Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

Dear Masashi Kishimoto,

You have 118 hours to hand over the rights to your franchise. Afterwards I will begin executing one unicorn a week until I receive the contract legally gifting me with the agreement.

Please don't put that evil on me.

Chapter 48: Piecing It Together


Standing on the roof of Naruto's penthouse apartment, Sasuke rubbed his eyes and leaned over the side, looking down on the city streets below. Some fresh air was probably what they needed to get their heads straight, and they needed it something fierce.

"What the fuck did we do last night?" Sasuke muttered to himself as Naruto kicked around some of the loose cans littered around the rooftop, "Come on, think damn it!"

"What do you want me to say?" Naruto asked in return, holding his head as he walked around his rented property, "What happened is anybody's guess. I'm only getting bits and pieces and I can't keep it straight. You don't know. I really doubt anybody else would know the whole story either judging from how Kankuro was hugging that keg like he'd gotten frisky with it last night."

Sasuke didn't need to think of that, but it was already in his head and he cringed accordingly, "Okay, let's take stock of just what we've got so far," Naruto nodded in agreement and had his fingers ready to list what they knew, "As far as we know we all got absurdly drunk because there's not a drop left of anything inside, there's a lion in the house, your place looks like a warzone but I don't think it's because of the lion, and Gaara's missing. How am I doing so far?"

"Pretty good, but then again we woke up all of twenty minutes ago, so who knows what else happened. I can't remember anything that happened after 11 other than blurry chunks," Naruto said before a rather unmanly shriek came from downstairs and a clamoring set of footsteps eventually revealed that Kankuro had bolted up to the roof out of fear of the lion, "Good morning."

Kankuro had blank fear in his eyes before the rest of his brain turned on and figured that he was basically safe if Naruto and Sasuke weren't freaking out, "Morning nerds. Last night was killer."

"You remember last night?"

"Oh hell no, I'm just assuming it was. I went under," Kankuro said, "I totally browned out that evening."

"Browning out?" Sasuke asked with a raised eyebrow of interest, "What's 'browned out'?"

"It's when you drink so much that everything goes brown," Kankuro explained loosely, standing up and dusting himself off, "It's not as severe as a black out because I remember bits and pieces. I like to call it browning out."

Sasuke had dealt with his share of drunks before as a low-level police trainee, but that was a new one, "I've never heard of that before."

A huge grin spread across Naruto's face that Kankuro reciprocated, "There's a good reason for that Deputy. It's because I think Kankuro just made it up on the spot."

"I did."

"Aha!" Naruto and even Sasuke were quite impressed by Kankuro's admission to his on the spot labeling, "That's a great term, 'browning out'."

"You like it?"

"I love it!"

"Thank you."

"So I'm pretty sure at a certain point we all probably 'browned out'," Naruto said, emphasizing Kankuro with a point for the use of his term, "So I think our best chance of figuring this whole thing out is for us to put all of our 'browns' together, mash 'em together, and try and figure out just what the hell happened last night."

That sounded like a sensible plan, and it wasn't like they had any better ideas, especially Kankuro, "Okay, but let's not overuse the 'brown' thing right in the beginning, you know?"

"Yeah, but here's the thing. Once you throw a term like that out there and everybody likes it, it's pretty much fair game at that point," Naruto insisted, arms crossed.

"It's public domain," Sasuke added with a nod of agreement, much to Kankuro's chagrin, "Now the only thing that matters is getting our heads together."

"That's the important thing. Let's not focus too much on the 'brown' thing…" Naruto offered, trying to get everything back on track. They had to be productive, fast-thinking, and to the point. No nonsense, "…Even though it's a term that I'm going to use a lot. That I'm probably going to use right now. So here's what I remember from my brown state."

And the three of them went through the few reliable things that they remembered from the previous evening. Very quickly, all three of them laid out what they remembered and realized that they all checked out mentally at about the same time while doing completely different things.

It was ridiculous; just blur and blankness after roughly 11 pm.

"I had one drink before 11," Sasuke groused, not willing to admit by virtue of the previous night's events that he was a lightweight, "I wasn't even feeling anything afterwards. That doesn't even begin to explain you two, especially Kankuro."

"You say that like I'm a raging alcoholic or something," Kankuro said with a frown, "That hurts. I just like to get loose."

"You were holding that keg in the bathroom like it was a lover," Naruto deadpanned, "That's kind of more than getting loose. At least I wound up in bed with my girl. Hell, even Sasuke wound up in bed with-."

Sasuke quickly cut his best friend off without a hint of remorse, "Shut. Up."

"Right," Naruto said before a lightbulb went off in his head and he reached for his phone. Pictures. He took pictures for posterity when he was around friends and they were doing fun things, and he doubted being inebriated would have prevented him from having some snapped.

He was right, and he really wished he hadn't been. There were pictures on his phone. Some of them quite interesting as well.

After thirty seconds of silence, Sasuke raised an eyebrow and wondered what the hell had his attention so much, "Just what are you looking at on there?"

"Definitely not a shot of Temari in my lap trying to tie our tongues together," Naruto answered absentmindedly, "And we're just gonna send that to the online album and delete it the hell out of here."

"WHAT!?"

Naruto quickly took off in a run across the rooftop of his penthouse apartment until he came close enough to one of the sides to see something on an adjacent rooftop. It was enough of a distraction for Kankuro to catch up and punch him in the stomach.

That wasn't what was important though. What was important was that Naruto's beloved motorcycle sat on its side, missing some shards of its chassis paneling probably due to a crash of some sort. Idly, he turned his head to the left and noticed a destroyed ramp built out of the most slipshod, haphazard materials that you could imagine a functioning ramp being built from.

"My bike…" Naruto whispered distraughtly as he put two and two together, "Why would I do that? I mean, I thought about doing that all the time, but I never would have actually done it for no reason! To MY bike!"

Kankuro shrugged and hand-waved it all away, "Cocaine's a hell of a drug."

"We didn't have cocaine!"

"Right…" Kankuro said evenly, blocking a smirk, "We didn't have cocaine," He 'confirmed' with a sniff before something jogged his thinking processes, "So the last thing Uchiha remembers is taking the Hyuuga girl to get a drink for the maybe the second time, Naruto can't remember much else past trying to get Gaara to talk to some girls, thanks for that by the way," Naruto nodded in acceptance of the thanks, "…Man, you guys checked out early."

Both Naruto and Sasuke looked affronted at this, as if they were lesser men for losing their coherent memory earlier than Kankuro due to inebriating elements. The two of them, who did not wake up spooning a keg as if it were a woman who would leave them in the night.

That knowledge alone calmed them down, putting Sasuke back into his analytical, deductive state of mind, "Alright, alright. Well I guess we have to retrace our steps, or find everyone we know who was at the party until we get someone that knows enough about what happened to point us in Gaara's direction."

"Sweet," Kankuro said, cracking his neck as he went back downstairs, "I'm dodging the lion, getting some hair-of-the-dog, getting a shirt on, and we can roll."

Both Sasuke and Naruto noted that he said nothing about cleaning the smell of liquor and party off of himself before leaving. They simply stared after him, wondering just how the older teen lived when he was back home in Suna. If he was like this all of the time, it was a wonder how Temari hadn't brained him with her fan yet.

It was a strange thing to realize that for once, Naruto might not have been the most unhinged person on that rooftop.

XxX

Kyuubi woke up expecting to be engulfed in the warmth of her boyfriend's bed, complete with said boyfriend's arms wrapped around her tightly. The redhead was partially mistaken, as while she did wake up in Naruto's bed, Naruto wasn't there.

At least at first.

The bleary-eyed girl woke up after Naruto had quietly slipped back into his room. The soft click of his door closing caused her body to snap upward into a seated position, her blood red hair all askew, "Huh? Wha-?" She squinted as the sunlight hit her eyes, and flopping back sleepily on the mattress and pillows she writhed and stretched fitfully, "Mmm… what's going on hon? Where's the fire?"

Naruto dug through a pile of his clothes like a raccoon digging a burrow and only turned around when he realized he'd woken his girl, "Sorry Kyuu. No fire," There was a lion though, amongst other immediate problems, "You feeling okay?"

"Yeah, I didn't drink that much."

"Oh," Naruto said, stopping in the middle of changing pants as he fixed her with a curious glance, "…You wouldn't happen to remember what happened last night would you?"

"Of course I do. We-," Kyuubi stopped and suddenly found herself wide awake upon realizing that she didn't remember what happened the night before, "…Narutooo…"

"I swear we're about to go find out what happened," Naruto said, preemptively cutting off anything she would have said from that point forward, "I just need you to do one thing for me while we do. I need you to tell Temari when she wakes up that Gaara is missing, but we'll totally find him."

"GAARA IS MIS-mmph!" Kyuubi found her mouth covered by both of Naruto's hands and she blushed in embarrassment at almost shouting at the top of her lungs. Reaching out she stroked Naruto's cheek softly to let him know she'd be quiet. Upon her mouth being freed she whispered, "Gaara is missing?"

"Yeah," Naruto said, wincing at admitting such, "…Also when Hinata wakes up, make sure she gets home."

Kyuubi quirked a delicate eyebrow in interest and confusion, "Uh…huh. Hinata spent the night here?"

"With Sasuke. In his bed. Topless at least," Naruto added unnecessarily before grinning mischievously, "That has nothing to do with anything. I just wanted to say that. I think it's hilarious honestly, but then again I'm an asshole."

Kyuubi sighed and held her forehead before trying in vain to smooth her hair out evenly. Ugh, she didn't want to get out of bed just to go and get a brush, "Okay, I've got it. I'll run damage control. Just make sure you find Gaara alright. Temari trusts you."

Even though last night she'd found out that Temari wanted to bed her boyfriend, Temari was still Naruto's good friend and she had a high opinion of him. She was one of the very few to have a high opinion of him and it would have been

"I know, and I feel like crap about it," Naruto muttered, "You tell her that Gaara's going home with her, and no ransom is too high!"

"Ransom?"

"I dunno. Just spitballing scenario ideas here."

Kyuubi shook her head and grabbed Naruto by the back of his head to pull him into a deep, long kiss, getting her fill before breaking away, "Mine," She said as she took a much needed breath and shoved Naruto off of the bed, "Okay, if we can't remember what happened last night maybe someone else who was there does. If you need anything just call me. I'll probably have Temari and Hinata up and ready to go in a few hours."

And with that, Naruto left the room only to find his partners in crime, Sasuke and Kankuro, back in the living room. Only there he found Sasuke laid out by the door, and Kankuro just standing off to the side watching, "What the fuck just happened? I left you alone for like three minutes?"

(Flashback – One Minute Ago)

The lion in Naruto's living room growled threateningly at both Sasuke and a wary Kankuro until Sasuke squatted down in front of it and gave it a Sharingan-enhanced stare to shut it up and make it mellow out. Hey, that was probably how he'd gotten it to somehow chill out at Naruto's house to begin with.

A smirk played on Sasuke's lips as he had the large, lethal cat purring from the back of its throat just from his genjutsu, "Heh… I rule you."

"That's actually kind of cool," Kankuro admitted, choosing to stand around and gawk instead of taking the opportunity to find his bag and put some new clothes on, "Why'd you even take a lion from somewhere?"

"Obviously I thought it was a good idea at the time," Sasuke rebutted with a roll of his red eyes, "Apparently I was full of them," He said sarcastically.

A fairly loud buzz rang out through the open living room, prompting Sasuke to get up from his squat and walk over to the stairwell to unlock the door to whomever had decided to visit. He was met with a rather furious pair of pale eyes after doing so however.

"…Neji?" Sasuke said, blushing slightly as he remembered that he'd woken up that morning with Neji's sexy younger cousin Hinata. But he didn't know about that, and he wouldn't if Sasuke had anything to say about it.

Neji didn't say a word, he simply drew his hand back to punch Sasuke right in the face. To punch him. No palm strikes and no finger taps. A punch. The Sharingan hadn't been on to save him from that one. And down Sasuke went. Down like Liston.

"Damn," Kankuro said after Neji had left, "He looked like he was way too girly to hit like that."

(End Flashback)

XxX

With a black eye, Sasuke's appearance was offset by the fact that he rode calmly and regally on the back of a full-grown lion as if it were a mighty steed. Needless to say, people steered clear. Even Naruto and Kankuro were giving him a wide berth just in case the gigantic cat was feeling mouthy and took a snap at one of them.

"Why haven't we been stopped by now?" Kankuro asked, wondering why at the very least animal control hadn't dropped by to confiscate the oddly docile lion, "I thought this city had police."

"I am the police," Sasuke replied, squinting through his swollen, bruised right eye.

"Don't you think that's an abuse of power Deputy?" Naruto asked. It wasn't like he cared about the law or that sort of thing, but Sasuke was supposed to. It was kind of his job to, "You could always walk and leave the lion somewhere else."

Because letting a full-grown lion loose in the middle of a city was a fantastic idea.

"Well it is a vulgar abuse of power," Sasuke agreed with an affable nod, "But I don't really care right now. Know why?" Naruto shook his head, "Because 'lion'. That's why."

"Well I'm fine with it," Kankuro said, hands in his pockets as he shuffled down the street, "Dude, I'm from the desert. We don't walk anywhere. We travel as the good lord intended: in the largest possible vehicle with the maximum horsepower allowed by local law enforcement. And if there's no cars available, we find the biggest, nastiest, meanest land animal we can, beat the crap out of it, and saddle that puppy up."

All three young men shared a moment, thinking about the coolest vehicles and/or animals that they could ride into combat, a hostage situation, down the street to get groceries, etc. Fairly quickly though, they came upon their destination according to Naruto, "Yep, there we go."

"How do you even know he's here?" Sasuke asked as he followed his friend into a neighborhood park a few miles away from where they'd started the day in a hung over stupor.

Naruto pointed to the tracks on the grass that had been carved by some three-wheeled vehicle, "I might have been half-dead after we left Ame, but I remember being awake when we landed and seeing him tax on a street instead of in an airport like a normal pilot."

"That actually sounds pretty impressive."

"It was. He didn't clip a single curb-parked car or anything."

Kankuro wondered who they were referring to until they came across a poorly concealed airplane stashed under a set of trees. Asleep in the cockpit with an open door, snoring with several empty cans on the floor was Naruto's newest depraved friend.

"Deidara wake up," Naruto said upon getting close enough. He got no response, "…Deidara wake up!"

The mad bomber merely shifted in his sleep and muttered to himself, "…No, don't touch it like that… it'll explode," All three boys froze in horror at possibly catching Deidara in the midst of a graphic dream, "Ah, I told you it would you bad girl," Oh God no, "That's less stable than C-4. I know how explosives work Tenten, just stick with me."

Naruto had never been so relieved in his life to hear sleep talk come out of anyone's mouth. Sadly though, Kankuro had lost patience with listening to Deidara's content snores and mumblings, "Wake up you jackass!" He said, kicking the back cabin door and jolting Deidara awake with the noise and the vibration.

Deidara cracked an eye and quickly regretted it as he held his head in pain, "Ohhhhh…" He groaned, eventually falling out of the open door of the cockpit and onto the ground. The impact did happen to wake him up though.

He was then greeted with the sight of the king of beasts standing directly over him.

"AAAAAHHH!" Crawling away until he ran his head into his own plane, Deidara held his brand new bump and noticed that he hadn't been torn asunder yet, and that Naruto and his friends were present, "Oh, it's you guys, un."

"Yo," Kankuro greeted gruffly, squinting with one eye at the pilot/bomber and trying to look tough, "D'ya have a nice rest queenie?"

Blatantly ignoring him, Deidara turned to Naruto instead, "What's he doing?"

"That's his mean face," Naruto answered for his desert-dwelling ally.

"Oh. Looks like he's got to take a shit, un," Having thoroughly deflated Kankuro, Deidara turned his attention to the most pressing issue before him. Notably the exotic cat being ridden by the younger brother of his last client, "So… is anyone going to shed some light on this?"

"This is Montecore, my lion. I have a lion now," Sasuke drawled disinterestedly. In response, Montecore let out a roar of… something. Affirmation perhaps, "Apparently last night we went to the zoo and Hinata wanted to ride a lion. The guard told us to scram, Sharingan probably happened, and now I have a lion."

"Does it bite?" Deidara asked.

"Of course it bites, it's a lion."

"And that's why we came here," Naruto chimed in, getting things back on track, "We don't remember what happened last night. The only reason we know anything at all is because of the pictures in my phone."

"…So?" Deidara still didn't see the big deal, "You blacked out and ripped off a lion. I'd call that a successful Saturday night if it hadn't been Thursday yesterday."

"First of all, it's 'browned out'," Naruto corrected, getting a twitch of the eye from Kankuro, "Second of all, we can't remember what we did, and we lost Kankuro's little brother last night. So that's why we're asking you. Do you know where Gaara is?"

"You mean the red-haired kid?" Deidara asked rhetorically, "No. Why would I? Last thing I remember he was with you. I didn't care about that. I met my soul mate last night," He explained before clicking his tongue and shaking his head, "…It's just too bad she's underage."

"By how much?"

"She's sixteen."

Sasuke just raised any eyebrow at Deidara in confusion. He couldn't have been a day older than twenty, if that, "In Konoha the age of consent is fifteen, and it's only statutory if you're five years older than a girl under 18," For some reason Sasuke felt like a better person when just saying that seemed to make Deidara's day.

Good lord he was pitying terrorists. What was the world coming to?

"Right. Deputy we're gonna talk about why you know that off the top of your head later, but for now we've gotta find Gaara!" Naruto yelled. This was getting ridiculous, "Who all was there last night that we can actually name? Us, Temari, Kyuu-chan, Hinata, Haku-nee, Kiba-."

"Shino, Ino, Sakura, Itachi, that Tenten girl-." Sasuke continued, ignoring Deidara's goofy grin at Tenten being brought up, "-Rock Lee, and then there's everybody else there that we can't name!"

Deidara winced at the last actual name brought up and shook his head, "I was about to make fun of you all for being lightweights, but then you had to go and bring that kid up. Jeez, un."

(Flashback- The Previous Night)

"What the hell is this?" Naruto asked, surrounding the kitchen island with Kankuro, Gaara, and Temari, sixteen shot glasses set out before them different drinks in all of them, "You said we were doing a shot. This isn't a shot. This is four shots.

"It's all the ingredients for 'Four Horsemen'," Temari explained, a cross look on her face as she stared across the counter at her oldest younger brother, "Kankuro loves doing this. Instead of putting them all in one shot, he'll just make you do them all separately… back-to-back."

"That's a terrible idea," Naruto wasn't much of a drinker, but he'd seen Obito loaded enough to know that it wouldn't take much of what they had to make something happen. Those bottles were awfully familiar as to what he'd seen in Obito's desk and behind the glass display in his apartment.

"Come on, we'll go so fast they'll all be down into your gut before your body even realizes what you did to it," Kankuro insisted, 'All you have to do afterwards is hold it down, but that's not my problem.' "Temari can do it. Does that mean she's tougher than you?"

Temari's mouth dropped open when she legitimately saw Naruto contemplating this. Damn peer pressure, "I can do it because you made me do it you ass! Don't make Naruto drink if he doesn't want to drink!"

"Oh, and now you need her to tell me that you can't do it."

Temari's attempt to defend Naruto backfired when he wrapped his hand around the first shot in the line, and she felt like kicking herself. Of course it was that easy to convince him to do something, "Well I might as well do it too then."

Kankuro grinned and turned his head expectantly over to Gaara, certain that he was going to turn this into a family affair.

"I don't drink," The artificial half-demon said, flat out walking away in refusal. Kankuro wanted to protest, but everyone knew that if Gaara didn't want to do something there was nothing anyone could do to change his mind.

Temari and Naruto snickered at the expression on the Suna thug's face until he saw a young man in a green bodysuit with bowl-cut hair wandering past, "Hey, you. Want a drink?"

Lee turned towards them and raised his large eyebrows up under his bangs, "Is it not illegal for people our age to drink? The age in Konoha is 18."

"Lee, there are two cops at this party right now," Naruto drawled, indicating both Sasuke and Itachi elsewhere in the room, "Neither of them care that this is happening at all. Don't use the whole 'it's illegal' thing as an excuse. If it wasn't for the fact that we had to apply for licenses to do it, our jobs would be illegal," He didn't mind if Lee turned the drink down, but doing it for that reason was pretty hypocritical.

Deciding to use the same mental attack twice, Kankuro, targeted Lee with the words that had lured many a weak-minded individual to their doom, "Come on buddy. Everybody's doing it. And we need a fourth."

Peer pressure, it even worked on people like Rock Lee.

"Well if it is good enough for an upstanding-type like Naruto-kun and his friends youthful enough to visit him, who would I be to turn down such an invitation of camaraderie?" Lee asked as he walked over to the counter.

"You'd be smart for one," Temari commented, getting a smirk and a nod from Naruto that made her smile.

"Alright, alright, enough of that. One more thing," Kankuro said, pouring one more shot for everyone that he then lit on fire, getting Naruto and Lee to gape and Temari to facepalm. Taking things seriously, he smacked the counter thrice, "Bottoms up. Let's go. All together now, no stopping."

And with that, they all began.

Lee made it through one shot.

The sanctity of Naruto's penthouse apartment did not last the next five minutes.

(End Flashback)

"-And that was when the party basically ended and everybody started spilling out into the street, un."

Sasuke frowned and tucked away that as the probable point where they lost Gaara, "Well that explains why it looks like a cyclone hit the inside of your house."

"And then you had that creeper hanging around in the back, un."

"What creeper?"

"Well you didn't see him. There was this pale kid, didn't seem to be doing anything at all, un," Deidara explained, remembering what he could of the nondescript personality, "Didn't talk to anyone, no girls, no drinking, nothing. All he did was make sure he was out of you and your girl's line of sight."

A pasty guy that could have gotten into the party via an invite from Ino despite not being one of Naruto's close friends. He had to have been a classmate in one of their courses, or at least someone who went to their school. Luckily, Sasuke was in possession of mad detective skills, "That Sai guy fits the bill."

Fucking Sai again?

Naruto's teeth gnashed at the thought of that bastard and the organization that he represented. Those animals tormented him as a child and made Itachi kill his best friend to protect him and Sasuke. He wanted to shout why Deidara didn't bring this to him if he had noticed it, but that wasn't fair. Deidara didn't know Sai. He didn't know that he was dangerous.

The fact remained that he was though, and he'd been inside of Naruto's home, had access to everything. And now Gaara was missing. Naruto didn't see the connection, but it was way too convenient for Sai and his cohorts to not have something to do with his disappearance.

It would have been too much to ask for that whole thing to be an unwanted isolated event and be over with.

Kankuro noticed Naruto's anger silently spiking. Even though he came off as a party-centric fool playing the thug, he was still a high level mercenary back in his own country. Acting one way and being another in reality were two different things entirely.

"You've got beef with this Sai person?" Kankuro asked, "You think he'd do something to Gaara?"

If Sai or any of his cohorts could do anything to Gaara of all people, Naruto would have been surprised. It didn't rule out the possibility though. And he knew from experience that they would stop at nothing to get what they wanted.

…Whatever it was that they wanted.

"Thanks Deidara," Sasuke said, jerking his head and gesturing for his lion to leave. Sharingan was a hell of a kekkei genkai, "Much appreciated."

"Wait!" Deidara said, before they could all walk away, "…Give that Tenten girl my number would you?"

XxX

(Meanwhile – Back at Naruto's Penthouse Apartment)

"Kyuubi, tell me what you need to tell me about Gaara already," Temari said, speaking slowly and dangerously, her fingers drumming off of her iron weapon of choice.

"I will just as soon as you give me the fan," Kyuubi tried to reason, both she and Hinata keeping a healthy distance away from the Suna beauty. Apparently she had a sixth sense for bad news, because Kyuubi hadn't let on at all that something was the matter. All she'd said was that the boys were out.

Big red flag right there. Gaara definitely wouldn't have gone on some aimless wandering sojourn that had no purpose without some semblance of a fight. And Kankuro would never have gotten up the day after a bender until sunset to begin with. Not without a hell of a reason.

"Okay, this place is trashed already," Temari said, not accepting the attempt to calm her down, "So if you don't tell me I'm just going to start throwing wind at you, 'kay?" She finished in a bright, uncharacteristic chirp of a voice that downplayed just how dangerous it was and how serious she meant things.

Okay, the place might have been a mess, but if Temari got pissed off enough, this building probably wouldn't have a top to it anymore, because she'd just cut it off.

"Fine, nobody knows where Gaara is," Kyuubi suddenly blurted out, stunning Temari enough for her to actually drop her fan onto the floor with a metallic thud, "Nobody remembers what happened last night, and Gaara wasn't here when the boys woke up. Now in a perfect world, he's waking up in some nice girl's bedroom right now-."

"How is that a perfect world!?"

Kyuubi blinked her red colored irises and shrugged, "I'm pretty sure if it happened, that'd be Gaara's idea of a perfect world now if it hadn't before," This did nothing to assuage Temari, "…This is all hypothetical of course."

"I don't think this is helping any Kyuubi-chan," Hinata tried to interject helpfully, "But Temari-san, you don't have to worry about anything. Naruto-kun is very reliable, and Sasuke-kun is a very good detective. If anyone can find your brother, they can."

Damn it, that girl could calm down anyone. Temari's face actually started losing its scowl. The diplomatic powers of an angel-voiced beauty were not to be underestimated, even when her siren-like powers were utilized on other women.

"Plus they have your other brother with them!" Kyuubi added, waving her arms around frantically to try and heap onto the Hyuuga princess' worked magic, "How could they possibly not find Gaara? There's no way anything will happen to him."

"I'm not really all that worried about someone else doing something to Gaara," Temari admitted sheepishly, "…Gaara's not really the most social kind of guy," As in, he didn't know that throwing people on the street out of the way wasn't the right way to clear a path on the sidewalk.

XxX

(Elsewhere in Konoha)

Dark ringed eyes blinked blankly as Gaara walked through the heart of the city.

He didn't know how he'd gotten there, and he didn't necessarily care.

All he knew… was that this was the best damn hot dog he'd ever had in his life.

Seriously, he would have killed someone in front of their own mother for another of these hot dogs. But there was no more hot dog to be had. Still chewing, he looked down at his now empty hand and licked his lips free of crumbs.

In his single-minded stroll while enjoying his meal, Gaara found that he'd circled back around to the hot dog stand that he'd gotten his food from, "Another," Gaara said bluntly as a person stood in front of him in line with his girlfriend.

The man behind the counter noticed Gaara and looked around the customer before giving him a deadpan look, "Kid, you've got to wait in line for a bit first. When you're finally at the front, I'll get you another."

And with that he returned to taking the order of the man in front of Gaara as his girlfriend hung off of his arm. No one paid attention to the cork at the top of Gaara's gourd loosening.

*POP!*

Sand wrapped around the man and the woman before both of them were quickly hurled out of the line screaming. The vendor could only watch as Gaara calmly walked to their former place at the front of the line with a thousand-yard stare aimed at the proprietor of the establishment.

"Another," Gaara said flatly before taking a moment to think of what his sister had been teaching him about interacting with others, "…Please."

She wouldn't have been a fan of him using his jutsu to get something he wanted, but he didn't hurt the couple that much. In his defense, it was a really good damn hot dog.

Now… where was he again?

Oh. That was right. He had no idea where he was.

XxX

(With Naruto)

Naruto eventually went back to his apartment to get his motorcycle off of that adjacent rooftop, and Sasuke eventually went to his house to stash away the lion in his backyard that was able to endure heavy-duty training from both himself and Itachi until he figured out what to do with it.

With the temporary split of the party, Naruto tried to enlist some help before returning to the others.

"You want to ask me what?" Obito said, leaning against the doorframe of his front door audaciously only wearing boxers. Apparently he'd had a hell of a night all on his own as his body was covered in welts and scratches, his face had bruises, and he was missing his eyepatch, "I have better things to do today than help you troll around looking for some kid."

"Like what?" Naruto asked, not believing his former caretaker.

"Like Anko," He replied, jerking his neck back in the direction of his room. He'd done good by his point of view. The woman was hard to get, and scary to a lot of people, "I wore her down. Remember, there's no shame in acting pathetic to get the girl kid, just as long as you cut that shit out when it gets to the bedroom."

Naruto visibly recoiled in surprise, "A-Anko? Really? Again?" Well that explained why he looked like he'd gotten whipped with something or got a bunch of papercuts. With Anko who knew? "Wow. She's into that stuff?"

"She's not really a sadist, but she likes doing some weird crap where she'll scratch you one time hard enough to draw blood, then she'll lick it," The black sheep Uchiha explained, getting a weird look from his 'little brother', "Hey, it's not like I need to roll into work today. My team's out of town so I'm off for the foreseeable future," Obito reasoned in regards to his shameless debauchery, "Someone's gotta get 'em some strange on a Saturday night."

"It doesn't count as 'strange' if you actually know the girl! We both know Anko! And it wasn't Saturday last night!" Damn it, Obito was getting him sidetracked, "Look, can you help? Actually, you know what? Fuck you Obito-nii, I don't need you. Go get Anko. She'll help. She actually likes me."

At least he thought she did. Again, with Anko who really knew?

"Yeah… I'm not going to do that," Obito drawled lazily while scratching his belly, "You see, getting Anko means that I have no bedmate for the rest of the weekend. Aside from that, me waking her up now would piss her off at me instead of you who I'd be waking her up for."

"I wouldn't ask you if I didn't need the help," Naruto said, waving his arms, "I already called Kiba and he's too hungover to help or else I'd have gone to him way before you!"

"Wow, so I wasn't even your first choice. That really makes me want to help. And that's sarcasm in case I'm too hungover to convey it properly."

"If I said you were my first choice you'd have probably said some shit about coming back after all of my other choices fall through!"

Obito opened his mouth to dispute the point but wound up closing it and stroking his stubble in thought as Anko walked past him in the background muttering about her head, "…Alright, savvy to my tendencies as a horrible person notwithstanding, I'm still not getting up and running all over Konoha for you. I don't have to be responsible for your fuck-ups unless it's your ass that's at stake. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm entertaining a guest."

The door was promptly closed in Naruto's face where he heard the ongoing conversation happening inside.

"Obito, what do you have around here to drink for breakfast?"

"Jack Daniels."

"That's disgusting."

"What? The burn'll in your chest'll wake you up."

Walking away from the apartment of one of his former guardians, Naruto felt none too pleased with the progression of events.

"I should totally poke holes in his condoms to get back at him," The blond mercenary muttered darkly before common sense set in as he sat down on his motorcycle, "No. No, that's too messed up," Greater judgment and conscience prevailed as he turned the engine on, "…Some innocent kid shouldn't ever have to suffer having Obito-nii as their father."

And people at times wondered why he could be a rotten human being. With Obito having chief influence in how he was raised could anyone really have expected any other outcome to his development? And now he still had no extra help.

"Did you lose something Naruto-kun?"

Naruto froze and felt his teeth sharpen even as he clamped his jaw shut. Whipping his head to the side, he found Sai sitting out in the open at a bus stop surrounded by others, completely non-threatening in his demeanor and posture. That goddamn smile made Naruto want to rip his face off.

But reaching Sai with his bare hands wasn't going to be that easy, and if Naruto attacked him in front of other people he was going to go to jail. The police may have had a standing truce of leniency with the mercenaries, but the line was drawn at causing a public ruckus.

"What did you do with Gaara?" Naruto cut right to the heart of the matter, "You were at the party last night, and no one remembers anything. Now Gaara's gone-."

"-And you think we took him," Sai finished in Naruto's place, "We didn't. We have enough data on artificial half-demons. Our master just wants back the property that he had a hand in creating."

"What would that be?"

Sai didn't say anything. He merely pointed right at Naruto, "You have been a very long-term investment. This wouldn't have been an issue if your father hadn't been so tough even in his death throes, but he was, and he lost his chance to get to you. Then our predecessors had you again but failed to make you draw upon your power to confirm that the process had taken for you at birth."

All of this was just too strange to take in. Sai and his cohorts knew about Naruto's parentage? Nobody knew about Naruto's parentage outside of Kaisha Hien. And all of these other things, he had no idea what to make of them, "You guys… you're the ones that made me the way I am?"

"Sort of," Sai said, his face returning to the blank countenance that was natural for him, "It's not that simple. You were the end result of a project meant to ensure a means of making something beyond human. For some reason, despite being able to use chakra, your youki didn't manifest until fairly recently."

"Why me?"

"You were the best potential candidate that could survive the administration of the project," Sai said reasonably, "You had a very good lineage. Even with others that have survived similar experiments from outside parties in the past, there's never been a success quite as complete as yours in artificially integrating demon elements with a human."

He left it at that as the bus showed up and boarded with the other pedestrians. Without fanfare and without even sparing another glance, Sai went up the stairs, stopping at the top of them, knowing that Naruto could hear him.

"Your entire body is a military project enacted by Konoha's very foundation. That property will be returned to where it belongs, and it doesn't matter if you're alive or not when it is."

Naruto grinned maniacally, spoiling for a fight that he knew he couldn't engage in without being attacked first. Initiating combat in public was outlawed in his PMC. The company rules of engagement were not suggestions, "So why tell me?"

"Because you already know that we're after you. What difference does it make if you know why?" The brakes on the bus hissed and Sai moved to take his seat, "Kaisha Hien is not the only soldier-for-hire game in town."

With that he was gone, and Naruto sank his helmet onto his head in a worse mood than before.

Great. He had to meet back up with Kankuro and Sasuke now, and he didn't even have any more help to bring to the table.

XxX

(Elsewhere – Downtown Konoha)

Kankuro let out a yawn as he waited a few blocks away from the city's main police station. Sasuke had gone in to put in a request to the officers on patrol to keep an eye out for Gaara just in case they saw him somewhere. He wasn't exactly difficult to miss.

Either way, Kankuro didn't go with him. Mercenaries and police didn't exactly mix. Mercenaries didn't call 911. Suna didn't even really have law enforcement in the first place.

"This sucks," He said to himself, walking down the street, spinning one of the scrolls that contained his puppets in his pocket, "I'm in the middle of the most awesome city in Hi no Kuni and I'm spending my time here looking for my brother."

He wanted to hit up some great restaurants. He wanted to go take in some illegal street racing, and he knew there was at least one circuit in town. He wanted to stud himself out to the fine ladies of Konoha. He wanted that town to be under his thumb by the time he left to go home.

…And now he was searching high and low for Gaara.

With a sigh he rubbed his eyes with his fingers. This was not how he saw his vacation going when he'd agreed with Temari to come out there, "Way to go sis. Take Gaara to Konoha she says. Gaara needs culture she says. Spending your whole life in the desert turns you into a crazy bastard she says. Fe-oof."

"Ow! What the hell?"

Looking down at what had bumped into him, Kankuro saw a girl with long red hair, messy and unkempt on one side. She had red eyes and glasses and wore high black boots, small black shorts, and a lavender top that was open in an 'A' to reveal her navel.

"Sorry," Kankuro said hurriedly, helping her up off of the ground.

The girl huffed and adjusted her askew glasses on her face, "It's fine. Serves me right for hyperfocusing anyway. I've been looking for something and I know I'm close."

"Well maybe I can help," He offered hurriedly before coming to a quick realization, "Oh. Nevermind, I wouldn't be good for it. I don't live around here," Offering to lead someone around when you were 99% likely to get them as lost as lost could be was not a good way to make yourself look good, "Well, actually I'm with someone that can help you find what you're looking for. He's a cop so he's got to know this place like the back of his hand."

"I normally don't have any trouble finding my way around, but I've been looking for a while. It's like I just can't pin down what I'm searching for," The girl said, "I never lose anything and I never get lost."

'She's sort of cute, in a weird kind of way,' Kankuro thought, trying to be cool, and wondering how she looked with her glasses off, "You don't? That's pretty awesome."

"It is pretty damn useful," She said with a slight chuckle, "My boss is kind of an ass. It's one of the only things he thinks I'm good for."

Okay, conversation struck! The game was afoot, "So anyway, I'm in town for a little while, just making sure my little brother has a good time-," His little brother that he couldn't find, "-So it'd be helpful if I had someone show me around you know? Maybe to some places where you can have a good time?"

The girl didn't seem interested in the slightest before smiling slyly at him, "I'm not really from around here either."

At that point, Sasuke ambled around the corner

"Oh my God!" The girl blurted out upon seeing Sasuke before covering her mouth, 'He's even hotter than the picture Kabuto gave me showed he was!' Even with the black eye!

Sasuke raised an eyebrow at the girl before narrowing his eyes in scrutiny, "And this is…?"

Kankuro hopped to it and did introductions. Well, as good an introduction as he could do with the limited information he had, "Right. This girl is looking for some place around here and I offered our services to help. This is the cop I was telling you about."

Rolling his eyes, Sasuke felt a need to slap the older boy on the head if only he had been within reach, "You remember that we're sort of busy right now, aren't you?" He wanted out of this conversation quickly.

Sasuke felt like it was fall and he was back in class with a bunch of girls that had been starved of seeing him all summer long when that girl looked at him. He wasn't getting within five feet of that woman, and it wasn't just because of the look in her eyes.

He was suspicious by nature. It was why he was so difficult for people new to him to approach. But here he had a reason.

It was because she had been in the background of one of the pictures from the night before. Sasuke had a brilliant memory, only enhanced by the Sharingan. Aside from that, red hair wasn't exactly common to begin with. He felt like crap, Kankuro felt like crap, Naruto had been feeling like crap when he'd left them.

Kiba was hung over to the point that everything he smelled with his hypersensitive nose made him want to vomit. Sakura had answered her phone and then screamed at them about why the fuck they were calling her. They'd used Sasuke's phone to make the call and she still wasn't in the mood to hear her ringtone go off.

Everybody who had been there was no good for the following day, except this girl who seemed perfectly fine, and here she stood. And she was acting like they'd never met before.

She went to their party and she was acting like she didn't know something about them. Even if she'd browned out as well, she'd been there before it happened, so she knew whose damn party it was.

"What did you do to us last night?" Sasuke accused straightforwardly. There was no reason to beat around the bush. He wasn't in the mood to anyway. All he wanted to do was lay down and sleep, and he was on a city-wide search. She was technically the cause.

Kankuro turned to question just what he was talking about, as he didn't remember seeing anyone like the redhead at Naruto's apartment, but when he did he found himself wrapped up in chains that seemed to come from nowhere, "Dude, what!?"

The chains had come right from her chest, constricting Kankuro tightly and allowing her to hold a small blade to his neck, "You're as smart as people say you are Uchiha-kun," The girl said in a loving voice, "Cute and intelligent. You're so amazing!"

Sasuke opened his mouth for a sarcastic remark, but noticed something, "You're holding that the wrong way."

Looking at her knife, the girl blushed in embarrassment and flipped it over to the sharp side, "And he's so helpful!"

"Yeah, thanks," Kankuro said to Sasuke sarcastically as he tried to downplay helping the hostage-taker. Kankuro then raised an eyebrow at the girl's somewhat reverent tone when referring to Sasuke, "Bitch, are trying to kill him or stalk him? Because it sounds like the last one."

"I'm not stalking!" The girl said, before sensing another arrival, "Oh my God, who has that much chakra?"

"Yo! You guys are a long way from the stati-…" Naruto trailed off when he saw exactly what he'd walked into, "What the fuck?"

"That girl is the one that spiked us at the party last night," Sasuke hurriedly revealed, never taking his eyes off of his accused female. Naruto needed to be put up to speed quickly. The girl ceased her gushing and got serious upon the arrival of another boy to the scene, "Let Kankuro go, run away, and I won't stomp the bejeezus out of you."

"Hm, no. I can't do that, and you're still suffering the effects of my drug," It was true. If the girl was actually good, they themselves weren't at full strength and that would make for trouble. They didn't know that she wasn't nearly that good however, and she still had one of their friends in dire straits.

"Kankuro, believe in the log and it will never let you down!" Naruto advised, "Kawarimi no Jutsu!"

The Suna native just stared at Naruto blankly before speaking up, "…The hell are you talking about?"

It might as well have been a shot straight to the heart for Naruto. Those poor, poor people out in the desert had no spiritual connection with the log. How did they survive out there for so long without it? A prophet needed to go to these people and preach to them the merits and the stories of the most giving object in the universe.

He would have to pass it down to them by word of mouth. The teachings of the log could not be written down on paper. That was blasphemous. And who had the time to chisel things onto tablets?

And yeah… there was something kind of important going on at the moment wasn't there?

That girl still had Kankuro at the edge of a knife, "Do you have anything you want to say to him in case this is it?" The hostage-taker asked in a chillingly cool tone of voice despite the severity of the situation, "You may never get another chance."

Naruto stared at Kankuro blankly before coming up with a topic that he felt needed to be addressed before the end of days, "Yeah actually. I gotta get this off of my chest, because it needs to be said at least once. If I didn't have a girlfriend that I love with all my heart, I straight up probably would've tried to hook up with your sister by now."

"What!?" Both the girl and Kankuro said this. Seriously, if he was going to die this was the last conversation they were going to have?

Indeed it was, "Yeah. Temari's so fine. It should be illegal to be that good looking."

"…" Kankuro was honestly too stunned to react at first. This did not last for very long, "…You son of a bitch-!" Ah, that was right. He was wrapped up in chains and a woman had a knife at his throat. That would make thrashing Naruto to within an inch of his life rather difficult.

"You're a complete idiot," Sasuke said to Naruto before trying to calm Kankuro down, "He doesn't mean anything by it. He's just letting you know in case you don't get out of this he feels like you deserve to know… that in a different world, in a different time, in a different place, he'd be trying to knock boots with Temari. No big deal."

"I'll murder the both of you!"

"Hey, I didn't say I wanted to!" Sasuke shouted over at him, "I'm not into that!" That was the last time he tried to keep the peace. What was he, a police offi-… oh, yeah, he was.

Naruto looked surprised at Sasuke's admission. Not into Temari? What kind of hetero guy wouldn't be into someone like Temari? Hell, even if the guy wasn't into girls, Temari could probably turn him straight anyway.

"Oh! Right!" Naruto yelled in eventual understanding. He might as well have had a megahorn, "Nevermind. You're into Princess, I almost forgot about this morning. By the way, I approve, even if Neji doesn't."

"Shut up!" Kankuro, Sasuke, and the red-haired girl all yelled at Naruto this time around. Why was she mad that Sasuke was into a girl? She was trying to start something with them, so what was her major malfunction over it.

"This is a waste of time," The bespectacled girl said, still holding the blade to Kankuro's neck, "I'm really only hired to get to the hottie with the amazing chakra. It doesn't matter what happens to the rest of you," Then she could get back to her real job. The only reason she took this one was because her boss was scary.

Very scary.

Naruto sighed and looked depressed, "Why do people keep trying to kill me or take me someplace? Does being a half-demon really make me that awesome? I was awesome before I found out what I was!"

"No you idiot! Not you!" Naruto raised an eyebrow, then pointed to Kankuro who was already in the girl's grasp, "No! It's the Uchiha you dumbass! Why the hell would anyone think either of you two were hot?"

"Hey!"

"I've got decent features!"

The girl listened to her hostage and one of her enemies argue with one another over their respective looks and wondered how Sasuke could tolerate associating with people like this, 'I don't get it. Kabuto's information to Orochimaru-sama stated that he was an officer-in-training. So why is he choosing to hang around mercenaries, from two separate companies at that?'

A sudden feeling of the most imposing chakra that she'd ever been exposed to caused her to almost let go of Kankuro and run away in fear. What in the hell was that? Was it even human? The blond guy standing next to Sasuke didn't really have human chakra either, but at least his wasn't so terrifying.

In a whirlwind of sand, much to the surprise of the three amassed boys, Gaara appeared, looking none too amused. Arms crossed and staring deadpan right at his brother, "How did you allow anyone to capture you Kankuro?"

To his credit, Kankuro at least seemed ashamed at letting someone get the drop on him in any way, shape, or form, "I'd like to say it's not because I was thinking with my pecker and let someone I didn't know get this close. I'd rather say it's because she drugged us all last night and my judgment is still screwed."

"Your judgment sucked to begin with," Naruto pointed out, getting nods from agreement from Sasuke.

"Oh, so that's what that insufferable feeling was when I woke up today. We were poisoned," Gaara said, holding his head, "So it wasn't merely the alcohol."

"Well that probably had a lot to do with it too," Kankuro said, shifting around in the chains from the weird girl's body, "So ah… if you wouldn't mind?"

Whether or not these guys were operating at extensively less than full capacity, she was outgunned four-on-one. The redhead wasn't in the mood for any sort of fight, let alone one against people that she knew were good. Sasuke aside, these people were insane! She'd seen as much after her drugging had gone into effect!

Seemingly shifting moods, the redheaded girl tightened her chains on Kankuro. He wasn't into this S&M crap, "I've still got a hold of this guy," The lady merc said, sounding quite tougher now. What, was the girl bipolar or something? "Back off or they'll be scrubbing red out of the pavement."

She felt a tap on her shoulder and turned her head to find a mass of sand wriggling behind her. She let out an eep before being engulfed by the grains of earth. They restricted her tightly enough to keep her from going through with her threat on Kankuro.

'How is one person supposed to get through these people?' The girl thought, tears in her eyes at getting caught, "Now… let's not be hasty here," Was it her, or was the sand getting tighter?

"Sabaku Kyuu (Sand Coffin)." Gaara held up his hand, twisted at an angle and prepared to close it, "Sabaku So-."

Sasuke grabbed his arm and stopped him from crushing the girl with a closing of his fist. Gaara seemed extremely annoyed, but Sasuke shook his head, "She did this for a reason. I'd like to find out why. I'd like it if you didn't kill her."

Also, he was kind of a police officer. Killing people wasn't supposed to be the first solution to his problems.

Either way, the moment had passed, and it was time to move on from there. They'd found Gaara, and apparently more crap was flying their way from some source or another. Growing up sucked. Was it too much to ask to go more than a month without something absurd happening?

Oh well. Nothing that bad happened, other than the fact that Gaara probably woke up wherever he fell in the streets last night, and he seemed fine with it.

"Gaara," Naruto asked, squinting at the sight of something odd. He didn't know how he'd just then picked up on it, "Why is there relish and chili all around your mouth?"

Being reminded of why he'd been seeking out anyone else, Gaara turned to his brother who stepped back due to the dead serious look in his eye, "I need more money. I'm still hungry."

"…Hungry?"

"No one told ever me hot dogs were so good."

XxX

"Poor Karin," Kabuto said with a smile as he concealed himself. "You weren't meant to get a hold of Sasuke-kun yourself. Did you really think you were that good?" If Tayuya, Jirobo, Kidomaru, Sakon, Ukon, and Kimimaro weren't enough, she definitely wasn't, "You're going to help me however."

He hadn't followed to keep an eye on Karin's actions during her attempt to find and capture Sasuke, but nothing she would have tried would have worked. She had powerful healing abilities, and her Chakra Chains jutsu was strong, but she didn't take part in nearly enough missions to be a very good field operative.

She did do something useful however. The last thing any of the dangerous teenagers around Sasuke would be looking for would be a fight now after what Karin had done. They were all weakened now.

Well that was just dandy for him. Most of the folks that could get in his way wouldn't be 100% even if they were around to do something about it when he made his move.

By now she probably would have been defeated. But that was fine. She'd never been expected to win, just to soften them up to a degree, and she'd done that extremely well.

Work smarter, not harder after all.


I am completely willing to admit that the humor in the story tends to lean to frat levels in many circumstances, but I don't care. This story is my place for venting with ludicrous jokes and shades of grey superciliousness to offset the violence. For some reason it's always been that way for this one.

Hey, stuff did happen though. Storyline stuff. In between all of the dumb references and jokes there was real story to take from the chapter.

Anyway, that's the chapter. Kenchi out.