Shifts in Life

Chapter 42: Stormy Seas


Naruto had to admit that his new pillow was very comfortable. It was soft and warm and fuzzy. All the good things a pillow should possess, except maybe the fuzziness in most cases. Combine that with the mild heat bearing down on him from the sun and the smell of the ocean on the breeze and it was easy to see why the blond Uzumaki looked almost ready to fall asleep.

He was laying against his new pillow on the peer overlooking to ocean. Jiraiya was with Michiru. They were apparently waiting on 'The Royal Yacht' to make station at the harbor so they could load the circus supplies, tents, animals, and all the crap that Michiru had bought during his journey through the Elemental Nations before heading off to Tsuki no Kuni. That in itself was going to be a long, laborious process, one that Naruto did not envy the circus workers for.

'Who the hell names their boat The Royal Yacht anyways?' Naruto complained to himself as he moved the reed he had stuck in between his teeth around. 'That's got to be the most snobbish name for a ship I've ever heard.'

'That's royalty for you.' Kyuubi's answer was very airy, uncaring even. Maybe it was because she was too busy filing her nails to care about something as mundane as a ship's name. While her pillows was not as comfortable as the living one Naruto was using, she had a lot more of them, which more then made up for the lack of comfort. 'Even back when I was hidden under my guise as a human, the rich and spoiled gave items they owned similar names: The Royal Carriage, A Noble Cause, The Sword of Promised Victory. Hmph! Humans like giving grandiose names to things because it makes them feel more important than they really are.'

'Yeah, I guess,' Naruto sighed. In response to his deep release of carbon dioxide, his pillow shifted, then growled in question.

"Don't worry too much, Chamū," Naruto reassured the saber-tooth he was leaning his back against. "I was just thinking about something. Nothing important."

Chamū growled quietly before laying his head back down on his paws and closing his eyes. The blond grinned, though the tiger could not see it, and decided that Chamū's idea to get some more shut eye was a grand one. The next thing he knew, he too had closed his eyes and began drifting off to sleep.

Or he tried to drift off to sleep.

A set of footsteps caused Naruto's and Chamū's ears to twitch. Two pairs of eyes opened, one bright yellow and the other an azure blue. The blue eyes closed a second later as the blond they belonged to 'tsked' in annoyance.

"Something I can help you with, Jiraiya."

Said man's wince went unseen by Naruto.

"We just got finished meeting with the Dock Master," Jiraiya decided to not let his emotions play on his face as he informed his apprentice of their current situation. "It seems there is a storm at sea and The Royal Yacht ―" Naruto snorted. "― won't be making it for another day or so. We're currently in the process of securing passage on another ship, but it's going to take some time."

"That's nice and all, but what does this have to do with me?"

Jiraiya sighed at his godson's tone. Just how long did he plan on staying angry anyways?

"Since it's going to take time before we can leave, Michiru and Hikaru are heading out somewhere. Since our job is protecting them on their journey, we'll be going with them."

"I see." Azure eyes opened once more before a tired sigh escaped the lips of the person said eyes belonged to. "I guess there's nothing to it then." He stood up, making both Chamū and their companion Kiki look up at him. Naruto gave them a slight smile as he rubbed Chamū's head. "Don't worry. I'm just heading out to keep an eye on the brat and his fat dad. Part of the job I'm afraid."

Chamū made soft growling noises while Kiki went back to eating his apple.

"You two be good, alright?" Naruto told them. "I don't want to hear about you biting some poor man's head off or something." Another growl was his answer. "Alright then. I'm off. See you when I see you."

Naruto made his way over to Jiraiya and together, the two of them began walking away from the peer.

"How can you understand that tiger?" asked Jiraiya as their feet created a steady 'thumping' rhythm against the wood of the dock. "I don't know anyone who has the ability to understand animals like that. It's a pretty impressive skill."

"Why do you care?" asked Naruto. He didn't give Jiraiya a chance to answer as he sped up and began walking ahead of his sensei. Wooden planks turned into cobblestone pavement and the ocean view was replaced with large buildings soon enough.

Jiraiya closed his eyes, hiding the pain he felt at his godson once again giving him the cold shoulder.

'How long do you plan on staying mad at your teacher?'

Naruto frowned at the question. 'I don't know.' He looked up at all the buildings surrounding him on either side. They were all pretty colorful; blues and yellows along with reds and oranges seemed to be the most prominent colors being used by the buildings. This was a very bright city. It was a complete contrast to his own thoughts, which were almost as gloomy as Sasuke's. 'It's not as if a want to be mad at him. It's just that every time I think about forgiving him, I remember that those 13 years where I lived alone could have been avoided if he had been a proper godfather and I get so angry just thinking about it.'

'I think I understand, abstractly at least.'

'Ne, Kyuubi. What would you do if you were in my situation?'

'I'd eat him. It wouldn't be the first time I've devoured a human.'

'Right...' Naruto sweat dropped. 'I shouldn't have asked.

XoX

Naruto looked on in interest at the place they had arrived at. It was a small cottage on the very outskirts of town, next to a small bluff overlooking the ocean. Green grass and a few trees sprinkled along the ground surrounded two sides while the ocean disappeared into the horizon on the West and the small dirt road he, Jiraiya and the carriage carrying the fatso and his jerk of a son were on the East.

The cottage itself was very quaint, but nice. A red tiled roof and paneled yellow wood made up a majority of the small place. Much of the house was surrounded by hedges. There was even a garden, which a pretty, middle-aged woman was tending to.

Said woman stopped pulling the berries from her plants and stood to her feet as the carriage pulled up. Naruto stopped alongside the carriage, hands behind his head and a bored look on his face. Now that they were closer, he could see the woman's features more clearly; a darker not-quite Mocha-colored tan, dark brown eyes, and dark hair down to her back. She was wearing a basic sleeveless green dress and had a shark-tooth necklace around her neck.

The door to the carriage opened and Michiru stepped out of it carrying an armful of flowers. There sure were a lot of them. Flowers, that is. And such variety as well. They were all so colorful. Being an amateur gardener himself, Naruto knew a few of the flowers the man was holding, but the rest were a mystery.

As the fat man stopped just in front of the garden, the woman halted herself at the end, opposite the obese prince.

The flowers came down as Michiru lowered his arms, revealing his chubby face. The moment he saw the woman, his cheeks flushed with pleasure and a large smile crept on his face.

"Oh, it's so good to see you again, Amayo!"

The woman, Amayo, looked at Michiru like he was some kind of idiot. At least until Hikaru stepped out of the carriage. Then she gasped, brought a hand to her mouth and dropped her basket of fruits.

Uncaring of the fruit she stepped on, Amayo began walking forward, her pace hurried. Michiru saw this and dropped all but two of the bouquets in his hands as he raised his arms in joy.

"Oh my honey!"

Amayo walked right past him like he was not even there. She marched up to Hikaru, kneeling down in front of the confused boy. Her eyes began to water.

"Hikaru... is that you?" Hikaru didn't answer. Mainly because Amayo did not give him a chance to answer before wrapping him up in a fierce hug as tears began leaking from her eyes. "Oh Hikaru! My beautiful boy!"

Naruto snickered into his hand as he watched the scene unfold. While some might have called this a heartfelt reunion, he couldn't help but find comedy in the moment. The look on Michiru's face when Amayo waltzed right by him like he wasn't even there was just too much.

'I'm glad to see you're amused by this.'

Naruto chuckled some more. 'Aren't you? I mean, just look at that idiot's face. I've never seen someone look so constipated before.'

'I don't really care enough to be amused. Now if Michiru ended up getting strangled to death by his own intestines, then I would be amused.'

Naruto sweat dropped. 'You... have a really morbid idea of what's amusing.'

'It comes from years of being used by humans who think they can do whatever they want.'

'Ha... right.'

Naruto focused on what was happening outside of his mind again. Michiru had just had someone pick up the bouquets he dropped for him (lazy ass), and was now making his way over to Amayo who was still hugging the life out of Hikaru.

"Ahem." He coughed, holding out the bouquet of red roses. When Amayo ignored him, he coughed again, louder, and began shaking the bouquet in order to get the woman's attention. "Ahem, ahem!"

Ayamo turned around, her eyes narrowed in annoyance. She gave the fat man a deadpanned look that let everyone there know she was displeased at having her reunion with her son disrupted. "Who are you?"

Michiru looked distraught. "How could you say that, Amayo." The numerous bouquets fell from his nerveless fingers, dropping to the ground in a rustle of leaves and fabric. With the last bouquet left in his hand, the roses he had tried handing to Amayo, he pointed to himself. "Don't you recognize me?"

Eyes squinting, she looked at the fat man who seemed to know her with a bit more heedful gaze. After a few seconds, her eyes widened and her face became disbelieving. "I don't... impossible... Michiru?"

"Of course it's me!"

"What!?" Amayo shrieked, her eyes boggling. They looked like a pair of dish pans. "No! No, I don't believe it!" She shook her head almost violently and held Hikaru that much tighter. "You're too fat!"

A wide grin spread across Naruto's face, threatening to split it in half. Now this was entertainment!

"Well, if I am it's all because of you," Michiru accused. Naruto grimaced in disgust as the man blamed Amayo for his lack of self-control when it came to eating. "Ever since you left me, eating is the only thing that can help me forget my loneliness."

Amayo gave one last look at the man who had apparently been much skinnier when she knew him, then groaned.

Naruto threatened to break down in laughter. Truly, watching these people was enough to lift his troubled spirits.

Now if only he could find some way to learn how to deal with a group of S-rank ninja without Jiraiya's help, things would be perfect.

XoX

"I'm so lonely without you. So is Hikaru. Please come home where you belong."

Naruto stared up at the blue sky from where he lay on the roof of the small cottage the fat Prince's not fat former wife lived in. The sky was rather pretty today. It was a shade of blue similar to his own eyes. There were a number of clouds drifting lazily by, going where ever the wind took them. Naruto almost felt like he could just drift off right now.

No wonder Shikamaru did this so often. Watching the clouds, that is. It was addictive.

His arms were behind his head and there was another reed in his mouth that he was playing with, with his tongue. Down below in the house itself, the voice of Michiru and Amayo could be heard.

"No!" He heard Amayo's voice, firm and strong, speak up. It was a stark contrast compared to Michiru's whiny tone. "My only regret is Hikaru. If I hadn't signed that stupid wedding contract, I'd keep him here with me, and raise him myself!"

'I guess they're having a lovers spat,' Naruto mused, absently twirling the reed of grass around. 'I wonder... Amayo was surprised by how fat Michiru was. How long has it been since they last saw each other? It takes an awful lot of time to get that fat.'

'Or just a lot of food.'

'Maybe. But even eating until your ready to burst every single day it would take years to get that large.'

'Why are we even talking about this?'

Naruto shrugged. 'Cuz I'm bored. And I imagine that you are too.'

'Hmm... it is pretty boring now. There's no battles, no mysteries, and I don't get to watch as humans kill each other because of their own greed and stupidity. It's definitely too peaceful for my tastes.'

'You and your need for violence. You know, you never spoke like this when we first met.'

'That's because I was being cautious. It's important when going into a mutually beneficial relationship that you do not do or say anything to upset the one you are going to rely on.'

'You didn't do a very good job then.'

'Whatever, I could say the same thing about you.'

'Touche.'

The sound of footsteps underneath the blond-haired Uzumaki alerted him to the fact that two people were pacing. One was light, Amayo's definitely. The other was heavy. Michiru, obviously.

"Why do you hate me so much? I gave you everything you ever wanted, didn't I? Wasn't it enough?"

The pacing stopped.

"Ugh, Michiru. You never gave me the most important thing."

"Huh?" Michiru's confusion was obvious, even to Naruto who could not see the man. The blond could just imagine that idiot of a prince, his head tilted to the side in confusion as he tried to figure out what his former wife was talking about, and failing. "I know! How about a new palace! A pink one!"

"NO!"

BANG!

Scratch that. He wasn't just failing. He was failing epically.

"Then... how about a villa for your parents? That way they could live with us year round, even in the winter."

"RRGGG"

SLAM!

"Oh boy," Naruto whistled. "Someone's getting violent down there."

"Don't be so mean," Michiru started again after a several second pause. "Come on. Come live with me again. I'll give you anything you want. Just name it. You want the royal jewels? You can have them my love. Anything you want. I would even give up Tsuki no Kuni for you!"

Naruto wrinkled his nose in barely masked disgust. This... this was the prince of Tsuki no Kuni? This disgusted, sniveling piece of shit who would willingly give up his entire kingdom just like that?

A man like this was not worthy of calling himself Daimyo. No wonder he had not already inherited the title. He had yet to even understand what should be truly important to him.

Apparently, Amayo felt the same way because a second later there was a loud clattering of something falling to the floor, a chair most likely, followed by the sound of flesh smacking against flesh. If Naruto were a betting ninja, he would have just put all his money on that sound being Amayo slapping Michiru.

"You really haven't changed at all. Even now, you haven't got a clue, have you? About what really matters."

"... What really matters, huh," Naruto muttered to himself, his eyes closing. "Even the best of us don't always know what's truly important to us."

'Naruto?'

"It's nothing." Naruto shook his head and stood up. He looked out across the land, seeing the grass and trees sway in the breeze, the waves gently caress the ocean shore. "Just thinking."

'…'

'Kyuubi?'

'Yes?'

'What do you think is better? Having both your parents alive and well, but no longer together and fighting? Or dead and gone, but safe in the knowledge that they loved each other very much?'

'I... I don't know...' Kyuubi sounded surprised and unsure. There was a quiver in her voice that he was not used to. She had probably not been expecting such a question. 'Why are you asking?'

'No reason, I guess...' Naruto found his eyes locked on the small figure on the wall. Hikaru. Currently, the young boy was looking into the window of the cottage, his eyes wide and his mouth opened. Naruto wondered what the boy was thinking. 'Just curious...'

'…'

Kyuubi had nothing to say to that. No snide remarks, no sarcastic comments, nothing.

The two remained silent, even as the group began to disembark, leaving all parties in varying states of negativity.

XoX

Naruto sat against the rock overlooking the ship they would be using to sail to Tsuki no Kuni. It was a very large steam ship, spanning a total length of 165 meters, an older model that combined both the power of a steam engine and sails. Most of the hull was made of wood, though Naruto had heard from the Quarter Master that it was lined with metal to ensure structural stability. He didn't much care to learn the specifics so long as it could get them to their destination.

The sun was beginning to set. Yet even now Naruto could see the many people from the circus Michiru had bought working to load all the supplies and animals onto the ship. They had been working nearly non stop since they secured the ship as a transport several hours ago and showed no signs of quitting now. It was the hope of all those present that they would be able to set out to sea before nightfall.

With his enhanced vision, Naruto could make out the cage belonging to Chamū. The fierce tiger was lying down on his stomach, using his paws as pillows. Sitting on top of the cage was the saber-tooth's ever faithful companion, Kiki.

As his eyes continued to observe the scene going on before him, his mind went back to Hikaru's disastrous run in with Michiru's wife. Despite not liking the spoiled brat the fatso and Amayo had sired, he couldn't help but feel a little bad for the kid. It must be hard not having a mother, but knowing that she was actually alive and just couldn't live with you because she hated your father.

It also made Naruto think about his last familial connection. Despite not being there when he should have, Jiraiya was the last family he really had. Did he really want to alienate the man just because he was angry?

Naruto inhaled deeply of the ocean air, the taste of salt tingling on his tongue. He held it for a moment, then released it all in a monumental sigh.

'Kyuubi, do you think I should forgive Jiraiya?'

There was a pause as the great Bijuu was startled from her thoughts. It took several long moments of thought before she was able to speak. Even then, her words were not an answer, but a question.

'Why are you asking me?'

'Why wouldn't I ask you?' Naruto returned, giving her the mental equivalent of a shrug. 'Unlike everyone else, you are the only person I know that can give me an unbiased answer. Any advice my friends could give me would be jaded by their beliefs and thoughts of Jiraiya, one of the Three Legendary Sannin. You are the only one who doesn't give two shits about him or his fame, and I need someone who will give me a straight answer without any form of hero worship shadowing their judgement.'

'I see...' Kyuubi paused for a moment. Naruto got the feeling that she was thinking a bit more carefully about her answer than she normally did. 'I can't give you a straight answer. Being who I am, I've never really felt close enough to anyone to consider them family. Not even the people who first raised me. Still, if I were in your place, I would look at things from a more logical perspective than an emotional one.'

'A logical perspective?'

'You know, looking at what you have to gain and lose by going with either option. Pros and cons, positive vs. negative. Whenever I was making any decision during my time disguised as a human, I would always choose the option where I stood to benefit the most.'

'That's a pretty selfish way of looking at things,' Naruto sighed, 'I can definitely see you thinking that way.'

'Are you insulting me?' Kyuubi asked, a dangerous tone entering her voice. The back of the hair on Naruto's neck began to stand on end. It felt like if he didn't answer this question right, he would be in serious trouble with the woman sealed inside of him.

'No, no,' he was quick to reply. 'I was just saying that it's something I can see you doing. It makes sense though. Maybe I should begin thinking that way.'

'Hmm...' Kyuubi frowned as she tried to determine whether her container was being sincere. It was always hard to tell with this brat. Still, she couldn't sense any duplicity in his voice, so decided to let his comment go without reprimand. 'That you should. Humans are greedy, always looking out for their own interests without regard to who gets hurt in the process. That's half the reason wars are started; someone got to big for their britches and ended up over extending themselves in their quest for more.'

'Is that how you got sealed?' Naruto teased.

'Moving on!' Kyuubi said loudly, coughing into her hands. 'You should begin thinking about what you stand to gain and lose from your decision on what to do in regards to your sensei. What are the benefits towards hating him as opposed to forgiving him. What do you stand to lose?'

'Well...' Naruto's face scrunched up in thought, his arms crossing over his chest. 'I suppose if I continued to hate him, it would make me feel vindicated...'

'It would also hurt him.'

'You think so?'

'Of course. Regardless of whether or not he was there for you when you were younger, he is still your godfather. And you are the last living connection to his favorite student.'

'I see...' Naruto sighed. 'I don't really care to hurt him. That's not why I'm doing this. I'm just... I'm just so angry at him. I want... I want...'

'Yes?'

'I don't know. I guess I just want to know why? Why did he leave me for twelve years without even visiting me once? Even if he had to live away from me, he could have visited me occasionally. Not even his spy network was stopping him from doing that.'

'You could always ask him,' Kyuubi suggested. Naruto said nothing. 'Anyways, moving on. Is there anything else you can think of?'

'No.'

'Then let's go onto the other option. What do you stand to gain from forgiving him?'

'I don't know.' Naruto shrugged. 'I guess things would go back to the way they were.'

'You could always extort him if you want.'

'What do you mean?'

'I mean you could use his desire for your forgiveness as a means of getting something out of him, like more training, secret techniques he might know.'

'I.. I suppose I could do that.' Naruto frowned uncomfortably. 'But it doesn't feel right to use him like that.'

'But he did ignore you for twelve years, right? It would only be fair play if you got something out of him in repayment.'

'I guess...'

'Well, whatever you decide, I will abide by it. We are stuck together. Though I do hope you remember what I said.'

'Of course.'

'Good. In that case, you may want to deal with your new guest.'

'Eh? New guest?'

It was only then that Naruto realized he was no longer alone. Standing near the rock he was sitting on was none other than Hikaru, who was staring at him with a strange look. Naruto didn't know what that look represented, but it was kind of creepy if he were honest. Not that he would ever let anyone know that.

"What do you want, kid?" Naruto looked down at Hikaru in annoyance. Even if he felt some pity for the boy, it didn't mean he was gonna be nice to the brat just because of that. As far as he was concerned, the kid was still a spoiled, pampered little prince. "Can't you see I'm busy?"

"I want you to be my vassal!"

And he just went and proved it.

"You want me to what?"

"Be my vassal!" The boy sounded pretty enthusiastic as he spoke. He was even pumping his clenched fists. "Become my servant, and I'll get you anything you want!"

Naruto stared at the kid with half-lidded eyes. His knee bent before he pushed himself into the air, jumping several meters before descending towards the ground. As his feet touched the wooden surface of the peer, he lowered his center of gravity before standing up straight. Now up close, Naruto stared at the young boy with those half-lidded eyes until Hikaru became uncomfortable and looked away.

"Not interested."

After saying this he turned around and began walking off, leaving a dismayed prince behind.

"Hey! Wait!" The sound of feet hitting the pavement at a quick trot let Naruto know Hikaru was running. A second later the boy in question slowed down as he reached the blond, who simply did his best to ignore the child. "I can give you anything you want! Do you like games? Money? Just name it and I can give it to you!"

Naruto stopped abruptly, making Hikaru almost run into him. He turned, fixing the boy with an intense glare that had the small prince taking a step back.

"You really are just like your dad, aren't you?" Naruto demanded. When the boy just shivered under his gaze he snorted in disgust and turned away. "You really don't understand anything. Just another soiled little brat who thinks he can have whatever he wants because he's rich. You could give me all the ramen in the world and I would never agree to be your vassal."

"Ramen?" Naruto ignored the boy's question as he began walking off. He was getting tired of dealing with bratty little children. This mission seemed to be full of them.

'You really love ramen way too much.'

'Shut up.'

XoX

Many hours later the ship had finally set sail. It had taken a lot of time, hard work and sweat, but with the combined efforts of everyone from the circus they had managed to get all of their equipment, supplies and even the surplus of random junk that Michiru had bought into the ship without too much hassle. Thanks to their efforts the group had managed to set out to sea before the day had ended.

Having been assigned the task of protecting the fat prince and the spoiled prince, Naruto decided to keep his mostly silent vigil away from the others, choosing the higher ground of the mast where he could see everything around them as opposed to sticking up close where the two princes and Jiraiya were sure to annoy him. It was better this way.

Roosting up in the small look-out post, Naruto watched the world move slowly by. His hair blew in the breeze brought about by a combination of the wind and ship movements, swaying in front of his face and occasionally blocking the view of his eyes. Azure irises scanned the event horizon for anything interesting. He didn't need to worry about Michiru or Hikaru getting killed by an enemy sneaking on board. Jiraiya was with them, so he focused on searching out possible hostile vessels before they could reach him.

Of course, that wasn't all he was doing. In his hand was a large bowl of steaming hot ramen, Miso to be exact. It was one of the few Ichiraku bowls he had sealed into scrolls so they would maintain their freshness for when he was ready to eat. This decision to seal up his favorite food was by far his best one. He didn't dislike the instant ramen, but damned if this authentic Ichiraku ramen didn't taste ten times better.

'I don't know why you want to eat ramen when they have a veritable feast down below you.'

Naruto scoffed as he twirled a strand of noodles along his chopsticks. 'That crap is way to expensive for my tastes. I prefer simpler foods when possible.' A grin worked it's way onto his face as he brought the ramen up to his mouth. 'Besides, nothing beats a hot bowl of Ichiraku's Ramen.'

'Except for every other food on the planet.'

Naruto scowled. 'You just don't understand the greatness that is Ichiraku! If you did, you wouldn't be saying such blasphemy!'

'On the contrary, I know more about Ichiraku than I ever care to. Do not forget that I am sealed inside of you. I have seen everything that has ever happened to you in life, and I've occasionally been able to share your senses whenever you were feeling particularly emotional. And unfortunately, a good number of those occasions were when you ate at Ichirakus. So yes, I do know about Ichirakus, and I still can't see why you would bother eating that crap.'

'I'm not going to stand here and listen to you insult my favorite food! You take that back this instant!'

'No. No, I don't think I will.'

Naruto's scowl was fierce as he listened to Kyuubi's voice speak inside of his mind. Oooh, he could just picture that infuriating smirk on her face as she spoke about his favorite food with such derision. He couldn't believe this woman was daring to insult ramen! And to his face!

Well, maybe it wasn't quite to his face, seeing how she was locked up behind that seal and they weren't actually speaking face-to-face. But, that didn't change the fact that she was insulting ramen! And not just any ramen! Ichiraku's ramen! The ramen of ramen! This injustice towards the food of the gods was not something that he could just let slide!

'Now listen here, furbag! I don't care if you are the most powerful Bijuu in the world! And I don't care if you're the hottest piece of ass I've ever seen! You will NOT insult ramen in my presence! Do you understand me!?'

Silence entered the debate between man and Bijuu. Naruto wished he could actually see the woman he was arguing with. This entire scolding thing would be much more effective if he was actually capable of glaring at the red head. Still, all that meant was that he would have to let his voice convey his anger properly.

'So you think I'm the hottest piece of ass you've ever seen? My, such flattery. You certainly know how to make a girl feel special.'

Naruto's right eye began twitching and a vein pulsed on his forehead at the sound of Kyuubi's teasing voice speaking up once more. It was really beginning to bother him that he never seemed to be able to pull one over on the powerful chakra entity.

What's more, that strange desire to mess with him that she had seemed to be getting stronger. The number of times she teased him like this were increasing by the day. Naruto didn't know why this was, but it was beginning to drive him to his wits end.

'Ugh. You know what? I'm done with this conversation.' The blond slumped down in his seat ― he hadn't even realized he'd shot to his feet during his heated rant ― and began eating his ramen again. 'I don't even know why I bother anymore.'

'I don't either.'

Naruto scowled, but he didn't say anything and instead continued slurping up his noodles.

As he began to calm down, Naruto chided himself on letting that woman get the best of him. He really should know better than to let his anger overtake him like that. Not that it was necessarily his fault. Kyuubi always seemed to know exactly what buttons to press to make him lose his top, so to speak.

Letting his mind drift along other veins of thought as he finished off his bowl of ramen, the sound of loud, boisterous laughter caught his attention.

Looking down, Naruto couldn't help but scowl as he saw Jiraiya sitting at one of the tables, a bottle of sake in one hand and one of the circus girls wrapped around his arm. He was clearly quite drunk, as indicated by the streak of red going across his face, and the laughter. Only someone who was super drunk could have such a boisterous laugh.

Focusing on the others, Naruto saw that Michiru was also feeling quite rambunctious that night... or he was just drunk as a fucking skunk. The blond was betting on the latter. The man was laughing quite joyously, dancing around like some kind of loon. The Prince of Tsuki no Kuni spun and twirled like a drunken top. It was a wonder he didn't fall on his ass.

Absently, his eyes went over to the other prince. Hikaru was sitting by himself, his cheek resting on the butt of his hand. He seemed kind of depressed.

Not that Naruto cared. The brat was probably just sulking because he wouldn't become the boy's vassal.

His gaze went to the horizon once more. As they looked out at the sky and ocean beyond, his eyes narrowed. Dark storm clouds were brewing in the distance. Naruto could not be sure, but it looked like they were traveling this way.

Standing up, the young ninja resealed his bowl and chopsticks away. He then jumped down from the look-out and onto the deck below. Michiru and a good deal of the other people did not notice his entrance, drunk as they were. Jiraiya, even though he too was wasted beyond belief, did.

"Hey, Naruto!" The man cheered as he held a bottle of sake in one hand and a cup in the other. "Have a drink with me!"

Naruto rolled his eyes at his sensei. It was moments like these that really told him that the three Sannin may be legendary ninja, but they were also the biggest bunch of crazies he had ever met.

"There's a large storm gathering north-east of us," Naruto informed the man without preamble. "I'm pretty sure it's coming our way. I suspect we'll get hit within the next hour or so."

His words caused Jiraiya to sober up. The man's gaze sharpened a bit as he stood to his feet and walked over to the side of the ship.

Hands clamped to the railing, Jiraiya looked at the gathering storm that Naruto had mentioned. It was much closer now than when Naruto had last spotted it. The winds were blowing it their way.

"Naruto," Jiraiya's voice held none of the drunken cheer it had five seconds ago. "I need you to help me break up the festivities and get all of these people into the ship."

"Right."

Together, the two began informing people of what was going on. They didn't speak to each other much, but it was a marked improvement to the last few days.

XoX

Naruto was not able to sleep. With the storm tossing and turning the boat like it was God's plaything, he had been unable to catch even a wink of sleep. It didn't help that this was one of the first times he'd ever been out to sea.

Thus, he lay there in bed, wide awake. His hands were behind his head, fingers laced together and his legs crossed over each other. Bright blue eyes stared up at the ceiling, counting the lines of the wooden beams. He had gotten to sixty-four when Jiraiya burst into the room.

"Naruto!" The man sounded pretty serious as he picked up Naruto's discarded clothes and tossed them at said blond. "Get dressed and get up. We've got work to do."

"What's going on?" asked Naruto as he did as told, quickly donning his shinobi uniform.

"Because of how violent the storms gotten, the animals to the ship are in danger of being thrown overboard," his white-haired sensei informed him as he waited for the blond to get ready. "We need to get out there and get all the animals into the ship's interior."

Naruto's mind went to the animal friend he made on this mission. No one else would be going near Chamū's cage.

Zipping up the jacket Jiraiya had given him as he and the white-haired Sannin walked out of the hall, Naruto said, "Got it. Is everyone from the Circus helping out as well?"

"Yeah," Jiraiya walked ahead, his pace hurried. "However, they're just regular civilians. That means they'll be slow. It'll be up to us to get the majority of the animals into the ship."

"Right."

"What's the point?"

Naruto froze on the spot. His head turned so that he could look behind him in order to glare at Hikaru. "What was that?"

"Who cares about those stupid animals," Hikaru muttered darkly. "Just let them drown."

"How dare you..." Naruto's harsh growl caused Hikaru's posture to freeze. The blond-haired, blue-eyed, whisker-marked ninja stomped over to the boy, whose eyes had widened in fear. Naruto's teeth were grit so hard that it looked like they might chip and his eyes were shifting from their normal azure blue to a deep purple. "How dare you say something like that! Those animals are your responsibility! You're the entire reason they are on this ship in the first place! But now that you're bored of them, you just want toss them away like trash!"

Hands grabbing a fist full of the boy's shirt, Naruto hauled the child into the air and pushed his back against the wall. With his feet dangling in the air and his hands clenching the blond shinobi's wrists, Hikaru's heart began to beat at an accelerated pace as fear struck him like a hammer.

"You really are a spoiled, little brat, you know that! A shitty little prince who has so much money that you can just buy people and animals like they were a bunch of toys and then discard them when they no longer amuse you!"

Naruto glared at the boy a moment longer before scoffing.

"Tch!"

He let go, dropping the boy to the ground. Hikaru tumbled down, landing harshly on his backside. Naruto turned around and began walking away, leaving the boy staring at his back in fear and tears leaking out of the corner of his eyes.

"Why don't you go back to bed you spoiled, little waste of space."

XoX

'You've been awfully angry lately.'

Naruto did not outwardly react as he helped move several kangaroos through the door that would lead further into the ship's interior. The two-legged mammals were being very difficult and required a good deal of his focus, so he could not spare much time with facial expressions. And it wouldn't matter anyways, since Kyuubi could not see them.

'Can you blame me? With everything I've had to deal with, I think I'm entitled to feeling a bit of anger.'

'I didn't say there was anything wrong with it. I was just making an observation.'

'Then could you please not. I'm in the middle of doing something and you talking may cause me to lose my concentration.'

As he spoke with Kyuubi, he looked around at all the other people currently doing the same thing he was. They were all working hard. Several circus workers were carrying boxes of supplies. Most were so heavy they required two people to take in. Others were doing the same thing he was, leading the animals into the ship. For some reason, they were all avoiding the entrance he was using. He wondered why.

Jiraiya was also out there. The old pervert was using his hair ninjutsu and massive strength to pull along several of the larger animals like that elephant. He was probably the only person their who could do such a thing.

It looked quite outlandish, watching a man in his fifties pull a several ton elephant with his hair.

As Naruto watched Jiraiya do something he doubted anyone else would be capable doing, Kyuubi crossed her arms under her bust and huffed. 'Fine, if that's how you want to be then I won't talk anymore. And here I was, thinking I'd be nice and tell you that brat you berated earlier is out on deck and about to be washed overboard.'

"WHAT!?"

Naruto's shout was lost tp the wind. Only his companion heard him and all he did was growl in what sounded like a questioning tone. When Kyuubi didn't answer him, the blond teen scowled and began twisting his head around to take in as much of the ship as possible.

It was difficult to spot Hikaru at first. With the fierce winds causing his eyes to water and the intense rains smacking him in the face, visibility was very low. Only a shinobi with a doujutsu like the Sharingan or the Byakugan, and maybe a ninja with a high water affinity or something, would be capable of seeing anything beyond five feet in front of them. Everything after that was blurred out, smudged. To put it simply, the most Naruto could see after several feet were blurry, indistinctive shapes.

Not exactly good vision when looking for a child.

Thankfully, while his eyes did not work well in this atmosphere, his ears were just as sharp as ever. Focusing everything he had into his hearing, Naruto blocked out the world around him and tried to divide the noises that reached his ears into individual sounds. It was difficult, and would be nearly impossible for most people.

Naruto was not most people.

With his eyes closed and his sense of smell cut off, Naruto's ears were able to pick up each individual noise within the almighty storm that had descended upon them.

The first thing he heard was the wind as it howled fiercely, like an attacking horde of demons come to kill them all and sink their ship.

After that came the intense crashing of the cages as they were rattled and shaken and bounced by the winds, which was mixed with the loud booming of thunder.

This was followed by shouts and clammering of those trying to get all the animals and supplies into the ship, the cry of the animals as they were startled and the clomping of their hooves as they were herded inside.

Through all that, Naruto managed to pick up something else. A noise that was not being made by the natural disaster that had struck them, or the animals, or even the people around him. It was the frightened yelling of a child.

"Come on, Chamū!" Naruto shouted, running off. His saber-toothed companion growled affirmatively and took off after the blond shinobi. Together, the two made their way across the deck towards the opposite end of the ship where they finally found Hikaru, and boy was that kid in trouble.

"Damn it! Hikaru!"

The young prince in question was holding tightly onto the side of the railing as he was struck with rain and water that splashed up over the side of the boat. He was only using one hand to hold onto the rail, thus making his position precarious.

The other hand was firmly grabbing onto Kiki, keeping the young chimp from flying over the side.

Naruto dashed forward as quickly as he could. He would like to say he went by in a blur, but that would be a lie. Due to how wet the floor was, the constant shifting of the water, and the wind compounding the situation, he couldn't use chakra to keep his feet from sticking. He didn't have that kind of control. That forced him to make his way forward conventionally, which meant he was only going a little faster than a civilian finding themselves in a similar situation would.

And while he was trying to make his way over as quickly as he could, Hikaru's grip on the railing was slipping. The young boy could feel his fingers relaxing as the howling winds and slick rain made his already tenuous hold on the wood become more and more precarious. His eyes wide and frantic, he watched as his fingers began to come undone.

Was this the end?

A second later his hand slipped. There was simply no way he could hold on anymore. He wasn't all that strong, and he didn't have the ability to stick to surfaces. His small, fragile body simply could not hold him there anymore.

He began to fall.

Not even a moment passed after he started falling, his mouth open in a loud shout as he and the monkey in his grasp began plummeting to what would surely be their doom, did a hand reach out from beyond and grip his own flailing arm.

"Hang in there, kid! Don't let go of my hand!"

The person who grabbed him was, of course, none other than Uzumaki Naruto. The blond had managed to make it in time with the help from his furry companion. As the young prince was pulled up, Kiki hanging onto his other arm for dear life, it became abundantly clear how Naruto had managed to arrive just in time to save the boy from what would have been a very fatal fall.

Chamū. Unlike Naruto who was forced to rely on standard modes of travel, aka running, and couldn't move very quickly in this kind of environment, Chamū's claws made speedy travel much easier. Digging the claws on his feet into the wooden planks of the deck, the saber-tooth tiger had been able to easily and swiftly traverse the ship and reach Hikaru just in the nick of time.

"Uwoah!"

With a grunt and a heave, Naruto pulled the boy under his protection up, setting the child and monkey in said child's arms in front of him on the large saber-toothed tiger's back. A shaken Hikaru buried his face in the spiky-haired shinobi's chest, his body quivering in a mixture of adrenaline and fear.

"Alright! Let's go, Chamū!"

With a loud growl, the white-furred tiger bounded back towards the ship entrance. The group made it in record time and soon all three bipeds had disembarked there quadruped companion.

Still very much shaken from his near-death experience, Hikaru fell to his knees as his body began jittering even more fiercely than it had been. His eyes squeezed shut as his mind replayed how close he had come to death. There was nothing more terrifying than being caught in the jaws of death, of seeing your end with your own eyes and not being able to do anything about it. Had Naruto not rescued him, he would have...

And speaking of Naruto.

"What the hell was that!?"

The boy in question was not happy with his charge. He and his sensei had been paid a lot to protect this kid and his old man, and all their efforts had nearly been ruined because the boy seemed to have some kind of death wish.

When Hikaru did not answer, Naruto gripped him by the front of his shirt and hauled the kid up to eye level.

"Well!?" He growled. "What were you thinking!? Running outside during a storm like that!? Do you have any idea how close you were to dying!? Well!? Why did you do that!?"

"I'm not..."

"What was that?" Naruto furrowed his brow as he glared at the boy. When Hikaru just mumbled something incomprehensible, he scowled. "Speak up!"

"I said I'm not a waste of space!" Hikaru shouted. Naruto's eyes widened in shock at the boy's words. So that was what this was all about?

"Huh? I guess you're right." Hikaru blinked in confusion as Naruto set him down. The older male looked down at the young prince with a contemplative look. "I guess you're not." He raised a hand. Hikaru flinched, then blinked in surprise when the blue-eyed ninja ruffled his hair. "You did good kid."

Blinking up at his current companion, Hikaru looked downright shocked to receive praise from the blond who had berated and insulted him for the past several days since this mission began.

A tug at his sleeve caused him to look down. When he did it was to see Kiki and Chamū standing there on two and four legs respectively. While the small chimp squeaked in what at least looked like praise, the great saber-tooth tiger began licking at the boy's hand.

"And it seems they think you did good as well," Naruto allowed a small smile to appear on his face. "It took guts to do what you did, and had you not, Kiki might not be here." He looked down at the saber-tooth and his monkey companion. "I guess this is their way of saying thanks."

For a minute, Hikaru looked far too stunned to do anything. However, after several seconds of standing there like some kind of idiot, tears began gathering in his eyes. With a great shudder the boy began crying. He bent down, wrapping his arms around Chamū's neck. The tiger did not attempt to bite his head off this time. Meanwhile, Naruto placed a hand on the young prince's head.

A little ways away, Jiraiya watched this scene with a small smile on his face. It looked like things around here for finally starting to look up. Now if only this storm could leave so they could continue their journey without worry...

Outside the interior space of the ship, said storm continued to wage. It would be some time before this fierce tempest abated.


It's been a while since I posted a chapter for this story. Let me know how it holds up.