Part the Ninth…

Leaving the alleyway left a bitter taste in Naruto's mouth, and it wasn't from the rancid 'juices' leaking into his favored jacket from the garbage his once thought of 'friend' had just dumped on him. His head hung slightly, the look in Mao's eyes when she turned back to him.

-She knows something… something she's not willing to tell me until I see it for myself probably…-

He openly frowned.

-Why do I get the feeling it's something worse than just Neji getting a new fashion statement on his face and getting friendly with Tenten…-

About halfway down the alley, away from the aforementioned apartment one Hyuuga male was currently 'occupying' the blonde had had something of an epiphany, finally putting a name to the voice. Then again, it may have also had something to do with the rather loud male voice screaming her name in the throes of passion about ten minutes later too.

He visibly shuttered.

-Don't think about it… you're not a pervert, you don't need to know what they do in their own apartment… don't think ab-

Now that he thought about it, since when did those two have an apartment together? As his overactive imagination began to put answers to that question, and filling in the details of what he'd heard… he shook his head violently.

-Stop. Thinking.-

As luck would have it, just as the eternal bliss of nothingness entered his mind, his face ran rather firmly into Mao's back. The result, him on his ass on cold morning pavement as his 'guardian angel' just looked down at him impassively over her shoulder.

"Oh my GAWD! Just look at you!" came a squeally voice from down the street. Naruto, from his position, got to see a slight twitch of annoyance cross his demon watcher's face, or more pronounced as her slightly pointed ears tilted back, almost like an irritated animal.

-Wait, she's got pointy ears too?-

Shoving that little piece of information into the back of his mind for the moment, he noticed her steel-like aqua-green eyes were fixated on something in the direction the high-pitched and rather annoying in his opinion, voice came from. His cerulean orbs followed her gaze… and if thought seeing Neji was weird, this world just got even weirder…

"I-Ino?" he managed out, because right in front of him, several feet away at the end of the street was in fact, it just had to be, Yamanaka Ino or someone that looked disturbingly like her.

-But wait… she looks… older?-

In fact she did, the Yamanaka heiress was taller than the last time he'd seen her, and her hair was longer, hell she even looked 'chunkier'. The concept of body-fat actually existing on the gossip-girl was just plain weird and deserved a head tilt, since it was in fact, right in front of him.

What was even weirder was the person she was talking to…

-N-no… no… that's just… no…-

While Naruto's poorly abused mind was trying very desperately to piece together what on earth would have THOSE TWO talking, on the street, like normal people was absolutely beyond him…

"T-that's…" he pointed helplessly from his position on the ground, "That's Temari, right? Gaara's sister and number one bad-ass amongst the Konoichi my age I know?" his left eye twitched as he looked up to Mao, whose face was still as readable as a blank chalkboard before continuing on his little tirade, "WITH A KID ON HER HIP!" there was full force eye twitching going on now.

-I've gone insane… that has to be it…-

Mao just shrugged, crossing her arms, eye sight unchanged.

The blonde male just turned his gaze back to the two blonde women at the end of the road, his eyes landing directly on the little black haired child in the older woman's arms. The child was holding on to what had to be its mother protectively, and despite it looking no more than a year old, had this deeply perceptive and aware look in its eyes, like it knew what was going on, and it was staring right at Naruto with dark, dark, dark blue eyes.

-If I didn't know any better I'd swear that was…-

"Ne, Shikari-chan, what are you looking at?" the child's mother cooed at the baby, its inquisitive and knowing eyes leaving the prone blonde down the road to look up into the far lighter blue eyes of her mother.

The older version of Ino just smirked, "I swear, every time I see her, she reminds me more and more of Shika…" the look that came over the Yamanaka 'woman's' face wasn't exactly happy, almost like she was sorry about something.

The older blonde woman just seemed to brush it off, bouncing her little daughter like nothing was wrong; "Heh, I keep thinking that too, that lazy bum…" the passive smirk that was normally so cocky seemed almost empty on the woman's face now. She raised the baby up, a more honestly look on her face, "I swear, if you start watching clouds all day and beating me in shogi I'm gonna have to send you to your grandparents."

Ino just seemed to smirk at the mother and child, nostalgia covering her face, and a bit of that old playful teen she used to be snuck its way in, "Well, with being the child of you two geniuses, I'm sure she'll be beating her granddad by the time she turns three…"

Temari snorted as she lowered her daughter, "She's already done that," she gave Ino's shocked look a Cheshire grin before nuzzling her baby, "She just hasn't beat mommy yet!" she closed her eyes and smiled widely chuckling with her baby as her knowing eyes just seemed to sparkle as she made little baby gurgles of joy.

Hand met forehead as Ino seemed to almost swoon, "I swear, you two…" she sighed deeply.

Temari returned her baby to the comfort of her chest as she gave the woman across from her a cheeky grin, "So, when's my little Shika-chan here gonna get that playmate you promised?" sandy blonde eyebrow raised for effect.

It was an epic moment in history as Ino, yes Yamanaka Ino, in fact an ADULT Yamanaka Ino just seemed to freeze as her face turned an interesting shade of red.

The former Suna-Konoichi just seemed to smirk at that response, "I take it you just found out didn't you?"

"Eh-he…" Ino just seemed to squirm and twiddle with her fingers, "Well, it's not like it was completely planned… and…" the way she was acting all embarrassed was definitely sending off red flags in Naruto's mind, there was something weird going on, and with it being all in 'woman-speak' he had no clue what it was. He looked to Mao a moment; she was a woman, right? She could explain this, right?

The demoness just raised a brunette brow at his questioning gaze, as if to say 'I'm not translating'.

-Damnit, the one time I'm interested in gossip and the only woman I can turn to won't help me out… is there some female 'don't-tell-guys' code or something?-

The incredulous look Temari, and Shikari were giving the other blonde was downright amusing. The mother of the pair spoke, "You haven't told him yet, have you?"

The younger blond did something no one, especially not Naruto had seen her do before, she pressed her index fingers together and just stared at them as she spoke in a low tone, low enough that even the whisker faced young man couldn't hear.

-Damnit, what's she saying? I wanna know!-

He may not have been that close to Ino, but he respected her a lot, she'd changed since he'd known her, from former-Sasuke-fangirl-extraordinaire to master of the mind and one kickass, and good looking, Konoichi he'd had the fun of having various missions with. Even he would admit some of them sucked, some were weird, but somehow both their 'blonde' mentalities seemed to just click and they got along quick enough, so she became one of his precious people. So of course he wanted to know why she was acting all skittish and girly!

-Around Temari of all people!-

Last he'd seen the two in the same room it was like having two vicious canines of different breeds fighting over a piece of meat. It was not a pretty sight, the verbal war between the two Konoichi was legendary in its own right, and dangerous, very, very, very dangerous. That and he was a guy, so therefore very afraid of rampaging Konoichi, and had no idea what sparked the 'war' or how bad it got, he just remembered sitting under a couch with Shikamaru as they both preyed the two would stop.

-Speaking of Shika… that little girl… could she really be…?-

There was a sigh above him, "I liked Rika better…" Cerulean eyes found the slightly tanned features of Mao's face not as placid, nostalgic once again. She seemed to sense his stare and her oddly colored eyes met his, "She was their daughter in my time…" she turned back to the gossiping women and tilting her head, "Though, I do find the continuation rather ironic, so many things seem to stay the same despite what's been removed…" the undertone to her voice was rather distinct to Naruto's ears, very sad, almost regretful.

Naruto pondered her words a moment before opening his mouth, a rather unusual thing he seemed to be doing since he wound up here, wherever 'here' was, "So, can you like, see the future or something?" he knew it sounded stupid but he didn't know any other way to voice his thoughts. He'd just seem something that would be impossible in 'his' world, as he was starting to realize what this woman had said may be true, and while they just met what appeared to be Temari's daughter, he couldn't help the shutter that followed the absurdness of that thought, but Mao seemed to already know the girl rather well, despite her only being an infant in her mother's arms.

The aqua-green eyed woman seemed to shift her gaze down to him, deep in thought before answering his rather blunt question, "In a way, you could say…" she glanced back to the women and baby, "Being a Celestial, even one that has fallen and removed from reality like I have, still knows how to read the threads of the world, I still 'know' what has been and what will be…" her gaze lowered, a deep anguish crossing her face for but a moment, "At least, about this world…"

"So… uhh…" The young man, still sitting on the pavement, since he saw no reason to get up, just twirled doodles on the ground with his finger. It was a silly thought but he had to ask, "So, about my…"

"I said this world didn't I?" he could feel that tone in her voice again, the one that accompanied that red glare in her eyes, the one that made a small voice in his mind tell him to run, to get the hell out of there as fast as possible. But he didn't move, he could feel her 'anger' dissipate as if she had more to say, which she did, "although, I do know about my world, and this one, and all the similarities that go with them that probably go with yours as well…" she suddenly turned on her heel and began walking in the direction away from the older looking Ino and Temari.

"Ma-Matte!" he called back quickly rising to his feet as he watched the trench coat wearing woman continue moving away. He stood a moment, first looking behind him at the seemingly happy older versions of two Konoichi he thought he knew, then back to the slowly disappearing back of one he was just beginning to.

-Which to choose…-

Behind him was a glimpse of something he never dreamed of, something that on the surface look happy and pristine. In front of him was a cold hard reality, the visage of a 'being' that knew something about this place that he didn't, something he probably didn't want to know or admit, but something he needed to know so he could move on.

-I only really have one choice, don't I Mao…-

Steeling the look on his face he turned his back on the curiosity of the world around him, and focused it towards the woman still walking away. He took long strides, catching up to her seemingly towering form fast. He didn't turn to her, he didn't look at her, he just kept pace on the street right next to her, but his voice said it all, "Tell me Mao, what's wrong with this place…" his cerulean eyes, holding fury and determination he hadn't felt in a long time, turned to her showing just how serious he was, "What's so wrong that Kami's giving me a second chance to fix it?"

After those words left his mouth, was the first time he saw Mao actually grin. It was sharp, it was calculating, wicked and cruel, and gave him a pretty damn good look a canines that only a demon could posses. Her aqua-green eyes seemed to radiate a hidden light as they marginally glanced his way, "I knew you were smart when I first met you, I'm glad that hasn't changed…"

"Tch," he stuck out his lower lip while placing his fists roughly in his pockets, "'Look underneath the underneath', that was one of the first things Kakashi-sensei taught me…" his brow furrowed and his eyes slightly narrowed, "You knew that already didn't you?"

The fierceness seemed to leave her face slightly, "He was one of my closest friends," she looked him in the eye, that 'too human' feeling had returned to her looks, "He always spoke so highly about you, and how you always seemed to pick things up that others didn't…"

The blonde tilted his head back, "Like that back there?" the woman next to him nodded.

"They didn't seem right did they Naruto?" the steel was returning to her eyes, and for a moment, Naruto missed the softness, "That 'casual' conversation… it reeked didn't it… too happy, too convenient…"

"Not the optimistic type, ne, Nee-chan?"He scrunched his face up, trying to lighten the mood, even if he knew it wasn't needed or necessary. They were both smart Ninja, he fully understood that now. Whether or not Mao was a demon or a thousand years old, he knew for a fact she was a Ninja, a true Shinobi in every essence of the word. He just didn't know if he was prepared for the harsh reality she was going to bring down upon him.

She must have been able to read his thoughts in his eyes because the next moment the woman stopped dead in her tracks and just sighed. He stopped as well, not wanting to lose her, and curious about what was going to leave her mouth next. She opened her eyes and stared at him for a solid minute, her eyes crisp and clear, none of her hidden emotions or inner turmoil in them; she was being completely open and examining him. The line of her lips seemed to tilt down the barest fraction, "You're not ready yet…" and she turned to continue on her way.

-Not ready? For what?-

The blonde turned after her, quickly catching her again, "Nee-chan," he spoke softly, "What am I not ready for?" he too looked at her honestly and openly, searching her eyes for that hidden something she wasn't telling him.

Her eyes looked like that of someone who'd seen too much and never wanted to show it to another living being, "I'm not supposed to sway your judgment," she closed her eyes, needing to look away from him, her pace slowed, "I'm just supposed to be your guide through this journey, you are the only one that can make the decision…"

He placed his hand on her shoulder, the first contact he had initiated with this woman since he had woken up in that orchard of orange-blossoms yesterday. Her body stilled at the contact, and through his fingers he could feel the tightening of heightened muscles and reflexes being stopped, and he felt the power, the sheer unadultered power that her body possessed, even through several layers of clothing. For a moment, he wondered if this is what touching a god felt like.

In the next he squeezed his hand on her shoulder and turned her towards him, and again, that 'all too human' feeling came from her again as he asked what he probably should have asked long ago, "What decision must I make?"

That human pain filled her eyes again, the one she tried to hide with her placid face and rough manner of speech, but looking now, like this, her eyes could not hide any longer, "Which world will survive…"