Okay, so let me preface this by saying when I announce there's a poll up in my profile asking which stories take preference in your opinion, and you go there, and you see that all that's there is an old poll that's been closed for well over a year and not what I promised, it's okay for you to not assume I'm just crazy or stressed and to fucking tell me the damn poll hasn't been up once in the six months when it was announced. That being said, go make up for lost time right now and vote for what story takes priority so I can get to work after this goddamn chapter. It's okay, I'll wait.

Now then, last chapter went over pretty goddamn well. There weren't really any complaints, but I suspect that's because I admitted to my faults more than anything. That being said, the biggest piece of criticism I saw was someone saying that Naruto was deliberately two-timing and wasn't really acting appropriately. I think that heavily influenced this chapter, so let it be known you do have some influence in this process. Needless to say, this chapter isn't as long as last, so let's get into it.

/

Chapter 12: Among True Monsters

As Mizore stood in the dimly lit office, next t a person she knew very little about and in front of a man she knew she didn't like who was laughing like a madman, she thought back to how she managed to find herself in this situation. Earlier that day, she had been spying on Naruto with Ryou when she saw the man she loved embrace another woman and kiss her. Or, at least, that's what it seemed like at the time. Witnessing the event had driven her to tears and had caused her to flee from the scene, with Ryou following after in an attempt to calm her. When the boy did catch up, Mizore recalled that he was surprisingly empathic, considering his affiliation.

"Hey, calm down," she remembered he said when he caught her in another secluded corridor. By this point she was limp and barley standing on her feet, barely listening to what the boy was saying as she replayed the scene in her mind. "Now, why are you crying?"

Initially, she thought he was just incredibly dim, and just wanted to be alone so she could figure out what to do. However, she suspected that if he had chased her already, he wasn't going to give up and would just keep pestering her. It was best to get this over with as soon as possible. Still, it was hard to tell her feelings to a stranger, it would be hard telling them to anyone, because it would just make them all the more real. If they remained exclusively in her head, she could write them off as a hallucination. But what good would that do? She realized that was just her being too afraid to face the truth. Besides, Ryou had been there, had seen what she had seen.

Eventually, she came out and said, in a tired voice, "He kissed her. I love him, and he said he loved me, so why did he kiss her?"

"No, you don't know that," Ryou said in a firm voice, shocking Mizore. Looking at him, she saw a startling level of conviction in his eyes as he said that. "What we saw was them embracing, that much we know, but we don't know why, and we don't know the results of that interaction because we didn't stick around. We don't know that they kissed because of the angle we were at, and it surprises me that you would think that the man you allegedly love and who loves you back would do that."

Hearing those words hurt her, but Mizore realized that he was right. She had no evidence that Naruto had kissed that woman, she only assumed. It was sickening to think that she had such little faith, and she didn't want to be the type of girlfriend who was overly possessive and ended up driving the person she loved away. She bowed her head in shame a, in a weak voice, simply said, "You're right." However, despite telling herself these things and admitting them aloud, she couldn't shake herself of all her doubts.

Unaware of what was going through the girl's head, Ryou had sighed in relief, pleased that this was going so well. "Now then, what this shows is that you are too easily threatened by other woman. I don't know why, because I doubt he'd risk his reputation by dating a student then cheat on her with a member of the faculty, plus you both seem nice enough that I can't imagine a problem like that would ever occur, but if you want my opinion, you need to do something to prove yourself worthy of his love, if not to him, to yourself, and become comfortable with your position."

"So what should I do?" asked Mizore, genuinely interested in what Ryou had to say at this point. This, however, caused the boy to blink in confusion.

"What?"

"What should I do to prove myself?" She asked again, making sure her eyes looked pleading. She thought his idea had merit and could actually help her out. She had thought he had at least planned this much out.

"Oh, well, you see, I didn't exactly think that far ahead. Um, but just give me a minute to think. I'm sure I'll help you figure something out."

As Ryou said this, Mizore just found herself staring at him, once again reevaluating her opinion about him. He wasn't exactly the most helpful person, but he tried, and in his case, that counted for a lot. He seemed to be a genuinely nice guy, but why did he stay around in and organization like the Student Safety Commission as the lowest ranked member? Before she could ponder further she noticed a grim look come across his face.

"Have you thought of something?" she asked.

Ryou's frown just deepened. "You could say that, but... I don't like it, and I doubt you will either."

"I'd still like to hear it."

"No, I don't think you would."

"Regardless, I doubt you could think up more than one or two ideas, good or bad, so you may as well tell me."

That seemed to do the trick as, while Ryou clearly became more depressed at hearing that, he did share his idea, "Look, you want to help Naruto-san, right? He can't take on the Student Safety Commission by himself, and if he chooses to do so, he will lose. But, you can help him."

By this point, Mizore was entrapped by Ryou's words. A way to help Naruto with the Student Safety Commission? Why would he of all people bring up an idea like this, and why would he think she wouldn't like it. As he continued, she found out.

"What I suggest is that you join the Student Safety Commission. I'll even vouch for you. That way you can mitigated whatever damage may be done to him and help us make him cease his efforts more quickly. After all, what better way to show your love for someone than by working to protect them?"

So that was it, Ryou intended to get her to suppress Naruto's efforts. That... wasn't what she was expecting. Mizore remained silent as she took in this information.

"See, I knew you wouldn't like the idea," the boy continued, sighing. However, Mizore shocked him with her decision.

"No, I like the idea, and I think it could work. I'll agree to it."

"Wha- really?" he asked in surprise. He quickly composed himself. "Err, maybe you should hold off on making a decision and think about it for a bit. You shouldn't rush something like this, especially if you aren't ready. Look, if you're still interested, I'll meet you outside the base later tonight. You still remember where it is, right?"

"Yes," Mizore replied. After that, the two went their separate ways. She had met up with Naruto and had reaffirmed herself in her decision. Ryou was right when he said that protecting someone was a good way of showing someone that you loved them, but so was helping them accomplish their goal. Sh would go along with Ryou's plan, but only after tweaking it a bit. It wouldn't be Naruto she planned to sabotage, but the whole of the Student Safety Commission. Of course, that had it's own difficulties associated with it, and for it to work, she would have to appear to be truly working with them, which was going to be difficult. But, to aid Naruto, she was willing to go through this hardship. Still, in order to go through with it, she still needed to be accepted into the organization. She knew convincing the man in front of her of her genuineness came second to just getting him to agree to accepting her.

As Kuyou finally calmed down, he stood up from his desk an walked around it until he stood in front of her and Ryou, a cruel smirk on his face as he eyed Mizore. "Shirayuki-san, was it? I must admit I'm surprised to see you here again, especially after the initial and subsequent issues with Uzumaki-sensei. I know the first time you were here you said you were interested in joining, but what made you come back? Why join now?"

Mizore took a deep breath and stated the reason Ryou gave her to join. "Honestly, Naruto-sensei is the reason I want to join. If he continues trying to disrupt your operations, I fear he will only end up hurting himself and, if worse comes to worse, he may just cause too many problems and the school may just let him go. I don't want that, but in my current position, I can't do anything to stop him. By joining the Student Safety Commission, it is my hope that I'll be able to get him to cease his attempts before he makes too many more mistakes."

"Oh, really?" Kuyou asked, arching an eyebrow as he eyed the girl in front of him, chuckling a bit more. He kept his gaze on Mizore for a few moments, the girl meeting him head on and refusing to yield, before turning on Ryou. "Koizumi-kun, would you go and fetch your Senpai? I"m pretty sure he's aimlessly wandering the halls like usual."

"Oh, of course, sir," Ryou responded clumsily, bowing just as awkwardly before rushing out of the room to complete his task as soon ass possible.

With the red-haired boy gone, Kuyou once again directed his attention to Mizore. "Now then, you say you want to help thwart Uzumaki-sensei in order to protect him. That's fair enough, and may in fact help our efforts immensely. However, that is merely speculation. In truth, I know nothing of your abilities, though that can be taken care of easily enough, and I trust Koizumi-kun wouldn't escort you here unless he thought you had potential. What really worries me is your squeamishness. As I recall, you looked rather distressed when that issue with that prisoner arose."

"I understand your concern," Mizore replied without missing a beat, frowning a bit as she remembered that incident. "I will readily, I am not accustomed to violence, and I am not interested in the enforcement aspects of the Commission, if you don't mind me saying."

Kuyou once again arched one of his eyebrows, but this time, there was no sign of amusement on his face, only perplexity. Regardless, Mizore forged on, knowing this would be the only way she would be able to make it in the organization.

"As I said, my only concern is with stopping Naruto-sensei, nothing else. Therefore, I believe it would be more proper if I joined the information division. You do have one of those, don't you?"

"Not officially," Kuyou replied, before redirecting the conversation. "I must admit, your words worry me. You are being far too forward, and, while that in and of itself isn't a problem, your stated lack of concern for the Commission itself does pose an issue. Without loyalty for this organization, how can I ensure that you won't turn on us?"

"My loyalty lies with Naruto-sensei," Mizore once again stated, fearless in front of a man she should by all rights be more intimidated by, especially now that the novelty of the situation had seemed to have worn off on him. "Therefore, it is in my interest to see to it that his actions end as soon as possible, for his own good. That is how you ensure I will work with you with both our interests in mind."

Kuyou seemed to ponder this for a few moment, looking the girl up an down, reevaluating her with new eyes. Mizore remained perfectly still and kept staring forwards. Finally, the head of the Student Safety Commission spoke once again. "While far from ideal, I suppose I can work with that. However, there is still that matter of your position within the organization. While I agree, as you are, you don't seem fit for enforcement duty, that is more of a senior operation anyway. However, I have reservations about assigning you to information duty. It is a very delicate position, requiring not only a certain amount of skill, but also trust, both of which are qualities I find myself questioning in you. I agree, that is where you will be the most useful, and for the moment, I am willing to overlook the issue of trust, as that can be settled at a latter date. The most important thing to gauge is your skill, and we have just the person to test you."

As Kuyou said this, there was a knock on the door, and, without waiting for a response, the person on the other side opened it, revealing Naoki with a worried looking Ryou in tow.

"Ah, perfect timing," Kuyou replied upon seeing the two, a smile once again coming to his face.

"What is it you need?" Naoki asked as his eyes scanned the small room, his grey orbs coming to rest upon Mizore.

"It seems we have a promising new recruit who shares an interest with you. Would you see to it that she understands what she's getting into?"

Mizore didn't like the smirk on Kuyou's face, nor the words he chose to use. Why was he telling this person she was 'promising', and what did he mean by a similar interest? Still, despite whatever reservations she had, she was determined to see this through to the end and would endure whatever hardship came in order to aid Naruto.

"If that is what you wish," Naoki said in a serious tone, though it was clear that his deferential attitude was mocking more than anything. He became more genuine as he turned to Mizore and said, "If you would follow me," before turning and walking out of the room, not bothering to check if the girl was following him or not. It didn't matter as Mizore followed him regardless, leaving just Kuyou and Ryou behind, the latter clearly feeling out of place as he shifted on his feet.

"Um, I guess I'll be going now," Ryou said as he bowed and turned to leave.

"I actually wanted you to stay a bit longer."

Kuyou's words stopped the other in his tracks and caused him to go rigid before he quickly spun around to meet the eyes of his superior, nervously asking, "Yes, of course! What do you need?"

Chuckling, the blond replied, "Relax, Koizumi-kun. I just wanted to congratulate you on your hard work."

"R-really?" Ryou asked, the words putting him at ease.

"Yes. In fact, looking over your past work, reports I've received, and recent developments, it's clear to me that you could be put to better use outside of guard duty."

The red-haired boy took a moment to digest this information, his mouth gaping open and his eyes quickly adopting an excited glow. "Are you saying what I think you're saying?"

"Yes, I think it is due time you've moved up in our ranks," Kuyou said, a proud smile on his face as he chuckled at Ryou's enthusiasm. "It only makes sense after all, seeing as your mentor may soon be busy training a new member. Welcome to the Enforcement Division, Koizumi-kun."

"Thank you!" Ryou shouted, bowing deeply. "Oh man, I need to go tell the other guys! Oh, and write to my brother! I need to thank Naoki-senpai! There's so much to do! Thank you again, I promise I'll make you proud!"

With that, Ryou, rushed out of the room, leaving Kuyou chuckling to himself. "Of course," he said to no one, his smile becoming darker, "it's what I expect, after all."

/Meanwhile/

Mizore silently followed Naoki through the halls of the facility, trying to remember the layout for the future. Even if she wasn't accepted into the organization, knowing how to get around the place may prove to be invaluable information in the future. It seemed that she was being taken along a route that didn't see much foot traffic, as she saw no other members of the Student Safety Commission along the path they took, nor in any of the small offices they passed. Then again, it was getting a bit late, so they could have left for all she knew.

Before long, they had reached a large archway, and Naoki ushered her through. The first thing Mizore noticed was that the ceiling was raised twenty or so feet, a farcry for the compact complex she had come to expect. In fact, the whole room seemed to be in contrast to what Mizore had seen so far, being much bigger in general than any other room and better lit. The floor was covered in mats, giving it the appearance of a dojo, and there was a door on the far side of the room, leading to what Mizore could only assume was a locker room.

"What is this?" Mizore asked Naoki, noticing as he walked to a side of the room and removed his uniform top, leaving him in a plain white shirt.

"This is a training area," he replied simply, raising his voice slightly so that he could be heard. "Personally, I prefer to do this outside, as I find this space restricting, but I suppose for our purposes this will do."

"What do you mean," she asked, becoming more nervous as the scarred man began to stretch.

"The Student Safety Commission has very strict standards, both academic and physical. As this is a school, the knowledge of our members is very important, as they rarely attend class, though that can be gauged easily enough by looking through your current grades and testing at later dates. However, there's only one surefire way to test you physical condition." Then, turning his cold eyes to Mizore, he said, "You should prepare yourself. Feel free to use any powers you have; there will be no restrictions placed on you during this fight."

Now Mizore was really worried. While she had stretched the truth and even flatout lied in her meeting with Kuyou, she was being honest when she said she wasn't accustomed to violence. "This is unnecessary," she tried to protest. "I have no interest in being an enforcer...-!"

Before she could continue, she was forced to duck as Naoki bounded across the room in an instant and threw a punch at her. Only her natural athleticism had allowed her to move out of the way in time.

"You think that matters?" he asked as he looked down at her and snapped his leg forward in a kick, only barely missing as Mizore rolled away. "Even information gatherers need to be physically strong and prepared to fight in the event that they get cornered or turned on, otherwise they're bound to get burned."

As he said that, Naoki straightened up and absent-mindedly ran his hand across his scar a reminiscent look on his face. Mizore took this time to weigh her options. Naoki stood between her and the door, and with his surprising speed, it was doubtful she could make it by him. The door to the supposed locker room was behind her, but the distance was so great that again Naoki was bound to catch her before she reached it. Besides, there was no guarantee that it led to an exit, and if it did, she wouldn't know where she was, as all the hallways looked the same. But, why was she trying to run? Wasn't she determined to join? Besides, noting the sheathed sword on Naoki's side, and the fact that, despite him saying she was free to use any powers, he still seemed to be not using any powers, it was almost as if he was holding back. If that were the case, she might be able to win, especially if he was underestimating her.

Taking a deep breath, Mizore made her decision, focusing on the condensation in the air, she drew that moisture to her. Large, crystalline blades began to grow from her fingers, forming claws on bother hands, as her hair became pale and clear like glass. This seemed to catch Naoki's attention.

"Ice, huh?" he asked a frown on his face. He then shrugged. "Well, at least you're taking this seriously."

As he spoke to himself, he didn't notice as Mizore ran towards him until she was right in front of him. Crouching low, she rose up and sliced at him. Unprepared for this, Naoki raised an arm to block. Mizore felt confident, if a bit uncomfortable, as the razor sharp ice sliced into his flesh.

Or, she thought she had sliced him. Expecting blood to start flowing, she was shocked to see that his bare flesh was still intact, not even blemished by her strike. Lifting his arm a bit, Naoki revealed his cold and unamused eyes to Mizore. "Nice try, but you'll need to try harder than that to pass."

While she wasn't expecting this turn of events, Mizore had a Plan B. once again focusing on the moisture around them, and using her claws as a catalyst, the girl managed to freeze the large man's arm, but not before he threw a kick out at her. She managed to block with her free hand, but was still pushed back by the force of the kick.

As he looked down at his arm, Naoki saw he grimace reflected in the ice. "Wasn't expecting that," he admitted, before raising his other arm and smashing the through the ice with a punch.

Mizore frowned. She had intended to freeze his whole body, but as it was, there wasn't enough moisture in the air; the facility was remarkably well sealed. While she could use his own internal water against him to get the job done, that could have long-lasting side effects on his body such a permanent paralysis of extremities, of even death. Of course, if she could help it, she would keep her distance all together use an underground water source to help freeze him from afar, but, again, the base was too well sealed to aloe that. Close-quarters was her only option.

Flexing his arm, Naoki once again directed his attention to Mizore. He saw as she once again charged forward, and this time he was prepared to meet her head on. Once more shocked by his speed, Mizore attempted to dodge to the side to get behind him and strike from there, only to find the movement halted and her head violently jerked back as Naoki managed to grab onto her frozen hair.

Kicking out backwards, Naoki landed a kick in the small of Mizore's back, causing her to arch further. Then, releasing her hair, Naoki dropped low to sweep her feet out from under her from the front, causing her to pitch forward horribly off balance. Springing back up, the man then spun around to her front and met her with a rising punch to her stomach.

Mizore's eyes widened as she took the final blow head on, the air forced from her lungs and her lollipop flying from her mouth as she crumpled to the floor before Naoki, gasping for breath as both tears and spittle rolled down her face. The man just watched with a bored look on his face as the girl curled into a ball. Shakily, she reached out and grabbed one of his legs with her claws in a final attempt to freeze him. A thin sheet of ice coated around where she grabbed before Naoki shook her off, stomping on the offending claw and shattering both it and the ice on his leg with the force of it, but leaving Mizore's actual hand unharmed

With that, he walked back to the other side of the room and picked up his discarded uniform top, clearly finished with the so called test of Mizore's physical ability. As he put his clothing back on, he spoke to the motionless girl on the floor. "While I'm not impressed, admittedly you didn't do too bad, even if you didn't last long. Hell, I half expected you to go down with that first punch, and though you didn't actually injure me, you managed to land a blow that would have seriously wounded most others. But your reckless. The environment clearly wasn't suited for you, yet you rushed in head on with only a simple plan."

By this point, the man had finished dressing and made her way back toward Mizore. Seeing that the fight was over, the girl saw fit to let her remaining ice claw dissolve as her hair returned to it's previous purple color, and decided to focus on regulating her breathing so she could work to get back on her feet. Naoki apparently wasn't going to wait for her, though, and to her surprise, lifted Mizore up and supported her with his body as he began walking out of the room with her. Startled, she initially stumbled, but quickly found her footing as she leaned heavily on the grey-eyed man as they walked. Seeing that the girl accepted his help, a shallow way to make up for the pain he had dealt to her, he continued with his analysis.

"Another thing; your long hair is a liability. You could do it up in a bun, but I would suggest cutting cutting it. Also, it's dangerous to fight with suckers in your mouth. You could choke on them."

"Why are you telling me this?" Mizore asked as she was led back through the halls to the exit. She didn't like being patronized and felt more than a bit of resentment for the man beside her. He also scared her with how powerful he was. From what she could tell, he wasn't even being serious. Tenderly feeling her stomach, she winced, already knowing a big bruise was going to form and had probably already started. She hated being helped by him at this point, but, while she could walk on her own at this point, it made her feel better making Naoki help her. At this point, she reached into the pocket of her sweatshirt and retrieved another lollipop, hearing Naoki scoff at her question.

"Because I'm your mentor now," he said, surprising the girl. "Well, I guess it's not official, but I suspect as much. We'll just say you passed the physical and I have hopes for you."

By this point, the had reached the exit, and had emerged outside. The orange sun hung low in the sky and was dipping into the horizon, letting Mizore know relatively how late it was. She noticed, like when she had arrived with Ryou, there were no guards to be seen. Naoki now let Mizore stand on her own two feet.

"Now then, be sure you get some sleep. Tomorrow is Saturday, isn't it? I want to see you here by Seven." Seeing the questioning look on Mizore's face, he elaborated. "We'll continue with the test then. You want to help gather information for the Commission, right? Well, tomorrow we'll be spending the day doing just that. I'll be expecting you."

The purple-haired girl watched as Naoki retreated into the distance, noting that he wasn't heading toward the dorms. She found herself wondering what exactly to think about him. While he seemed rather abrasive at first, he had actually warmed up to her rather quickly after their fight. Maybe, like Ryou, he wasn't as bad as first impression led her to believe. She shook her head at that thought and instead began to head toward her dorm. Whatever he was like, she had to remember to watch her step around him. He was dangerous, with both speed and power that were plain to see even if he was holding back. Added to the fact that he was incredibly hard to damage, and the fact that it was difficult to tell what was going through his head, it made him all the more intimidating, more so than Kuyou, potentially. Tomorrow would hopefully give her more information to go off of, in any event. Until then, she would think a bit about what he said, and be thankful that he had avoided giving her any obvious injuries.

/Girls' Dorms/

Kurumu found herself worrying more than usual. She was worried about a lot of things: about how the situation with the Student Safety Commission was going to play out, about how much more trouble Naruto was going to cause them, about if Tsukune was going to choose her over Moka, and about how the plan with the Newspaper Club would affect things. More than anything else, though, she was worried about Mizore.

It started when she her her the first time that day. When she saw that she had been crying, she wondered what could drive someone who was always so composed to tears. After that situation with Naruto, she was again shocked, both that Mizore had opened up to him, that he had reciprocated her feelings, and that both had done so knowing that he could leave at any time. Initially, she had assumed that this was what had caused her to cry, the grief of inevitable separation, but thinking back now, that didn't fit. She had said that she had confessed after she had learned that he could just leave whenever, and while it was possible all that happened earlier in the day, it seemed like this had all happened earlier, mainly because the blond had acted like it was the first time he had seen any of them that day. Also, if they assumed that those two had been together before they all met, there simply wasn't enough time for the confession to happen them to part, and for Naruto to receive some information he needed to tell the girl after they left each other.

In short, Mizore had mislead them. In Kurumu's mind, the girl had known this information prior and had used it as a cover up. So that left the questions of where Mizore had been prior to them meeting, why she had been crying, and what had caused her to kiss Naruto without a second thought, as if she needed to show her love.

Then, there was the meeting with the Newspaper Club. Or, rather, with the supervisor, as all there was at the unmanned booth was a box full of old articles and a crudely made sign directing them to the classroom, where they met Nekonome. Mizore had again given her reason to worry, acting very passive-aggressive in the presence of the woman, and, to Kurumu, on the verge of hostility with the ice cold stares she sent at her back. No one else seemed to notice, and when she asked Yukari, the young witch just thought Mizore was being shy. She knew this wasn't the case, and had uncovered more information form Moka, as Nekonome were her and Tsukune's homeroom teacher. From what she could gather, she was a nice person, if not a bit eccentric in her own way. In fact, she had been likened a bit to Naruto, just less intense, but what really surprised her was that those two had a really good relationship, and other members of their class had thought that those two might even start a romance, Tsukune included.

Could that have incited Mizore's behavior back in then? In Kurumu's mind, there was more to it, and she was afraid that it was connected to Mizore's tears. Just what had that blond asshole done to hurt that girl, and, in turn cause her to worry so much about her friend. That was why she found herself now standing in front of that friend's door.

Taking a breath, she knocked on the door and waited for a response. And muffled, "Just a minute," came from beyond, followed by the sounds of objects shuffling around on the floor and footsteps approaching. The door cracked, and on the other side Kurumu saw Mizore's surprised face.

"Hey," Kurumu said, a bit uneasy. She hadn't really planned on what to do beyond this, and was now at a loss for what to do. The simplest thing would be to come out with the truth, but was that really appropriate. True, they were friends, but looking back at the time they've known each other, Kurumu couldn't really say they were particularly close. But then again, she was here now and she was worried for Mizore, that had to count for something, right? Added to the fact that there wasn't much else she could think to do, Kurumu decided to go with it. "This is sudden, but do you think we could talk?"

Mizore seemed to think about it for a bit, looked behind her, then back at Kurumu. For a moment, the blue-haired girl thought she was going to be turned away, until sh heard, "Sure, it's a bit messy, but come on in."

With that, she moved away from the door, allowing Kurumu to enter. Taking a deep breath, she thought about how to further go about this as she followed, closing the door behind her. As she turned around, she was shock, almost enough to let out a gasp, to find that her friend looked different. For one, she wasn't wearing the sweatshirt Kurumu was used to seeing her in, instead opting for a tight black tank top that showed off her rather sizable bust (though not as sizable as Kurumu herself). That was trivial however, as what really caught her off guard was that Mizore had apparently chopped away much of her previously long hair, leaving her now short hair very rough. On the floor beside Mizore, Kurumu could see a hand mirror, a pair of scissors, and locks of discarded purple hair.

Looking back at the girl, Mizore didn't seem to mind, and perhaps even expected this reaction. However, what really caught her was that, at the moment, Mizore's hair had a passing resemblance to Nekonome. Kurumu frowned as she realized this, but quickly composed herself as she thought of something to say. "You know, you should really do something like this n the bathroom. It's easier to clean up."

The other girl shrugged at this, saying, "It's fine, I can get it later."

"And you should really ask for help."

"I wanted it to be a surprise."

Kurumu felt like she was being written off with these responses, but decided not to get to worked up about it. She wasn't here to get in a fight about such a silly thing. Besides, this was actually good, as it gave her an opening. Walking over, she picked up the scissors and turned to Mizore. "Sit down, I'll even this up for you."

"You don't need to, I can do it myself," Mizore tried to protest, but this time it was Kurumu's turn to brush off the others concerns.

"It's fine, I know how hard this can be. You know, asking for help isn't something you should worry about, even if this was meant to be a surprise, because we're friends, and friends are there to help." As she said this, Kurumu smiled. "Besides, I doubt Naruto-sensei would appreciate it if I let his girlfriend go out like this." She then chuckled. "Then again, with how cute you are, I doubt he'd mind very much."

Mizore blushed, but looked appreciative as she nodded and sat down on the floor. Kurumu knelt behind her as she set to work fixing the purple-haired girl's handiwork. As she did so, she thought of a casual topic of conversation that would eventually lead her to discover the reason behind Mizore's actions.

"So, Naruto-sensei, huh?"

"Yes."

"Why him?" she asked, genuinely curious.

"There's a lot of reasons. We're both active, he's fun to be around, and he has strong beliefs, which I can respect. We're both around the same age, so there shouldn't be a problem, and beyond that, he's a nice guy."

As Mizore defended her boyfriend, Kurumu frowned. "There's a lot of nice guys," she stated over the clipping sound coming from the scissors. "Besides, he causes a lot of trouble. No offense, but I would've expected someone as quiet as you to choose someone more... plain."

"Contrary to popular belief, I actually like that kind of wild attitude." She paused, and then said, "Would you have preferred if I had gone after Tsukune-kun?"

Kurumu halted in snipping Mizore's hair in a more acceptable fashion as she heard this. It took her a moment to realize the girl in front of her was joking, and, though she couldn't see it, she bet she was smiling to herself. That set her at ease as she decided to play along, pushing her breasts into Mizore's back. "I don't think it would matter too much, as I clearly have the advantage over you. But I would invite the competition."

"Just because your tits are big doesn't mean you can win his love," Mizore said off-handedly, causing the other to frown. She then caught her totally off-guard as she squeezed her own breasts between her arms to make them look bigger and turned to look at Kurumu. "Besides, I can be quite charming myself."

Kurumu found herself laughing at this, and Mizore also seemed to be in a good mood. Well, that was something, Kurumu told herself. Still, she had to remind herself there was a reason she was there. Looking back to the floor, she noticed a discarded slip of paper. She became more somber as she realized it was a club activities form for the Newspaper Club. After their meeting in the classroom, most of them had decided that they liked that club the best and had filled out their papers, going so far as to hand them in to the club supervisor, but Kurumu had noticed that Mizore hadn't filled anything out. That was probably a good thing to ask about.

"You know, club forms are due on Sunday," she remarked.

"Yes, I still have time to fill it out."

"And what did you think of the Newspaper Club?" Kurumu asked, trying to probe deeper.

"All of you seemed to enjoy it."

"That wasn't my question."

"It seems fine."

Kurumu found herself sighing at that response. It seemed Mizore was getting defensive, and that would make getting answers from her more difficult. Maybe she should stop beating around the bush and just be more direct with her questions.

"Are you going to join the Newspaper Club: yes or no?"

Mizore was surprised by this line of questioning, and lowered her head as she thought about it, making Kurumu's job a bit harder. The truth was bound to come out sooner or later, that she wouldn't join, but she wished that she had had more time to think of a better excuse. Still, maybe this was better, as, instead of facing a group, she was facing Kurumu, who she felt she had the best relationship with. A group confrontation was bound to come, but at least she could start with this.

"No," was the response that came after a few minutes, causing Kurumu to slow her work, a pensive look on her face.

"So, what will you join instead?"

"I haven't thought too much about it, but I was thinking a sports club."

"Which one?"

"I just said I haven't thought too much about it."

Hearing the same uncommitted answer over and over again was really starting to irritate Kurumu, so much so that she was beginning to wonder if the reason Mizore was acting like this wasn't because of someone other than Nekonome or Naruto. Putting down the scissors and ceasing her work completely, causing Mizore to turn and meet her perturbed face, the girl decided she needed an actual reason for all this.

"Please, Mizore-chan, I need an answer; why aren't you joining the Newspaper Club? Is it because you really don't enjoy it, or do you think that by joining a sports club you might be able to see Naruto-sensei more? Is it because you don't want to be around us?"

"No!" Mizore almost shouted. Leaning in closer and surprising Kurumu as she said that. Realizing what she had done, she leaned back and looked away. "It's not that. Why would you think that?"

Seeing Mizore's hurt look at her insinuation, Kurumu tried to keep a stern face, still looking for answers, but couldn't help but soften up a bit. Seeing that her friend still wasn't going to give up details, Kurumu took one last stab in the dark.

"Is it because of Nekonome-sensei?"

Hearing the name, Mizore looked back, surprised. "How di-...?!"

That was all the reaction needed, as before the purple-haired girl could continue, Kurumu cut her off, "I've heard some rumors. Look, I can understand how you may feel intimidated by her, I mean, she and Naruto-sensei are apparently close, and might see each other a lot, but from what I can tell, they're just friends. Besides, while he may be a nuisance, I can see that he is a really nice guy, and I doubt he would hurt you by saying he loved you just to fool around with some other girl, let alone hurt anyone who doesn't deserve it, so you have nothing to worry about."

Hearing Kurumu say that touched Mizore, and though she wanted to tell her the truth, she knew she couldn't, as the other would just protest and drag the others into it, maybe even Naruto himself. Still, seeing the pleading look in Kurumu's eyes, she knew she had to give her something. Sighing, Mizore locked eyes with her friend and said, "It may be true that I'm wary of Nekonome-sensei, but that's not why I'm not joining the Newspaper Club. You know, Tsukune-kun said he was joining so that they could use popular opinion to take down the Student Safety Commission, but I don't think that will work. From what I can tell, sentiment for the group is already poor, so I don't know what a few articles will do."

"So you found your own way to help?" Kurumu asked, filling in the blanks. Mizore nodded her head. "Care to tell me how?"

"I want to, I really do, but if you knew, you'd be against it, and you would try to stop me, either by yourself or by getting the others to help, and I can't have that. So that's why, as your friend, I'm asking you, please, don't tell anyone about this, don't try to stop me, and don't ask me anymore, because I don't like making excuses. Please, just trust that I know what I'm doing."

As Kurumu digested Mizore's request, she found herself become angered. She was only partially angry at the girl herself, as she had used their friendship as a barrier to stop her from meddling any further. More than that, however, she was angry at the whole situation that had made Mizore act like this, she was angry that Naruto had made such a big impact on everyone, well aware that he was there temporarily, and, most of all, she was angry at the Student Safety Commission for exacerbating everything. Gritting her teeth, Kurumu found that her only option here was to let all her frustration out in a tired, heavy sigh, and, placing her comforting hands on the girl's bare shoulders, look back at Mizore with compassion. "As your friend, it hurts me to know that there's nothing I can do to help, but I also trust your judgment. If you say you can handle this by yourself, I'll believe you, but I also trust that if you need any help of run into any trouble, you'll know that, as your friends, me and the others will help however we can."

Mizore found herself returning Kurumu's sad smile, and said the only thing she could in that situation. "Thank you."

Comforted by the fact that she had gotten her friend to open up and get a bit of information, Kurumu then patted Mizore on the shoulder, picking the scissors back up as she said, "Now, turn back around. I've still got a little left to do."

Mizore complied, and as Kurumu resumed snipping, the two found themselves idly chatting, much more at ease now that the little bump in their relationship had been overcome. Now that she had been opened up to, Kurumu even went through the effort of helping Mizore come up with a cover story to explain why she wouldn't join the Newspaper Club. That didn't stop her from thinking of other things, however. It hurt to know that Mizore thought nothing would come from writing a newspaper. It was almost like a slap to the face, but, Kurumu couldn't exactly fault her. Initially, she wasn't too big on the idea other, not wanting to stir thing up more than they already were. However, now she understood the stakes better, and thought that the clever use of words could be a very dangerous thing, as long as everything was planned correctly. Previously preoccupied with the desire to maintain the status quo as much as possible, the blue-haired girl now found herself dreaming about revolution.

It wasn't long after that Kurumu finished cutting Mizore's hair. Picking up the hand mirror, Mizore looked at her reflection and smiled. "Thank you, it looks much better now."

Laughing, Kurumu replied, "Yeah, well, I still think long hair suits you better, but you look pretty cute like this too!" Then, looking to the clock on the wall, the girl let out a low whistle. "Wow, it's getting late, you need any help cleaning up before I leave?"

Mizore shook her head, a bit uncomfortable now that her hair didn't sway as much when she did that. "No, I can get it."

sighing, Kurumu got up and went to the door, followed by Mizore. As she placed her hand on the door handle, she turned back to her friend and asked, "Will we see you tomorrow?"

Mizore frowned, and, while that was enough to answer Kurumu's question, she decided to elaborate. "I don't think so. At least, not until possibly later in the day."

"Well, I guess I'll figure out something to tell the others, maybe that you have a club interview with one of the sports clubs?" Kurumu shrugged as she threw out the idea, though it was clear she didn't like the prospect of lying to the others. With that, she left, and Mizore locked the door behind her, sighing as she did so.

Looking to the clock, then to the mess on the floor, she decided to go to sleep and then clean up in the morning, tired from her unexpected encounter with and interrogation by Kurumu. Besides, it would be best to be well rested for her meeting with Naoki on the morning. Minding the debris on the floor, Mizore tuned off her light, stepped out of her skirt and stockings, and headed for her bed.

/Morning/

By the time the sun was rising, Mizore awoke, well rested from the previous night. Yawing as she sat up, she ran a hand through her shortened hair and frowned, forgetting that she has cut it for a moment. She hoped that this was what Naoki had in mind so that she could gain his approval and, more than that, that Naruto would like it.

Leaving the comfort of her bed completely, Mizore looked at the clock to see how much time she had before her meeting, then proceeded to take a shower (tenderly washing her stomach where, as she had expected, a large bruise had now formed), get dressed, and, right before leaving, make some toast to eat on her way to the meeting spot. She worked to be silent as she exited both her room and the door complex, not wanting to wake anyone and thereby alert them to her presence.

She then followed dirt path that would lead her to the entrance of the Student Safety Commission. From the pace she was going, she would reach her destination with plenty of time to spare, and guessed that she could have afforded to have more than toast for breakfast. However, she supposed toast was enough, and saw value in slowing her pace a bit. Had she kept up her previous speed, she probably wouldn't have met someone at the intersection in the path further on.

As it happened, she instead ran into the last person she expected, causing both her and him to stop dead in their tracks in surprise. However, the man was quick to recover, and he approached Mizore with a characteristically bright smile on his face.

"Hey, Shirayuki-chan!" Naruto said as he approached. He stopped a few feet away, unsure of what to do. It was true that they were dating, but the blond was very uncomfortable with his current situation. Besides, he was still new to this, and even in a normal situation would be at a loss for what to do. Was he supposed to greet her with a kiss, or was that too forward? Luckily, he didn't have to worry himself with that, as, though she was surprised by their encounter, Mizore was prepared and met Naruto half-way, reaching up and capturing his lips in a kiss, but breaking off before he had a chance to reciprocate. He really had to get used to that, as it seemed to happen whenever they met now. Feeling that the situation was made more awkward and unsure of what to really do after that, he said the first thing that came to mind, "Nice haircut. It looks good on you."

The blond resumed smiling, then did a double-take. When did she get a haircut, and why? As she thanked him for the complement he decided to ask.

"Why did you decide to cut it, though?"

Looking into Naruto's curious blue eyes, Mizore found it difficult to lie to him. Still, she couldn't tell him the real reason, and knew that eventually she would need to start misleading him, and hope that he wouldn't take too much offense when the truth eventually did come out. Thinking back to the conversation she had with Kurumu the previous night, she decided to use that reasoning.

"I decided to join a sports club, and figured that long hair would get in the way."

"You didn't like the Newspaper Club?" Naruto asked, surprised and slightly disappointed. He had wanted Mizore and the others to spend more time with each other, since he had seen improvement in all of their behaviors since they had started hanging out together. Still, if Mizore was widening her horizons and could make more friends, that was good. Maybe this was actually for the best. He actually didn't want Shizuka and Mizore to interact with each other more than they needed to, as bad as he knew that sounded. After all, if they found out about one another, it wouldn't be good for anyone. He wanted them to know the truth, he wanted them to eventually get along, but he needed to sort out how to go about it first. He needed to time it right and make sure both understood the situation, or else risk hurting them more than needed. And, if all went well, he may very well end up with a harem.

Wait, what? The moment that thought crossed Naruto's mind, he found that he was scowling at himself. For starters, that thought was too much like something Jiraiya would think for him to be comfortable. This was a very serious situation, and there was no room for such a thought. Sure, he would love if that could happen, but he had to keep a realistic view, especially after he had made such a big mess. There was a limit to his selfishness, and at that moment, he wanted nothing more than to hit himself.

Before the blond could delve much deeper into the spiral of self-loathing, Mizore's voice brought him back to reality. "It's not that didn't like it. I want to spend more time with everyone, but I just have different interests. Sports suit me better."

"I see. So what club are you joining?"

Mizore began to panic hearing this question, as she hadn't thought that far. She couldn't afford to be vague like she had with Kurumu, as it didn't work in that situation, and it was bound to fail here. The girl made a snap decision and went with the first thing that came to mind.

"Karate!" she said, a bit rushed, causing Naruto to give her a strange look.

"Karate?" the blond parroted, to which Mizore nodded. "Do we have a Karate Club?"

"Yes," Mizore replied, this time calmer and more confident in her answer. She had seen the booth, so she was sure it existed.

"Huh," the blond shrugged, "wasn't expecting that." His mind then went in a different direction, realizing the time and day. "Why are you up this early, anyway?"

"I'm going for a run to train for the Karate Club," the girl automatically replied, this response coming out more naturally as she quickly adapted to inventing details to hide her true intentions. That didn't mean the logic applied actually worked in every situation.

"Wearing that?" Naruto questioned, eying Mizore's usual attire that clearly wasn't fit for running in, let along doing most exercises.

Looking down at herself, Mizore blushed and said, "My gym uniform is dirt," hoping that he would by it.

"Oh, that makes sense," Naruto said, more to himself than to Mizore, causing the girl to sigh in relief. It was good that he believed her, but it just made her feel worse about deceiving him. At that point, she wanted to part ways with him, but was also curious about his presence.

"What about you? Why are you up so early?"

Naruto gave a good-natured chuckle. "One of the perks of being a teacher is that you have early morning meetings sometimes." Despite the big smile on his face, it was clear that the blond wasn't the biggest fan of such meetings. Still, that didn't answer all of Mizore's questions.

Looking down the path the blond had come from, the girl knew that neither the blond's residence nor was his office in that direction. In fact, is she was correct, the path was a dead end that led to a thick patch of dead trees, beyond which was a cliff with a scenic overlook of the ocean.

Before she could spend too much time wondering why he would be in that area, it occurred to Mizore that she could be running late for her own meeting. She needed to leave, even if part of her did just want to spend more time with the blond.

"Well then, I guess we should both be off."

"Yeah, guess you're right. Good luck with your training," Naruto said, before leaning in and kissing Mizore. As he moved in, he had thought about stopping, seeing as he was uncomfortable doing this with either Mizore or Shizuka and, in his mind, leading them on, but as he had already started moving, he figured it would just hurt the girl if he stopped halfway. Besides, it was a chance to catch her off-guard and get revenge. It was just a quick peck, and he broke off before the girl fully realized what was happening, before simply walking off, looking behind him to see Mizore blushing furiously before the girl ran off. The scene caused him to smile. One thing was for sure, the girl never failed to make him happy. It never occurred to him that the direction she was running would lead her to the base of the Student Safety Commission. Likewise, it never occurred to Mizore that the whole encounter could have been witnessed by someone who could potentially jeopardize her happiness.

Nevertheless, Mizore continued on, and soon found herself in front of the underground base. As expected, Naoki was there waiting for her, stoney-faced as he regarded her. Idly, the girl noticed two people she didn't recognize standing in front of the entrance, most likely on guard duty. As she approached, she heard the scarred man remark, "You're early; not by much, but still, that's a good trait to have. And you cut your hair. Good job."

"Thank you," Mizore said, bowing slightly. She was discouraged when she heard Naoki scoff.

"Don't bow to someone who hasn't earned it." He didn't seem too bothered, though, as he quickly let the issue go. "Still, at you've shown you're taking this seriously. Let's go."

And with that, Mizore was led off to show her powers of espionage with the enigma that was Naoki watching over her and giving her direction.

/Meanwhile/

Naruto hadn't lied when he said that he was going to attend a meeting. However, he also hadn't been entirely telling the truth. In actuality, he was first going to meet up with Shizuka. He told himself that there was really no reason to hide this from Mizore, but there also wasn't any reason to tell her, either. If anything, it may just make him look suspicious.

Again, the blond loathed himself for thinking like that. Saying he was suspicious was like saying he was intentionally trying to hide something. And he supposed that was technically true, but... no it wasn't like that! He was going to let her know, let them both know, but it wasn't the right time yet. That was what he told himself, but it didn't make him feel any better. This situation was purely his fault, ha had been selfish and hadn't considered anyone's feelings when he dug himself into this hole, and now he was going to pay for it. That was fine. At this point, he just wanted to avoid hurting Shizuka's and Mizore's feelings. There had to be a way!

Feeling more than a little depressed, he approached Shizuka's classroom. It would have been easier and faster to enter from outside through the window, but after being told countless times not to do it, he had learned, with help from his colleague's ruler. Besides, the walk gave him time to think about his situation. Standing in front of the door, he put on a happy face; he couldn't let the woman see him looking troubled, or else she would get worried. A bit of weariness was still visible, but that was fine.

Grabbing the handle, the blond swung open the door and was about to yell an energetic greeting, only to find that he had walked into another meeting. "So these are the initial applicants, huh?" asked a familiar black-haired boy as he held a sheaf of papers. The person in front of him smiled.

"Yes."

"Somehow I thought there'd be more," the boy said, shrugging.

"In any case, it's more than enough to keep the club afloat for another year."

"That's true." Here the boy smiled as he looked through the papers, a smile that Naruto didn't appreciate too much. "Plus it seems that most of these are chicks. Tell me, how cute are they?"

At this, Shizuka laughed a little, but both the look she gave the boy and the words she spoke had a dangerous edge to them. "Now then, Ginei-kun, you wouldn't be having impure thoughts, would you? If you are, I'm sure Naruto-chan here would be kind enough to set you straight."

Gin looked confused at hearing them name, turning only to find the blond standing in the doorway, causing the boy to jump in surprise. Naruto still didn't know what exactly was going on, but decided to go along with Shizuka.

Giving a viscous grin to Gin as he fully entered the room, he said, "I hope I'm not interrupting anything. I was surprised to find someone else in here, so I didn't quite catch what you guy's were saying. Care to fill me in?"

Chuckling, the older boy dropped the papers on the desk and walked by Naruto, saying, "I was just leaving, actually," as he headed for the door, only to be stopped by Shizuka.

"Actually, you'll be staying here and filling out some forms regarding the new members joining the Newspaper Club."

"Huh, why?"

"Because you're the president of the club, of course."

"Yeah, but you're the supervisor," Gin said, turning to face Shizuka, clearly not thrilled by the prospect of having to do paperwork. The woman never let her smile drop, however, as the boy continued. "That's your job, isn't it?"

"Oh my, and wasn't it your job to man the club booth? And yet I had students coming here to learn more about us. Funny how that works. Besides, me and Naruto-chan have a meeting to attend, but if you want to keep us waiting by arguing, by all means."

"I don't much appreciate tardiness," Naruto said idly, causing Gin to turn and look at him nervously. It was clear with a little more pushing, the boy's will would buckle. Still, he was going to try one final time to weasel his way out of this.

"But this stuff isn't due until tomorrow. We still might receive more applications."

It was a fair argument, but Shizuka, feeling vindictive, wasn't going to have any of it as she delivered the final blow with a single word. "Now."

At the command, Gin bowed his head and simply said, "Yes ma'am," as he moved to sit at one of the desks in the room, picking up both the original sheaf of papers and an additional batch and proceeded to fill them out.

Pleased with the sight, Shizuka the turned to Naruto and asked, "Shall we get going?" to which he simply nodded, exiting the room with Shizuka in tow, the woman closing the door behind them. As soon as they were out of sight, Shizuka grabbed Naruto's arm, taking the boy by surprise, and leaned her head against his shoulder as she started walking.

The blond still didn't know what was going on and found himself unconsciously following the woman. Looking around, he made sure no one could see them. It would only take a single student to start a rumor if they saw them in this compromising position. Sensing something was wrong, Shizuka cocked her head up to look at him.

"What is it?"

"N-nothing," Naruto stammered out as he turned back to look at Shizuka, "it's just that I thought you didn't want your students to know about us yet. But doing something like this in such a place..."

Naruto trailed off and the woman looked confused for a moment before laughing, "Don't worry, no one will be awake at this time, so we're safe to do something like this."

In his mind, Naruto thought differently. Both Mizore and Gin were up and about, so why wouldn't anyone else. Worst case scenario would probably be one of them seeing this. Then again, Mizore was outside running, and since they wouldn't be leaving the building there wasn't really any risk of her catching them. Gin was still in Shizuka's room, so he was also out, but the possibility still wasn't zero that they would be caught.

Thinking more about it, why was Gin even up at this time? He clearly wasn't expecting to do Shizuka's busy work, and the woman appeared to have it planned out beforehand, but it still didn't seem like she had tricked him into being there. It was strange.

Before he had a chance to ask, Shizuka brought up another issue of her own interest. "So, did you talk to Shirayuki-chan?"

The question came out of nowhere, ad for a second the boy didn't know what the woman latched to his arm was talking about, he only knew that he didn't like talking about either Shizuka or Mizore in the presence of the other. However, before he could make a mistake, he remembered the previous day.

"Oh, right. It seems like she understands the situation and has agreed to come to class. Apparently you already met her?"

The question was asked tentatively, but Shizuka didn't seem to notice. "Yeah, she seems like a nice girl who found a good group of friends, though she seems a bit shy. Tell me, she seemed to want more time to think about joining the Newspaper Club even though the others decided to join right away, so do you think she's having second thoughts?"

Naruto sighed at that as he knew the answer, and saw fit to inform his friend. "Unfortunately, it seems like she's thinking about joining the Karate Club. Sorry."

"Oh," Shizuka responded with a frown, a bit out off, "that's a shame."

Seeing the woman look so sad, Naruto tried to cheer her up, putting a smile on his face. "Ah, don't worry about it too much. I doubt she had any problem with the club, it's just that something else caught her interest. That girl is...-!"

Naruto suddenly cut himself off. Something felt off to him. His skin was tingling and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. In his heightened state of awareness, he could here faint footsteps in the distance behind them. Closing his eyes, the blond focused, and sure enough he could sense a presence that wasn't Shizuka around the corned they had just passed. He didn't know who, but it seemed like someone was following them.

"Hm, what did you say?" asked the voice beside him, causing the blond to look back to Shizuka, who didn't seem to notice anything out of the ordinary. Putting on a smile, he knew that they couldn't be seen like this, and, more importantly, he should find out who was following them and what they wanted, so he invented an excuse, not wanting to scare his friend by telling her the truth.

"Ah, I think I may have dropped something back in your room. Do you think you can go on without me so I can go get it?"

"But the meeting will start soon," Shizuka argued, releasing the blond regardless. "What could you have left behind that it can't wait until later?"

"It's not important per se," Naruto replied nervously, causing the woman to frown, "But I just want to make check if it's there or not, before someone absconds with it."

Shizuka eyed him for a few seconds, and he thought that she was going to insist he just go to the meeting. Meanwhile, it seemed that the presence hadn't realized they had stopped yet. He only had a few more moments. The woman yielded, however, offering a sigh as she said, "Okay, but don't be late for the meeting. And don't bother Ginei-kun too much."

"Of course," the blond replied with a bright smile as he turned back, rounding the corner and leaving the woman's line of sight. It was there he encountered his tail, who was clearly surprised to see him. However, Naruto was also surprised to find this was the person following them, and found himself asking, "You?!" in surprise.

Standing before him was Gin, who's nervousness was quickly masked by an easy-going smile as he waved to the teacher. "Hey," he said casually. The blond wasn't having any of it, though.

"Why were you following us?"

Gin feigned surprise and acted ignorant. Only serving to piss Naruto off more. "Follow you? Why would someone do anything like that?"

Unlike other times when they had encountered one another, the black-haired boy was doing a remarkably good job at retaining his composure. Intimidation wasn't going to work as well here, and Naruto had to be mindful about how long he spent trying to get information out of Gin.

"Why aren't you back in Shizuka-chan's classroom?" he suddenly asked. Gin laughed, rubbing the back of his neck as he did so.

"Well, you know, that place is cramped. I needed to stretch my legs."

Never mind that they had just left the room, it was clear Gin was lying and had no intention of doing the work assigned to him. The longer this conversation went on, the more Naruto wondered if he wasn't just being paranoid and if Gin wasn't just being lazy. No, he was being to calm for that. The boy was planning something, and this was proved when he asked a question that caused Naruto to narrow his eyes dangerously.

"Say, what would you say your relationship is with Nekonome-sensei, anyway?"

"We're friends," Naruto stated simply, though he was a bit worried. Had he seen them? It would be bad if he did, especially given his station. As president on the Newspaper Club, he may tell Tsukune or one of the others, and, as they had seen Mizore kiss him the day before, it would lead to more than a small complication. Then again, the boy had no real proof even if he had seen them, and, given that the others didn't know him, they had no reason to believe him. Hell, he didn't know the others either, so it didn't make sense that he would just tell them anyway, it was more of something that may be said in passing, and regarded as just a rumor. Why was he worrying?

As Naruto thought that, Gin spoke again. "Really, 'cause the way she was hanging off of you really didn't look like you two just being 'friendly'."

All signs of amusement left Gin's face as he stared at Naruto. This was becoming serious, and the blond was becoming more defensive, unfortunately. "What concern is it of yours?"

The boy shrugged at that. "You're right. It really is none of my business. Nekonome-sensei is a mature adult and she can date anyone she wants. Same goes for you. I only become involved when I see a dirtbag like you cheating on someone I care about when one of his students."

The accusation hung heavily in the air. As Gin leveled a glare at Naruto, the blond felt everything go numb. Someone knew?! How?! He wanted to throw up, but ignored the heaviness in his chest and stood firm, not letting anything show. "What are you talking about?"

Scoffing, Gin reached into the pocket of his blazer and pulled what looked like a slip of paper out, motioning for the blond to take it. Naruto stared at the object curiously, then hesitantly reached out to take it. As he did, Gin explained, "As I was making my way in this morning, I saw something strange. I didn't expect to see anyone else up, but imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a lover's rendezvous."

Taking the slip, Naruto turned it over and nearly dropped it in shock. It was a picture, taken from quite a distance away, but it clearly showed a blond man and a purple-haired girl locked in a kiss. Covering his mouth instinctively, the teacher looked back up at Gin, wide-eyed. Seeing the look, the boy once again shrugged.

"I thought it was interesting seeing a teacher and student doing something like that, thought it might make for a good article if worse came to worse. I snapped a picture and didn't think too much of it. Imagine my surprise when I see the same teacher clearly dating someone else."

"What do you want?" Naruto asked after a few moments, lowering his head in defeat as he tucked the picture into his pocket. It was unlikely Gin had copies, given the amount of time that had transpired between events, but really,it was enough that the boy knew. It was enough that Naruto allowed himself to be talked down to in such a way by a student that clearly had no respect for him, because the blond knew Gin had a right to be mad. He was finally going to receive his punishment. He wasn't going to pay him or anything, but the truth was going to come out.

Scoffing, the boy said, "I don't want anything from you," surprising Naruto a bit. The blond then heard the other sigh. "Don't get me wrong, I hate you, and I'm tempted to go find Nekonome-sensei right now and tell her everything."

"Then why don't you?!" Naruto yelled, getting angry with his attitude. He hated felling helpless, and while he could just start a fight right here to relieve some stress, he knew that wouldn't help anything.

Gin was also mad that the blond didn't seem to understand, yelling, "Because unlike you, I don't want to hurt her!"

That was enough to set Naruto off as he soon found himself with a hand around Gin's neck as he pushed the boy into a wall. "Don't think you know how I feel about this! I do care!"

"Then why are you cheating on her?!" Gin shouted back, causing the blond to loosen his grip. "What, did you make a mistake?!" he boy continued, causing Naruto to back up. "Don't give me that bullshit! If you really cared, you never would have let this happen!"

"It's not like that," Naruto tried to argue, clenching his teeth. Not even he believed that anymore, though. He found himself admitting that everything the boy in front of him said was correct.

"You can tell yourself whatever you want, but the point remains that form some reason Nekonome-sensei actually likes a scumbag like you. No matter what you do, you're going to end up hurting her. You know that, right?"

"Of course I do," Naruto said sadly. Seeing this pitiful sight, Gin also found himself calming down a bit, though still kept a hostile tone.

"At this point, you have two options," the boy said matter-of-factly. "Either you admit you're trash and let her know you're cheating on her, or you can break-up with this other girl. I don't really care so long as you stop simply leading Nekonome-sensei on. You know neither one deserves that. Inaction will force me to tell her myself, and you should know that will just hurt her even more. Make things right."

With that, Gin walked off, Naruto watching the boy's back as he retreated. Looking to the ceiling and sighing, he actually felt a bit absolved of his guilt. Forced into action, he now knew the truth was going to come out, one way or another. That didn't make things easier, though. He had a choice to make, and was now on the clock.

/

Wow, a chapter came out in a timely fashion. That's a bit of a rarity these days. I feel like I'm slipping a bit on the characterization though. As always, if you have any issues, tell me. Now then, as you know, I'm going to take a bit to update the other stories at least once now. Rest assured, I'll come back to this soon enough, but college will have undoubtedly started by then, so we'll have to see how that affects things. You guys are used to that by now, right? Don't forget to fucking vote on which story takes priority this time until then, as the poll is actually up now.

Now then, about last chapter, reviews are generally positive, though as of writing this, more complaints have come in about Naruto's actions and attitude. I'm trying to resolve that in the most natural way possible, but keep in mind that this I'm not accustomed to writing harems. I'm trying to make this a bit more serious, so not everything can be comedy. There needs to exist a juxtaposition. That being said, good times will return for Naruto and the gang. I really don't want this to become too angsty and turn people off, so I'm trying to get through it. If you want me to pace it better, though, I'll be sure to take that into consideration.

That being said, the other major criticism is that people are tired of waiting for Ura to show up. I have one thing to say to that; I want you to consider the fact that, in the manga timeline at least, about only five of six chapters have passed. I know that this story now has twelve chapters, but there is still plenty of time for Ura to show up. As you can imagine, I want to resolve a few things first, and I know how I want to introduce her, so please be patient.

Finally, the whole Kyuubi issue. I know I've answered this question before, but I don't remember what I said. Whatever it was, it was far from eloquent, apparently, as the point clearly didn't get across. As with Ura, it will play a part later. I don't want to say more for fear of revealing what I have planned for the future, just know that I've got you covered, and I don't want to hear anymore about it, please.

And with that, I'll happily end the chapter. Thank you for sticking around all this time as my four year anniversary comes up. I'd like to think I've come a long way since my first story, even if there had been a lot of down time. Anyway, keep an eye out for future updates. This chapter has been 12,093 words long!