Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter or Naruto or it's characters... I own only this story.

Shout Out: Right, I promised you a new chapter, and there it is. Sorry for the delay, my beta MHB and I had our Real Life challenges to duke 'em out - she in college and me with working wherever it was needed - last harebrained project was preparing logs for winter. /winces/. Ouch. A price to be paid, if you want to be toasty warm. As it is, the updating will move a little slower now - the next on agenda is Fire And Ice, along with some or other one-shot, which, surprisingly, didn't get straight into HP waters. /stares at it incredulously/. Well, hell, even I have those moments... apparently.

Warnings: SLASH, meaning Akito(Harry)/ Ibiki, tassology and a brief mention of Tora Army.

How many special people change?
How many lives are living strange?
Where were you while we were getting high?
Slowly walking down the hall
Faster than a cannonball
Where were you while we were getting high?

( 'Champagne Supernova' - Oasis)

The time trickled by slowly - or was it fast? The Hi no Kuni was becoming colder by the day, a sign of approaching winter. People exchanged their lighter summer clothes for heavier, warmer winter ones, and even shinobi resorted to donning long-sleeved articles of clothing, like pullovers or cloaks or something similar, instead of their usual sleeveless variants. The sandals were switched from the open-toed to closed-toed ones, and some more unconventional persons chose boots as their footwear. The trees' leaves were colored in their magnificent fiery shades - gold, yellow, warm orange, and red shades, making people think it was a fire, what with the colors blending together. However, right now, the colors were a little dull, with the rain falling down and wetting them, stealing part of their splendor. A week ago, it had been a magnificent sight, to see the self-same leaves edged in frost, but the unpredictable weather got a little bit warmer, enabling the ground to be soaked with chilly rain.

Although it was morning, there were not many people hustling and bustling through the streets. Most of them were still cozying up under their blankets in their homes, with some early-riser shop owners opening their shops. There was a seamstress yawning at the corner as she paused for a bit from her sweeping the floor of her little abode, listening half-heartedly to the pitter-patter of the raindrops on the roofs.

The sweet scents of just-baked bread wafted in the air, and somewhere, someone was humming a small ditty to themselves.

The dango shop was already open, and some half-asleep shinobi sleepily munched on their portions of dango absentmindedly, while quietly conversing about what this day would bring.

It was a quaint little scene, pleasant and a little dull as people moved sluggishly past each other, sometimes exchanging greetings or just plain passing by.

This was the scene Morino Ibiki was watching while he sipped his morning cup of tea in his corner of the 24/7 tea shop he frequented. Despite the rumors of him preferring coffee, Ibiki was rather attached to a good cup of tea - the only thing that made rumors truthful to the extent was that this particular brand of tea had a scent that was very similar to the brewed beverage of doom, AKA coffee. It was also two times stronger than the strongest coffee available, and not many of the drinkers could truly stomach it, because it was insanely bitter and gave the unfortunate consumer a painful rush when downed.

Ibiki twitched a little as his right shoulder pained him again, his eyebrows furrowing minutely. No matter what anyone else said, he knew that the weather would worsen again, and that meant more pain for him as his old wounds ached something terrible. Such was the disadvantage of having been tortured and managing the escape the bastards who did the torturing.

He was sitting in a dimly lit quaint little corner with a good view on the street, half-heartedly listening to the murmuring conversations around him. It was somewhere half past seven in the morning and he had just finished the interrogation of a particularly stubborn nuke-nin. However, his thoughts right now were not about the interrogation - he already wrote the report and it waited on his desk to be sent to Hokage first thing when he came back from his self-imposed break. Usually, Ibiki didn't have such… strange… hours to work, but the last case demanded he use some of more… persuasive methods, thus the irregular schedule.

But right now, Ibiki was pondering his latest enigma. He refused to think about it as an obsession, because, really, Morino Ibiki didn't obsess over anything, he was merely …intensely contemplating it.

This enigma had the name of Koizumi Akito, who was now current guardian of that fox brat Uzumaki. Ibiki still remembered the day Koizumi had been dragged to him, his clothes tattered and bloody, hair matted with ashes, blood and sweat, lips pulled in a bloody, defiant snarl as he weakly struggled to escape his captor's hands, even with him being in such a bad state as he was. His clothes were strange, even for an assassin, but what made Ibiki zero on him was that particular gleam in the man's green eyes. Defiant. Dauntless. The devil-may-care one, and if the captive were free and in good shape… Ibiki had no doubts they would have been the next thing on the man's death list.

He had been pissed off when he got the orders to cease the pursuit of Cookie, but the next moment, he got totally gob smacked that the man they had tortured for so long was allowed to guard the most dangerous secret in the Konohagakure without any qualms on Hokage's part.

And he finally got the man's name.

Koizumi Akito.

Ibiki sipped a mouthful of tea, reveling in the strong taste as he glanced out at the streets. They were a mite bit less gloomy than before, as the little silvers of light were slowly crawling on the surfaces, but the rain was still going strong.

Koizumi Akito, codename Himera. The only Tokubetsu ANBU in history of Konoha, and directly under Hokage's command. His abilities were mostly unknown, but he had some kind of a contract with an unknown beast, called Thing, which had apparently claimed the Forbidden Forest as its territory. He had heard enough horror stories about the place to know it would never be on the Best Neighborhood list, so this…beast had to be a particularly strong monster not only to live in it, but to stake a claim onto it and remain undisputed, if all those… claw marks were correct in telling. Which beget the next question - just what kind of beast was it? Inuzuka trackers also checked the marks, and announced they had never seen anything like it, and that was telling much, what with them being almost indisputable in their field. Ibiki would have been concerned for the little fox brat at this rate - some familiars never got along with the human kids and as it were, they barely tolerated their adult partners. Case in point: snakes. And the scorpions, but this contract was lost, and Hyuugas' held the Hawks' contract, but no one since Hyuuga Hirako managed to get the summon animals to like them, so it was a moot point.

Since the brat was still alive and kicking, Akito's summon somewhat tolerated the blond annoyance. And speaking of Akito…. He was, despite his grouchy attitude, a surprisingly reliable person, taking care of the kid properly even going as far as to threaten the villagers with physical retaliation if they continued their not-harassment of his foxy-cheeked ward. And from what he heard from the Hokage…. Koizumi clan members were bound to their word - if they promised something, it held as if their words were cast iron or gold.

Still, that didn't help Ibiki with his little problem. He had been on a private hunt after the elusive wild-haired male, and as if the luck would have favored him, Koizumi had successfully managed to evade him for a month. It was as if Koizumi had some kind of sensor built in his brain that told him where Ibiki was, and that was driving the Head Interrogator bonkers!

Although, that coupon for all-you-can-eat yakiniku buffet at Akimichi's restaurant, courtesy of Anko, was a good thing. Sometimes it paid off to have a stubborn woman for a subordinate…. Sometimes.

He blinked as a new person passed his line of sight.

It was a male, of an average height - a little bit smaller than average height. The male was clothed in a dark turtleneck pullover with black pants and knee-high boots, along with dark red and black jacket with gray scarf which complimented his feathery dual-toned hair that was currently bound into a messy ponytail.

Ibiki blinked. The man was very similar to Cookie –

And then, he saw the eye patch.

Wait a sec - it was a Cookie! And just what the Hell was the man doing, traipsing carelessly on the street while Ibiki had wasted his sleep and time to chase after him in his free time, huh?

He watched, disbelievingly, as the man stopped at the vegetables vendor, looking through the assorted goodies while bartering for the best price.

It was too good to be true.

Or rather, it was too idiotic to be true.

After mentally scarring the appropriate ANBU squad for their insignificant lives, working around the clock, bugging the Hokage for any information, all the time he had wasted, he should just have sat here, enjoyed his cup of tea and let the man pass him by?

Not a fucking chance.

Ibiki's slender eyebrow twitched.

Harry was just minding his business, meaning haggling with Yamamoto-san for groceries. The old man was a farmer - grumpy and old and constantly complaining on having sciatica that wouldn't go away or his daughter-in-law or his son - his wife was already dead, and Harry stumbled upon him via Naruto's bratty pranks. Old man Yama, as he asked Harry to call him - only Yama part, the 'old man' Harry added for his own amusement, to see Yamamoto huff and puff in irritation.

"Hell no, Yama-jiji. I won't pay ten ryo for a measly daikon radish!" Harry snapped out. "See, it's dried out, old and wrinkly, just like your ass, so don't try to fool me!"

"You little twerp!" Yamamoto barked back, his bushy silver eyebrows twitching. "I will have you know this radish is the finest quality - if anything, I am letting you rip ME off!" He hacked a little as he stroked his long silvery mustache, as his old eyes narrowed in mock-anger.

Harry tilted his head. "Ripping you off? Old man, have you gone senile or do you just love bad jokes? This daikon radish barely deserves the name - even a cat's dick would be bigger than it!" He barked back, making Yamamoto hack out his pipe in surprise.

"Wha - cough, cough - My daikon radishes are NOT smaller than cat's dick!" The old man boomed, making the passerby's eye him strangely, before they hurried away from the crazy man. Yamamoto blinked and then, it clicked just what he had roared out.

Harry grinned at the man's half irritated, half-amused face. "You got this round, brat. So the carrots and some spinach…." He huffed and hawed as he moved, wincing. "Ahwoo, my old bones…. I am old, too old for this shit. And you dare to disrespect an old man like me…. Youth these days…." He mumbled, shaking his gray head disbelievingly.

Harry sighed. "Right, I apologize, Yama-jiji. What about ginger cookies and some tea to get these old nerves of yours in order?" He offered back, smiling slightly. Squinty eyes, like those of an old fox, looked at him. "Two batches?" The man inquired craftily, while he expertly bound the daikon radishes in a small bunch.

Harry made an innocent face. "Well, I had three, but if you insist on two – " Yamamoto harrumphed. "I will throw in some vanilla persimmons. Satisfied, you greedy brat?" He grumbled put, peeved.

It was pure chance that Harry found out Yama-jiji was addicted to ginger cookies - it was actually Naruto's fault. The brat was clumsy with one of his pranks, the old man's nose was sharp enough to detect the scent of ginger on the brat, and he managed to catch the kid before he made his escape, dragging the foxy idiot to his caretaker, one Koizumi Akito.

Harry was prepared for the man to launch a lengthy diatribe at him about the fox brat and his annoyances, but instead of that, the man thrust the mentioned fox brat at him and demanded to be given some ginger cookies. (His wife had baked those for him until she died, and his no-good daughter-in-law never did get them exactly as he liked them. And coincidentally, Naruto smelled like cookies which, by the way, he had managed to filch right off of Harry's plate.)

From that meeting with the ginger cookie whore – ahem, Yama-jiji, Harry had been buying most of the groceries here, as the man was not as prejudiced to Naruto's furry little problems as the other villagers were. And it did help that Harry could bake some of the most delicious ginger cookies.

Suddenly, a shadow covered Harry, making him tense and subtly twitch the fingers of his left hand. The old man only looked upward. "Why, good morning, Morino-san." The man greeted, previously warm voice now polite. Harry closed his eye.

Of course.

Inhaling the scent of rain and early winter, he turned his head, looking at the looming man, who greeted Yamamoto politely, his gravelly voice a little bit husky from disuse. Then those dark eyes zeroed on him.

"So…. Koizumi-san." Ibiki tested the name on his tongue, finding it surprisingly easy to slide off of it, as if it were sluicing water from the fountain. "How do you like Konoha?"

He got a guarded look in return. "Town as any other." Koizumi muttered back as he collected his bags, full of vegetables. "Nothing much has changed."

Privately, Ibiki had to admire the man's gall in pulling off such a nonchalant answer. If he were anyone else, he would no doubt have been duped - but wait, he was. If the stubborn son of a bitch's silence when he had been interrogated, counted. However, he still had Cookie's weapons, and as regretful as it was for him to be parted from them - they were really fascinating - he was honorable enough to return them.

"Hm. You left in my care some of your possessions when you went on that mission. When would you like to collect them?" He asked grudgingly, not missing the reluctantly impressed look in the man's eye. Ibiki blinked. Did the man really think he wouldn't have returned his belongings?

Koizumi stared at him a little more. "Of course. And as soon as possible, please." The one-eyed man responded. "Well, Yama-jiji, I have to be off. Take care and next time you want to sell me daikon radishes at least make sure they are bigger than cat's dick." He teased the vendor, making him spluttered. "Oi! Why, youngsters these days!" Yamamoto harrumphed as he waved his hand mock-threateningly at him. "Be off with ye and teach yer little brat some manners in meantime!"

Ibiki suppressed a small smirk at their baiting of each other. It seemed that Koizumi was well-versed enough to integrate in the daily life of the village…. If he were truly a spy, this kind of proficiency would have been terrifying, and for once, Ibiki was glad that the man besides him was on Konoha's side…. Even if it were only out of the courtesy to the fox brat.

"Care for a spot of tea?" He asked, making the man's head turn to him. Green eyes scrutinized him, and for once, Ibiki felt as if he were a bug under a microscope. He bravely fought not to twiddle, even if he couldn't help himself from shifting once. "I would like to know a little more about your…. mission, if I may."

Inwardly, Harry twitched. Damn it. He didn't have a choice. Especially when Ibiki asked him so very…. openly. If he rejected, then his cover would be compromised, but if he agreed, he would put himself in the uncomfortable spot of being interrogated - subtly interrogated, but interrogated nonetheless.

And looking at those impassive dark eyes, the man knew that. "I am afraid most of the details are classified, Morino-san." He replied back. Morino's mouth tilted upward a little. "I know. I am more interested on your…. personal view of the mission." The man rumbled back, making Harry glare at him half-heartedly. Sighing, Harry shifted the bags. "Right. I have half an hour before I have to leave to feed the brat. Lead the way."

Ibiki couldn't help but grin briefly before he once again schooled his face into an impassive mask. "I understand. So, what kind of tea do you like to drink?"

Harry glared at him, and just to needle the man more, Ibiki decided to get him to drink his kind of tea.

Beginning the day with a small, underhanded kind of torture… Ibiki smirked.

All was well with the world.

Well, almost. Ibiki watched, incredulously, as the man sipped the tea nonchalantly, as if he were drinking water. Every other person would have cringed at the searing pain in their brain from the overload of the caffeine it was like jamming ice-cold and at the same time white-hot ice pick straight into the brain. Even Anko avoided that brand of tea…. and with a good reason.

But this… this man either had an inhumanly high tolerance, or he was just a plain monster.

"So what did you want to talk about?" Koizumi asked as he placed the small tea cup back on its plate.

Ibiki shook himself out of his ponderings. Closing his eyes, he sighed. "I wanted to apologize for mislabeling you as an enemy. Be assured the instigators were properly punished." He muttered lowly, but Harry still heard him loud and clear.

Harry sighed. The tea Ibiki had…. recommended, was making him mildly nauseous and he was sure he would have the headache from hell later, but for now, he ignored the stinging feeling in the back of his brain. Sitting here, with Ibiki no less, was not his cup of tea. He was still wary of the man - he knew about him, about his fame as an interrogator, because if nothing else, Harry learned to be very thorough when it came to information about his enemies. Especially intelligent ones who could prove themselves to be difficult in the long run. And even if Ibiki looked a little bit…. Thuggish, what with his brawny body and scars, his eyes held the spark of intelligence that indicated the man was more than a sum of his body and scars.

"I don't hold you responsible." He finally replied, rubbing his temple in an attempt to alleviate the budding pain. That damned drink was more trouble than he had suspected it to be at first. "They couldn't have known, what with my attire and me not having any proper identifications on my person." He replied, looking at the dawning streets briefly before turning his attention back to Ibiki.

"Why?" Ibiki asked, his brows, partially hidden under the head scarf furrowed with confusion. "Why what?" Harry asked back as he shifted into more comfortable position. Damn it, but sitting in seiza position was really doing a number on his knees. And ankles too. And for that matter, his legs were beginning to get itchy from being in the… unnatural pose for so long. "Why did you allow yourself to be tortured?"

Harry stilled.

Well, damn.

Ibiki watched as the green-eyed man become still, so very still that he could be mistaken for a human-like sculpture. The single green eye darkened. "I… was betrayed by my allies. They managed to get a jump on me just after I finished the general of the opposite side, slapped me with restriction seals and activated some kind of jutsu that made impossible for me to return."

Ibiki blinked. "So your mission was a failure?" he asked, intrigued. Until now, he didn't detect any lies in the man's story - some omissions, yes, but these were expected, what with the man's mission being S-classed. And even if theoretically Ibiki had high enough clearance to find out the true story, it didn't mean Sarutobi would allow him. As it was, whatever Koizumi's past has been, was between Sandaime-sama, Koizumi and Kami. Ibiki had suspected that Koizumi was more or less a mercenary, what with him being unable to unearth any records that would link Koizumi to Konoha in the past years.

Harry snorted derisively. "However you look at it," he snarked, shrugging carelessly. "The mission was completed - the only thing that could be counted as a failure is me failing to defend myself from them and getting tortured." He huffed out as he absentmindedly watched the dregs in his cup. There was a … hare? Along with an hourglass? Hm…. He never did put any stock into predicting events, even when he had been burdened with the damned thing called prophecy. On a whim, he turned the cup around and here it was. A Hungarian Horntail.

He fought the urge to wince. Figures.

Ibiki watched the man staring at the cup, then turning it, and promptly wincing. Even if he had concealed the wince, Ibiki, as a master of reading body language, still could see it. "You alright?" he asked, promptly feeling guilty for making the man drink the strongest tea available.

Koizumi slowly inhaled as he closed his eyes. "Not right now." He muttered back curtly. "Now excuse me, I have to go back, got a brat to feed."

Ibiki looked at the clock. "Already?" he asked, taken aback. The clock indicated only twenty minutes had passed since their initial meeting.

"Indeed." Koizumi replied dryly, as he gingerly stood up, grimacing a little at the pins and needles he undoubtedly felt in his legs. Ibiki could sympathize - but that was only one more puzzle piece to the enigma that was Koizumi Akito. "So when can I get my things?" he asked, looking at the still sitting head of Interrogation and Torture expectantly, making Ibiki liken him to a curious cat. A cat he was about to give back its claws sometime soon….

"I will send you a messenger bird." Ibiki grunted as he lifted his cup and drank the remnants of the liquid.

Koizumi nodded. "That would be greatly appreciated." He bowed shallowly and then gathered his bags. "Till the next time."

Humming noncommittally, Ibiki watched the man blend into the pale morning; the streets were now, instead of purely dark grey, shaded with its more pale shades, making the man seem like a ghost in red and blackfor some reason.

Then, he returned his attention to Koizumi's cup. There, at the bottom, were a comet and leaf.

Ibiki's mouth quirked in a small smirk.

Funny how the man was scared of something as innocent as little comet and leaf…. But to each their own.

He drained his cup slowly, and then gently put it down on the table, calling for the waitress.

It was time to go back to the work, anyway.

However, in the light of the dawn, the dregs in Ibiki's cup slowly swirled and shaped into a mountain and sun.

Harry trudged back to his house, still contemplating the latest turn of events. While he was satisfied with getting his haul, meeting Ibiki was an unpleasant surprise, even if he had known that he would have met the man sooner than later. At least he was more civil than his foul-mouthed and bloodthirsty apprentice. Wincing, he slowly shook his head as his headache slowly gnawed at the brain.

"Just what the hell does he drink? Horse piss on steroids?" Harry grumbled as he winced once again, now having a roaring headache. He would have loved to massage his temples, but with both of his hands occupied, this was impossible… well, except if he would have partially transformed, but he doubted that suddenly sprouting a tail would go well with the onlookers, especially one of the more… scaly variant. He grimaced.

Speaking of scales… Harry's shoulders slumped. "Did it have to be a dragon again?" He whined to himself as he shuffled across the street, sulking to himself. While Harry wasn't the greatest in tassology - that dubious honor belonged, of all people, to one Ronald Billius Weasley - he had been once upon a time - mildly interested in the subject and briefly read upon it, much to his secret shame. Ergo, when he had his bouts of sleeplessness, he by accident grabbed a book on the subject and begun reading it, just for the kicks of it. It was, if not useful, at least mildly entertaining, and Harry unintentionally learned most of the symbols that were written in the book and their meanings. Much to his horror, he had begun unconsciously interpret the dregs – most of the time his readings were wrong, but for some select signs, he was always, always painfully correct.

And wasn't just Harry's luck that one of those symbols was a dragon?

It didn't help that dragon meant trouble. Well, what else was new? However, Harry was baffled by appearance of a hare. Hourglass, he could understand; it could be loosely interpreted as a time, but a hare? What the fuck did the rabbits ever have with him, with the exception of landing in his pot or in throat of his Animagus' form as a juicy snack?

Green eye narrowed in contemplation. Something was coming…and not in a good sense. But who - or what - represented the hare?

Shaking his head he repressed the urge to groan. One thing was for sure - his life was in no way boring. But right now, he had a brat to feed, so he pushed those kinds of thoughts aside. There was no sense in worrying about things before their time came, anyway.

Harry had been humming to himself as he was washing the dishes, while Naruto dashed off to brush his teeth and grab his school bag. Even if the blonde troublemaker complained he was a big boy already, Harry still insisted on accompanying him to the school and back. It was both for his own enjoyment and to take care of the brat who had somehow managed to steal a small part of Harry's shriveled and war-embittered heart.

Even if the brat was annoying at the times – not even Harry's Spartan training could manage to knock out all of Naruto's penchant for annoying people, the lad was good at heart and just needed someone to give him a chance and rein his… enthusiasm…correctly.

Naruto still had sometimes trouble with hiragana and katakana, but he was making progress, in comparison with how he had been before. And with Harry pounding into his head the worth of having information, the kid's interest in learning the … squigglies… became marginally higher.

Although Harry had a hunch that was also because of some pretty pink-haired girl with green eyes that was in his class. Okay, crushes were alright at that age. But Naruto crushing on someone with pink hair? Harry shook his head incredulously. Well, he may have been a bit prejudiced here, because Tonks also had pink hair, and was one formidable Auror… although she was a complete klutz off the field. And this… little… girl couldn't compare to the goofy young woman that somehow managed to pursue and snatch Remus' heart. He smiled a small smile at the memory of the two of his de-facto godparents - Remus was his sort of a godfather, and Tonks became his godmother by a proxy when she married Remus. He hoped that the two of them had good life together, although he was sorry he couldn't meet their own little bundle of trouble, Teddy. When the pair had found out they were having a kid, they unanimously decided to name Harry godfather, and even if he had been flabbergasted with their decision, Harry was happy to accept the position. Now, when he was in that strange land, via the veil, he was twice as happy he had deigned to write a will for the occasion something had happened to him, bequeathing Tonks with the title of Black Heir and the appropriate monetary budget in the Lupin name. Because of Remus' … furry problem, the pair's future in the post-war wizarding world didn't look out exactly happy, so Harry had taken measures to protect the little family.

Green eye blinking out of the memory-induced daze, Harry slowly rinsed the cups and placed them on the counter to dry. Well, there was no time to mope, he had work to do, and if he knew Naruto –

"Zombie-san! Where did you put my goggles?!" The boy's shout made him groan with exasperation.

Harry rolled his eyes heavenward as he headed to the entrance leisurely.

"Have you checked your head?" He asked sarcastically.

Really, Naruto was such a ditz sometimes.

A yelp later, Naruto thundered to the main entrance, impatiently hopping as he wiggles his left shoe on his right foot, a small sack on his back jumping up and down with his movements.

Harry had to bite back a chuckle at Naruto's puppy-like enthusiasm before he bopped him on the head.

"Ouch!" The blond-haired boy yelped, as he hurriedly rubbed the bumped place, but he still settled on switching the shoes to correct legs.

Ah, the joy of little morning rituals.

Naruto was practically vibrating with excitement as he was scurrying toward the school. The cause of his… enthusiasm…. was a small pink-haired girl with green eyes.

She was clothed in deep blue with sewn-in triangle patches of white fabric jacket and dark grey trousers. She was a shy little girl with, in Naruto's opinion, prettiest smile in all of the Konoha - no, the world! - and our little fox-boy was determined to have her for his wife someday.

What should we say? Love at first sight, probably.

However, in his… enthusiasm… the young whisker-cheeked kid totally overlooked a small flower of a Hyuuga looking at him and blushing slightly every time she saw the foxy boy's wide grin - which was almost all the time.

Ah, young love.

Harry trailed behind his charge, amused. Even if he was absent from the pre-school madness, his instincts and good knowledge of human nature painted him a very amusing picture every time he delivered to and came for Naruto to the school.

Really, were he and his bunch of fellow lions such an amusing sight at Naruto's age?

He sobered slightly at the question. Probably not. Well, not himself, but for the others - he knew Hermione loved to be practically buried in her books rather than playing with other kids, and for Ron… He didn't know.

And even if he drove Naruto to the brink of exhaustion by his chosen method of training, he let him be a kid…. At least in those little moments, as the time when he would have to take on the adult responsibilities was nearing with each day.

"SAKURA-CHAAN!" Naruto bellowed, as he ran toward the pinkette, who looked like a deer in lamplights. Harry half-huffed, half-groaned in laughter. Even if he managed to knock out most of Naruto's bullheadedness, when it came to the small slip of a pink girl, Naruto reverted into loud, foolish and annoying version of himself, much to the girl's dismay and other people's amusement.

"Leave her alone, Naruto-baka!" The small blonde girl growled at Naruto, her pale eyes blazing with anger. "Can't you see she doesn't wish to be with you?"

Naruto's demeanor abruptly turned hundred and eighty degrees around. "Shut it! She can decide for herself if she wants to have me as a friend or not. And who asked you, anyway!" he growled, sky-blue eyes sparkling threateningly.

"She told me herself, so bleh!" Ino stuck out her tongue, making Naruto growl to himself. Somehow last week, Ino managed to become Sakura's unofficial protector, even getting so far as to gifting her with a red scarf, which Sakura religiously wore on her head. If Naruto's signature things were his green goggles and the almost obscene amount of orange in his outfit, then Sakura's was her jacket and now the red scarf acting as a bandanna for her pink tresses.

"Well, I am sticking with her!" Naruto volleyed back, making Ino hiss like an enraged cat, much to the dismay of her father.

"Ino-flower…" The tall, ponytailed-man sighed in dismay. He was wearing the standard Jounin uniform with a deep red sleeveless coat over it. His face was a little gaunt from the weathered years, and his eyes were the color of jade - pure jade without any pupils to mar it. He stretched his arm after his unruly daughter who was already in a half-spat with the stubborn fox-boy.

"Same old?" Harry questioned drolly, making the man sigh. "Same old." he acknowledged as his head turned to the one-eyed guardian of the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki. "Good morning, Koizumi-san."

"Well, nobody could say she isn't devoted to her friends," Harry mused dryly as he nodded to the shinobi. "Yamanaka-san."

Yamanaka Inoichi sighed. Really, he loved his daughter like the precious pearl she was, but he had a feeling that her fiery… attitude wouldn't bode anything good in the future. She was already trying to boss around Chouza's and Shikaku's boys, the tomboy. If his wife were still alive she would have gotten some kicks out of her little fireball's behavior. Already, both Ino and Naruto had a sizable list of offenses written down in their charts, and Inoichi dreaded the following years, when the duo would be paired for missions. Really, Naruto was a good boy, if a little mischievous at times, but it seemed that he lost all his civility brakes when in regard of the little sakura blossom which was now hiding behind Ino's back. His only hope was that Koizumi pounded enough of manners and decorum into his brat's head to at least attempt to heighten their survival rates, if nothing else. After all, Naruto's obsessions were legendary. Ramen, the color orange, Hokage's hat, training and now Sakura.

He sighed again.

Kami help them all.

And to think the little menace wasn't even in puberty yet… He sighed despondently as he went to separate the two little fighters.

"Don't worry," he heard Koizumi's amused voice. "They are at the stage 'She Shiny, She Mine.' It will pass… hopefully."

Inoichi felt a new wave of dread engulf his being. "Hopefully?" he asked, his voice tight, as he yanked Ino off of the whicker-cheeked boy, much to the disappointment of onlookers.

Koizumi quirked an eyebrow. "Well… my father saw my mother when they were eleven years old…I am sure you can figure the rest of it yourself."

The pony-tailed man blanched. "So soon?" His question ended in an unmanly squeak.

Koizumi nodded nonchalantly as he switched Naruto from his hand under his armpit, much to the young boy's disgruntlement. "Well, yeah. The Koizumis are traditionally inclined to choose very… fiery female companions," he offered mildly, making Inoichi's eyes grow a little larger. "And with the brat being an adopted one…" he trailed off, letting the man draw his own conclusions..

"Oh, hell no." Inoichi declared firmly as he also hoisted Ino under his armpit. "Keep your hellion far, far away from my Ino-flower, if you wish to take care of his offspring." He eyed the pouting blue-eyed, whiskered boy as if he were the reincarnation of the greatest Incubus ever living as he edged away from the Koizumi/Uzumaki pair.

" Me and Ino?" Naruto butted in, his eyes wide for a moment before his face was being screwed into a horrified grimace. "Eww, yuck!"

Inoichi paused. In that single moment he seemed to be made of stone. "You brat…" His quiet voice carried, warning all the innocent listeners - ahem, bystanders, to immediately vacate premises.

"Are you telling me that my Ino-hime isn't good enough for you?"

"Da-ad!" Ino's mortified voice didn't exactly stop her father from beginning a glaring match with the impudent kitling.

"Of course not!" Naruto declared imperiously. "Sakura-chan is thousand times prettier than her! And smarter, too!"

Harry faceplamed. "Naruto. Foot. Mouth." He told to his impudent charge flatly.

"And you are a mean bastard," Ino snapped back, making Inoichi gasp with shock. "Ino! Language!" he admonished his little jewel.

Ino turned her head up to him cutely. "But daddy, you say it too!" She pouted, making Inoichi flush with mortification. "Why shouldn't I?" She crossed her arms in front of her chest, resembling a very cute human chipmunk what with her puffed out cheeks.

"Ah… Em, uh, well…" Inoichi stuttered. "Petal, this is a grown-up word, and little princesses like you become uglier every time they say it." He tried to get out of that particular trap.

Ino scowled. "I don't want to be pretty! When I grow up I will be a pirate and I'll have the biggest boat ever and ever and my army of trained kittens will be feared worldwide!" She huffed out.

"Trained kittens?" Inoichi asked weakly, while Harry desperately tried to keep an emotionless face on. "But, why?"

Ino snorted. "Well, duh! They are cute and smart and they can catch any mice or rats and nobody would ever suspect them to be my evil army –"

"Hate to break it to ya, Ino, but you are not Evil Overlord material." Naruto interrupted the girl, before puffing up self-importantly. "Besides, toads are the bestest animals ever!"

Ino's leaf green eyes widened with shock. "Not true!" She insisted, growling cutely. "Kittens beat your ugly froggies any day, any time!" She mock-clawed in Naruto's direction. "Hiss… and you are finished." She ended smugly.

Naruto scowled. "Oh, yea? Then why are there no famous cat contracts in –"

His mouth was quickly covered by Inoichi's hand.

"Never. Ever. Speak. Those. Blasphemous. Words. Again." The blond hissed to him, discreetly looking around.

Naruto blinked innocently. "But why? It's totally reas-res-resable question!" He pointed out as he freed his mouth from the worn-out hand that covered them.

Harry blinked. "Reasonable, Naruto. It's reasonable." He corrected his charge mildly.

Inoichi shuddered. "Two words: Tora Army." He growled under his breath.

Harry only tilted his head. "I think I've heard that name before somewhere," He mused to himself thoughtfully.

Inoichi shook his head pityingly, his long ponytail swishing slightly on his armored, red-clad back. "You'd do well to never question anyone about the C-contract. As in, never, ever." He firmly concluded the debate. "And the lessons are about to begin in five minutes."

Harry blinked owlishly. "Oh, yeah, you're right." He commented, while Naruto yelped with horror as he began to wiggle out of the firm grasp. He had to get to his precious Sakura-chan, damn it!

"Leggo!" The whisker-cheeked boy called out frantically, prompting his caretaker to dump him on the ground.

"Ow! That hurts, you bas -" Naruto bit his tongue as he encountered Inoichi's warning glare.

"See! Naruto can say that word and I am still not allowed to!" Ino called out accusingly, making Inoichi wince once again.

"We'll talk about that later, hime." He ordered her sternly. "Until then, no ugly words, got it!"

Mutinously, Ino nodded, before kissing his cheek. "Okay. Have a nice day, Dad."

And then, she was off, briefly sticking tongue at the stewing Naruto.

"Right, I'm off!" Naruto quickly announced, speeding after her and continuing their debate just which animal was better -a kitten or a toad.

The two unsung heroes - ahem, fathers, watched their unruly offspring speeding away with a mixture of fondness, amusement, annoyance and absolute bewilderment.

Inoichi sighed. "They grow up so fast…" he murmured, making Akito chuckle in response.

"But my word about you keeping your hellion away from my hime still stands." Inoichi eyed Akito with his most intimidating glare.

"Right, right," Akito waved off the concerned Yamanaka's clan leader carelessly. "By the way, has my order arrived yet?"

Inoichi's glare melted off as he cautiously nodded. "Yes. But are you sure you can afford it? Those are some very… rare plants, after all." He cautioned the gray-haired man.

Akito shrugged. "Maa, it's no problem. So, shall we go?"

Both of the men mutely decided to try and forget this… unusual conversation that had happened one cold, dreary and wet autumn morning.

Some things were better dead and buried… for the peace of their minds.

/To Be Continued/