatting up a pretty young woman—with a surprising amount of success, much to Naruto's annoyance. "Screw this," Naruto muttered in disgust and stalked away. "Stupid pervert. If he has time to flirt, he should have time for training," he mumbled angrily.
Naruto's rant brought him strange looks as he stomped through the dusty streets of Haido City. The pair had made their through the Country of Wind and into Earth Country. Haido was the first big city they had encountered since Konoha, and Naruto could already tell that Jiraiya was planning on milking it for all it was worth. No doubt the old lecher planned on staying as long as possible, drinking, flirting, and peeping the whole time.
Thinking about it sent his blood-pressure soaring. "Bastard," he growled darkly. "You're supposed to train on a training journey. That's why it's called a training journey!" As far as Naruto was concerned, there should have been more training and less journeying and peeping shouldn't even have entered the picture.
A wet squelching noise snapped him out of his angry rant. Naruto frowned as an unpleasant wetness oozed between his toes. Oh, please no, Naruto prayed. If he had stepped into another pile of dog shit… well, he would be very, very angry to say the least. He looked down and breathed a sigh of relief. It was only mud.
Mud? Naruto wondered in confusion. Just a moment ago the streets had been dry. Naruto looked up at the sky, finally noticing the raindrops falling down from the overcast sky. He had grown so used to random rainstorms that he barely paid attention to them anymore. But enough was enough. Thunder rumbled. Damn it! Naruto glared up at the heavens.
"I am so sick of this rain," Naruto growled. If he had known the weather outside of Fire Country was so awful, he might not have agreed to leave it. "Go away already!" Naruto shouted at the sky, heedless of the looks he was drawing. Not that he would have cared even if he had noticed. He was sick of being wet. He was sick of the mud. He was sick of thunder and lightning. He was sick of going days on end looking at sodden scenery and grey skies. "Leave me alone! Shoo!" he gestured angrily.
Lightning arced across the sky. Thunder boomed. The rain stopped. Naruto blinked as the sun peeked through the mass of clouds overhead. "Huh," he shrugged and continued walking. "That's better." Weird coincidence. Convenient though. Behind him, the bystanders who had heard him traded bewildered looks. Naruto, on the other hand, shrugged and disregarded the matter. Without the rain to distract him, he quickly remembered why he had been caught outside in the rain in the first place.
Screw him, Naruto thought uncharitably. If he won't train me, then I'll just train myself. Unfortunately, that was easier said than done. Naruto had tried training on his own for two days before getting sick of it. Without anything new to practice, it was like he wasn't progressing at all. He'd practiced every jutsu in his small arsenal, even the boring, stupid ones that he had learned in the Academy, and he was sick of practicing the Rasengan only to be yelled at by people angry about falling trees, flying debris, toppling telephone poles, exploding walls, and, in one instance, an incident involving a cat.
Naruto shuddered at the memory. Sometimes he thought that he could still taste the fur that he had accidently inhaled.
He had tried working on his chakra control, but tree walking was too easy—and people yelled at him when he walked up their walls—and water walking was hard to do without water--people, Naruto had learned, also didn't like it when you jumped down into their wells for a bit of practice, and hell if he was going to go and practice naked in a bathhouse—so he was kind of stuck there.
That just left taijutsu, and there was only so much practice he could do on his own that would actually help him improve. He needed something new… a new super-hard training method to practice, a new super-cool jutsu to master, or some kind of super-dangerous challenge that forced him to hone his skills. He needed something super and soon, before his skills started degrading from awesome to merely great... and before his brain committed suicide out of sheer boredom.
A sudden flicker of… something… caught Naruto's attention. He looked up casually, discreetly surveying his surroundings. Something was off, and years of running from angry ninja bent on making him clean up after his pranks—or killing him and sucking the demon out of his stomach to spread havoc and terror in order to impose their will on the world—had taught Naruto to listen to his instincts about things like that. He strolled through the semi-busy streets—people were starting to go about their business in earnest again, since the rain had died down—as if he didn't have a care in the world. But he never stopped seeking with his senses.
Finally, he spotted the cause of his unrest. Three thuggish-looking men were walking down the street in a predatory manner. They had the appearance of men looking for something, and he could tell by the way they moved that they were either shinobi or at least had rudimentary shinobi training. Another second of observation revealed their target, a small, cloaked figure that was walking quickly towards Naruto.
He narrowed his eyes. No. This isn't it. His instincts hadn't been set off by this. There was something he was missing. The cloaked figure was drawing closer, as were the pursuers.
There! He caught a tiny, subtle flicker of movement from the corner of his eye. There were real shinobi lurking about. The common thread was the cloaked figure. Naruto grinned. This is what I've been waiting for!
It was time to play hero.
The radio crackled to life. "Hostiles are closing on the target. Your orders, captain?"
The ANBU captain currently known as 'Shinzo' scowled behind his mask. They could not allow the unknown hostiles to take the target, but neither could they neutralize them or snatch the target in public. Not if they wanted the mission to succeed, anyway. If they revealed their intentions in such a manner, the Tsuchikage would have his head. He reached up to the radio headset and pressed a button. "We wait," he decided. "They'll be taking the target out of the city. There will be an opportunity to strike."
Four crisp acknowledgments followed his announcement. Then chaos erupted. The three unknown ninja moved to take the target. There was a feminine scream and suddenly a bystander—who was, Shinzo noted, wearing orange—exploded into motion. The shinobi that had laid hands on the target went flying into a nearby stall, sending fruit and produce tumbling as wood splintered and the stall collapsed. The stranger stood protectively in front of the target, grinning widely.
"You bastard!" growled one of the two hostiles still standing. He let out a loud—and extremely unprofessional—yell and charged the blond teen. Blue chakra swirled and twisted into the visible spectrum. Shinzo's jaw dropped. Impossible! That's…! Hostile 2 didn't stand a chance. The glowing ball of violently rotating chakra slammed into the ninja and sent him flying in a far more violent manner than his comrade had.
Tango 3 wasn't as stupid as number 2 had been, and took the opportunity to strike as the blond nin was overextended from his attack. He didn't make it. A second blond, identical to the first slammed into his back, driving him to the ground before disappearing in a puff of smoke.
Shinzo frowned thoughtfully. That wasn't a bunshin or even an elemental bunshin. Kage Bunshin? Here?
The thug turned his head frantically and quickly tried to rise before a solid kick to the head rendered him unconscious.
"Captain!" his ear piece sounded.
"Hold your positions!" the Iwa-nin snapped quickly. "Can anyone identify that shinobi?" he asked. "He's a Konoha-nin, but which one?" A ninja like that had to be in the bingo book. If he wasn't, then Iwagakure's ANBU was sorely incompetent. Or… he's just that good.
Four negatives answered him. "How do you know he's a Konoha-nin?" one of his subordinates asked. Shinzo rolled his eyes. Rookies…
"That technique… do you recognize it?" Silence. He sighed, "You should. That was the Rasengan, an A-ranked technique developed by the Yondaime Hokage. There's no way that technique would have made its way out of Konoha's hands. A technique like that… this guy is dangerous."
Perhaps too much for his team, even. After all, the Rasengan had only been mastered by two known shinobi to date, and those two were legends even in Iwagakure. Konoha's Yondaime, and Jiraiya, one of the Legendary Sannin, were the only two known to have mastered the technique. But apparently there was now a third, and given the caliber of the other two, Shinzo felt that they were in over their heads.
"What should we do?" his second in command asked. There was no nervousness in her voice. Shinzo smiled. They were ANBU, professionals; of course she wouldn't show her nervousness.
"We need more information. We'll watch, for now."
But if he wanders into a place with no witnesses, we'll have to strike, and fast. We can't let a guy like that get out into the open. As a Leaf-nin, it was more than likely that he would hold back while in the city out of concern for the inhabitants, especially if his mission was a covert op like theirs was supposed to be. Once he got out of the city's perimeter though, things would get messy.
"Who are you?"
Naruto smirked and puffed out his chest. "Uzumaki Naruto," he said in his best 'suave' voice—which really wasn't very good at all. Of course, rescuing people made a great first impression. "Are you all right…?"
"Ah! My name is Chiaki. Yamane Chiaki," the young woman—who, Naruto noted, couldn't have been much older than him—smiled. He blushed in spite of himself. She was very pretty, and quite unique looking. Blond hair and dark lavender eyes weren't a combination common anywhere. She bowed respectfully. "Thank you very much for saving me, Uzumaki-san!" she flashed him another pearly, dimpled smile.
"Ah, it's no problem," Naruto laughed and scratched the back of his head in embarrassment. "But… who were those guys?" Her smile faded, and she looked around, a hunted look on her face. "Hey, it's okay. I won't let them hurt you!" He instinctively brought out the Nice Guy pose.
"They might have something to do with my father," she said finally, looking away.
"Something like that," she whispered.
Naruto frowned. He got the feeling that he wasn't being told the full story. He remembered the flicker of shadow he had seen earlier. He quickly grabbed Chiaki's slender hand. Soft, a part of his mind noted. Probably rich, the shinobi side deduced, filing away the lack of calluses or other wear. The 14 year old side was still stuck at 'soft' and 'warm.'
"What are you doing!?" she demanded warily, her voice hushed.
"There are more of them around," Naruto answered, equally quiet. He began walking briskly, pulling her along. There was no point in trying to be casual; they had surely already seen everything. His mind whirled as he contemplated his course of action. The guys he had dealt with had been weak—rookie genin-level at best, and that was being generous—but the group he'd spotted was strong, if the discreet, professional way they were shadowing him was any indication.
He could still take them, of course. But perhaps reinforcements were in order; that way, Jiraiya wouldn't be able to yell at him later about it and an extra hand was always useful when guarding someone. His course, Naruto began retracing his steps to the hostess bar.
Chiaki cheeks were flushed, looking almost embarrassed, as he dragged her through the streets and into a hostess bar. She looked distinctly uncomfortable for some reason, though Naruto couldn't imagine why. But he had other things to do besides thinking about the strangeness of girls. Naruto scanned the interior of the bar frantically for several seconds, but he couldn't find the Toad Hermit.
"Hey," he called to a familiar-looking girl, "where's the perverted old man?" Seeing her blank look—which plainly read, 'Which perverted old man?' –he elaborated, "He's big, and has white hair, wears geta…"
"Oh, that one. He said he was off to take a bath or something."
Naruto growled in frustration. The bathhouses Jiraiya preferred were all the way across town, and the nearest onsen was even further. Jiraiya would be no help. Like always, Naruto thought bitterly as he dragged Chiaki away from the hostess club. "Hey!" the girl protested as she struggled to keep up, "Wait! What's going on? Where are we going?"
"There are more shinobi chasing you," he answered tersely. "I was trying to find my teacher, but he's gone. Now we need to lose the guys following you and get you to a safe place."
"How are we going to do that?"
"I don't…" Naruto trailed off, his eyes lighting on a cart in the distance. Further away, he could see the arms of a windmill turning lazily. A thought formed. "That windmill… what's it for?"
"Eh? I think it's for grinding wheat. There's a granary nearby, too, so sometimes the farmers bring their crops to the city to process it and store it until it gets sold..." she trailed off as Naruto turned to stare at her.
"You know a lot!" he observed cheerfully.
Chiaki smiled nervously. "My father is a merchant, so I know a lot about things like that," she explained.
"Never mind," he grinned. "I have a plan!"
"Encircle the building," Shinzo snapped as he saw the target and her mysterious protector disappear into the mill. Now's our chance! The mill rested on the outskirts of the town and it was closed down for the day, so there were no civilians in sight. The five-man cell fanned out around the building and waited. The minutes passed. Shinzo scowled. They weren't coming out. Either they had made their escape or, more likely, the mystery ninja had spotted them and was preparing a trap. There was no time for hesitation. "We're going in," he ordered tersely.
"I know it could be a trap," he cut his lieutenant off, "but we can't risk them getting away, either." They assembled at the entrance. Three would go in through the front, in a button-hook maneuver. Two more would breach through the roof. When they were all in place, Shinzo took a deep breath. "Go!" Three explosive seals went off, simultaneously ripping the mill's large doors off their hinges and blowing a hole in the roof. Shinzo darted into the smoke, quickly sliding to the left of the door, along the walls. His two teammates were undoubtedly moving in the opposite direction, and the two above would be dropping in as well.
His eyes watered. The smoke wasn't clearing. A sneeze sounded.
Not smoke, he realized abruptly. This is flour! There was absolutely no visibility inside the mill. The explosive seals had burst open many large sacks of flour. Clever, he applauded his opponent grimly. This was a bad situation. "Status!" he barked into the receiver.
"So far, nothing."
"In position. I can't see a damn thing, captain."
"Yeah, it sucks, huh?"
Shinzo jerked. That last voice wasn't one of his squad. "You-!"
"Sorry about this," the voice said apologetically. There was a high, whining noise.
"Get out!" Shinzo roared. He retreated through the ruined doorway as swiftly as he was able, and as an elite member of Iwa's ANBU, that was very quickly indeed. His comrades weren't far behind. The final member of his team had just cleared the door when the world exploded.
When he woke up, scarcely ten minutes later, he saw a world shrouded in white. He coughed, and spit. Flour, he realized, deeply disgusted. At that moment, he conceived a deep and abiding hatred of flour. His head pounded fiercely, and at least two of his ribs had to be cracked. There were pieces of shrapnel embedded in his back and legs, but it wasn't enough to keep him from moving.
A groan sounded from nearby. He staggered over, only to find his teammate and lieutenant alive, though not in much better shape than himself. A quick, if painful, survey soon confirmed that they were they were all alive, if badly battered. The ANBU captain looked around at the powdered landscape. Soon the police and other authorities would arrive.
"The mission is a failure," he said flatly, grimacing. It looked like the Tsuchikage would have his head after all. "We're retreating."
One thing was for certain though. The Tsuchikage would definitely be interested in hearing about a blond Konoha-nin who could wield the Rasengan and take down a team of Iwa's elite without taking a single wound. Perhaps he would even be distracted enough to forget Shinzo's failure.
"I'm Yamane Chiaki. It's nice to meet you," the girl greeted cheerfully. Jiraiya stared in amazement. When his loud-mouthed apprentice had come stomping up to his hidden peeping location in the back of the bathhouse, he had felt trepidation. The loudmouthed brat tended to favor blowing Jiraiya's cover as a method of retribution. But the brat hadn't yelled at all.
Instead, he had brought a pretty—very pretty, at second glance—girl with him, and now he was introducing her to his great sensei! Had Naruto grown so much without him noticing? Where did the time go? Jiraiya swelled with happiness and pride. Naruto was finally becoming a man.
"Ahem," Jiraiya cleared his throat and prepared to launch his patented introduction—guaranteed to make the ladies swoon! Naruto wordlessly stepped on his teacher's foot and ground his sandal down. "Ouch!" Jiraiya hopped and glared indignantly at Naruto. The boy glared back. Noticing Chiaki's stare, Jiraiya cleared his throat again and tried to recover his dignity. "I am Jiraiya," the legendary ninja announced grandly—a very modest introduction for one as great as him. He stepped closer and took the girl's hand. "It is a pleasure to meet you," Jiraiya murmured, bringing her hand up for a kiss.
"Ero-sennin," Naruto growled.
Jiraiya whirled. "I told you not to call me that in public!" he yelled.
"I'll stop calling you Ero-sennin when you stop being a pervert, Ero-sennin!"
"You shut up, Ero-sennin!"
Chiaki giggled, covering her mouth with her hand as she did so. The two ninja stopped arguing immediately. Jiraiya gave her another appreciative once-over and drew Naruto further away. "What is it?" the young teen grumbled, irritated.
"Naruto," the hermit began seriously, setting his hands on the genin's shoulders. Naruto immediately focused his attention on his teacher. "I'm so proud of you!" Jiraiya exclaimed, beaming.
"Huh?" He drew back, disturbed by the unexpected sight of Ero-sennin's beaming face.
"You've finally achieved the next level, bringing back a girl like that! She's hot, too!" Jiraiya's lecherous grin widened and he gave his student a thumbs up. "Where did you find her, huh?" he nudged Naruto. "Have you done… it, yet?"
Naruto blushed and scowled furiously at the same time. "It's not like that!" he protested.
Jiraiya frowned. "It's not?"
The older man sighed, clearly disappointed. "Oh," he drew back, "it's not."
"She was going to be kidnapped or something…"
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Jiraiya waved a hand lazily, his mind already drifting back to peeping. He began making his way back to the sweet spot.
"Ero-sennin!" Naruto shouted, causing the man to wince.
"Listen! She was attacked by Iwa-nin…" Naruto urgently explained the situation. Jiraiya sighed when Naruto finished his explanation.
He turned to Chiaki. "Do you know why you're being targeted?" the old man asked directly. The girl looked away, fidgeting for a moment, before opening her mouth. "Don't lie," Jiraiya warned softly as he met her violet eyes.
She flinched at the unspoken threat in his tone. "My father is Yamane Iwato," she said quietly. Jiraiya's eyes widened.
"I see," he grunted.
Naruto did not. "Who is that?" he demanded.
"The daimyo of Tsuchi no Kuni," Chiaki answered, hesitantly meeting Naruto's gaze.
Naruto blinked as he processed this. He took a deep breath, causing Chiaki to draw back. "Yes!" he exploded, punching a fist into the air.
"What are you so happy about?" Jiraiya wondered.
"Don't you see!?" Naruto turned to face his teacher. Jiraiya flinched at the sight of Naruto's sparkling eyes. "I've saved a princess! After all of those missions, after all of my hard work, I've finally saved a real life princess! That's so awesome!"
Rescuing a princess was one of Naruto's long held ambitions. When he had daydreamed about becoming a kick-ass ninja, saving princesses figured prominently in those fantasies. Now that he had actually saved one, he felt that much closer to becoming an awesome shinobi.
Awesome shinobi rescued princesses. It was that simple.
Chiaki couldn't help but giggle as Naruto carried on. Eventually, he came down from his high and quickly offered to escort Chiaki home, an offer that she gladly accepted. Jiraiya sighed, looking back at the bathhouse longingly. Still, it didn't take long for him to perk up. The princess of Earth Country was a very attractive girl, and surely a legend like him would be able to sneak a few peeks.
Naruto pulled at the collar of his haori. It was bad enough that they had shoved him into such a traditional, stuffy outfit, but having to sit at the daimyo's dinner table? Pure torture. It was like having to sit through one of Iruka-sensei's boring lectures without any hope of ramen at the end of the long, dark tunnel.
Everything was so boring and formal, and he was forced to eat at a ridiculously slow pace. At least the daimyo used a normal table with chairs, rather than the more traditional kind. He shivered as he contemplated how numb his legs would feel if that had been the case, but he was careful to keep his back straight. Every time he slouched even a single bit, Jiraiya would surreptitiously hit him in the back—hard. Naruto fiddled with the seams of the hakama. He would have picked at his food, but then Ero-sennin would smack him again and his back was already feeling bruised.
Naruto sighed wistfully. He had seen little of Earth Country's capital city. The moment they had reached the gates, a swarm of guards had emerged at shepherded them to the castle. The fact that it was nighttime meant that he had only seen the lights, but even that glimpse made him want to see more. Naruto had never seen so many lights in one place before; Earth Country's capital was far bigger than any city Naruto had ever encountered. But here he was, stuck at some noble's dinner party. The food wasn't even that good—where was the ramen?
"…and then Naruto-kun set off the fireworks, and there was a huge explosion!" Chiaki exclaimed. Naruto winced. Normally, he would have been proud of the fact that the table was apparently enthralled by his daring rescue of Chiaki—except for the fact that it was a feudal lord sitting at the head. A feudal lord whose windmill he had blown up. A feudal lord whose daughter he had brought near a volatile explosion.
"I see," the big-boned man smiled. He looked at Naruto considering for a few moments, which made Naruto sweat nervously. "You have my thanks for rescuing my daughter," the daimyo, Iwato, said gruffly.
"You have mine as well," his wife said, smiling. Naruto blushed in embarrassment. Clearly, Chiaki had inherited her looks from her mother, Mitsuki. Naruto swallowed and shifted uncomfortably, a strange heat rising in his stomach. It took a titanic effort of will to tear his eyes away from her.
"Ah… it was nothing," Naruto replied awkwardly, scratching his head and fervently hoping that he sounded suitably modesty instead of just stupid.
Mitsuki's smile broadened. "Modest, too," she murmured. There was an odd gleam in her eyes that Naruto didn't recognize. He did know that it made him decidedly nervous. Discussion began to drift towards other subjects and the dinner continued. Naruto endured for what seemed like hours. Eventually the plates began to disappear from the table, cleared by unobtrusive servants. Naruto eyed them. They moved very stealthily for civilians; he wondered if they had any shinobi training. The suspicious part of his mind wondered if they were shinobi. He wouldn't put it past the daimyo to have his main guards under disguise.
Tea and liberal amounts of sake began to arrive in earnest. Apparently the daimyo wanted to celebrate his daughter's safe return. "Drink up," Iwato urged, already red-faced.
Ero-sennin grinned and raised his saucer, "Kanpai!"
"Kanpai!" echoed the daimyo and several others, downing another gulp. Naruto sighed. The three vices of a shinobi, my ass, he grumbled internally. Ero-sennin drank like a fish, which was yet another one of his habits that reduced Naruto's training time. Damn it! I could be training, or out seeing the city! Why do I have to sit here and watch as old men get drunk? I should… I should…
His thoughts grew hazy. Is that a foot? Naruto wondered. He looked down.
It was indeed a foot. In his lap. There was a foot in his lap, tracing lazy circles along his thigh. And it was moving higher. Naruto gaped, momentarily bewildered. He looked up. Chiaki gave him a sunny smile. Deliberately, her foot pressed its way forward.
What is she doing!? He gave her a panicked look, frantically jerking his head towards her nearby parents—one of which was the supreme ruler of a whole country. Oh, shit, was all he could think as the slender foot continued its progress deeper into his lap. I'm going to die. He was going to get killed. He would be dragged into the courtyard and beheaded, and they would mount his skull on a spear in front of the castle gates. This is what happens when you get fresh with my daughter, the sign would say. What is she…? Wow…
He spent the rest of the dinner in a mental fog. When it was over, the foot withdrew and coherent thought began to seep back in to his overheated brain. Chiaki gave him a saucy smile as she stood and followed her father out of the room. Naruto sagged in his chair, profoundly grateful that nobody had seen anything… as well as slightly disappointed that it was over.
Ero-sennin had apparently already staggered off somewhere, though Naruto couldn't remember him leaving. He sat for a few more minutes, calming down and recovering his ability to think rationally. Finally, he slipped out of the dining room and made his way towards his room—a suite all his own, more extravagant than he had ever seen before.
Naruto sighed blissfully as he sank into the soft, plush mattress. It pays to rescue princesses, he thought happily. He firmly put the dinner incident out of his head and began to relax. Sleep had nearly claimed him when he was startled by a soft knock. Naruto jumped up, fully alert again, and reached for a kunai.
He quickly hid the weapon and relaxed slightly as Mitsuki slid into the room.
"Good evening," she purred. The door slid shut behind her and the lock clicked into place.
"Mitsuki-san," Naruto squawked. "What…?"
"I just came for a visit," she smiled mischievously.
"But…" he gulped, taking in her curvaceous form. It seemed that Chiaki still had a long way to go. It didn't help that the silken yukata the daimyo's wife wore seemed to cling tightly to her skin. Naruto had no idea what she was doing in his room, but he had a feeling that it was a very bad thing. Or a very good thing… he wasn't sure which.
"What?" she pouted. "I can't say 'thank you' to my daughter's savior?"
"Er…" That was reasonable, wasn't it?
She came over to stand by his bed. Naruto's heart beat furiously. "You shouldn't…" he said weakly.
"Shouldn't what?" she asked archly. Mitsuki leaned forward. Naruto sucked in a deep breath. The woman was wearing her yukata the traditional way, which meant, as Naruto could plainly see, that the only thing underneath it was Mitsuki. "What do you think I'm doing here?"
"Um…" Naruto's imagination went wild. He blushed deeply. I'm not a pervert, he protested feebly to himself. Apparently, his imagination did not agree.
"I see," she murmured. "You think I'm here for something like that, hmm?"
"No, I'm not…!" A golden wave cascaded down her back when she reached up and freed her hair from its restraints.
"Well, if the man who saved my daughter wants a reward…" she trailed off, her voice a smoky purr. Her hands went to her waist and her robe fell away. Smiling, she crawled onto the bed. She reached out, placing a slender hand on his chest, and lightly pushed. Naruto flopped back, too stunned to react. Mitsuki's hand trailed across his chest before venturing south. Naruto gasped. "Then who am I to disagree?" she asked, smilingly sultrily.
Our Lord's might shelters the weak and the needy, for his compassion knows no bounds. He asks for naught, but for your thanks. The true faithful shall descend to their knees, and worship…
Naruto stared blearily at the food before him. His mouth watered at the smell of it and he could feel his stomach grumbling, but somehow he couldn't seem to find the will to lift his chopsticks. He had gotten little sleep since dinner the night before. It was as if all of his energy had been sucked out of him. Even so, he couldn't quite suppress the silly little grin that tugged at the corners of his mouth.
He felt… good. Great, even. Naruto was tired, drained, and maybe even a bit sore. He had never felt better in his life. He couldn't help but steal a glance towards the head of the table, where the daimyo's wife was daintily eating her breakfast.
Last night—and most of the morning, actually—still felt like a surreal dream to Naruto. Things like that didn't happen to him. The majority of the village was still too stubborn to see his awesomeness. It didn't help that he was short for his age—though he'd had a growth spurt recently, so it wasn't as bad as it used to be—and his grinning, round-cheeked face didn't attract a gaggle of squealing girls the way that Sasuke's 'aristocratic' features had. His choice of dress also turned women off, or so Sakura-chan had told him numerous times.
Besides, he was only fourteen years old. The idea that a beautiful woman—a beautiful married woman—would be so grateful that she had to seduce him was absurd. It was like Kiba's dream come true. But it had happened, and it had changed him forever.
Naruto had no idea that he could do things like that with girls. Well, he had known vaguely where children came from, and he had hoped that one day, when he and Sakura-chan were married, they would get around to it… But he hadn't really known. Ero-sennin is on to something, Naruto realized for the first time.
The legendary ninja broke all three shinobi vices frequently, often at the same time. Naruto still didn't approve of ero-sennin's drinking, and his financial habits left something to be desired, but maybe women weren't really that much of a vice after all. For a boy that had spent the previous fourteen years of his life looking down on perverts, it was a troubling realization. He spent approximately fifteen seconds pondering it before shrugging. There was no way he was going back to the way he was before. A whole new world had opened up to him.
"-uto-kun?" He blinked. Chiaki gazed at him, concerned. "Are you all right?"
"Ah…" he laughed sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head with his free hand, "I'm fine. What was it again?"
"You look tired," Chiaki said. "If you want, we can postpone the tour for another day," she offered.
"It's okay," Naruto reassured her, shrugging off his exhaustion. "I just… had a bit of trouble sleeping."
"It was a long night," Mitsuki happily agreed. Naruto coughed. Her green eyes peered at him through long lashes, and as she took another bite of fish her tongue suggestively caressed the lacquered wood of her eating utensils.
"You had trouble sleeping, Mother?" Chiaki asked.
Mitsuki smiled at her daughter. "Something like that," she murmured. She glanced sidelong at Naruto again, "It was very… hard."
Naruto's face flamed as he choked on the sip of water he had just taken. A vague sense of panic rose within him at Mitsuki's not-so-subtle innuendo. If anyone ever found out about the night before… having his head impaled on a pike would probably be a relief.
Luckily for Naruto and his continued good health, Mitsuki's teasing comments sailed right over Chiaki's head. Breakfast dragged onward as Naruto ate and sweated uncomfortably as the daimyo's wife flirted shamelessly with him in front of her only daughter. His previous sense of euphoria had vanished beneath the rising certainty that he was a dead man walking. Disaster loomed just around the corner; Naruto was certain of it.
Still, no guards burst into the dining room to drag Naruto off to be tortured. Ero-sennin miraculously declined to show up and gleefully reveal Naruto's shameful secret to the world. Sakura didn't come barreling through the door to… unman him. Naruto might have even called breakfast pleasant, except for the fact that he twitched nervously at the slightest noise as if it meant his death.
An eternity of potentially lethal innuendo and tightly wound paranoia passed before breakfast was over. Chiaki stood and stretched. Naruto's eyes immediately noted the way her shirt stretched tautly over her chest at the movement. He tore his wayward eyes away from the strangely fascinating sight a moment later, scowling to himself. I'm becoming just like Ero-sennin, he thought with something close to despair.
"Well, I suppose I should be going," Mitsuki murmured, standing as well. "Have a good day, dear," she told her daughter.
"I will, Mother," Chiaki smiled.
Mitsuki eyed her for a moment before nodding slightly. She headed for the door, her fingers lightly brushing Naruto's neck as she passed. "I hope you have a pleasant day, Naruto-san," she whispered throatily as she passed.
"Err… yeah," Naruto answered nervously. "You too."
"Oh, I will," Mitsuki's lips quirked upward. A moment later, she slipped out the door.
"Let's go, Naruto-kun!" Chiaki exclaimed eagerly.
She grabbed his hand and dragged him through the palace and out towards the rear gate. There, they were stopped by two guards.
"We have orders not to let you out un-chaperoned," one of them explained apologetically.
"What?" Chiaki asked, startled. Her eyes narrowed slightly. "Naruto-kun is a very capable shinobi," she pointed out firmly. "I won't need any more escorts."
"He is a Konoha shinobi," the other guard retorted darkly.
Chiaki's lips tightened, "You…"
"Sorry I'm late!" Jiraiya announced, slapping Naruto on the back. Naruto staggered forward before turning to glare at his teacher.
"Don't call me that in front of other people!" Jiraiya snapped back reflexively. "Ahem," he cleared his throat, sensing three pairs of staring eyes on him. "I'm here to escort the princess while she shows Naruto around," Jiraiya told the guards.
"Jiraiya-sama!" they snapped to attention. They uncrossed their spears and opened the doors. "Please, go ahead, Chiaki-sama."
She hesitated for a moment, glancing at Jiraiya and Naruto, before stepping through the small gateway. Naruto and Jiraiya followed.
Once they were out of earshot of the guards, Chiaki whirled to face Jiraiya and put her hands on her hips. "What's this about escorting me?" she demanded.
"Ah, that?" Jiraiya chuckled. "That was a lie."
"Why would you do that?" Chiaki asked, confused. "How did you do that?" she asked a moment later. "You shouldn't have any authority over our guards."
"I'm one of the Legendary Sannin," Jiraiya pointed out. "Besides," he said after a moment, once it became clear that she wasn't buying his explanation, "your father is remarkably generous after he's loaded up on liquor and free porn. He told the guard commander that I had free reign of the place."
Chiaki was horrified by the very thought, though she wasn't sure which was more chilling: that her father would be so easily manipulated when drunk—and plied with free pornography, but she didn't want to think about that part—or that 'Ero-sennin' had free access to the whole palace. She had only traveled with the man for a short time, but it had become abundantly clear that the legend was very perverse, very stealthy, and entirely without shame. The baths were clearly off-limits for her for the duration of his stay.
"As for why, well," he shrugged, "I just felt like it."
"So you won't be accompanying us?" she asked, failing to mask her total lack of disappointment.
"Of course not," Jiraiya laughed. "You two kids have fun. I have other… errands… to attend to."
"Errands?" Naruto snorted skeptically.
"You don't have to sound so doubtful," Jiraiya sighed, wounded that his student doubted him. "The truth is…" he trailed off, beckoning Naruto to come closer. "I'm going to find out about her attackers," Jiraiya said confidentially when the boy had done so.
Naruto drew back in surprise, "Really?!" He was stunned. Ero-sennin actually doing something meaningful and unrelated to peeping, flirting, or writing porn was almost a foreign concept to Naruto.
"Yes," Jiraiya lied.
"Stay with her," Jiraiya said sternly. "Who's going to protect her if you leave?"
"Oh," Naruto blinked. "Right!" he exclaimed vigorously.
"Naruto," Jiraiya began seriously. Naruto leaned closer to hear his teacher's words. "This is a great opportunity for you. Now is the time for you to truly become a man."
Naruto sucked in a deep breath, his heart beating furiously. "What is it?" he asked eagerly. "Is it a new type of training? A new technique? What?"
"No," Jiraiya shook his head. "It is far more important that those things."
"More important?" Naruto echoed in a hushed whisper.
The toad-summoner nodded seriously. "You may never get a chance like this again."
"What is it?" Naruto hissed impatiently.
Naruto stared blankly. "Do what?"
"Just remember… do it. She's slender, she's stacked, she's pretty, and she's totally into you… so do it. You may never encounter a girl with all of those qualities together again."
Naruto's eyes narrowed into suspicious slits. "You're telling me to do something perverted, aren't you…?" Naruto trailed off. His heart beat sped up again as images of Mitsuki danced through his head.
"When the time comes, you'll know," Jiraiya said mysteriously. He cheerfully waved at Chiaki before walking away, humming cheerfully.
Naruto stared after Ero-sennin for a long moment, torn.
"Naruto-kun, let's go!" Chiaki called.
"Coming!" Naruto yelled back, putting the matter aside.
The day passed in a whirlwind of new sights, sounds, and tastes for Naruto as Chiaki took him on a tour of the city. Eventually, as the afternoon sun cast molten gold rays and deep shadows across the city, they entered the great part that dominated the eastern side of the city. Chiaki guided him off the path and deeper into the woods to a small glade.
"This is…?" Naruto questioned, looking around.
"This is my favorite spot in the city," Chiaki beamed. "If you look there," she gestured, "you can usually see the sun just before it disappears under the horizon."
"It's very pretty," Naruto said awkwardly. He wasn't really one to appreciate the scenery, though the glade was rather picturesque in the afternoon light.
"Yes," she sighed wistfully. They stood in mutual silence for several minutes before Chiaki spoke again. "Naruto-kun."
He blinked lethargically, "Yeah?"
"I never really thanked you for saving me," she said softly, lightly placing a hand on his chest.
Naruto started. When did she get so close? "It's okay!" he exclaimed, smiling his "Nice Guy" smile. He would have done the pose, but she was too close for it to make its maximum effect. Naruto nervously licked his lips as his eyes inadvertently strayed south, taking in the way her shirt clung to her very healthy chest.
Stop it, he told himself half-heartedly, forcing his eyes back up. That wasn't much better, he reflected as he visually traced the way her lips pouted and followed her delicate, slightly up-turned nose up to meet her lavender eyes.
"…was so brave. You didn't have to help me or put yourself in harm's way, but you did. No one has ever done anything like that for me before," Chiaki said earnestly. She stepped closer. He was vaguely surprised to note that he was slightly taller than her; he wasn't used to being taller than anyone… well, except for Konohamaru and Co., but they were shrimps. Chiaki stepped closer again, to the point where their noses were nearly touching. Naruto was feverishly aware of the way that her chest pressed against his. Her hair smelled like strawberries. Don't, he bit his lip. "Naruto-kun," she whispered, her soft, warm breath brushing against his face, "thank you for saving me."
Her hands came up, brushing his jaw before lightly curling around his neck. Naruto stood, paralyzed, his heart thumping audibly in his ears. Don't do it, he pleaded, though even he wasn't sure whether he was begging himself or Chiaki. Another recently awakened part of him begged to differ. Naruto could only watch as she leaned closer still.
Her lips brushed his. Don't do it. She backed off slightly, her eyes opening to meet his. They stared at each other for several seconds before her eyes slid shut again and she pressed her lips against his for the second time.
We shouldn't be doing this, Naruto thought dazedly as the princess of Tsuchi no Kuni's tongue probed into his mouth.
"You know you want to," said a voice that Naruto fuzzily recognized as that crazy examiner with the thing for blood from the chuunin exams.
I'm not a pervert! Naruto protested, his hands trailing down Chiaki's slender back.
"It's not really perverted," the psycho's voice cajoled. "Everyone does it. How do you think you were born?"
"Don't do it, Naruto-kun!" Hinata's voice urged with surprising fervor.
That's right… I shouldn't… His hands found two very round, very firm things during their exploration of Chiaki's back. He squeezed, eliciting a moan from the girl lustfully working her lips against his. I shouldn't…
"What do you mean, don't do it?" crazy lady's voice demanded.
"Naruto-kun isn't like that! He shouldn't sleep with some foreign scarlet woman!" Hinata's voice replied primly.
"Of course he should!" the nutcase retorted. Absently, he tried to remember her name. It was a tough job, especially since there was a really pretty girl writhing against him. "How else do you think he's going to get practice?"
"…Practice?" Hinata queried at length.
"Think about it," Anko—Huh. Easier than I thought it'd be, Naruto thought dizzily—purred, sensing weakness, "The first time is notoriously awkward, especially if both parties are cherries. But if he's gotten a lot of practice, he'll be really good. I mean, he's a…" There was a meaningful silence.
"Mmmm… oh yeah."
"That's what I'm talking about! Do it, big guy!"
Naruto ignored the crazy voices in his head with skill that could only come from extensive practice. He was able to pull back slightly, creating a bit a space between himself and Chiaki's hungry lips. "We shouldn't do this…" he hissed urgently.
"But I want to," she purred before stifling his protests with her tongue.
No! We shouldn't…! Naruto reached up to push her away. His hands encountered her full, perky breasts.
"Do it," Hinata's voice urged.
"Do it!" Anko exclaimed.
"Just remember," Ero-sennin's solemn voice sounded in his head, "…do it."
Screw it, Naruto thought. He squeezed.
An undeterminable amount of time later, Naruto stared up at the twinkling stars of the night sky. Chiaki's warm body was wrapped around him, her legs twining through his, her head resting sleepily on his chest.
"Naruto-kun…" she murmured in her sleep.
Naruto sighed. He knew that he was in deep trouble for what had just happened. His misdeeds the night before had just been doubled. Moreover, every extra second they spent laying naked together in the grass increased the chances of being discovered. But he couldn't muster the strength to care. Instead, he lazily traced the curve of her hip and grinned at the stars.
"…I love you."
For the Lord's temple is thy body … Cleanse thy body of dirt and sin, care for thy house of worship… In the worthy shall the Lord enter with all of his love; in the worthy shall the Lord visit with his splendor…
Hinata awoke with a gasp. She sat up quickly, her heart thundering in her ears, her face burning, and pressed a hand over her heart.
What was that?
It was one of the most bizarre dreams of her life. At least, she thought so. Hinata couldn't be sure, since she couldn't remember exactly what she had been dreaming about. She did know it had involved Naruto, but so did the vast majority of her other dreams. Unfortunately, it had been a… naughty… dream, and not the good kind of naughty either.
Like when Naruto tied her up and blindfolded her, and then proceeded to…
Or when they went on a mission together into enemy territory, and their cover story demanded that they pretended to be a couple and they were forced to prove it physically…
And then there was that one where he snuck into her room while she was sleeping and…
Hinata's blush intensified by several orders of magnitude. She shook her head furiously, trying to derail her thoughts from their current track.
Her most recent dream had been naughty, but it was more nightmarish than most of her dreams that bore that moniker were. She didn't know why she felt that way, but that was the only lasting impression she had of it.
Well, that and the vague feeling that Anko had been involved somehow. That alone was enough to turn any dream into a nightmare for Hinata.
She spent several minutes trying to sort it out in her head. Eventually, Hinata sighed and gave up, instead choosing to leave the comforting warmth of her blankets and face the day.
Her morning shower took longer than usual. She hadn't been able to completely stop her wistful recollections of more pleasant dreams.
To make up for the delay, she rushed through the rest of her morning rituals, slowing down only to properly brush her hair. Taking care of her hair had grown more important as it grew longer. She had to work hard to keep it clean and avoid knots and tangles, and it was just a big hassle in general. But it would be worth it; Hinata firmly believed that.
Naruto liked girls with long hair.
Sakura had been a prime example of that fact, until the pink haired girl had decided to cut it for some baffling but entirely welcome reason. Naruto hadn't stopped liking Sakura after that, which was unfortunate, but it showed that he wasn't shallow and it highlighted that wonderful stubbornness of his. Though sometimes Hinata wished that he was just a little bit less stubborn… then maybe he would look at girls beside Sakura.
Well… one girl. But it probably wouldn't work out so smoothly.
After all, if he started looking at girls besides Sakura, he might end up setting his sights on some girl that Hinata couldn't beat. At least Sakura had flaws that Hinata could exploit, like her smaller chest and tendency towards violent conflict resolution. Hinata's only worry was whether or not Naruto did in fact consider those to be flaws.
If he liked girls that hit him… She wasn't sure she could do that, but for Naruto, she would try. No, that wasn't the big problem. The problem was if he preferred girls that were more slender up top.
Hinata looked down and pulled her jacket forward at the neck, peeking inside her clothes. She sighed. Perhaps her wishes to gain a more feminine figure had been too effective. She certainly hadn't imagined that she would, or could, change so much in the two years Naruto had been gone.
Hinata bit her lip and tried to think about other things. There was no point to conjecture when Naruto was still so far away. Besides, a nagging voice inside her—the other one, not the one that dredged up all her doubts and insecurities—said that his preferences would help her more than they would help Sakura.
She wasn't sure how she knew that. Hinata had a feeling that she should know, that there were examples out there that clearly proved what Naruto's taste in women ran to—besides Sakura, of course—but for the life of her she couldn't remember who they were. There were other women out there that Naruto had shown interest in, but who…?
A fierce, stinging pain in her palms shook Hinata from her contemplations. She stared down at her hands, bewildered by the deep, painful furrows in her palms. Had she done that?
There was a knock on her bedroom door. Hinata started, uttering a small exclamation of surprise, before gathering her wits and heading over to the door.
"Hanabi," Hinata greeted her little sister, faintly surprised to find her there. "Good morning," she smiled uncertainly.
Her relationship with Hanabi remained awkward. While their father had stopped threatening Hinata with Hanabi's progress, there was still a lingering feeling that she was being measured against her little sister. Hanabi gave no sign of what she felt about it, one way or another. Was she resentful that she had to play second fiddle to Hinata once more? Was she relieved that she no longer had to bear the sole burden of inheriting the clan from their father? Her sister was so hard to comprehend—unlike Hinata, Hanabi had taken to the ideal of Hyuuga stoicism to heart—and Hinata was never sure what Hanabi thought about her.
"Hinata-neesama," Hanabi nodded in reply, her expression neutral. "You have a guest," she informed Hinata.
Hinata froze in mid-yawn, surprised. She flushed as she realized the unsightly expression she was showing her little sister. Her teeth met with an audible click. "A visitor?" Hinata queried at length. "Who is it?"
Hanabi's slender shoulders moved up and down slightly. The gesture was so small that it took Hinata a moment to realize that Hanabi had shrugged.
"I see," Hinata murmured. She smiled thankfully at Hanabi, "Thank you."
Hanabi nodded again, turned, and headed off.
By the time Hinata reached the foyer of the main house, her curiosity had risen to a fever pitch. Who would come and visit her at her house? It was probably one of her teammates, but none of them had said anything about coming over. Who else could it be?
Her breath caught in her throat. Her heartbeat quickened. Could it be…?
Hurriedly, she threw open the screen door and nearly ran down the hallway. Once she reached the corner, she slowed down to a more dignified pace and turned the corner, laying eyes on the foyer.
"Yo, Hinata!" a boisterous—and decidedly, disappointingly female—voice greeted her. A shadow crossed over her, settling over her shoulders like a crushingly heavy mantle. Hinata could only categorize it as a feeling of utter despair and doom. A huge grin stretched over Anko's face. "I've come to pick you up…" she glanced around, checking her surroundings. Her grin turned sly, "…leader!"
In the house of the blind, in the house of the far-sighted, the two met once more. The maiden saw within the woman a soul adrift, a soul thirsting for the Word. And so the pure, far-seeing maiden, the first to see the Truth and the first to hear his Word, said unto the woman, "Let us go forth and spread the Word. I will teach you his ways, so that you may speak his Word to all that would hear."
The woman, humbled, could only defer to the maiden's wisdom. "I will listen to all that you speak," she swore.
The maiden shook her head gently. "Listen not to me. Hear not the words of mortals. Listen only to the Word of our Lord, for his is the Truth. The Truth waits for all of those with the heart to hear it."
"But who among us will hear?"
"We will show them the way."
They were mighty.
They were passionate.
They were dynamic.
They were enjoying the springtime of their youth.
"Gai-sensei!" Lee sobbed, overcome with emotion.
"Lee!" Gai replied, light pinging off his teeth despite the manly tears coursing down his face.
They were bat-shit crazy.
All in all, they were the perfect targets for their trial run. Anko turned her disgusted grimace into a grin at that thought. She glanced down at her partner in crime. Hyuuga Hinata stared at the spectacle in front of her with the rapt attention of a deer spotting a speeding four-ton hunk of metal barreling right towards it.
Anko nudged the girl, "You ready?"
Hinata shook her head frantically, backing up a step.
"Great!" Anko grinned, willfully taking Hinata's frantic denial for enthusiasm. She hooked an arm around the shorter girl's shoulders and propelled her forward.
"Anko-san!" Hinata squea—exclaimed in surprise.
"Lee!" The bushy-browed jounin blinked, confused. Lee did not sound very youthful just now. "…Lee?"
"Do I sound like Lee, dumbass?" a sickly sweet voice inquired from behind him. Gai turned his head.
"Anko!" he boomed, chuckling heartily at his hot-blooded mistake.
"And you've brought a passionate young flower in the springtime of her youth with you!" Gai observed.
Anko frowned, trying to interpret Gai's gibberish. "…Hinata?" she asked finally. She looked to her right, only to find Hinata gone. Anko sighed and stepped aside, giving the timid Hyuuga—an oxymoron if there ever was one—an exasperated look. "Look, I know you think this is a waste of time and would rather be praying," Anko said frankly.
"No, I… "
"But this is part of your job too," Anko continued, steamrolling over Hinata's response. "I mean, as the leader of a growing religion," it had been upgraded from 'cult' to 'religion' since Anko had become a member, "you need to take an interest in recruitment now and then."
"I'm not…" Hinata tried to protest.
"I mean, sure you could just leave it up to me. I'm fine with that. You're the boss, it's your call. But you need to train me or something first. You can't expect me to take up recruiting if you don't show me how it's done, right?"
"Excuse me for interrupting your youthful and somewhat confusing conversation, but what are you two talking about?" Gai enthusiastically interrupted.
Anko waved a dismissive hand, "It's nothing. Just some private business." Anko paused and gave Gai a piercing look. "Do you really want to know?" she asked slyly, grinning mischievously. To almost any other Konoha shinobi, or anyone that had the vaguest idea of who she was, it would have been an alarming sight that foretold of much pain, anguish, humiliation, and terror.
To Gai, it was the passionate, youthful smile of a promising young special jounin... in the springtime of her youth. "If it really is private, then there is no need to tell me," Gai replied gallantly.
"Lee!" Gai shouted, decking his disciple with a powerful right hook. The boy went flying, landed harshly, and skidded for more than ten feet before coming to a stop. Hinata whimpered fearfully.
Lee hopped to his feet and snapped to attention. "Forgive me, Gai-sensei!" he shouted, gushing passionate tears from his incredibly round, beady eyes.
"You fool!" Gai exploded with youthful fury. "It is impolite to interrupt the passionate conversations of others without just cause!"
"Yes, Gai-sensei!" Lee whipped out a small note book—Where does he keep that thing? Anko wondered idly—and a pencil and began to furiously scribble notes. Mini-Gai paused, "What would be a just cause, Gai-sensei?"
"Lee," Gai said seriously, "I cannot tell you."
Lee looked horrified. "Gai-sensei…?" he breathed.
"You must find your own just causes," Gai announced sagely. His eyes glittered with the wisdom of a true martial arts master. "I can only guide to the right path. Only you can walk it."
Anko rolled her eyes. He's so full of bullshit.
"Gai-sensei…!" Lee sobbed, awed at his sensei's wisdom.
"Now, Lee…" Gai spread his arms. Waves crashed against towering cliffs, a spray of salt water misting gently over Gai's head, and behind him loomed the molten setting sun, casting its warm, gentle rays over teacher and student. "I forgive you," Gai beamed, light reflecting blindingly off his polished smile.
Anko rubbed her temples. At this rate, we're never going to get anywhere. These idiots are just too… A devious plan formed. "Gai, you idiot!" Anko punched the jounin in the face. Gai flew backwards. The spandex-clad taijutsu master quickly recovered his feet.
Gai rubbed his aching jaw, "Anko, what…?"
"Fool!" Anko shouted, effectively silencing Gai, who could only stand gaping at Anko along with Hinata and Lee. "Didn't you just say it was rude to interrupt a conversation?" she demanded.
"Yes…" Gai agreed, bewildered.
"Take your own advice, idiot! Don't you think it's rude that you interrupted your own conversation with me?" Anko yelled, feeling incredibly stupid but hiding it behind a veil of "passion."
Gai's eyes widened. "You're right!" he shouted remorsefully, manly tears once again flowing like a river down his cheeks. "I'm such a fool!" he groaned and punched himself in the face.
"Gai-sensei!" Lee stepped forward, alarmed.
Anko clapped a hand down on his shoulder. Lee looked up at her, his big round eyes glistening. She gravely shook her head. I can't believe I said that… I can't believe I'm doing this.
"Lee," Gai said, on his feet once again, "take note of Anko's youthful wisdom. Occasionally, even I forget my youth. That's why it's important to have good comrades, to help you when you stray!"
"Yes, Gai-sensei!" Lee nodded frantically, scribbling in his notebook.
"Remember this lesson: humans are all imperfect creatures. Always keep it in mind, so that you can prevent yourself from falling into hubris!"
"But don't let that stop you from seeking perfection! Always strive to be better than you are! You must always seek to better yourself!"
Anko shook her head. He is so full of shit. Orochimaru's first apprentice considered that. He's perfect.
"Ano…" Hinata spoke, her voice so faint that Anko almost missed it. "Can I… leave now?"
"Gai!" Anko barked.
"Yes, Gai-sensei!" Lee nodded knowingly as he copied down another precious gem of Gai-sensei's wisdom.
"Gai!" Anko shouted again, louder.
"Remember, Lee! Do not let your youthful passions blind you to…" Gai blinked as a kunai whizzed by, coming within an inch of slicing his nose off. "Anko?"
"Yes, Gai-sensei!" Lee nodded sharply. I see! I must not let my youthful passions blind me to… Anko? "Gai-sensei, why would my youthful passions blind me to Anko-san?" he asked earnestly. Lee considered that. "And why is that a bad thing?" he asked after a beat.
You little shit! Anko thought furiously. I'll skin your eyebrows off!
Gai's laughter boomed throughout the training ground. "You're such a fool, Lee," he said fondly. "I said "Anko" because my youthful colleague was calling for my attention!"
"I see!" Lee smacked a fist into his open palm, understanding dawning upon him like the golden sunrise. "Gai-sensei, what were…?"
"Shut up!" Anko screamed furiously, at the end of her patience. Surprisingly, the dynamic duo complied. When the special jounin had gained control over her fury, she found the two looking at her with polite, calm regard. She took a deep breath and grabbed Hinata by the shoulders again, thrusting her forward.
"Eep!" Hinata voiced her consternation.
"Hinata has something to talk with you two about," Anko announced.
"I see! What does Neji's youthful cousin wish to speak with us about?"
"What is it, Hinata-san?" Lee asked, his very round, very sincere eyes focusing on the Hyuuga heiress.
"But, it's not…"
"Come on," Anko whispered encouragingly, "show me how it's done, boss!"
"I'm not…" Hinata's protest died in her throat. Her shoulders sagged miserably. What's wrong with these people? Hinata despaired. They hadn't heard a word she had said, and it didn't seem like they would be inclined to listen anytime soon.
Why was she here, anyway? Because Anko had gone nuts and decided that they should be out spreading the Word, and thus had come to her house and dragged her out of her room to do so? She didn't even know what Word the madwoman was talking about, or why it had to be capitalized! If that wasn't enough, Anko had seemingly decided at random that it had all been Hinata's idea. Where was the sense in that? Now the older woman was looking at her for guidance. For what, Hinata had no idea.
"Hinata?" Anko nudged. Hinata whimpered miserably and sank even further in on herself when she realized that they were all looking at her expectantly.
"Um… ano…" she twiddled her fingers anxiously.
"Go on!" Anko urged. "Tell them about Naruto!"
Naruto? Hinata blinked slowly. Was that what this was all about?
"Show them his glory!" the delusional woman whispered eagerly, watching the girl intently to "see how it was done."
Hinata considered "his glory." Soon enough, her face burned furiously as her blush overwhelmed her pale complexion. "Ano…" she bit her lip. She still didn't understand what was going on, but if they wanted her to talk about Naruto-kun…
"Go on! What youthful messages have you come to deliver?" Gai asked encouragingly, his hot-blooded youthfulness rousing his curiosity.
"Naruto-kun is… um…" What should she say? She wasn't a good speaker, and her mind seemed blank as she cast around for something to talk about. But her brain had been full of Naruto for years. She started speaking, only half-conscious of what she was saying. "…hard-working, and strong, and he never gives up! He fails sometimes, but he always gets up and tries again… No matter how hard it is for him, he always gets back up!"
"Oooohhh!" Lee interrupted with a passionate shout, clenching his fists, fire burning in his eyes. "Naruto-kun is truly a genius of hard work!"
"Yes," Gai agreed, stroking his chin thoughtfully, "his youth burns bright. Lee!"
"Perhaps," Gai's voice became hushed as he came to a revelation. Lee leaned towards his teacher, eager to hear Gai-sensei's wisdom once more. "Perhaps he is your destined rival!" Gai boomed.
Lee reeled back, shocked. "Naruto-kun… my destined rival?" he wondered. He had always considered Neji to be his youthful rival. But… Naruto-kun had beaten Neji before, and Naruto-kun was also a genius of hard work, just like himself. Could it be? Had he been mistaken all this time? "Gai-sensei… could it really be…?" Lee murmured, unable to voice his concerns.
Konoha's Mighty—not to mention Passionate, Youthful, Dynamic, Hot-Blooded, and, of course, Beautiful—Green Beast the Elder and the Younger turned in surprise. Hinata's hands flew up to her mouth instinctively, mortified by her outburst. Then, slowly, she lowered her hands, bewildered. I didn't say that. "Anko-san…?" she ventured.
A scowl was etched into Anko's face. "You idiots…" she hissed angrily. "…blasphemers… heathens…" she muttered, incoherent with rage.
"What is it, Anko?" Gai asked, youthful concern for his comrade beaming out from under his massive eyebrows.
"What is it!?" she sputtered. "You…! You…! Hinata, tell them!"
"Eh?!" she squeaked fearfully. She must want me to tell them more about Naruto-kun, Hinata reasoned. "Ano… you see…" A confusing jumble of words tumbled out of her. Hinata grew more enthusiastic as she went, warming to her subject matter. That didn't make it any more coherent. Anko relaxed slowly as she listened to Hinata babble warmly about Naruto.
Hinata finished with a huff, her face flushed and her eyes bright. She felt warm all over. Talking about Naruto-kun so much, and in front of other people no less, felt odd… and also strangely exhilarating. It was as if she had gotten a huge weight off of her chest. Hinata looked up nervously, her shy smile fading as she caught sight of Gai and Lee's thunderous frowns.
After a moment, Lee spoke, his thick, caterpillar-like brows drawn together tightly, "Gai-sensei…"
"What is it, Lee?" Gai grunted.
Gai turned and looked down on his student with stern eyes. "What is it?"
"Gai-sensei," Lee scowled, "I don't understand what Hinata-san was talking about!"
Gai's fierce expression relaxed as stopped his frantic contemplation of the very same issue. "Do not worry, Lee!" Gai snapped into the "Nice Guy" pose. Light pinged audibly off his shining teeth.
"Gai-sensei…" Lee breathed happily, reassured by his teacher's words. He stopped worrying.
Gai turned to look at the once again frightened Hinata. "Hinata," Gai began gravely, "your words were very wise and youthful, not to mention extremely hip."
Hinata's mouth opened in surprise. Is he… praising me? Hinata wondered.
"Even my great rival, Kakashi, has never said anything quite so hip!" Gai announced grandly. She stepped back in fright as Gai suddenly appeared before her, having closed the distance between them in the blink of an eye. "Hinata," he spoke, pitching his voice low so that Lee could not hear him speak. Gai's mighty eyebrows scrunched together again as he frowned thoughtfully. "In truth, your hip, youthful words have confused me," he whispered quietly. "Could you explain it to me again?"
Anko scowled blackly at Gai. "Idiot!" she scoffed, irritated. "She said that Naruto is a god," Anko educated him, summarizing Hinata's rambling. Anko reached up and rubbed her neck. "The god," she corrected herself solemnly.
Gai's blank black eyes stared in bewilderment. "…What?" he asked doubtfully. "Even if Naruto is very youthful, I don't see how…"
"Kakashi thinks so," Anko said bluntly, lying through her teeth.
Gai's eyes widened. "My rival…?" he asked in a hushed voice. He rubbed his jaw thoughtfully.
Anko knew Gai's weakness. Everyone who had ever been around Gai for more than five minutes knew exactly how to manipulate the fuzzy-browed jounin. "Yeah," she smirked. "In fact, I heard him talking about how many people he had convinced to believe in Naruto the other day," she said conspiratorially. For a moment she held a breath nervously, uncertain if Gai would buy it. Even an absolute idiot would have been able to see through her deception.
However, she wasn't dealing with an idiot. She was dealing with Maito Gai.
"All right!" Gai roared, on fire with hot-blooded youth and filled with the great, manly spirit of rivalry. "Watch out, Kakashi," he chortled. "If I can't get fifty… no, a hundred people to believe in Naruto by the end of the week, I'll fight a grizzly bear with my hands and feet tied up! You won't win this one, my rival!"
"Gai-sensei…?" Lee asked, still completely lost. "What are you talking about?"
Gai, too filled up with the flames of youth to hear his precious student, sprinted off towards the village. "For youth!" he shouted, leaping into the air. "Dynamic exit!" Gai disappeared into the trees.
"Gai-sensei!" his thick-browed, round-eyed student shouted worriedly. Lee rounded on Anko and Hinata. "What is he doing?!" he asked frantically. Gai-sensei had left him behind!
Anko giggled happily. Lee flinched at the disturbing sound. "He's going to spread the Word," Anko all but purred in satisfaction.
"What word?" Lee asked, more mystified than ever. "I don't understand."
Anko told him.
Lee shook his head. "Naruto-kun is…? That's crazy! Gai-sensei is…! Gai-sensei is…!" Lee tensed, about to run off and stop his sensei from making a terrible mistake.
"Neji believes in it," Anko said nonchalantly. Lee stiffened. I've got him, Anko thought gleefully. Really, it was almost too easy. "In fact, that's why he left," the special jounin informed Lee, making stuff up as she went along.
"Yup," she nodded. "He went off to spread the good news. In fact," Anko leaned forward, her voice lowering conspiratorially for the second time in the past five minutes, "before he left, I heard him say that…"
"What!?" Lee yelled passionately. He shook his fist at the sky, "I won't lose to you, Neji!" Lee took off running, "Wait for me, Gai-sensei!"
Anko doubled over in uncontrollable laughter. "I can't believe they bought it," she wheezed. "They think that Kakashi is…! That Neji…!" Anko toppled, clutching her sides at the thought of the arrogant, sharp-eyed Hyuuga prodigy wandering the wilderness, preaching wherever he went.
Beside her, Hinata shuffled awkwardly, her eyes darting around shiftily.
Thusly did the ministry of Gai the Youthful begin. In his wake stood Rock Lee, ever learning, ever hard-working, studying for when the time came to take up the mantle as one of our Lord's great disciples, to go forth and impart the passion to those who lacked…
She kept her eyes cast down, performing a fluid bow from seiza—not a comfortable feat with the way her kimono, already tight, constricted her chest further. "Yes, Father?" Hanabi asked once the ritual formalities were done with, no trace of her discomfort showing.
Hiashi took a long sip of tea, which seemed to be ever present wherever her father was nowadays, and stared out the window with a far-seeing gaze. "Hinata…" he said finally, trailing off.
Hanabi waited patiently for him to continue. Eventually, she prompted, "Hinata, Father?"
A faint sigh came from her father, so slight that she nearly missed it. Her father's lavender eyes turned to regard her, "What has Hinata been doing lately?"
She blinked, unable to hide her surprise. Why is Father asking me? Surely the head of the Hyuuga clan had eyes and ears aplenty to keep track of his eldest daughter. Hanabi hesitated. What had Hinata been doing lately?
Hanabi searched her memories, trying to recall any unusual behavior from her sister. Hinata was behaving strangely, if her father's question was any indication. That was nothing new. Hinata was timid, shy, meek, and talentless. To the Hyuuga, she was practically an alien—indeed, when she was four, Hanabi had harbored a horrible suspicion that her older sister had been killed and replaced by an alien wearing Hinata's skin. How could she to tell what was new strangeness and what was just Hinata's traditional weirdness?
"I… don't know, Father," Hanabi admitted, feeling a faint sense of shame at that admission. What kind of shinobi was she—never mind that she hadn't graduated the Academy yet—if she couldn't even keep track of her own sister?
But Hiashi, unusually, did not rebuke her. Instead, he simply sighed again and nodded slowly. "And you, Hanabi? Are you doing well?
"Yes, Father," she answered promptly.
Hanabi waited patiently, wondering what he was leading up to. Why had he called her?
"You may go," Hiashi said after a long pause. He turned his attention back to the window, gazing thoughtfully at the birds wheeling in the sky.
She bowed again, rose, and backed out of the room.
Hanabi sighed as she entered the comfort of her own room, mercifully free from the eyes of her clan. Getting out of her kimono was a chore, as was meticulously folding it afterwards, but the sweet feeling of freedom in her limbs was worth it. When she was finally dressed in more casual clothes, Hanabi allowed herself the indulgence of flopping down on her bed.
What had been the point of that meeting?
Her father had asked her two simple questions, both of which he could have asked at any time. So why had he worded his summons in such a formal manner? Had he been testing her?
She frowned thoughtfully. No matter how she looked at it, the reason he had called her had to do with Hinata. Her older sister was apparently acting strangely, and Father had wanted to know if she knew why.
Hanabi sat up. Was that it? Had her father been telling her to look into Hinata's activities?
She nodded slowly. That had to be it. She couldn't think of any other reason behind their short meeting. The only thing that stumped her was why he would have her do such a thing. The Hyuuga possessed formidable intelligence gathering capabilities, and she wasn't too proud to admit that she was hardly fully trained.
Further contemplation yielded no answers. Hanabi eventually shrugged, deciding that there was simply some lesson he expected her to learn from it all.
It wasn't hard to track down Hinata. The strange woman she had left with earlier in the day was quite unique, and it was relatively easy for Hanabi to follow their trail just by asking around. Whatever Hinata was up to, she wasn't trying to be stealthy, but the trail she left bewildered Hanabi.
The cheap ramen stand was odd, but understandable. Presumably Hinata and her acquaintance had been hungry, though from what Hanabi could gather they had spent an inordinate amount of time there. Then their path had taken them to the Academy, for no particular reason Hanabi could see. After that came the Hokage Monument, and then a run-down apartment building.
Hanabi finally caught up to her older sister in one of Konoha's many training areas. Hinata, that strange Anko woman, and two green spandex clad figures Hanabi vaguely recognized as Neji's teammates based on the descriptions she had heard were standing together, talking.
She barely had time to activate her Byakugan and begin to read lips when the taller green man abruptly exploded into motion, sprinting straight towards her.
"Eep!" Hanabi squea—voiced her surprise, proving that she did indeed share the same genes as Hinata.
Hanabi did the only sensible thing she could do in such a situation; she turned and fled. Even so, the strangely dressed shinobi that was Neji's former jounin-sensei barreled towards her, a fierce expression on his face. Of course, her Byakugan also allowed her to see the way those huge… things that took the place of his eyebrows scrunched together. The sight evoked a strange blend of terror and fascination within her, which was why she wasn't paying as much attention to her footing as she should have been.
She stumbled, losing her footing. Momentum carried her forward off the tree limb and gravity took things from there. Hanabi could only stare numbly at the onrushing ground, unable to process what was happening to her. Then, suddenly, she was caught in strong arms. The unpleasant smell of sweat filled her delicate nostrils.
"That was dangerous," Maito Gai scolded as he set her down on the ground. "What were you doing up there?"
Hanabi swallowed, "I…"
Gai peered at her more closely. "A Hyuuga!" he exclaimed, pounding a fist into an open palm. Abruptly he started to chuckle. "I see," he nodded, holding his square chin with his thumb and forefinger.
What does he see? Hanabi wondered, dazed by the strange turn of events.
"That Neji…" he shook his head fondly. "He must have sent you to me for training!" Gai shouted, causing Hanabi to flinch back.
"What-?" Hanabi could only wonder how he could have possibly come to that conclusion. Neji had been missing for nearly a year; there was no way he even could do such a thing.
"Hmm…" Gai's brows came down as he frowned thoughtfully and rubbed his chin. "I don't have much time for training today," he muttered, "but…"
Hanabi knew she had to put a stop to this before the bizarre man could make more strange assumptions. "I was just looking for my sister," she said forcefully.
Gai blinked and looked at her. "Your sister?" he asked.
"Hyuuga Hinata," she supplied. She hesitated, "…What did she need to speak to you about?"
"That's right! I can't believe I got side-tracked! I must…!" Gai trailed off, looking intently at the young girl before him. "Do you know Uzumaki Naruto?"
Hanabi stared, nonplussed. "I know of him," she acknowledged. How could she not? The genin that had beat Neji, one of the most gifted Hyuuga in generations, was well known by her clan. But what did that have to do with anything?
She could practically see the gears turning behind his dark eyes. His lips pulled back in a grin, revealing incredibly bright white teeth. A deep chuckle once again emerged from his chest. "Kakashi…" he murmured gleefully, "your lead won't last for long."
Hanabi scowled. Was he ignoring her? "I was asking about my sister," she said sharply.
"Indeed!" Gai boomed, his teeth glittering as they caught a stray ray of light. "But, before that…" he was at her side in an instant. Hanabi flinched back, but Gai put a hand on one of her slender shoulders and started walking, his firm grip dragging her along with him.
"Hey!" she protested somewhat fearfully, unable to escape his iron grip.
"Tell me," Gai said conversationally, "what do you think of Naruto?"
Her older sister was a cultist.
It had all become clear to Hanabi after her "talk" with Maito Gai. She had stumbled upon something incredibly dangerous, something Hinata was up to her neck in. Hanabi was sure that if she hadn't told the crazy green-clad jounin that he had convinced her to join his cult she would be feeding the worms rather than making her way back to the Hyuuga compound. The maniac glitter in his eyes had told her that much.
She had to tell her father about Hinata. No doubt he would know what to do about it. If Hinata had fallen victim to a cult, then…
Hanabi stopped abruptly. Her father… could this be what he had wanted her to find out? If she could find out so easily, there was no doubt in her mind that he already knew. But then… why had he sent her? Why hadn't he done anything already?
Hanabi put a hand against a nearby tree and leaned against it. What is going on? There were too many layers for her to grasp the situation fully.
In the first place, how could there possibly be a cult centered on a Konoha ninja, much less a genin like Naruto? Everything she had ever heard about him said that the general attitude towards him was less than reverent. Had he fooled everyone? Was he really a charismatic con-man, a cult mastermind gathering and brainwashing followers for some sinister purpose?
Or, Hanabi thought, there's something else going on here.
The more she thought about it, the more sure she became. There was something beneath it all, something that was keeping her father from moving. A single cult mastermind was a simple matter for the Hyuuga clan's leader. Hiashi could simply have Naruto quietly assassinated. Since he hadn't, that meant that the matter wasn't so simple.
But… why me?
Why had her father pointed her in this direction? It made no sense to her.
What do I do? If she went back to her father now, with no information except what he surely already knew…
She could not do that. Her pride would not allow it. Her father had high expectations for her, and she would not let him down. But what could she do? The only way to get more information was to infiltrate the cult, to gather information from the inside…
Hanabi's pale eyes widened. Was that the answer? Was that why her father had sent her? Her eyes narrowed again.
She would not let her father or the clan down. She would "join" the strange cult Hinata had fallen in with and make herself valuable to them. Once she had their trust, she could gain access to their secrets, just as Father had intended for her to do.
Her decision made, Hanabi turned on her heel and headed back the way she had came. She had a job to do.
The only problem was that there was nobody at the training ground when she returned. Hanabi frowned, wondering about her next move. Approaching Hinata was out of the question; her sister, unlike the rest of the cultists, would probably see through her front. That left the other three she had seen with Hinata, but she had no real idea how to find any of them.
A longsuffering sigh escaped her. It looked like she would have to do more investigative work.
Hanabi began by retracing Hinata's steps earlier in the day, reasoning that the random locations she had visited had to have some sort of meaning within the cult. The Hokage Monument yielded no clues, nor did the meaning of the apartment building become apparent to her. The Academy held nothing of interest for her, and she would have plenty of time to investigate it later once classes resumed. By the time she made it to the ramen stand, frustration was burning like acid in her chest and hunger growled in her stomach like a rabid dog.
Perhaps because of that, Hanabi decided to sit down and order a bowl of ramen instead of simply investigating the stall and heading on her way.
"Right away," the brown-haired girl, apparently the cook's assistant, said cheerfully once Hanabi had placed her order. As the wrinkled cook began to work, the young woman leaned over the counter towards Hanabi. "You're a Hyuuga, right?" she asked.
Hanabi nodded, eyeing the waitress suspiciously.
"How are you related to Hinata-chan?"
"I am her little sister," Hanabi said coolly. If the waitress tried to refer to her so casually, she'd…
Brown eyes widened in pleasant surprise. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "Really?"
Reluctantly, Hanabi nodded again.
The young woman clapped her hands together delightedly. "I thought so!" she beamed. "I mean, you both look alike!" Hanabi's eyebrows twitchedat the inanity of that comment. "So do you like ramen too?"
I'd like it if you would stop talking to me. "It is acceptable," Hanabi said indifferently.
"Just acceptable? Then…" she paused coyly, "…maybe you come here for the same reason as your older sister?"
Hanabi started in her seat and looked up sharply at the ramen waitress.
"Bingo, huh?" she smiled knowingly. "I never knew that Naruto-kun would grow up to be such a heartbreaker."
Hanabi had to restrain herself from denying it. She finally had a lead. Somehow, Uzumaki, the ramen stand, and the cult were connected. "What does coming here have to do with… Naruto…" bile rose in her throat, "…niichan?"
"You don't know?" the young woman asked skeptically. "This is Naruto-kun's favorite place in Konoha!"
It hit her like a bolt of lightning. This is it! This is how I can make myself valuable to them!
It all made sense now. The ramen stand, the apartment building, the Academy, the monument… if they really believed that Uzumaki was a god, then all of those places must have been significant to them. This ramen stand was a holy place to them.
A small, satisfied smile appeared on Hanabi's face.
She had finally found a way to get into the cult's good graces.
After all, holy places needed shrines, right?
And from the house of the farsighted came forth another daughter thirsting for the broth of His Word. Her ears heard the call to duty, her eyes saw what must be done, and her tongue tasted His providence. Thus were the flagstones of His house laid.
Things had gone to hell quickly enough. The impending feeling of doom that had hung over Naruto's head like a grim thunderstorm rumbling with wrath had manifested not, as Naruto had feared, in Mitsuki's flirtations, but in an a single innocent comment made by a girl too happy to know better.
Who could blame Chiaki if, flush from consummating her love for Naruto, she had declared that she had found the man she was going to marry? Naruto could, for one. Unfortunately, the daimyo had been more inclined to blame Naruto. Mitsuki, looking extremely put out with him, had thrown fuel on the fire and asked about the condition of Chiaki's maidenhood.
Then came the prison cell and the frothing father and the threats about putting his head on a pike, just as Naruto had dreaded.
Spending the night in a tiny, dank, drafty prison cell was unpleasant even in the best of times. Unfortunately for Naruto, it was hardly the best of times. It was, in fact, very far from being the best of times. Having an enraged father, who happened to be a feudal lord with an army and a major shinobi village behind, sitting outside his cell, playing with jeweled—and apparently very sharp—knife while eyeing him darkly tended to preclude that.
So did the knowledge that even if he survived the night with his life—and his own personal jewels—intact, he wouldn't last much longer. Iwato, the highest authority in Tsuchi no Kuni, had made that point very clear.
Because he was an optimist at heart, Naruto had harbored a faint spark of hope in his chest even then. He would reason with the daimyo, and, if necessary, take responsibility for his actions. Naruto spent what felt like hours talking in his very first session of "high level diplomatic negotiations," which largely consisted of him pleading for mercy and swearing up and down that he would take responsibility.
Naruto had no idea exactly what that entailed, but he had been around Ero-sennin long enough to know that it was the appropriate thing to say.
Eventually, the daimyo stopped fingering his knife. "You will really take responsibility?" Iwato asked suspiciously.
"Of course!" Naruto nodded vigorously, relieved that his arguments finally seemed to be getting through to the angry father. "I don't go back on my word!"
The daimyo grunted thoughtfully, visibly torn.
Sweat trickled down Naruto's brow. He was close to winning his life back; he could feel it. Just a little more, he thought desperately, his mind working frantically to find the words that would earn his freedom.
His mind remained blank. He had never been in a situation even comparable before, and he had absolutely no idea what to say or do. He had never even heard of anyone dealing with a similar situation, except in Jiraiya's dirty books.
Naruto's desperate mind froze.
"I'm sorry," he blurted.
Iwato's head jerked up, "What?"
"I know what I did was unforgivable," Naruto continued, his memory dredging up lines from Icha-Icha Tactics. Jiraiya's "no one under eighteen" rule did not apply to his apprentice, as Naruto had found out. In reality, it was practically mandatory for him to read Jiraiya's smut whenever the giant pervert wanted him to. "But I couldn't help myself…"
The daimyo's face purpled with rage.
"…because I love your daughter so much!" Naruto hastily continued, his mouth working on auto-pilot. "I… uh…" Naruto grimaced anxiously. What came after that? "Um…"
"Did you… did you mean it?" Chiaki's voice, soft and quavering with emotion, filled the room.
Iwato stood. "Chiaki! You shouldn't be in here!"
"I'm sorry, Father, but I…" she swallowed, her glistening purple eyes focused on Naruto. "Did you mean it?" she asked again.
"Err…" Naruto said eloquently. Icha-Icha Tactics told him to say yes. Naruto's conscience, however, kept his mouth sealed. Telling her angry, knife-wielding father that he loved her was one thing. Lying to the girl's face, which was filled with such delicate hope, was much harder.
Would it really be a lie? Naruto wondered. The time they had spent together in that secluded glade was indelibly burned into his memory. He couldn't deny that he felt… something… for her.
Was that love?
"I…" Naruto gulped. "I…" He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths, searching within himself for the answer.
When he opened his eyes again, his expression was clear and firm. "Chiaki, I…"
"I've come to get you, Naruto!"
"Eh?" was all he had time to get out before a massive tongue punched through the wall and wrapped around his midsection with bruising force. He was promptly yanked backwards.
Sometimes, he wondered if it was all worth it. He was training his ass off and wandering like a vagabond in the company of Ero-sennin, and all for what? To gain strength? To drag Sasuke back to Konoha? To learn how to protect himself from Akatsuki?
Why? What had he done to deserve it all?
He doubted that Sasuke had to deal with half the crap he did, even if the bastard was in Orochimaru's disgusting clutches.
Ero-sennin has the worst timing, Naruto thought bitterly, just before the back of his skull collided with unbroken stone on his way out.
Within the underground complex that was the Hidden Sound, well-lit rooms were something of a rarity. There were many reasons for this. One theory was that because shadows were a shinobi's natural habitat, Orochimaru liked to keep things dim in order to foster the proper mindset within his subordinates. Others theorized that it was about symbolism, that the darkness of Otogakure reflected the darkness of Orochimaru's mind and soul. A daring few ventured that it was kept dark and dim in order to hide the fact that the floors were purple.
The real reason, known only to a few, was that electricity was expensive. So was buying the amount of candles needed to keep the vast labyrinths Orochimaru called home lit, but at least that didn't require electricians and power lines and the rewiring of the Hidden Sound—and, god forbid, monthly electric bills. Orochimaru was cheap, and he hadn't exactly made provisions for electrical wiring while he had been designing his forbidding lair.
Uchiha Sasuke's private room was one of the few rooms that could boast about being well-lit. The fluorescent lighting in his room was powered by one of the few generators in the village. It had been one of his early demands, aside from training, power, and a full-length mirror.
Sasuke liked mirrors.
He stood in front of his grand, full-length mirror, practicing as he did every day. His face gave no sign of the massive amounts of concentration going on in his mind as his stare bored intensely into the dark eyes of his mirror-self. Sasuke's expression remained flat and stern, as if his face were carved from granite. Eventually, his hour of practice complete, Sasuke allowed his expression to relax.
A small smirk of satisfaction curled his lips upward for a brief moment. He was getting close; he could feel it. Soon… soon he would obtain an infuriating mask of calm superiority that could not be shaken, just like that man's expression.
No. It would be even better than that man's expressionless mask.
Then Itachi would be the one writhing with frustration on the inside, when Sasuke stood gloating above him without appearing to gloat or have any speck of emotion whatsoever.
That would show him.
Sasuke resisted the urge to rub his hands together in glee, and instead headed to his closet—a walk-in, of course, complete with its own set of tracked lighting and another, slightly smaller mirror—and picked up a box from within. He opened the lid reverently and set it aside gently as he beheld the box's contents. Orochimaru's student reached into the box and lifted the top part of his new outfit out of the box, his thumbs rubbing the soft, masterfully woven material as he did so.
Slowly, carefully, he laid the outfit out. When he was done, he stepped back and admired it.
It was glorious, just as he had intended it to be. It had been worth it to hunt for the famed seamstress of Lightning Country, Akiko of the Ten Threads. Too bad he would have to kill her to ensure that she would never produce another outfit to equal the one before him, but true quality had to be paid for.
Sasuke took a moment to appreciate her handiwork, his hands rubbing the long purple rope, checking the seams of the black pants, and turning over the top to ensure that the Uchiha fan had been faithfully sewed on. When he was satisfied, he began to dawn his new outfit.
Measured steps took him back out of his closet to stand in front of his big mirror. Sasuke studied himself critically. After several moments, he pulled his shirt open further and adjusted the rope around his waist several times to ensure that his Kusanagi blade didn't dig into his back. Finally satisfied, Sasuke posed.
Yes… It's perfect…
He looked immensely handsome, dangerous, and, dare he say it… swashbuckling.
Once upon a time, Uchiha Mikoto had read her youngest child bedtime stories. Back when he had still been an impressionable youngster surrounded by the warmth and greatness of his family, the Uchiha, Sasuke had liked bedtime stories. He had particularly enjoyed stories about pirates.
Sasuke liked pirates.
This was, of course, a very strange predilection that Mikoto had done her best to discourage. Unfortunately, Itachi had slaughtered his family before she could finish the job. Thus, Sasuke had never quite gained an understanding about his uniqueness in the shinobi world. He did know that he had been a… special… child, but he had no true idea why, despite his own theories on the matter.
Uchiha Sasuke was a ninja born to a ninja clan. He just happened to like pirates. It had never been properly explained to him that pirates were the mortal enemies of ninja… aside from other ninja and the occasional hundred-meter tall tailed beast, that is.
Orochimaru had thought to educate him about the matter, but his own fondness for zombies—another mortal enemy of any right-thinking ninja—convinced him that he shouldn't be the one to point fingers about Sasuke's strange hobbies.
It was Sasuke's fondness for swashbuckling and pirates that drove him to seek out Akiko of the Ten Threads, kidnap her family, and force her to create his dream outfit—a fusion of Uchiha ninja sensibilities and what Sasuke imagined was what passed for fashion among pirates.
The pants were dark and ninja-like, but baggy enough that he could imagine them as puffy pirate pants in a pinch… because everyone knew that proper pirates wore puffy pants. The top did an excellent job of baring his chest in a dashing manner. The long, thick purple rope curled around his waist didn't really fit, but at least it would shut up Orochimaru's nagging about "proper" apparel. Besides, it did a serviceable job of holding the Kusanagi at a rakish angle and keeping the blue haori—because his mother would have scolded him if he hadn't at least kept something warm on his person—attached to his waist.
All in all, it was perfect. Sure, he was missing the eye patch, but he couldn't possibly hinder his Sharingan in such a manner. Okay, so the Kusanagi wasn't a proper pirate saber, but he hadn't been able to find such a weapon anyway. He did regret not being able to find a parrot, but Orochimaru wouldn't let him range far enough south to get his hands on one and no amount of cajoling had convinced Kabuto to try his hand at building a mechanical one. The peg leg or the hook… those, he didn't regret at all. Even he wasn't willing to go that far.
Maybe it wasn't perfect, but…
Sasuke posed again, admiring himself in the mirror.
It would definitely do.
It really was too bad about the robot parrot though.
It was an odd site for a secret base. The enormous, dank, dark cave was situated at water level with the great river that gave River Country its name. A huge round boulder and a red torii gate marked its front entrance—hardly very inconspicuous, but then again no one had found Akatsuki's secret base yet. Within the damp, pitch black cave stood ten dark-cloaked, ominous figures. They were all fearsome S-ranked criminals, these formidable members of Akatsuki. They had to be, for their goal was to obtain all nine mighty tailed beasts and obtain everything in the world. Between them all was enough power to topple nations, should they work in concert. And now… now they had gathered to admit another grim, powerful member into their ranks.
Too bad none of them could see in the lightless environment of the cave.
"Light a fire," Pein, the man who had never been defeated in battle, the great Leader of the Akatsuki, barked irritably.
The interior of the cave turned into a massive, fiery inferno as several fearsome S-ranked shinobi unleashed several mighty Katon techniques simultaneously. When the dust had cleared and all ten cloaked figures had returned from their safe perches near the entrance of the cave to the scorched center, where a small, flickering fire still burned cheerfully—throwing ominous shadows throughout the cave—Pein cleared his throat.
"I called you here today to introduce you to our newest member," he announced in a loud, ringing voice.
There was a rustle as one of the dark figures stepped into the center of their little circle. "My name is… Tobi," the mysterious orange-masked ninja introduced himself, power and authority ringing in his voice. "It is a pleasure to meet you all," he continued politely. "Please take care of me." Introductions complete, he stepped back.
Pein shot a quick, nervous glance at the strange shinobi. He may have been the Leader of the Akatsuki, but the shadowy masked figure to his right stood above even him. When the man, "Tobi," had demanded to be introduced into Akatsuki as a junior member, Pein had had no choice but to comply.
"We don't have another ring for him, un," Deidara pointed out to Pein.
There was a pause as they considered that. "You don't plan on trying to make one of us give up ours, do you?" Kakuzu asked ominously.
"Of course not," Pein reassured them. "Tobi is simply a junior member, unless an opening opens up within our ranks," the last was said with a flash of killing intent, just to remind them who was boss. They settled down.
"Is that it?" Sasori asked, his gruff voice irritated.
The meeting was over. The ten dispersed.
Ten minutes later, Uchiha Itachi stood amidst the woods that grew on the river's bank, staring impassively at Tobi.
Kisame bared his razor-sharp teeth in a semblance of a grin. "Do you need something?" the swordsman asked politely, though his voice carried an undercurrent of bloodthirsty glee.
"You have grown greatly," Tobi said abruptly, sounding oddly pleased, as he regarded Itachi. "Your eyes… they are truly formidable."
The aforementioned eyes narrowed slightly, "You have some business with me?"
"Do you know who I am?" Tobi asked.
Itachi said nothing.
A deep, sinister chuckle rumbled out of Tobi. "My power…" he hissed, "Uchiha Madara's power…"
Abruptly, he stiffened, letting out a gasping choke.
Kisame stared curiously. He turned to his partner as realization hit him. "Itachi-san, don't you think it's a little impolite to use your Tsukiyomi on a comrade?" Kisame asked, trying to contain his amused chortles.
The Mangekyou Sharingan spun for several more seconds before fading into black. Itachi gave Kisame a single dismissive glance and strode forward. He came to a stop over the convulsing, fetal form of Tobi and glared down at the masked ninja. "Fool," Itachi pronounced grimly. "You cannot possibly be an Uchiha."
"Why… not?" Tobi rasped.
Itachi's eyes widened slightly in surprise, "You are formidable, to be able to withstand the Tsukiyomi once." With that said, Itachi's eyes morphed red again.
"Wait…!" Tobi gasped. His spine arched as Itachi's technique took hold.
Itachi's eyelids trembled as he glared downward. For a moment, he stood and waited to see if Tobi would recover.
"I…" Tobi grunted, trying to push himself back up to his feet, "…am…Uchiha…"
He crumpled as he met Itachi's eyes for the third time. When the twitching, prone ninja did not speak again, Itachi released the ultimate form of the Sharingan. He swayed slightly, fighting exhaustion.
"Itachi-san, once is impolite, but three times? That's just cruel of you," Kisame spoke up.
"You cannot possibly be an Uchiha," Itachi repeated tonelessly, ignoring Kisame as usual. "I killed them all, except for my unsightly little brother." Itachi stepped over Tobi's still quivering body and began walking away. Uchiha Itachi stopped and turned his head slightly, "Besides, no Uchiha would ever wear orange."
Twenty minutes later, Pein and his blue-haired companion stood over the fallen form of their shadowy leader, staring in shock. "What sort of monster could have done this?" the kunoichi asked, horrified. Both of them were familiar with the power that the masked ninja wielded.
Pein shook his head, knelt, and tried to rouse "Tobi" from his comatose state. It took them quite some time, but they finally succeeded. Pein wordlessly helped Tobi to his feet. Tobi placed a black-gloved hand against his swirly orange mask and groaned.
"What… who… am I?" he looked around in confusion.
Pein stared in surprise. "You… don't remember?"
"Who are you?"
"My name is Pein," he replied cautiously. "Your name is," he hesitated, "…Tobi."
"Tobi," Tobi said slowly, thoughtfully, as if tasting the word. "Tobi is…" he paused and looked at Pein again. "What is Tobi?"
"You are Tobi," Pein repeated.
"No," Tobi shook his head, "what is Tobi?"
Is he talking in third-person? Pein wondered bemusedly. "Tobi is a ninja," he answered slowly.
"Tobi is a ninja," Tobi nodded. He hesitated, "…A good ninja?"
Pein and Konan shared a glance. "Yes," murmured the woman. "Tobi is a good ninja."
"Tobi is a good ninja," Tobi repeated, something like satisfaction in his voice. "Tobi is…" he trailed off, clutching his head. He groaned. When he straightened, he was shivering, as if fighting off a dark, painful memory. "Tobi isn't… a bad boy," Tobi whimpered. That's right. He wasn't a bad boy. Only bad boys got punished. Only bad boys saw those awful red things and got stabbed and stabbed and stabbed and stabbed…
"No," Pein agreed almost fearfully. Who knew how dangerous his leader would be if he were mentally unstable? It was better to just agree with everything Tobi said.
"Tobi is a good boy," Konan said soothingly. Apparently, she had the same idea.
Tobi slowly straightened. "Tobi is… a good boy?" he asked, hope suffusing his voice.
"Yes," Pein said quickly. His companion nodded emphatically.
"Tobi is a good boy…" Tobi murmured. The ache in his head receded. A happy, childlike grin crossed his face, concealed by the mask. The pain was gone! Good boys didn't hurt! "Tobi is a good boy!" he exclaimed enthusiastically.
It had been a very near thing, but they had finally lost their pursuers.
For once, Naruto couldn't claim that it was Ero-sennin's fault, which kind of stung when he thought about it. Jiraiya's knowing grin and elbow nudges at inopportune times didn't help alleviate that feeling.
The duo had played a long game of cat and mouse with Iwa-nin as they fled from the Country of Earth. Eventually, the mouse had gotten away—or perhaps they were the cat, given Jiraiya's presence. Either way, Naruto had escaped from death or marriage.
Master and apprentice found themselves wandering across the border to the Country of Lightning soon after, since it was about as far as away from Earth Country as they could get without hopping on a boat.
"Where are we going?" Naruto demanded.
Jiraiya shrugged. "We'll stop at the next town," he decided. Hopefully, there would be hot chicks there. If not, they would move on the next day. If Jiraiya had any sort of destination plan as he traveled with Naruto, it would have been easily summarized by the words "hot chicks," though in a pinch "big breasts" or "beautiful women" or even simply "naked girls" would have done just as well.
"That's great," Naruto said. "Where's the next town?"
An awkward silence, akin to those where two people realize that no, the other person is not in fact navigating, fell upon them.
"Shit," spoke the Toad Sage of Mount Myouboku.
Naruto groaned in disgust.
After confirming that neither of them had a legible map of Lightning Country—though Jiraiya did have a rather nifty illustration of a woman with a map painted on her chest—they spent several hours trying to find a road. They gave up once the sun began sinking below the horizon and settled for finding a reasonably dry and safe place to sleep instead.
Luckily, finding a decent campsite in whatever part of the wilderness they had wandered into was far easier than finding a major road. Dinner was even simpler; not because game was abundant, but because they still had leftover beef jerky from their last supply stop.
Once their sparse dinner had been demolished, Jiraiya broke out his current manuscript and began scribbling away, occasionally chuckling as he worked. Naruto's imagination was a potent thing, but he had more than met his match in Jiraiya. He had never met anyone with such an endless talent for keeping himself amused.
Naruto did not appreciate it one bit, mostly because it meant that Jiraiya was rarely more inclined to devote time on training him than on peeping, daydreaming, or whatever the hell it was that the stupid super pervert was doing.
"Ero-sennin," he said impatiently, "let's train!"
Jiraiya didn't bother to look up, instead making shooing motions with his left hand. "Go practice the Rasengan some more."
"I already mastered that," Naruto retorted angrily. "Teach me something new!"
His teacher looked up. "Mastered?" he echoed.
Naruto folded his arms, "Yeah!"
Jiraiya snorted, shaking his head.
"You're a long way from mastering the Rasengan, brat. Now go practice."
A furious retort welled up in Naruto's throat. He swallowed it and turned, stalking off away from Jiraiya.
But… what did he mean? Was there more to the Rasengan? The more he thought about it, the more irritated he became. If there was more, why couldn't Ero-sennin just say so? How was he supposed to know what to do if the stupid Toad Hermit wouldn't teach him?
He spent hours practicing the Rasengan while his mind mulled over the problem Jiraiya had set for him. The Rasengan was already an incredibly powerful, versatile technique. How could he improve on that?
Training came to a standstill when Naruto's imagination took flight. The true final form of the Rasengan… it had to be something totally awesome.
For once, Naruto was eager to finish training and go to sleep. He was sure that his dreams would be filled with ideas about the final form of his ultimate, one-hit deathblow technique.
He was, of course, entirely correct.
Naruto's dreams were indeed filled with awesome visions of mountains blowing up and seas splitting in two. There was a sufficiently diabolical villain as well, and an inspiring ultimate technique with an appropriately cool catch-phrase. There were also princesses to be saved, but that was to be expected because in his dreams Naruto was always an awesome shinobi.
All in all, he would rate it as one of his most epic dreams ever.
Then he woke up and forgot about the whole thing, which was unfortunate for the world because, as they say, the devil is in the details.
But Naruto made no attempt to grasp at the threads of his dreams, which retreated from his mind like dissipating smoke. He was too busy watching the unfamiliar person sitting at their fire with a bemused gaze. Jiraiya sat opposite to the long-haired, platinum blond stranger, talking smoothly in the tone of voice he always used when he was flirting.
"Ero-sennin," Naruto interrupted his teacher without a second thought, "who's this?" Their guest was a shinobi, from Kumo if the head-band was correct. Someone Ero-sennin knows?
"You're up," Jiraiya said. "Good. That'll save us some time. This person has agreed to show us to the next village. Her name is…"
"Nii Yugito," the woman's voice, cool as ice, cut it. Her slanted grey eyes never left Jiraiya's casually lounging form.
"You're a girl!" Naruto blurted, obviously surprised.
A pale, arched eyebrow twitched.
"Geeze," Naruto muttered. "That's the second time…"
For the first time, she looked at Naruto. A lesser man, or a much more observant one, might have shivered when seeing the smoldering rage in her eyes. "The second time… what?" she asked silkily, like a knife tenderly caressing soft, vulnerable flesh.
Naruto, predictably, didn't even notice. Nor did he see the increasingly frantic gestures his mentor was giving him. "The second time I thought someone was another gender," he answered blithely. "Although the other time it was a guy that I thought was a girl."
There was a strange heat radiating from Naruto's new acquaintance. The air around her was shimmering strangely, almost like the distortion he sometimes saw on the horizon on baking hot summer days. "So," her jaw worked tightly, "you thought I was a man?"
There are times in any young man's life when his mouth runs ahead of his brain.
"Well, yeah," Naruto said, his tone making it clear that he was spelling out the obvious.
Breath hissed between clenched teeth, "I… see…" Yugito's eyelids squeezed tightly shut, all her will being bent in a mighty effort to calm herself.
There were many times in Naruto's life when his upbringing, or lack thereof, stunted his social interactions. Among the things he had never learned, tact and the ability to accurately discern the impact of the words that gushed out of his mouth like water from a hose—or sewage from a backed up sewage pipe, depending on who you asked—tended to cause him the most harm.
While those problems could have been greatly mitigated by some forethought on Naruto's part, no respected authority figure had ever tried to teach Naruto the true value of thinking before speaking until it was far, far too late.
"I'm sorry," Naruto gasped in realization at the expression on her face. "You didn't know?" He felt horrible. All this time, she's gone through life without realizing that she looks like a man. It was bad luck that he had to be the one to tell her, but he couldn't let her live a lie anymore. "I mean, your hips and your waist are almost the same size, and your face is pretty masculine, and your chest… You never realized you looked so… manly…?" he trailed off incredulously.
There are times in any young man's life when his mouth runs ahead of his brain. Most of Uzumaki Naruto's life could be correctly described as "those times." The consequences of this varied, but they were rarely pleasant. Despite that, he hadn't learned his lesson.
"Don't worry though," Naruto said, trying to cheer up the obviously crushed woman. "I'm sure a manly girl like you still has some feminine points…" he trailed off thoughtfully, glancing over her again. "Somewhere," he amended doubtfully.
A mournful, unearthly moaning noise filled his ears. In the distance, a massive cat was roaring.
"Hey!" Naruto said brightly. "I've got this awesome jutsu I can teach you that'll let you look like a sexy woman sometimes!"
The giant, fiery ghost cat-thing was Naruto's first indication that he might have said the wrong thing. He had no time to dwell on that any further though, since it shrieked eerily—boy, did that hurt his eardrums—promptly tried to bite him in half.
And thusly did our Lord speak, his voice filled with the thunder of his wrath, "The sight of thee offends mine eyes, Creature. Be gone from here!"
The foul shade cried out in rage and struck out at our Lord, but the dead hold no power over our Lord, whose broth is the soup of life itself.
The Kyuubi no Kitsune stared down through the massive bars of his dank cell, his eyes narrowed partially in annoyance, partially in an attempt to shield his eyes from the serene white light that filled the gaps between the bars.
His keen intellect chewed on that for a moment.
His chance had finally, finally appeared in front of him, and it was… it was…
The sheer force of his rage should have flash-boiled seas and turned deserts into glass. At the very least, the offensive creature sitting calmly in front of him should have been utterly destroyed. Instead, the water that constantly plagued his mighty feet rippled a bit. The cat remained unharmed and, unfortunately, feline.
He exerted a semblance of control over his fury and studied the puny creature closely in an effort to divine why it had appeared in front of him.
It was a cat. No matter how he looked at it, it was a cat. Why had a cat appeared? More importantly, how could a cat have appeared? It wasn't like a stray could just wander into the metaphysical jail cell that was—and wasn't—Naruto's stomach. The Kyuubi's eyes narrowed further as he strained to see the fine details. When you were as colossal as the Kyuubi, housecats were tricky to make out—it wasn't a task beyond his keen eyesight, of course, just slightly difficult.
It was not just a cat, he eventually decided while the puny feline calmly licked its paws. Not unless cats had changed a great deal since he had been sealed, anyway. The swirling black patterns on its white fur were unusual, but it was the glowing eyes and the two luxuriously furry tails absently waving behind it that really gave it away.
Another bijuu stood—sat, really—in front of him. It was smaller than he had anticipated, but what could one really expect from the two-tails?
NIBI NO NEKOMATA, spoke the Kyuubi no Kitsune, the Beast, the Adversary, the Devourer of Hope. His voice thundered, each syllable a collapsing mountain, in tones far beyond the realm of mortal comprehension. WHY HAVE YOU COME?
There was no response. The Kyuubi stared down at the inferior creature—because it certainly wasn't his peer; he had no peers—with an annoyed, expectant gaze.
SPEAK, LITTLE CREATURE! Kyuubi demanded impatiently when the silence stretched beyond his patience. He stamped a mighty paw down, causing the floor to shiver. The cat jumped, startled, and stared up at the titanic fox curiously. It took a great deal of effort for the Kyuubi to leash his rage at the cat's disrespect, but he had no choice. Pathetic little creature as it was, the Nibi was currently his best chance of getting out of the hellhole he was stuck in. The so-called living ghost had to be good for at least that much.
Now that he thought about it, good fortune must have been smiling on him. The Nibi no Nekomata had many unique capabilities that made it well suited to be his subordinate. No other bijuu would have been able to appear before him inside the seal except for the demon that was hailed as a living ghost.
Meow, the Nibi ventured.
The Kyuubi blinked.
Meow. When the Kyuubi remained silent, the demon cat's head tilted questioningly. Meow?
KILL, the Kyuubi thought. But no, he couldn't do that, even if the crushing disappointment thrumming through him demanded DEATH.
He had forgotten that some of his… inferiors… lacked all of the components necessary for speech. Or cognitive thinking. Or any kind of intelligence beyond their basic instincts.
Some of the bijuu were just stupid, like the one sitting in front of him, the one that was apparently his only hope. It wasn't their fault they were drooling idiots, was it? Could he hold their nature against them?
He thought about that. Yes,he decided eventually, he could.
Further contemplation yielded more insight about the future of his schemes now that his main pawn had shown itself.
Eventually, once he had removed his paws from their place covering his head and stood up again, he sighed in resignation and looked down at his new ally. It waved a small, pink-padded paw in the air as if slashing at an imaginary foe… or a butterfly.
All he had to do was figure out how to impose his will on a cat and get it to do his bidding, and then he could begin laying the groundwork for his escape.
And in the East, in the land where lightning danced eternally among the clouds, the Adversary stirred. In his cunning, he struck a pact with a foul shade, and the nations of man trembled as the Beast once again cast his shadow over the world.
Book of Naruto Omake
Naruto vs. The Flying Spaghetti Monster
"It's good to be alone." Naruto thought to himself. Ever since he went back to Konoha, people had been spending time with him, following him, and outright stalking him. It was impossible for him to get a moment to himself! After complaining to Tsunade about his situation, she told him that his best bet would be to head out to the middle of nowhere, and rest while she got the situation under control. Naruto followed her advice, and headed back towards Earth Country, settling in at an abandoned cabin near a mountain lake. It had been three days, and it was good to be alone.
So of course, something had to go wrong.
Naruto lazily opened his eyes as he heard a faint rumbling sound. Assuming it was an approaching storm, Naruto stretched and began to head back inside.
"I suppose this weather was too good to last... I just hope the storm passes quickly." he sighed, glancing upward.
He froze, staring at the small, pulsing sphere of malevolent energy. As he watched, it seemed to grow larger and larger, before swelling up, and exploding in a devastating wave of destruction.
"COME ON!!" Naruto shouted to the Heavens. He had just wanted a break, why couldn't he just get that? Why did something always have to happen? Banishing his complaints, Naruto focused on regaining his balance, and just barely managed it before crashing violently to the ground.
"NARUTO UZUMAKI" a voice boomed from the remnants of the cloud. Angrily, Naruto turned to face it.
"FOR DARING TO TRESPASS INTO MY DOMAIN, YOU WILL SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES!! PREPARE TO FACE THE NOODLY WRATH OF THE FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER!!"
Naruto stared. The Flying Spaghetti Monster? What the hell was that?! Almost as soon as he thought that, it emerged from the cloud, it's noodle tentacles flailing around, seeking to destroy the one who dared to usurp it position as lord of all that is noodly. Naruto continued to stare, shocked at the sheer oddity of his opponent.
'So that's a Flying Spaghetti Monster...' Naruto didn't have time to ponder it further, for the Beast had begun it's attack.
Its massive tentacles lashed out, and Naruto frantically dodged them, only to be besieged by shrapnel as they slammed into the ground, tearing it apart. Judging by the sheer might of the attack, Naruto wasn't going to be able to fight it head on. He need a plan, and FAST.
"KAGE BUNSHIN NO JUTSU!!" While not much of a plan, swarming the enemy had worked in the past, and hopefully, it could buy the real Naruto the time he needed.
"INSOLENT WORMS!! HOW DARE YOU TOUCH MY DIVINE NOODLES!!" it roared, thrashing about, trying to dislodge the Bunshin, swatting at them as if they were no more than irritating insects. All too soon, the clone army was defeated, and it fell upon Naruto once again.
Naruto sprinted towards the lake, narrowly dodging the rain of blows. The mountain terrain was too rough to fight, but on a smooth, surface like the lake, he might just have a chance. While his thinking was sound the benefit of full maneuverability was offset by the loss of cover. A new series of attacks and dodges began, and Naruto came to a realization.
'Against something this big... I'm going to need Gamabunta.' Naruto thought as he continued to avoid the flailing limbs. Seeing a slight opening, Naruto ran into the tangle of tentacles, slowing working his way to the top of his enemy. The Monster lashed out, all of its whips converging upon him, but Naruto managed to avoid them by leaping upwards. In the precious seconds it took for the Beast to recover from its attack, Naruto's hand flashed through the signs, and with a dash of blood, completed the preparations.
"Kuchiyose no Jutsu!!"
Naruto grinned, sure of victory, but his confidence faded to horror as nothing happened. No poof of smoke, no massive toad, not even a tadpole.
"DID YOU THINK YOU COULD SUMMON YOUR SERVANT IN A FIGHT OF GODS!? YOU FOOL!!" The Flying Spagetti Monster roared, smashing the stunned Naruto. He had taken hard blows before, but they paled in comparison to a direct hit from a divine being. The lake exploded as Naruto smashed through the formerly calm surface, and began his slow, unstoppable, final descent.
'Damn..' Naruto hazily thought to himself as he sank deeper into the lake. All it took was one direct hit, and he was down for the count. The creature had been strong, far stronger than he had thought possible. He had fought valiantly, but it seemed that he had finally been beaten, and that his fate was to sink beneath the waves, and die.
'Stupid... noodle thing... if it were ramen, I'd...' like divine providence, clarity shot through Naruto, as a new plan formed in his brain. It was unorthodox, but what battle of his hadn't been? Naruto rapidly began to move. He might still die, but he'd still take that thing down with him!!
Above the lake, the Flying Spaghetti Monster floated, darkly laughing at its victory over the usurper. However, its celebration was cut short as it felt.. something happening beneath the water. It peered down into the depths, and was shocked as thousands upon thousands of clones strung up, forming into chains, trapping it. The Beast roared, heaving it's girth against its prison, but the chains held tight, and with a massive pull, the chains constricted and began to drag it below the surface. The last thing it saw before immersion was a horde of clones surrounding the lake, smirking.
"Katon: Gōkakyū no Jutsu!!"
As the water began to boil, the Monster writhed in pain. Below it, it spotted the original Naruto, and its throes intensified, its hatred giving it new strength. Several clones dissipated from the stress, but for each fallen one, ten took its place. At the bottom of the lake, the original Naruto grinned.
He made a mental note to thank Neji. He may have gone a little nuts, but he was still a good friend, and had been willing to teach Naruto a few of his techniques, this one being the key to his plan.
Naruto began to spin, similar to how Neji had done when they had first fought. But as he poured more and more chakra into it, he moved faster and faster, the area he affected growing larger and larger. Soon, his body began to glow with the massive amount of chakra the technique was consuming, as the entire lake was consumed by the unstoppable spiral.
The Flying Spaghetti Monster screamed as the adverse conditions began to break down it's body. All it could do was watch helplessly as Naruto, the boy it had sought to destroy, brought about its end.
Naruto continued to gain speed, and the eye of the storm began to rise, carrying him with it, straight through the core of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, shredding it from the inside. Its screams drowned out by the sound of boiling water. Naruto's rise continued, the energy saturating the water, causing its very makeup to change.
Finally, Naruto broke the surface, and the maelstrom reached its peak. The fires on the edge of the lake died out as the clones flickered out as their chakra was exhausted. Beneath the surface, the Flying Spaghetti Monster was freed as the clones failed from the sheer destructive force. In a last, desperate action, it rapidly rose to the surface, seeking to end Naruto's life.
Naruto was ready.
He forcefully ejected himself from the core of the Kaiten, taking the spiraling sphere in his hands, forcing it to even greater heights of power. As the Flying Spaghetti Monster broke the surface, he slammed the massive sphere into its core, shattering it forever.
"TENRAI RASENGAN!!" He roared, as the spinning sphere of death met his opponent, before it exploded from its own sheer power. The shock waves ripped through the lake, finalizing the changes brought about by the epic battle. As the waves of power faded, Naruto collapsed on the surface of the lake, his body exhausted. Finally taking notice of his surroundings, and the changes he had wrought, Naruto tentatively tasted the altered water. Energy flowed through him, even as his shocked mind began to work once again.
Naruto stood up, and stared in disbelief. The entire lake was filled with broth, and the remains of the Monster had broken down into noodles, fishcakes, and every other topping he could imagine.
An entire lake of Ramen.
"I think I died and went to heaven..." Naruto muttered to himself as he took in the amazing scene.
"Now where's my bowl?!"
And thus, did our lord defeat his mightiest opponent, and form the holy site of Lake Ramenia. A testament to his unlimited power, and a beacon of hope to all of us strong enough to follow his way.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. Masashi Kishimoto is the creator, and owns the rights to Naruto and all the characters and situations contained therein. This is a non-profit work of fiction.
Chapter 2 is finally done after about eleven months since the release of chapter one. It was quite a feat, I must say. Sometimes my blazing fast writing speed surprises even me.
Anyway, I hope you had as much fun reading this as I had writing it… which is to say, none at all.
The omake was written by zerohour. Thanks for the contribution, man (or woman/thing/tentacle and or noodle monster, whichever the case might be).
Check out The Book of Naruto's forum at www. fanfiction. net/ft/51642/31433/1/ (remove the spaces) for discussion, review responses, progress updates, and... stuff.
Once again, I have to thank Duke Bonez, for helping me proofread this chapter. Thanks!
If you see any errors or inconsistencies, please let me know. Other than that, comments are always welcome. If you are going to criticize, all I ask is that it is constructive (again, tell me what is wrong and why it is wrong, otherwise it does me no good).
Thank you for reading The Book of Naruto!