A/N: Sorry this took a while…distractions such as games and school have been eating up my time. Several authors have also caught my interest with their stories. In any case, I ask that you read and review would you kindly?

{Play: "Code Blue" by Shoji Meguro from "Trauma Center: 2nd Opinion"}

[Konoha General Hospital…]

With the hustle and bustle of doctors and nurses running around, it was business as usual at the Konoha General Hospital. However, because of the Chūnin exams taking place, it was up to the medical staff to treat the survivors. Among the staff, though, there was one in particular-one who was something of an outcast from the others. He wore the standard scrubs and face mask of the other doctors, but was distinguished by a white spot of hair against black. The corner of skin by his left eye was also darker than the rest of his face. In fact, despite being forty, he might have been mistaken for a patchwork doll.

He was tired. He'd just finished going through several very tiring surgical operations, since the 'honorable director' was too squeamish to do it. There were a few relatively easy ones, though; Inuzuka Tsume's would-be rapist of a son, for instance. Sure, the wounds were actually quite grievous and the trauma inflicted was relatively light, in the doctor's opinion, he had it coming. He'd heard what the boy had done; it was no surprise that the wounds he'd suffered were from his own stupidity. At least the treatment was easy enough; all that was needed was some replaced blood, a broken jaw wired shut, bandaged ribs, and sutures for the various lacerations and gouges. So as far as his body, he was well on his way to recovery, but the trauma from a berserk Naruto (again, through no one's fault but his own) would probably remain for a while to come. Well, that was out of his hands now.

The next patient, however, was much more serious. Hyūga Hinata, a sweet young girl with the potential to become a fine woman in later life. Perhaps she might even become a great healer, like his nurse and teacher, with her kind, gentle nature. She also happened to share his views on her clan's elders: they were far too arrogant and refused to change, a trait that he saw in her cousin Neji. Surely the boy hadn't been that fatalistic in his youth, had he? Perhaps the brat wouldn't have turned out the way he had if Hiashi had just told him the truth about that night. In any case, Hinata's treatment had been much more difficult; he was not a miracle worker like his hero Tsunade. He couldn't do too much to help her without chakra, but he did manage to repair her heart, while his Branch Hyūga nurse unsealed her tenketsu.

His last (and current) patient was Rock Lee, and frankly, the diagnosis was the worst of the bunch. His chakra pathways (which were stunted even naturally) were practically shredded from stress and his right arm and leg were both badly broken. Nurse Hyūga Hinako was kept busy repairing the pathways, while the doctor himself had to take a scalpel to the boy's leg. Fortunately, the bowl-cut boy was anesthetized, so there was no danger of him lashing out. Not only could the outcast not afford to take a hit, from the condition of Lee's fibula and tibia it looked like even a kick would be disastrous for any attempt at healing. It was unlikely that his radius and ulna had fared any better either. Still, no use complaining about the work. He took the tube of bone-setting polymer and began piecing together the fragments of tibia. Shockingly enough, he was able to work at nearly equal speed to his Hyūga companion, even managing to put the pieces exactly where they belonged. It was for this very reason that this man was legendary for his skill level.

"Sponge!" he called, the orderly immediately wiping sweat from his brow as he set the last piece. "Now, I need another tube of the polymer ready."

"Hazama-sensei, his chakra pathways have been repaired, but he needs rest as soon as you're done with his bones."

"Understood. In the meantime, you've done enough, Hinako-san," said the stitched man, starting on the fibula even as he spoke, "Get another doctor in here if you can. On second thought, no. Those assholes will probably screw up on purpose, like with the Inuzuka-brat."

As she left the operating room, Hinako glanced back at the surgeon, who was already starting on Lee's fibula. One of the biggest names in Konoha medical practice was Hazama Kurō, the 'Black Doctor' of Konoha General. He was equally well known for being a 'demon-lover,' but unfortunately (for those who thought so, at least), he was also the best doctor/surgeon in the hospital. In fact, only Senju Tsunade of the Sannin was better than him, and that was only because she could use chakra. He was a veteran of the Third Great Shinobi War, using his brains to survive and protect his clients. His kill count was decidedly unimpressive, but he didn't care; as long as the patients lived, so be it. However, as with all skilled people, there were whispers behind his back. The others wondered why he defended the 'demon-brat,' even going so far as to become 'its' personal doctor, when the Yondaime had been killed by it. It was equally well known that Namikaze Minato had been a close friend of Hazama-sensei's, so the fact that he would actively help the 'killer' of said friend was a source of confusion, and not a little anger. Hinako was not one of them, however, seeing the boy as a younger brother.

"Get me the disinfectant and suture!" Hazama-sensei ordered, setting the last bone in Lee's leg. He disinfected the wound, then sutured it with a needle, before applying healing cream. "Two more tubes of bone-setting polymer, a few retractors and another scalpel. Kiriya!" he barked to another doctor without looking, "How are we on Ketamine?" As he asked, he started working on Lee's forearm.

"Still good," the anesthesiologist answered dutifully, "You're making good time. No, more than good, it's phenomenal how accurate you've been in such a short time."

Hazama smirked under his mask as he pieced the ulna together. "Work hard, find enough inspiration and anyone could do this. Keep the drip going steady; I'm fast, but I don't want this boy punching anything, least of all us, anytime soon."

"Yes sir!"

{Play: "Hinata vs. Neji" by Toshiro Masuda from "Naruto"}

[Meanwhile, Will of Fire Buddhist Temple…]

Monastic chanting filled the grounds of the temple halfway towards the hospital. Rumor had it that Senju Hashirama himself had built this temple using his Mokuton Kekkei Genkai. The reason was to try and bring some spirituality to the village, and also because a group of monks had asked for a place to meditate. It was known simply as the Will of Fire Buddhist Temple. Every inch of the place was made from solid white oak, which had been grown directly into a temple from acorns. In a flare of artistic spontaneity, the Shodaime had also used his Mokuton to grow a Buddha statue in the middle.

Standing outside the Buddha's compound were six people, only one of which was a boy. Uchiha Satsuki (disguised as Sasuke), Tsukiko and Mikoto, Baihe Meilan, Shimura Kikyo, Uzuki Yūgao and Kurama all stood around Uzumaki Naruto. They were all confused by his desire to meet with the other Five Elements.

However, before anyone could question him on his motivations, the blond got down on his knees, bowing. "I'm sorry," he said simply, surprising the girls, "I promised myself that I would protect everyone who was precious to me and I failed. If you want to punish me, go ahead. Next time, I will try harder to protect you all."

But Satsuki shook her head, an unreadable expression on her face. "There's no reason to apologize," she said.

"We knew the risks when we became ninja. We are responsible for ourselves," Tsukiko agreed, moving with Satsuki to pick him up by the shoulders.

"And where do you get off taking all the blame?" asked Meilan, a defiant flame in her eyes, "Orochimaru only gave us these marks because we failed, not you. We wouldn't have the right to blame you even if we wanted to."

Kikyo added her own two cents. "I don't like agreeing with balloon-girl, but she's right." She smiled warmly at Naruto. "We're not in a position to blame or forgive you. If you want to take responsibility for our condition, then let us take our share."

Naruto was touched. Even after his failure to protect his loved ones, they did not blame him. All the same, he swore to himself that he would do better. No other person he cared for would ever be hurt like this again.

"If we're done here, I have a story of my own, now," Kurama suddenly spoke up, "But first, I'd like for Mitarashi-chan to come out now. I promised to explain some things to her about the Curse Mark."

Obligingly, Anko crawled out of a nearby shrub. Standing up and brushing herself off, she said without preamble, "You told me that my wayward sensei screwed himself over with the Mark. Why shouldn't I investigate you? You also seem to know why I'm getting these...feelings from it."

Kurama's face did not lose its amused expression. In fact, she chuckled briefly, her grin widening as she answered the Tokubetsu Jōnin. "No worries, no worries at all. I guarantee you won't be disappointed; at least if you're all ready for this. To start this exposition, Anko-chan, let me ask you something: what do you know about the Curse of Kazan?"

Anko wracked her brains about said 'curse,' looking bemused. "...Just a few stories here an' there. Some of the more disturbing ones I heard when I travelled with Orochimaru- now that was back when I was his apprentice, mind you. The stories talked about a terrible plague that swept the world before the Rikudō Sennin appeared. The victims were all tortured by the plague into violent, murderous frenzies. The stories also mentioned that they were forced to wear chakra-limiting chains on their arms so that they could try and be normal...judging by the fact that I saw Naruto-kun try to kill Orochimaru until he got his second set of chains, I'm guessing they're more than stories."

"Indeed they aren't. So let's start there," Kurama agreed, watching her audience, "...Alright. So, as you may or may not know, most victims of the Curse ended up becoming swordsmen- and swordswomen -of great renown, all looking for a way to cure themselves. However, not all of them looked for a cure. There was one group so corrupted by their curse that they saw the demon Kazan, my father, as a god. They called themselves the Children of Kazan, but all they were was a cult of Slayers who willingly spilled blood in the name of Kazan. At first, they were just a nuisance, but by the time the Rikudō Sennin came around and sealed my father into himself, they grew into a legitimate threat."

"No offense or anything, but are you going to get to the point anytime soon?" asked Kikyo a little impatiently.

If Kurama was annoyed at the interruption, she didn't show it. Well, apart from the 'shut up' look she shot at the moss-haired girl, she continued. "The main point of the cult was to sacrifice any and all enemies' blood to their God, Kazan. However they weren't above taking slaves to increase their numbers. Those poor souls were all given a mark, which would kill anyone too weak to bear it; anyone who survived was granted a watered-down version of the full Curse of Kazan. I guess it wouldn't be inaccurate to call it a 'False Curse.'"

"The mark would compel the 'false' cursed person to obey anyone with a 'true' curse. Now, here's where Orochimaru comes in: The False Curse of Kazan- also known as the Slave Curse -is the exact same thing as his Jūin no Jutsu."

As Kurama paused in her narrative, Meilan chose to speak up. "Is that what's causing the...increased attraction we've been feeling for Naruto?" she asked concernedly. She squeezed his hand, though, to show that she didn't mean any offense towards him, "What I had with him naturally was high enough already, but since I got the Curse Mark, those feelings have increased; even more so when he goes berserk. Is that part of the curse?"

A look of sorrow, maybe bitterness, crossed Kurama's eyes. "Yes. Unfortunately, the Children of Kazan considered slaves and breeding stock to be basically the same thing. The enhanced feelings you've all been having are indeed a part of it, but they only surface in the presence of a Cursed person of the opposite sex. However, aside from the whole connotation of slavery, you don't have too much to worry about. Also, the cult died out entirely, though it's possible that there are a few descendants of those slaves at present. For the Curse Mark to still exist there can be no other explanation."

The three females with the Mark took a while to let that sink in, each with their own lines of thought. Anko felt confused initially. She wondered if her feelings for Naruto were in fact genuine, or if it was because of the Curse Mark. However, then she smiled inwardly as she realized the irony of her former sensei's actions; yes, he was creating slaves, but they were not enslaved to him.

Meilan wondered to herself about her feelings themselves. Did she still love Naruto because of her own, sincere emotions, or was it the slavery part that was making her love him?

Kikyo, on the other hand, had no real thoughts or opinion on the matter. To her mind, whether enslaved or free, her feelings for Naruto would not change a bit. She glanced at Meilan and saw a determined look on her face, with an underlying current of 'I won't lose.' Well, tough luck, balloon-girl. I'll be the one to become Naruto-kun's wife, whether you or the Snake woman like it or not!

Now it was Sasuke/Satsuki's turn to ask a question. "Kurama-san, if that mark is for making people into slaves, then why do we have arms like Naruto-kun?"

"Yeah," agreed Tsukiko, "Orochimaru didn't mark us any differently from Meilan and Kikyo. So why are we...infected?"

To their surprise, it was Mikoto who spoke up. "I'll answer that. According to Uchiha law, no one under Chūnin is supposed to know about the curse. However, seeing as the number of living Uchiha can literally be counted on one hand, there's no real point in keeping it a secret." She took a breath and began.

"As you are no doubt aware, the Uchiha clan is descended directly from the Rikudō Sennin. It is said that he took the Curse of Kazan into himself in order to stop the Jūbi. Because of that, the Curse is no longer a plague, as it was in the past. All victims at the time were cured by this sealing, but now the Curse is carried down his bloodline and into ours. Of course, the same applies with the Senju and Uzumaki clans, since they too are his descendents. And since the Curse resides in our bloodline already, the Curse Mark does not turn us into slaves. Instead, it awakens the dormant full Curse or, if they already have it, compounds its effects."

Sasuke looked confounded. "So...we were always in danger of gaining the Curse," she said. After a moment, she asked, "So where do we go from here?"

"The same place as before," Tsukiko answered resolutely, shaking her 'brother' out of her hesitance, "After all, we still have to worry about these exams. Of course, we should train separately; we don't want each other to know the other's moves when we fight a month from now."

Mikoto smiled at the twins, her heart swelling with pride. She was extremely relieved that the two had chosen to support each other. In her eyes, they were no longer girls; each had already become a fine woman in their own right, but of course both Satsuki and Tsukiko were truly one person together.

"I need to stock up on ammo," Kikyo said, turning away without saying goodbye, "I'll need all the training and gear I can get against Gaia."

Before she could leave, however, Yūgao put a hand on her shoulder. "I'll accompany you. I'm no archer, but I can certainly show you a trick or two with that tanto. You never know when you'll run out of ammunition, or if your enemy will close the distance."

"Well, we're going to the hospital first," said Meilan, "I need to heal Lee up so I can scold him afterward; might as well tie up that loose end first."

"I'll accompany you," Kurama said archly, falling into step with both Meilan and Naruto, "Naruto will need some...specialized training, later."

With nothing else to be said between them, they split up. All had preparations that needed to be made, and a month to do it.

{Play: "Echigoya's Estate" by Noriyuki Asakura from "Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven"}

[At Kaze no Sasayaki Izakaya]

From the Kaze no Sasakyaki Izakaya drifted the soft sound (not really) of jovial music. Not the horrid noise played by the demon-brat, though his girlfriend was certainly welcome to sing. Hell, the amount of revenue that fat moron Chōza raked in definitely made it worth it. Yup...no demons allowed. It was a policy in the Izakaya, which Tojo Nagi was all too happy to enforce. Never mind the fact that some of the employees were starting to lose their hatred. Fools, the bunch of them! Nagi thought darkly as he cleaned glasses behind the bar, Have they forgotten what that little monster did years ago?!

The bitter barman's internal. bitching was cut short as the doors swung shut behind a woman. A lithe, cream-haired woman the likes of which Nagi had never seen before. Her reddish bronze skin might serve to confuse her with a native of Kaminari no Kuni, if not for her lazy cyan eyes and pointed ears. She wore black leather clothes that hugged her hourglass figure perfectly and carried a short sword with a red-lacquered sheath. Despite her relaxed demeanor, he knew that she was not one to be trifled with.

She walked up to the counter, setting her sword down and sitting in front of him. "You got something strong here?" she drawled, yawning. Nagi took the opportunity to glance at her generous bust as she did so.

"...Yeah, the 'Hellfire's' the best I got."

"Hellfire it is, then."

Nagi ducked down to gather the ingredients as the dark-skinned woman started listening to the gossip. "Hey Rito, you hear about the Chūnin Exams?"

"Yeah, what about 'em?"

"I heard the demon-brat got into the semi-finals!"

"What? Bullshit! That useless murderer got that far? Then again, he is a demon, and he did pass with that shit education at the academy. Damn it, the Hokage should've let us finish the job five years ago, and now he's too strong!"

"What about those other rumors? Some of the mob members are starting to leave him alone..."

"Feh! Who cares about them? If they wanna let the demon kill them, that's their problem. Who's he fighting, anyway?"

"That Hyūga kid who was last year's Rookie of the Year. I think his name's Neji."

At that moment, Nagi placed a shot in front of the woman. "Here you are, one Hellfire sake. So, Miss, you got a name?"

"It's Minet."

"Minet, huh? So, what brings you here?"

She took a swig instead of answering. Her expression didn't change at all from the alcohol, which was sort of insulting, but Nagi didn't really care right now. "My team is taking those Exams. I wanted to know if they passed or not. Sounds like this Naruto character is a bit of a persona non grata 'round here. Anyone care for an explanation?"

The general mood took a darker turn as many patrons seethed with silent hatred. "It's because of that demon brat that a lot of our people are dead," Nagi spat, "I'm sure you heard about the attack twelve years ago, right? The Kyuubi no Yoko slew a great number of our Shinobi in its rampage, until the Yondaime Hokage sacrificed himself to seal it away a newborn. That, Minet-san, is why everyone hates that...child."

The others raised their voices in assent, but Minet, who looked unaffected, took another shot. "That bad a demon, huh?" she muttered, clearly uninterested in what the idiots had to say. "Here's a question for you: if you seal a kunai into a scroll, does that mean the scroll is now a kunai?"

"Don't be stupid!" shouted a random person, "Of course not! It's just a scroll with a kunai sealed in it!"

"So what makes Naruto different?" she asked. The patrons found themselves unable to answer her question. They looked at each other, silently discussing it, trying to come up with a solution. Before they could try and disprove it, however, the Izakaya's doors opened and three more pointy-eared people walked in."

"There you are, sensei!" called a purple-skinned girl, "We looked for ages for you!"

"Ah, speak of the devils," said Minet by way of a greeting, "Want a Hellfire? Bit of a step down from Siusha's stuff, but passable."

"Ooh." Len's eyes lit up and he sat next to her, "I'll 'ave some 'o dat."

Nagi ducked out of sight, mostly so they wouldn't see his indignant look, while the woman continued, "So, you made it to the semi-finals?"

"Len and I did," answered François, "'Kasia got beaten by one of the Uchiha twins, though."

"Ah. Too bad for you, Princess. Anything else I should know?"

It was Ayakasia's turn to speak. "White Knight threatens Black Queen."

Minet's ears twitched and the laziness in her eyes turned into something much darker and more serious. She knew what that phrase meant. "I'm taking one of your booths," she told the barkeep, "Take our orders there."

The dangerous edge to her voice told Nagi that it wasn't up for discussion, nor was it a request. He was no Shinobi, but he'd seen enough glares like hers to know that the booth had better be private. Private with a capital 'any eavesdropping and heads will roll.'

Minet stood up and led her team to a secluded room near the back, normally reserved for weddings (not likely here) or black market deals (much more likely).

{Play: "Great Buddha Temple" by Noriyuki Asakura from "Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven"}

The second the door closed, Minet got straight to the point. "Report."

They took turns giving their retelling, of what they suspected was Orochimaru's doing, the encounter with a berserk Uzumaki Naruto (much to Len's pain), and Higurashi Tenten owing them a favor. Then, for the preliminaries, they talked about Yakushi Kabuto's suspicious withdrawal, as well as the Uchiha twins' curses activating. Len also mentioned how his own opponent had somehow managed to siphon Grimdark energy off of him, though he hastened to add that he'd killed the unfortunate man. Minet, however, told him that would have to be put on the backburner for now; Grimdark Arts were obscure and strange enough that similar incidents weren't likely. For now, though, she was bothered by the other parts. Not the fact that she had to potentially deal with Berserkers again (some of her friends had become able to control the Berserker blood-rage), no. What agitated her was that she might one day have to kill a boy that, after meeting him a few times, she had in fact come to like. "Well...this has gone straight up Shit Creek, hasn't it?" she sighed, "But I guess that's not too surprising." She glanced into a corner. "Vira, what's the queen's response?"

Out of the shadows emerged another elf. She was almost as tall as François, with copper-toned skin and long silver hair done up in a ponytail. Her eyes were heterochromic, one midnight blue, the other amethyst. For clothing she wore a bikini top over her modest bust, a buckled sarong about her waist and a wakizashi over the small of her back. "Her Majesty will still come for the semi-finals," said Vira, looking a little irritated, "She is already aware of the most likely things that Snake-face will pull. So, she wants a large number of NLIA agents recalled from their posts to supplement the Royal Guard."

Minet smiled slyly. This...was definitely not good. "Okay, then," she said sweetly, "In that case, I guess I've got to get going. Do take care of the children, would you kindly, Vira?"

"Oi! Who're you calling children? And don't think I didn't spot that reference!"

"Shut it, Ferro/Len," muttered François and Ayakasia respectively.

"Oh no you don't!" squawked the spy indignantly, "This is your team, you're the one who has to-"

However, her rant suddenly choked off with a squeak at the sight of Minet's grim smile. The grim aura that rose up behind her brokered no compromise; either she quit while she was ahead (figuratively speaking), or suffer a horrible fate that might arguably be worse than a straight-up beatdown. "Tell me, Vira, do you have some of Siusha's whiskey?" she asked innocently.

Vira, of course, did not buy it for a second, but shakily said, "Er, yeah, I-I did." She rummaged through her knapsack quickly before producing a square bottle. She handed it to her superior officer, the clear, golden-brown liquid within sloshing around.

"Thank you," Minet said graciously, "I'll need it later. Remind me to get you a new one when we get back to New Lorien too."

At the back of her mind, Vira couldn't help but point out that that time might be quite a ways away. "R-right...what are you going to do?"

Minet merely grinned, showing just how much good she was up to. Namely, none. "With the bottle? Nothing much, that's just for after. First, though, I need to teach an idiot a permanent lesson."

Len's eyes widened and he ducked behind both his teammates. His sensei, of course, ignored him and turned to the door.

Vira watched as Minet sauntered out of the private room and towards the bar. Good grief, she thought, seeing the flirtatious look on her face. The spy could tell, even at this distance, whether or not her superior was being serious or not. In fact, Minet herself had been the one to teach Vira how to effectively use seduction techniques as weapons (only when necessary, of course). She'd heard the conversation with the bartender earlier, however, so she made no move to stop her. The idiot had brought it on himself, breaking the Hokage's law and all.

"Excuse me, Bartender," said Minet, the seduction in her voice turned up to the max, "I wanted to give you something..."

Nagi could only stare, wide-eyed, drawn in immediately by her cyan pools and tempting smile like a moth to a flame. Minet struck out, grabbing him by the collar, and pulled him close. Without preamble she French-kissed him, shoving her tongue into his mouth for about fifty seconds, before pulling away. "That was for the drink," she said simply, while Nagi could only gape at her. Then her eyes glinted darkly as she whispered in his ear, "And what comes next you brought upon yourself."

She swaggered out the door with her whiskey bottle. The bartender stared after her, nonplussed. But before he could say anything, he felt a burning in his throat. He collapsed to the floor, struggling to breathe as his limbs flailed uselessly. The customers could only watch, horrified, as the owner's skin turned an unhealthy red, before paling. Within seconds, Tojo Nagi stopped twitching, blood leaking from every orifice and pooling on the floor. Meanwhile, Minet was already far from the building, washing the foul taste out with Vira's whiskey.

{Play: "Hope Hospital" by Shoji Meguro from "Trauma Center: 2nd Opinion"}

[Konoha General Hospital, thirty minutes later…]

Hazama-sensei lay down on the couch, resting and catching his breath—it had been quite a tedious day. He'd accompanied the stretcher carrying the sleeping Rock Lee to his room. After that, he'd had to treat a lot of patients, some of them rather low in priority, in addition to three more critical, long time patients of his. He was used to it, of course; in fact he saw it as a challenge, along with the subtle (and outright blatant) attempts by the hospital to bury him under more work. He wished that he could just stay awake, just to see their outraged looks. So many 'acclaimed' doctors in the hospital, and not one of them could even treat a triage patient...

"Hazama-sensei!" called a loud voice, jolting the scarred doctor awake. Kurō looked around, sitting up haphazardly, to see Uzumaki Naruto and his girlfriend, accompanied by a red-skinned woman in a white shirt and tight shorts.

"Ah, Naruto-kun," he said, yawning hugely, "Nice to see you again after so long. And not injured, to boot! So what brings you here?"

"We're here to visit Rock Lee," said the Baihe girl, "In fact, do you have any other triage patients? What I'm going to do might help them too..." she trailed off as Naruto put a red, chained hand over her mouth. She looked at him and saw an urgent look on his face.

"We need to move now!" he said quickly, running off.

Meilan wasn't sure what had prompted such a reaction from her boyfriend, but it was sure to be serious. She and Kurama ran up the stairs after him. Kurō blinked after them, bewildered. Then he shrugged and lay back down on the couch, trying to sleep some more.

{Play: "Nine-Tailed Demon Fox" by Toshiro Masuda}

[Konoha General Hospital, Rock Lee's Room, five minutes later…]

In Rock Lee's room, everything was silent, apart from the EKG's beeping. The boy himself was still anesthetized, which was a good thing, since he needed a lot of rest. It would take a long while to recover from the beating he'd received earlier, but at least he'd be able to keep his livelyhood...eventually. However, right now his unconscious state was a very large disadvantage, because Sabaku no Gaia was standing over him. She glared ominously down at him, popping the cork off her gourd.

She was confused; an emotion that she did not like. Why did the scrawny boy bring her such agitation and pain? Why was she remembering that time of betrayal? Eager to be rid of such thoughts, Gaia knew she need only dispose of the boy. With only a thought, a torrent of sand erupted from the neck of the gourd, drifting as a shroud around her body. However, even as she gestured to move her sand, a surge of Killing Intent made her pause. She looked up to see Uzumaki Naruto charge into the room, skidding to a stop on one foot and hurling a tetsubo at her like a javelin. Her eyes widened as her sand sped in front of her instantly, hardening into rock as it did so. The iron club smashed into the shield full on, pulverizing stone and continuing on, only to stop an inch from her face.

For a moment, Gaia felt relief at surviving. Then the Baihe charged in with a shoulder tackle, shattering the shield in an instant as a golden aura flared off her body. Without stopping, Meilan switched from the tackle to a backhand jab, then grabbed her by the arm. Gaia was lifted completely off her feet and slammed into the wall, breaking her Suna no Yoroi. She slumped to the floor, showing a hole in the wall in the exact shape of her body. The worst part was that the Suna-nin had felt the impact of both attacks. If not for the toughness of her Suna no Yoroi, her body probably would've exploded by now. Perhaps the stories of the Baihe clan's strength were not as exaggerated as she'd thought ...this girl's pure blood shall make a good offering to mother.

"And just what do you think you're doing?" asked Naruto venomously, moving in to pick up his club.

Gaia stood up, her face deadpan as she glared coldly at the two. "Exactly what it looks like. I'm going to kill him."

"What did he do to deserve dying?" Meilan shot back, her aura dissipating. She still looked pretty angry, though.

"Nothing; it's just that killing him will prove that I exist."

"There are other ways to do that," replied Naruto, "But not this way. That won't prove a damn thing."

Gaia glared at him. "What would you know about it? About proving your existence? You know nothing about the life I've had. I contain the Ichibi no Tanuki."

Rather than respond in fear as she expected, the Uzumaki boy frowned furiously. "Am I supposed to back off from that? You think I don't know what that's like? Guess again, I know exactly what it's like; I'm a Jinchuuriki too! Or, I was, at least. Let me guess, there were assassination attempts, right? Old news, I've had those too. I might not be a Jinchuuriki anymore, but I've still got my problems. Ask your Bijū about my clan, or about the curse running through their bloodline."

Gaia's face paled in utter shock. He's a Jinchūriki too?! But then…why isn't he like me? Why does he not wish to kill everyone? Then she realized he kept referring to his condition in the past tense. "Which Bijuu do you…did you hold?" she asked.

"That'd be me," said a voice behind her. Gaia turned her head to see the red-skinned woman who'd singlehandedly nearly ended her. She felt a stab of fear at how quietly she'd snuck up on her. "You already know that Shukaku fears me, but that psycho bitch doesn't seem to have told you who I am. So, I guess an introduction is in order: I am Kurama, the Kyūbi no Yoko."

And suddenly her mother's fear made sense. But then, if the Kyūbi had left his body, then how was the boy still alive…? Even as realization, and then confusion, dawned on Gaia's face, Naruto began to speak again. "So yeah, I know exactly what you've gone through. You think killing everyone else will prove your existence? That's all well and good, but what happens when everyone is dead? No one will be around to remember you then. So here's a promise, just between the two of us; one month from now, no matter how many rounds it takes, you and I will fight. When that time comes, I will show you what it really means to live."

Gaia blinked at the proposal, trying to process it. Prove her wrong? Him? We'll see about that. She smirked predatorily at the prospect of fighting an Uzumaki; she remembered his display in the preliminaries, and knew his blood would please mother greatly. She walked up to him, still grinning madly. "I accept," she said harshly, "After what I've seen already, I hope you won't disappoint me, Uzumaki Naruto."

Her sand gathered around her and whipped itself into a storm. For a second, she was obscured, then vanished entirely, taking the whirlwind with her. For a second, there was silence. Then Meilan turned to her lover and asked, "Do you really think you're ready for her?"

"I will be," Naruto answered with certainty, "Now, what were you planning to do here again?"

"Ah!" she said, remembering, "I'll need Lee, Hinata and…Kiba put together in the same room, at least for a little bit. Since they're the most critical patients here, I'm going to heal them."

"Under most circumstances, I'd be skeptical," said a voice from the doorway. Naruto cursed in surprise as he realized that Hazama-sensei had snuck up on them. "I've heard about the Baihe clan's healing ability, but thought I'd never get to see it. I will have the patients gathered for you; an opportunity to see such legendary skills is too great to pass up!"

[Konoha General Hospital, Operational Amphitheater, ten minutes later]

Kurama had left them at the door, citing that she needed to see someone. Meilan read through the clinical charts, having learned what such things meant in her childhood. Hinata's injuries would, perhaps, be the easiest to heal, since aside from damage to her tenketsu points it was just internal damage, but Lee and Kiba both had bone fractures, albeit adequately repaired already. "Put the patients around me in a triangle, please; equidistant," she instructed the nurses, "The procedure will greatly reduce the required time for them to make a full recovery. Once you're done, you're welcome to stay, but that's up to you of course."

The nurses decided to leave, however, after positioning the three patients to Meilan's specifications. As the door shut behind them, the Baihe let out a sigh to clear her nerves. Right. You can do this, Meilan. You've done it before; this is not any different! The only difference here, of course, was that Hazama-sensei and a number of other doctors were watching, but Meilan shut them out, closing her eyes. She imagined it as if it were a recital for a song, her focus drawing out every bit of energy she could muster. In her silent prayer, a golden aura flared out around her. With a wordless bark of exertion, her eyes snapped open and her arms shot out in both directions. A flash of light illuminated the room as a perfect dome of peach-colored energy formed around her, engulfing Naruto and the three patients in its benevolent glow.

The doctors in the observation room could only look on in fascination. What was that aura supposed to be doing? Kurō, on the other hand, was watching those within the dome, rather than the thing itself. Before his eyes, all the occupants' wounds began healing; from Meilan's scratches from the Forest of Death to the surgical scars on the patients. Is this the level of healing power the Baihe possess? To be able to heal multiple people at once with energy alone? I see...I still have much to learn.

Finally, the aura faded away as Meilan turned her attention to the doctors above. "Their wounds are all completely healed, both internal and external, though broken bones and damaged Tenketsu will still need time to finish. As I said before, their recovery has been greatly accelerated; Hyūga Hinata will be the first to recover fully and will be fit to leave the hospital by at least a week. Oh yes, and I'd like to be notified once Rock Lee's anesthesia has worn off. I still owe him a scolding."

Not even waiting for a response, she led Naruto out of the room by the hand. Meanwhile, the doctors remained where they were, stunned into slack-jawed silence by what they'd witnessed.

[Tenten's Room…]

Tenten blearily opened her eyes, only to groan when she saw an unfamiliarly white ceiling. She quickly recognized that she was in a hospital, then tried to remember how she'd gotten there. She'd been fighting that blonde girl from Suna, and none of her weapons had been hitting their mark. One swing of that fan had stopped them dead in the air, a second had turned them around, and then...a third swing, followed by breathlessness and darkness.

"Well, you're looking better, at least," said a girl's voice, "I'm sure Naruto-kun will be happy once he gets here."

She sat up shakily to see the red-skinned woman from before sitting by her bed. The one who'd claimed to be an 'Alpha Female.' She was sitting cross-legged in a chair next to her, stirring what looked like hospital food in her lap. Using the spork, she took a piece of cake and popped it in her mouth, moaning almost orgasmically at the taste and disturbing Tenten more than a little. Had this woman not eaten cake before? "Oh sorry, it's just that food this good is hard to come by, you see," she said, smiling slightly. "Now then, I suppose you have some questions, don't you? And would one of those questions happen to be about my Alpha authority in Naruto-kun's pack?"

Tenten's eyes widened, then narrowed. Could this woman read minds? "I thought I was supposed to be asking the questions here," she said drily.

The 'Alpha Female' only gave her a 'don't be stupid' look. "And I'm supposed to be answering them, aren't I? Oh, and I'm not reading your mind; I just saw your expression when I announced myself at the Prelims. If you were in a real pack, by the way, you would probably be mauled for that attitude."

Well then, I guess I should be grateful that I'm a human, and therefore not in a pack. It was with a great effort that Tenten kept that particular thought to herself, though she made no move to hide it from her expression. Instead, she only asked, "Who are you?"

The red-skinned woman merely chuckled. "Before I answer your question- and yes, I am going to answer -I've got one more for you," her face became slightly more serious, "What's holding you back from telling Naruto-kun the truth?"

Tenten flinched, looking confounded. "Truth? W-w-what are you talking about?" she stammered nervously.

Her opponent's eyes narrowed. "It was back when he was seven, so I won't fault him for remembering a scent from then," she began, continuing to spear and eat her cake without pause, "But I remember. I realized almost right away that your scent was very similar to that man who cut off Naruto-kun's arm and almost killed him. Since his scent was more similar to your father's, I'd say he was your uncle."

Tenten's eyes widened as she finally realized who the woman was. The shock quickly turned to a hateful glare as the woman finished her cake. "You're the one who gave Naruto-kun the Curse of Kazan!" she accused.

The white-haired woman set the dish and spork aside and looked at her with defiance, completely unfazed by the venom in her voice. "If I hadn't, he would have died," she said simply, "Your uncle saw to that."

A look of shame flickered across Tenten's face, then was gone. "You're Kazan, aren't you?"

She regretted that almost immediately as the woman's expression, which had up until this point been slightly mirthful, filled with hatred. "No, I'm not, and I'll thank you never to call me by the name of that jack-off father of mine," she spat, "In fact, don't bring up my relation to him again, you hear? Now...again, why have you not told Naruto-kun?"

Okay then, another landmine to side-step. Tenten's nerve almost left her as she thought about what she had to say- because she would say it. She had to admit her feelings, if not to Naruto, then to this person. "I...I'm afraid," she said haltingly, "I'm afraid that, if I tell him, I'll lose him forever. I've tried every bit of reasoning I could to get rid of the guilt, but it wouldn't go away. No matter how I spin it, the fact remains; my uncle cut off Naruto-kun's arm and tried to kill him! And now that he's back, I...I don't ever want to lose him. I'll even share him with other girls if I have to!"

The woman only remained silent throughout the confession. As she finished, she smiled proudly. "You won't lose him," she said softly, "Naruto-kun is not a cruel person. You should definitely confess to him as soon as you can. He will not blame you for something that is not your fault, especially after all this time."

Tenten raised her eyebrow. "How can you know that? You'd have to have been close to him for a long time to know such a thing, but I'd remember seeing you around the village."

"Hmm~, but I have been close to him," said the red-skinned lady teasingly, giving a half-smile, "Haven't you heard of the Kyūbi no Yoko?"

The bun-haired girl blinked, thrown by the seeming change in subject. "J...just that it attacked thirteen years ago and that the Yondaime Hokage killed it."

The smile turned up a bit more at the corners. "Only the first part is true, and even that's missing some crucial details. There's no real way to kill a Bijū; they can only be sealed away inside a vessel. Minato didn't want to seal the most powerful one into his own son, but he had to do it."

The dots began connecting in Tenten's mind. I don't get it. What sort of connection would the Kyūbi no Yoko have with...with...Naruto... And suddenly she understood. Naruto was always being called a demon by passersbys in the village (they thought they were being quiet enough to not be heard). His birthday was on the same day as the Kyūbi festival, and he looked nearly identical to the Yondaime Hokage himself. Tenten looked up at the woman, the blood draining from her faced as she realized that she was in the room with the Kyūbi no Yoko. "What do you want from me?" she asked.

The demoness only gave a small chuckle. "Oh, not much. I just want you to tell my future mate, Naruto-kun, the truth; simple as that."

"And what do you gain? What good does telling him the truth do you?"

She leaned forward and propped her arm on a knee, placing her head in her hand and grinning. It seemed that she found skepticism highly amusing. "It's not for my benefit, but yours. You already know I intend to make Naruto my mate down the road, but of course I'm willing to share him with other girls. Obviously, those girls would have to acknowledge me as the alpha female of the pack, and they would have to sincerely love him for himself. Since the latter is definitely true of you, it would be best to tell him the truth soon, or you might come to regret it forever after."

Tenten's mind was awhirl with thoughts. She knew she had to tell Naruto the truth, of course. But she also knew (or at least felt) that having some regret was much, much better than completely severing her relationship with him. Before she could retort with this thought, however, the door opened and Naruto entered with Meilan leading him by the hand. "Ah, Kurama!" Naruto greeted, "I thought I smelled you here. I never would've guessed that Tenten-chan was the one you wanted to see."

The woman, now identified as Kurama, shrugged. "I thought she could use a talking to. After all, a person with a weak will can become weak themselves from a defeat."

Suddenly, Tenten realized that this was her chance. At this point, did she really have that much to lose? "Naruto-kun...can I talk to you in private?"

Meilan, of course, was surprised but Kurama got up, smiling knowingly, and said, "We'll leave you to it, then. Meilan needs to go train at the temple anyway. Don't you, Meilan?"

It took Meilan a second to realize what Kurama wanted from her. "Oh, yes of course," she replied quickly, "I need to meditate some more. I'll...leave you two alone now. And Naruto-kun?" The blond glanced at her in curiosity. "Don't get too close now. I'm still looking forward to getting your first kiss."

Naruto's eyebrow twitched, but he said nothing as the two shut the door, leaving him and Tenten to themselves. Once their footsteps had faded away, Tenten let out a breath of apprehension. This was the only time she could finally tell Naruto the truth. "This is...something I've always wanted to tell you, but I just...I wasn't ready," she said as he gave her his attention, "But thanks to Kurama-san, I think I can do it now."

Again, Naruto remained silent, but indicated that he was listening with his hand. "I...My dad told me this when it happened, and I didn't really believe it at first, but when I saw you I realized it was true. The man who cut off your arm was my uncle, Manten." Although it didn't darken, Naruto's expression suddenly became unreadable. "I know it's no excuse for what he did and not telling you, but I'm sorry for what happened five years ago. I-I'd like to make it up to you, if you'd give me a chance. Please, just...don't leave me. I already lost you once and I really, really want to be with you. I don't want to lose you again because of what that animal did."

There was silence for a moment in the room as Naruto sat there. "What he did was...unforgivable, trying to kill someone who didn't even know what he'd done wrong," he said darkly, standing up and worrying Tenten, "He's already gotten what he deserves- after all, Kurama possessed my body and killed him. As for not telling me until today, though...well, there's only one thing I can honestly say about that..."

Tenten looked down and closed her eyes, trying to stop the tears from forming. Kurama was wrong; Naruto really was vengeful. She listened to his footsteps as they...drew closer? What? She flinched in surprise as a hand suddenly stroked her brown hair. "...I don't really care about that," Naruto admitted easily, the darkness gone from his voice. Tenten's eyes flew open as he continued, "To tell the truth, it was probably for the better that he cut off my arm. If it weren't for that, I doubt GSD-sensei would have bothered taking me under his wing." His hand slid down her head to stroke her cheek. "I wouldn't have learned how to gain the strength to protect the people I love- a people that includes you, by the way. In fact, without him, I probably wouldn't have even realized that I had people who loved me for me," he squeezed her hand, "Whom I needed to protect. So don't blame yourself for something that wasn't your fault anyway, alright. And I want you to be genuine with your feelings from now on. I can always tell when you're being insincere with your smile and laughter; it breaks my heart when the people I love are only forcing themselves to be happy."

She didn't know what to say. All that worrying, and Naruto never even held it against her for what her uncle had done? It was unbelievable, to say the least. So lost in thought was she that she failed to register the embrace he gave her, plus the words he whispered in her ear. Then, just as she was recovering from her shock, Naruto turned to leave with a joyful smile on his face. She tried to call him back, to tell him she'd not heard him, but the words stuck in her throat. But that didn't matter. All that mattered now was that she still had a chance with him now; a chance to advance from a dear friend to a loved one in his heart. True, Kurama was still the 'alpha of the pack' (whatever that meant), but then, she always enjoyed a challenge...

{Play: "Harumonia" by Rhythem from "Naruto"}

[Somewhere outside the hospital]

"Ha~...it's nice to see that they've made up, finally," sighed Meilan, lowering her binoculars, "I could always tell that Tenten-san got pretty depressed whenever Naruto-kun was around. Well, at least now I know why. Still, are you sure you should've intervened?"

Kurama, who sat next to her on the branch, only shrugged. "I don't claim to be ultimate expert in romance, but sometimes one of them does need a bit of a push. If I hadn't done it, Tenten would never have worked up the courage to confess to Naru-kun. What about you, though? Are you really alright sharing him with other girls?"

"I...I might not be entirely happy with it, but I accepted it a long time ago; Naruto's heart is just too big to keep to myself. Besides, I'm already sharing him with you, as well as any girl who meets my...I mean, the standards we agreed on. As long as his heart still has room for me, I will be fine."

The red-skinned Amazon pulled the younger girl into a loving embrace. "He will, don't you worry. Naruto's heart will always have plenty of space for you. Now...don't you have some meditation to do?"

"Ah." Meilan lightly hit her palm with a fist, remembering. "Yeah, right. I need to train hard for the finals. I hope the meditation will help against that girl with the big fan. I'll have to pull out all the stops with her."

"I'll tell Naru-kun that you're going to train on your own this time," said Kurama, "If the Chūnin Exams make as much sense as they should, then you won't be allowed to watch the combatants train." She paused. "Mind you, they'll probably still send spies to observe or hinder him, no matter what the rules are." At the meaningful, worried look on Meilan's face, she quickly continued, "Don't worry about that, though. I'll be training him myself, this time around. Even if that Hyūga asshole does learn what Naruto's training in, he won't stand a chance."

Suddenly, she looked up over the edge of the binoculars as something else caught her interest. "Hm...looks like that closet pervert Ebisu is trying to teach Naruto water-walking. Doing pretty well, too. Wait, what's...? Oh ho! Revenge is at hand!"

"Eh?" was all Meilan could say, confused. Whatever it was, she knew that whenever Kurama wanted revenge (whatever it was for)

The confounded look in Meilan's eyes had spoke volumes of what she was thinking, but what she did in fact know was that whenever Kurama sought revenge, there was no escape. "Make sure you send Naruto-kun my love will you?"

A mischievous grin and a salute was Kurama's response. "Will do, now hurry along. I've a toad that needs to be punished." Without another word, the Amazon leaped off the edge of the tower and performed what appeared to be a shunshin in midair.

{Play: "Afternoon of Konoha" by Toshiro Masuda}

[Konoha Onsen…]

Ebisu watched, slightly nonplussed, as Uzumaki Naruto followed his water-walking instructions like a fish to...well, water. It hadn't been easy, convincing the boy to follow him to the baths, he'd acquiesced after the promise of training for the Chūnin Exam Finals. Naruto's attitude towards learning reminded the Tokubetsu Jōnin of a certain other warrior. In this case, the respected (yet infamous all the same) Rōnin from Mizu no Kuni: Miyamoto Musashi, from before even Mifune's time. Merely thinking the name was enough to send shivers running up Ebisu's spine; even after the man's death via illness many years before, many shinobi feared to even speak his name. With the number of ninjas he'd reportedly killed single-handedly, it wasn't that unjustified.

To get back to the subject, though, to be honest Ebisu was just as...wary towards Naruto as many of the villagers. Or at least, at first. He saw the boy as nothing more than a rabid dog that had to be put down. But then, one day he saw the Honorable Grandson practicing with a shinai on a bamboo dummy. Despite himself, the Tokubetsu Jōnin found himself intrigued by the boy's determined face as he practiced his 'men' strike. Tentatively, he asked Konohamaru if he wanted to learn a faster way to become a Shinobi. "Don't lie to me; there is no shortcut to become a ninja," the boy had said without looking, shocking Ebisu, "Naruto told me that to be a great Shinobi, let alone Hokage, I'd have to work hard and do whatever it takes with me team. When the day finally comes and we fight for the hat, I want to beat him with my own strength...and at his own game. I'm gonna be an even better swordsman than him!"

It was a bit off-putting that Ebisu's own promises weren't what was motivating the boy. Although, he did notice that since meeting Naruto, Konohamaru had become much less spoiled. He now saw massive potential in the blond...especially after said boy cut clean through a patch of bamboo with a bamboo pole. That particular event might or might not have contributed to Ebisu deciding that Naruto was not, in fact, wasting his time.

"Oi, Ebisu-san! Don't you have anything harder to do?"

Ebisu could only smirk to himself. Hokage? Ha! He could get to Sannin-level at the rate he's going, and I'll be the one to get him there! "You want a challenge? Fine, how about this: you will spar against me while water-walking. No weapons or jutsu, just Taijutsu."

Naruto gave a sharp-toothed grin. "Mm, sure. Although, when you say no weapons," he flexed his fingers, emphasizing his sharp nails, "Do you also mean these?" Ebisu gulped quietly at the question. The talons would definitely be a problem against him. Although, seeing as the Inuzuka also had claws, they could technically be called a part of his Taijutsu.

Suddenly, the blond paused and glanced away. "Hm. Looks like we've got a visitor," he said irritably, "Who's enjoying himself over there."

The Jōnin looked around and immediately saw what Naruto was talking about. A man with long, spiky white hair was crouched in front of the fence, apparently looking through a hole to the women's side of the bath. Instantly Ebisu was filled with anger and indignation. Hey! He's hogging all the space! He charged the old lecher, intent to punish. "You there! What do you think you're-"

There was a blast of smoke, which obscured the old man. Even as it started to clear, the sunglasses-wearing man started to slow down. "Y-you're...!" he gasped. However, something long slammed into his stomach, then hit him with an uppercut. Needless to say, he got knocked the fuck out.

"...Ah, shaddup. You're bothering me," grumbled the man. As the smokescreen cleared, he was revealed to be wearing a red vest over a green-gray shozoku and red geta. He had red marks trailing down from his eyes and was sitting on top of...a large, orange and black toad. "Geez, such a wimp...a Jōnin and he gets passes out from that? What's this world coming to?"

"Apparently it's coming to a world where people like you hang around fences," snarked Naruto, walking across the water towards him, "In other words, a world where perverts like you can just peep at women all you like."

"I don't like your tone, brat. I'll have you know that I am one of the Densetsu no Sannin, Jiraiya!" the old man retorted, "And I'm no pervert!"

The blond looked impressed, despite himself. "Oh? Well then, I apologize. Since you just knocked out my current teacher, how about you take over and train me?"

Jiraiya only snorted and turned his head away. "Oh, so now you change your tune? Sorry brat, this Super Pervert wants nothing to do with it."

Naruto deadpanned for a second before grinning deviously and putting his hands together in a seal. *Poof* A puff of smoke briefly obscured the boy.

{Play: "Sexiness" by Toshiro Masuda from "Naruto"}

When it cleared, however, the one standing there was a blind, pig-tailed blonde girl. A girl who also happened to be naked; one arm covered her large breasts, while her other hand covered the junction of her legs. Though Jiraiya would normally swear this was not the case, he was definitely turned on by the sight. "Mou~!" she cried in frustration, "I-I definitely didn't want to do this for you! B-but now that you've s-seen me like this, you'd better take responsibility, you hear?!"

The white-haired man's jaw dropped at such sexy a tsundere attitude. Before he could even begin forming a reply another woman, one with red skin, appeared behind the girl and wrapped her arms around her. One hand tilted her head to expose her neck, while the other trailed sensual fingers into her cleavage. "Such a shame...if you don't help me train Naruto-kun, you'll be missing out on all this."

For emphasis, she licked Naruko's shoulder, running her tongue up to her neck and kissing it, while her hand massaged the blonde's bare breast. The Sannin's nose nearly exploded with blood from the eroticism of the scene before him. "Holy shit..." he muttered, his jaw dropping lower by the second, "This is...this is...!" He grinned widely and gave both females a double thumbs-up. "Perfect! Kid, you've got yourself a teacher!"

"Excellent," said the red woman seductively, suddenly gaining a mischievous grin, "And now that I have your attention, I have something else to say to you." She sauntered over to him, her swaying, bikini-clad body drawing his eyes like a magnet. As she got close, she placed her hands on his cheeks and pulled his face closer slowly.

Jiraiya's excitement ratcheted up a few notches as her lips approached his. A kiss already? Damn I'm good! However, it was not to be. Her shin suddenly shot up and nailed him in the crotch, causing him to double over so his head hit her shoulder.

If not for the amount of agony he was currently experiencing, Jiraiya would have been majorly turned on by the whispering voice in his ear. "That was for spying on Kushi-chan on her wedding night, baka-Sennin!"

Even as he registered the words, Jiraiya felt himself lifted off the ground and spun around in the air. The woman then somersault-kicked him in the balls again, launching him over the fence into the women's side of the onsen. The small part of his brain not dominated by pain finally realized the identity of the red-skinned woman as he hit the water. However, even as he surfaced, the Gama Sennin saw he wasn't safe yet; all of the women in the baths stood around him, smiling evilly. Some of them, worryingly enough, brandished two-by-fours with nails.

How the hell did they get those in here, anyway? he thought absently.

A/N: Whomever can tell who Dr. Hazama is based on will be rewarded with a vintage bottle of Siusha's secret whiskey…if I can find it. It shouldn't be too hard, considering the basic description of him. On a side note, if Gaara ever did get a voice-over for being gender-bent in the English dub, I guess Lani Minella would be a good actress for her (she already did well as Ivy Valentine and the female Krogan named Eve).

Character Class Confirmation:

Vira: Brawler/Rogue

Dungeon Fighter Techniques Used:

Ultimate Nen Guard: A Nen Master technique that creates a shield that heals party members within it. Damage done to the shield will be converted into health used to heal allies.

Vocabulary/Culture Notes:

-sensei—contrary to what people think, the honorific –sensei in Japanese does not always mean 'teacher', as depending on the context, it can also mean 'doctor'.

Fibia and tibia—your shin bones

Radius and ulna—your forearm bones

Kaze no Sasayaki—this is Japanese for whispering wind

Izakaya—in olden days the name referred to a saké shop that allowed customers to drink on the premises; nowadays, it has become a establishment no different from a bar or a pub.