-Chapter 22 Beauty and the Beast-
To any and all that knew her, it was a known fact of life that the Yamanaka Ino of the present day was not at all a fan of going into a situation without being properly informed on the variables at play. Things like being told you are to escort the Daimyo's daughter back to the capital and then towards the tail end of said mission finding out that the woman you were protecting was really a clone of one of your teammates the whole time was just the most recent example a situation like this occurring. Now despite all of her teammates being aware of her disdain for behavior such as this, 67% of them were either smart enough not to put her in such a situation, or scared enough of her to not even consider doing something like this.
This of course brings us to the final 33% of this. The notorious prankster that he is, it should come as no surprise that he was just as likely to push the buttons of his teammates every now and then, though surprisingly enough he had yet to attempt something like this with Tenten. At least, nothing that would push the wrong buttons with her. The point here being that Naruto had indeed pushed all of the wrong buttons with his latest prank- no, pranks. The Setsuna clone was bad enough, but the morgue confrontation left her feeling homicidal.
So when she finally saw him when she, the Hokage, and the Daimyo arrived at the Wind capital, and she was able to confirm that this was indeed the real Naruto courtesy of a finely placed fist to the head by the Hokage, the rage that had been building inside of her for the past week started to boil over. She kept it in check long enough for her to sneak up behind Naruto, get as close to him as possible, and speak in a voice that, if she were being honest, scared even her a little bit. It was all worth it though when Naruto turned to look at her, and she saw the fear in his eyes. The chase didn't last very long, thanks to her rage induced state and effective use of the mind tag, and after moving him out of the city to reduce collateral damage to zero, her revenge was exacted.
Which brings us to a much calmer Ino walking into the room that Tenten was using. Tenten had initially tensed up upon seeing the combination of blonde and purple enter her room, believing that Ino still held some form of residual anger towards her, but was relieved when Ino, more than likely sensing that Tenten would be thinking exactly along those lines, raised a hand and waved dismissively. "Relax Tenten. I like to think that I know my team well enough to know that if you had known about this from the start, then you would have spoken up about it." What more could Tenten do other than sigh in relief?
"Just please remind me to not get of your bad side. Like ever. I don't know what you did to Naruto, and quite frankly, I don't want to know."
And thus, the two ended up sitting on the edge of one of the beds, catching up on some current events. "So I'm watching Inoria basically running her entire team into the ground. This was days after Naruto's morgue prank, and needless to say, I was still slightly pissed at him, when I get summoned to the Hokage's office. Moments later I enter the room to find the Hokage as well as the Daimyo waiting for me. The Hokage tells me that the Daimyo is heading for the Wind capital to meet with the Wind Daimyo and he wants a ninja escort. The Hokage herself was already going and she personally wanted me to go with them. She would have sent for Kiba as well if it weren't for the fact that she already had him out on a mission with his sister."
Almost immediately, the dots connected for Tenten, who couldn't help but chuckle a little bit, causing Ino to cast her a puzzled glance. "The day we got here, just as we were about to enter the villa, Naruto seizes up, saying that he felt a chill go down his spine, though he couldn't explain why. I guess we know now."
Cue the round of giggling from both women now. Once they were done Ino laid back on the bed, stretching her arms out. "Well, I suppose once we get all of the congratulations and commendations out of the way we can head back home a get ready for whatever crazy mission we have to go on next huh?"
Ino waited for an answer, and after about ten seconds of silence she looked up at Tenten, whose face had darkened just a little bit. Still, it was noticeable enough for Ino to address it. "Oh kami, what has the knucklehead gotten into now?"
"Not Naruto. Lee." That genuinely surprised Ino a bit. As….. eccentric as Lee was, he was almost frighteningly professional when it came to missions. The couple of times that she had worked with him were evidence enough of this, so it seemed kinda off that Lee would be the one to throw some sort of wrinkle into things. "You want the short version or the long version?"
Ino thought on this for a moment. "Give me the short version and then we will see if the long version is necessary."
Nodding slightly, Tenten sighed a bit. Seemed like this was starting to become the worst kept secret of all time. "Well, Lee is in love with Setsuna, Setsuna knows this, and despite the fact that she is supposed to be married to Kanda soon, she is also in love with Lee."
Ino would sit up straight, looking at Tenten as if she had just grown a second head. You could practically hear the gears in her head struggling to start working again as she processed the information that she was just presented with. After about a minute of silence. "Long version, go."
And thus, Tenten began her story, starting all the way back in Konoha when Lee had taken Setsuna on a tour of the village. One lengthy story later….. "The Daimyo Is here now because the plan is to try and convince him that Lee would make a good enough partner for Setsuna. The problem is that we plan on doing that by having Lee present his case to the Daimyo on his own. And you and I both know what a recipe for disaster that could possibly be."
Ino nodded her head rather mechanically, her mind racing just a little bit as she put everything together. Earlier she had described it as a wrinkle, but now that she had the full story, she wasn't entirely sure if there was a word to describe what Lee had done. Granted, it wasn't exactly his fault. People didn't exactly choose who they fell in love with. Well, some people did and those usually ended in disaster for one or both parties involved. Still, why couldn't he have waited until they came across someone that wasn't already a part of an arranged marriage that would see the formalization of an alliance come to fruition? Then again…. "Got to be honest with you, I'm a bit torn here. Ino the kunoichi thinks that Lee should accept the fact that the girl is out of his reach and move on. Meanwhile, Ino the friend of Lee is rooting for him. Like you said before, Lee is probably not going to run into too many people outside of us that are willing to accept him as he is. I do have to disagree with you on one point though."
Tenten, not expecting that, turned her focus to Ino, waiting for her to continue.
"I think that Lee will do well whenever he has to confront the Daimyo. What he may lack in social graces and people skills, he more than makes up for in sincerity. He just has that quality, almost to the same extent that Naruto has, to make you believe him whenever he says something, regardless of whether or not it is within the realm of possibility. I believe in Lee, Setsuna believes in Lee, and deep down, I know you do too. If you didn't, you would have stopped this long before now."
Tenten was beginning to notice that the conversation was going down the same path that it had with Setsuna earlier that morning. "But-" She was immediately cut off by a raised hand from Ino.
"No buts. I know this is going to sound weird coming from me, but just trust what your heart says, not your head."
Tenten let out one finally sigh. Technically, Ino wasn't wrong. In her heart she did believe in Lee's ability to do what he needed to do, even if her head said that this was a bad idea. "Is this the price we pay for being on a team with a guy that thinks with everything but his head?"
More chuckling ensued. "Unfortunately yes. Speaking of you will have to give me the details about how you all got Setsuna out of there."
"Sure, but let's wait until we get Kiba as well. I'm sure he will want to hear it as well." Tenten reclined back, her hands planted on the bed behind her. "It's funny. Everybody else believes that Lee can pull off this impossible task, and yet the one who took the most convincing was me, even though I have firsthand experience with Lee doing the impossible."
"Congratulations, now you know how I felt when Naruto suggested we take out that sound army base."
- 0o0o0 -
While he had been expecting this, that fact did little to prepare Lee for the moment he was currently in. Standing alone in the Wind Daimyo's study facing down the leader of the country he called home.
At the sound of Miyamoto Ishida's voice, Lee went absolutely rigid. To any normal outside observer, he would still appear to be as relaxed as ever, if slightly still. However, the trained eye would definitely notice the tension that existed within his muscles, as well as how silent his breathing had become. It wasn't the first time he had been in the presence of royalty, but it was certainly the first time he had done so alone.
Apparently, Ishida has such an eye for detail, because he immediately wave Lee over. "Please, relax. Come closer."
While his reassurance wouldn't be enough to completely ease Lee's mind, at the very least a bit of tension faded from his frame, allowing him to walk over to the desk that the Daimyo stood before, coming to a stop about a quarter of a meter from it.
Satisfied for the moment, Ishida would sit down, fingers interlocked and placed on his lap while he observed the green clad ninja. "Rock Lee. 21 years of age. Jounin of Konoha. Born with a rather unfortunate deficiency that left your chakra coils severely underdeveloped, preventing you from freely utilizing your chakra. Despite this shortcoming you managed to graduate from the ninja academy and was placed on a team headed by….. Maito Gai was it?" A quick nod would be his only answer, prompting him to continue. "While no one can be certain for your reasoning, you quickly began to idolize this man, going so far as to adopt his hairstyle and clothing choice, and taking on a rather grueling work ethic that led to you becoming one of the finest ninjas, not only in Konoha but arguably in the world, with nothing but your fists as weapons."
By the end of it, Lee was looking upon his leader with a rather awed look. "Forgive me, Daimyo-sama, but I must ask how you know all of this? I did not think that the Daimyo kept such extensive records of their ninjas. Never mind the country, just doing so for Konoha would be rather tiresome."
"True, which is why I don't. All the information I have been given about you has come directly from your Hokage. I wanted to know about the people who facilitated the rescue and safe transport of my daughter. Sure, Uzumaki's name is rather well known to me, but you and Tenten are, or were, enigmas to me. And please, Ishida is fine."
That made a bit of sense to Lee. "Forgive me Ishida-sama. I didn't want to presume that a privilege you gave to Naruto would also apply to me."
"A fair point. I suppose I should have made that clearer when we first met but no point in dwelling on it further. For now, I would like to focus this discussion upon your role in protecting my daughter at the Wind/Fire border."
Straight to the point it seemed. Strangely enough, it was not a point that Lee was all that eager to delve into, but he would bear with it. Not like he could say no. Nodding his head once again he would start to tense up just a bit more, mentally preparing himself for the memories of, in his mind, one of his biggest failures.
Ishida noticed this, but paid no mind to it. "My daughter spoke rather fondly of your actions there. To hear her talk about it you would think that you were taking on the world. She couldn't see most of it mind you. Just a green blur and bodies flying off in just about every direction possible. If I had not already known about what you and your colleagues were capable of, I would have thought that she was telling my some sort of tall tale she had heard somewhere."
While Lee could not deny that hearing about how Setsuna had described his actions did cause a slight boost to his ego that was very quickly overshadowed by what happened net in the story. "I do appreciate your words, but I still failed in the end."
Well, this reaction was somewhat unexpected. "I would have to disagree with you on that. The ninjas that were attempting to recapture my daughter are dead, and she was safely moved to Sunagakure. Your objective was met, so I don't entirely see why you would consider this a failure."
"With all due respect Ishida-sama," By this point Lee had turned his gaze away from the Daimyo slightly, his eyes focusing on the table now. "While the overall objective was met, I failed at my part in seeing it met. When Murota Shinn caught up with us I was tasked with taking Setsuna-san the rest of the way, to keep her safe. You say that you were informed about me by the Hokage, so you should be aware that I take any mission I am given seriously. I see it through to the end, no matter what."
"Yes, I was told of your rather unique method of training, which the Hokage has dubbed the carrot and the carrot in the tree. You either succeed, or you fail and then make yourself stronger in order to succeed in the future. That being said, I still don't understand why you seem to think that this is a problem here. Setsuna is safe."
Lee did not speak at that. Not entirely sure how he should continue here without saying something that could possibly anger the man in front of him.
Apparently he wasn't going to get that choice. "My daughter told me that before you began your defense, you asked her if she trusted you. She said yes, and did so because, in her own words, she believed in your ability to keep her safe. Looking at you now, I'm not entirely sure where this belief comes from. Have you an idea?"
More silence met the Daimyo's question, Lee still unsure how he should answer.
"Hmm. It appears to me now that my daughter's faith in your abilities has been misplaced. I am beginning to wonder if your old sensei made a mistake-"
Lee's eyes immediately shot up, locking in on the Daimyo. There were few things in this world that Lee absolutely did not tolerate, and one of them involved hearing the words 'sensei' and 'mistake' in the same sentence, especially if it came from someone that did not know Gai. Lee's final though was that obviously Ishida had not been informed about his sensitivity when it came to that particular subject, before he was talking. Yelling really. "Say what you want about me but I will not allow you to disrespect Gai-sensei! He took a bottom of the barrel kid like me and transformed him into a great ninja, and I will not allow anyone, even you, to say even one bad word about him!"
Now this was the ninja that Ishida had heard so much about. "Is that so? A great ninja? Well unless I am mistaken, great ninjas do not find failure in such obvious successes. You did what you are supposed to do, protect my daughter to the best of your ability, and she is now safe because of it, and yet because you did not personally see that she got here unharmed, you consider your actions to be insufficient. So either your sensei failed-"
"HE DID NOT FAIL!"
"EITHER HE FAILED OR THERE IS SOMETHING GOING ON THAT YOU ARE NOT TELLING ME!" Ishida allowed his voice to rise along with Lee's, matching the ninjas tone with his own.
"There is nothing going on! I just failed my task!"
"And I am telling you that you didn't! I don't think you did, your Hokage doesn't think you did, my daughter doesn't think you did, and even Sanosuke and Kanda agree! The only person I have talked to so far that thinks that you failed is you! So explain to me why you think so!"
Considering how heated things were becoming, it should come as no surprise that what happened next came without conscious thought on Lee's part. "I failed to protect the person I came to lo-" Of course, by the time he realized what he was saying, it was already too late to do anything about it.
"So that's it huh?" Ishida, rather calmly, stood from his seat, and walked around the desk, speaking as he did. "So you have grown attached to my daughter, despite the fact that you knew going into this that she was already promised to another. And here I was assuming that you ninjas took your jobs seriously."
Lee instantly paled as the ramifications of what he had just let slip hit him all at once. Up until this point, by Lee's estimation, the only person that was aware of his affections for the future Daimyo was Tenten, who had initially called him out on it and had tried to warn him against it. This was the second time that he had confessed his feelings for the girl, and not only had it been accidental, but it was to the girls own father as well. No matter how he looked at it, there was no going back from this one. He remained silent, averting his gaze away from the man that now stood before him.
"What makes you think that I would even entertain the very thought of some clanless ninja saying that he has feeling for my little girl?"
While Lee was fairly certain, and that was being super modest, that if he wanted to he could put down the Daimyo with little more than a flick of his wrist, as he stood right now, it felt as if he was facing down Gai at his angriest, and if he were being honest he wasn't even sure if such an event were possible. And yet, something prevented him from backing down. Something in the back of his head… No, not his head. His heart. Something there forced him to stand his ground against the most politically powerful man that he knew. A man that, if he saw fit, could most likely have his career on a platter. Collecting himself, he turned to look at the Daimyo, eyes clear and focused.
"Because this clanless ninja is willing to do whatever it takes to see to your little girl's happiness. I took shuriken to the back without a second thought. I faced down a horde of ninjas without hesitation. If you think for one second that you standing here and trying to intimidate me is going to make me flinch in the slightest, then you are sorely mistaken."
Well this was interesting. Ishida had not been expecting such a response from Lee, and while it was not enough to completely throw him, it did give him a slight bit of pause. "And have you given any thought into her own feelings?"
"I have. In fact it has been one of the only things I have been able to think about the last few days."
Lee took a deep breath. It had not been easy, coming to this conclusion, but his talk with Ishida had finally forced him here. "I said before that her happiness is my only goal. If her happiness requires my absence, then that is what I will do. I will walk away without incident, go back to my village, fine the biggest boulder that I can, and hold it above my head for 24 hours straight."
This shook the Daimyo a little bit. "For… what reason would you do this?"
"For allowing my own feelings to interfere with the union of our two countries, our two future Daimyos."
Silence reigned over the room for what must have felt like forever in Lee's mind, the Daimyo seemingly staring a hole into Lee's head. Neither spoke, moved, or seemingly breathed for the longest time.
And then a sound finally pierced the veil of quiet.
All of the sudden, Lee's demeanor changed from stern resolve to utter bewilderment as he watched Miyamoto Ishida, leader of his country, burst into laughter. It was like nothing he had ever seen, or expected to see, in his life. It was so unexpected that Lee wasn't entirely sure how he should react to it, so he just went with stunned silence while Ishida carried on, only beginning to compose himself after a solid minute of laughing.
Once he managed to regain control of himself, and get his breath back, he let out a deep exhale and turned his head to the side. "You were right, that was about the funniest thing that I have heard in a while."
Obviously, this left Lee even more confused than before, right up until the entire empty side of the study shimmered slightly, and where there was vacancy before, now stood Tsunade, Kanda, Sanosuke, Gaara, and…..
Lee's eyes widened about as far as they would go, everyone else in the room disappearing as his gaze landed on the smiling, slightly red face of Setsuna.
"I told you he would make you laugh if he did that. He even made me laugh and I was expecting it."
Now Lee was totally lost. "Wait, what… but how…..why….?"
"I suppose you do deserve and explanation now." Turning his attention back to Ishida, who at this point had moved to join his daughter, Lee attempted to keep his composure, waiting to see just what was going on. "It turns out the attraction between the two of you isn't one sided as I am sure you believed up until this point. My daughter has expressed that her own feelings for you mirror your own for her, dating back to the night she spent in Konoha. Apparently your teammates noticed this and decided to do something about it, so when Kanda arrived in Suna, Gaara managed to gleam a bit of vital information out of him."
Kanda picked up the explanation from there. "I informed the Kazekage here that Ishida-sama was looking for someone to help support his daughter once she took the throne. The alliance between our countries was basically set in stone, and the marriage was little more than a formality."
"At which point," Gaara's turn came up. "I arranged it so that Kanda would make his way to the training ground while you were there, just in time for my sister to arrive and pull a little bit of information out of you. Kanda, recognizing the situation, then went to discuss the matter with his wife-to-be, and thus everything was set into motion."
"While I was aware that a situation had come up concerning the coming marriage," Now the Wind Daimyo spoke. "I was not made privy to the exact situation until you all arrived here a couple days ago. Just to be on the safe side, once I received the Kazekage's message concerning the situation, I immediately sent for Ishida-san to come to the Wind capital. Once I was filled in I will admit that initially I was more than a bit concerned about it, but my son and Setsuna managed to bring me around to it. Now the only thing that was needed was to convince Ishida-san himself. Imagine my surprise when Setsuna suggested we leave that to you, Lee."
Lee's attention then turned to Tsunade, waiting on her to lay out her own contributions to this situation. "Don't look at me. I didn't know about any of this until I arrived here and everyone explained it to me. If I am being perfectly honest, I was just about ready to stomp my way up to you room and beat the hell out of you for this, but fortunately, cooler heads prevailed here." Considering what he had seen was the result of Ino getting her hands on Naruto, he decided it was best not to think about how that would have turned out. "I suppose my only job here was to provide Ishida with the information on you three, as well as keep all of us hidden while you two talked."
"Which brings us right back to the reason we are all gathered here." Ishida once again had the floor, and needless to say, Lee was tensed up once again. "Your goal here was to convince me that you, Rock Lee, could be a suitable partner to my Setsuna. While I do not for one second doubt her ability to lead the people of this country when the time comes, I do worry about the possibility for her to be swayed into decisions that may not be best for her or for the people. I know this from experience. Even your Hokage knows the dangers of this." Tsunade nodded, her own thoughts on the long departed leader of the Anbu Root division. "I needed someone by her side who would be capable of wading through the crap and keep her focused on what was important. Do you really think that you are capable of such a thing?"
While not necessarily the smartest or most politically informed of people, Lee knew enough to know what Ishida was asking of him. He wasn't necessarily asking Lee to run the country with Setsuna, but to just make sure that no one attempted to sway her into any decision that could have adverse effects on the populace. "Yes, I am!"
Setsuna, not at all willing to be satisfied with that, decided to poke the beast just a little bit more. "And just what will you do should you fail?"
Lee's immediate retort of I WILL NOT FAIL, was immediately suppressed when he saw the look on Setsuna's face, along with the subtle wink she sent his way. Grinning slightly, he did what he did best. "Then I shall run nonstop as fast as I can from the Fire Capital to the Wind Capital and back.
Ishida had thought that after the first time, he would be prepared for it. He was so very wrong. Another round of laughter this time with everyone joining in. Well everyone except for Gaara. Gaara doesn't laugh. Ever.
Once that round of laughter was finished Ishida composed himself and turned to the Hokage. "Well, while that is certainly all well and good, there is still one last issue that needs to be resolved. Tsunade, while I may be the Daimyo he is a still a ninja under your charge. Do you see any issue with loosing such a reliable ninja?"
Tsunade herself was looking towards Lee, who was now gazing at her, hope filling his eyes. "Tsunade-sama, whatever you feel is necessary, just tell me. I will even turn in my vest and resign from the ninja ranks if you feel that is what must be done."
Typical. Just what she was expecting from him. "While I admire your devotion, I do not feel that such drastic measures will be necessary. Ishida-sama, I think I can offer up a way for Lee to relocate to the capital without having to revoke his ninja status. I will do up the paperwork once I return to Konoha." For once in her life, she was actually looking forward to the bane of all Hokage's existence. What was the world coming to?
"If that is the case then it would appear that the two of you have your wish."
That was all she needed. Setsuna, letting out an excited squeal, leapt into the arms of Lee, who was only too happy to accept her. The hug lasted for quite a long time, mostly because it wasn't just their arms, but also their lips that were intertwined. Once they were done, Kanda came up to them.
"Congratulations you two. I must say that despite my newly reinstated bachelor status, I couldn't be happier with how this all turned out."
Setsuna finally managed to disentangle herself from Lee long enough to turn on Kanda, wrapping her arms around him now. "I know I should say that I am sorry for how things turned out but….."
"There is no need. I may have lost you, but that just means I have my own chance at finding what you have." There was no malice or jealousy to be found in his voice. Only a sincerity that could only be matched by that of her own. Once he broke from her he turned towards Lee. "If it was my destiny to lose her, then I am grateful that it was to someone like you." He would extend his arm, holding his hand out to Lee, who eagerly took it in his own. "Take care of her." He allowed a second to pass before he very quickly let out. "But please, no more of your tasks. I don't think that my stomach can take another one of those."
Lee had indeed been gearing up for yet another one of his 'punishments' but managed to hold himself back at Kanda's words.
"Alright, now that this has been settled I do have some commendations to give out so if you would please go and get the rest of your team, we can get on with the festivities." Ishida finally spoke up once more, smile on his face.
"Ah of course. Though, it might take a little while before Naruto is prepared." Lee cringed a little bit, remembering the state that his rival had been brought into the villa in.
While the four royals were confused by this statement, the two Kage just shook their heads. Tsunade had indeed filled Gaara in on why he was feeling such a massive amount of killing intent coming from the capital proper, so he was well aware of the state that his regular sparring partner was in. Or at least he had a decent idea of it. "Ugh, the brat just never learns. Take me to him so I can get him back on his feet."
- 0o0o0 -
Once Tsunade had gotten Naruto back on his feet, and looking at the very least somewhat presentable, the entire team was praised officially for their work by the Daimyo. Both Tenten and Naruto noted rather quickly how much happier Lee looked, though only Tenten had an idea of why this was. After the ceremony, which once again was held in Sanosuke's study, everyone was given the rest of the day to do whatever they wished. Gaara collected his siblings and they immediately made for Suna, while the residents of Fire Country would all be staying for the night and beginning their trek home the next day.
During this time, Setsuna, Tenten, Lee, Naruto, and Ino(who Naruto made a point of staying as far away from as possible) all got together to hear the whole thing from Lee and Setsuna. Tenten, despite her earlier doubts, still gave Lee the congratulations that he had earned for doing what she had originally thought impossible for him. Again. She would also apologize to the two of them for ever doubting Lee's ability to accomplish what he had. Lee himself admitted that while he was standing there, he was more than a little bit afraid of what was going to happen, but in the end he just did what he could and that was enough.
The five of them spent the rest of the day together, just hanging out. Eventually night fell and it was time for them to sleep, ready for the trip home. For Naruto and Tenten, it was finally then end of a long, arduous mission. For Lee and Setsuna, it was the beginning of something more.
For Ino though, well he would see soon enough.
The next day they were on the road once again, heading for Konoha. The trip seemed to go by a lot faster than usual, though that could be attributed to all of them having a lot less on their minds than usual. Once the gates of the village came into view, Tsunade immediately turned to her superior. "If you give me a moment I will arrange for your escort to be brought out and you can make your way home. I'll have everything drawn up and sent to you within a day or two. If all goes well, then Lee should be a permanent fixture in the capital within the week."
Ishida nodded his head, turning to look at his daughter, who had basically not left Lee's side for the entire trip. "Think you two can handle being apart for that long?"
"Daddy, please don't tempt him anymore. I'm still trying to catch my breath from the last time you goaded him into relaying one of his 'punishments' this morning, and I would like to be able to breathe so we can make the trip back home." Apparently Ishida had found his new favorite pastime, seeing just what Lee's imagination could come up with for failing a task. Lee had managed to resist, mostly thanks to Setsuna reigning him in whenever it looked like it he would get started again, but every now and the Ishida would find the right button to press and there was nothing anyone could do to stop him.
"That is fine Ishida-sama. It gives me enough time to get any affairs I have in order, as well as say goodbye to the people I need to." Despite leaving the place that he had come to call home, he did not seem sad or regretful, rather he was looking forward to taking this next step in his life.
"Good. Then you may as well get started now. I'll send for you, Lee, once everything is in order. The rest of you are dismissed." With that Tsunade lead Ishida and Setsuna over to the tower.
"Ah, finally. Feels good to be back." Naruto stretched his arms out to the sky. It always felt good to return home after a long mission. Especially one that ran a bit longer than usual. He couldn't wait to head to his usual haunts but first it was time to head back to his apartment to change out of his Anbu attire and into something a bit more comfortable.
Out the corner of his eye, he managed to catch Tenten shaking a little bit, and it took him a few seconds to realize that she was actually giggling. "Something funny?"
"Oh, nothing Naruto. Well, I don't know about you all but I am equal parts famished and beat. I'm heading home. Please direct any and all world changing crises to someone else." With that she bounded off, eager to come face to face with her own bed.
"I think I will do the same." Lee was just about to leave as well before Ino stopped him. "Hey, make sure you tell us when you are leaving. Wouldn't do for one of our best to leave without a proper going away after all." Lee would nod before heading off himself.
Naruto didn't say another word and instead was immediately off for his apartment. Rummaging for his key, he located and extracted it from one of his pouches before unlocking his door and pushing it open. Or at least, that is what he envisioned happening. What really happened was that the key went in the lock, but it would not turn.
This left Naruto slightly confused. He only had one key on him at all times, and that was the key to this very door. Checking the actual door itself he saw that no, he wasn't at the wrong door. So what the hell was going on?
"Having problems, Naruto?"
Turning to his side he would notice that Ino was standing next to him. He found himself getting increasingly disconcerted with how easily she was able to get so close to him without him noticing. "Well yeah, actually. For whatever reason my key doesn't work on this stupid door anymore."
"Oh yeah, well they usually change the locks on the door whenever occupants move out you know."
"Yeah well I haven't moved out so….."
"Actually, yes you have."
Naruto immediately stopped moving, his head turning to face Ino, who he was only just now noticing had the strangest of smiles on her face. "What are you talking about?"
"Well, after your little prank with the morgue, I was feeling pretty angry." She held up a hand dismissively once she saw Naruto instantly pale. "Don't worry Naruto, I already took all of that anger out on you in Wind Country. Tsunade, who if you remember was there at the time, gave me some time to calm down before she asked me if there was anything she could do. That was when I got the greatest of ideas. Tsunade talked to the landlord here, and I hired out Inoria's team. Within a day, you were no longer an occupant of this complex, and all of your stuff, which there wasn't much of to be honest, was now moved into a new apartment."
"Really? Well that's gre-" He immediately stopped once he managed to put two and two together here. "Ino, where is this apartment you moved me into?"
She didn't say anything more. She just handed him a piece of paper, which contained the address of the apartment that he would be living in now. An address he recognized immediately.
"Ino, why is your address on this piece of paper?"
"Why do you think silly? That's because that's the address where all of your stuff got moved to."
Ino had moved all of his stuff into her apartment. Ino had moved him into her apartment.
Naruto was now living with Ino.
"Ah, this is going to be so good. Now whenever you come back from a mission you can tell me all about it." Ino, mimicking Naruto from earlier, stretched her arms out to the sky before turning and walking away from him. "I'll see you later on tonight ok?"
Naruto managed to snap out of his daze while she was walking away. "Later on tonight. Where are you going?"
"And what makes you think that you will see me later on tonight? I was planning on heading home myself you know."
Ino just grinned. He had seen that grin before. Bad things happened whenever he saw that grin.
"There you are you bastard!"
Whipping his head around he was immediately met with the rather vicious stare of one Inuzuka Kiba.
"Oh damn. I knew I forgot something. Naruto, Kiba's still pretty pissed off at you for what you did, so you may want to avoid him for a little while." She waited a couple of seconds before turning and 'noticing' Kiba there. "Oops, too late."
It was a set up.
It didn't take a lot of imagination to realize that he had been set up here. "Ino, please. I'm sorry for what I did, I swear I won't ever do it again. I swear on my love of ramen. Just please tell him to not kill me."
Ino chuckled. "A nice bargain. Pointless though. I already made him promise not to kill you. Everything else though…"
Naruto cringed at that. Turning back to Kiba, he was formulating the beginnings of a plan when "Oh and I mind tagged the two of you, so he can hear your thoughts." It was clear at this point that nothing Naruto could do, could even think to do, would be enough to quell the rage that currently existed within the animalistic quarter of their group.
So. He. Ran.
Funny story about the Gaara never laughs line.
I originally typed that out somewhat automatically as a joke, but was just about to take it out because, to the best of my knowledge everyone laughs at some point in the story. Hell, even most of my bad guys laugh. Just to be on the safe side though I checked back through the story.
To quote myself, "Gaara doesn't laugh. Ever."
I swear that it was not intentional. It just sort of happened and I managed to get that rather interesting moment out of it.
I know I said I was going to get on proofreading the rest of this story before I got to the next chapter, but to be perfectly honest with you, this arc has been kinda eating away at me for a while and I wanted to close it out. I knew where I wanted it to go but getting there was always the problem. So when I finally managed to put together an idea for how I wanted it to go, I had to get this on pap- erm computer screen, otherwise I never would have gotten it back. Hopefully it doesn't feel too rushed.
Think that's all for now as always R&R&have a nice day.
P.S. I do not apologize for the chapter title.