Well, here it is. It had been finished for a while, but it gets posted for various reasons. It's a bit longer than other chapters so it should compensate for the delay. Word of warning: this chapter is full of technobabble, but it is necessary to set things up for the things down the line. It is also slower and ocasionally a bit weird, but since half of the chapter is essentially the set up for the winding up spiral of paranoia that will be introduced later on it is to be expected. I could have probably made it shorter but I really didn't feel like it. This and chapter 12 will conclude the road trip - the consequences of this little jaunt in search of booze, sex and cheap thrills are going to be far reaching and will come back to haunt them later on.

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

Edited by Skelethin.


Chapter 11

"Make Believe"

Lazy - that was the best way to describe the day in Naruto's opinion.

The sun was hammering down relentlessly - so relentlessly in fact that most of the people decided to hide away from the scorching rays. The usually frantic pace of Akasango slowed down to a crawl, only to stop, ask itself what the fuck was it doing out and decide to go back to the shade to sip cold beer and take occasional catnaps.

The interior of Golden Sparrow was pleasantly cool, at least comparing to the outdoors, and the shade was easy to come by. Keisei became a hit with the servant girls after they overcame their initial shock, both because of the mermaid's nice disposition and her abilities in the water department.

The siren herself didn't mind, welcoming the company with a ready smile and cheerful curiosity. Sometimes Naruto wondered if she was lonely - she certainly liked to hang close by him more often than not. On the other hand, she was his creation and sort of ran on his chakra...

'...or does she?' The blond frowned thoughtfully. 'Initially, yes, but she stayed for the last week... and I don't remember summoning her again. Hmm. I wonder... she does have that replenishing seal, but it isn't quite that efficient... an environmental boost? It is an island, so that would make some sense. Especially after we spent some time at sea. Hmm... gotta check that.'

Maybe - just maybe mind you - he should have ran some long-term tests instead of cackling like mad and going off on a three week drinking binge after finishing her.

'Come to think of it, that would so explain why she likes mead.' Naruto pondered. 'Given I did those adjustments drunk outta my head... but still... eh.'

He gave up in disgust. It was the testament to his focus he could recall most of his scientific formulas - even the beginner ones - but some things tended to... blur in his memory. Too many years, too many Kage Bunshin and too much multi-tasking left him with a rather... odd memory in some places. He let it blur together - 'let' being a good word for it. He once tried to remember everything and the results were... not pretty.

Mad he occasionally was, crazy he often acted and he'd be the first to admit that sane he was not, but there was crazy and there was Crazy. He'd rather minimalize the latter, thank you very much. He had enough of it with Sasuke around.

'It is a good crazy, though.' he smiled lazily, eying the Uchiha heiress clad in a rather loose, extremely thin yukata resting on her body more like a suggestion of clothing than anything else. He'd be disturbed, but he had been drinking since the early morning, the heat was atrocious and he quite simply didn't feel like it.

Instead he settled on sipping yet another refreshingly sour drink with a little umbrella in it and dividing his time between one of the scrolls liberated from Zukotsu temple and enjoying the scenery.

Admittedly, more often than not the scenery won, but that was simply because the yukata was nearly see-through and Sasuke chose to lay on her side, chin propped on her bent palm, the other hand absently sketching something on a large sheet of paper strewn before her, presenting Naruto with an ideal view that just never got boring given how her body moved with each brush and stroke on the paper.

Judging by the small smirk occasionally appearing in the corner of Sasuke's lips he knew she was well aware of it. Hell, he'd bet she picked the angle just for such a reason. At the moment he not only didn't care, but would actually applaud. Occasionally the little bitch could be surprisingly thoughtful and sweetened the deal a helluva lot.

Especially given that Hana vanished somewhere with one of the younger maids - for what reason Naruto could only guess, but preferred not to. After all she just might come back without a hint of any sweaty and strenuous yet pleasurable activities and prove him wrong, and he'd just be sad then.

Sasuke was safer that way. And hell, it was just plain weird still, no matter how long had it been. Just plain weird.

He didn't complain, though. Now, at least. Too much of a hassle and to be quite honest he was a bit drunk. Keeping that 'white noise' up was about as far as he was going to work today. The jinchuuriki did it just because Sasuke got pissed when wind disturbed her calligraphy and he sure as hell wasn't going to close the windows. So they compromised. Adapting the little counter-surveillance jutsu so that it gave a steady, cool breeze that didn't hinder Sasuke's writing efforts was easier than actually moving anywhere else. Besides, he liked the view.

He could live with a knowing smirk or two.

Naruto chuckled, causing Sasuke to raise an eyebrow in that oh-ever-so-slightly mocking way, encouraging the seal master just to chuckle a bit more, which in turn made her go back to the sketch/calligraphy/whatever-the-hell-it-was with a bit of her own.

Yeah. It was sort of like that. And all hush-hush, say no more because it was more amusing this way. It gave them something to bicker over on rainy days. Or not so rainy. Whatever.

"I knew it." Naruto blinked, shook out of his reverie less by words and more by the familiar 'a-HA!' note in Sasuke's voice. There was that triumphant, arrogant and self-assured quality that he learned to spot after the years. The tone of someone who was magnanimously willing to enlighten the masses - very Sasuke.

"Your little incident with Tsunade." She explained, putting away a thin brush. "I crunched some numbers and let me tell you this is some interesting work. And a real piece of work by the by, but interesting all the same." She tapped her cheek thoughtfully. "Not that I understand why, to tell the truth, since it is kind of counter productive but-"

"The last time I checked, mind reading wasn't among my talents." Naruto pointed out lazily, before frowning. "Well, sort of."

"You actually managed to get that stuff stolen from the Yamanaka to work?" Sasuke raised an eyebrow curiously.

"Not... exactly." Naruto grimaced. "Not enough to really do anything useful with it."

"Too complicated?"

"Too chaotic in execution, with too rigid start-up conditions." Naruto corrected. "Yamanaka are liars of the n-th degree - their little 'trick' is a fucking bloodline limit of the highest order, no matter what they say."

"Hmm. Never really thought of it that way... but it actually makes sense." Sasuke mused, before shaking her head. "Anyway, back to the problem at hand. I can safely say that neither Kyuubi, nor Raika or Tsunade were responsible for this little berserk episode."

"Oh?" The jinchuuriki leaned forward with interest. "So what was?"

"Well, I should rather say they weren't the ones to blame directly." Sasuke corrected. "The main culprit responsible for that, however, is this." She pointed at his stomach.

Naruto blinked, looking down for a moment.

"My seal?" He asked with curiosity.

Sasuke nodded.

"I have no idea why." She frowned. "I suspect I know how though." The Uchiha pointed to the large, complicated diagram covered by a bunch of lines and spots. It was so densely crossed over with various interconnected lines and arcs it took Naruto a moment to realize he was seeing the central part of his very own chakra system, though one looking decidedly... odd.

"...what the hell is that?" He leaned over the paper, tracing a faint, incomplete line seemingly shadowing some of his main chakra pathways. "For that matter, what the hell is THAT?" Naruto scratched his head, trying to reconcile the image of his own, well-memorized chakra system with the convoluted mess he was seeing.

"I told you it was a goddamn mess, didn't I?" Sasuke rolled her eyes. "That faint line? That's the 'fringe' I told you about about. The thin ones are that 'tattoo'. As for the rest..." She hesitated for a moment, biting her lip. "I think it is your seal with some of Kyuubi's power. Sort of."

"Kyuubi's power doesn't work that way." The jinchuuriki said sceptically. "I mean, the furball barges through with helluva lot of power, while this is... I dunno, almost not-there. Elegant, even. Kind of." He cocked his head, trying to work out the intricate image. "It looks more like a... I dunno... an expansion array? Like the summoning one." he paused. "Not exactly, but the outer edge... yeah. Sort of. But Kyuubi's work this is not."

"I know, believe me." Sasuke snorted. "I did the calculations five times. It didn't make sense until I started to incorporate the seal and the circumstances into the equation And this, of course." She pointed at the fringe.

"That strange chakra." Naruto nodded. "I wondered about it. At first I thought it was Tsunade's, but it is too potent."

"Actually you were right on both accounts." The Uchiha heiress smirked.

"It can't be Mokuton." the seal master riposted, frowning. "It doesn't look a thing like-"

"Naruto, I know exactly what Mokuton looks like." The brunette rolled her eyes. "You have been only obsessing about it for the, oh, a few decades or so. Trust me, I know all about how Mokuton looks like. Doesn't change the fact it is there and it isn't yours. But no, it isn't Mokuton either."

"And how can you be so sure?" Naruto raised an eyebrow. "We both know that Mokuton reacts to bijuu. That kind of exposure might have kick started it, or something along those lines. This is not nearly close to exact science and you know it."

"I'd agree, aside from the fact that if it was Mokuton?" Sasuke tapped the diagram in the central place where a spiral-like form with countless thin vines stretching from it rested. "It'd have done just that - reacted, especially given how much of Kyuubi's chakra you had running in your system then. This one does nothing. It is just slowly fading away. It isn't disturbed by your chakra flow, it doesn't really disturb anything in turn - it just is."

Naruto's eyes widened a fraction.

"I didn't think about that." He admitted after a moment.

"Missed the forest for the trees?" The kunoichi smirked. "That's not like you."

"Yeah, yeah... gloat all you want." Naruto grumbled. "So what is it anyway?"

"I have no idea." Sasuke shrugged. "I do know how it got there, though."

"Hit me." Naruto chugged his drinkbefore pouring two more glasses.

"It is actually really simple." Sasuke accepted the offered glass with a nod. "Unlike other jinchuuriki seals that are made to allow access to chakra on demand, yours was set to mix the fringes clearly first, direct access being a very distant second. The thing is, the energy has to come from somewhere, right?"

Naruto shrugged.

"There is a siphon link. Nine of them, to be exact, as you well know."

"Yes, but before it mixes it has to go through somewhere, it needs a link, a bridge so to speak, or it'd have fried your developing chakra coils when you were an infant." Sasuke pointed out. "And it is an active, adaptable process - it isn't like you get the same amount of chakra all the time."

Naruto's eyes widened.

"...son of a bitch." He breathed. "Variable? That shit is actually variable?"

"Naruto, Kyuubi's chakra is a poison." She said looking at Naruto oddly. "Of course it is variable - that's the whole point. It is like the anti-poison training, making the body resistant by introducing the small, but steadily increasing dosages over time."

"I know that!" The jinchuuriki snapped. "Hell, I mapped most of that thing... well, what I could anyway, given how bitchy it is, but I didn't know it was so damn flexible."

"It isn't." Sasuke frowned. "And I am amazed we didn't see it before. I basically do the same when forcibly siphoning off yours to expand my chakra system. It is... well, the more advanced version of that. Logical."

"That would make sense, actually." The blond stirred the alcohol in his glass thoughtfully. "I mean it is pretty hard stuff, so if I was sick or injured... shit. Limiting the amount is the most sensible thing in the world. Unless it was bad enough..."

"Like, say, healing factor working overtime and nearly lethal drain on chakra reserves?" Sasuke deadpanned, causing Naruto to wince.

"Yeah, yeah." He grumbled. "Rub it in, why won't you. Still... it explains the quirks in the sealing array that can be accessed."

"For tuning the seal, so to speak. Yes." The kunoichi sipped some alcohol. "It is there, essentially, to remove any possibility of breaking or halting the process. So whenever it is a trickle or a stream..."

"...I'll always get some." Naruto shook his head with a sigh. "Man, did he know how to fuck me over."

Sasuke said nothing, simply staring at the intricate diagram.

What was the point? They had already addressed that issue a long, long time ago when they learned what the seal really meant. There was no point in doing it yet again.

"So I understand where Kyuubi's power comes in - what's with that 'fringe' though?"

"I can only guess, to be honest." Sasuke admitted.

"Guess away." Naruto shrugged.

"My best guess is that when Tsunade tried to control the weapon she... harmonized with it. Or it did with her, as strange as it seems. There was..." The kunoichi hesitated for a moment, frowning, "a sense of... compatibility, I guess."

"She said something along those lines." The seal master murmured thoughtfully. "I thought it was metaphorical but now I wonder..."

"Anyway. The bit of that damn Box tech," she glared at him and Naruto shrank away, laughing sheepishly "ensured you poured a lot of chakra into it. Then the seal reacted and..." Sasuke snapped her fingers. "You get a spark. The fact the sword was on the same wavelength meant that your chakra system all but put a welcome mat and opened the front doors wide."

"That kind of synchro is really damn hard to come by when people are trying, though." Naruto tapped his glass, deep in thought. "Raijin or no, it doesn't add up. Chakra reacts to another source of chakra in a volatile manner unless it is really tightly controlled and calm - it's one of the cornerstones of Hyuuga Jyuuken actually."

"Well, that most certainly wasn't calm." The woman rolled her eyes. "Maybe there is something in that 'old blood of the forest'..."

Naruto blinked, freezing.

"...holy shit..." He murmured dumbly. "Sasuke... that's exactly it."

The kunoichi quirked an eyebrow.

"You did discount Mokuton yourself, remember?"

"Mokuton, yeah, but... blood of the forest... blood of the forest..." Naruto murmured, familiar glint in his eyes. "Forest... growth... which means life..."

"Nature!" Sasuke breathed. "Then that fringe.... but how? Accessing natural chakra takes effort and time, not to mention help."

"Stop calling it 'chakra', dammit!" the scientist snapped. "Chakra is a mix of physical and spiritual power - natural energy isn't!"

"How am I supposed to call it, then?" Sasuke asked with a snort, causing Naruto's mouth to open, then close.

"You know... I never really thought about it." he admitted.

"Natural chakra it is, then." Sasuke shrugged, earning herself a withering glare. "Question is, what it is doing there, why it is even there in the first place and why is it-" Sasuke blinked, before looking at a diagram.

She stared at the faint, in paces almost invisible line for a long moment, her eyes widening.

"...Naruto..." Sasuke said slowly. "When we were on our way to Coral, you said that Shodai didn't use nature but it worked with him... how literal was that?"

"Completely." The blond responded without a moment of hesitation. "He didn't force it at all - any tree he made to grow was like natural. It was more like... I dunno, negotiating with... nature..." he trailed off, his eyes widening as he took in the diagram.

"Oh." The jinchuuriki said after a moment. "Oh my."

"And then some." Sasuke nodded slowly. "That's... really, really strange but..." She traced the occasionally faded lines. "If those lines aren't just some mess but actually simply lack the core and the receptive element..."

"Yeah... it is no wonder it just sits there doing nothing. It has nothing to 'grab' onto, so to speak." Naruto stared at the sketch dumbly. "I knew it was big but... holy shit. No wonder no one can really duplicate it - not when you have goddamn natural power interwoven with the very substance of your chakra on constant basis! It is like.. hell, like her spirit touches the very land she stays on! Incredible!" The jinchuuriki breathed. "That is simply without precedence but... it actually makes a lot of sense sense. A bijuu and a human, as incompatible as they are, can do it so why not with another source of living energy? Not like bijuu's power is chakra anyway..."

"But... how?" Sasuke murmured. "It isn't like you can just seal nature inside someone."

"Yeah. I have honestly no idea how it was done..." Naruto blinked. "...or if it was 'done' at all..." He said thoughtfully, before grabbing Sasuke's brush and filling out the faded line. "That's strange..."

"It looks... familiar." Sasuke frowned. "I can't quite place it, though..."

"It looks familiar because it damn well should - it looks helluva lot like one the one in Keisei's base array!"

The kunoichi looked at him questioningly.

"I didn't create that array." Naruto admitted. "It... sort of came on by itself when I fired Keisei up the first time. Like... I dunno, waves that leave marks on the sand, wind eroding a rock? Would make sense, actually... hmm..." Naruto rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I'd love to see how it was accomplished, though. I have never seen anything even close to that."

"It isn't like people using nature's power are all that uncommon." Sasuke pointed out wit ha raised eyebrow. "Granted, the method is a bit more... permanent than most, but-"

Naruto snorted.

"You don't get it, do you?" He grabbed a clean sheet of paper, painting a large circle. "Let's say this is chakra." He drew a line in the middle of the circle, cutting it in half, before coloring one and leaving the other blank. "Spiritual," he pointed to the blank half. "Physical. That'd be the ideal diagram, right?"

"Only we both know that fifty/fifty is pretty much ideal that is rarely true." The Uchiha heiress rolled her eyes "One type of energy usually at least has a lead on the other. Really, that's academy-grade stuff, Naruto."

"Exactly." The blond said with satisfaction, before drawing another circle, this time dividing it into three parts. Again he left one blank, one colored, and then grabbed a bit of yellow ink and poured it over the last part. "Then this would be the idea diagram for the usage of the nature's power, right?"

"Where are you going with this?" The kunoichi asked wit ha frown.

"The fact it is wrong." Naruto said bluntly. "Chakra is a mix. Nature's 'chakra' isn't chakra in the first place - it is another, similar energy source, but it isn't chakra. It isn't balanced enough to be like that." He pointed at a diagram. "Part of the difficulty with using the nature's power in the first place is that you need to have spiritual and physical in ideal balance, which is hard. Add another type of energy..." he shrugged.

"It can be done, though."

"Not well." Naruto snorted. "Besides, this isn't nearly as useful as it might seem. Natural power has a bent towards certain things - it is piss-poor for powering most 'external' uses - in fact it doesn't like to be used externally all that much in the first place. Enhancing your body is probably the best and most efficient way of using it, and it is still a bitch without some kind of external way to balance it."

"Ah." Sasuke nodded thoughtfully. "I did notice something like that now that you mention it."

"Anyway, the real diagram for the use of natural power in less-than-ideal conditions would look something like this." Again he drew a circle, cutting it in half, then cutting one of the halves further in half, leaving one blank and other black, while the rest of circle was colored yellow. "See any problem with the set-up?"

"Depending if this smaller size is accurate or simply used to picture the imbalance?"

"Think both." Naruto grinned. "Willing to tell me why?"

The kunoichi frowned, before shrugging.

"To control the extra power influx?"

"Bingo!" the seal master chuckled. "That is why so few ninja who know of it even bother with it. Aside from the fact that training without some kind of cheat sheet from hell is really annoying, controlling the flow constantly is a bitch. Add the fact it is seriously limited and not as flexible as pure chakra..." Naruto shrugged. "You'd need a very large chakra reserve in the first place to make any decent use of it. That, or near-perfect control that would put most medic nin to shame."

"The physical boost alone would make it worth the hassle." Sasuke said thoughtfully. "Also... natural power... it would mean that it'd be ideal for 'sinking' your presence in the environment. Ideal for spying."

"Heh." Naruto grinned. "Yeah. Well, that and battling disease, poison resistance, healing, rapport with animals, alchemy-"

"Alchemy?" Sasuke blinked.

"You avoid contaminating the compounds with minute additions of your chakra and get the most out of herbs." Naruto explained.


"Anyway. What Mokuton does, though, isn't like simply drawing some natural power in, for whatever reason. It is like.... adding some of nature's chakra permanently to your own, but not for a boost or extra power or anything like that. More like making nature a part of you and vice versa, if it makes any sense. A mokuton user has no need to balance or control nature's power - it comes... naturally." he grinned as the brunette groaned.

"A very nice theory, but how would you explain explain why Mokuton users aren't walking chakra conflagrations like the bijuu?" Sasuke asked after a moment.

"I told you - it isn't about 'power' - though I imagine it gives someone with Mokuton a very nice base start in the chakra department. But Mokuton isn't a hammer - it is subtler. It is like adding salt to ramen - the ramen doesn't become salt and it is still ramen but it tastes differently." The jinchuuriki explained patiently. "Mokuton is a little bit like that salt, only more... encompassing would be the word, I guess." He shrugged. "It isn't like I have all the answers, but Keisei's array is a little bit similar, come to think of it. More element-oriented, but... yeah, there are similarities. Which would make sense given I incorporated into her all I learned of Mokuton until then, and some things I could only guess about."

"...guess?" Sasuke's eyes narrowed. "Naruto... the last time you guessed with seals-"

"It's not like she blew up, now did she?!" The seal master snapped.

"Which can be catastrophic in an on itself." Sasuke deadpanned. "Do have those failsafe seals ready. Just in..." Sasuke trailed off, looking at Naruto's carefully blank face, a sinkingly familiar feeling welling in the pit of her stomach. "...you did incorporate some failsafe protocols, right?"

"...ah... well... you see..." Naruto laughed rubbing his neck nervously. "It is a funny story, actually..."

Sasuke stared for a long moment, before pinching the bridge of her nose slowly.

"Should I be ready to run screaming 'oh god oh god we're gonna die!'?" she asked with sigh.

"NO!" Naruto growled. "Sheesh...! She's perfectly safe, she is awesome, incredibly nice and an example of superb craft - there is absolutely no need to panic, dammit!"

"Yet." Sasuke deadpanned.

"Oh stop whining you goddamn over sensitive jerk!" Naruto huffed. "It is all well in hand and completely under control!"

"Should I remind you the last time you used those words in regards to an experiment?" Sasuke asked politely.

"That castle was fucking ugly anyway." The scientist said peevishly. "Not like anyone missed it."

"People did miss the mountain it used to stand on. Or that village next to said mountain. Or that forest next to said village or-" Sasuke started counting out.

"It is not my fault the idiot built his palace on a volcano!" Naruto protested.

"Volcano which had been dormant for three hundred years." She pointed out with a smirk.

"I don't remember you complaining about that instant hotspring jutsu I developed out of it, though." The jinchuuriki snarked.

"Well, it is far superior to using katon to constantly heat your water in the field." Sasuke conceded thoughtfully.

"See? Benefits wherever you look." Naruto nodded sagely.

The Uchiha heiress chuckled softly before rising her pleasantly chilly drink. A jutsu, some kind of a trick, a seal? It would take at least one of those to keep it cool in this weather - cool enough to leave a track of condensing moisture on the glass regardless of the oppressive heat.

She leaned back, sipping it languidly, every bit of alcoholic beverage celebrated like some nectar. That it made already the loose yukata slide that bit more allowing Naruto to see that Sasuke most definitely didn't believe in tan lines was just an accident, of course.

"I have to admit, this is one fine mess." The kunoichi murmured thoughtfully, head on bent palm as she peered at the sketch and sipping the cold beverage absently.

"Interesting, though." Naruto grinned, pouring himself another glass.

Whoever said that alcohol helped to think was a goddamn liar, but it did help to let loose the reigns of his already rather slutty imagination. Not that he needed it, considering he could see the seals and concepts dancing just on the fringe of his vision, spinning like giant gears inside his head and begging to be let loose on the world, to consider that tempting, ever-so-sexy 'what if?' and turn it into reality.

His imagination was both a tease and a slut that way. But hell, he wasn't complaining! He was high on stuff of dreams, but he'd have it no other way.

"Oh you can say that again." Sasuke waved her empty glass pointedly. Naruto took the cue without more prompting, pouring her some more wine. "It is downright fascinating, come to think of it. I wonder... if it is nature... hmm..." She frowned. "Mokuton it is not, but what if... hmm..." Her fingers ran through several one-handed seals, allowing a bit of mist to gather, flowing over the paper, yet not wetting it at all.

"Chakra paper?" Naruto raised an eyebrow.

"Sturdier, for one." Sasuke said absently.

"Ah, the wonders of chakra enhancement." Naruto chuckled. "Remember when you cut through that diamyo with his invitation?"

"He should have known better." Sasuke snorted. "I am no cheap entertainment for the likes of that worm."

"You know, no matter how long I've known you, that pride of yours is one of the most amazingly mercurial things ever." The jinchuuriki shook his head with amusement. "Sometimes you flat out demand to be regarded as... entertainment, and then you cut off people's head with their invitations for that. Where is the sense in that?"

"The sense is not in when but with whom." She chuckled. "If you don't know that, then you don't learn well at all, moron."

"Haa..." The blond shrugged. "Maybe so. Maybe not. Right now, I'd rather get drunk."

"Coward." The kunoichi taunted, waving her glass to and fro lazily.

"Oh, I don't know." Naruto said mildly. "Do you see me running?"

"Like you can." The brunette smirked.

"Hey now... did you ever see something lame like that stopping me before?" He smirked. "I am the one who can make the impossible possible, dammit! Accept no substitutes!"

"Fakes are bad taste anyway." Sasuke shrugged

"Damn straight!" Naruto pointed his glass at Sasuke like one would a sword. "Besides, if they can't deliver, what good are fakes for anyway?"

"I could talk about such noble goals as serenity, balance, quiet..." The kunoichi started counting out.

"Yeah, helluva lot o' fancy words for boredom, right here." Naruto rolled his eyes.

"Oh please spare me that 'street rat' impression." Sasuke snorted with amusement.

"Hey now, don't go dissin' rats." Naruto protested indignantly. "Those buggers are smart like hell and born survivors! They waste nothing, know when to fight and when to take to shadows, can work together like a goddamn machine and..." He blinked. "Hey... they are sorta like... proto-ninja, or something! Awesome! I wonder if there is a rat summon out there somewhere? Now that would be damn useful. Perfect spies, those guys." He pondered out loud, rubbing his chin.

"Now aren't you fickle." The Uchiha heiress taunted. "Be careful, or your sweet little mermaid will get jealous, hmm?"

"Hey now, that's just low." Naruto pouted. "She's my golden girl, my dragon princess in the palace under the sea and I am not like that idiot Urashima, eh? I won't mess it up. Don't you worry about that."

"Dragon princess... ha!" Sasuke laughed. "Does that make you the king? After all, that palace is yours, no? And even that accursed box... aren't you the one that put the secrets inside?"

"Secrets... haa. Who knows?" Naruto lazily balanced the Kagai shikomizue he grabbed out of his seal storage. "A lot of steel, certainly."

"Should I fashion you a bladed crown?" Sasuke raised an eyebrow mockingly. It was a very good mocking eyebrow - she spent years to perfect it and was particularly proud of it.

"A crown? Bah." The jinchuuriki grinned, spinning the weapon once, before sending it back. "I think I'll settle on armor, thank you." he paused, frowning. "But you can make it orange, yanno? It'd be all kinds of awesome that way."

"Tacky armor does not a king make." Sasuke pointed out with obvious distaste. "If you want to go tacky, at least try gold. It'd look far less ridiculous."

"Gold is fine too." Naruto nodded. "Not as good as orange, but that's shiny too, I guess."

"Shiny." Sasuke chuckled with amusement. Only Naruto would make armor out of gold just because it was 'shiny', if for no other reason. It was one of his more endearing qualities, overall. One of the more infuriating as well.

People thought she was obsessive, but between the two of them Naruto was far more of a zealot than she could bee on her worst or best day. If he liked something Naruto threw all of himself in whatever he did, no matter how outrageous or mundane. It was both amusing and occasionally honestly terrifying - the sheer amount of willpower the jinchuuriki had was probably his greatest strength, even though Naruto would probably disagree.

To be honest, Sasuke always knew Naruto was stubborn beyond belief - even before the whole mess started she knew that better than anyone. It took her friend's fixation on science, provoked in equal parts by curiosity, boredom and sheer, stubborn belief it can be done in a different way however to make Sasuke truly understand just how determined.

Losing physical conditioning was a bitch, but at least Sasuke retained the memory. Not to mention that there were ways to cheat the body, both with the Sharingan and certain... other methods. Naruto, on the other, hand lost everything.

Tools alone were easy to replace - Sasuke was wealthy and if that wealth couldn't be used to help one's best friend, then what good was it? But some things were one-of-the kind, some made by Naruto himself, others acquired by truly mind boggling stunts. The experiments, the seals, the devices, the forges, the summons, the storages, the thousand and one things that took incredible amount of effort to make or obtain... Gone in a blink of an eye. Time and time again. No ifs, no buts - no way out.

And yet each time Naruto just shrugged, smiled and then went back to the lab to start anew from the scratch. Each and every time. It went beyond simply incredible into downright improbable around the time he started to create Keisei.

Naruto often said how he put much love and effort into the siren summon but Sasuke knew how true that was. Each time when the deadline approached, he knew - no matter how close he felt he was to a breakthrough he just knew... and then he lost it all. The sheer inevitability of that would have probably driven lesser men crazy, yet just a moment later there he was - re-crafting the seals, pushing the envelope stubbornly that tiny bit farther, knowing that in several months all he was working on so relentlessly would be gone and he'd be back to square one. Almost. And to him, that almost was enough.

That he would have to start from the scratch didn't matter to Naruto in the slightest - he had a vision, he had a dream and, as he had said before, such lame things like 'possible' or 'impossible' really didn't enter in the equation. If reality differed from Naruto's vision... well, too bad for reality. He'd bend it as far as it took to realize his dream and to hell with the word - nay, the very concept of 'impossible'.

'Calling him a 'king'... I guess it really is no joke, no matter how you look at it.' The kunoichi shook her head with amusement as Naruto pondered the ways of making a chakra-conductive lightweight full plate out of pure gold - and making it sufficiently shiny, of course.

She blinked.

'Did he just-?'

"Oh no." The kunoichi snapped. "You are not engraving ramen bowls or noodles on it!"

"But-!" Naruto whined.

"No! The whole point would be to make it classy you numbskull!" Sasuke seethed.

"Hey, ramen is plenty classy!" The seal master protested, wincing as Sasuke shot him a withering glare. "...okay, okay. Seesh. Everybody's a critic..." He sulked.

"And I better not see any naruto disguised as a spiral either." She threatened in a tight voice.

"...but... but...!" Naruto slumped. "...crush my dreams, why don't you." He mumbled petulantly.

Sasuke eyed her partner for a long moment, pondering the problem before deciding a bit of mercy was in order.

"Think about it this way - it leaves a whole lot of room for engravings of a very curvy, very busty and very hot nature." She said finally, causing Naruto to perk up immediately.

"Well, I was thinking about that Tsunade chair, but that would be fine too... "he said thoughtfully. "So many nubile golden hotties hanging all over me...." The seal master grinned widely. "Hey, that'd be awesome - like my very own, personal slice of paradise! My golden harem! And I could even make them move and dance or do stuff if I put some work into it!"

"The unlimited harem works?" Sasuke smirked.

"That... actually, that sounds pretty cool." Naruto agreed with a chuckle. "It'd be a lot of work, but it'd look awesome!"

"Attractive, for sure." The Uchiha agreed with amusement.

"Hell, screw dancing - with enough seals I can-" Naruto paused as one of the maids breached the white noise sphere, blinking at the soft, cool breeze that hit her, before shaking her head and walking up to them with a bow.

"My apologies, Kusanagi-sama." The young woman said softly. "There is a message for you."

"Well, I'd like a massage more than a message..." The blond grinned, waging his eyebrows comically and causing the maid to smile back, a touch of blush on her cheeks. "but if I can't have what I like, I'll take what I can get, eh?" he took the letter from the tray. It was little more than a thin scroll - very utilitarian and bereft of anything resembling ornamentation.

Naruto glanced at the seal - as conspicuously featureless as the rest of the letter - before breaking it and unrolling the message.

"Well now..." He said with a blink. "Either those people think I am stupid, they are stupid, have balls made of titanium and a contingent of troops I am not aware of... or they are actually honest. I'm having trouble deciding which. All of the possibilities are almost equally funny save for the last one, which is simply hilarious."

Sasuke raised an eyebrow curiously.

"Our friends from Kumo apparently wish to meet." Naruto explained with amusement. "To finalize the transaction face to face, so to speak."

The raven tressed woman blinked several times.

"...I don't know if to laugh or admire the sheer audacity. Or idiocy." She said finally, tapping her cheek with one of her fans thoughtfully. "Which just might mean they are actually honest, hilarious as it might be."

"Well, not like I'll find out by sitting here..." Naruto grinned, standing up and stretching. "Can ya bring me a large enough bottle and my haori? It's too damn hot to go out there sober." He asked the maid.

"As you wish, Kusanagi-sama. Should I bring sake, ginju-shu or something stronger?"

"Ah, whatever suits yer fancy." Naruto slurred lightly, waving her away. "Just cold and a lot of it, mmkay?"

"I believe we have some chilled mead Chigusa-sama bought for Keisei-sama. But I do believe Keisei-sama will share." The girl smiled slightly.

"Fabulous girl! Golden girl! Ain't she just so awesome, Yasa-chan?" Naruto enthused, grabbing the maid and spinning her around, causing the young servant to squeal - in fright, glee or surprise Sasuke honestly couldn't say. "Keisei won't mind sharin' a bit."

"Do put her down, Kusanagi." Sasuke sighed with amused exasperation.

"Ah. Right." The jinchuuriki blinked, putting the somewhat dazed, flushed girl back on the floor, patting the creases on her kimono out and pushing a strand of hair that came undone from the girl's braid as he swung her around. The maid squeaked, blushing scarlet as Naruto's hands slid over her breasts and hips. "There. Good as new, yes?"

"Unless you want the poor dear to be completely useless for the next half an hour or so, do take your hands off of her." She slapped his wrist with her fan with amusement.

Some people were angry drunks, other people were sullen drunks - some even were mellow or party-loving drunks. Naruto was what she'd like to describe as a grabby drunk. As a physical person, the blond liked close contact in general - when drunk that trait grew exponentially. Especially given the fact he was also a horny, cheerful drunk.

"Only half an hour?" Naruto pouted. "Why, you wound me!"

"You do want that mead, don't you?" Sasuke pointed out.

"Ah. Right." Naruto snapped his fingers, before blinking as a shower of roses exploded from thin air. "...huh?"

Sasuke grabbed one, sniffing it carefully. It had a really intense, yet velvety fragrance, far from usual sweet smell - it was softer but had a more vibrant note to it.

"For me? You shouldn't have." She grinned.

"Well, if you like 'em..." Naruto said with a smile, before grabbing one and putting it carefully in the flushed, disoriented maid's hair. "Here. A flower for a flower."

"...ah... thank you?" The dazed maid touched the flower in her hair gingerly as she walked away.

"Aren't you happy." The Uchiha murmured with amusement, tucking the rose she held behind her ear.

"Hey, I am almost always happy." Naruto shrugged. "I'm here, I drink good booze with my best friend under the blue sky. What's not to be happy about?"

"Indeed." She raised her glass. "For life."

"For life." Naruto touched his glass to hers before they chugged the rest of the alcohol in unison.

"So." Naruto snatched his wide-sleeved, crimson haori (one of the compromises he and Sasuke could agree on, as long as it wasn't the blinding, fire-patterned one, or - even worse - the infamous lab coat) from the maid, who blinked as the cloth settled on the blond's shoulders with flourish.

It damn well better. Naruto spent long months learning how to put on clothes - especially wide, billowy ones - with the maximum use of the dramatic, if quite ridiculously overblown effect. Besides, Sasuke had a sneaking suspicion he learned how to sew just so he knew how to put the tiny Fuuton seals into them to make them do such properly.

The fact they flapped - billowed according to outraged Naruto - dramatically even when there was absolutely no wind present did support that theory quite nicely. As did several suspiciously focused bits of chakra flowing right under the hemline according to her sharingan.

"How do you feel about making a point and using it to poke their overblown egos a bit?"

"With you this drunk?" Sasuke snorted. "Oh please, spare me. Half of the time I'd have to look out for falling anvils or something equally ridiculous."

"...hey now. It was just that one time." Naruto pouted. "Besides, it was sorta cool."

"You weren't the one who had to avoid an anvil falling from a three-story building mid air." The kunoichi said flatly. "So any sort of 'cool' was rather lost on me then."

"You did say you wanted the bastard squashed." The seal master shrugged in a 'what can I do?' manner. "I aim to please."

"That's exactly what I am afraid of." Sasuke sighed. "Besides, I hate killing people when I drink good sake. It always tastes so... coppery afterwards." She wrinkled her nose in mild disgust. "I just managed to have Chigusa-san find some nice booze and I am not going to waste it."

"Hey now... who says anything about killin'?" Naruto swayed slightly, chugging the rest of his booze from the bottle, juggling it for a moment even as he drank form it, before letting it to its doom on the floor... only to stop mid-air, the chakra string tied to it almost invisible even to Sasuke's trained senses, and float down gently the rest of the way.

"We'll just have a nice sit-down, share our opinions and explain some basic facts of life. All friendly like." He grinned goofily - or it'd seem goofy if not for a faint, almost unnoticeable yet oh-so-dreadfully familiar glimmer in his eyes. It wasn't the usual 'It's alive!' mad scientist spark, or the catastrophical 'Hmm... I wonder...' one.

And boy, was she glad it wasn't - she had enough on her plate without Naruto trying to, say, turn Coral into a floating island or something equally absurd. Not that she believed it was even possible but, well... Naruto and the concept of 'impossible' had a rather interesting relationship, with both sides politely ignoring the other.

Sasuke knew for a fact that 'Naruto' was synonymous with nervous breakdown for most seal masters once Naruto started to go into more esoteric aspects of his beloved art. The shaking hands and crazed eyes of established masters when their world view started to come apart at the seams just never got old.

One of the few people who didn't react that way were the Sannin, Sarutobi and Danzo. Sarutobi because he was usually considering just how many ANBU he would have to use to lock Naruto away for the safety of the village, Danzo mostly because he was drooling about military applications and the Sannin... well, Orochimaru wanted to adopt the jinchuuriki while Naruto was busy trading his 'odds and ends' for dates with Tsunade. Sasuke honestly didn't know if Jiraiya was more impressed by the former or by the latter - the Toad Sannin was laughing too hard.

Still, she really did know better than to give him ideas. Not that she didn't, but oh well. Stealing Raikage's tower was a lot fun, especially given how it turned Kumo ANBU into jittery, skittish wrecks for months afterwards.

Though the time when the Hokage heads on the monument started to bitch at each other about who was the bigger pimp was one of those moments that brought nothing but glow of satisfaction few other events could match.

Of course when one bothered to sit down and think about the sheer amount of work, research and knowledge involved and then realize it was done by Naruto because of one of Sasuke's offhand comments... well, it started to be a little less funny and started to enter the realms of hair-rising fucking terrifying. Sasuke thought it was simply hilarious despite - or maybe because - of that.

"So, you game?" The jinchuuriki asked, grabbing a large bottle of cold mead

"I'll pass, thank you." She shooed him away, grabbing a brush and biting it as she stared at the convoluted sketch before her. "You go on and have fun. Besides I did promise Chigusa-san to have a drink with her."

"Suit yourself." Naruto shrugged, turning to the exit, only to pause as something tugged on his haori. "....huh?"

Sasuke looked up from her sketch, blinking.

Keisei, in all her azure glory, stood behind Naruto, the hem of his haori in one of her palms and a frown on her face.

"Hey, mind letting me go?" The seal master asked.

The mermaid cocked her head, obviously deep in thought, before shaking it once.

"Okay, that's weird." The blond admitted.

The summon pointed at the door with a raised eyebrow.

"Well, yeah, that's the plan." Naruto agreed to the unvoiced question.

She pointed at him, then again at the door.

"Not really following..." The ninja said in a puzzled tone, at which the siren sighed, before slowly pointing at him, then at the door, then back at him with a questioning look.

"It seems to me she's not so much as asking if you go out, but if you do so alone." The kunoichi said with interest.

"I managed to get that, thank you." Naruto rolled his eyes at Sasuke, before turning back to the mermaid. "Yeah. The bitch feels like bein' lazy and stuff. So mind letting me go?"

The azure woman's frown became deeper, bordering on a scowl accompanied by a forceful shake.

"...you won't?" Naruto blinked with confusion. "But why?"

Keisei shook her head again, though this time less emphatically, before pointing at the door, then at herself and grabbing his arm tightly.

"Ah." Naruto nodded slowly. "Honey, you know I love you, but... you kind of stand out." He said delicately, looking at the beautiful azure skin, almond eyes the color of polished emeralds and a plethora of quite beautiful but rather obviously inhuman traits. "While I don't usually care, I want this to be... a bit of a low profile, you know?"

The mermaid's brow furrowed thoughtfully as she looked down at herself critically, before looking back at Naruto with a quivering chin.

"You are beautiful, really!" The blond hastily, waving his arm. "Never doubt that! Ever! But, you know..." it was a testament of Naruto's seriousness he didn't attempt to grope the rather well-endowed summon as he hugged her. "I can't right now, okay? People would come and look at your sheer awesomeness, and while usually it'd be all kinds of good, it'd draw them from all around and I do want a surprise or two in my sleeve, so..."

Keisei sighed, an odd sound between a whisper of running water and, oddly enough, rustling leaves, before blinking and stepping back from Naruto.

"Thanks, honey." The jinchuuriki smiled. "I'll be-"

Keisei cut him off rising her hand in an obvious 'stop for a moment' gesture, before closing her eyes.

Naruto frowned curiously, while Sasuke's eyes widened as a strange, though not wholly unfamiliar feeling ran through her. She'd bet Naruto didn't feel it nearly as clearly - the sheer amount of jinchuuriki's chakra tended to blind his senses a little in that regard - but she was damn sure she felt that strange spike-

Naruto's eyes widened to resemble saucers, while Sasuke simply stared, unable to utter a word.

There was no glow, no smoke, no sound - one moment, Keisei's skin was the most beautiful azure putting gems to shame, the next it started to darken and, oddly enough, soften in appearance. The mermaid's impressive, tall frame also shrunk - not much, but enough to make her only a few centimeters taller than Sasuke, though she was still taller than your average female.

Her claws lost their luster, growing shorter and fully transparent, resembling perfectly ordinary nails, the almond shape of the eyes lost its sharpness and became smaller, though still quite exotic. The blue-green, shiny hair that usually seemed like a cross between sparkling stream and strands of gem-like substance grew duller, fading into a very washed out sort-of blonde - a little odd, but perfectly natural looking, if quite long. Keisei's hair reached well past her shoulder blades in her normal form - as a human they stretched past her knees.

Finally, the skin lost its inhuman, sharply contrasting look settling on mix of dark gold and coppery - it didn't look so much like a tan, like Sasuke's own deep golden one acquired after two weeks under relentless sun, but more like a natural shade she seemed to have been born with. Come to think of it, it looked a lot like some of the people from Kumo Sasuke met over the years, if a bit more exotic. Or would if not for two facts that became evident. For one her eyes were like polished emeralds, but that was a relatively minor issue, considering Keisei's ears didn't seem to do much save changing color accordingly. Aside from that, they still remained long, pointy and rather at odds with her human guise.

But then it was a minor issue overall.

"...hey, did she just-" Sasuke looked at Naruto in bewilderment.

"Don't ask me. I have abso-fucking-lutely no goddamn idea how did she do it." The blond said, staring at his beloved creation in awe. "I didn't know it was even possible for her!"

Keisei grinned, grabbing Naruto's arm again, only to frown in puzzlement for a moment before perking up considerably and stepping closer, pressing to him so that her still large - even more so considering she was more petite than her usual form - breasts squashed against Naruto's shoulder.

"Well she certainly doesn't seem to waste any time." Sasuke chuckled at Naruto's odd look.

The mermaid - or a former mermaid - looked at her summoner with satisfaction, nodding sagely and pointing at the door questioningly, only to pause as a soft cough resounded in the room.

"Ah... Keisei-sama...?" The maid, who finally seemed to find her voice, fidgeted nervously. "I... I would like to point out that you are... ah, naked?"

The former mermaid blinked looking down at herself, before looking back at the maid with a shrug that made her breasts sway a little, showing that big or not, they were almost inhumanly perky and certainly needed no bra.

"Ah... well... you are quite... striking, Keisei-sama..." The maid coughed, flushing. "But, if Kusanagi-sama wishes for even a bit of anonymity... I would suggest some clothes."

The summon frowned, pondering it for a moment and looking at Naruto, clearly at loss what to do..

"Ah... it wouldn't take long, Kusanagi-sama!" The nervous girl waved her arms. "Chigusa-sama has many, many clothes and Keisei-sama is so very pretty anything would look good on her! I mean, just some gi would be fine, but the way she looks, it'd be a crime to avoid showing it... I mean, not that she doesn't show it now, but..." The girl waved her arms again, her face scarlet with embarrassment. "Auuu...!"

"...huh." Naruto raised an eyebrow as Keisei looked at him questioningly, though he could see curiosity in that gaze as well. "Hell, why not. If you want to..." The shinobi shrugged.

"A makeover for a mermaid?" Sasuke blinked, before grinning. "Okay, now this I just have to see."

Naruto waved an elegant silver fan he had stolen from Sasuke - purely in revenge rather than out of need considering he had worked out how to use his Fuuton affinity to keep the worst of the heat at bay ages ago. Sasuke's Fuuton affinity, on the other hand, sucked.

Besides, the perv liked those fans and her freakish pride wouldn't let her replace them until she got both back from him. In the meantime she could boil her disturbing ass for all he cared - it was the least she deserved after forcing him to go through... that.

He could sew - he could sew damn well. He also knew make up, he knew how to make jewelry and did it well. Hell, he could shapeshift into a damn hot chick and wear all that stuff with grace and style the high class oiran were envious of of! Yet still the appeal of 'makeovers' eluded him. That it didn't elude the bastard was just a further proof that Uchiha Sasuke was a cosmic joke on Naruto's expense, prepared by his own hands no less.

'Huh.' The blond blinked. 'Does that mean Sasuke's my greatest prank ever...?' He pondered, before chuckling, causing Keisei hanging off his arm to smile even as she observed the street they were going through with unabashed curiosity.

Despite his fears, the shape shifting mermaid proved to be uncannily practical and minimalistic, refusing anything resembling jewelry or accessories and only reluctantly agreeing to black slipper shoes. She refused - thankfully - Sasuke's thinly veiled attempt to foist one of her scandalously sheer yukata on the mermaid, instead picking a simple, wave-patterned black piece that looked more like an uncommonly long gi top than anything else, being rather racy but allowing for unrestrained freedom of movement.

Naruto had to agree that it looked incredibly good on the lively mermaid, especially given how it left most of her legs and arms bare. The long, bright hair were carefully combed until they were a curtain of flowing tresses, but on Chigusa's suggestion were left unstyled. The summon vehemently denied any make up, to the maid's disappointment, though in Naruto's opinion her exotic features really didn't require any.

All in all, despite the simplicity the transformed siren still turned heads as she walked with him. Admittedly, she'd have drawn far more attention as she usually was, but low profile this was not.

Still, Naruto decided to grin and bear it - who was he to say no when a pretty girl decided to hang off of his arm? Well, a pretty girl that wasn't Sasuke. Though Sasuke would resent being called 'merely pretty', the bastard. Bitch. Whatever. He really was too lazy and too drunk to care.

Naruto paused for a slightest of moments, before resuming his walk.

"Huh." He murmured, feeling that familiar, harrowing feeling of being watched. After so long he didn't need to feel their chakra or look for clues - he just knew. "Aren't they impatient."

Keisei frowned, before looking at him and showing two fingers.

"...two?" The jinchuuriki blinked.

Keisei nodded, her emerald eyes briefly sweeping two different directions.

"Okay, I know you didn't see them before, since you didn't look in any of those directions before." The seal master asked with curiosity. "How did you-" He trailed off as Keisei's long, pointy ears waggled up and down several times. "You can do that?"

The mermaid grinned, her long ears twitching once more with obvious satisfaction.

"Awesome." Naruto chuckled. "And that bitch has the gall to complain about my awesome skills! Ha!" He crowed. "Still... if one is here... and the other is there, that's a bit..." the young ninja trailed off. He wasn't worried about the unknown observers hearing him - the crowd was too noisy, they were too far away and lip reading wasn't an issue given their position, but why risk it? Still, their locations bugged him, mainly because how pointless they were - stationed like that they were doubling about the same field of vision. There as really no point in doing something like this unless...

A small chuckle escaped his throat.

'Who watches the watchers indeed. Seems like the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing, eh?'

They could be, of course, two ninja from different villages but considering they both appeared after the message was delivered Naruto would bet they were both from Kumo, despite one hiding from the other.

"Whaddaya know..." Naruto drawled softly. "This could actually be fun."

Still, if the situation was more than just a straight ambush combined with some strong arm tactics there was no sense in ignoring it, especially if he wanted to avoid drawing too much attention. Relatively speaking, of course.

'I can't do any chakra-intensive ninjutsu and genjutsu is out since it isn't like I can manipulate chakra right in this condition.' He winced slightly feeling a brief spike of pain he suppressed ruthlessly. 'If it gets ugly I could simply tell Keisei to go wild but...' The young man sighed.

The mermaid was indeed awesome and she was powerful enough to take whoever Kumo sent by surprise, but it wasn't like she was subtle - she was a heavy hitter and that was precisely what Naruto wanted to avoid. He was really in no shape to fight a bunch of shinobi. Hell, he was in no shape to fight a bunch of academy students to be honest. There were alternatives, however, that were much better than straight up fighting. Much more amusing as well.

A small grin appeared on Naruto's face as he started humming under his breath.

'Now, where can I find a clothing shop selling sufficiently long strips of silk and paper...?'

"Huh." Naruto swirled the alcohol absently, his glazed eyes looking forward blankly, not seeing much of anything. Or rather not seeing much of anything real.

Genjutsu was a fantastic art on many levels beside just the obvious 'make them see something that isn't there' part. Masking traps, subtle suggestion, hypnosis, interrogation... the uses were endless and he could understand Sasuke's fascination with it. Naruto lacked the finely tuned control for the subtler skills, but that didn't mean his genjutsu was terrible - just as Sasuke gained a deeper understanding of the sealing arts, Naruto gained a deep, enduring appreciation for genjutsu. While he couldn't pull a mindfuck on Sasuke's level, there were... other uses.

After all, who said genjutsu had to be used against someone?

When you were observed by enemies, your every move carefully noted and analyzed, what better way to hide things than not having them there?

Naruto grinned, allowing the three dimensional image of the meeting point designated by Kumo ninja rotate slowly in all of its three dimensional glory.

Sometimes it really paid to have a shikigami. Granted, he was a bit peeved that his shikigami was a rather bitchy hornet occasionally moonlighting as a butterfly, but then it was karma, or something like that. He supposed she was balanced out by the huge bitchy fox inside his chakra system.

On the other hand, not being something big and impressive made sure no one really paid attention to her. Well, unless she stated to get stab happy in all of her ten inches of bitchy glory. He sometimes suspected Sasuke had a hand in making Soi this way - she certainly spent more time with the bastard as a glorified tattoo than with him anyway.

"A tavern? Huh. A little public... unless it is all on their payroll." The seal master trailed off.

This was quite likely. Coral was one of the centers of the black market activities in this sector and there was simply too much money here not to keep some kind of watch on it.

His smile dimmed a little. That meant that those idiots really could have a contingent of troops here.

'Not good.' The jinchuuriki thought with a frown. Some kind of nice intimidation tactics against one or two nin, ANBU or not, he could pull off - doing the same against several platoons was a different story altogether. 'And if I make too much of a fuss, there are local troops... and Tsunade.'

His little scuffle with the Senju heiress and Kisame made the samurai and Coral ninja twitchy and very kunai happy. Naruto had an uncomfortable feeling that if something big went down, the Daimyo's troops were going to stab first and ask questions later, which made using Keisei the last resort.

'Now that will take some creative thinking.' the jinchuuriki halted the image, mentally zooming to the interior scouted by his shikigami.

'A tavern. Cliche, but also very useful - no one will find people coming at the oddest of times strange. The owner is probably on the payroll... if he and his staff aren't all Kumo nin. Given they want to meet me there that means the 'patrons' are going to be as well. Risking kicking up some fuss right now? Those guys want me bad it seems.' His lips twisted in a humorless grin.

Of course they did - he gave them all the incentive they needed to rip out any possible secrets in his head.

'Are you going to break your teeth on me, kiddies.' Naruto thought gleefully, dispelling the illusion he had woven over his own senses, his eyes once again focusing on the black butterfly resting on his palm.

"Do me a favor and go and inform Sasuke I'm going to be a bit late, would you?"

The butterfly's wings waved once and shifted, flowing into a dark mane, the back lengthening into a hakama and haori combination. A moment later Naruto held a tiny, dark haired kunoichi on his palm.

"Show off." He grinned. "What if they saw you?"

The tiny warrior shot him a withering glare in response.

"Oooh. Easy there on the sting there, little bee." The seal master chuckled at his shikigami. He still had no idea how he could get such an anal-retentive and duty-obsessed guardian spirit.

They were as different as fire and water and only samurai-like devotion stopped her from pulling out that tiny poisoned blade of hers and stabbing him for all she was worth sometimes. In some ways, Soi resembled a far more formal and stubborn version of Sasuke that Naruto remembered from their respective childhoods.

"Leaving you endangered by these... people." She scowled. "It is most unwise."

"Oh don't worry. I have help." He pointed at Keisei.

"You shouldn't need help in the first place, master." The tiny kunoichi grumbled. "They are so painfully slow.... just one little stab..." her eyes glinted as she laid one hand on her blade.

"Ahh, how in the world did you get so bloodthirsty my butterfly, eh?"

She glared at him from under her dark bangs, not dignifying his words with any other answer. He supposed it was only fair - the butterfly transformation wasn't something she was 'born' with, so to speak. But then, seals had many uses...

He was aiming for a raven actually, like one of those he saw with that bitchy but undeniably sexy fire miko girl some time ago. What was her name...? Rui... Rai... ah, Rei! Yeah. Very bitchy, yet so deliciously tsundere, and those legs... glorious!

The jinchuuriki shook his head. Good memories. He'd have to visit the girl one of those days to take a closer look at those two spirit ravens of hers. Besides, she was damn hot when she got angry.

"Ah, Kusanagi-san? Your silks?" Naruto blinked, coming back to reality. Soi was long gone of course - she was incredibly fast and sometimes a far better shinobi than he could ever be.

"Thank you." He beamed at the employee of the clothing shop, taking the long strips of carefully cut silk from her. "Oh yeah." he murmured. "This will do very nicely."

The girl blinked as a brush appeared in his fingers with a snap, only to flinch in surprise as he calmly slashed his palm open. Several fluid brush strokes later the long cloth strips held a bloody calligraphy on it, coiling over it like tiny snakes, yet not spilling over or through the material. It was actually far harder than it seemed and he had to constantly reinforce the cloth to make sure the seal held its shape, but the end result should be worth it.

It wasn't exactly complicated - some basic seals for reinforcement, one or two for channeling and not much else, save for a few... extras. It was actually a derivate of one of Sasuke's courtesan tricks brought to life in all of its kinky and useful glory. Naruto had to admit that disturbed or not, Sasuke had some really fun ideas. Adding a little bit of his own twist should make it even more fun.

"There." He said with satisfaction. It was basic, very rushed and plain but...

He smirked as the silks stiffened, becoming as hard an unyielding as any steel.

"Excellent." The seal master grinned, pushing his sleeves up and allowing the cloth strips to coil around his forearms like some fashionable and rather expensive bandages. 'Now I have the 'attack' option... but...' he frowned, mulling the problem over. 'It won't do me any good unless I can somehow rob them of the advantage of numbers. That doesn't seem likely unless I rigged the whole place to blow, but if they called me on it... no.' He grimaced. that sort of thing would have guaranteed the attention of local authorities. While he had nothing against a scuffle or two to liven things up, this was supposed to be vacation, and he was weaker than a newborn kitten. Well, a Kyuubi powered kitten, but still...

'Explosives are out. I can't make enough clones without hurting myself right now, nor can I use any big jutsu, so using direct force is out. Genjutsu's out and I lack anything big enough to turn the tables on them in my pockets. What to do, what to-' he froze for a minute, before a small, toothy grin stretched his lips.

"Hey, miss?" The attendant turned to him, a questioning look on her face. "Mind answering a question?" Naruto held up a paper flower. "Do you know anyone good at origami?"

If there was one good thing the Konoha Ninja Academy teachers had to say about Uzumaki Naruto during his time as a student, it was his unparalleled ability with Henge no jutsu (not that they knew it wasn't the illusory henge but an actual transformation, but oh well). Despite that, no one was quite sure how in the world did the loud, orange-clad failure get the highest possible score in infiltration courses. No one, that is, except for Namida Suzume who ran said courses. When asked, often by indignant nay-sayers, the bespectacled kunoichi master gave a short, pitying look before turning away without saying a word.

She smiled, though. She smiled because she remembered that Haruno Sakura didn't make the top kunoichi in her year on skill, brains or guts - she made it on sheer luck. Luck that a certain short haired, energetic kunoichi in her class seemed to drop out, leaving the coveted spot to a girl who couldn't lie to save her life, didn't know that using floral shampoo - however good for her pretty, bubblegum-pink hair - was a certain death sentence when hunted by someone like Inuzuka and who wouldn't be able to seduce a virgin with a lolicon fetish.

She smiled because she knew that if it was up to her, she'd have left the top kunoichi slot empty and didn't bother acknowledging it in person, but would attend the general ninja graduation with glee. She smiled because when several instructors made rather heartless bets on the life expectancy of the orange clad moron who couldn't hide to save his life, she took the long odds with calm certainty and a gleam in her eye that left her fellow shinobi rather perplexed.

Suzume smiled, because out of every academy instructor, she knew Uzumaki Naruto best, even if the sandy blonde kunoichi who attended her classes used a different name. Suzume, contrary to people like Iruka or Sarutobi, didn't even need to hope Uzumaki Naruto would make a good ninja - she already knew Uzumaki Naruto, or whoever he chose to be, made a marvelous kunoichi.

While some might think it was Naruto's way of coping with harsh reality by hiding, by donning some kind of a mask, as Sarutobi often thought looking at his seemingly happy visage, they couldn't be more wrong.

Naruto didn't wear masks - during the academy days, he probably wouldn't even understand the concept if someone tried to explain it to him. He was what he appeared to be. What one saw, one got. Naruto didn't wear masks - Naruto became them.

He was the happy idiot with a vulpine grin, he was the occasionally shy kunoichi trainee, the buxom girl who earned friends at the hot springs when the plumbing was out in Naruto's apartment, the sometimes clumsy messenger for the tradesmen that wouldn't hire a wisp of a demon kid, the coy maid in Kaen, because Sarutobi would be seriously disturbed knowing what kind of company the eight year old urchin kept - he was them all.

Hence Lord Kusanagi, with all pros and cons of nobility, was fashionably late to the meeting by an hour. Because, well, he was Lord Kusanagi - rich, handsome, noble and, above all, irreverent of any authority save his own and as arrogant as any blue blood. If he wanted to spend time in a brothel, watching the girls dance and fold origami while naked, he would do so. If he wandered around the red lights district, throwing money left and right for most bizarre reasons while his sexy companion hung off his arm or chased a rather grumpy black butterfly around? Hell, he would damn well do so! He was Lord Kusanagi - hear him fucking roar! Or purr, as it was. Sexy girls, wine and all that, you know.

The two Kumo shinobi that tried - tried being the key word - to keep an eye on him at all times without looking like they were doing so and not betraying their presence to each other grew to deeply hate Lord Kusanagi. Had Naruto known he would have patted himself on the back. As it was, it would be unseemly to do so, so Lord Kusanagi hired a girl to do that, throwing her a nice ruby for her trouble.

"As red as your lips, but not even half as lovely."

Corny? Undoubtedly. He didn't care - the sparks in the woman's eyes put any diamonds to shame and that was worth any fortune.

Lord Kusanagi laughed, taking a hearty chug of his impossibly chilly mead and calling for music, for women and letting an old poem grace his lips, one that made even courtesans blush - not because it was rather brazen, but because it was said with flair of a courtier and sincerity of a smitten lover.

He did not lie either - why should he? He loved them, those scarlet women and their brazen glances. They sold love, even if for coin, but for an orphan who had none of both it was heaven, and for a man he had become it was honesty that many others lacked. He loved the red lamps by the railing, the seemingly proper kimonos that invited and promised at a second glance, the touch that lingered, the overly sweet perfume that was like a caress to his sharp senses.

Kumo shinobi could all go to hell.

Really, calling him forth like some common dog? He was Lord Kusanagi and they were going to wait at his leisure.

So he was another hour late. He could almost taste the frustration oozing from the shinobi trailing him. Good. Very, very good.

It all meant that neither had cared when a girl, clad as any flower seller might, passed him, or when he threw a brazen joke her way, causing her to blush and stammer.

Neither Kumo shinobi paid any real attention beyond the obvious, beside noting the girl's basket was empty - still, she had probably sold her merchandise already. Neither also noticed the fact the flower girl, once adorned by the make-up and revealing yet elegant robes of the profession would look uncannily like one of the courtesans Lord Kusanagi spent his time with.

All they saw was an ordinary, if attractive, flower girl with an empty basket. All they saw was a blush, missing the wink and a tiny nod.

They could be excused, though - Saori, although young, was a courtesan and an impeccable actress. Especially when certain drunkard of a lord approached her with a strange request, even stranger pile of paper flowers and a purse that quite simply defied belief. Had she wanted to, the chestnut haired beauty who never guessed why she was chosen could retire to live in comfort for the rest of her life twice over.

Of course, Saori never knew why did the young lord laugh, asking her if she liked ramen. How could she know that she, an orphan, a child of a one night stand of a tired working man and a young prostitute, was a dead ringer for a young woman who filled young Naruto's heart with joy and his belly with delicious ramen ever since he could remember?

Saori didn't know. Saori never cooked ramen in her life either, though she did like it. Saori was chosen either way, to sell a bunch of very pretty paper flowers her fellow oiran folded while the rest of them danced around, hiding it from the prying eyes withe their bare bodies, grace and laughter.

After all, all work and no play made Kusanagi-sama a dull boy.

Naruto chuckled, fishing out a large, silver coin, letting it dance on his knuckles before flipping it into air with his thumb, allowing it to fall and then flipping it up again, before polishing it with a silk scarf still smelling of exotic perfume, wine and sensual laughter.

"Show time." He murmured, causing Keisei to grin and clap once.

Oddly enough, it looked both joyful and like a prayer for the deceased.

Naruto laughed all the way to the inn housing Kumo shinobi.

He swaggered - not merely walked, but swaggered - into the bar, the silver coin glinting in the air as it rose and fell, Kesei hanging off his arm, a bottle of chilly mead in the other and total lack of concern for the fact that everyone from a rather nice looking waitress to the scraggly old drunkard by the counter was most probably a recipient of a Kumogakure hitai-ate at some point in their lives.

Naruto let his eyes linger on the waitress for a moment, admiring the low-cut bar apron with a grin, noting the smooth glide and easy footing almost off hand. The girl could play a waitress all she wanted, but what he saw was a Kumo chuunin who practiced her taijutsu a little too vigorously - or not vigorously enough to hide said training effectively. He'd complain, but then she glided real fine and really had what it took to sell even the worst house special at a premium.

The silver coin danced, flipped up carelessly like a child's toy with each step.

He took a swig out of his bottle, before leaning forward with a slight sway. It didn't require all that much acting to be honest; inhuman constitution or not, he'd been drinking since morning and didn't bother purging alcohol at all.

"Well now..." He drawled, taking another sip "That's a quaint little establishment you got yourself here." The blond looked at the stocky shinobi by the nearby table.

"Might be a bit below your standards, but they got some good stuff here." Hachi raised his cup "Want some?"

"Well, I'm runnin' a bit dry here," Naruto upturned his empty bottle for emphasis "so I won't say no to such a generous offer."

"I hear ya," The old shinobi chuckled, "Oi, another round for me an' my young friend here!"

"Right away!" The waitress called, walking to the counter as Naruto sat by Kumo jounin's table.

"I wasn't sure you'd come." Genzai raised an eyebrow. "Pretty gutsy, aint'cha?"

"You asked so nicely I just couldn't say no." The blond said cheerfully. "Besides, it always tastes better when it's free."

"Heh, you're surprisingly sensible for a spoiled little prince, ain't ya?" The old ninja said with amusement. "And I see you're without the hitokiri girl today. Troubles in paradise?"

"Eh, she's been bitchy this morning," Naruto rolled his eyes. "I mean, drink a little bit and it's whine this, nag that and bitching about falling anvils... spoiled little princess wannabe." He snorted "Honestly, cut it a bit close one time and you never hear the end of it. Feh."

"Ain't that the truth," The old man nodded, before pausing with a bewildered expression "...falling anvils?"

Naruto nodded, flicking the coin in his fingers a bit higher than usual and whistling softly as it fell, only to mimic a splattering sound as the coin hit the table.

"Pest control." He smiled sunnily "Bugs can be pretty resilient these days, eh?"

"...ah." The jounin nodded slowly as waitress came by and put two drinks on the table. "I see."

Naruto grabbed a cup, swirling the alcohol for a moment, before rising it and spilling a bit to the side.

"May those who accept their fate find happiness."

The older man blinked, before rising and spilling a bit of wine from his own.

"And may the ones that defy it find glory." He said with a nod.

They took a long sip in unison.

"I'd ask which one are you.... but then I don't think I need to, eh?" the old man shook his head.

"You might say it's my hobby," Naruto took a swing out of his glass, "screwing with such stuff, that is."

"Now this I don't doubt for a moment," The older man chuckled, only to blink as Keisei ran after a black blur that proved to be a large butterfly a moment later.

Granted, he had yet to see butterflies that fast, but still...

"Isn't she cheery," The old ninja mused, observing Keisei as she halted her butterfly chase to peer curiously at a row of various alcoholic beverages over the counter.

"Keisei? Oh yes," Naruto grinned with pride "Isn't she just awesome?"

Genzai froze as the dusky skinned woman turned, as if feeling the older man's gaze and looked him straight in the eyes with a strange, calculating look.

For some reason, the gaze caused Hachi's well-honed senses to flare, but not with danger. Rather it was a vague feeling of... something just under the surface, though for the life of him he couldn't pinpoint it. A moment later it was gone, and he wondered if he had seen anything at all.

"...I'll take your word on it." He murmured thoughtfully, turning back to Naruto.

"So, You didn't call me here for a drink, nice as it is," the Jinchuuriki leaned back, swirling his wine absently. "What does the most esteemed head of Kumogakure's ANBU want with a spoiled brat like me?"

"Just what the letter said, really," Hachigoro shrugged "My Kage's been pretty insistent about making sure you understand all the nuts and bolts of this... exchange." He said with disgust.

"I see you don't like it much," Naruto pointed out lazily.

"It ain't nothin' personal, kid," The ANBU commander scowled slightly "I might like you fine enough, but I just don't like sellin' a fine kunoichi like a slab of meat because of some political games, that's all."

"And killing her and harvesting her Bijuu is any better?" The Jinchuuriki said sarcastically.

"Those were the orders from the top," The old man shrugged "I might not like 'em, but I'm a soldier."

"Still, killing your own jinchuuriki out of the blue... isn't it a bit strange?" Naruto asked curiously. "What did she do to get you coming after her like that?"

The Kumo ninja looked at his younger drinking buddy for a long moment.

"Well, you got that mess on your hands now, so I guess it's only fair." He sighed, "It ain't public knowledge yet... well not too public, so you might not have heard, but apparently someone offed Aida, the Sunflower Island's daimyo, and his entire 'guard'." He snorted, showing what he thought of the people in question.

"What does offing one borderline rogue daimyo has with killing your own village's jinchuuriki?" Naruto scratched his head

"I'm getting to it, brat! Geez, kids these days," The old man grumbled. "Anyway, assassination alone would'da caused a big stir since that rat used to have his fingers in a lot of pies around the coast. Thing is, it's not his rotten head rolling down that got kitty the sentence, but how it was done. Apparently, someone woke up some legendary samurai who's been dead for a century to do it. How I have no goddamn idea, but there's been witnesses that saw that armor walking out of the palace. Hell, there's been sightings of that armor after that whole mess. It apparently went on a wee bit of a killing spree among Aida's advisors."

Naruto blinked owlishly.

He was pretty sure the seals shouldn't hold for so long... but then this was a rush job and he was in the middle of giving Sasuke a power up, so it wasn't like he could control the boost on the armor fully.

'...how much juice did I put into that guy again?'

"Thing is, Yugito's been in the region and was unaccounted for at the time. The fact she wasn't fond of Aida for some old stuff only made it worse." The old man shook his head.

"...oh." Naruto smiled weakly. "I see."

"So when the blue blooded assholes heard about the 'walking dead' and realized she might have been around, they added two and two, and like always got twenty two." He snorted.

"But... that's just circumstantial evidence." Naruto murmured, taking a long swig from his cup, before motioning for a waitress to refill it. "If she was just some two-bit grunt, I can get using her as a scapegoat, but a Jinchuuriki? That's absurd."

"You don't know much about Lightning country, do you?" Hachigoro smiled sadly "The nobility in the Lightning was always strong because of the sea trade route privileges, but old man Masahide and Kumogakure held them in check." He gazed into his cup contemplatively. "After he died, they put that waste of space Masahiko on the throne. That idiot pretty much signs anything they want as long as they send him enough trinkets and build yet another 'summer residence' where he can drown in booze."

The jounin shook his head with disgust.

"Because of the last war and that catastrophic debacle with Konoha over that stupid Byukagan a few years after that, Kumo took a lot of heat and our authority wasn't what it once was. Especially with all of these homegrown militias each of the houses is able to field nowadays." he said bitterly. "Their military power isn't a big concern, but the fact that that drunk idiot lets them run some jobs that were traditionally Kumo's bread an' butter... well, we had to either start playing it cool, or we'd lose even more ground. I mean, we all saw what happened to Suna when they tried to play it hard-line." Genzai spat. "I hate it, and I'd love to rip each of those vultures a new asshole or two, but as things stand we must play politics with them, even if it means some drastic steps."

"Yugito's a threat." Naruto said slowly. "As a Jinchuuriki, she's worth a whole platoon of elites by herself. To make it worse, she can be fielded covertly far easier than, say, an ANBU team, and they know it." he breathed, understanding lighting up in his eyes. "This is not some random over-reaction - it's a deliberate power play."

"And a way to show us who holds the cash an' the influence in the court," Hachi said with a grimace "Well, that and they are fucking pissed about Aida getting offed since they were tight with that vulture and lost a lot of cash, as well as got a nasty shake in the business ventures on the coast now that he's dead. They're running like headless chickens trying to balance the losses."

"That, and they don't know if you did it or not, so they start a crackdown just in case," Naruto shook his head in wonder. "Are they stupid? Kumo's power reflects on your country's power. Squabbling nobles are one thing, but meddling like that, weakening the power-base of the entire country... that's just inviting trouble." The Jinchuuriki scratched his neck. "Sheesh...! I knew things were shaky in the Country of Lightning, but that's going a bit too far."

"You tellin' me?" The old man spat to the side. "I don't make the policy, nor would I want to, but that's how they play. Raikage prolly figured that we'd pull the kitty out of Yugito, seal it quietly into some other kid an' let them think they won that round."

"Well, it'd be risky, but given the situation... yeah, that might have given you some breathing room." The jinchuuriki nodded thoughtfully. "Not much, but it'd be a start."

"Who knows, it might have," Genzai shrugged, before smirking. "well, until you came and fucked it all up to hell, that is."

"So we did, it seems," Naruto raised an eyebrow. "You're oddly happy about it, though."

"Honestly? Yeah, I am." Hachi nodded "I might follow my orders even if I hate 'em, but I like that girl. She's got the skill an' she's got the guts. Rare, that. Besides, I trained her and seein' all that going to waste... yeah, I'm happy with this. An' to be honest, the way I see it, we're gettin' the better deal here anyway."

"A Zaihou box." Naruto smiled. "Yugito was a known factor, but the box..."

"Exactly," Hachigoro chuckled. "And it ain't 'just' one box, but two, and they didn't eliminate our kitty, so that's a nice bit of a reminder that we aren't their lapdogs in one fell swoop. So am I happy? You can damn well bet your hitokiri I am!"

"Hmm..." Naruto rubbed his chin thoughtfully "Why, I do believe Lighting Country's most noble clan heads are up for some sleepless nights. How... dreadful."

"My heart simply bleeds," The old ninja said mockingly.

"My oh my..."

Hachigoro stiffened, turning slowly.

"That didn't sound very patriotic, old man," A handsome, dark haired main said with a slight smile, walking towards the table calmly. "One might think you don't care about our great country at all."

"Someone like you lecturing me on loyalty..." Even though his face remained impassive, Hachi's grip tightened, almost cracking the cup he was holding. "Your sense of humor is as shitty as usual, Saburo."

Naruto observed the two men with interest, noting the older nin's open hostility, as well as the fact the bishounen didn't seem to be intimidated by it in the least, which was beyond curious. Kumo didn't give the command of their elite fighting force to weaklings, and that Hachigoro held the position for so many years spoke for itself. Genzai might have been getting on in the years, but he was still incredibly dangerous and his experience made him all the more deadly.

"Friend of yours?"

Genzai grimaced, causing the younger Kumo nin to shake his head with a sigh.

"I'm hurt." said Saburo "Here you go, talking about this and that and you didn't even tell him about me..." he put his hand on his heart mockingly. "Why, one might think you don't like me, uncle!"

Genzai's grimace became even more sour and the older man grunted, before draining his glass in one move.

"Oh don't mind him, Kusanagi-san," The bishounen shook his head with exasperation, "he's just a big grouch." He leaned conspiratorially. "Just between you and me, I think he's a little jealous."

"Because there is so much to be fucking jealous of you indeed." Hachi said with a snort. "Though I'm surprised you're here. Saki doesn't let her pets wander... unless she's bored with 'em, that is."

For the moment, Saburo looked as if slapped, but he covered it with a strained smile a moment later.

"Joking again, uncle?" He said through the gritted teeth. "It's good to see you're in such good spirits. I dare say you will need all the cheer you can get soon enough."

"Are you threatenin' me, boy?" Hachi turned his head to the side, cracking his neck loudly

The younger Kumo nin glared at his uncle.

"I don't have time for your useless posturing, old man." He said, regaining his composure "Just remember this. If you make too much noise here, Raikage won't be able to show you clemency again." The younger man smirked "So, dear uncle, do stay out of my way." He smiled charmingly, though it showed far too many teeth for Naruto's liking. "Understand, it's nothing personal. Just business."

Genzai stared at his nephew for a long moment, before pouring himself a large cup of wine. Naruto noted that the older man's hand was completely steady, no hint of anger or even irritation the old man had to have felt.

"One day, nephew," Hachi said softly. "One day soon, you will make a one 'deal' too many... and I'm going to be there."

"Yes, yes," the younger man waved his hand impatiently, before turning to Naruto. "Please forgive this unsightly behavior, Kusanagi-san. Old people... you know how they are." The ninja said with a long-suffering sigh. "Anyway. No matter what my dear uncle would like you to think, he doesn't really represent the interests of Kumogakure's citizens."

"And you do?" The blond raised an eyebrow.

"So to speak." Saburo nodded "I represent the officials who are greatly concerned with the future of our great country. Officials, let it be said, who have the backing of our reigning Daimyo and the more progressive members of Kumogakure's esteemed council."

"I'm sure you do." Naruto nodded, pouring himself more wine. "And whatever does such a group want with one country bumpkin?"

"Please, Kusanagi-san," Saburo smiled. "Country bumpkins don't go around spending fortunes or artifacts of power so casually."

"One man's trash is another's treasure," the Jinchuuriki said lightly, taking a hearty swig out of his cup. "But even so, what would such a fine gathering of movers and shakers want with me?"

"To extend an invitation, Kusanagi-san." The young man leaned forward. "You are obviously a man of some power and influence, both of which would be of great use to our country. Times are changing, and unless one wants to be swept by the tide of history, one must adapt - be it a person, or a country." Kumo ninja explained. "The gentlemen whom I represent can see that, and are more than willing to take the steps necessary to make sure Country of Lightning will not only come out unscathed, but also reap every possible benefit of that process. They want to invite you to help to facilitate that change, to join us in this endeavor."

"And wanting the Jinchuuriki I just bought and any other shiny treasures I might posses plays no role at all, of course." Naruto said dryly.

"I won't lie to you, Kusanagi-san," Saburo raised his hands placatingly, "that Zaihou box did open some... interesting possibilities. However, the elimination of Nibi was a mistake. It was a decision made in the heat of the moment and after the calmer heads prevailed, these orders were changed. If its life is so valuable to you, you can keep it. Of course there would be some concessions and restrictions, but that jinchuuriki would be alive and unharmed if you so desire." He sighed. "As for the other matter... I'll be honest with you. We both know that this offer came to you for a reason. Yes, you will be expected to make some... investments. However," he raised his finger pointedly, "while the price might seem steep, the benefits would outweigh it by a fair margin."

"Oh?" Naruto quirked an eyebrow.

"Indeed." Saburo said smoothly "You are a wealthy man, but let me assure you that the resources people I represent have at their disposal are beyond anything you have seen before. Once you accept the invitation, part of the... revenue would be yours to spend as you see fit. I don't doubt you are a man of influence, but backing of the entire country and more prominent members of its aristocracy is in a class of its own, Kusanagi-san." The young ninja smiled. "You would be wealthy beyond your imagination and all but untouchable. With backing of my superiors, any enemies or troubles you might have would be a thing of the past in mere moments, and that's just in the beginning. Times of the great shadow wars are over, Kusanagi-san, and military power doesn't mean quite what it used to nowadays. Or the 'military power' in terms most see it, at least."

He threw Hachigoro, who calmly sipped his wine, a short, mocking glance.

"The time when some sword-swinging warlord with a ragtag band could create and hold a country are long over. This is the new era, an era that needs capable, intelligent men willing to adapt, to challenge the status quo and outdated customs that have no place in the modern world." He leaned forward, his focused gaze alight in a way only greed could accomplish. "These very men want you to join them, to reap the benefits along them, Kusanagi-san. I don't think I need to tell you this is an opportunity that comes only once in a blue moon."

"Once in a blue moon..." Naruto smiled oddly. "Someone like you would certainly think so. Once in a blue moon..." He let out a strange, grating laugh, akin rather to hyena's bark than any noise a human throat would make. "I have to admit that it sounds nice. Sounds, anyway. So many pretty words, or ones trying to be pretty, a lot of make up... all so pretty in a row in that offer. Still, I'll make you one better." The Jinchuuriki smiled cheerfully "Why don't you take all those two ryo whore words, grab your lackeys and go back to whatever rock you crawled from under like a nice little worm, eh?"

Saburo's eyes narrowed.

"I'd advise you to think carefully about what you're rejecting." The bishounen's tone was chilly and growing far less pleasant by the second "Think very carefully, Kusanagi-san, this-"

"Kusanagi-sama." Naruto said absently, pouring himself some more alcohol.

Saburo blinked with surprise.

"It's Kusanagi-sama." The blond sighed, shaking his head. "I know you ain't all that bright, but even your tiny brain should notice the gap between us. Seriously, you're speaking as if we were... equal or something." He wrinkled his nose slightly, as if hit by some unpleasant smell. "Shitty sense of humor or not, that's a wee bit too much for a joke, don't you think? Geez... what next a slug princess? Give me a break here...!" Naruto grumbled.

The young Kumo ninja's jaw tightened visibly, but to his credit his voice remained fairly even.

"You obviously don't quite understand the scope of this offer, Kusanagi." He said through the gritted teeth. "I'm willing to-"

"Oi, Hachi," Naruto frowned, looking at the older ninja. "He's either deaf or... kinda slow, isn't he?"

"Well," Genzai shrugged, "no one ever accused him of being too bright."

"Ah." The blond nodded with understanding. "Maybe I should try simpler words?"

"Hmm..." the old man rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I'm not sure. How simple are we talking here?"

"Are you trying to make a fool out of me, Kusanagi?!" Saburo growled, his hand tightening in the hilt of his sheathed katana so hard his knuckles became white.

"Trying?" The jinchuuriki blinked innocently "Why, good Benten, no! You're managing perfectly well by yourself in that respect." He leaned in, patting the young ninjas' shoulder. "It's so considerate of you to spare me the hassle, you know. You're a real stand-up guy, Saburo. Yep, that you are! I'll be sure to tell everyone about it!"

"...why you-!" Saburo's face reddened, the leather of the hilt creaking audibly form the strength of the grip as the shinobi glared at Naruto for a moment, before forcibly reigning in his temper. "Spurning my superiors' generous offer is foolish, Kusanagi-sama. I-"

"Generous?" Naruto parroted mockingly, before draining his cup and slamming it down almost hard enough to crack it. "For Benten's sake... you are deaf, stupid and fucking blind, aren't you?" the jinchuuriki snorted. "Money, power, prestige... everything in that 'offer' ain't worth shit, moron. These geezers wave all that shiny stuff around, but all that glitter can't mask the fact it's nothing but a goddamn cage."

The seal master peered at his now-empty cup thoughtfully.

"In the end all they want is some more power for them, more money for them to spend and one more pawn to manipulate and dispose of when the time is right. And that time usually is right after there is no more use for the sucker that got involved." He pointed at Saburo. "Sort of like you, come to think of it."

Naruto grabbed a bottle form the passing waitress, pulling the cork out with his teeth and spiting it out to the side, before taking a hearty swing.

"Besides," he wiped his mouth with his pricey kimono's sleeve, "your offer is just boring. I don't like to rely on others for stuff, you see. I never did before, I'm not starting now. I'm the kind of guy who likes to get what he wants with my own hands."

He leaned forward with a toothy grin, startling Saburo.

"When I'm hungry, I eat. When I'm thirsty, I drink. When I want something, I take it. And if something stands in my way, be it a man, a village or a country..." the bottle in Naruto's hand exploded, showering Saburo in tiny glass pieces. "I crush it. That's all there is to it."

The jinchuuriki shook the reminder of the shards from his hand, letting them fall, one after another, to the ground with soft, dull chimes so clearly heard in the sudden silence.

"So go away," he made a shooing motion towards the door. "Go away to your politics, go back to your dingy little gilded cage or wherever. Hell, if you do it fast enough and let me drink in peace, I might do you a favor and avoid completely ruining your life! Now that's what I'd call a generous offer!" He waved his palm again, smiling kindly. "Go away, little bug. Shoo. Shoo."

Saburo stared at the drunk seal master for a long moment, his face utterly expressionless, before finally, carefully, pulling his palm away form the hilt of his katana he had been gripping so tightly for the past few minutes.

"I don't think you quite understand your situation," his voice was as emotionless as his face. "We are not asking."

The bishounen snapped his fingers, several ninja clad from head to toe in black, bereft of any markings appeared out of the shadows as if by magic. The small group fanned out, swiftly assuming positions by the door and windows, effectively cutting off any avenue of escape from the inn.

"Now listen to me, you ignorant drunken motherfucker," Saburo sneered. "Since you're too to stupid to play ball, this is how it's going to be. You are going to cut your little vacation short right now and go with us to the Lightning Country, where you will tell us exactly what we need to know or we will peel your alcohol-soaked mind open like an onion and drain every scrap of useful knowledge out of it." he growled venomously. "You will hand every artifact you have in your possession, starting with that unruly monster like a good little boy so it can serve your betters as it should have to begin with. Afterwards, if you remain useful, we might allow you to live in relative comfort. Of course that depends on what I tell them, so I suggest you learn your place in the grand scheme of things quickly, or I'm going to give you to my Torture and Interrogation specialists to practice on." The young Kumogakure shinobi slammed his hand to the table, the abused wood groaning and splintering. "Do you understand me, you worthless piece of shit?!"

Naruto raised an eyebrow slowly.

"Oh really?" He said with amusement. "And how are you going to accomplish that, bug?"

The inn was filled with soft scraping of metal as the black clad shinobi drew their swords.

"Does that satisfy your curiosity, Kusanagi-sama?" The bishounen's voice was dripping with venom. "And don't count on my dear uncle and these worthless ANBU of his. I know their orders - they can't move a finger to help you, not unless they want to keep their jobs and their heads." he sneered.

"Your memory's going, bug," the seal master leaned back in his seat with a sigh. "I think I told you I don't rely on others, didn't I?" he looked at the ninja guarding the exits for a moment, scratching his head. "Anyway, what is that supposed to be? Three by the doors, two by the windows, one standing there like some exhibit piece... that's it?"

Saburo blinked with bewilderment.

Naruto stared at him for a moment.

"I mean... this is your bright idea to defeat me? A handful of ninja guarding the doors? Are you people serious?" he waved his hand in the general direction of the black clad shinobi. "Are you telling me that is your strategy?"

The black clad shinobi shifted uncomfortably.

"I mean, be real!" the jinchuuriki said with exasperation. "No one even bothering to, I don't know, guard such an obvious route as the celling, or lurk underground or something?" Naruto palmed his face. "Please tell me you have some secret weapon, or an elaborate trap or something?"

Saburo looked at Naruto incredulously.


"Are you sure?" Naruto looked at the bishounen. "No super-secret artifact? A summon? A special one-hit-kill jutsu? Some fancy secret martial art at least?" he asked desperately, receiving no answer beyond silence and awkward shuffling.

The seal master stared at the gathered Kumo shinobi blankly for a long moment, before pinching the bridge of his nose.

"Right. Look guys, if you aren't going to take this seriously, then I'm going home." the jinchuuriki sighed, getting up. "It's been fun, Hachi, we gotta do it again sometime." He nodded to the older ninja, who was observing the whole situation with an odd expression on his face. "Just no family this time, okay? Well, not unless they are female, hot and really stacked. Really. I'm serious. I don't think I can deal with that sorta disappointment again, you know?"

Genzai nodded slowly, looking at the surreal scene with bewilderment.

"Great." Naruto waved, turning towards the exit, which finally shook Saburo out of his stupor.

"Where the fuck do you think you're going?!" the bishounen snarled.

"To the nearest expensive brothel, where I'm going to hire a few of the most expensive courtesans to fuck senseless, drown myself in booze, win entire fortunes and ancestral holdings from some samurai along with their wives and/or any female relatives, if they are sexy enough, and then get a blowjob from said relatives in public just to piss the samurai off enough to fight and defeat them in a casual yet humiliating manner."

Naruto frowned thoughtfully.

"Then I think I'll go to Golden Sparrow and try to seduce Yata and screw her brains out until she's a drooling mass of raw pleasure unable to even think anymore. If that doesn't work, I'm sure Chigusa-san will accommodate me." The seal master he nodded, rubbing his chin. "She's seriously hot and that kind of woman is like fine wine, you know? She just might be enough to wash down that bitter cup of disappointment you served me, bug."

Saburo growled, grabbing the lapels of the seal master's haori.

"Don't fuck with me you miserable drunk!" he hissed, a vein throbbing on his temple.

Naruto looked down at the hand twisting the silk of his haori, before looking up at its owner.

"There are two types of people that are allowed to do that," He said pleasantly "The first being sexy women, the other being my best friend, who is often both the former and the latter. You are neither. Hands off, worm."

"Your bravado isn't-!"

The wet crack broken was unexpectedly loud in the sudden silence that reigned in the inn, though the sound of the table cracking audibly as it met Saburo's face dwarfed it by a fair margin.

Naruto let go of the ninjas' hair, letting him slide down to the floor dazedly, leaving a bloody trail on the splintered wood.

"Feel lucky Yasa's not here, bug," Naruto said, looking down at the moaning shinobi at his feet. "See, that bitch is rather jealous of her privileges and gets rather violent when that sort of stuff happens." He shrugged. "Troublesome bitch, but what can you do."

Saburo raised his hand, touching the broken nose and gashes on his face gingerly.

"...y-you are... insane..." he said, shock overriding the pain. "....motherfucker... you are completely insane!" Fury slowly replaced the shock "I'm gong to-!"

"What, bleed on me?" Naruto rolled his eyes. "Stay down. Worms shouldn't leave the ground."

He chuckled as Saburos' group fidgeted in place, obviously torn between protecting their leader and guarding their objectives.

"Look Saburo, your toy soldiers are all anxious and stuff! Awww! They are so cute, fidgeting like that!" the jinchuuriki said mockingly. "Don't worry, boys and girls! Since good things come to those who wait, I have something just for you!" He grinned "But first, a little riddle. Do you know what's the best way to deal with a high number of opponents at the same time efficiently?"

The blond swayed slightly, leaning forward as he looked at the gathered ninja.

"Come on, come on... don't be shy!" He encouraged them, waving his hand. "There is a lollipop for those who answer right, you know!"

True to his words, he waved the candy that appeared in his fingers out of nowhere.

"Oh come on, people! It's lemon, lemon! How can you not want a lemon? I mean, everybody likes lemons!" Naruto frowned. "...or is it just me? Hmm... that bitch loves lemons too, so I don't think so..." he scratched the blond mane, before shrugging. "Whatever. Anyway, any takers? Anyone?"

The shinobi stood there in awkward silence, obviously not quite sure what to do with the odd situation they found themselves in.

"No? Oh well," Naruto shrugged. "More for me I guess."

The seal master carefully opened the paper wrap around the treat, before popping it in his mouth with relish.

"Anyway, to deal with large number of opponents easily, the first thing you have to do," Naruto snapped his fingers, "is restricting their mobility."

Every corner of the inn exploded as the beautiful origami flowers, placed and sold for a very attractive price by a wandering saleslady barely hours before, opened. Blindingly fast, nearly invisible strings erupted form the numerous faint clouds of smoke, adding to the sudden confusion.

Naruto laughed as he watched the gathered shinobi trying to understand and react to the surprise, only to freeze as the faint light of the candles and lanterns by the celling glinted off the numerous wires strewn all over like some kind of over-sized, three dimensional web.

"I wouldn't try cutting it. Or even touching it, while we're at it" he said with amusement, grabbing a bottle. "Being Kumo ninja and all, I bet you know all about the joys of high voltage, so I don't think I need to explain what will happen if someone gets too friendly with these babies."

He poured himself some alcohol, taking a sip and sprawling himself lazily on the chair.

"Of course, that's if you're lucky. The ones that might have that odd, cheerfully bluish hue over them? These I'd avoid with prejudice if I were you. To be quite honest, that toxin wasn't even mine in the first place, and that bitch has a really nasty sense of humor. I remember when she brewed that little thing that forced the victim to laugh to death." he tssked. "Ever seen somebody dying because he laughed too much?" Naruto nodded, smiling fondly at the memory. "It was funny though, I have to admit. Really, she's such a joker."

The ninja, wary before, literally froze in their positions, as did the rest of the patrons.

"Splendid!" The blond clapped "I knew we could reach an understanding! It's the first step in facilitating relations and terminating hostilities, you know?"

"You... you can't just-" Saburo said dumbly.

"That wire which happens to be just over your throat looks kinda blue from where I'm sitting." Naruto said cheerfully, causing the young ninja to pale and close his mouth very carefully.

"You know, I'm really damn tired of people telling me what I can't do. I swear, some days it is all I hear, twenty four-seven. 'You can't do this!', 'This is impossible!' or my personal favorite 'You won't get away with this!'." The jinchuuriki rolled his eyes. "Honestly! You are all so damn fucking negative! Some positive thinking wouldn't hurt, you know? Have some faith! For once I'd like to hear about what I can-"

"You can shut up and do what you are told." A chilly female voice interrupted him, causing the blond to blink.

"Oh?" The jinchuuriki turned to the owner, a short, well built woman, her black jumpsuit and mask identifying her as a part of Saburo's force. "Interesting... and why would I do that?"

The kodachi in her hand didn't glint, covered as it was with matte black paint for night work.

"Or the pretty little thing will lose her head slowly and gruesomely, Kusanagi-dono." The kunoichi said blandly from her place behind Keisei.

"Yuri..." Saburo's eyes were wide with fear and shock. "What the hell are you doing?!"

"Accomplishing the mission." The kunoichi retorted calmly.

Saburo paled.

"Are you blind, woman?!" he hissed. "These wires-"

"Are an obstacle to be overcome." Yuri's cool voice didn't change one iota.

"...are you insane?!" The bishounen growled. "You insolent whore...! Minase will have your head the very moment she hears of this!"

"I highly doubt that, considering my orders come straight from Saki-sama herself." the kunoichi said, a spark of ruthless amusement dancing in her eyes.

"...what...?" Saburo said dumbly. "...Minase did...? That's... that's impossible... Saki-chan would never-"

"The proper form is 'Minase-sama'," Yuri corrected him with ruthless amusement. "But don't worry, 'captain'. I'll be sure to tell her of your... contributions."

The bishounen stared at the kunoichi in silent shock, not able to utter a word.

"Now," the kodachi's edge pressed a bit on Keisei's neck. "I regret it had come to this, but you will follow my orders from now on."

"Gambling type, aren't you?" Naruto raised an eyebrow, crossing his arms on his chest. "And what makes you think her life means anything to me, hmm?"

"I am neither blind nor deaf, Kusanagi-dono," Yuri said calmly "You don't speak with such pride of a whore you picked up on the town. Whether she is a favored concubine, or maybe someone even closer to you I don't know. The fact remains."

Her grip on Keisei's hair wasn't rough - if anything, it was quite gentle, even if firm, but it didn't fail to drag the mermaid's head back a tiny bit, exposing her bare neck.

"This farce had gone for long enough. I assure you I don't enjoy harming noncombatants, but for every... difficulty on your part, this young lady will lose a piece of her beautiful body in the most painful way possible." Yuri's clear, green eyes were icy and focused, but her tone was as bland as if she was discussing weather. "I'd appreciate if you went with us without any further incident."

Naruto blinked owlishly.

"Excuse me, but I'm not quite sure if I heard right," he said, giving Yuri an odd look. "Just to be sure, but... are you telling me you're using Keisei as a... hostage?"

The kunoichi nodded curtly.

"Oh." The jinchuuriki said dumbly, staring at her for a moment, before leaning forward, palms covering his face as a strangled gasp escaped his throat.

Yuri blinked, staring at the shaking nobleman for a moment with surprise. She knew that he and that girl had to be close, but she obviously underestimated how close.

For a moment, even her hardened shinobi spirit wavered, seeing the grief that reduced the proud, arrogant man into this sobbing wreck. Sure, the man was an asshole of the first order, but she had to admit, the way he humiliated Saburo was amusing. Besides, someone who handle being outnumbered the way he did was a man worthy of respect. She was enough of a professional to admit that it was only his own arrogance that caused him to lose. If not for that hostage, Yuri had no doubt that Kusanagi would walk out of the inn without much of a problem.

Enemy or not, seeing such a man so... broken left a bad taste in her mouth, even if it meant her victory. Most shinobi wouldn't care, maybe even finding it a reward in itself, but Yuri's family had been court samurai for centuries, and some thing went deeper than training.

"Kusanagi-dono," she said after a moment, clearly uncomfortable. "I assure you, that if you comply with our request, there will be n-."


Yuriko, along with the gathered shinobi, simply stared as Naruto threw his head back, slamming his hand on the table as he continued to laugh uproariously.

"Y-you- hahahahahaha wan- ahahaha want t-t-to...?" The blond choked out, before giving up and resuming his hysterical laughter. "Oh Benten, Benten, my lovely, fair and graceful Lady Fortune...! Thank you so much for sending these fools my way! A shrine! It deserves a shrine!" he hammered the table with his fist a few times, tears flowing as his whole body shook with mirth. "Oh gods...! I haven't laughed like this...!" The jinchuuriki tried to make a solemn face, though his lips were twitching like mad. "Oh dear! You hold my beautiful Keisei hostage, with such a deadly sword to her throat! Oh the horror! Oh the humanity! Whatever, oh whatever shall I do?" He intoned in a pompous voice, palm on his heart, before breaking into another fit of mad laughter. "Oh this is beautiful! Honestly I- ahahaha...! I just have to tell Yasa about it! This is just... just...!" the seal master choked.

Yuri, unable to utter a word, just stared at the hysterical nobleman with confusion.

Naruto wiped his eyes, the strangled chuckles escaping his throat for a few moments yet.

"You just don't get it, do you?" He said softly with an odd smile. "Of course you don't. I don't blame you, though. How could you?" The jinchuuriki shook his head, taking a generous sip of wine to water his throat, dry because of the uproarious laughter. "But don't worry, don't worry! Since you made me laugh, I'll try to explain."

The blond leaned in his chair, looking at the rafters for a moment, before puring himself a full cup and looking at Yuri, his eyes almost luminous in the discreet shadows of the inn.

"Do you know the story of Urashima Taro?" He asked finally.

Yuri simply stared at him, her kodachi not moving an inch.

"No? Well, I guess with you being a hard working shinobi and all you don't have much time for old stories, now do you?" The jinchuuriki laughed softly. "Long ago there was a young fisherman. He wasn't anyone extraordinary by any stretch of imagination, but a good man none the less. One day, like every day of his life before, he went out with his modest boat to work his trade. The bounty of the sea was poor this day, however, and the only thing he spotted was a turtle, trapped in a small harbor between the stones. While he knew he would go hungry, he took pity on the young animal that struggled fruitlessly, and couldn't bring himself to harm it, so helped it out of the harbor and let it go with his blessings."

Naruto peered into his cup, though his eyes were obviously far away, looking at something different than everyone else saw.

"The next day, as always, he went out with his boat, hoping that this catch would be better, but when he reached the sea, his boat was stopped by a huge shark. Fearing for his life -and rightly so, because the shark was beyond any he had ever seen and his boat was small - he was making his peace with the gods and readying himself to die, when something strange happened. The shark, instead of eating him and his boat with one bite, spoke to him in a polite, well-mannered speech." Naruto grinned. "'Young fisherman' it spoke 'you have performed a great service to our Lord yesterday! Rejoice, for my most mighty and noble Lord wants to reward you!'"

Yuri blinked, her whole body freezing with shock as the blond's words boomed, carrying within them an undercurrent of flowing water and waves, to her shock.

"Now Taro was a simple man, and confused, but the shark was huge and he dared not to voice a protest. As such, he said nothing when the messenger took him to the depths. Although he was sure he would drown, to his surprise he found he could breathe in the water as if he was on land. Noting his surprise, the shark only laughed.

"'This is only the first of many gifts my Lord will bestow upon you, young one.' He said knowingly. 'Be not afraid - humble you might have been born, but honored you will be through every sea and stream from this day!'" Naruto paused for a moment, taking a swing out of his cup, observing the spellbound audience. A good story was one thing - but theatrical flair and a few tricks made the audience eat out of your hand, especially when one could weave a bit of illusionary charm.

He was no Sasuke, but that didn't mean he didn't master his own brand of that particular art.

"If Taro was astonished by that, the picture that he saw once they arrived at the bottom of the sea left him utterly speechless. For there, in the greatest depths, laid a palace both larger and more magnificent that he could have imagined before. The messenger didn't allow him to bask in its glory, though, taking him straight to the grandiose throne chamber. Now while Taro was scared by the shark while it appeared, it was nothing compared to the sight that met him as they arrived, for within the huge chamber laid an immense, majestic green dragon. However, to Urashima's surprise, he noticed the small turtle he saved resting near the dragon without fear - the very same turtle he saved the day before, in fact.'"

The incense smoke filling the inn coalesced, and the spectators gasped as a grandiose serpentine form flowed around the storyteller, circling him slowly, before dissipating back into the smoke it was formed of.

"'Do not be afraid, young mortal.' Said the dragon kindly. 'No harm will come to you. In fact, I have brought you here to honor you and your deeds, for you have proven worthy by the virtue compassion few would even consider.'

"To Urashima's astonishment, the turtle was bathed in radiance, and as it faded, in the place of a turtle stood the most beautiful woman Urashima had ever laid his hand upon, her eyes shining like pearls and beautiful, sea-green hair spilling like waves.

"'For you see, young one.' The dragon smiled knowingly, 'the humble creature you saved was none other than my daughter. For this, you have my eternal thanks.'

"And thus Urashime met the sea princess Otohime. They were both young, and after the dragon king gave them his blessings, were wed shortly after. The dragon also kept his word, and Urashima was honored and his name known and revered through every sea and stream. Otohime and Urashima lived happily under the waves, their love strong and lasting, but alas, one day the young man felt homesick, and wished to see his old parents. Noticing her husband's sorrow, Otohime guided him to the shore so he could see his loved ones again. Before she let him on the trip, however, she gave him a small, ornate box. 'You must never open it, my husband.' she cautioned him sternly. 'As long as you are on the shore, you must never allow it to open, or you shall never return to me again.' Urashima promised fervently never to open the box and set out for his village." Naruto sighed, shaking his head.

"However, when Urashima came to his home, his pockets full of gold and gifts, he found only strangers. His home was gone, his parents had vanished, the people he knew were nowhere to be seen. He asked if anybody knew a man called Urashima Taro, but everyone he questioned answered that they had heard someone of that name had vanished at sea long ago. While he was still young and strong, everyone he knew was long gone as centuries passed. Distraught by grief, Taro sat on a large stone, accidentally causing the box Otohime gave him to open."

Naruto's voice turned scraggly, raspy, as if it belonged to an old man on a verge of death.

"He suddenly aged, his beard grew long and white, and his back bent. He was now a very old man. And from the sea came the sorrowful cry of his beloved. 'I warned you not to open the box, my love. Your mortal age was in it...'"

Silence reigned for a moment, and the jinchuuriki stared into his cup thoughtfully, before rising his head, a strange glint in his eyes.

"Now I bet you're just dying to ask just what does that old story has to do with the situation, eh?" He smiled, causing Yuri to look at him warily.

It wasn't a nice smile by any measure - it was toothy, mocking but also holding a spark of ruthless intelligence that made her well-honed danger sense ring every alarm bell in her mind.

"It's simple, my darling, if ignorant little shinobi." The blond's voice was smooth, "Unlike Urashima, I'm not a fool enough to open my own box."

Yuri's eyes widened as her hostage smiled... and walked forward, the kunoichi's kodachi passing through her harmlessly, as if...

'...as if through water...' she thought dumbly, as Keisei walked out of her grasp, letting the edge pass through her without any sign of discomfort, before turning to the kunoichi and looking at her with a raised eyebrow.

The elf-like ears twitched, the long mane spilling behind the former hostage as if they were alive, but it wasn't what caused Yuri to freeze.

The unsettling, knowing gaze, eyes sparkling like gemstones as the dark skin started to slowly change color and the frame filled, on the other hand...

"I don't need to fear that box at all." Naruto's chuckle caused the shinobi to break out of their stupor. "In fact... as long as she is with me..."

Keisei's tall, regal form expanded, causing the clothes on her to tighten to the verge of breaking, the azure skin gaining its usual, soft but gem-like quality, the mane achieving its rightful, blue-green luster.

"I don't need to fear anything at all."

The mermaid threw her head back, stretching with lazy grace as a small current of water danced on her fingertips. Her sparkling, inhuman eyes looked down at the shinobi around her, judging and weighing, before dismissing them as utterly inconsequential.

The tiny, sparkling mist over the tips of her fingers coalesced into a smooth shape, which danced around her gracefully like a sash made out of pure water, and in a moment, she was that sash, darting halfway through the building, only to spin around Naruto, a hiss of flowing stream akin to laughter as she caressed her master, mocking the shinobi surrounding him with an easy grace.

"Keisei, the Queen of the Current." Naruto said proudly, stretching his hand out and caressing the dancing water gently as it coalesced back into the female shape, her arms holding him tight and close, ignoring anyone else. "The true queen among summons - the ultimate embodiment of water given form." He laughed, shaking his head. "And you... you tried to take her hostage...?"

The water around him exploded, breaking nearby tables and causing the people to fall to the ground as the raging stream pushed them with contemptuous ease, slamming and weaving under pressure that put most jutsu to shame.

"You dare threaten her? Touch her with your filthy hands, even dare to use her against me?! You ignorant vermin!" he hissed through the raging torrent. "Know your shame! Know your place!"

For a moment, the seething killer intent almost suffocated the patrons of the inn, only to lift as if it was never there as Naruto laughed - or cackled rather - even as he sat back by his table.

"But it was funny, I gotta give you that! Utterly, totally moronic, but really damn funny!" the jinchuuriki said cheerfully, causing the bewildered patrons to simply stare at him with wide eyes. "Oh man... the look on your faces... I'll treasure it forever!" he chuckled, taking a full cup of wine that floated to him on the spinning water current.

"One summon doesn't- "Yuri started, only to pause, look at Keisei thoughtfully and close her mouth.

"Oooh, a smart girl. I like that!" Naruto said with amusement. "I had some tricks up my sleeve ready for you if you were stupid, and it'd be a shame to waste them, so..." he reached up, caressing Keisei's cheek "Honey...?"

The summon raised one eyebrow, before smiling.

Yuri's eyes widened as the heavy mist started to coalesce around the entire inn. Or rather already coalesced. She had fought against elite Suiton users before, but never had she seen the Kirigakure no jutsu done so fast or so well. Especially not without any water source nearby.

"I could simply walk out of here, you know, and there'd be no way you'd be able to stop me." Naruto's cheerful voice echoed through the mist "But where would the fun in that be, hmm?"

Yuri stiffened as she felt... something just at the edge of her awareness, spin and wave around her, and her eyes widened as something soft circled her neck.

"...what the-?!" She sad with surprise, trying to pull it from her throat, only to fall to her knees as it tightened, suffocating her in an instant.

"Now now, no touchie," The blond said mockingly as the mist started to dissipate slowly.

Yuri gasped as the silk collar on her throat loosened slightly, allowing her to breathe. She breathed heavily, greedily, trying to get some air back to her lungs.

"The funny collars you have on your throats are all sealed to tighten if you try to remove them.... or if I do this." Naruto's left hand closed slightly, as if holding something, causing the black-clad kumo shinobi to tear at their throats as the sealed silk started to tighten again. "So pissing me off right now...?" Naruto let his grip slacken, the silk following suit. "Not a smart idea." He blinked, before rising an eyebrow "...Hachi, is that cute waitress really so kinky she wants a collar too?" He said mildly, turning to the old ninja, who was observing the situation curiously from his seat, which was left untouched by Keisei's 'rampage'.

The old man raised an eyebrow, looking at the waitress who was stealthily approaching Naruto from behind with a kunai, only to freeze at his words.

Genzai looked her in the eyes, shaking his head slightly.

The young woman licked her lips, obviously unsure what to do, only to panic as a black blur spun over her throat, leaving behind a rather elegant strip of silk circling her throat, before floating back to Naruto's head.

"That utterly charming and twice as lethal delivery girl is Soi, by the way." The jinchuuriki said cheerfully. "Anyone else game for a brand spanking new silk collar courtesy of Shikigami Deliveries?" He raised an eyebrow, looking over the gathered people "Excellent." He clapped with a grin. "Now, since we know what's what, I have a proposition for you. Dear not-quite-patrons - everyone who isn't a beautiful woman or a good drinking buddy of mine - OUT." he pointed at the door. "Every reasonably attractive woman - stay."

The crowd just stood there, motionless.

Naruto frowned.

"Is every Kumo ninja deaf or something?" He said with irritation, waving his hand "Go home and... I don't know, polish your hitai-ate or something."

The number of patrons stood up, giving Naruto a dark look, hands tightening into fists.

Keisei smiled sweetly, a large, pointy trident coalescing in her hand.

The jinchuuriki sighed, pointing at the door.

"Go. Away."

At that Hachigoro couldn't help himself, bursting out laughing.

"And what's so damn funny?" Naruto's eyebrow twitched.

"The wires, brat." The old man said chuckling "Your wires all all over the place. They can't move."

"...huh?" The blond blinked, looking at the older shinobi dumbly. "Ooooh! Ack! Right! Sorry about that! I totally forgot! Excitement and all..." he murmured with embarrassment, snapping his fingers and causing the wires to vanish back into their seals. "My bad! No hard feelings, right?" He smiled sunnily, drawing incredulous stares from every ninja present.

"Man, talk about tough crowd," the seal master muttered, watching the patrons go, before grabbing a nearest empty bottle and smashing it down, straight into Saburo's head. "And who allowed you to get up, eh?" he leaned forward, shaking the pieces of the bottle from his hand.

"...y-you said-" The young Kumo ninja said dazedly.

"Oh, that? That was addressed to people." Naruto's grin was in the best vulpine tradition - wide, toothy and squinting his eyes so hard it looked as if they were closed. "Worms don't walk."

The humiliated Kumo captain stared at the jinchuuriki mutely for a while, only to pale slightly as Keisei's emerald gaze focused on him with a slight frown. Proving he did indeed have some self preservation instincts left, Saburo dropped on his stomach fast enough to cause the wooden tiles to shake.

"Well?" Naruto waved his hand in the general direction of the doors. "Go on, go on."

The jounin gritted his teeth, looking at his tormentor sullenly, but after the moment, he slid forward, wiping the dirty floor with his expensive robes.

Naruto looked on with interest for a moment, before snapping his fingers, grabbing a sheet of paper and a brush form thin air.

For a long while the inn was filled with only the sounds of scraped paper and cloth slowly, painfully wiping the tiles in its humiliating road towards the door.

As Saburo was reaching the door, Naruto blinked, looking up from the paper.

"Oh, worm?" He called

Saburo stopped, turning towards his tormentor with a sour and a bloody, dirty face.

"These superiors of yours... I'd guess they don't take such failure well, do they?" The blond tapped his chin with the end of the brush thoughtfully. "But of course that isn't something to worry about. On the other hand, I think Raikage would be very interested just what do his ninja do in their spare time. Especially if it involves jeopardizing a deal he already authorized." Naruto frowned thoughtfully "Put like that... it does sound uncomfortably like treason, doesn't it? My my, such unwholesome business. But I'm sure your powerful friends will help you." He nodded sagely. "After all, to err is human and all that. One failure won't make them too angry, now will it?"

The dirty bishounen's eyes widened.

Genzai blinked, before smirking viciously at the panicked expression on his nephew's face.

"I told you I'd be there, nephew. Never imagined it coming so quickly, though." He said with satisfaction, causing Saburo to whimper. "I guess good things come to those who wait after all. Don't crawl away too far, eh? I think it's time we had a little talk, eh? A true family heart-to-heart."

If there was any shred of defiance left in the young jounin, it was gone now, along with anything resembling dignity as the man slumped, crawling out of the door with a rather miserable grimace on his bleeding, dirty face.

"...was he crying?" Naruto asked curiously.

"Probably. He always was a bit of a pansy." Genzai nodded with a forlorn sigh. "Seriously, no fortitude, that boy! I'm ashamed they made him a jounin, let alone that he is a member of my family." He shook his head in mock sadness. "I think I'm really gonna have a talk with that boy. A long, honest talk."

"Isn't your heart simply bleeding at the thought?" the jinchuuriki said with a smirk

"As fuck." the old ANBU commander said seriously, before losing his composure and laughing loudly as he grabbed a bottle, pouring himself a hearty cup, toasting towards Naruto.

Naruto returned the toast, draining the cup dry, before slamming it down with a satisfied sigh.

"Well now, since that part is done... oi, you!" He waved at the short kunoichi "Yuri, wasn't it?"

The kunoichi nodded, looking at Naruto warily.

"Cool." The jinchuuriki said jovially. "Mind taking off that mask?"

Yuri looked at Naruto without a word for a moment. On one hand, unmasking herself was a breach of secrecy, on the other her cover was shot to hell anyway, thanks to Saburo calling her by name. Not to mention Genzai had really good memory. She'd bet that he could guess who she was anyway, and could pass the info on to his drinking buddy simply out of spite. The old man was a bastard like that. There really was no point in dragging this farce on either way - she was done no matter what she did at this point given the catastrophe this operation turned into.

Naruto's eyes widened as the hood came off, revealing slightly sharp, but still undeniably attractive features of a woman in her early or mid thirties. It was hard to tell - while the kunoichi didn't posses that timeless quality Sasuke-chan or Chigusa did, Yuri was attractive in a bit starker, though no less beautiful way. Now that she wasn't lurking in the shadows, it was also plain to see that while her figure was by no means a lithe, sleek form of a usual kunoichi, it was by no means fat - strongly built, her curves were lush but also very toned. Her hands were obviously very strong, but legs weren't far behind, given what the tight bodysuit showed.

"Well fuck me sideways..." The jinchuuriki whistled. "Aren't you a MILF."

Yuri raised one golden eyebrow, another oddity. For some reason, he'd never have pegged her as a blonde, and yet she was - deep, golden shine that put even his natural hair to shame.

"First Yugito-chan, now you..." he smiled, rubbing his neck. "Man, Cloud really has some damn fine women in their service, don't they?"

"Would you like me to arrange some dates?" Yuri said dryly

"Oh no, don't bother. I have what I need here already," Naruto waved his hand lazily.

"True enough," the kunoichi nodded.

"Cool as cucumber, aren't you?" he cocked his head to the side slightly, observing the woman intently. "Your fate is in my hands and you're not even nervous."

"You'll do what you'll do, I can't do anything. You've proven that to Saburo." Yuri shrugged. "Fearing what I can't change won't help me any. Fear is the mind killer."

"'Little-death that brings total obliteration', huh?" Naruto murmured, causing Yuri's eyes to widen considerably.

"You know... much." she said softly.

"Saaa... who knows?" His smile was odd, completely out of place on a face of a drunken, spoiled blueblood and more akin to one seen on one of these infuriating ancient masters who favored cryptic riddles and zen koans, just before whacking you on the head with a cane for some imagined mistake. "But that's a story for another day, eh?"

And just like that, the lecherous gaze, tinged with drunken arrogance was back as if it never left, causing Yuri to wonder if she really saw anything in the first place or if she was reading too deeply.

"Anyway, back to the business at hand. Catch."

Yuri caught a folded piece of paper deftly, opening it and freezing as her eyes caught the contents.

She blinked owlishly, before looking at Naruto incredulously.

"You are, of course, joking." the woman said flatly.

Naruto's sunny smile was so bright it almost lit the room as he raised his left hand, tightening it slightly for a moment.

The kunoichi winced as the silk collar choked her again.

"...right. Stupid question." She coughed, rubbing her throat "But how are we to-" the voluptuous blonde paused as a sizable bag hit the tiles before her with a loud, metallic sound. She picked it up, opening it slightly, only to shake her head at the contents with amazement. "Aren't you just so thoughtful," the newly christened MILF said with a sigh.

"I have my moments." Naruto said modestly. "By the way - clock's ticking."

"Right." Yuri muttered, before turning to the collared kunoichi. "Ladies?" She nodded towards the door.

The women looked at each other, only to pale slightly as Naruto waved his left hand again. They swallowed and meekly followed Yuri to the door.

Genzai frowned thoughtfully, staring after the women until the last one marched out the door.

"Just what the hell are you scheming now, brat?" he asked curiously.

Naruto said nothing, simply grinning.

Hachigoro looked at him for a moment, before sighing.

"I'm going to need more wine, won't I?" he said flatly.

Naruto's grin only widened.

"Right." the old man muttered. "More wine it is."

In the end, wine proved to be a mixed blessing. On one hand, it made Hachi somewhat numb, which was actually good. On the other, he still choked on it once he saw the kunoichi return.

"What in the world...?" the old man said dumbly.

The bodices were tighter and skimpier than most swimsuits, hugging the curves in most flattering way, the cuffs sharing their color. The stockings varied - some fishnet, some fine and almost elegant, but each almost sinfully caressing the legs they covered. The heels were no ninja sandals some of the more vain kunoichi sometimes wore - they were straight, through and through 'fuck me' heels, though varying in types; from classic stilettos to knee-high 'bitch boots'. Each and every pair couldn't be called cheap by any stretch of imagination - that kind of quality one usually paid for more than for a week with a good courtesan. Because of that, the otherwise trashy accent came off as looking hot but also classy in some strange way.

The fluffy, strategically planted tails were uniformly white, drawing just the right amount of attention to themselves and to the taut buttocks they were affixed to - Genzai would bet that this was anything but accidental, given how the brat was grinning.

Then there were the ears. Like cuffs, they were the same color as the not-there corsets, but each was subtly different. Some were straight, pointing almost proudly into the air, others were slightly bent, or one ear flopped in a fashion that would be simply cute otherwise, but in this circumstances was just sexy.

The Kumogakure ANBU commander blinked owlishly, staring at the women that were proud, professional kunoichi not too long ago.

"...bunny girls." Hachigoro said with disbelief, turning to the amused blond. "You turned kunoichi into bunny girls."

"Hey," Naruto shrugged, "every kunoichi here is fit and has a really nice body. Besides, Kumo chicks are just plain exotic," he leered, causing some of the more self-conscious women in bunny suits to shift nervously and even blush in case of younger ones. "Look at the curves! Taut and smooth, but with a hint of hardness... mmm, just like a sharp sword with a velvet sheath! And such variety! I mean, how could I allow them to go to waste, Hachi? That'd be simply criminal!" the jinchuuriki said with indignation.

Hachi looked at Naruto oddly for a long moment.

"Criminal. Yeah," he said, nodding slowly, corners of his lips twitching despite his best efforts. He snorted, before taking one more look at the small herd of bunny girls and snickering openly.

"And they don't just look damn good!" The jinchuuriki said with a leer, which caused several of the women to cringe and blush. "Ladies?"

The bunnies looked at each other, before turning to Yuri who was, contrary to her compatriots, taking the whole situation in stride.

"Hey, it beats the alternative." she said with a shrug.

The rest of the bunny girls seemed to deflate at that, reluctantly forming a roughly even line.

"I don't have all day, my cute little cloud bunnies." Naruto pointed out cheerfully, waving his left hand, causing the women to blanch a little and bend forwards a little as one, assuming similar position.

Hachi blinked.

There was something a little bit familiar about that-

"Little bunny Foo Foo,"

Skip. Hop. Hop.

"hopping through the forest"

The ANBU commander stared as the formerly proud assassins... hopped, high heels and all like, well, bunnies.

And wiggled. Let's not forget the wiggling.

"Scooping up the field mice,"

And bowing - with legs straight - as if scooping something.

Wiggle, wiggle.

"and bopping them on the head"

The clap wasn't particularly strong, but Hachi had to admit it did... interesting things to skimpily clad, almost naked bottoms.

"Hey hey, I'm not hearing a thing, babes!" Naruto clapped his hands a few time loudly. "Come on, come on! Put some heart into it, or the encore will be naked, and with a large audience!"

"...and bopping them on the...head."


"Yeah! That's the stuff!" Naruto cheered the brightly blushing kunoichi enthusiastically.

"Down came the Good Fairy," the hopping was replaced by slow, measured steps forward, with one hand on the hip, followed by a languid, sensual bow as they slid to the floor, as if landing, "and she said: Little bunny Foo Foo,"

Wiggle, wiggle.

"I don't want to see you scooping up the field mice,"

And there it went, that damnable, yet oh-so-sexy bow - submissive yet proud at the same time. Or it would be, if not what followed.

"...and bopping them on the head."


Wiggle, wiggle.

Hachi, by that point, stopped the pretense and started to laugh like crazy, his mirth only interrupted by Naruto's loud cheers and whistles.

"ENCORE! ENCORE!" Naruto shouted enthusiastically, laughing loudly. "Come on, shake it, baby! Hell yeah! Shake the walls outta this joint!"

The women hung their heads, blushing like crazy, but Yuri simply shrugged.

"Little bunny Foo Foo..."

Naruto had to admit, the blonde had a really nice voice - smoky and a little raspy, just enough to turn the old child song into a piece of sinful innuendo.

A moment later kunoichi's voice was the last thing he paid attention to.

"Hell yeah!" He leered "I told you it'd be so much better!" the seal master said to Hachi with a grin.

"Oh yeah, that you did." Hachi poured himself another cup, observing the wiggling tails, swaying busts and taut bodies with rapt interest. He was respectably into his late middle age, not dead after all. And he had to admit - kid threw one hell of a party.

Hachi smirked.

Good booze, good scenery, captured traitors and certain noble vultures to hit where it really hurts in the nearby future. Retirement? Screw retirement! It was a good day to be alive and a great time to be a Kumo shinobi!

"Hey, you there! Put some enthusiasm into that wiggle! People will talk we have lazy, third rate ninja! Kumo's honor is at stake! Shake it like you mean it, girl!"

Wiggle, wiggle.

It took another encore and a few more songs, accompanied by copious amount of wine for Naruto to be finally satisfied enough to let the kunoichi turned bunnies off the hook, and Hachigoro would be hard pressed to decide which was the main reason for the brat to call it quits. Though he had to admit that given the sheer amount of wine drank, kid was holding it together pretty good.

"Man, that was great!" the jinchuuriki said happily, eying the sweaty, flushed bunny girls with a grin. "I didn't know Kumo kunoichi knew such songs - or moves!"

"What can I say, we're talented." Yuri said sarcastically, sweeping her slightly sweat-matted hair back.

She was never going to disrespect exotic dancers and courtesans ever again. While it might not look it, all that hopping, jumping and twisting around and looking good at the same time was way harder than it looked. In heels to boot! The moment she met any of these girls who did it professionally, she was going to shake their hand. And ask for tips. Honestly, she was a veteran kunoichi - stuff like that shouldn't be so irritatingly hard.

"Oh yeah, very talented." Jinchuuriki's grin became an all out leer, which caused Yuri to just raise an eyebrow.

"Honestly, are you never tired of that?" she asked, observing the drunk noble curiously. "Doesn't it get, I dunno, boring after a while?"

Naruto chuckled softly.

"You know, you're the second woman to ask me that recently." he said, rubbing his chin "The answer is absolutely not and not really. Not if done right."

Yuri's eyebrow rose a mite.

"Now isn't your lordship just so modest," she murmured.

"Eh, who cares about modesty," Naruto shrugged "If you got it, flaunt it I say! That's my philosophy!"

"Yes, so I gathered." the kunoichi said dryly, pulling off the bunny ears from her hair, carefully folding them as she picked up a black jacket who used to be a part of her uniform before bunny conversion, and throwing it over her shoulders carelessly, not really covering anything.

"...uh, that's it?" Naruto said, scratching his head, only to get a questioning look from the stacked blonde. "You ain't gonna change?"

"Not really. I'm sweaty, and I need to wash it tonight anyway." kunoichi shrugged "No sense in adding to it."

"Washing?" the jinchuuriki blinked

"The costume," Yuri tugged at the corset she was wearing thoughtfully "I rather like it, actually. Excellent craftsmanship and cloth, if absurdly expensive. Shame for it to go to waste." She frowned, before nodding. "Oh, and I'm taking the shoes too."

Naruto stared at the voluptuous woman strangely.

"Do you have any idea how hard is to find comfortable, elegant shoes like that?" she tapped her chin. "Also, I admit it's the first time I wore shoes that cost more than my monthly wage. I rather like the experience, actually. Very comfortable."

The seal master nodded slowly.

"I... see."

"Hope you don't mind, of course." Yuri raised an eyebrow. "But since you did buy them for us and all..."

"Uh, actually I didn't really think that far," Naruto admitted, "but if you like 'em, I have no problem with that."

"Really?" Yuri blinked, before turning to the bar where the rest of the bunnies were changing. "Girls, we can take the shoes!" she frowned, turning back to Naruto "They can, right?"

"Sure, I guess..." the blond muttered, scratching his head.

Naruto blinked at the bar shelves, barely covering the kunoichi who had been changing there in some last ditch attempt at at least illusion of modesty. Illusion that was promptly broken as a short, surprisingly orderly scramble took place among the women.

Hachi smirked, sipping his sake.

"Now I'd really start to be careful if I were you, kid." he said with amusement "A kunoichi with a grudge is bad enough, but with this, they'll have twice the reason to go after you now."

"Huh..." Naruto muttered. "So... is it a bad moment to mention these collars double as chakra weapons?"

Yuri froze, blinking.

"...what?" she said incredulously.

"Well, it ai't nothin' big," Naruto rubbed his neck with embarrassment. "They just become stiff and sharp and stuff. Like swords. Or whips." He frowned. "Well, they will in a week or so, after my chakra's gone out of 'em."

Yuri stared at her former target for a long moment without a word.

"What? What?!" Naruto snapped peevishly.

"Hey, kid... you do know they tried to kidnap you for possible torture and stuff, right?" Hachigoro poked his drinking buddy with his cup.

"Eh, who cares about that - they make great bunny girls!" Naruto shrugged "Good job, good pay an' all that. Fair's fair I say."

"You are... a very strange man, Kusanagi-sama." Yuri said finally, shaking her head slowly. "I do hope we meet again some day in better circumstances.."

"Will you dance Bunny Foo Foo for me then?" Naruto asked hopefully.

"Hmm, who knows," Yuri chuckled softly, turning on her heel and walking towards the exit, followed by the rest of the kunoichi. "I just might, Kusanagi-sama. I just might."

Naruto watched the women go out, the doors of the inn closing in sudden and abrupt silence behind the last kunoichi.

"You hate to see them go, but love to watch them walking away, huh?" the blond murmured finally, leaning into Keisei's embrace. "Well, not like that was any secret."

"You could have kept them a while longer, ya know," Hachi murmured, swirling his drink lazily. "With the way things are, they ain't gonna be of much more use anyway. No one would have raised a fuss about it." he shrugged. "Hell, the way they fucked up... only fair, I'd guess."

"About that..." Naruto turned to the ANBU commander "Do you think Raikage could overlook that little bit?"

"Not bloody likely, kid." he snorted. "Even if it won't rank outright treason, we can't just leave them be, you know."

"I'm not saying leave them be or anything. They're just grunts in the end." the blond said placatingly. "You got more than you bargained for anyway, right?"

"And what, slap on the wrist and 'welcome back'?" Genzai said dryly "This ain't no fairy tale, kid. Traitors are-"

"Hey, no one asks you to trust them, right?" the jinchuuriki reasoned. "But you can use them, allow them to save their necks a little. I don't think that's too unfair, eh?"

The ANBU looked at his drinking buddy for a long while in silence.

"You have some really fucked up proprieties, you know that?" he said sourly. "Can't you ask for an assassination, military aid or something, you know normal that wouldn't give me headaches?"

Naruto shrugged, his expression not changing one iota.

"All right, all right!" the jounin grumbled. "Seesh... for a crazy bastard you have a real soft spot for women."

"Women who make really hot bunny girls, Hachi." the jinchuuriki grinned."Hot, sexy bunny girls - remember that. We can't be cruel to such cute bunnies."

"Just don't come cryin' to me if one of these 'cute bunnies' stabs you in the middle of some fancy dinner or somethin'." Genzai grumbled "Don't say I didn't warn ya."

"Yeah, yeah." Naruto waved his hand dismissively. "Don't sweat the small stuff."

"Small stuff for whom?" the old man scowled.

"Feh." Naruto drained his cup, before standing up with a bit of a wobble.

"Going out?"

"Well, entertainment's gone, and if I drink too much I think Keisei'd have to carry me home." the seal master shrugged. "So I think I'll call it a night."

"Heh. Yeah. You did drink helluva lot," Genzai eyed a number of empty bottles on the table "I guess it does dull the pain, eh?"

Naruto blinked.

"And I guess it's useful in other ways, too." the ANBU commander muttered, picking a bottle. "Enough of that stuff, and no one will notice you're movin' a bit outta sorts, right?" He let it drop, looking at Naruto calmly.

The blond frowned, staring back at the older man.

"What the hell are you talking about, Hachi?" he said finally.

"You know kid, for a show off you didn't really do much." the jounin leaned back, pouring himself another cup. "Isn't that weird? I'd think that a guy like you would love to show off all that shiny stuff - no one that well versed in seals can't know a good number of ninjutsu. Yet you didn't do a damn thing, save for some unsealing." He raised an eyebrow "Ain't that just strange?"

Naruto stared at the graying ninja for a long moment, before laughing sheepishly.

"You're an incredible old man, you know that?" he said rubbing his neck. "Is it really that obvious?"

"Obvious? Not really. But I noticed you moved a bit weird when we first met, especially for a guy trained to fight." Hachi frowned. "Then I saw you here, and that weirdness was muted - recovery time, chakra healing probably, right? But still not enough to be in top shape." he raised a cup a little. "Alcohol would make sense - any slip up could be explained by the fact you drank a wee bit too much. Nice idea, actually, if still stupidly risky and just plain stupid in general."

"Damn, you're a regular monster, aren't you?" the jinchuuriki said with amusement.

"I just got enough experience to pick up stuff like that." Hachi shrugged. "Plus, I wanted to be a doctor a long time ago. Some of it stuck."

"Some of it, my ass." Naruto said dryly, before sighing. "So what are you going to do now?"

"Do?" Hachi raised an eyebrow. "I won't really 'do' anything, maybe besides wishing you luck. I won't stop you, if that's what you're asking." he took a long sip of his wine. "I mean, why should I? You did Kumo quite a favor - twice to boot, and Raikage's orders were clear. Besides," he scratched his chin "I like you, kid. I think you've got a few screws loose in that noggin', no question, but I like you. I think you'll be a good way to keep vultures from our kitty too, precisely because of those loose screws." He chuckled. "And I gotta admit I do like your style. At the very least it's entertaining."

"What can I say, I hate boredom." Naruto shrugged.

"That I can believe, kid." Hachi chuckled. "Drop by Kumo sometime, I'll try to put together something up your alley."

"Well, if you've got more chicks like Yuri, I just might." Naruto smiled, turning towards the exit. "See ya, old man."

"Take care, kid." Hachi nodded, watching as the drunk noble vanished behind the doors.

Shaking his head, the old man poured himself a full cup with a faint smile, not even bothering to look up as a Hammer team ninja faded into being right out of his shadow.

"Did you find where by idiot nephew went?"

"Yes boss." the shinobi nodded. "We can move in any time."

"Good." Genzai took a sip of his wine with obvious relish. "Ahhh, that's the stuff." he muttered with satisfaction. Not the best wine he had ever had, but quite good non the less.

"Boss?" the kumo ninja hesitated, looking at his commander. "About Kusanagi... shouldn't we at least detain him for questioning?"

"Haru my boy, don't be an idiot." Hachigoro snorted. "Raikage wouldn't be all that pleased, for one, and I meant what I said - that guy is worth ten times more to Kumo alive, happy and kicking than as our 'guest'." he sighed. "Besides, taking him on is just stupid."

"Boss, I doubt one summon is worse threat than Yugito, and we can take her down." the young ninja said sceptically

"Yeah, and do what, start a national incident with Coral's samurai and shinobi as twitchy as they are right now?" Hachigoro shook his head "Besides, it ain't the summon I'm worried about. Tell me Haru, did you manage to replace that sword yet?"

The Hammer Team member blanched slightly.

"Yeah. Exactly." Hachi smirked. "And if you take the amount of money this guy throws around so casually into account, ask yourself just how many such little monsters he can hide up his sleeves, eh?"

"Ah," Haru nodded slowly "I... see."

"No, you don't." Hachi said bluntly. "But that's why I'm the commander and you ain't. Now scram. I've got wine to drink."

Naruto's carefully controlled breathing becoming ragged as he leaned on a wall heavily.

"Now this... was interesting..." he winced feeling a spike of pain vibrating through his solar plexus, a silent but nagging protest of his ravaged chakra system he was steadily ignoring for the past few hours.

So maybe, just maybe, forcing his body to channel enough chakra to unseal multiple seals while his body was dealing with what could only be described as copious amounts of damage, inside and out, wasn't the best idea.

It was just a theory, though.

He exhaled, closing his eyes for a moment, before wobbling, grabbing the wall for more support.

He blinked.

This wasn't supposed to-

The jinchuuriki sighed, a curse dying in his throat.

Of course it was.

His body's regeneration was based on chakra, most of it Kyuubi's to boot, and with half of his chakra system resembling a cracked pretzel...

So maybe forcing his regen factor to deal with absurd amounts of alcohol on top of aggravated injuries wasn't the best idea either.

Something wet and warm dribbled off his chin slowly, and he wiped it off, smiling humorlessly at the reddish tinge.

"Oh come on..." the seal master muttered dejectedly.

Sasuke was going to kill him. Kill him dead. Slowly.

He hoped.

Naruto chuckled, wiping the blood out.

"Aw, who am I kidding..."

A cool hand rested on his forehead and Naruto smiled at his companion, now back in her elven-like form.

The mermaid was looking at him intently, her usually bright eyes dark and full of worry.

Naruto smiled, spitting the last bit of coppery liquid that flooded his mouth and wiping his lips as he straightened out, ignoring the brief vertigo and ruthlessly suppressing hos body's numerous protests.

Sure, there were a dozen or so fancier methods for that, but he was too drunk and too tired to bother. Brute force and sheer willpower served him well his whole life anyway.

The jinchuuriki forced his body to relax, chasing away the stiffness, allowing the pain to spill over and through him. For a moment, the jolts grew in size and frequency with each heartbeat, only to subside slightly, becoming a dull, constant ache, but a bearable one. Aggravating the state or not, booze did help to dull it a little.

Keisei cocked her head, staring at him for a long moment, before grabbing his arm gently.

Naruto raised an eyebrow, looking at the summon's pretty face for a moment, before shrugging slightly.

The mermaid smiled slightly, her eyes regaining some of their shine - though even Naruto would be hard pressed to guess if it was natural or simply a reflection of a nearby lantern.

The back alley was poorly lit and led through a poorer part of the town, but anyone suicidal enough to target him tonight was going to get a rather nasty surprise, courtesy of a large butterfly resting on his arm in nothing short of ominous silence. Not that Soi was terribly chatty on the best of days (unless drunk, of course, but the effects of that little experiment were both amusing and disturbing, to say the least) but given how she clammed up now, his precious little Shikigami was probably dreaming of stabbing someone dead. It'd prolly be a toss up between him or these Kumo ninja.

Any poor mugger who crossed her way tonight was going to meet a very sad fate indeed.

Sure, she was tiny - but the most potent poisons were sold in the smallest of vials for a reason.

Naruto frownwed as Soi cocked her head, looking at him expectantly. The shikigami and her master looked at each other for a moment, not saying a word.

"Fuck this. I really don't give a shit." he muttered finally, turning on his heel and walking away towards the Golden Sparrow, mermaid and shikigami in tow.

A long moment later a pale woman in a fetching though inexpensive yukata cocked a pure white eyebrow quizically she entered the now empty alley.

"Interesting." she said softly, the reddish eyes surveing the scene for a long moment before she calmly snapped open her bamboo umbrella just as the first drops of rain hit the ground.

A momen later the alley was empty, filled only with growing puddles and the sound of falling rain.

The world came to her slowly, sluggishly. This wasn't quite unexpected actually. Sasuke wasn't just a morning person, like many thought - she wasn't a person who liked to wake up quickly period.

If it was up to Sasuke, the process of waking up would be drawn a out affair, consisting of minimum of half an hour in bed, a snack with a cup of cofee, a long, hot bath, a hearty breakfast and a pot of freshly brewed tea. Sadly, as a shinobi she had to master waking up quickly, which she hated even in academy. Hence why Sasuke indulged in what she deemed as proper, civilized wake ups wherever she had opportunity to do so. Needless to say given the luxuries so abundant in Golden Sparrow, Sasuke indulged quite a bit.

Which is why she was quite cognizant of the fact that while the bed was comfortable, the sheets were first rate silk and pillows obviously quite fine, there was the distinct lack of the rest of her usual morning routine.

That, and her head hurt like the last time she challenged Naruto to a drinking contest without any medical aids and tricks on hand.

She opened her eyes, wincing slightly as light hit her overly sensitive pupils.

Oh yes, this was quite familiar and not exactly welcome. Problem was, she didn't remember drinking enough to warrant that state.

Sasuke-chan blinked.

In fact, she didn't remember drinking period.

She frowned, looking up.

"Unfamiliar ceiling." the Uchiha heiress muttered getting up, allowing the silk sheets to slide off her yukata-clad body.

Her frown deepened as she looked at the cloth. It wasn't hers - she didn't much care for white, for many reasons, and a plain white yukata wouldn't be her clothing of choice any time soon. Which meant someone else dressed her, and that someone was not Naruto. Whining about clothes or not, Naruto respected her choices well enough.

"Ah, you're awake milady!"

Sasuke raised an eyebrow at a servant girl by the door, an unfamiliar mon on her robes.

"Oh, master will be so pleased! Wait a moment, I shall get him immediately!" the young woman gushed, rushing out of the room.

Sasuke's eyebrow rose a tad higher.

A moment later the doors slid open loudly, a young man in expensive kimono entering with a radiant smile on is face.

"So you are awake at last, my beautiful flower!" he said with enthusiasm. "Finally! Nothing shall stand in the way of our happiness now!"

Second eyebrow joined the first.

"Excuse me," Sasuke asked politely, trying to place the man but coming up with nothing. "But what the hell are you talking about?"

The young man looked at her, his beaming smile becoming even wider.

"Why, about the happiest day of your life, my dark diamond! The day you no doubt awaited ever since our eyes met on that joyful day, just as I did!" he grabbed her hand. "The moment where you shall become my beautiful bride!"

Sasuke blinked owlishly.



AN: The story of Urashima Taro is an actual legend, and there are many versions of it. I just slightly adapted one of the more common ones. I guess you can see where the odd references to 'box' and such from the first part of the chapter come from now. I did say most things will be explained eventually, and they will, sooner or later. Also, crack or not, this story does have plot, so keep that in mind. Things that seem strange or out of place now will stop being such as the story unfolds. That said, it is crack.