Chapter Three: Waiting

A/N: Exposition heavy, more world building. See ending AN.

For those who might have (understandably) forgotten, Urashima Military City is the capital of the Fire Country.

Naruto woke up the morning after his and Jiraiya's meeting with the the Fire Daimyo's majordomo in a bad mood. It was September 25th, and he had ten days to wait before he would be able to see the Daimyo. Ten days, with nothing to do but twiddle his thumbs. Just the thought of having to wait that long already had him antsy. Naruto was capable of being patient, as long as it was to a purpose. This however, seemed utterly pointless, and mean spirited besides. He was sure the wait was the majordomo's way of exerting his bureaucratic control over him, and while there were many things he hated, having to obey pointless orders was definitely in the top ten.

He threw his covers aside and sat up. Rubbing his eyes to clear them of the sleepies, he swung his feet over the side of the bed and rose. His room had a small bathroom attached, barely large enough to hold the sink, toilet and cubicle shower. He showered, brushed his teeth, changed into his freshly laundered blue army uniform, draping his coat over his shoulder, dropping his dirty laundry in the basket and went downstairs to the common room for breakfast. It only took a single quick scan of the room to find where the rest of his team was sitting. Three figures he expected to see were seated across from two he had not. Jiraiya, Hinata and Tenten were seated at a table on the far side of the room, near a cold hearth, with his mother and Asuma sitting on the other side. Both were dressed, but neither in their usual attire. Like Jiraiya, Hinata, Tenten and himself, they both wore the blue formal dress uniforms, but Anko had a pair of red squares on her shoulders, while a stylized tongue of flame rode on Asuma's shoulderboards, not dissimilar to the one on the door of the inn.

"Mom, Asuma-sensei, what are you two doing here?"

"Much the same that you are, I would assume. The Daimyo requested a sealing expert from Konoha, and I was sent. Asuma is here to baby-sit me."

Naruto cocked an eyebrow at that. "Hey, I am the one who taught you sealing, at least at first, remember?"

"That isn't what I was thinking. I am just surprised that the Hokage herself didn't come to make sure you stay out of trouble. And you know exactly what I mean, Mom."

Anko scowled. "You know, I am starting to wonder what the hell I did to get this kind of reaction from everyone. I mean I have never terrorized any civilians, never destroyed any privately owned property, never destroyed a bar on a drunken binge or kept the neighbors up all night or anything! And don't mention that time you got mugged either. That was a one-off."

"Well, what about that other time with Kakashi-sensei? You didn't get up until dinner."

"Again, that was. One. Time. One. Time. Never happened again, never will. 'Sides, that was halfway your fault in the first place."

"Nuh uh. No way you are pinning that one on me. You started it when you put freaking explosive seals on the ramen cupboard. We had to get a new refrigerator."

"Yeah, well, you learned your lesson about trying to sneak anything past me, didn't you?"

"Only because, well you know, you put explosive seals on the ramen cupboard! Seals, as in plural." That resulted in several raised eyebrows.

Fortunately for everyone involved, the common room was mostly empty, and what patrons there were were smart enough to pretend nothing was happening.

"They always like this?" Asuma asked.

"No," Tenten said. "They are usually worse." This time it was Asuma that cocked the eyebrow.

"No punches thrown, no furniture broken. Yet," Hinata said by way of explanation.

"Ah. You know, this explains so much that it is not even funny."

"Don't worry, you get used to it after a while." There was a thump, as mother and son engaged in fisticuffs, Anko almost pinning Naruto with a headlock, Naruto somehow managing to twist an arm back, up and around to grab a fistful of Anko's hair.

"Uh, you sure we shouldn't be doing anything?" Asuma asked again.

"Not yet. Wait for it, wait for it. There. Now you can." A pause. "It is going to have to be one of you two, because neither Tenten nor I are strong enough to do it." By now, Naruto had wriggled out of Anko's headlock and was gnawing on her forearm, while Anko was slamming her elbow into the back of his head over and over.

With a put-upon sigh, Jiraiya pushed his end of the bench back and moved to separate the pair. Jiraiya was a big man, so he was able to pull the brawling duo apart without much effort. "So what are all you doing here? I'm not too surprised to see Jiraiya and Naruto here, but what is with you two?" Anko pointed at the two genin.

"It is a little complicated," Tenten answered.

"I have barely been gone a month, how much could have happened?" A pause, traded glances. "Seriously? What the hell happened?"

"The short version is Sasuke tried to go rogue a couple of days after you left, Hinata, Tenten, Shikamaru, Neji and I brought him back, got apprenticed to to the pervert for real this time and am trying to get permission to leave the country to unite the other Jinchuuriki against Akatsuki."

"Damn, someone has been a busy little beaver." Naruto just shrugged. "I assume you know your chances."

Naruto released an aggrieved sigh. "As everyone is prone to telling me, yes, I know it is a long shot. But the way I figure it, the hardest part will be getting everyone to the table. Once I get everyone to just meet, half the battle is already won."

"Well, you are already pretty friendly with the Mist Jinchuuriki, one of them at least. Do you have a plan to get the Stone and Cloud Jinchuuriki to the table?"

"I will figure something out when I get to that point."

"Right, this is my son we are talking about here. Well, I suppose that is as good a plan as any."

"Unless you have a better one? Everyone else seems to."

"Hey, don't get snippy with me."

"Sorry."

"Well, you certainly have your work cut out for you. I am sure you have been told how hard it is going to be, so I won't say anything further on that subject. I just hope that you won't be too disappointed if everything doesn't go to plan." Anko put her hands up in surrender at Naruto's look. "Okay, okay, I'm done."

Breakfast arrived then and conversation ceased for the next few minutes. Anko and Asuma waved goodbye and departed soon after. The serving girl was collecting their plates and utensils as Jiraiya addressed his pupils. "Well, we have ten days until Naruto and I have to meet the Daimyo so why don't we get started with your training?"

"Actually, I was hoping that we could have the day off today," Naruto said.

"What for," Jiraiya asked back.

"Personal time," Naruto replied, jaw already thrust out in preparation for a fight.

"There is-"

"Listen, Ero-sennin, the we haven't had a break in months. First it was the mission to Grass, then it was the Chunin Exams, then it was the invasion, then we had to go get Sasuke back. I haven't been on a date with either of my girls in far too long. So we are going to take today off, put off work and training for twenty-four hours and do something for us. The world isn't going to end, and there is nothing you can teach that cannot wait for tomorrow."

"Would you can it for a moment? I was going to say,you could take them to see the new Fuun-hime movie that just came out. You know, a dinner and a movie thing. But if you have a better idea..."

Now it was Naruto's turn to frown. "You mean you don't care?"

Jiraiya giggled. "Hey kid, I ain't your mother, and it is not place to deny true love. 'Sides, still got over a week till we can even find out if we can get out of here. And like ya said, I don't have anything to teach you that can't wait."

"Well, good." Naruto gave a sharp nod. He clearly had been expecting more resistance, and clearly had set himself to argue. Offering an arm to Tenten and Hinata, the trio departed the inn. Naruto did not have any particular destination in mind, but the girls did not mind. They wandered the streets, taking turns more or less at random when one of the three saw something that piqued their interest. Eventually, the threesome found themselves in a bazaar in the commercial district.

The clamor was astounding, merchants manning stalls claiming that his meat pies were made of the freshest meat, the hottest sauces. Her jewelry was made of the highest quality, flawless stones. Their knives would never dull, and could even cut through the toughest grist and bone with unparalleled ease.

Naruto, Hinata and Tenten wandered through the bustling crowd in a little pocket of clear space, the crowd parting around the three, almost as if by happenstance. And they were not the only ones to receive such treatment. Patrolling soldiers were made way for, but the occasional monk, both proper Shinto kannushi and informal spiritualists, and men wearing dark, close-fitting robes, a small square of white showing at the throat traveled in pockets as well. The robed men wore odd blades on their hips, cruciform and straight, rather than the more traditional katanas that most swordsmen used. Both the black robed men and the monk carried themselves as important men, and even patrolling soldier made way from them. Seeing the nominal keepers of the peace make way for the two groups, Team Nine did so as well. None of the three knew anything about the black- and blue-robed men, but Naruto did not want to risk a confrontation with anyone the Daimyo might hold favor with, and given that the military police seemed to defer to them, it seemed to be a logical conclusion that both groups possessed some measure of authority.

In any case, the trio made their way through the bazaar without incident, and the rest of the day as well. They managed to find their way back to the inn after only having to stop for directions twice, just in time for dinner. As had been said before, Urashima Military City was on the order of magnitudes larger and more populous than Konoha even had the potential to be. Normally, a day on his feet wouldn't have caused Naruto to break a sweat, but between the crowds, the sights and sounds, new foods to try and people to see, Naruto found himself exhausted. Not the bone-deep weariness that came after an injury, or channeling the Kyuubi's chakra, just a tiredness that a good night's sleep would cure.

The three adults said nothing as Tenten and Hinata, much in the same condition as Naruto wandered off to bed soon after dinner.

OoOoO

Naruto woke in his room the next morning, took a shower, got dressed and ate breakfast, much as he had the previous morning. It was not precisely early, but nor was it very late in the morning, so when Jiraiya reported that both Anko and Asuma had already left for the Black City.

"I wonder how long they are going to be here," he asked nobody in particular as he ate a bowl of rice.

"Probably longer than we are, should things go according to plan. It isn't often that the Daimyo requests someone from Konoha for a sealing job. The samurai have several experts in the field themselves, so when he does, it is usually for a big job."

"Then how come you weren't sent?"

"Kid, I am one of... oh, probably top five or so sealing adepts in the world. As you know, you pay for what you get. I rarely get called out for a sealing job, as my expertise is usually prohibitively expensive."

"Like how expensive?"

Jiraiya chuckled. "You wouldn't break the bank, but most smaller countries would have to dig deep. Generally speaking, anything under S-rank can get handed off to someone else."

Naruto looked skeptical. "Kid, have you seen what we charge for S-rank missions?"

"No," Naruto said slowly.

"Ten million is the absolute lowest. Twelve or thirteen is more usual. Although, at the same time, most S-rank missions are run for Konoha itself, so there is that as well.

"Damn." Even Tenten and Hinata looked a little impressed.

"S-rank missions have to be very profitable, because by their nature they are incredibly dangerous, in more ways than one. The chance of losing some of your most skilled ninja is very high, as are the potential repercussions should the mission be blown. Ninja are expensive, for damn good reasons. And we like it that way. Just about the only missions that your average Joe can afford are D-ranks, and those are only offered in the villages themselves. Every time a ninja leaves the village, there is a chance that he or she is not coming back, and ninja are not cheap to train, both in time and resources." Finishing his tea in one last gulp, Jiraiya smacked his lips and sighed. "You ready to begin training then?"

"Ah," was as far as Naruto got before Jiraiya broke in.

"Naruto, when I accepted you as my apprentice, you said that you would do everything and anything that I required of you. I gave you yesterday off, as I know you haven't had much time off recently, but you cannot keep slacking. Did I make a mistake in taking you as my apprentice?"

"Ah, no," Naruto was quick to say. "Just the morning. There is something that I want to do. Won't last past lunch, I swear."

Jiraiya narrowed his eyes in suspicion, but relented. "Until lunch then." He left without another word.

"Naruto-kun?" Hinata asked, speaking for the first time since she and Tenten had come down to the common room.

"Don't worry. He'll be fine. Probably."

"If you say so," Tenten replied, suppressing a smile. "So what is it you wanted to do?"

"Wait until we get to my room."

"Your room? Your aren't planning anything... perverted are you?" Tenten said.

"Because you know that nooners aren't healthy," Hinata innocently.

"Arg, I am not taking you two up-" He paused, peering at the two suspiciously. "Who said nooners aren't healthy?"

"People," the pair chorused.

"You two are spending way too much time together. And stop ganging up on me."

"Says the one who can make a thousand shadow clones without breaking a sweat."

"She has a point," Hinata agreed. "I mean, it isn't like you couldn't summon a couple of shadow clones and kidnap us to ravish us into unconsciousness whenever you like."

"But then again, what would your mother think? Abducting two innocent girls to hide away in some tower that only you can get into, for your nefarious schemes."

"Way, way, way too much time together. And my mother. And Jiraiya too, for that matter."

This caused Hinata and Tenten to break out in giggles. Still moving more or less in tandem, they leaned over to Naruto and planted a kiss on each cheek. "Don't worry, Naruto-kun. We know you wouldn't do anything to hurt us."

"Unless we wanted you to."

Naruto just let his head fall to his crossed arms. Sitting back up suddenly, he summoned a shadow clone and threw Hinata and Tenten over a shoulder, hurrying back up the stairs.

The common room remained silent for several seconds afterwards. "You don't think he is really going to take them up to his room to ravish them into unconsciousness, do you?"

"Probably not," Benji said. "He is only thirteen you know." Still everyone stared up at the stairs for several seconds after that.

OoOoO

"Ravishing time?" Tenten asked once they were alone.

"Okay, you know that if you keep that up, I will start to think that you want me to."

"Who says we don't?"

Naruto really did not know how to reply to that. "Alright, if we can cut the sexual innuendo for a moment, I will tell you why I brought you up here."

Sitting up straight, Hinata and Tenten dropped their smiles and gave Naruto their serious attention. "We are listening, Naruto-kun," Hinata said for the both of them.

"There is something I want the two of you to learn. The Rasengan."

"The Rasengan? That is an A-rank technique."Tenten's eyebrows had arched in surprise.

"Yeah, I know. And I want the two of you to start learning it. I know," he said, forestalling Tenten with an upraised hand, "it is a really high-level technique, and I don't expect either of you to learn it overnight, but I want you to start. Neither of you have a one-hit-kill technique, and Tenten, you really don't have any hand-to-hand techs. I want you to learn it so that you do have an ace-in-the-hole of sorts. You are both two of the strongest kunoichi I know, but I can't help but worry when you end up fighting without me. I worry, and I can't help it. Having the you at least working on the Rasengan won't make me worry less, but it would make me feel better."

"We will try, Naruto-kun. If it makes you feel better."

"It does," he assured Hinata. Tossing each woman a water balloon. "Stage one. Pop the water balloon." Hinata and Tenten both glanced at the water balloon, then back to Naruto.

"I assume we aren't allowed to poke it with a needle?"

Naruto gave Tenten a look and held his own water balloon in his left hand. In his right he created a Rasengan. Carefully channeling chakra into the water balloon in his left hand, he let the chakra go wild, releasing just enough chakra to make the balloon deform in a dozen different directions. "The first stage is learning to pop the water balloon by spinning the water inside it. The Rasengan training has three stages, first, to create the spin, second, to add power and third to add control. The trick is to spin the water in a whole bunch of directions at once. If you just spin it in one direction, like this," he said, demonstrating, "All it does is flatten out. But if you spin it a bunch of ways, then it pops," and did just that.

The kunoichi exchanged glances and set to. Of course, having already mastered the technique in question, Naruto was able to make it appear easier than it was. Given that the first stage was nothing but an extremely advanced chakra control exercise, Hinata was the first one to master it. The clock sitting on the bureau showed it was a little after one. Naruto had been doing his own training, holding a Rasengan in his right hand, and trying to form one in his left. In the Academy, his chakra control had been fairly bad, but between all the extra practice, learning new chakra exercises and the Rasengan, his control was well above average. Judging solely on the sheer difficulty of the technique, the Rasengan more than qualified for an A-ranking. Forming dual Rasengans wasn't quite on the level of elemental recombination, which was about as difficult as looking left and right at the same time, but it wasn't far short.

Forming a single Rasengan was a simple task now, requiring little more attention than any other technique, but the moment he drew his focus away to form a second one, the first started to destabilize. Naruto wasn't deterred in the least. Jiraiya could do it, and he would be able too. He just had to keep at it.

Both Hinata and Tenten were beginning to tire when Hinata finally managed to pop her balloon. Hinata jumped in her chair at the abrupt dousing, as well as Tenten, who got splashed as well. Nobody said anything for a moment, until Naruto laughed.

"Good job Hinata-chan," Naruto congratulated her, a wide grin curving Hinata's lips. Naruto let his Rasengan dissipate, rising to his feet. "Well, I can't say that I was expecting either of you to get it on the first day, but I am impressed. Anyways, I think this makes a good time to stop for lunch. What do you think?" he asked them both.

"A good idea," Tenten said, shaking her stinging palms. Hinata concurred, and the trio went down to the common room.

Naruto took Tenten's hands, gently massaging her aching digits as they descended the stairs. Naruto sat between the two women as they ate, giving each all of his attention. The common room was fuller than it had been at breakfast, somewhere between half and three-quarters full, few enough that each group could have a table or booth to themselves. Patrons consisted of the middle-of-the-road local shop owners and merchants, and slightly wealthier foreigners. The room was filled with a comfortable babble, not subdued, but not loud enough that one had to shout to be heard. There were a number of merchants conducting business, dipping fingers in wine and scribing figures on the worn polish of the tables. Nobody gave the teens a second glance as they seated themselves at a table near the kitchen. A few of the closer diners tugged a forelock or gave a careful nod, but no one made issue with the trio apparently getting the cooks priority.

Naruto pushed the bench back from the table as a serving girl swept by collecting their empty bowls and spoons. Naruto and Hinata headed toward the stairs following Jiraiya but Tenten didn't. "I am going to head out for a bit, Naruto-kun. I got an errand or two I need to run, before dinner."

Naruto glanced at Jiraiya, but he was already halfway up the steps.

"Need me to come?"

"No, I will be fine myself. Just need to talk to a couple people."

"When do you think you'll be back?"

"Not sure, but before dinner for sure."

"Alright then," Naruto said, perhaps a little more carefully than he had before. Tenten followed the pair up, retrieving her blue dress coat and her pistols. Naruto exchanged a glance with Hinata before creating a clone. The clone quickly vanished in a shimmer of chakra and tailed Tenten out of the inn. Had it been Hinata he had been tailing, the Camouflage Technique would have never worked, but like him, Tenten did not have any extra-sensory techniques in her repertoire. As long as he stayed to the roofs, there was little chance of Tenten discovering him.

Jiraiya was waiting for the pair in Naruto's room. "Where is Tenten?"

"Went to run some errands," Naruto said.

"Whatever. You can catch her up when she gets back. That actually brings me to my first point. One of the main areas I will be instructing you in is sealing, very advanced stuff that is only known to about a dozen others in the world. That obviously includes your Great Demon Binding Seal."

"My what?"

"The seal that the Kyuubi is held in."

"I thought that was called the Eight Trigrams Seal?"

"The Eight Trigrams Sealing Style, yes. Combined with the Dead Demon Consuming Seal, it makes the Great Demon Binding Seal. The various Jinchuuriki seals use different methods to bind the Biju, from Sand's Hidden Oasis Sacrifice Possession, Waterfall's Crashing Thunder Seal and Cloud's Iron Armor Seal, the Great Demon Binding is... unique."

"How so?" Hinata asked, beating Naruto to the punch.

"For one, it only seals half of the Bijuu's chakra in the Jinchuuriki. Two, it constantly, deliberately leaks a small amount of the Bijuu's into the Jinchuuriki's circulatory system. This is unique because while all Bijuu sealing methods leak chakra, the Great Demon Binding Seal does so intentionally, and that means that the "flow" can be turned off, in certain circumstances."

"Hold on, I asked you about that after the invasion, and you said that you wouldn't do it!"

"No, you asked if I would seal away the Kyuubi, forever. Its chakra can be halted however, but it is a complicated technique, and need significant preparation to do so. Anyways, I seem to have gotten a little sidetracked. What I was going to say is that I will be teaching you about your seal, and right now the number of people who could replicate it is one: me. Teaching your women the knowledge necessary to subdue you, should it ever become necessary would be a good thing."

"I suppose so," Naruto agreed.

"No supposition about it. Facts are facts: I am well over the average age for a shinobi. I am old. I am not as fast, or as strong as I once was. When I pass on, you will be the only one with complete knowledge of your seal. Having someone else who can shut you down, if the worst should ever come to pass is not just a good idea, it is a smart idea. Leaving you with the only one with the "key" to your seal, so to speak, just invites disaster. So here is what is going to happen. Your women will attend our sealing lessons, even though much of what I am going to be teaching will be over their heads. At the same time, you will begin teaching them the basics. Tenten and Hinata are smart girls, they should be able to pick it up fairly quickly, at least in the beginning.

"Another reason why I want you to teach them is that you can never truly master anything, be it taijutsu, ninjutsu, or anything else, without teaching it yourself. Teaching makes you go over the basics again, making sure that you have everything exactly right before you pass it on."

"I see."

Jiraiya smirked. "Not yet. But you will."

OoOoO

The first stop Tenten made was a certain shop in the White City. While firearms were virtually unheard of among ninja, most able to move faster than a bullet, guns were far more dominant among the rest of the world, where the average person couldn't move faster than sight. Nevertheless, firearms were heavily regulated, moreso in the capital than other places. So it was not hard to find one of the two stores that sold guns and various accessories.

Her conversation with the ever-so-helpful corporal had given her several ideas, and not all just about her rifles. Officers seemed to carry their sidearms, some model of revolver, in hip holsters, much like she did. However, she had seen a number of civilians carrying pistols in some sort of shoulder harness. She received several looks as the bell over the door rang, announcing her entrance into what would have been a weapon's store in Konoha. Of course, as UMC was not a shinobi town, the selection was limited to various types of hunting knives and firearms. Tenten paused just inside the door, sweeping her gaze across the store and its patrons.

"Is there something I can help you with... Sergeant?" The man standing behind the glass-paned counter was not what most would expect out of the proprietor of a gun shop. Gangly was the word that came to mind when Tenten examined the owner. Five-ten or so, he looked to be maybe a hundred twenty pounds. His arms hung at his sides, slightly bowed, skin drawn tightly enough over his wrists and hands that the bones stuck out in knobs. Blue veins bulged over the back of his hands, long fingers looking more appropriate on a pianist.

"Yes, actually, I believe you can." Drawing one of her larger pistols from the holster, she laid it and her rifle down on the counter. "I am looking to... upgrade."

The owner glanced down at the guns. "Yes, I would imagine so. Do you have anything particular in mind?"

"Do you sell Model '73 repeating rifles and Moses Brothers Self-Defense Engine Frontier Model Bs?"

A slight smile. "Yes, I do. If you will give me just a moment?" The proprietor gave a shallow bow and stepped into a rear room. He reemerged just a minute later, carrying a rifle. He handed it to Tenten. She hefted the weapon, noting that it weighed a good bit less than the ones she was using. Snugging the butt tight against her shoulder, she peered down the barrel.

It was lighter than her current rifles, and quite a bit shorter. "Graduated rear sights, accurate to about two thousand yards, uses 38-40 caliber ammunition. Lever action, fifteen round tube mag." Tenten set the rifle down and accepted the pistol.

"Muzzle heavy," she noted.

"A bit, because of the long barrel. Uses 38-40 cal ammo as well, making them interchangeable with the rifles." Tenten nodded, and broke the gun. "Five round cylinder mag. I can sell you speed loaders for it, if you want."

"I would." She took off her belt and slipped the pistol holster off.

"Holsters come with the gun. Would you like shoulder or hip rigs?"

"Shoulder. Can I get one with two holsters, like one under each arm?"

"Sure thing. Anything else I can help you with?"

"What kind of customization do you do?"

"Well, just the standard stuff, scoping, changing the caliber, trigger tuning, that kind of thing. What do you want done."

"Can you inlay a pair of electrum plates, here and here?" she asked, describing the area of the frame where the hands held the rifle. "And on the inside of the muzzle?"

The owner paused and considered her request. "Electrum? That is that chakra metal stuff right?" Tenten nodded. "How long you planning to be in town?"

"Another week, at least."

"Give me two or three days, and I have it done. May take me some time to find someone who carries electrum, but I can do it."

"Good. I want two of the '73s and Frontier Model Bs, each."

"Very well. I will send someone to let you know when they are ready."

"I am staying at the Flame of the West, up by the Black City."

"Yes, I know of it. Who should I ask for?"

"Higurashi Tenten."

"Very well, Sergeant Higurashi." Tenten collected her equipment and left.

Hoisting her rifle higher up on her shoulder, she set out to the Black City. It had been a while since she had gotten some real target practice in, and now was a good opportunity to rectify that.

OoOoO

Naruto had long passed worried as the sun set behind the high walls of the city. Tenten had set out hours ago, and should have been back well before now. He supposed that she just could have gotten caught up in something, but he didn't know, and that had him worried. His shadow clone had somehow been discovered up on the roofs tailing Tenten rather quickly, and dispersed in the resulting tussle. He had noted that his shadow clones seemed to have judgment and self-control issues, and this was one hell of a time for their... belligerence to crop up.

Had he been anywhere other than Urashima Military City, he would have blitzed the area with shadow clones until she turned up, but that was not allowed. Jiraiya had never said what the punishment for breaking cover, as it were, but swarming the city with five thousand copies of himself was liable to cause some issues with the authorities.

Benji the innkeeper sent several of his runner boys out to see if they couldn't find word of her. Jiraiya did the same, contacting his informants within the civilian and military police to see if anyone had reported any disturbances within the city. Tenten was no slouch when it came to close-quarters combat, but at the same time, it was far from her strong suit. Given her ties to Naruto, it was possible that she had been kidnapped, but by Akatsuki or some other agency, at this point didn't matter. Unfortunately, had she been kidnapped, Akatsuki was the likeliest suspect, as Naruto had not had the time to make many enemies outside of Konoha.

Such worrying proved to be unwarranted, however. "You mean she is in here?" Naruto asked several hours after dark had fallen.

"Yeah. But don't worry, it shouldn't be too difficult to get her out."

"Still, what is she doing here in the first place?"

"Naruto does have a point," Hinata added. "It isn't like her to do anything that would get her brought here."

"I am sure she has a good explanation for it," Jiraiya said. Neither Naruto or Hinata said anything as they waited in the lobby for Jiraiya to return with the third member of their team.

Naruto enfolded Tenten in a hug when she passed through the glass-paned double doors, looking a little more worn than she had when he had last seen her. She had a swollen lip and her hair was down. He waited until she pulled back before asking the question that was on everyone's minds. "What in the world did you do to get thrown in jail?"

"Not my fault," she protested immediately. "It was that dick sergeant that started the whole damn thing." Naruto cocked an eyebrow. "Bastard insulted my guns." Naruto nodded sagely, face carefully neutral as they walked out the jail, an arm thrown across Tenten's shoulders. "And he so had it coming. I mean, he accused me of cheating!"

"Well, we are ninja," Hinata pointed out.

"That doesn't mean that he can be crappy shot and then blame it on me."

"Okay, I think this needs some background. The desk sergeant said you got into a brawl with a squad of MPs," Jiraiya said.

"It wasn't like I knew they were MPs," Tenten muttered, crossing her arms under her breasts.

"Why don't you start from the beginning?" Naruto asked.

"Fine," she huffed. "I was at a firing range in the Black City, doing some target practice, since I haven't really done any in a while, and this asshole basically picks a fight with me. He keeps running his mouth, so I challenge him to a shooting contest. I won, of course, but he says I cheated. So I hit him."

"Just like that, you hit him?"

Tenten blushed. "Well... I got mad and said that just because he had brains the size of his balls didn't mean that everyone else did, and that everyone else was as shitty a shot as he was."

Jiraiya whistled. "I am gonna have to remember that one. That is pretty good."

"And then?" Naruto asked, grinning.

"And then he said that he had better make sure I wasn't a guy pretending to be a girl, and groped me. That is when I hit him."

"Okay, now I want to hit him too."

Tenten giggled. "I don't think that would be a good idea. Getting thrown in jail would hardly endear you to the daimyo."

Naruto waved her off. "You kidding? That bastard grabbed your boobs. I am the only one who is allowed to do that."

"That's right," she replied with a smirk. Naruto smirked back and tightened his arm around her shoulders, pulling her in for a kiss.

"Not in the street," Jiraiya said sternly. "Wait until we get back to the inn before you start any monkey business."

"Pah! It isn't like there is anyone around."

"She just got out, you want to go back in with her for excessive PDA?"

"Coming from you, that sounds more than a little odd."

"Hey, I always wait until I am behind closed doors before I break out the mojo."

"Says the self-proclaimed super-pervert."

"Different matter entirely," Jiraiya stated airily.

"Right," Naruto stated flatly.

"How often do you see me making out in the street?"

"Never, because the only female companionship you can get charges by the hour."

The conversation continued in that vein during the trip back to the inn, neither Hinata nor Tenten interrupting the pair's banter. Although, for Hinata, who was on the opposite side of Jiraiya from Naruto, it was spent peeking around the large man at Naruto and Tenten, and thinking.

The quartet arrived back at the inn in good time, and headed to their individual rooms, and bed, shortly after. Jiraiya disappeared into his room immediately, Tenten pausing just long enough for a clone to accompany her into hers. Naruto lingered outside Hinata's to give her a long kiss goodnight. Naruto let go of Hinata and moved to head to his own room, but Hinata did not reciprocate.

"Don't go," she said quietly.

Naruto stepped in close again and wrapped his arms around her again. "Are you sure?"

Hinata did not say anything back, instead grabbing his shirt with one hand, opening the door with the other and pulling him inside. Naruto closed the door behind him, and shucked his coat, leaving it on the floor beside Hinata's. He picked her up, her legs wrapping around his waist and carried her over to the bed. He dropped her on the mattress, following her down, never breaking lip-lock.

He wasn't so absorbed in the kiss, in the feel of her lips and the heat of her mouth that he missed Hinata take his hand and draw it up under her shirt. "Are you sure?" he asked again, through the kiss.

"I need my husband, now," she muttered back.

Naruto paused though. "Hinata, hold on."

"No," she muttered back, kissing his neck.

"Hinata, I said hold on," saying it more forcefully, pushing her back. "What is wrong?"

"What do you mean, 'what is wrong'?"

"I mean, what is wrong. This isn't like you."

"What isn't like me?" she asked, suddenly sitting back and scowling. "Taking the initiative? Wanting to spend the night together with my husband?"

"I mean making a move so suddenly. Why is it that you only want to sleep together now?"

"Why don't you want to sleep with me?" she shot back. "I mean, you have been sharing a bed with Tenten for weeks now."

Naruto did not say anything for several seconds taken back by the apparent anger in Hinata's voice. "Is that what this is? I have been sleeping with Tenten but not you?" Hinata said nothing, blushing a little. "You know that she and I aren't sleeping sleeping together, right?"

"And how would I know that? It isn't like you tell me what you two do together."

Naruto wasn't quite sure what to say to that. "I always thought that is how you wanted it. I mean, neither of you seemed particularly interested in what I did with the other." He paused. "Do you want me to tell you what I do with Tenten?"

"No," Hinata replied instantly.

"Well, then I am not sure what to say. What do you want from me?" Naruto was honestly confused. Tenten and Hinata had always seemed perfectly content with how things were. He had never heard either of them complain about how he treated either of them. "Please, Hinata-chan, tell me what is wrong so I can correct it." However, that seemed to be the exact wrong thing to say.

And so he found himself standing out in the hall, after having gotten her door slammed in his face, his coat in one hand, utterly bewildered. "What the hell?" he wondered to himself. He heard a snickering, and looked down the hallway. Jiraiya was standing several feet away, with a too-straight face, apparently with a case of the hiccups. Naruto stared at the old general for several seconds.

Jiraiya couldn't help himself. It was just too damn funny. He burst out laughing, hunching over because he couldn't get his breath, forgetting to hold the glass cup behind his back. He shambled past Naruto, who made him laugh all the harder with the look on his face. Anko would bust a gut when she heard.

Wondering just what the fuck had happened, Naruto decided it was too late to worry about it and headed to bed.

OoOoO

Neji was in a bad mood. Not that that would have been of much note a couple of months earlier, but the last couple of months had been sort of... eventful. While he would never be described as 'bubbly' or 'cheerful' or 'outgoing,' like his teammates, he was no longer the dour, unpersonable near-recluse that he had been before. Gai, Lee and Ino had been willing to leave him be at first, guessing that he would be able to work through whatever had happened by himself, but after a third straight day of mostly monosyllabic conversations and an apparent unwillingness to talk to anyone, Team Gai, or more properly, Ino, decided to get to the bottom of what was bothering her teammate.

"Ino, I have neither the time not inclination to deal with your curiosity. I am fine, and there is somewhere I need to be. If you will let me go, you can bug me about nothing later."

"Well, that's an improvement right there. That must have been the longest thing you have said in days."

"It has not," Neji denied.

"Uh-oh, heading back toward monosyllabicity again. Fight it, Neji! Use your words!"

While Ino was often annoying, this was a whole new level of ridiculousness, even for her. As she had apparently just decided to irritate him, something that she was prone to doing on occasion, he just tried to walk around her. But she was not having it, simply matching his movements, even when he turned around. "Ino, go bother Gai or Lee. I do not have time to deal with your idiocy today."

"Today, or the last couple of days either, it would seem." Just as he was going to Jyuuken her into submission, Ino threw her hands together in the specialized handseal for the Mind-Body Switch, and the next thing he knew, Ino was in his head.

"Ino, I swear, if you do not get out of my head, right this instant, I am going to Jyuuken you so that you won't be able to walk for a week."

"Just a moment, I am looking around here." And she was. He could see various memories flash by his eyes, until Ino hit paydirt. Neji ground his teeth as Ino examined the memory, a recent one, in detail.

"I see," she said after a few seconds.

"Ino, stop speaking now."

"Ah, don't worry. I am done anyways." And with that, Ino released the technique and Neji regained control of his body.

"Ino," Neji began to growl.

"You can't really blame him, you know. Naruto probably just did not think about you when he made plans to leave the village."

"Nor did he even inform me he was leaving either. I had to find out from Shikamaru of all people. I am his second, he could at least mention it to me when he is planning to leave the village for an extended period of time."

"Well, it isn't like he was born into one of the Clans like us. He probably still isn't used to thinking in those kinds of terms."

"Naruto-sama isn't a child. He cannot afford to just forget about things like that. He is the next head of the Hyuugas. It is his responsibility to think about those things."

"Why don't you just send him a letter or something?"

"If I knew where he was, I might. The Hokage is being close-lipped about it. Shikamaru too."

"Well, I supposed that presents a problem," Ino admitted. "Let's go look for Shikamaru. I can probably get Naruto's location out of him." Neji was not given an opportunity to resist, and was nearly frog-marched along Ino to find Shikamaru.

"Why would Shikamaru know where Naruto is?"

"Naruto is apparently doing something big, and I overheard him and Naruto talking about contacting him."

"Interesting." And it was. While Naruto rarely did anything small, the fact that the Hokage had apparently set Shikamaru as her and Naruto's go-between was a fact to remember.

Shikamaru knew trouble when he saw it. And Ino was always trouble. Had been when they were kids, and in the Academy, and still was now they were ninja. The Nara boy made a smart about-face on sight of the blond woman, but not quickly enough to escape her sight. He seriously considered running for it, but she was faster than he was, and it was very difficult to hide from the Byakugan. Sending a quick prayer skyward, he turned to face the pair.

"Where is Naruto?" Ino asked without preamble.

Shikamaru's mouth was open to tell them he was on the way to see the Hokage, and snapped it shut. While the fact that Naruto was on an extended mission out of the village was no secret, anything more specific was classified on a need-to-know basis. "I can't say," he said.

"Yeah, yeah, I know, his mission is probably classified, but you can at least tell Neji where to find him. He needs to send a letter to Naruto."

"There are a number of matters that Naruto-sama left unfinished before he departed. I need to contact him regarding several of them," Neji said somewhat stiffly, after Ino elbowed him.

"Still sounds weird to hear anyone call Naruto Naruto-sama." Shikamaru held his hands up to ward off Neji's frosty stare. "Sorry. Either of you talk to the Hokage about it? I really can't say without her permission."

"Come on, Shikamaru."

"And the fact that I don't know where he is either."

"You know, you could have said 'I don't know' at first."

"Would you have believed me?

Ino considered that. "Probably not."

"Well there you go. Now, I gotta go."

"Alright. Next stop, Hokage's Tower."

OoOoO

"No."

"Really?"

"No."

"You won't even contact him for us?"

"Naruto is currently out of communication. He will contact the village when he can. Until then, he is on his own."

"Damn." Ino shrugged. "Sorry Neji. I did what I could."

"You make it sound like I asked for you help."

"Well, you have to admit, you couldn't really have expected me to mind my own business when you were acting all mopey."

Neji opened his mouth to retort, but thought better of it, and left.

"Drat. I hadn't expected him to just walk out."

Tsunade cocked an eyebrow. "You mean you were deliberately antagonizing him?"

"Well, it is either that, or bowl haircuts and spandex."

The other woman chuckled. "I can't say that anything that keeps the number of Green Beasts down is strictly bad."

"My reasoning too. Now, I am going to see if I can't find him before he gets back to his place and bug him to buy me some pudding."

"Don't you have your own money?"

"I do, but it is more fun to spend his. Besides, it isn't like he is short on it."

"Whatever," Tsunade said chuckling and waving a hand in dismissal. "Just get out of here."

OoOoO

A/N: God, what has it been, almost six months now? Here go the obligatory explanations: real life kinda got in the way. I got into college, broke up with my girlfriend and moved twice. Plus, I just had absolutely zero motivation for this chapter for some reason. I knew where I wanted it to go, but getting it there was like pulling teeth.

I have no doubt that I have lost a great many readers, but I thank those of you who have stuck with this so far. I have most of the next chapter planned out, and while I won't give a deadline (they make the weirdest sound as they go rushing by,) it should be out in the next week or two. Certainly without another six-month hiatus.

Still not completely satisfied with this chapter, but if I hold on to it any longer, I may never post it. Tried to get some world-building and character development in. Not sure how successful I was on either counts.

Next chapter: Naruto meets the Daimyo and receives quite the surprise.