Thanks go to Cornuthaum, MageOhki, Vasey, Typhonis and Griever for help and some useful suggestions, as well as to TFF for the general support. You know who you all are.

Edited by FinalMax

Disclaimer: I don't onw Naruto or Bleach.

Crimson Edge

Chapter 6


"There is something you need to know."

The voice smothered him, like the velvety feel of the lake he laid upon.

"There is something you need to hear."

Her pale hand traced the water gently, before resting upon his face, the only thing that wasn't submerged.

A droplet fell off, splattering upon his lips. The taste was strange, heavy and oddly metallic.


"Can you?" The pale hand caressed his cheek, before resting on his forehead. "We shall see."

'It isn't water...' Naruto realized, eyes widening. 'It is-!'

The hand pushed and Naruto fell, his lungs filling with blood.

"What is your name...?"

Hurt. He... hurt. Why?

"A name? Why would I give you one?"

"Witch!" Spat, but with laughter, despite the cuts. "I don't want one for me. I want one for you!"

"Weak dogs should not bark, boy."

A smile, a fleeting glimpse circling from red to gold and the darkness was gone, leaving blue and yellow, with off beiges.

"Come on!" A grin, a smirk, a smile - all and neither and a flutter of wings. "Catch me!"

" are always... so freakishly... FAST!" Burn. In the lungs in the blood something... edging.

Flash and back and the gold was taking over his vision.

"Nah. You are just slow..."

And he was falling again, shifting into red.

"The HELL you laying around, you bastard?!" Gold, but not shiny. More like straw... and a fang?

The girl scowled.

"Move it!" She stomped, and he felt himself rolling away, with laughter.

"Now now, Hiyori-chan..."

The blonde all but exploded.

"...don't 'chan', come and help me,U-!'

Flash and back and forth and his head was splitting.

Despite the lungs full of blood, Naruto screamed.

There was no support, no way out, no hand to help him up... and it all felt so heavy.

"...what... wha.. ARGGHHH!" The blond knelt, tears mixing with blood. "What is... happening...?!"

"Oh. You can hear it." The crimson eyed beauty looked at him with some strange mix of detached interest and warm compassion. It was beyond strange, and tainted with red and falling bloody rain only served to make the situation even more surreal.

"The hell you...?!" He twisted into a fetal position as another spike resounded in his head, as if he was a bell and somebody rung it. "BENI...himE!" He ground out.

"Yes?" She leaned back, looking at the sky, red and bloody. "I can hear you. But can you hear me?"

"I don't know what you are.. GGUUH talking abo- GAA!" He clawed at his head. "WITCHHHHHH!"

The crimson smile was more beautiful and warmer than them all before this moment, and he sank in her eyes.

"Yes. Exactly." her eyes closed, Benihime's form turned around, as if dancing. "A witch I am, yes. But every witch is also a woman. Soft and hard, sharp and blunt... yes?"

Flash, back and forth.

"Why should I give you a name?"


"Catch me!"


"Don't 'chan' me! Come and help me, U-!"

"WHY?!" The scream tore out of his throat like a living thing, before leaving him limp as he fell, face first into the bloody lake.

"Why?" Benihime smiled. "To hear."

"...but what...?" Naruto whispered.

"What does man hear, my beloved? What does man listen to when he is sad, when he wants to feel joy, when he wishes just to let the world stand still... or to be heard?"

The blue eyes widened.

The crimson lips quirked in a smile.

"Do you hear it now?" The pale hand extended, and Naruto grasped it, letting her help him up but not breaking the hold.

"No... but I think I will." Bloody and confused, Naruto laughed. "Benihime..."

"Yes?" The woman leaned forward, her breath licking his ear.

"Sing for me."

The spirit laughed.

"As you wish, my beloved. The most beautiful of songs I shall sing for you, and for you alone."

This time, it was different.

He didn't sleep, or fall. It was just one. single. step.

And he was back on, Benihime in his hand lighting up with red, opaque shade. But this time it wasn't like before, yet again.

This time, it was deeper, more vibrant and only intensified as he looked on. It was a slow build up starting with sparks that he could feel around the hilt which rose against all odds, developing into a faint misty aura, only to become the crazy motes of crimson. But there was beauty in that chaos and Naruto stared entranced, rising the blade to allow it to arc brilliantly through the air. There was no howl now, only a soft hum getting stronger with each second.

'Like... then. It is... like then.' He realized with wonder, eyes wide. 'Like during the exams, but...'

Then, it was like... like a tone. A single note of something far deeper, far more profound he could feel but not quite hear. Now, though... there was a voice there.

A beautiful, haunting and yet so full of sheer joy as it rose up from mutters and whispers!

"I can... hear now... Benihime..." He whispered, entranced.

In response, the hum seemed to laugh, rising in pitch for a moment, and he could feel the familiar sensation over his arms.

"More..." He smiled. "Benihime... make me hear you... make me hear!"

And the tone deepened, becoming a chorus before circling back and turning into one melody, one voice.

One song of crimson.

The concentric wave of power erupted from the blade, bathing everthing in red for the briefest of moments.

This was it. A part of the red melody. Equal parts requiem and ode to joy, an affirmation of life and the certainty of death.

For the briefest of moments, the air around Naruto seemed to crackle, the cerulean eyes lighting with a purer shade of blue than anything on this earth was capable of.

"Sing for me. Sing just for me..." He swung the sword, not even realizing what he was doing anymore, lost in the voice. "SING Benihime!"

The glow vanished for the breifest of seconds, and then the sword laughed with a lilting note, before unleashing the song of deepest red.

"What...what the... hell...?"

She didn't have any trouble breathing now, even if her hands were shaking. But for a briefest of moments there, it felt like something huge, monstrously heavy was simply pressing her into the ground.

In fact, it all but knocked to her knees before she even realized, her legs simply not able to hold her anymore with that monstrous pressure enveloping her.

"What the hell... was that?!" Tenten choked out, her lips numb.

Once, only once in her life she had experienced something even remotely similar, when Gai-sensei faced a jounin during one of their C-class missions. While she knew that Gai-sensei was strong and capable, despite his ridiculous looks and absurd behavior, the sheer weight of the killer intent their usually kind teacher let loose was enough to make even Neji freeze in his tracks.

But this... was different. Completely different. There was no anger, no intent of harm of any kind. In fact, if she had to pinpoint any particular feeling she had while feeling that monstrous pressure it was... euphoria. Triumph and satisfaction with some form of almost... feral amusement. It was brief and fleeting, if almost oppressive, oddly pressing her from the outside and shaking her form the inside, seeping into her very bones, leaving a strange feeling of emptiness after it passed.

But the feeling, however intense, was quickly forgotten when the young weapon mistress looked on forward, her eyes widening.

The area 77 wasn't one used frequently, and rather bare - not to mention far enough from Konoha for most nin not to bother with it. It was mostly rock and small hills that, some distance further, grew into the mountain chain into which the Hokage Monument was carved. It was solid, hard and very sturdy rock, she knew it well. Anyone living in Konoha heard stories how much effort it took - even for doton-specialist nin - to carve the faces of reigning Hokages into the mountain. The rock was just so solid and dense it was really hard to work with. Now, the very same rock had a long, steaming gouge slashed into it.

'Impossible...' She thought dumbly.

She knew that Benihime was no ordinary sword - it was painfully obvious, especially after what he pulled against her Zansatsu Yomi. She thought that distance jutsu, obviously amplified by the sword, was impressive. But that one, despite its steel-rending power, was thinner than even the blade it was sent from.

The gouge ripped into the rock, though...

Despite her shaky legs, Tenten stood up, wobbly pushing through the foliage, passing the unconscious Naruto and stubbornly continuing forward, until she reached the small outcropping.

The steam dispersed but the cut was, if anything, even more impressive now that she could see clearly.

'...impressive?' She thought numbly. 'This is...'

It wasn't particularly wide - less than her forearm, if she had to guess, maybe half as much. The length, however, was a whole another story, easily dwarfing her two or three times.

But that in itself wasn't as impressive as the final aspect of the cut - for it was a cut, clean and almost perfect in its symmetrical beauty.

Slowly, hesitantly, Tenten pushed her hand into the cut, stopping only when her shoulder was scraping the rock.

Her eyes, already wide, started to resemble a pair of saucers as she stepped back wobbly.

"That's... god that's... absurd..." She muttered, cracking a short giggle. "I...!"

The hill, if it could be called that, was a small, jagged thing, and the outcropping wasn't spectacularly big.

Tenten put her hand to her lips, another nervous giggle escaping her mouth as the rays of the morning sun shone on her, falling through the clean cut through the hill.

"I... I fought... that?" She murmured, a shiver going through her body. "Good kami that is... just what kind of-" She froze, entire body becoming rigid as something between a hum and a sigh echoed in the air. The sound was one she was by now almost intimately familiar with, replaying it in her memories every day.

'But he was out... cold...?'

Slowly, Tenten turned, beginning to relax as she saw Naruto's still prone form, only to stiffen even more than before when she noticed a faint, opaque flash traveling from the hilt to the tip and then back.

At first, it seemed like a reflection of light, but the slow, almost languid pace quickly dispelled the notion. that and that hauntingly familiar, hissing sound.

Tenten stared, frozen and wide eyed, as the sword, for all intents and purposes, seemed to.. breathe, as odd as it sounded. Or was it.. laughter? It kind of sounded like that...

The weapon mistress swallowed, her sweaty hands clenching and unclenching with almost feral hunger as she stared at the magnificent weapon.

Carefully, she took a slow, deliberate step towards the blond and his weapon.

Waiting for a moment, she observed the weapon like a hawk, but nothing happened, the glow long gone.

Taking another deliberate step, she waited again, before kneeling by Naruto, careful not to touch the blade in any way. At any other time, she'd feel ridiculous, but for some reason it seemed... appropriate.

"You are not... ordinary, are you?" She whispered, leaning over the blade with unabashed curiosity, mixed with equal parts desire and wariness. "Strange form, the power of the killer intent without being killer intent... just what are you?" She murmured to the weapon, before freezing completely, barely daring to breathe.


The red sparkled almost unnoticeably, but the flash wasn't what caught her attention. The part of a face of a woman, a red-eyed, crimson-lipped woman that was most certainly not her own smiling from the blade, on the other hand, did.

The crimson lips stretched in a smirk, and the brief visage was gone.

Tenten sat there, staring numbly at the clear surface of the weapon for a long moment with something between morbid curiosity and incredulous disbelief.

"Did she just... wink at me?"

Jiraya was many things. One would say he was an irredeemable lecher, another would say he was a magnificent lecher. Some would also say he was a shinobi with few peers among living or dead, while others would know him, at various points, as spymaster, infiltrator, writer, seal crafter, affictionado of wine and the female beauty and, oddly enough, a very talented wood carver.

However, a large number of those people would be surprised that despite his shinobi talent being the reason for his reputation, Icha Icha his fame and lechery of his notoriety (and it was interchangeable, really , depending on whom you asked) Jiraya was also a priest. A head priest of lady Benten and a genuine sage, in the every meaning of the word.

The sannin, ever since they were children, dabbled in mysteries. Orochimaru wanted the mysteries of power, becoming a ninjutsu master of almost unparalleled might. Tsunade was fascinated by life and became an expert in healing it and helping it along. Jiraya, though, was the sage of the supernatural and ephemeral, which was both at odds and in perfect harmony with his very earthy desires as far as he was concerned. Unlike his two teammates, he wasn't driven by any defined goal - just curiosity.

As such, when the spiritual equivalent of a gong resounded for a briefest of seconds, however muted, Jiraya was one of the four people not take notice. Three others were Orochimaru, who fond the momentary sting rather jarring an unpleasant, but dismissed as inconsequential, while certain young ANBU stopped mid-stride, but able only to hear a momentary whisper akin to the whistle of wind, went back to his duties.

The last one was, oddly enough, Haruno Sakura, who ceased in her warm-up, ordered by Ebisu, and stared into the space with unfocused gaze for a long moment, before shaking the odd feeling off and trying to ignore the odd urge to scream 'shannaro' at the top of her lungs - which Inner Sakura was doing.

Unlike those people, however, Jiraya was the most used to following that nagging little voice of instinct, backed up by the seductive whispers and caresses of curiosity. He didn't hesitate in dropping whatever he was doing and leaving post haste. Of course, in a true Jiraya fashion he managed to do this by kissing the hell out of his table companion with no reservation or care for onlookers and casting an impressive jutsu that crystalized the water and vase that held it into an exquisite example of art one usually paid small fortunes for.

The lithe but undeniably beautiful, dark-haired woman in her mid thirties touched her lips, almost bruised from the kiss, the previously spotless kimono slightly disheveled and a slight blush on the porcelain cheeks as she blinked.

"Oh my." She said finally, noticing the exquisite glass flower resting before her. "Oh... my."

"How... unsightly." The serving girl sniffed. "Sennin or not... he is still just a pervert."

"Ah, but Risa-chan. Jiraya-sama is certainly no... ordinary pervert, hmm?" The dark-haired courtesan touched the crystalline rose, smiling softly.

The servant, a young courtesan in training blinked with confusion.


"Tell Jiraya-sama he is free to visit me whenever he wishes." The courtesan smiled to the girl.

"But... but... Haruna-sama...?" The second courtesan, a voluptuous blonde, protested weakly.

"A man who leaves treasures with no thought and does so from the heart is a treasure himself, Risa-chan." The older courtesan tapped the girl's head fondly. "Some day, you will understand that."

Somewhere, a certain pervert fought a momentary urge to use a Kage Bunshin to pat himself on the back.

"It seems... different somehow." the blond slid his hand down the wall. "It didn't change at all, didn't it?" Naruto turned from the wall, looking at his crimson-eyed companion. "But.. something did change."

"The change wasn't outside... but rather inside." The woman smiled gently. "But then, the reality does change when one's perception changes."

"Perception..." Naruto murmured, as if to himself. "It all... depends on how I look at it... right?"

"Oh, did I say that?" The spirit said lightly.

"Witch." The blond chuckled, for the first time feeling like some strange kind of weight was taken off his shoulders.

"Oh no. For you I am more of a fairy sorceress that makes the wishes come true." Benihime seemed to fade into the chamber, appearing just close enough to touch his face.

"My fairy sorceress..." The blond whispered, grabbing the spirit's hand before she could fade again. "Who will take care of your wishes, then, my witch?"

The woman's eyes widened, the smile vanishing.

"" She whispered with disbelief.

"Just sing for me. That song, Benihime. Just sing it for me." Naruto grinned. "Because that wish had been heard. And even if I have to become the warlock, I will grant it without fail. That is a promise of a lifetime."

"You... you..." The crimson eyes became glassy with tears as the spirit slid to her knees. "You... fool. Always with that... always for..." She choked, lowering her head. "You haven't changed... at all."

"I don't know. I don't know anything." Naruto smiled, extending his hand to the apparition. "But... that song... It was haunting me before. Many, many times. You sang it for me before, didn't you?"

The beauty nodded once, tears in her eyes.

"So I can't do anything less, right?" The grin wasn't foxy and wide, instead it was something between smirk and joy, a hint of mischief mixing somewhere on the edges. "For my witch, that is."

The spirit smiled, despite the tears, grasping the extended hands.

"Nothing can be born form fear." She whispered softly.

"Certainly not victory." Naruto's grin widened. "So, witch, what would be the price for that? For that song of victory?"

"What else," The spirit smiled slightly through the tears. "but your soul?"

"Hehe... that's kind of hard to pay, ain't it...?" The blond chuckled.

"Don't worry." Benihime smiled, embracing him tightly, her wide sleeves covering him like curtains of silk. "That one was paid long ago."

"That is enough, Sakura-san."

The pink-haired girl painted, sliding away her sweat-matted hair away.

"I can go another round." She protested, at which Ebisu just slid his glasses up with exasperation.

"Sakura-san, I made a deal with Naruto-san to train you professionally." He said with annoyance. "Over training when you are fresh out of rehabilitation isn't just foolish - it is dangerous."

"But... but it isn't anything much." The girl protested with frustration. "Ebisu-sensei, all we do are all those control exercises and they aren't that hard!"

"Hard enough to exhaust you, girl." The elite teacher sighed.

His first impression of the girl as dutiful and fairly polite kunoichi was accurate. Indeed, considering she had solid basics as far as theory was concerned and simply lacked skill and technique, she was the ideal kind of pupil for him. However there was a different problem to tackle entirely as he had found quickly.

He had no idea if it was fear, determination, anxiety or all of those combined, but the first day when he gave her simple water-walking exercises coupled with a simple routine to see what he had to work with, Sakura, for the lack of better word, attacked the exercise with almost rabid determination. Rabid enough to leave herself face-down in the spring he picked up for her to train on.

Since then, every day had been like that - he had to restrain himself from teaching her jutsu, simply because he was afraid what she would do. A simple Hinotama, a basic C-class katon ended up used and abused enough to leave her prone for two days. Not because she lacked the stamina (which she did, but was quickly building) but simply because she trained it over and over again.

The girl in question claimed she just wanted to 'have it down' quickly, but Ebisu inspected the training ground, only to find that the logs were gone. Not just burned, or charred - simply gone. For a fresh genin kunoichi with stamina problems to achieve that effect she'd have to burn her chakra completely. Doing just that single jutsu over and over again until she simply ran out of targets or power. Or, in this case, both.

In some ways it was just impressive, while in others it was devastatingly stupid for a girl who was praised for her intelligence.

'Is that blond brat contagious?' Ebisu sighed shaking his head. Still, he has made a promise and he would see it through. The girl was a good student - devoted, obedient and attentive.

'Almost too attentive, really.' he thought sourly.

For the first time in his life after having those two jade orbs studying him non-stop, hanging onto each his word with almost surreal intensity, he wondered if Konohamaru's occasional inattention wasn't better.

He could understand the girl had inadequacy issues, he really could. Given she had the Uchiha genius and the - he had to grudgingly admit - inhumanly determined jinchuuriki with power to spare and motivation to see it through... yes, he could see how she would fell, especially after the humiliating defeat suffered at the hands of another kunoichi.

However to call Sakura determined would be a misnomer. The girl was obsessed and he was beginning to wonder if it was entirely healthy.

'Healthy?' The jounin snorted. 'Who are you fooling, Ebisu old boy?'

The elite teacher pushed his glasses up his nose thoughtfully. He honestly didn't know what to do with her. Oh, he had the whole training program set up - the basic genjutsu introduction, one or two attack jutsu to round up her arsenal. Maybe a hint to change that atrocious taijutsu style of hers to something softer and more focused on agility she had to spare.

While he understood the basic variation of the Gouken was taught in the Academy because it was simple and effective, whoever had the idea to teach it to kunoichi should be stabbed in his sleep with a blunt kunai. The girl lacked the strength, stamina and power for it to be feasible, plain and simple.

Some internal branch would be excellent and with her agility and flexibility - there were several styles taught to medic-nins that would boost her combat ability almost overnight if she focused more on what she had, instead of blindly chasing after what she had not.

Ebisu looked at Sakura's sweaty figure, before pushing his glasses up again. This was going nowhere. He needed an entirely new approach and some time to think. Besides, she didn't look like she could go through another enhancement routine this afternoon anyway.

"Enough, Sakura-san. Do the cooldown stretches and take the tomorrow off." The girl opened her mouth, but Ebisu cut her, rising his hand. "You are simply incapable of another set right now."

"That's not true, Sensei! I am sure I can-"

Ebisu just stared at her without a word, his eyes invisible under the dark lenses.

Sakura lowered her head, staring at the ground.

"Yes, sensei." She gritted out.

"Very well. You will meet me here in two days. Dismissed." The jounin made a single seal, vanishing in a swirl of shunshin.

Sakura's fists clenched, knuckles whitening.

"...dammit." The pink haired girl whispered, her hand flying at the log in blind rage, striking wood with a meaty sound.

Sakura winced, her shaky legs causing her to slide to a kneel as she cradled her hurting hand, only to bite her lip looking away with shame.

The log was unscathed. She had been doing the exercises since morning and yet...

Sasuke's punches left marks. Naruto's could flat out shatter the wood when he got going. Hers... hers didn't even rate. It was the same like the Hinotama. A fireball that left the log blackened and slightly frayed and... and whole. No flame, no fire, no burns...

"...DAMMIT ALL TO HELL!" Sakura howled, her fists flying time and time again at the unfeeling wood. "...break... break... BREAK! WHY! WON'T! YOU! FUCKING! BREAK?!" She screamed wildly, each strike like an exclamation point. "WH-"

A wet sound cut the air as Sakura's hands slid away, fists leaving bloody tracks as she fell forward, almost hitting the log. The blood from her knuckles, the flesh finally giving after the recent abuse, turned to be a blessing, causing her forehead to slide over the red trail instead of hitting it full on, leaving a wet, dirty-red smear on her face and forehead.

"...why... why am I... so weak?" The girl whispered brokenly, uncaring of the blood splattering her ruined dress.

"You aren't waking up."

Naruto didn't bother opening his eyes, just shifting slightly on the silky fabric of her lavish kimono.

"Not really." He murmured. "What, tired of me?"

"Never." She smiled, letting her cool hands trace the contour of his face, content to simply let him rest, let him be close. "But you might catch a cold, beloved."

"Nah, I won't." He said sleepily. "You won't let it happen."

Her laughter was soft, but it none the less managed to reverberate through him, spilling over him like honey. It was an incredible feeling unlike any other and yet just one of many. How he knew that, he didn't bother even asking, or thinking about.

"Your faith in me is charming, but I am not all powerful." she said with amusement.

"Just enough for me." He shrugged. "Just enough."

"Mmm... flatterer." she embraced him, her palms drawing lazy patterns on his chest and neck, massaging and sliding over him, leaving behind that familiar, rosy and metallic fragrance, as if marking him. "But you are troubled."

"Yeah. I guess." He shifted slightly, his hand stretching out, as if wanting to catch something that he couldn't quite grasp. "There is something here. Something I..." Naruto hesitated, before scowling and sighing. "I don't get it. I just don't get it!"

"Try." She nudged him gently.

"I am but this damn thing just... it's like there is a large bath tub, you know, that luxury one and there is some water, but the bath tub is broken and it leaks the water but..." he paused for a moment, struggling. "But it's like the crack is small, but the trickle is even smaller. Like there should be more water escaping, only there isn't. Like somebody turned water into jello. Or something." He sighed dejectedly. "I can't wrap my head around it."

"In a way... you just might have done so." Benihime frowned thoughtfully, leaning her chin on his shoulder.

"Done what?" Naruto blinked.

"Ah, now that is the question, isn't it?" She smiled knowingly.

Naruto turned his head, trying to glare at her, only for the crimson-eyed woman to grasp him tightly, preventing him form moving anymore.

" is always those questions with you. Always." Naruto murmured, resigned.

"I am a woman, my beloved." She laughed softly. "Of course it is."

The blond just snorted, but couldn't stop the grin that appeared on his face.

"Eh, whatever." He said after a moment. "A mystery is fine too, right?"

"Ah, pearls of wisdom, my beloved." Her laughter id it again, that honey-trick, leaving goose bumps in its wake. "Now we're getting somewhere."

"I'd like to know where though." Naruto grumbled.

"Patience, patience." She smiled mischievously. "You don't want to ruin a surprise, do you?"

"Surprise for who?" Naruto said, darting his head up as her startled grasp loosened slightly. "For me... or for you?" He asked smugly at her surprised expression. "Ha!" he crowed. "You don't know too, do ya?"

Benihime frowned thoughtfully, tapping her cheek, before smiling sunnilly.

"Not really." She said, nodding cheerfully.

Naruto paused, blinking for a moment.

" know, somehow that made it far less fun that it was supposed to be." he complained with a pout.

"You can't win every time, my beloved." She chided him gently, though her smile didn't waver.

"Eh, that's where you're wrong." He grinned, his hand sneaking around and tugging her down so their faces were just inches apart. causing Benihime to blink. "I think I totally won."

Benihime laughed.

"...kura? Sakura!"

"...nnhh...?" The pink haired girl looked up groggily, her vision swimming into focus in time to see Ino pale.

"...oh god, what happened?!" The blonde's eyes were wide as she took in Sakura's mangled knuckles. "...the hell were you-" She paused, staring at the indentations in wood, now died in rusty red and darkening still. "...shit..." She gritted her teeth, grabbing a roll of bandages from her pouch and cleaning the wounds before Sakura could protest. "The hell were you thinking, forehead girl? You stupid, stupid, moronic halfwit...!" She scowled, her moves gentle and considerate despite the angry tirade. "Just a few days out of hospital and you do something like this? The hell were you tying to do? What was that... that MORON trying to do? Turn you into mince meat? why I oughta-" She bit her lip as Sakura hissed, shaking briefly as the gauze touched the raw wound. "...oh god, I'm sorry, Sakura." She murmured. "This is... damn, you should go and have it looked on by a doctor-"

"NO!" The pink haired girl, snapped, violently shaking off Ino's hand. "NO doctors! NO hospitals!" She hissed.

Ino blinked, before rising her hands placatingly.

"Okay, okay. No hospitals, I get it. Just the little old me, little Ino who is not a doctor." Her eyebrow twitched." Little old me who wants to BANDAGE THE CRAZY GIRL'S ARM!" She growled, grabbing a fresh dose of gauze. "So be so kind and stop. moving."

Sakura looked at Ino oddly, before nodding slowly, extending her arm.

The blonde growled, but said nothing, again getting to work on cleaning her friend's lacerations and bandaging the wounds, all the while murmuring under her breath, spitting occasional curse at another bit of injury she found under the dirt and dried blood.

"Geeze..." Ino finally sighed, finishing her work some time later. "What was that Ebisu guy thinking? what were you thinking? I mean, that's just stupid! You gotta tell him to stop that! No, wait. I'll tell him." She frowned. "There are limits to-"

"Stop." Sakura said softly.

"But Sakura, you can't just let him-" The other kunoichi started to protest.

"It wasn't Ebisu-sensei." Sakura looked down. "It was me. Just.. just me."

Ino paused, blinking.

"...excuse me?" She said bewildered.

"It was ME! I DID THAT!" Sakura snapped, biting her lip as her shoulders shook. "The stupid forehead girl turned her lily whites bloody because she was stupid, moronic and weak forehead girl! Happy?!"

Ino stared at her friend for a long moment without a word, watching as the pink haired girl looked down, her shoulders shaking slightly, without any sound save for heavy, hitching breathing. She raised her hands, and Sakura flinched, closing her eyes, only to stiffen as Ino grabbed her in a tight embrace.

"Oh god, Sakura..." She said gently, "You poor, stupid miss forehead. You poor, proud girl..."

Sakura's shoulders slumped, all the tension fading away almost painfully as Ino rocked her.

"I... don't know what to do anymore." she whispered, her voice more tired than any young girl had a right of being. "Ino... I just. don't. know. What does it take, Ino? Just what does it take...?"

For a long time, the blond said nothing, simply rocking Sakura and letting her vent until the pink haired girl slumped against her, spent.

They stayed there for a few minutes, Sakura too tired to even protest anymore, until Ino smiled, patting her friend's back.

"Well... I was thinking you probably didn't eat anything today, so..." She smiled, standing up and offering her hand to Sakura. "Up for some lunch?"

Hesitantly, Sakura nodded, before grasping the offered hand firmly, despite her wounds.

It took time for Jiraya to finally arrive at his destination. truth to be told, he didn't even know his destination until about five minutes earlier.

While the feeling he got was far from a whisper, it was like a ripple on water - it went in every direction, washed over everything. It took quite a bit of time, scouring the village from one side to the other to finally find the origin. Or at least he thought so.

"Hmm..." The sage frowned, scratching his chin.

There was nothing really strange about the place. A lot of barren rock, some trees and a small pond in a distance that looked far too neat to be anything but artificial. It was certainly no shrine or a place bearing some kind of extraordinary seal, that's for sure.

"Only... why does it feel that way?" Jiraya murmured, walking through the clearing thoughtfully, before pausing.

'Now that's strange...' He blinked. 'For such a strong reaction, this place is getting calmer and calmer the longer it takes. What the hell?'

This wasn't supposed to be like that.

'Unless... it isn't a place...?' He thought frowning thoughtfully. 'But something else. But what could it-'

He froze in mid-step, before turning slowly, his eyes widening.


It was a hill. Not a big one, but not one that could be called small either. Dense rock, a bit of grass - normal all around. Or it used to be, until someone cut a large, even gouge through it.

'Cut is right...' The sage thought with wonder.

If he didn't know any better, he'd think that someone cut the hill through with a giant Masamune, of all things - it was so perfect.

And, he knew almost instantly, it wasn't done by a jutsu either. For such a large effect, the chakra would linger still, and he didn't detect it at all.

"Now this is... interesting." He smiled, tapping the side of the gap curiously. "Not a jutsu... some kind of a seal... or a weapon?" The Toad Sage ran his palm along the gouge, taking in the details and admiring cut-up rock. He could emulate something similar easily enough -he had at least three separate techniques capable of that, but none quite like that. And none that caused his well-honed senses to register and equivalent of a miko convention throwing a collective picnic either. "Ho ho...!" He chuckled, rubbing his hands.

Mysteries were the water to his mill. Well, next to the research, of course, but he could combine the two splendidly. Sometimes, it even gave some very nice results. Unpredictable too, but that was why he was doing it in the first place.

His curiosity would kill him some day - everyone who knew him well enough said so, and Jiraya wholeheartedly agreed. But in the meantime it'd be a very amusing ride and contrary to all those stuck-up geezers he'd die with a smile on his face, doing what he liked and how he liked it.

Of course, he hoped it was by heart attack, surrounded by a harem of sexy beauties, but he'd deal with it as it came.

For now, however, he had another bit of a mystery he knew virtually nothing about, and it was right her, in Konoha.

"And here I thought it was going to be boring." He mused out loud, before shaking his head with amusement. 'Well, not like I can learn anything more here.' He rubbed his chin thoughtfully, before grinning. 'I wonder if Haruna-chan is still in need of some company...?' he chuckled, rubbing his hands.

Some mysteries could wait, but the mystery of beautiful women was one he was eager to explore with honest, boundless passion - double of which he reserved for the classy, curvaceous and undeniably seductive flower that was Haruna.

Hell, he might even look that blond brat of Minato's up and see how he was doing at some point if he became bored. Not that he doubted Kakashi - the guy knew so many jutsu that the kid had to be a walking arsenal of them by now, given his chakra capacity, but it wouldn't hurt. He should teach the brat summoning sooner or later, after all.

For now, however, he had a reputation to maintain, a puzzle to unravel and a sweet mystery of a woman to keep him occupied in the meantime. A perfect way to schedule his time, in his not so humble opinion.

"Some days I amaze myself." he said with a grin.

This time he did create a Kage Bunshin to pat himself on the back.

Just because.


AN: I said it before, and I say it again : for those sending me mails and pm's asking about the updates of particular story or stories, about the update schedule or anything smiliar – you can stop now. There is no such thing, there is no schedule, I don't know when the next chapter of this or that fic will be out.

Also it doesn't matter if the story wasn't updated for a day, a month or a year – unless I say otherwise it is ongoing, will be updated, isn't abandoned and will be continued. Don't ask when, though. I am busy with many other things and write when I have some free time and when I feel like it. Asking for or demanding updates is pointless – it will be here when it is done, no sooner.