A Razors Edge
Chapter 7: Step
By: T.E. Rose
Disclaimer: Due to the circumstance of not having thought of it first I do not now nor will I ever own Naruto or any of its characters much to my great despair.
A/N: First off I would like to take a moment to thank everyone who has taken the time out of their day to leave me a review. They mean a lot to me. So, thanks.
Second... Sorry about the wait.
Third, the sad thing is I have had this like 97% finished for more than a year. Sometimes being a responsible human being sucks. I'll try harder in the future not to let work get in the way so much.
Publishing Date: October 20, 2012
Naruto ached all over. His aches and pains had aches and pains. Gai-Sensei for all his peculiarities was a punishing taskmaster. Apparently his methods had become harsher than usual since Naruto had started joining them for training. Naruto tried his best to keep up with the dynamic duo but fell short, if only just.
The other two members of the cell, Tenten and Hyuuga Neji, were usually worn down long before he was due to the rigorous training he had put himself through since the day he had started at the academy. Though he imagined that the two of them held up more admirably than any of the other Genin in the village would.
As he shuffled his way onwards, barely able to lift his feet to take the next step, he inhaled deeply the scent of the girl who was currently latched on to his arm, though not in any romantic way but because if she was not she would collapse. She smelled strongly. Though to his mind not unpleasantly, she smelt of hard work, steel and blood. All smells he was intimately familiar with himself, though where his smell was undoubtedly much riper than hers, she still had the lingering scent of strawberries clinging to her. He suspected that it was the last hints of whatever shampoo the girl used.
He did his best to ignore the looks that people directed his way as he walked the girl home. Which as it happened was in one of the nicer residential blocks of the Village. His own apartment was in a very different part of town. Where the walls of her sector were whitewashed and pristine, those in his own had been tagged on numerous occasions. City Maintenance did not even bother painting over it anymore. Not that it mattered all that much he was rarely ever home as it was, preferring to devote whatever time he was not sleeping or eating to training or at the very least thinking about training.
Pushing thoughts of Training, Tenten and the villagers aside for the moment Naruto instead put what little mental energy he had remaining into trying to puzzle out the riddle that had stumped for the past three weeks...
What in the name of Kami had he done to offend his grandfather to such an extent as to be deserving of the punishment he was being forced to endure and for that matter what had Tenten done... She was normal. Mostly.
He could see why Neji had been assigned to the cell under Gai-Sensei that guy had a serious stick up his ass and Lee, well Lee was taking to Gai-Sensei's teachings and philosophy like a duck takes to water due to his own inability to utilize chakra. Tenten however while she seemed to appreciate and take to heart the serious bits of advice and guidance that Gai-Sensei doled out she seemed to not really fit the team dynamic.
Where Neji and Lee were both focused primarily on fighting hand to hand Tenten's fighting style kept her at a distance which for the most part relegated her to a more secondary role on the team. Which he imagined must be frustrating for her. She had high ambitions, not unlike himself and yet here she was stuck playing a supporting role on her team.
Tenten frowned slightly at her team's most recent addition, even if it hurt to move her facial muscles or any muscles at all for that matter. Ever since he had begun joining them for training Gai-Sensei had worked them into the ground. She would not even be able to walk right now if it was not for the fact that Naruto was escorting her. She was using him as a crutch and even so, was stumbling every few paces.
She had at first politely declined the boys offer to help her home but had realized after only a few agonizing paces that she was going to need it. While she knew that Lee would graciously assist her should she ask she was aware that the boy would never have thought to ask himself, and while Neji would have asked had he not left already he would resent her if she actually asked it of him. It was nice she realized that someone would actually want to help her home. Plus where she would be somewhat embarrassed to be seen, literally hanging off of Lee, due to his fashion choices, she was not in that position with the Blond. Naruto she thought dressed like a ninja should dress.
As they walked, if you could call the slow shuffling steps they were taking walking, she noticed that a large number of the civilians that they passed were giving the pair of them dirty looks as they made their way down one of the many bustling avenues of their home. She wrote it off to the way she imagined it must look. A woman, who was bruised and battered and appeared to be hanging off the arm of her boyfriend and the likely perpetrator.
'Sometimes people are dumb.' Tenten thought as she began to studiously ignore the looks being sent their way.
Sarutobi frowned while clenching the stem of his age worn pipe between his teeth as he read through the most recent report sent to him by the only student who still sent him reports. Not that he wanted them from Orochimaru or expected them from Tsunade. Though it would have been nice to at least hear from Tsunade once in a while. If only so that he knew she was still alive.
The report concerned a ninja from the Village Hidden in Smoke, one of two ninja villages that had recently cropped up and been plaguing his waking hours for the better part of a year now. The other being The Village Hidden in Sound.
Both of which were proving to be very difficult to learn anything about. They had only a few details about both villages.
In regards to Smoke they knew that they had somehow secured the names of several high ranking ANBU members and traded the information for an Alliance with Cloud who used the information to eliminate several skilled Leaf Ninja. Or that was who was suspected of having done it, though it very easily could have been Smoke Ninja perpetrating the assassinations in order to secure the alliance with what was often regarded as the world's second most powerful Shinobi Village.
They were also the ones suspected in having a hand in the string of high profile kidnappings and the assassination of the region 13 Governor. That was just speculation though. The only concrete fact that they had was the alliance between Cloud and Smoke. That much at least Jiraya's spy network had been able to confirm.
About Hidden Sound they knew almost as little. They knew that they were located in Ta no Kuni. That they had enticed several local clans into filling out their ranks and that they were actively recruiting ninja who had gone rouge from their home Nations.
It seemed that Jiraiya had managed to capture a ninja from Hidden Smoke. Though perhaps capture was a strong choice of words. He had appeared. The Shinobi had attempted to flee, been cornered and rather than submit to questioning from the Toad Sage had activated a seal. A seal that could be found on any number of Black Ops Shinobi, or Nin charged with keeping classified information just that, classified.
The ninja had burst into flames and been reduced to nothing but a smoldering pile of cinder and ash in a matter of seconds. The man had not even had a chance to scream as the fire engulfed him.
While the turn of events was frustrating it did prove one things. His most perverted pupil was getting closer to unveiling the mystery of the Village Hidden in Smoke.
Tenten did her level best to offer a smile, however feeble it might be, to Naruto as he opened the door for her and helped her hobble inside. They entered into the living room and she noticed that all the lights were off in the house which meant that neither of her parents had arrived home from work. Not that it mattered all that much as it was only just starting to get dark.
She directed Naruto to help her over to the couch, a request to which the boy immediately acquiesced nudging the door shut with his foot. A feet that had required a great deal more concentration than normal due to his current state of fatigue.
When they reached the edge he helped her sit by holding on to her and slowly lowering her, had he not been there she would have just collapsed onto it face first. Her legs hanging off the side. As it was she sat, Naruto lifted her feet up onto one end and put one of the seemingly ten thousand throw pillows that littered the couch behind her head as he laid her down.
That part had proved the most embarrassing. For both of them. As he was leaned over her, one hand busying itself with the pillow the other bracing himself against the back of the couch, his right knee gave out on him. It caused him to collapse to one knee his face halting mere inches from hers. It was at that moment her mother arrived bags of groceries in hand and then on the floor. To find her daughter laid out on the couch with a boy down on one knee faces separated by less than a hands breadth.
Needless to say she completely misconstrued the situation. The look on Naruto's face when her mother had screeched had been fantastic the boy had looked absolutely terrified. She was certain that had he been physically capable of springing away from her like she had the plague that he would have. As it was the best he could manage was to fall over sideways before trying to rush and explain what had happened.
Tenten had just laughed and let the boy ramble for a time before coming to his aide. Her mother looking absolutely murderous.
"Mum relax. Naruto was just helping me home after training. We were both pretty banged up."
Tenten could tell her mother did not believe her due to the way she had her eyes narrowed. A belief that proved correct when her mother spoke. "If he was just helping you home then why was he trying to kiss you when I walked in?"
Tenten flushed a bit at the idea but answered despite her red tinted cheeks. "He was not trying to kiss me. He was just helping me lay down, mum." She explained more than a little put out by the fact that her mother did not believe her.
She watched as her mother arched an inquisitive brow before speaking in response to Tenten's assertion. "Oh? Just helping you lay down was he? What was next? Helping you out of your pants? Your shirt?"
Tenten flushed again but this time more out of anger rather than embarrassment due to her mother's blunt accusation. "MUM! I am SO not that kind of girl!"
It was then that Naruto finally managed to regain his feet though it had been a struggle, his knee was throbbing painfully. In that time he had also managed to get over his initial shock of being confronted by his friend's mother. "If it means anything ma'am I was just helping her lay down. Well I was trying to help anyway." With that admission he absentmindedly began to rub the back of his head in a sheepish manner.
Tenten's mother having been distracted by her daughter for a moment turned her attention back on to Naruto. A withering glare locked into place on her face as she regarded him. "Ma'am! Do I look old to you Brat?" While the first had been shouted in outrage the last had been a whisper and a dark one, promising pain, should the answer she receive not be to her liking. Everything else forgotten.
Naruto paled, more than a little at the tone the women's voice had taken on. Hastily he answered her. "What! No! Of course not... Uhhhh... If Tenten had not called you mum I would have assumed you were her older sister." stammered out the worried Genin, clearly laying it on a bit thick.
That statement had Tenten rolling her eyes.
The tense atmosphere in the room dissipated with Naruto's response. "Oh, well in that case you'll have to stay for supper so that we can get to know you."
Naruto and Tenten both looked absolutely flabbergasted by that abrupt turn in the conversation.
"After all it's not every day that my beautiful daughter brings home a boyfriend." That statement had the effect of leaving both preteens slack jawed for a moment as Tenten's mother stooped slightly to retrieve the grocery bag she had dropped. It had miraculous not spilt its contents all over the living room floor when she'd dropped it.
Naruto had politely declined to stay for dinner at Tenten's but was unable to leave without agreeing that he would stay another night. It was not that he did not think the offer was sincere but rather because the idea that it might have been made him uncomfortable. People being friendly to him, still freaked him out. A lot. He always wondered what they were playing at, what they were trying to gain from the interaction. In his experience everyone had an angle. You just needed to figure it out.
He was only just getting used to eating with the Inuzuka's and he had been sharing meals with them at least once a week since the day he had been made a Genin. That had been four months ago. So far he had not been able to make out what angle they were playing. He was beginning to think that they actually liked him but he was going need more proof before he could accept that conclusion.
Naruto stumbled every few paces as he meandered down the road, following his feet not really paying attention to where it was they were taking him.
Naruto turned to see that source of the shout. Seeing one of the few people in the village he thought was his friend.
Trotting up to his side was none other than Inuzuka Kiba and his companion Akamaru.
"Kiba." Greeted Naruto simply as he stooped slowly offering his hand to Akamaru. The dog politely allowed Naruto to scratch him between the ears.
"Man what happened to you?" Kiba asked after watching as his friend stood up. Kiba had never seen the other boy this beat up, even after he'd sparred with Hana and her dogs. It looked like his every movement was a struggle.
"My new sensei is a psychopath who must gain some sort of sick satisfaction from brutalizing me and his other students. Though one of them does seem to enjoy it quite a bit. I think he's a Masochist."
His response must have taken Kiba off guard as the other boy just stared at him for a moment, a long moment, before responding. "I think that's the most I have ever heard you say in one go before."
Now it was Naruto's turn to be flabbergasted. "I just told you that my sensei enjoys causing physical harm to his students and that's all you have to say."
Kiba let out a sharp bark of laughter. "No, it's not. You Hungry? It's almost time for dinner?"
Naruto just looked at him from the corner of his eye trying to read the other boy. He seemed earnest though and a boy like Kiba was not skilled at hiding what he was thinking he was very blunt about things. Something Naruto appreciated. "Yes, but unless you want to get home sometime after midnight, you're going to have to help me. My aches and pains have aches and pains."
That elicited another bark of laughter from Kiba even as the other boy pulled one arm over his shoulders assisting him in hobbling down the street towards the Inuzuka residence. Akamaru running in circles around them yipping happily.
Dinner as usual at the Inuzuka's had been a more than somewhat rowdy affair. There was laughter, crass stories, crude gestures, dogs barking and children squealing in that obnoxious and yet somehow endearing way children have. It was exactly the way a family dinner should be when there are over thirty people in attendance. At least in Naruto's opinion.
Once dinner was finished Naruto felt much better. Though still sore all over. He wondered briefly if he should just walk to the training grounds to sleep instead of shuffling all the way home. He could maybe get a little bit more sleep that way.
Kiba seeing the pitiful condition that his friend was still in suggested that he stay the night there that way he did not have to walk far.
Naruto was exhausted and the thought of being able to sleep with some immediacy was extremely tempting. Just as he was on the point of politely declining, still not entirely comfortable around the Inuzuka's, Hana came over looking him over briefly.
"You look like you've had the crap kicked out of you all day." The dog girl's comment was accompanied by a sharp bark of laughter. A common thing among their clan he was coming to realize. "A hot soak will do you some good, Kiba help him down to the baths. Then find him a bed."
Frowning at the two Inuzuka's Naruto came to the conclusion that at this point declining wasn't really an option and physically resisting was not either. He could barely move of his own accord. Shrugging Naruto allowed himself to be led by his friend down to the Inuzuka Clan's private bathhouse.
Kiba watched as his friend disappeared into one of the changing rooms before hurrying into one of the others himself. Shedding his clothing and grabbing one of the fresh towels from the rack in the changing room he wrapped it around his waist before exiting.
He had to wait a few moments for Naruto to join him. His friend had barely been able to walk when he had found him before dinner and neither time nor food had improved him much. He was still hobbling badly when Kiba had led him down here.
When he did emerge he had a towel wrapped around his waist leaving his torso bare.
The hairs on Kiba's arm stood on end. He knew that his friend pushed himself to the brink during his training but had no idea to the extent. He was covered in scars. Shaking his head slightly he turned away from the sight and motioned for Naruto to follow him. "Alright come on then."
As they walked Kiba considered his friend in a new light. He'd seen the scars on his arms before, those were nothing new but his chest and stomach were also littered with them. Some little more than an inch long but others, well others Kiba did not want to know how he had gotten them. They were jagged knots of scar tissue. Injuries like that one did not get through training, at least not any kind of training that Kiba had been subjected to. Nor did he want to be for that matter.
Naruto followed his friend the short distance to the baths, grateful that the other boy had not inquired about how he had acquired such and extensive collection of scars. The fact that his friend had been so taken aback by the sight also spoke highly of Hana who had obviously kept what she had seen to herself, or at the very least had not seen fit to inform her younger brother about it.
They sat in silence for the first few minutes letting the water do its work and take away the aches and pains that had accumulated throughout the day. The steaming water was a god send. He was grateful that his friends had all but forced him here.
It was as they sat there that they were joined by several other members of the Inuzuka Clan, Including Hana who sat nearer the two of them and Tsume who sat with a pair of clan elders and discussed something in hushed tones. Apparently the Inuzuka baths were mixed.
The amount of people suddenly around him had the effect of making Naruto feel very exposed. He was also acutely aware of the fact that the only thing Hana was wearing was a towel and it left very little to his imagination. He was suddenly immensely grateful for the heat for reasons other than its soothing nature. It explained why his face was red. Feeling the need to distract himself he asked, "Are you worried about your graduation exams? They're what four months away?"
Kiba gave him a feral grin. "Nope. I hope I get matched up against the Uchiha in the Taijutsu part. I want to wipe that smirk off his arrogant face. The prick."
Naruto grinned at his friend's brash statement but Hana just snorted before saying. "Don't listen to Kiba he's just jealous that the Uchiha gets all the girls attention."
"WHAT! No he's a prick. I'm sick and tired of him calling me a mutt." Growled out Kiba in response.
"Right and the fact that the Yamanaka girl just won't shut up about him doesn't have anything to do with it."
Naruto listened to the two of them bicker the way siblings do. It was amusing to say the least as it continued on in this vain for some time. Eventually it got to the point where Kiba grudgingly admitted that the fact the last Uchiha got all the female attention did not help his cause. At least not where Kiba was concerned. Hana whispering to Naruto very loudly that it was because Kiba had delusions of being an alpha male.
Of course that just started them arguing again. Naruto did not mind though it was interesting the way's family members showed that they cared about one another he decided.
After their soak they returned to the changing rooms. Naruto found a pair of pajama pants and shirt waiting for him along with a pair of slippers he could make use of as he made his way the short distance back to the house just as Kiba had told him there would be. He was glad to have them considering the fact that he felt clean and his own clothing had been saturated in sweat and grim. Though he was panicking more than slightly due to the fact that none of his gear had been there. Kiba assured him that it would be waiting for him in his room. Naruto wanted to believe him but it was hard for him to have faith in people and some of that gear, his Ninja-to and his tanto, had been gifts from the Hokage as his arms training had progressed during his time in the academy.
He exited to find Kiba waiting for him again, dressed in a similar manner to himself the only difference being the color. Kiba's were black his own were orange. Together they waited the additional minute or so that it took for Hana to exit the changing rooms, her own clothing was both red and black and almost indecently close fitting. Not that Naruto minded. At all. Although it did make it awfully difficult not to stare. He kept casting admiring glances Hana's way which he was certain the older girl noticed even if Kiba didn't.
When they arrived back at the house Kiba led Naruto to a guest room not far from his own. Inside Naruto found his gear waiting for him much to his relief. It was laid out on the bed that was his for the evening. Seeing it he expelled and audible sigh of relief feeling somewhat guilty for doubting his friend's word.
Having seen him to his room Kiba clapped him on the back and bid him good night.
Naruto almost absentmindedly returned the courtesy before walking over to the bed to inspect his gear. It was as he had left it or nearly so, the sheaths to his tanto and ninja-to had both been polished their blades cleaned and oiled. Things he normally did before retiring for the night. It seemed someone had seen fit to assist him this evening. He wasn't sure how it was that made him feel. He was inclined to feel uncomfortable about it though. Despite the good intentions of the person or persons involved.