Heyo! Hope you're all having a great summer so far. I also hope the wait for this chapter didn't feel too long for any of you, but I thought I'd make up for that by making this chapter pretty big for the story's two-year anniversary just yesterday on June 12th.

I wanted to post this on time yesterday but I wasn't willing to sacrifice quality by skimming over errors as I proofread this yesterday and today. Now that I'm satisfied with the quality , I hope all of you'll enjoy this chapter. Just be warned there'll be a good amount of fluff but you'll understand why in the next few chapters.

Usual thanks goes to LoverofLemon for his help on betaing this story.


WARNING: This story has mature language, sexual themes, and graphic depictions of violence and gore.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Naruto or any of its characters.


Chapter 23: Be Careful What You Wish for

Somewhere in a dense forest

"You two, take Hanabi-chan and go! You, transform into her!"

That was something young Hyuuga Hanabi didn't want to hear. She didn't want to leave Uzumaki Naruto behind. She wanted to stay and help him escape from that Kumo missing-nin. Yet, she knew she was still too young to be of help, as evidenced by how easily two of Uzumaki Naruto's clones subdued her to forcefully move her away from their creator just now. Even so, she wanted to stick with him no matter what. She was about to scream for him to come along, but a hand clamped over her mouth to keep her silent.

"It's alright. Boss will be fine." one of the clones whispered as they carried Hanabi's struggling form. The last thing she saw of Naruto was him lying temporarily immobilized on the ground from a jutsu that Kumo missing-nin used while another clone transformed into a perfect copy of the young heiress beside him.

His handsome blue eyes then shifted and locked onto Hanabi's desperate pale eyes for a second, and she easily saw regret that he was pushing her away against her wishes, and also how terrified he was. However, those emotions were vastly overshadowed by his determination to keep her safe no matter what.

Then the thick foliage blocked her view, leaving the blonde alone to face whoever that shinobi was.

Hanabi was struggling valiantly in the clones' grips as they moved quickly through the forest as far away from danger as possible. She was still yelling muffled through the hand clamped over her mouth, likely cursing the two clones for daring to take her away from their creator.

"Oi, you need to calm down, Hanabi-chan. It's all right. Boss'll get out of this like he always did in the past." the clone muffling her spoke assuredly and smiled.

"After all, I should know since I'm a copy of him."

That somehow reassured Hanabi a little, but she still wasn't going to stop getting back to the real Naruto as soon as possible.

Just then, she felt that same powerful presence from when Naruto recovered her from the Kiri missing-nin using that crimson fox-shaped chakra shroud. It frightened her when she didn't know it was Naruto using it, but it somewhat comforted her now.

"Oh, the fox's helping him out." the other clone spoke up. The first clone grinned.

"See, Hanabi-chan? With her help, he'll be fi-!" that was all it said before both clones suddenly popped into smoke and the young girl was dropped unceremoniously on the ground all alone in the middle of this imposing and suddenly silent forest.

Even though she was finally freed, Hanabi shivered as she felt ice-cold dread fill her entire body. That was because she wasn't feeling that imposing presence anymore, since it instantly disappeared at the same time as the clones did. It meant something happened to Naruto and she didn't want to think of the most likely cause.

She was vehemently willing herself to go back for her beloved onii-chan but she was also allowing her fear of what she would discover to creep up within her, paralyzing her body with indecision at this critical moment. Naruto easily called up enough resolve to stay behind and get her safe, so why wasn't she able to do the same in order to make sure he was okay?

That decision was taken out of her hands when she heard some rustling. She snapped her eyes toward the noise to see a silhouette appear between some trees nearby.

"O-onii-chan?" she whispered, desperate for this shadowy form to reveal itself to be Uzumaki Naruto confidently declaring he 'kicked that man's ass' easily. But it was not to be.

"Sorry… I'm not him." a different man's rough voice answered her. The young heiress stiffened in shock, despite her instincts screaming at her to move in the opposite direction even with her legs refusing to work. The silhouette revealed itself to be the Kumo missing-nin as he moved closer, but she wouldn't have noticed this because her wide and trembling pale eyes were completely focused on the man's hands.

They were soaked up to the forearms in something dark red and viscous, with some dripping off the fingertips as they hung at this man's sides. As Hanabi darted her eyes away in a desperate attempt to avoid consciously linking the familiar-looking liquid to the obvious cause, she realized too late that there was so much more covering most of this nin's clothes in large splatters. The man, who was apparently indifferent in how he looked to a frightened child at this moment, sighed.

"He surprised me a bit. I have to admit I just reacted and got him with a lucky shot, but it was…messy. At least it was also quick." he spoke with a sheepish tone, as if he had just made an embarrassing 'oopsie' doing an easy and common task he had done thousands of times before. Hanabi's breaths came in short and quivering gasps as she willed herself to scramble back from this slowly advancing man with her eyes now focused back on his soaked hands.

"Don't worry, they'll treat you well in my village. Thanks to your age, they'll have plenty of time to brainwash you almost painlessly until you've reached childbearing age. You'll be loyal to Kumo by then." the monster spoke in a composed voice, as if it would calm Hanabi down. Her backward scrambling became even more frantic and her breaths now came out in loud whimpers.

"You won't even remember this." he whispered emotionlessly as he reached for her with one of his hands still covered in that liquid.

HIS blood.

That thought was the trigger for a sanity-shattering scream.

"AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!"

"-nabi-ch-"

She was still screaming and flailing her arms to get away from the monster who slaughtered Na-.

"HANABI-CHAN!"

Her eyes blinked open rapidly at this forceful shout to see nothing but her older sister's worried face filling her vision. It was so unexpected she just froze at this sudden change of scenery.

"Oh, my sweet little sister…just what have you seen?" Hinata cooed sadly at her little sister's wide-eyed expression of terror as she released her firm grips on Hanabi's wrists and drew her into a protective embrace. The younger girl's frozen body slackened a little as it instinctively reacted to the warmth of her older sister's motherly gesture.

"It's okay. You're back in your bedroom and safe. Everyone else is fine, too." Hinata continued in her soothing tone as she gently rocked the shell-shocked Hanabi back and forth for a long moment.

The younger sister then dared to raise her head to see Hinata was right. She was back in her room and there were no sign of that monster. Their father and Tomoe were standing at the end of her bed in their yukata, watching with clear concern on their faces. Meanwhile, Hinata was still whispering assuredly into her ear that she was safe.

Finally, she gathered just enough strength to sit up and move back a little until she was softly holding hands with her sister's. She was staring at nothing just over Hinata's shoulder with a faraway expression; as if she was still working to separate dream from reality a bit while longer.

"We're all here and safe. No one has died." Hinata repeated and her little sister seemed to have finally registered the words as she blinked rapidly again with her eyes becoming watery and tears were already beginning to drip down her cheeks. Hinata's concerned expression softened with understanding.

"Was it Naruto-kun again?"

Hanabi's face adopted a mask of pure anguish upon hearing his name, and she let out a choked sob before burying her face in her older sister's chest.

"O-onii-chan!" she wailed.

Hinata nodded and turned her head to their father, who was grim-faced.

"Father-" she was stopped by a raised hand.

"I understand. I shall have someone retrieve Naruto-san immediately." he assured before turning to leave the room. Tomoe sat on the edge of the bed next to Hinata and reached over to rake her fingers through Hanabi's hair. She relaxed more with the caretaker's comforting action, though she was still crying weakly in Hinata's chest.

"Poor dear. Just when the nightmares were about to disappear for good, they've picked up since then." Tomoe whispered, careful to vaguely imply Naruto's near death last summer for the young girl's sake.

"It's easy to see she really is amazing, because she's had more nightmares related to that kidnapping incident than any of us realize, yet she did not let these affect her. It's just the occasional dream like the one tonight she couldn't endure." Hinata whispered in reply. Tomoe nodded, knowing she meant it was only the ones with Naruto dying gruesomely that were the worst and most traumatizing for Hanabi. She adored him so much that she desperately needed to see if he was really alive and all right after each one of those horrendous dreams.

"Y-you shouldn't have to get onii-chan for me every time, nee-chan. I'm old enough and I need to deal with this myself someday." Hanabi suddenly mumbled, somewhat muffled by her sister's large breasts. However, the tone of her voice told everyone listening she wasn't really meaning what she said. She always did like being spoiled by Naruto. Hinata shared a smile with Tomoe as she gently raked her fingers through the smaller girl's hair along with the caretaker's.

"Hanabi-chan…do you honestly think Naruto-kun would ever find this annoying now or even ten years later? You know he will always come whenever you ask for him."

Meanwhile, outside the Hyuuga compound

This sucks! She just had to pick tonight. Kurama muttered grouchily.

Naruto grinned.

Didn't you say you liked Hanabi-chan earlier this evening?

I'm rethinking that after she interrupted Anko's confession! She should be able to deal with this on her own at her age.

You've heard the kind of dreams she's had in the past, and they definitely were not the typical 'monster jumps out at you' fare. They were realistic and emotionally scarring.

I would have never let silly nightmares affect me if I ever did have any.

She's not you. And of course they'd never affect you…you're what nightmares are made of, after all. Naruto thought amusedly.

Oh, real fucking funny. How hilarious will it be when your face meets my fist repeatedly the next time you come here?

Yeah, yeah…I already get that with your hellish training. Why the sudden interest in Anko-chan possibly confessing to me anyway? he replied, dismissive of Kurama's half-hearted threat.

Your human dramas and awkward courtships amuse me. Plus, I like her.

I bet it has something to do with the both of you being total sadists.

That's right! All sadists unite! I extend an invitation to you too.

Naruto raised a confused eyebrow.

Don't lie to me and say you didn't enjoy tormenting that little cockroach tonight. I'm not even talking physical. Your slow and systematic annihilation of his confidence and mental state -as he realizes with each blow you land and each sentence you speak that he was absolutely no match for you- gave me the tingles. A lot of them! Kurama cut in with a sultry purr at the end before he could say anything in denial. He blushed briefly at her frank statement and shrugged, deciding not to give any response. He got back to the original subject.

What makes you so sure Anko-chan was going to confess? She may have been trying to tell me something else…like how she broke my favorite ramen bowl! I know she was the one who did it!

He felt Kurama's deadpan stare boring through his mind for a long moment, if that was somewhat possible.

Goddamn it! Your girls should've finally cured you of your diamond-strength density! I really don't need to be banging my head against more trees after watching you miss one obvious clue after another; like with Hinata for years! You dumbass!

Oi! No need to be rude. I'm not denying the possibility she was about to confess; it certainly felt like that tonight. However, I'm not going to assume anything until I've actually heard the words from her, or she just jumps me and shoves her tongue down my throat.

Kurama chuckled.

That's certainly something she would do. We'll have to put this on hold, since it looks like you're here.

Indeed, Naruto had arrived in front of Hiashi's house with Hyuuga Kõ, the unfortunate guard who were sent to retrieve him from a very irritated purple-haired woman. The man had a feeling he interrupted something important, but he had been ordered to find Naruto as soon as possible.

"Uzumaki-sama, this is where we part. You will find them in Lady Hanabi's bedroom." Kõ spoke while he stood by the front door to slide it open for Naruto. The blonde nodded.

"Thanks for your help, Kõ-san. See you around."

"Uh…Uzumaki-sama?"

"Hm?"

"I truly do apologize if I did interrupt anything between you and Mitarashi-sama."

Despite this man's genuine intentions, Naruto was feeling a little jilted on not getting to hear Anko possibly tell him she liked him. Either that, or she was finally going to admit it was her who broke his favorite bowl.

She was going to confess, damn it! Forget about that damn bowl! Kurama suddenly ranted upon hearing his thoughts.

Ignoring his tenant, Naruto clapped a hand on the guard's shoulder, making him jump a little at this unexpected contact.

"I'm not bothered at all, but it's Anko-chan whom you should avoid for the next week or so. In fact…" he suddenly put on a grave expression as he reached his right arm around an increasingly nervous Kõ's shoulders and cupped his left hand next to his mouth, as if he was whispering a secret.

"I like you, so you really should run away like your life depended on it whenever you see her. I mean it…run away like a bitch, you hear me?!" his whispering became frantic with his right eye trembling and bulging for added effect. Kõ swallowed hard with his knees shaking a little. Like many others, he had heard many terrifying stories about the Snake Mistress' temper. Naruto was going to help fan the flames a bit for a little payback.

You're totally a sadist! Kurama proclaimed gleefully.

"Have I not explained to you repeatedly that frightening my guards is not conductive to the smooth operation of this compound's security, Naruto-san?" a new male voice spoke up smoothly behind the two. Kõ jumped a little and Naruto smirked as he turned around to greet Hiashi, who had his right eyebrow slightly raised.

"Just giving him some advance warning, Hiashi-sama. He might've pissed off Anko-chan and I only managed to calm her down this evening. No guarantee I'll be there next time if they see each other soon." Naruto knew he was spewing bullshit. Despite Anko's well-known propensity for beating up anyone who pissed her off at the moment, she also had a short memory. She wasn't the type to hold any grudge for long with the sole exception of Orochimaru. No need for Kõ to know that, though.

Hiashi turned his head to a sweating Kõ.

"I would accept Naruto-san's recommendation if I were you. If you ever see Mitarashi-san, you should -what was it that he said- 'run away like a bitch'." he warned in grim tone. The guard was sweating and close to trembling.

"You may return to your post." Hiashi continued as if he hadn't delivered that warning, and Kõ nodded shakily before leaving. Meanwhile, Naruto was snickering as he moved into the house with the clan head.

"Did he interrupt something you were doing too?" he whispered slyly.

"I have no comment." Hiashi replied instantly with a straight face.

"Oh phooey…I'm sure I'll get the same reply from Tomoe-san too." Naruto grumbled without thinking. A hand instantly clamped down on his shoulder with a tight grip, stopping them both in the middle of the hallway leading to the house's living quarters where the women were waiting. Naruto gulped and turned slowly with a wince on his face see Hiashi's shocked expression, which was a rarity for anyone to see.

"Shit…did I say that out loud?"

Like I've said before…you're a dumbass.

Hush, you.

It took Hiashi a long moment to regain his composure, and then he spent a few seconds contemplating how Naruto found out about his highly secret relationship with his daughters' beloved caretaker. It wouldn't have been a stretch to say that secret was just as well guarded as most of this village's sensitive information. Finally, his eyes widened fractionally and he wanted to smack himself on his forehead for overlooking something so obvious.

"It was your sense of smell. To think I was cautious enough to avoid having members of the Inuzuka clan discover me, yet I have completely overlooked you."

"Right. It's not like I boast about my nose all the time like they do, though. I've smelled your scents on each other since shortly after Hinata-chan and I began academy. I didn't care about what it meant until I got 'The Talk' a couple years later, though."

"Why have you not said anything for so long?"

"It's clear you were keeping it a secret for her sake. If your elders ever caught wind of this, they would kill her with the Caged Bird seal before you could even lift a finger to stop them. Just because you're the clan head and she's a 'lowly' branch member." Naruto muttered in disgust at this clan's continued practice of segregation. Even when he had years to get used to how this clan worked, he would never accept it.

"You and Tomoe-san helped me out a lot over the years and I owe it to you two for me to never utter a word of this to anyone." he finished with a serious expression. Hiashi was touched by this young man's loyalty, even though he felt it was his clan who owed him more.

"Thank you. It means a great deal to hear these words from you. Dare I assume my daughters does not know?"

"Not yet, but I'll tell you right now they'd wholeheartedly support your relationship like I do. From what Hinata-chan told me about her mother, it sounds like she would have fully approved of Tomoe-san for you and her daughters after her unfortunate death."

Hiashi smiled slightly, knowing Naruto was right. It was why he was sure Hitomi would have kicked his ass in the afterlife if he refused to act on his developing feelings for Tomoe just because of an unnecessary sense of loyalty to someone who had already passed on long ago. It was almost like his deceased wife sent this wonderful woman to him and his daughters from the beyond during a time they needed her most.

It turned out Tomoe also needed the three of them just as much. Despite her kindness and incredible natural beauty, she was undesirable as a bride because a medical condition left her unable to bear children. Being asked to take care of and love two wonderful girls full-time from their early ages was a blessing that she never dreamed of; not to mention she also finally found true love with a man after so long.

"I desire nothing more than to reveal our companionship to them, but it is too risky for Tomoe-chan." he replied soberly, not realizing his slip-up on the suffix for his secret lover.

"Don't worry…that's what I'm here for, Hiashi-sama. I'm making good time on a project for your clan."

Hiashi nodded grimly, hoping that day would come soon. He was worried about the issue of removing the old seal from the branch members without the main members noticing. Only his great aunt knew how the Caged Bird seal worked, and also how to apply and remove it. She kept the secrets in her head and didn't allow any detailed documentation of the seal unless absolutely necessary. He doubted she was going to give up its secrets because of her harsh and conservative nature with a preference for preserving the clan's old ways; in other words, a colossal bitch. Only when she felt she was getting close to death would she pass the secrets on to someone of her own choosing, and it was likely the new person would share her viewpoints, which he did not want at all.

A few of the other elders were also entrenched in the old ways, and still resisted the presence of an 'outsider' like Naruto inside the compound to this day; especially when his relationship with Hinata came out into the open recently. It was only the clan head's stern stance on giving his daughters' savior privileges here and his still-rising popularity with the majority of the clan that stilled their tongues to a certain degree.

With all these factors, it was an uphill battle for Hiashi to complete his secret agendas. Add in the fact he would have to attempt removing the seal without alerting these elders and risking the safety of the remaining branch members, and it was a daunting task to undertake at the very least. He bitterly cursed the Caged Bird's creator for incorporating a way to kill all branded Hyuuga with a quick hand seal at any time should one of the elders feel there was an 'uprising' within the group.

He was somewhat assured by Naruto's repeated guarantees that he had a secret and surefire way of removing the seal, but the blonde wanted to try other options before having to use that as last resort. One thing was evident; the young man was never going to allow either of the two heiresses to be branded. Knowing that certain fact made Hiashi feel assured about their safety if he was left incapable of preventing that hateful event in any way. Speaking of Hinata and Hanabi…

"We will have to discuss this another time. For now, I daresay my daughters are impatient to see you as soon as possible, Naruto-san."

Naruto grinned before suddenly frowning when he was reminded of something.

"What is it?"

"Did you hear anything about tonight's incident, Hiashi-sama?"

"Yes, but I have only received rudimentary details and was waiting on more. It was why I was still awake when Hanabi had her nightmare."

"You'll probably get more information soon, but I think you should know now that Mizuki, the traitor, was responsible for letting the Kiri missing-nin in to kidnap Hanabi-chan years ago."

The air around the men seemed to have cooled a few degrees instantly while Hiashi absorbed that detail, and his cold glare slowly came out in full force. Naruto didn't pay this any mind.

"Where is that loathsome swine?" the clan head's question came out in a blood-freezing snarl. His entire body was coiled and twitching, ready to rush off to find the bastard that allowed his youngest daughter to be put in harm's way.

"He's lying on a stainless steel table in the mortuary, last time I checked."

He relaxed somewhat upon hearing of the traitor's demise.

"How did he die?"

"He just kneeled over while I was in the middle of introducing him to my fists, feet, and four tails. Turned out he was tricked by his new 'master' into poisoning himself."

"Was his death slow and agonizing?" Hiashi whispered harshly, his fatherly side screaming for some blood and pain in revenge for his daughter.

"I'd say so. It wasn't pretty to watch."

The clan head sighed and nodded calmly, before inclining his head.

"Then since you are the one who apprehended him…thank you for at last bringing that kidnapping incident to its final closure this evening. I shall be inquiring for more details about this later, if you would not mind."

Naruto nodded his acceptance and they resumed walking. However, he couldn't help letting one more thing slip out.

"You should know Tomoe-san gave me the idea to do your hair in cornrows the other day." he muttered off-handedly with a smirk.

Once again, a hand clamped down on his shoulder, stopping them both.

"Hinata-chan told me recently about the time your daughters and Tomoe-san were chatting over how you would look in different hairstyles one day. She was obviously blushing the most when cornrows came up, so I wonder if she liked the real thing last week." he continued even as the grip on his shoulder tightened.

"So did she?" he finished teasingly with a knowing grin as he turned his head to see Hiashi averting his eyes with a small embarrassed blush; another rarity.

"Would…would you kindly demonstrate to me how to recreate the hairstyle, please?' the clan head muttered quietly not really wanting to admit anything, but his time alone with Tomoe on that day was absolutely mind-blowing; especially when they played out a fantasy of a primitive nomadic clan leader and his feisty conquest. The cornrows, combined with some tribal jewelry and a fur-lined loincloth, gave him a 'wild but cunning' aura, and Tomoe lapped it all up like there was no tomorrow.

As if Naruto had been awaiting this request, he quickly fished a small scroll out of his jacket and held it out.

"Instructions."

Hiashi snatched it in the next instant and stuck it inside his yukata quickly before resuming walking.

"You have my sincere gratitude."

"I'm sure Tomoe-san would like to thank me too." Naruto snickered just as they arrived at Hanabi's bedroom before Hiashi could retort.

"Someone call for me?" the blonde called out cheerily as the men stepped inside. All three women's heads perked up.

"Naruto-kun! / Onii-chan!"

Hanabi was looking better thanks to Hinata and Tomoe's comforting presences, but the entire room seemed to have lit up with her dazzling smile upon seeing Naruto. Tomoe stood up from the bed to exchange hugs with the blonde while Hiashi moved closer.

"Naruto-sama, thank you so much for coming so quickly for her sake. However, I am curious as to what else do I have to thank you for?' Tomoe whispered suspiciously next to Naruto's ear as she was hugging him. He allowed a brief sheepish grin at being overheard outside the door.

"You'll find out soon enough." he evaded with a knowing smirk, making her arch an eyebrow at him as they separated. She didn't pursue any further, though.

"Hanabi, do you feel you will be all right for the rest of this evening?" Hiashi queried as he gently put a hand on the top of his daughter's head. She blushed at the gesture and nodded shyly.

"Thank you, Father. I'm sorry for keeping all of you awake with my issues." she mumbled, a little ashamed. The rest of the room's occupants smiled.

"I believe I am speaking for all when I say we absolutely do not mind at all. Please do not feel as if you are dishonoring yourself or any of us in any way, because there is no shame in receiving help from your family and friends any time you truly need it. Sleep well soon, my daughter." he replied as he rubbed her head before stepping back for Tomoe to lean in and wrap her up in a loving hug. The secret couple stepped out of the room afterward.

Naruto had to fight down a laugh when he overheard Hiashi down the hall while the couple were still within his sensitive hearing's range.

"Tomoe-chan, I daresay you will be pleased with what Naruto-san has just given me."

Getting back to the situation at hand, he noticed Hinata was smiling and patting on the edge of the bed for her boyfriend to sit down. Hanabi was sitting silently on her bed, at least until he was seated when she quickly lunged to wrap her arms tightly around his neck.

"I-I-I'm so glad y-y-you're here, onii-chan." she whispered brokenly as she buried her face against his neck.

"It's alright. Whatever happened in your dream wasn't real." he assured softly as he hugged her back and shifted her small body around so she was curled up on his lap. Loud sniffles were heard as she refused to remove her head. Deciding she needed to let it all out, he turned his head to Hinata, who was rubbing her little sister's back soothingly.

"Hinata-chan, did she tell you anything?"

She nodded and relayed the dream. After a silent moment, Naruto glanced down sadly at the young girl he was holding. He realized he was always dying at this Kumo nin's hands whenever Hanabi dreamed of his demise because the nin was so powerful. He wondered if it would help to assure her it likely wouldn't happen logically if that nin had been alive all this time and they faced each other now.

"It's a strange coincidence you've had that dream tonight. Before I came here, I helped catch the guy who let in those missing-nin." he spoke softly, noticing how both sisters stiffened.

"He won't ever do anything like that to you or anyone else again. I've made sure of it." he promised firmly. Hinata relaxed a little with a somewhat satisfied expression. She was generally a nice and gentle person for the most part, but anyone that dared to harm those she loved -especially Hanabi- deserved whatever retribution they received.

"Did you kill him?" Hanabi asked hesitantly, not really wanting him to have killed on her behalf. She didn't feel herself to be worth that.

"Not quiet, but I've made him pay for this tenfold and he definitely regretted ever thinking of letting those kidnappers in." he assured as he gave his curious girlfriend a look that said 'I'll explain later'.

The young heiress nodded against his neck, and her sniffles were slowing down. Naruto smiled, hoping convincing her that he was strong enough might help with her dreams later.

"Hanabi-chan, will it help if I told you I can kick that Kumo nin's ass for real now? That time, I've had to run away and got lucky because of Hokage-jiji's involvement. However, I know I've gotten strong enough now and I can beat him all by myself if he was still alive." he whispered, his voice filled with absolute confidence that made the girls believe he would truly do it.

That seemed to have stopped Hanabi's sniffling. She removed her head to reveal wet cheeks, which he helped wipe away with his thumb, before pressing an ear against his chest to listen to his calming heartbeat.

"Onii-chan, is that true? Can you really beat that man now?" she mumbled softly.

"Yeah! I'll give him hell now, and even if he's still too strong for me at my normal strength, I have a very powerful trump card with my partner. You see, I can transform to get much stronger, and that guy would have to have balls of steel to face me afterward. Most smart men would run away with tails between their legs." he replied assuredly with a raised fist. The girls smiled at his amazing confidence, and it was apparent Hanabi was feeling much better about his mortality now.

"Can you show me?" she pleaded as she moved her head to fix him with her puppy eyes.

Naruto flinched as he seemed torn between obeying her request or not, while Hinata chuckled at his predicament.

"Sorry, Hanabi-chan, but I'm pretty sure your dad -and the rest of the village too- will not take too well to a fifteen-feet-tall monster standing in your room, with Kurama's presence coming out in waves, for no reason other than to show off for my cute little firecracker." (A/N: Hanabi basically means fireworks)

Hanabi's cheeks pinked a little at his endearment, before shaking her head vehemently.

"You're not a monster, onii-chan! The same goes for Kurama-san. How could she be one when she helped you out so much? She even helped you save me that time!"

Naruto grinned and hugged her tightly to show his appreciation, making her giggle happily.

"You saying that makes me pretty happy. And probably her too."

Kurama suddenly mumbled something incomprehensible.

What was that?

I said I'm taking back what I've said about the little girl and her nightmares earlier!

So you do like her.

She harrumphed, clearly not speaking anymore on this and leaving Naruto amused at his tenant's attitude.

"Nevertheless, I can't show that form here. Besides, I think those of female persuasion will find me so fluffy and 'kawaii', and I'd never be able to escape hordes of screaming girls; especially pretty girls like you two." he muttered in mock horror, eliciting another giggle from Hanabi and a huff from Hinata. The younger heiress then yawned suddenly and her eyelids became heavy.

"It seems you're ready to get back to sleep, Hanabi-chan." Hinata spoke up. The little sister wanted to protest, but relented with a nod when another yawn escaped her. She then turned her pleading eyes to Naruto, who flinched again. What was it with women and their powerful puppy eyes?!

"Onii-chan, could you stay until I've fallen asleep?"

He smiled and nodded before pecking the little girl on her temple, making her blush a little. He then released her to let her crawl back under her blanket. Afterward, Hinata leaned over around him to give her little sister her own peck on the other temple with a murmured exchange of good nights.

"Like I've always said every time…you never have to ask." he tucked her in and put his right hand out for her to grasp tightly with both hands as if it was her lifeline.

"Good night…and thank you for always coming, onii-chan." Hanabi mumbled sleepily as she closed her eyes slowly. Meanwhile, Hinata moved to sit behind Naruto with her arms wrapping around his waist and her head resting on his right shoulder, enjoying watching him with her little sister.

"You are so wonderful to her, my love." she whispered adoringly.

"I am? I just don't feel that way as long as I can't keep the nightmares away for good." he whispered back, a little annoyed at his inability to fight off dreams.

"What matters most is that you always came to her whenever she needed you. You've come for me all the times too. You're spoiling us rotten, Naruto-kun." she teased with a smile before being surprised by his head suddenly turning to lay a light kiss against her lips before she could react.

"There...I've spoiled you a bit more." he retorted with a foxy grin, leaving Hinata to blush adorably before grinning happily with her arms tightening around his waist. At this moment, the younger heiress was asleep with a cute grin.

After fifteen minutes of small talk, the couple decided Hanabi was now in deep sleep. Naruto created a clone to switch with him for the night and report to him if she relapsed into another nightmare.

The couple then quietly stepped out of the room and moved down the hall to Hinata's room. She was humming quietly next to a silent Naruto, a little eager at the prospect of getting her good night kiss any second now. However, she let out a surprised squeak when her boyfriend took a firm hold of her arm and gently moved her so her back was pressed up against the wall across from her bedroom's door.

He then moved close enough that his chest was almost touching hers, and his larger frame seemed to envelop the smaller woman as he 'trapped' her with his hands touching the wall by her shoulders. Hinata realized his intention quickly and she couldn't help but lick her lips in anticipation as her hands unconsciously moved to lightly clutch his jacket at the sides.

"N-naruto-kun…" she gasped with a pleasant shiver reverbing throughout her entire body. The tremors then gathered into one spot heating up rapidly between her legs at the sight of Naruto staring at her slightly pink and wet lips with clear hunger in his eyes; he had discreetly removed his eye patch, revealing the ice blue iris glowing softly in this dim hallway.

Assertive Naruto-kun is yummy! And that eye is burning all of my reactions to his memory for him to view in high detail over and over…oh kami!

At that thought, Hinata bit her bottom lip to hold back a moan as her thighs rubbed together, sending waves of delightful tingling throughout her lower half. Her wide pale eyes were now locked with his intense blue ones as he silently moved his right hand to gently trail the fingertips down her left cheek, making her gasp softly as she instinctively leaned into the touch. His thumb then lightly touched her trembling lips to trace across them slowly, and she did moan faintly at this.

Her now rock-hard nipples had to be showing even through her yukata, and she was sure his sensitive nose picked up on her rapidly rising arousal. Yet, Naruto didn't seem to have paid either of these any mind as his eyes remained completely focused on her flushed face. Her heartbeats felt like they were thundering in her chest and her light panting became heavier and hotter the longer he was gently touching her face. She was about to nibble sensually on his thumb tracing her soft lips to entice him into further action, but he moved it away at just that moment as if teasing her.

"Naruto-kun." she whimpered imploringly as she weakly tried to pull him in closer using her grip on his jacket. Another shiver rippled through her when her boyfriend began leaning in slowly for an apparent kiss, and her legs almost weren't able to support her at this point. She closed her eyes with her lips opening slightly, prepared for what she was sure would be the most passionate kiss so far in their relationship.

Only to get an extremely light peck on her right cheek while his hand patted softly on the other one. Then the warmth from the closeness of his body disappeared instantly as her weak grip on his jacket was broken.

Huh?

It was like being doused with ice water. Her eyes popped open to stare confusedly at Naruto, who had moved back to make space and was putting his eye patch back on.

What happened to the yummy assertive Naruto-kun about to give me some panties-drenching kisses?!

Trying to make sense of what just transpired, Hinata whimpered weakly as she reached a hand out to try to grab him, intent on pulling him back to what he was doing to her just a moment ago. Her entire body was trembling and feeling weak because she was so incredibly turned on.

He intercepted and grasped her outstretched hand with an innocent smile before leaning down for a quick peck on her knuckles, frustrating her to no end. While that would have been charming any other time, right now she wanted nothing but hot, deep, and toe-curling lip-locks that would have left her nothing but a quivering mess afterward.

Understanding struck her like lightning. He was getting back at her for how she and Ino teased him mercilessly with their hands rubbing sensually up and down his thighs at the ramen stand earlier tonight while he was unable to retaliate.

Naruto must have seen it on her face because he had just put on his best foxy smirk and bowed in a gentlemanly way. She shivered half in dread and half in awe. He had gotten her back rather skillfully, and she had a feeling Ino was going to get the same treatment soon.

"Now that I've given you your goodnight kiss…please sleep well, my lady. I hope you will allow me to lay my undeserving eyes upon your radiant beauty once more soon." he spoke in a gentlemanly tone, mixed with some mischievousness, before turning to leave a stunned and panting Hinata outside her room, not looking back. That little peck on her cheek was the goodnight kiss?!

"N-n-naruto-kun…!" she finally found her voice and tried to move after him; she wasn't going to let him go that easily. Yet, her legs failed completely and she collapsed weakly to her knees. When she looked up, her boyfriend had disappeared leaving her all alone in the hall.

A still horny Hinata fumed before sighing in defeat. She may have deserved a payback, but did it have to be this way? After a long moment of trying to contain her raging hormones, she gave up and tried to get up, but her trembling legs refused to obey. Her body just wasn't moving like she wanted at the moment. Letting out a groan, she wondered when Naruto was going to do the same to Ino and if she might have time to warn her friend.

She ended up having to crawl into her bedroom, thinking of how to cool herself down. A cold shower was likely in the near future.

Next morning at Yamanaka Flowers

Ino sighed as she wiped some sweat off her forehead with her arm now that the day was beginning to heat up. She was outside in a dirty work outfit, consisting of a bandana, loose t-shirt, and work pants. As part of helping out with her family's business, she was tending to the store's garden. She was the only one working at the moment because most of her older relatives had clan or shinobi duties at this time of the day and the younger ones were still too young to do any serious work. Due to there being no classes until team assignment, she found herself with a lot of free time between training sessions and her parents were all too happy to fill up her open schedule with shifts at the shop.

She ticked on another reason to thank her lover –rather personally- for helping train her. The task of tending to this garden, which was so exhausting in the past, now became so easy if not tedious. In fact, she had to crank up her resistance seal temporarily just to get some good exercise going. The beautiful blond woman scoffed to herself at that thought as she finished potting several roses. The fact she craved exercise, an activity her younger self would have derided as dirty and sweaty, proved she came a long way since then. It also helped that a certain handsome blond-haired man preferred strong and active women.

"Oi, Ino-chan! You're looking gorgeous as usual."

Ino grinned happily.

Speak of the devil...

A pair of muscular arms wrapped around her waist from behind. She hummed pleasantly as she leaned back into a firm chest. She had known her man was coming since five minutes ago when she sensed his chakra signature making its way here. For him to be able to get the drop on her anytime soon, he would have to train on concealing his chakra signature somehow.

"I know I am, handsome. However, right now you should realize you're holding a sweaty and dirty gorgeous girl in your arms at the moment." she warned uncaringly, not apologetic about getting her sweat on him. That was another thing her younger self would have freaked out about. She smirked, happy to have left that bratty girl behind a long time ago.

"Don't care. In fact, I find a beautiful woman working hard quite alluring." Naruto spoke gently into her ear before pressing a kiss to the back of her neck, its access made easier by her short hair. She shivered pleasantly from the kiss while getting more comfortable in his arms. They then began swaying a little side-to-side while slowly spinning in place, as if they were doing a little dance. A cool breeze blew through, causing almost all the colorful plants surrounding the couple to sway gently and creating a nice atmosphere. After a long moment of enjoying themselves and the scenery, Ino regretfully decided to break the silence.

"So what brings you here, Naruto-kun?"

One of Naruto's arms moved up from her waist to show what he was holding in his hand. Ino raised an eyebrow in interest.

"Chamomiles? They're beautiful." she cooed, reaching up to retrieve a pair of herbal flowers with many small white petals around a large yellow center from his grip. She inspected them for their freshness and any unique feature before tilting her head in curiosity.

"You picked them from behind the Hokage Monument recently, despite the fact we sell these here all the time."

Naruto grinned as he squeezed her lightly before resting his chin on her left shoulder.

"As usual, you're amazing with plants."

Ino blushed at his action and praise before clearing her throat.

"So what were you about to apologize for?"

She felt the man shift slightly.

"What makes you think that's what I was gonna say, Ino-chan?"

"The basic meaning of a chamomile is patience. In other words, I'm getting the hint you're asking me for some leeway on something you did recently."

Despite the topic, Ino had to admit she was very pleased with Naruto's growing knowledge about the plants and their meanings. In fact, it usually got her hot and bothered knowing her man was actively interested in learning about some of her interests, especially flowers. While she was thinking this, Naruto grinned sheepishly.

"How's your head?"

She briefly scowled at the memory of her and Kana suffering some painful headaches last night when a powerful chakra pulse hit them hard. They had thought about hunting down Naruto to demand the reason why, but Inoichi, being one of the higher-ups, quickly received details about the Mizuki incident last night. It wasn't like Ino was going to hold it against Naruto for doing his job now, but it was nice that he was sincerely apologizing anyway for having to use the pulse.

Ino reached up with her left hand to pat his left cheek softly as she turned her head to peck the other side.

"I know why you had to do it. I don't like that technique but it can't be helped. I was already fine after an hour."

"Still, I want to apologize and make sure you're alright anyway."

Ino nodded with a smile as she twirled the flowers between her fingers. She couldn't help but wonder what she had done in a previous lifetime to deserve someone so thoughtful and caring like Naruto, especially after she almost stupidly threw away her shot with him not so long ago.

"Looks like you've got a big chore here. Want my help?" her love spoke up as he released his hold on her, who couldn't help but be disappointed at the loss of contact.

"If you want to, you can spread the fertilizer around this section and that should speed up my work. The bags are over there." she pointed at a tall stack of giant fertilizer bags. Naruto nodded his affirmative and moved from behind her. Ino was about to suggest something, though.

"It's going to get your clothes dirty. You should…ch…ange…." she tampered off in shock when she finally got her first good look at her boyfriend, since he had been standing behind her the whole time until now. Her brain just locked up at the sight before her.

Muscles. That was all Ino saw since Naruto was wearing a tight black a-shirt that exposed his muscular arms, his well-built neck, and some of his firm and toned chest. In addition, what little of the stretched fabric there was easily showed off every contour of his marvelously sculpted abs and back. Naruto had to have known that was her favorite shirt on him, and he compounded this further by wearing a pair of shorts she absolutely loved as well. They were crimson red, loose, and covered up to just past mid-thighs. In other words, most of his powerfully built legs were on display for her viewing pleasure as well.

Ino had to snap her dropped jaw closed lest she risked embarrassing herself by allowing some drool to get out. Naruto looked back with a charming smile that almost made her knees buckle.

"Good thing I thought ahead, right? It's going to be pretty hot today."

Mmm…so sexy! she thought ravenously as she watched her suddenly irresistible boyfriend walk toward the bags with a faraway look in her eyes. Of course this wasn't enough for whoever was the deity of lust up there, because she just witnessed two more clones wearing matching outfits come into existence to help their original with the bags. She squeezed her suddenly warm thighs together with a barely audible whimper when she saw all three squat down to pick up a bag each, which tightened their shorts enough to show the shapes of their firm and sculpted rear ends.

She just knew she was never going to be able to finish her task with three distractions around her, but she just couldn't help enjoying the sight of many manly muscles flexing and bulging as they got covered in a shiny sheen of sweat.

Soon

It had been a long and torturous thirty minutes. Ino thought at one moment she was going to get some relief when the clones dispelled as Naruto completed his task. However, that was only a brief reprieve as she was now knelling on the ground trying her best to not whimper needfully and squirm against the almost unbearable heat filling up her entire body, especially in her lower half. The reason for this was one of the most dangerous things to womankind occurring in front of her: a topless Uzumaki Naruto rinsing his sweaty and dirty body off with a water hose.

"Oh yeah, this is a great feeling!" he exclaimed as he hosed down his glorious chest with the cool water. Ino couldn't help but almost drool as she watched a particular bead of water slowly make its way down from his strong jawline, through a gauntlet of shifting and flexing muscles all the way down his torso, then it disappeared under his shorts' waistband. She so wanted to follow that same trial with her fingers. Just when she thought this couldn't get any better, Naruto proved her wrong by bending over to hold the running water above his head and rinse out his spiky blond hair.

"Kami…" she breathed out with her glazed-over eyes completely focused on the sexy and slick mess his beautiful blond hair became when wet. She swore to herself that she was going to find every reason to see more of that breathtaking messy-haired look from now on.

And then she was finally delivered her knockout blow when Naruto stopped rinsing his hair and shook his hair like a fox. It was like she was watching all this in slow motion and it was the hottest thing ever; especially with that grinning foxy expression on his face. He then straightened up and raised both hands to sweep his hair back and wring out whatever water was left, showing off every bit of his upper body muscles as they flexed and stretched the higher he raised his arms.

Gurgle.

She blushed bright red because she was not sure if that tiny noise she just made came from her throat or…from somewhere else on her body. After taking a moment to compose herself, she was finally released from this wonderful torture when Naruto dried off the rest of his body enough and tugged his a-shirt back on, covering up all those muscles much to her mixture of disappointment and relief.

"Taking a break, Ino-chan?" a voice cut through her daze and she shook herself out of it somewhat to find Naruto standing over her; she still hadn't gotten up after collapsing to her knees when the show got to be too much.

"Huh…um…y-yes!"

He grinned wide and reached down to rub the top of her head, mussing up her neatly tied bandana in the process as well. Ino nearly moaned under this innocent ministration; her entire body was so eager for any physical contact from this man after the thirty-minute show she endured. She raised her hand, about to reach up and wrestle him down to the ground, straddle him, and then kiss him like there was no tomorrow. She didn't care if she was doing it in a public place of work at this point. Unfortunately, someone else had a different idea

"Naruto-kun!"

Ino inhaled sharply at the sound of her mother's voice calling out from the store. She did not need an interruption just when she was so ready to jump her boyfriend!

"Yeah, Kana-chan?" Naruto called back in response, seemingly unaware of Ino's thoughts of revenge against her mother. A beautiful brunette standing next to the store's rear door was waving.

"Mind helping me with something inside? It'll only take a few minutes. And Ino-chan…I think your break's been long enough. You'll need to finish up soon." Kana admonished with a teasing smile before stepping inside, as if she knew exactly what her daughter was feeling. It would not have surprised Ino if her mother had been watching from inside and picked the perfect moment to interrupt.

"Okay! Ino-chan, I have to go somewhere after this so I won't be coming back out here. Are you going to be fine here?" Naruto quizzed as he helped pull his shaky girlfriend to her feet. She wondered how she was still standing with all the hormones still raging within her.

"I'm good. Thanks for coming out here." she couldn't hide some disappointment in her tone at his sudden departure. Naruto grinned before leaning in.

"Oi. We'll see each other again soon enough, alright? Love you." he assured before pecking her cheek, making her feel a little better. Though she would have preferred long and deep kisses right now, it wasn't a good time with her entire body at its most hypersensitive.

"Love you too." she whispered as he left her side. Once she felt she was out of his hearing range, she released an explosive sigh of frustration before glaring at a particular patch of weeds she was supposed to get rid of. These would make for some good stress relief.

Once the blond man got inside, Kana was standing behind the sales counter, displaying a beautiful and mischievous smile.

"Please put this in storage." she pointed to a single twenty-kilo bag of seed sitting on the counter. Naruto responded with a deadpan stare, which she returned by sticking her tongue out cutely.

"You know, when I asked you to find a reason to call me in at the right moment, this isn't exactly what I was expecting." he muttered as he moved to pick it up rather easily. Hell, he knew Kana could carry this with no problem.

"You're lucky I jumped in when I did. Or is that unlucky? I know that look on Ino-chan's face, and it's the same one I get when I've decided nothing was going to get in between my husband and me. I wasn't about to let the poor innocent flowers outside learn that there is another meaning to the word 'deflower'." the brunette replied with an amused smirk at Naruto's blush as he faltered in his steps at her obvious implication.

"Definitely lucky. We're not ready anytime soon." he mumbled bashfully, averting his eye from Kana's mischievous gaze. Inwardly, she was happy and relieved that they were being firmly responsible about this despite their teenage hormones obviously telling them otherwise.

"In any case, Ino-chan was staring at your muscles long enough, and it's finally my turn for some up-close view." she continued teasingly as she leaned on the counter to closely study the handsome blonde walking by into the back with the bag.

"Thanks for the assist." Naruto offered as he returned, his blush now gone. Kana shrugged.

"While I've found it funny, I'm curious as to why I just helped you sexually frustrate my own daughter."

"Let's just say I'm returning the favor. She and Hinata-chan wound me up so tightly last night I thought I was going to blow a gasket. Thank Kami the thing with Mizuki happened…that was a huge stress relief."

The Yamanaka matriarch laughed sweetly.

"Darling was telling me you didn't leave much of that traitor intact. I guess that explains it."

"That…and he was a massive bastard. I'd better go before Ino-chan comes in, so thanks again for putting up with my request, Kana-chan."

"I do have to point out a prank normally isn't complete if the victim hasn't realized they've been had, Naruto-kun."

Naruto stopped at the front door with a foxy smile that made even Kana's cheeks a little pink. He really was damn good-looking in that outfit, and the thing he did with the water hose would be burned into her memory for a while. Ino had been completely right; that was a deadly weapon against all of womankind.

"She'll find out whenever Hinata-chan comes here. Knowing her, she's on her way here soon to warn her friend. Too bad for them it's too late." he chuckled before exiting.

Soon after Ino finished her shift

"Ino-chan!" Hinata called out as she arrived at her friend's bedroom door and knocked. It was a long moment of waiting before someone finally answered.

"Come in! You'll have to excuse me since I just got out of the shower."

The indigo-haired girl opened the door to find her blond friend sitting at the desk with her body wrapped tightly in a towel while drying her hair with another. She noticed Ino's face was a little flushed, and she let out a sigh.

"Naruto-kun's already gotten to you, didn't he?"

Ino snapped her head to Hinata, towel falling out of her damp hair in the process.

"What do you mean, Hinata-chan?"

"I had the same look on my face after my cold shower last night." Hinata pointed out as she closed the door behind her then moved to sit and get comfortable on Ino's bed. Her blond counterpart blushed at the memory of what she just did when she realized her own cold shower wasn't able to quell her inner fire completely. She then stood and moved to the closet to begin getting dressed, wondering how Hinata seemed to have known what happened.

"It was payback for what we did to him at the ramen stand last night." her friend continued as if she spoke her thought out loud, making her head twirl around with her jaw dropping open just as she finished putting her underwear on.

"I knew it! I should've known he did that on purpose! At least it explains the flowers he gave me."

"Flowers?"

"Before he did his sexy magic on me, he gave me two chamomiles. According to the flower's meaning, he was asking for some patience –in other words, apologizing- on something he did. I know the first one was for him using that chakra pulse last night, which gave mom and me some headaches. I wasn't sure about the second flower and thought it was just an extra he put in, since he knows just one flower was enough to convey the meaning most times. At least that's what I believed until now." she muttered thoughtfully as she tugged on her shirt while Hinata listened.

"The second chamomile must have been implying that he was asking to be forgiven for what he was going to do to me ahead of time. And…oh kami… even though he left me hanging in the end, he sure did a lot to me! I was so ready to do unspeakable things to him!" Ino finished with a somewhat dreamy expression as she hugged herself around the stomach. Her friend chuckled.

"Same here. Even then, I can't seem to stay annoyed with him for long."

"We did get him first. Also, it probably helped that we have these detachable showerheads in our bathrooms to help us calm down afterward so we're not quite as grumpy as we could've been." the blonde nudged with a sly smile. Hinata blushed and glanced away bashfully, confirming that naughty thought.

"No need to be embarrassed. It's easy to guess what I've done recently too." Ino admitted with a blush of her own just as she finished pulling her capri pants on. The other woman giggled and nodded with a knowing smile.

"Do you want to talk about what he did to us?"

Ino's grin was positively hungry as her eyes gleamed at the prospect of more juicy information. She quickly finished getting dressed, skipped over to the bed, and plopped down next to Hinata to begin their chat.

Meanwhile, somewhere else in the village

Mitarashi Anko was tired and cranky from the effects of a hangover as she scowled at a pair of pedestrians who were chatting too loudly for her comfort. She was walking slowly on the streets, in no hurry without a destination in mind until she figured out what to do for the day. She knew she drank too much last night, but she didn't care. She came so close to finally confessing to her longtime crush, Naruto, last night and someone had to fuck it up.

As if she was being mocked, the very same man that dared to interrupt her confession, Hyuuga Kõ, appeared in her path on a busy street. She froze in her track at the same time he did. She scowled, but didn't do anything further. However, Kõ's reaction was a different story. He looked absolutely terrified as his entire body was trembling violently while trying to remain still, as if moving would attract a predator's attention. Anko sighed; apparently this man had taken some of the rumors about her temper to heart. She wasn't going to do anything to him now that some time passed for her to cool off, and she was about to set him straight.

"Oi-"

"Ahhhh!" Kõ screamed as he sprinted at full speed in the opposite direction; he was even running in a zigzag pattern, as if to confuse a predator. Anko blinked as she stared blankly at the rapidly retreating back of a supposedly composed Hyuuga running away like a bitch. She frowned when surprised bystanders began whispering to each other about what the snake traitor might have done to that poor Hyuuga.

"Oddly, that's not the first time this happened. I bet that rookie had something to do with this, though." she grumbled to herself as she resumed her stroll. It wasn't even a minute later when she came across the same blond man that was in her thoughts lately. Naruto was standing cross-armed on the street staring at something nearby with an inquisitive expression.

"Oh hell…he's in 'hottie mode'." Anko muttered with a small blush as she took in the sexy a-shirt and shorts combo he was wearing. As evidenced by some heated stares several nearby females were directing at the blonde, it was apparent she wasn't the only one who noticed. Scowling in jealousy at the lustful looks her secret love was getting, she moved up beside him and casually leaned her left forearm on his right shoulder in a friendly manner.

"Oi rookie, fancy seeing you here." she spoke in an overtly sweet tone, before glaring back at most of the women checking out Naruto, who were glaring right back at her.

MINE! she snarled inwardly.

"Anko-chan, I didn't expect to find you already." Naruto commented as he continued to stare at whatever he was seeing. The Snake Mistress snapped out of her mental catfight with the other women, who moved on in bitter defeat once they realized that hot blond eye-patched man actually knew the floozy hanging off him.

"You sound like you've been looking for me."

"Yep, but first, let me ask you something. What do you make of this?"

Anko frowned in confusion as she followed Naruto's pointing gesture.

"What do you me-!" she clamped up in surprise as she made out a lamppost bent forty-five degrees from its original design at a pronounced kink midway up the post. The very same lamppost she kicked in anger last night when Kõ snatched Naruto from her near-confession.

"Er…ah…why the interest? It's normal for a public property to get damaged once in a while." she tried to deflect. Naruto nodded.

"That's true. However, what's curious is that this is the exact same spot where we've had our conversation interrupted last night. I know for a fact that lamppost was perfectly straight when I left with Kõ-san."

Anko almost grimaced as she watched Naruto swivel his head toward her with a small knowing smirk.

"You know anything about this?"

She put on her best smile, which wasn't very good considering she was nervous at the moment.

"We must've just missed whoever did this." she lied badly; certain she was already caught.

Naruto stared for a long moment, making her sweat. She swore she saw his lips twitch at one point. Finally, he shrugged with a small smirk that said he wasn't convinced at all.

"I suppose you're right. Anyway, I got a favor to ask of you."

Sighing inwardly that he was apparently giving her an out, she was eager to move on. She quickly found out she needed to be more careful with what she wished for with this next subject though.

"I'd like to use Training Ground Forty-Four for the next few days."

Anko snapped to Naruto, whose expression showed he was not joking.

"The Forest of Death?!"

Tomorrow outside the Forest of Death

"I wonder how I let you convince me to allow you in there." the same woman grumbled as she stood next to Naruto before the tall fence surrounding the ominous-looking forest. The blonde shot her a winning smile.

"Must've been my charming personality."

A hand swatted him upside the head, making him flinch. Grumbling, he turned his head to see Ino and Hinata staring at him in deadpan.

"Or is it the fact you bribed Anko-chan with all the dango she wanted using half of the reward money you got from stopping Mizuki? We all know how she gets when it comes to dango." the young Yamanaka muttered with narrowed eyes. At the mention of so much promised dango waiting for her, Anko slipped into a world of her own with glazed eyes and her mouth agape with a bit of drool coming out.

"Now, now...Ino-chan, 'bribe' is such a strong word, don't you think? Instead, think of it as a 'gift' in thanks for her considering my request. It has no bearing on her decision." Naruto smoothly replied with his hands up in a placating gesture. Ino huffed in disgust at his blatant 'redefinition' and Hinata put on a disappointed expression.

"To think the man we love is already going down such a dark path with his silver tongue and trickery." she spoke lowly while shaking her head.

Instead of giving into his girls' disapproving remarks and looks, Naruto laughed.

"Sorry, you're not going to turn me from this with your lousy acting."

Ino growled and stomped her foot like a child not getting her way, and Hinata puffed her cheeks cutely. They apparently weren't serious, since they just wanted to keep their lover with them a bit longer. Why did he need to disappear for several days?

"This is something Kurama has been planning for me since she found out about this place. She feels that I need to get used to death fights against opponents who'd do everything they can to kill me, and I agree with her. It's so I won't risk freezing up against human enemies down the road. Anko-chan dealt with this training ground just fine all by herself since she was even younger than us. I don't see why it's impossible for me as well." he continued as he gestured toward the forest. Anko snapped out of her dango trance at the mention of her name and clapped a hand on his shoulder.

"He's right. Now get in there so I can get my dango sooner!"

The others swore they saw her eyes change into a pair of steaming dango for a moment as she licked her lips.

"Seriously, I'll be alright and this'll be over quicker than you think. Even if things did somehow get too bad, I have a few options to get out of any situation." Naruto assured as he patted his stomach. "She's not going to let me die in there if she can help it."

The young women nodded despondently. They were going to worry and miss him, but if he was adamant about this then there was nothing they could do.

"I'll be back day before team assignment, and we'll do something together that night." he promised, which seemed to help the girls feel a little better about being without their man for a few days. It was the first time they would go at least that long since when he left on his ill-fated trip to Iron.

The young man then reached out for Hinata's hand and pulled her into a tender kiss with his hands on her hips. She let out a surprised but pleased moan as she melted into the kiss with her arms wrapping tightly around his neck. Meanwhile, Ino became positively giddy as she blushed and giggled while impatiently awaiting her turn. One of Anko's eyebrows twitched constantly in annoyance the longer she watched the kiss go on. Damn it, she wanted to be in that man's arms too!

Finally, Naruto released Hinata and she seemed to have been trapped in a dreamlike state for the moment. Ino didn't give him much time to prepare as she suddenly leaped into his arms for him to catch and swing her around laughing before their lips met in a heated kiss of their own. Watching the blond mind-walker just give herself completely into this moment, the Snake Mistress swore to herself she would finally get herself that kind of kisses soon enough.

Her hand twitched, almost automatically reaching for Naruto's collar to pull him in when he released a beaming Ino, but she held back.

"I just wanted to get some great new memories to enjoy while I'm all by myself in there." Naruto explained with a grin. The younger girls snapped out of their dazes and laughed quietly, while Anko rolled her eyes at this cheesy line.

"Perhaps there is some good to be said about your silver tongue, Naruto-kun." Hinata replied with a playful smile.

"If you wanted to remember this, then you forgot to turn your left eye on." Ino added with a saucy grin, implying she wouldn't mind doing another 'take'. Naruto shot the girls a winning smile as he tapped on his eye-patch.

"My times with you gorgeous ladies are always unforgettable, so I don't need this Sharingan's help." he replied smoothly with an incline of his head. The girls blushed adorably and Anko groaned softly.

"Oi, enough of the mushy bullshit! Get going!" she growled as she shoved Naruto toward the fence. The jinchuuriki chuckled with a cheeky grin before waving.

"See you all later!" he called out before running to jump high over the fence. The thick foliage swallowed him up as he disappeared from their sight almost instantly. After taking a moment to recover from her blushing, Ino sighed in frustration.

"This sucks! I hate that a certain person thinks we're not strong enough to go in with him." she grumbled with an accusing glare at Anko, who shrugged.

"You know the deal, blondie. This forest is dangerous and, while I know this area and the animals like the back of my hand, even I have to stay on my toes a bit. With that, my compromise is simple; last half an hour against me going all out in a survival session. Only then will I let you go in, even if you offered me all the dango in the village. As I recall…" she glared at Ino and Hinata, who drew back.

"Neither of you lasted long enough this morning. Rookie, slippery bastard that he is, fought me off for almost an hour yesterday when I told him that was the only way I'd agree. He'll be fine, girls. I wouldn't have let him go if I didn't think he's ready."

The younger women's faces turned blue at the reminder of their traumatic sessions with Anko. When they heard Naruto was going into the Forest of Death, they demanded entry as well to accompany him. But…this woman was merciless and a sadist of the highest degree! Just how did Naruto manage to put up with her up until now?

Anko apparently got what they were thinking because she smirked and turned to walk off while cackling evilly, making Hinata and Ino shiver in terror as they tried their best to erase that horrible experience from their memories. That was a nice bit of revenge for the jounin after having to sit through those mushy kisses without getting any of her own.

Later that afternoon in a council meeting room

"Those cocksuckers…they just won't leave well enough alone!" the purple-haired jounin growled quietly with a vicious glare directed across the large circular chamber at the ten-member civilian council who just made an outrageous request.

"Don't worry, Anko-san. Remember, pops is the law here and anything he says goes. This is just their last desperate gasp before we get him for good. After this, the civilians won't be able to do a single thing." Sarutobi Asuma whispered confidently next to her, though his displeasure with the recent proceedings was apparent too. Even Hatake Kakashi put his precious porn book away with annoyance clear in his eye. All three, along with others like Maito Gai and Yuhi Kurenai, were part of the large jounin audience attending this special semiannual assembly between the civilian council and shinobi council.

While there were other issues, the main topic of this meeting was to discuss the new crop of genin candidates coming after each academy term, and the jounin, especially the ones likely to be sensei, attended these assemblies in droves to gather information.

"Even so…how dare they try this!" Kurenai, standing behind Anko, hissed while trying to melt the civilian spokesman standing on the floor with her venomous glare.

"Indeed…to think there is so little youthfulness among them." Gai spoke lowly on the other side of Kakashi, for once not his usual loud and exuberant self.

"That's because they're scum." the silver-haired jounin muttered.

At the center of the room, the Third Hokage Sarutobi Hiruzen, was staring at the civilian spokesman incredulously from behind his high desk. This reaction would have been comparable to if this untrained civilian had just outright demanded the Hokage hat to take control of the village.

"Would you care to repeat your request, Councilman Tatsuno? I'm afraid I didn't hear it correctly through all the bullshit you just spewed." the Hokage spoke lowly with a frown. He wasn't one for being blunt with words in a political meeting, but this deserved exactly that. There were sniggers from the shinobi side, especially in the jounin audience. Tatsuno and his fellow councilmen frowned in offense, and he took a moment to calm down.

"Hokage-sama, we request that we withdraw Uzumaki Naruto from the shinobi program. As he is the ward of this council, we are concerned about his safety and preparedness and we felt his mediocre test results support this. We believe he is better off remaining a civilian with no chance of reenrolling into your shinobi program." he put on his best sincere and concerned expression along with most of his peers, though they failed miserably. Most of the shinobi were disgusted at this revolting tactic being employed just because of some misguided hatred. Anko was practically homicidal and had to be held down by Kurenai's firm hand on her shoulder.

It was clear they were trying to hit Naruto where it would hurt the most; to let him graduate but yank him out before he was officially registered. They could have tried this as early as his first year in academy, but they apparently hated the 'demon' so much they'd rather wait and hurt him the most emotionally since everyone knew he wanted to be a shinobi.

That was another thing about this assembly; the civilian council was allowed to make requests to remove any of their wards from the program if they so wished and it would be up to the Hokage to decide. Most of the times, he allowed their removal when he knew they would never cut it even at the upcoming true genin test to save himself and his jounin some time in testing more qualified graduates. Apparently the councilmen believed they were going to get their way like usual.

"That's what I thought. If you are so concerned about him, then shouldn't you do the same for your other ward in the same graduating class, Shimura Sai? After all, he's currently at the bottom of the class, with worse grades than the 'mediocre' effort put up by Uzumaki-san." the Hokage replied coldly, putting extra stress on the name 'Shimura' just because he was being vicious. No one attempted to hurt Naruto and get away with it.

The entire civilian council flinched at the mention of that hateful name. Almost all of them worked closely with Danzo one way or another and they enjoyed his impressive influence alongside his fellow elders Homura and Koharu. With those three on their side, they were able to get the Hokage to compromise on most issues. Two of some notable victories for them were when they managed to successfully hold the hated 'Snake Whore' back in promotions and meaningful missions for as long as they could; and when the clans tried to adopt the demon baby shortly after the Kyuubi attack. Using the argument that a clan would gain too much power with a jinchuuriki, they prevented those attempts in order to keep the demon firmly under their control as an orphan ward so they could try to kill it passively with less interference from the shinobi side.

Despite that, it didn't work out in the end and Hiruzen suddenly began pushing back slowly but surely against them on any issue about Naruto since around eight years ago. They had no idea what motivated him to become more protective of that demon since then and felt he was somehow being controlled.

Things then took a massive nosedive for most of the council over the last year.

As soon as Danzo was discovered to be a traitor and then quickly executed, the remaining elders and the entire civilian council were almost completely defanged politically overnight. Hiruzen and his allies in the shinobi council, including Hyuuga Hiashi, took complete control of Konoha's politics and hadn't let go since then. The name 'Shimura' or 'Danzo' became a taint they couldn't seem to wipe away, especially since Sai and other young Root trainees had been transferred to the civilians' control as wards after the traitor's death. This was Hiruzen's tactic in order to shame them every day that they worked closely with a traitor. They couldn't wait to push all of their 'wards' into the shinobi program and be rid of the taint as quickly as possible.

"Er…that is…we believe Sai-san has received enough training and his poor grades is only a direct result of his absence from the academy for months until recently in order to mourn the loss of his foster father. We assure you he is ready to be a genin. On the other hand, we do not feel the same about Uz…Uzumaki Naruto; especially since he's now blind in one eye." Tatsuno almost spat out the demon's name poisonously but somehow managed to stay civil. Hiruzen nodded as if he was contemplating the spokesman's words carefully.

"Pops' about to give them an ass-whooping." Asuma chuckled maliciously, recognizing his father's expression. All the jounin who heard him leaned forward, eager for the stupid civilians to be put in their place. The shinobi council, who were quietly seething underneath the surface at this insult against Naruto, especially Hiashi and Inoichi, were also ready for their leader to stand up for their favorite blonde. The Hokage cleared his throat as he pulled out a folder from a nearby stack of paperwork and flipped it open.

"Hm…I see." he nodded as he pretended to scan through the folder, which was clearly labeled 'Uzumaki Naruto'. All the top-level shinobi grinned amusedly as they knew the 'official' information on Naruto was worth less than the paper it was printed on; Hiruzen was just having the civilians on for the moment.

"I'll have to decline your request."

"Hokage-sama!"

"Hear me out. In addition to his clear desire to be a shinobi, he has performed and passed all of his assignments consistently. In fact, I do not see anything that I'd classify as 'mediocre' since his grades, while not the absolute best, put him firmly in the top half of his class. Not to mention he defeated the eventual 'Rookie of the Year' Uchiha Sasuke in their last sparring match."

The civilians bristled at the very idea of the demon defeating their great Uchiha-sama, while the shinobi snickered quietly. That was a great day when the news spread. The ignorant civilians couldn't believe their ears and thought the world was ending, and it was too hilarious for most of the shinobi observing their reactions.

"Furthermore, he overcame the loss of his left eye easily with no noticeable drop in his performance since the incident. With all these facts staring me in the face, I have every reason to believe he will meet our expectations and likely beyond. Unless he himself wishes to decline registration, we'd be happy with such a fine addition to our force." the Hokage stated in a neutral tone after closing the folder, enjoying the crestfallen expressions on most of the civilian council. Most of the jounin were grinning and snickering quietly; they knew Naruto was much more powerful and skilled than Hiruzen let on, and they were not passing up on who they believed to be the first true prodigy since Uchiha Itachi for anything.

As predicted, Councilman Tatsuno didn't want to accept the reality that demon was slipping out of their hands and into those of the shinobi who clearly supported him. With their help, this thing would continue to grow even more powerful before it would eventually turn on them all and destroy everything. Can't they see it was manipulating them all?! He got desperate.

"Hokage-sama, it is a fact Uzumaki Naruto is still our ward at this moment. Our decisions in regards to his care should be accept-!" he froze up and nearly pissed himself upon feeling killing intent from most of the annoyed shinobi in the room. This man dared to demand that their highly respected leader acknowledge his rejected request anyway!

The Hokage remained completely emotionless as he stared down at the trembling spokesman for a long moment, before raising a hand. The killing intent let up and Tatsuno visibly relaxed.

"Councilman Tatsuno and the rest of your esteemed peers." Hiruzen began with disdain heavy in his voice for them, who winced. "Let me begin by reminding all of you once again how things are done around here."

The civilians began sweating. They overstepped their authority and this wasn't going to be pleasant. The Hokage's presence seemed to loom over them easily as he leaned forward over the top of his desk with narrowed eyes.

"You may have a voice in governing and policing the civilian population, but this is still primarily a military dictatorship in an hidden shinobi village first and foremost. I have the power to overrule any law or decision if I do not feel it is for the benefit of either protecting this village and all its citizens, or to help Konoha prosper as a whole. In addition, you seem to have dropped a word from your group's title. When I allowed its formation in my first reign to help me keep better track of all the domestic issues, I named it civilian advisory council. It means all of you answer to me and offer me advice so I can view any issue from multiple angles. You are to then accept my decisions as final even if you do not agree with them all the time. That applies to this case as well."

The council deflated. It was now plain that all of the laws and decisions they made were possible only because the Third allowed these to pass with some arm-twisting. The 'power' they had was only an illusion and now they have little influence without the elders to back them up. The two aforementioned elders remained completely silent and detached from the proceedings; Koharu and Homura knew they could not influence their ex-teammate anymore.

"However, to prove that I do not just ignore the laws, which I signed off on, whenever it is convenient, I will play your game and show why you legitimately have no right to withdraw Uzumaki-san from our force anyway. You will be interested to know that this is of your own doing." the Third began neutrally and the councilmen exchanged confused glances as they tried to figure out how they could have helped the demon. He then retrieved a piece of paper from the folder on Naruto.

"This is an invoice of the last payment Uzumaki-san received from the orphans' fund, which was under your control in order to provide support for your wards. This is the official original I had my ANBU retrieve from the fund's administration office instead of the 'copies' you have been sending to our main administration to sign off on. Just to make sure it's genuine, you see." he said the last part with a slightly sinister smirk.

Some of the councilmen, including Tatsuno, who knew of the circumstances back then paled considerably. Shit was going to hit the fan.

"The date on this was June of his tenth year, during his second summer trip out of the village, and there haven't been any further funding from your agency since then."

The entire chamber exploded with outraged shouts from the shinobi while the civilians cowered under the furious verbal assaults and killing intents.

"How the hell did he survive without any money all this time!?" Anko yelled, her eyes burning with vengeance on those who dared to make things difficult for her love for no reason.

"He should've tossed the lot of them in prison." Asuma growled as he gnawed on a spent cigarette between his lips. Kakashi and Gai were speechless with fury, their glares sharp and deadly. Kurenai was muttering about introducing these vile creatures to her most horrifying illusions.

The Third raised a hand for silence, and it took a while for the shinobi to settle down. He then took another piece of paper out, this time from one of his haori's pockets.

"According to the invoice, the reason for this cessation of funding was because Uzumaki-san was unable to file some paperwork explaining his absence from the village for the summer in accordance with an obscure rule regarding a ward's long-term absences. Interestingly enough, the three required warnings for Uzumaki-san to file the paperwork came while he was still out of the village instead of waiting upon his return." he stated before frowning at the nervous civilians.

"Normally, I might have 'kindly requested' that you revisit this case in order to do this properly. However, that was taken out of my hands when my former student Jiraiya of the Sannin learned of this and offered to personally take over the payments. On this paper is a statement of the monthly payments he has made to Uzumaki-san's welfare from that summer onward."

Now that was a shock to everyone in the room. There was no indication Jiraiya had been been paying for Naruto's care out of his own pocket all this time. The council had been wondering why the demon's quality of life never dropped and figured he was getting money through other means. They never bought it up because they feared the Hokage would discover their attempt at ignoring certain rules in stopping the demon's funding.

"B-b-but why would Jiraiya-sama associate himself with that?!" Tatsuno spat out. Most of the shinobi frowned at his venomous tone but let it slide, since it was humorous seeing him so riled up. Hirizun's sharp glare froze him on the spot.

"We all know the circumstances regarding Uzumaki-san, and Minato Namikaze, the Fourth Hokage whom all of you hold in high regards, personally made his final request to me with his last breath for that young man to be seen as a hero by the whole village for keeping all of you safe to this day. Despite that…you have blatantly ignored that request!" he thundered on the last statement, making the civilians flinch under his powerful presence. He exhaled slowly and cleared his throat before continuing.

"Jiraiya-kun was the sensei to Minato-kun, so of course he would honor his student's request in any way he could. He made good on that by ensuring Uzumaki-san would not have to worry about any money issue from an 'unreliable' administration anymore. This finally brings us to the part why none of you has any right to decide what to do with Uzumaki-san's life."

"No way!" a councilman exclaimed. He apparently understood the point Hiruzen was arriving at. The powerful leader nodded.

"Yes. I am referring to a bylaw that you all requested I put into effect for the benefit of the orphans' fund administration in the chaotic aftermath of the Kyuubi attack. It states that if the civilian agency –that would be you- ceased to provide funds for a ward's welfare before they come of age, and a new party takes an active role in the child's care at any time for at least three months, all decisions regarding the ward would now belong solely to the new party with the agency no longer involved."

The civilians sat there, gaping at the expressionless Hokage. They put that rule into effect in order to help relieve their orphan funds' budget constraints, due to the Kyuubi attack and the large influx of orphans afterward. This rule allowed for quicker processing with many civilians and clans interested in the orphans. As a result, they were able to adopt quickly instead of going through months of red tapes and paperwork, thus allowing tied-up funds to be freed up and distributed to other cases faster. To think they forgot about that rule and it came back to bite them on their collective asses.

"Therefore, Uzumaki Naruto, according to this bylaw, has been Jiraiya-kun's ward for the last three years." Hiruzen declared before taking out one final piece of paper.

"This paper is a brief note I received from my ex-student several weeks ago. He has clearly expressed his desire to allow Uzumaki-san to do anything he wished. In that case, the young man may proceed with registration and complete joining the shinobi force next week. Is there any objection?" the intimidating Third Hokage finished with his authoritative aura out in full force. Naturally, the deflated civilian councilmen had nothing to respond with.

"And that's how you kick ass without lifting a finger." Asuma chuckled quietly as many of the shinobi applauded, happy to see this potential injustice never come to fruition.

"And just so you know…no, you cannot assassinate them in their sleep tonight for trying this, Anko-chan." Kurenai whispered from behind with an amused smirk, knowing her friend was contemplating that. It was scary how protective she was of Naruto sometimes. Anko turned her head back to the raven-haired woman with a childish pout.

"Aw…I seriously can't, Nai-chan?"

All of her fellow jounin shook their heads, half in reply and half in exasperation.

Meanwhile, the civilians quickly shuttled out of the chamber looking completely defeated with tails between their legs. They didn't want to have anything to do with the rest of the meeting after their humiliation. After things settled down, everything proceeded painlessly, if not a little boring compared to earlier.

Soon, the meeting ended and the remaining attendees scattered to do their own things.

"Anko-chan." Hiruzen's quiet voice managed to cut through the dull din of the crowd leaving the chamber. It stopped the purple-haired jounin in her track and turned to see the Hokage himself walk up next to her with a serious face.

"Come with me, please. We have a proposal to discuss in my office."

Anko swallowed as she felt a certain dread settle in a deep pit within her abdomen. Something told her this coming meeting was going to change some things for her.

Later that night at the Purple Sisters' apartment

Anko just closed the front door behind her and let out a tired sigh. In her hands were a sake bottle and a large box of dango. Yugao, who was lounging on the couch in a comfortable outfit with an open book in her lap, glanced up to see her surrogate sister looking somewhat down. She then saw what Anko had in her hands and frowned. That usually was a sign the young jounin was feeling down about something and wanted to take her mind off it for a little while.

"You look cheery, Anko-chan." Yugao pointed out sarcastically. The 'cheery' woman grinned weakly in response.

"Just had a long day, Yugao-nee. It began with Naruto leaving us for the next few days, but not before I had to watch him kiss his girls while I'm still sore over missing my chance. After that…there was that assembly." she muttered. Yugao frowned at the reminder. She had been in the chamber as one of the Hokage's guards and was raring to behead the civilians with her sword.

"Yeah. Afterward, the old man called me to the office and gave me information on which genin will be assigned to which jounin. Since then, I haven't been feeling too thrilled about going home till now." Anko finished. Her friend frowned in confusion.

"Why would you be involved with the team assignment…unless…?" Yugao trailed off and her eyes widened in realization. Anko plopped down on the couch next to her and let out a suffering sigh as she uncorked the sake bottle.

"Looks like you figured it out, Yugao-nee. I wonder if missing that chance the other night might have been a blessing in disguise. I doubt I can handle having to put that on hold all of a sudden." she mumbled blandly before taking a swig from the bottle, not really sure what to feel about this new development. Yugao wanted to yell in helpless frustration at this incredibly bad timing.

"B-but you could have turned this down! Did Hokage-sama even give you that choice!?"

"He did. However, we both know this is something I absolutely have to take. After all, it's what I need for the time being."

"You might think it's what you need, but it's definitely not what your heart wants!" Yugao growled angrily as she snatched the bottle from Anko and took a long swig of her own. The jounin smiled sadly, grateful for how much her ANBU sister cared about her happiness.

"This is just a setback. It'll still happen…just not for a while longer."

Outside Forest of Death, morning of the day before assignment

A blur burst out of the trees and landed in the center of the large clearing bordering the ominous Training Ground Forty-four.

Yamanaka Ino let out a yawn as she stretched her entire body like a cat and then stood somewhat lazily with a hand on her hip staring out at a particular part of the Forest of Death looming large over her. At first, her soft and slightly full lips didn't move, but after a few minutes of waiting, the corners began to slowly rise. It wasn't long before it became a full-blown ecstatic smile.

Just then, a yellow and orange blur burst out of the Forest of Death exactly where Ino was staring. It landed in the clearing a few meters before her, who was already moving.

The new person was revealed to be Uzumaki Naruto in his orange outfit, now torn in many places, holding two sabers in his hands. As soon as he realized it was Ino shooting for him, he smiled while stabbing the swords into the ground by his sides just as Ino reached him to wrap him up in a crushing hug.

"Naruto-kun!" she exclaimed happily as her lover returned the hug with equal vigor. As they relaxed, she then stared into Naruto's affectionate gaze, wondering just how she went this long without being in his loving embrace all that time.

"I've missed you too, Ino-chan." he murmured softly before their lips met in a slow and needy kiss. As it deepened and became heated, Ino's hands were quickly up in his soft hair while Naruto's arms snaked around her waist tightly to make her body mold to his. For a long moment they went like this until Naruto let curiosity get the best of him. He slowly disengaged from a slightly pouting Ino.

"You're the only one here?" he quizzed and his fellow blonde smirked mischievously.

"Not really. I was staying with Hinata-chan and Hanabi-chan last night since we figured we'd get up early and meet you together."

Naruto raised an eyebrow with a grin and made a show of gazing intensely around the surrounding area to find no sign of other people but the two of them. Meanwhile, Ino was putting on an angelic face.

"I can't help but notice that doesn't seem to be the case now."

She laughed evilly.

"I was the first to wake up and I felt your signature slowly moving from deep within that forest. The others were still sound asleep and I couldn't help but grab my chance to be alone with you for just a few minutes at least."

"You naughty girl."

"Not naughty enough. I was kind enough to wake them up just as I left. It was the first time I've ever heard Hinata-chan cuss me out for leaving them in the dust while they still had to waste time to get ready." she chuckled. Naruto grinned and suddenly picked her up by her hips to toss her in the air a few meters before catching her gracefully. She shrieked happily, encouraging him to keep going.

"I like it when any of my girls gets a little devious. Makes me feel like I'm rubbing off on her." he remarked as he continued to do various aerial dance moves with her for a moment before tossing her up one final time before catching her by her hips straight overhead. Ino's playfulness was so infectious that he just wanted to play around a bit too.

"I'm hoping there's going to be a lot more rubbing between us later in the near future." she replied saucily while spreading her limbs out horizontally as if she was flying. Naruto blushed a little before turning deadpan.

"I see Anko-chan's 'lessons' are sticking."

His girlfriend stuck her tongue out cutely as he put her down softly, but not before sharing one more loving kiss. Just then, two blurs burst out of the trees where Ino came from and landed next to the couple. The blond mind-walker grinned cheekily at the Hyuuga sisters' clearly annoyed expressions as she stepped back from a chuckling Naruto.

"I got more than enough. Have a go at him!" she teased in a singsong voice while bowing mockingly, making the sisters' right eyebrows twitch at the same time. Hinata turned to her little sister.

"Hanabi-chan."

The petite girl nodded before displaying a feral grin, making Ino sweat a bit. In the next instant, the two of them became blurs as they hopped around the clearing at high speed while dodging each other's strikes and counters. The blonde's indignant shouts echoed everywhere.

"Oi! You can't blame a girl for grabbing a few minutes alone with her man; you'd do the same thing too, Hinata-chan! Gah! Let's see how you'll like it if I just left you sleeping next time! Ow! Did you just bite me!?"

Meanwhile, Hinata slowly sauntered forward with her arms open for Naruto to draw her into a tender hug as they kissed each other softly and lovingly. After a long moment, they touched foreheads with a murmured exchange of 'I missed you' while the noises of the scuffle continued in the background.

"You've turned Hanabi-chan into a vicious attack dog while I've been away, it seems." he joked with an arched eyebrow. She giggled and swatted one of his arms softly.

A few minutes later had all four on an empty trail weaving its way through the training grounds to the village. Three were walking while one was riding on Naruto's shoulders. The rider, Hanabi, was grinning broadly as she ran her fingers through his soft blond hair like usual. Hinata and Ino had their arms linked with Naruto's. The Hyuuga heiress was wearing a gentle smile while her Yamanaka counterpart had on a grouchy expression.

"You were really asking for it, Ino-chan." Naruto spoke as if he was reading her mood perfectly. He got a huff in response.

"You could've at least made an effort to defend me from the Hyuuga clan's attack poodle. Even if they were weakened, those júken strikes itch!"

Hanabi's eyes narrowed down at Ino, who maturely stuck her tongue out back at her. Naruto chuckled as he kept a firm hold on his rider's legs to keep her from attacking just in case.

"I've decided long ago that if I have multiple partners, I'm going to avoid getting involved in any of your personal disputes unless they negatively affect me or the group as a whole. You were on your own with that one. Also…poodle?"

Ino smirked.

"I was thinking of something small and vicious and that's the first thing that came up." she replied, putting emphasis on the word 'small' to rile Hanabi up. A giant tick mark appeared instantly on the petite girl's temple.

"That's it! You're going down! Lemme at her!" she growled as she tried to free herself from Naruto's grip while Ino danced easily out of her reach laughing haughtily.

"Now now…calm down, you two, or no treats." Naruto admonished half-jokingly, but the girls stopped fighting anyway and shyly returned to their previous states while shooting each other wary looks. Hinata was giggling throughout all of this.

"It really is good to have you back with us, Naruto-kun. Even a just a few days without you around made everything feel a little subdued." she remarked as she squeezed his arm in her grip.

"So what happened in the forest in all that time, onii-chan?" Hanabi asked curiously. Naruto shrugged, making her squeak a little when she was jolted.

"Ran into all kinds of vicious animals, bugs, and even plants. It was hard to even get some time to rest until I figured out pretty quickly there were less dangerous things high up on the tree branches. At the very least, I'm pretty confident I can take a life without hesitating if I have to. I've also refined my own killer intent enough so I won't have to rely on Kurama augmenting it like in the past. I should have no trouble scaring away weaker and unnecessary enemies now. Lastly, I should have an easier time keeping control in ambushes and not lash out blindly, which I think will be important in situations dealing with a mixture of innocents and enemies around me."

Ino nodded with an impressed expression.

"Is that all you did?"

"Well, I also made friends with Whiskers."

"Whiskers?" all three girls asked in bewilderment at the same time.

"Yeah, Anko-chan told me all about him; and she named him too. She must've had a sense of irony when she thought up that weak-sounding name, I'll tell you that much. He's a huge and incredibly strong panther with fur as black as obsidian, and he's apparently the 'big shot' in the whole forest. He's about just as tall at the shoulders as us right now, Hanabi-chan." he explained nonchalantly as if he was just describing a house cat. The girls gulped at the image in their head.

"T-that doesn't sound like something you'd be friends with so easily." Ino pointed out nervously. Naruto's sheepish grin told the girls this was anything but conventional.

"Um…I guess I scared him into becoming my friend. Even then, I'm pretty sure he was treating me more like his 'alpha' than an equal. Anko said she got the same treatment when she kicked his ass the first time they met."

"Just how did you…'scare' him?" Hinata inquired with an arched eyebrow.

"It was more of an accident. He nearly pissed himself when he came across me using some of Kurama's chakra in order to do a favor for Anko-chan. Submitted himself before me instantly before I even thought of defending myself."

All three girls sweatdropped.

"Only you." they all sighed at the same time, making him grin sheepishly. Ino then put on a thoughtful expression.

"That explains the huge spikes in your chakra I felt the other day. What was the favor?"

"Oh, there was this huge infestation causing problems for the forest's entire ecosystem, so she asked me to trim their population by a lot if I ever found any of their colonies. Powering up was the fastest way to kill those damn spiders, which were vicious and the size of horses-"

"EEK!"

A loud shriek interrupted him and it was then he noticed the absence of Ino from his right arm and they stopped dead on the trail to look around for the missing blonde. They found her quickly on the edge of the trail, squatted down into a defensive ball with hands covering her ears. They stared at her trembling form for a few long seconds before realization hit Naruto.

"Oh right, you can't stand spiders."

That made Ino flinch violently with a squeak, eliciting some teasing laughter from Hanabi. Naruto narrowed his eye up at the youngest heiress before smirking.

"Sometimes the spiders were joined by giant five-meter-long millipedes with their scratchy little legs skittering around!" he added in a frantic whisper with mock horror.

"YEEK!"

Hanabi was instantly gone from Naruto's shoulders and was found trembling next to Ino, adopting her own defensive ball as well. The blond jinchuuriki swiveled his head around with a blank expression to see Hinata shaking her head warningly.

"No…you wouldn't dare…!" she whispered anxiously as she stepped back.

"There were snakes in there big enough to eat me whole in one bite." he added in a loud and terror-inducing whisper, complete with a dark background and expert use of shadows on his face; like a certain wood-using ANBU.

"NOO!"

The trifecta was complete as Hinata instantly joined the others trembling as well. Naruto was working to hold back his uproarious laughter.

I'm going to get it later, but this is funny as hell! he snickered inwardly.

I've lived for millennia and I can tell you that there are supernatural occurrences you cannot explain away. Kurama said with a knowing smirk and that brought Naruto up short. He began trembling.

You can't mean…!

Yes…in that forest where it reeks of death from countless humans, they might have been everywhere around you all that time and you never noticed. Of course I'm talking about...ghosts.

"KYAA!" Naruto's scream was the most effeminate so far as he joined the other three in his own defensive ball while rocking back and forth and sucking on a thumb. If she had been outside the seal, Kurama's evil cackling would have echoed throughout the area.

"I can't believe you're afraid of something as fictional as ghosts! At least we're scared of things that actually exist!" Ino said incredulously a few minutes later. Hanabi nodded from next to her; instead of fighting a few minutes ago, they were now united on this topic for some reason.

"Onii-chan is not as cool as I've been led to believe." she mumbled dishearteningly.

"Oi! Of course I'd be scared of something I can't hit at all! What makes you think they're fictional anyway?" Naruto defended.

"Uh…other than the fact they've never been proven to exist?" Ino shot back sarcastically.

"Have they ever been proven to not exist then?"

"Um…"

"See! What's to say they don't exist? Remember, I have a powerful supernatural entity of mass destruction inside me."

Oh, you're such a flatterer! Kurama purred.

"Oh? And what does she have to say about your irrational fear of things that were actually never been proven to exist in probably all of her entire life?" Ino challenged with her arms crossed and Hanabi copied the stance with a nod. Hinata giggled on the other side of Naruto.

"You shouldn't hound Naruto-kun on this. It is perfectly normal for anyone to have at least several things to fear in their lives."

The blonde nodded with a smug smirk at his two fuming tormentors.

"Even if it's something as irrational as spiritual beings."

"Oi!"

All three girls chuckled at his indignation. He then sighed exasperatedly with a smile before realization hit him.

"Oh…I need to finish registering and get my profile picture taken." he suddenly said before looking down at his torn orange outfit with a frown. "This one's no good, and it was the last one too."

Ino fell to her knees in the middle of the trail with her hands raised dramatically toward the sky.

"Oh thank you, Kami! We're finally done with those monstrosities! Our poor eyes can now be free from the oppression of that blindingly bright orange color!"

Naruto stared down at the prostrating girl with crossed arms and a deadpan expression while the Hyuuga sisters held on to each other trying to suppress their laughter, and failing miserably.

"No…really tell us how you feel, Ino-chan."

Soon in 'The Broken Dagger' weapon shop

"So that was a dare?" a cute young brunette with her hair done up in twin buns like a panda quizzed with a raised eyebrow from behind the sales counter. She was chatting with Hinata while Hanabi and Ino were busy 'oohing' and 'ahhing' over some weapons on display around the store. Naruto was in the back with the shop owner, putting on his new outfit.

"Yes, Naruto-kun's sensei challenged him to wear that outfit for the entirety of his academy career. He claims it helped him improve his stealth significantly." Hinata replied with a friendly smile. Tenten chuckled.

"I've heard about that guy's pranks against the ANBU, and I'll believe it since he apparently ran circles around them. Anyway, it's a relief he actually doesn't have as bad a sense of fashion as my sensei and teammate. I don't think this village can take more than two of them." she muttered with a shudder at the mention of those two. Hinata giggled before tilting her head curiously.

"May I inquire about those individuals, Tenten-san? I may have heard of them."

"My sensei's Maito Gai, and Lee Rock is his mini-copy." the brunette mumbled with a gaunt expression.

"I've heard of this Maito Gai. I believe he has briefly trained Naruto-kun a few years ago. Oddly enough, whenever I asked him for details about that experience, he would begin to put on a faraway expression as if he was remembering something traumatic, so I quickly redirected the conversation each time."

Tenten laughed uproariously as she slapped a hand on the counter, eliciting a bemused expression from the bluenette. This attracted Ino and Hanabi's attention and they returned to Hinata's side.

"I can totally relate to that." Tenten chortled as she wiped a tear away before fixing the older girls with a serious gaze.

"You are so lucky neither of you is going to be assigned to Gai-sensei since my team's still in circulation." She shifted her gaze to the younger Hyuuga, who stiffened. "As for you, kid…you'd better pray to every deity up there that you avoid getting assigned to him when you graduate."

Hanabi could only respond with shaky nods as she became nervous about what kind of person this 'Gai' was.

"Oi, don't scare them!" Naruto's voice called out from the back room. Tenten grinned impishly at the girls before calling back.

"It's my duty to warn everyone away, Naruto!"

"He's not that bad. I haven't met this Lee Rock, but Gai-sensei is a pretty nice guy once you get past his quirks."

Tenten rolled her eyes before inhaling.

"YOUTHFUL!"

A loud bang from the back reached the women.

"Ow! Dammit, Tenten! That was totally uncalled for! I almost made your dad run me through with this big-ass needle!"

A gruff man's rumbling laughter accompanied Naruto's rant. The cute brunette stifled her laughter while the others were watching with bemused expressions.

"You say he's not too bad, but yet you spaz out like I do whenever we suddenly hear that word." she teased back, much to the blonde's continued grumbling.

"Ok, fine! I admit it. He's a little…overwhelming."

"Hah! A little overwhelming like your old outfit was a little orange!" Tenten retorted with a shake of her head. She turned to her fellow females.

"You're gonna love him in his new outfit. I've been helping him try on bits and pieces of it over the last month." she whispered conspiratorially. The Hyuuga sisters grinned in anticipation and Ino tilted her head curiously.

"Is that how you knew Naruto-kun?"

"Yeah, he's been a frequent customer here lately. Being around the same age, it was only natural we'd chat once in a while. Nice fella." she commented before putting on a dreamy expression as she swooned. "However, those sabers of his…Ooh! I can't get enough of Masamune-sama's beautiful chakra blades!"

All three girls sweatdropped at the fact this cute tomboy was only this girlish around unique weapons.

"He did tell us about your…passion for all kinds of weapons but I thought he was joking." Ino deadpanned. Tenten let out a sheepish chuckle.

"I told you! She looked like she was about to run off and elope with one of my sabers the first time she saw them. You have a bona fide weapon otaku right there!" Naruto's voice exclaimed.

"I second that." the gruff man's voice rumbled in addition. The 'weapon otaku' scoffed and rolled her eyes, accepting the title while her fellow females exchanged smiles. This banter was entertaining.

"You're all set, Naruto-san." the man's voice announced before a large, bald, and bearded man stepped out of the back room with thundering footsteps a moment later. As the doorway's hanging curtain fluttered gently from his passage, a new person split it open once again to reveal himself.

All four females' breaths caught in their throats as they took in a magnificent sight before them.

The first thing they noticed was that there was no trace of bright orange anywhere on his new clothes. Instead, his entire outfit was mostly dark blue with some crimson accents here and there. Beginning from the bottom, he wore black combat boots with dark blue ANBU-style pants tucked into them. A black leg holster still adorned his right thigh like usual. A large black utility belt was wrapped tightly around his waist. On each side of the belt were several straps for him to hold sealing scrolls securely, and on its backside were several large compartmentalized pockets for him to carry various tools. The belt was designed for quick access at any time. The rest of his supplies would be sealed away into storage seals panted onto various parts of his body.

Somewhat hiding the sealing scrolls from view were a lightweight pair of dark blue 'kusazuri' armors adorning each outfacing side of his hips, with a crimson Uzumaki spiral painted in the center of each piece of the segmented armor plates. They hung loosely midway down to his thighs to protect a good portion of his upper legs from most cutting attacks.

Moving up, his torso was first clothed in a black sleeveless muscle shirt, and then a light short-sleeved mesh shirt. Finishing it off was a skin-tight dark blue long-sleeved jacket with some aramid fibers woven into its inner lining to help resist all but the most powerful of cutting and penetrating strikes. There were also some crimson accents with two pairs of tiger stripes originating on his abs and snaking their way under his arms to the back, and another two pairs snaking their way from the top of his chest area and over his shoulders, giving him a somewhat wild look. A thin strip of crimson also ran along the coat's hidden zipper right down the center.

A pair of dark blue 'sode' armors, similar in appearance to the 'kusazuri', protected his upper arms. They weren't as wide and unwieldy as any normal samurai's, however; they were made lighter and streamlined for shinobi use. Lastly, a pair of dark blue and crimson sleeve armors protected the entire length of his forearms. It was clear all this armoring would help him deal with being primarily a close-range fighter using his kenjutsu and taijutsu, since that carried a larger risk of injuries. A thick white fur collar around his neck topped off this new jacket, making Naruto look like he had a mane.

Many people who've lived long enough to remember the Second Hokage would swear this outfit was an updated and lightly armored version of Tobirama's old-fashioned samurai-style outfit.

"So what do you think?" Naruto asked with an amused grin after what seemed like an eternity of checking him out for the girls. They snapped out of their mini-trances.

"Whoa!" Ino breathed out; Tenten let out an impressed whistle; and the Hyuuga sisters were blushing prettily at the sight.

"I guess you like it?"

"You…you look like a true shinobi! Anyone will take you seriously on first glance." Ino praised as she moved up and let her hands play with his armor pieces for a moment. Hinata joined her and gently put her hands on his abs and rubbed them up slowly to his chest.

"Mmm!" she hummed delightfully, clearly showing her approval of the outfit in her own way as she continued to rub her hands on him. Naruto chuckled nervously.

"Down, girl!" he joked. Hinata responded by swatting his chest for his cheek, but did seem to calm down with a light blush at letting herself act like that. Naruto turned to Hanabi, who was still standing back with somewhat pink cheeks.

"Don't worry, you can still ride on my shoulders even with this fur." he assured with a bright smile. The petite girl nodded back uncertainly, not trusting her voice. It was apparent that wasn't on her mind, but she wasn't about to correct him otherwise.

"Are you going to wear anything for your head? I see you've moved the metal plate elsewhere." Tenten pointed out as she observed how the Konoha leaf insignia was now serving as his jacket's collar clasp.

"Yeah, this is the last piece." Naruto replied as he showed he was holding something metallic in his right hand. The ladies hadn't noticed that. He then slid it on over his head to reveal his face framed by a silver happuri with a Konoha leaf insignia on the center of its forehead. It was cut similar to the Second Hokage's and seemed to bring out all of his best facial features front and center. In addition, the faceguard also pushed his spiky hair up and back, creating a wild-looking hairstyle. Some stray hair still hung loosely over his armored forehead, giving him a somewhat untamed -and attractive- look.

Naruto looked rather animalistic with his tight jacket showing toned muscles, the crimson stripes, fur collar, eye-patch, and wild hair. His girls appreciated this very much as evidenced by the pure delight in both Hinata's and Ino's eyes.

"Oi…I'll take this plus one extra armor set and three more clothing sets, including the jackets. Please throw in the usual order of kunai and shuriken while you're at it too." he requested of Keita, who was already ringing up the order.

"This'll be expensive. The aramid fibers in the jackets is brand new technology and they don't come cheap." the big man warned gruffly as he typed away on the register while Tenten moved to get the rest of Naruto's purchase squared away. Naruto shrugged as he took out his quite fat Gama-chan, which made all the females around him coo at the cute wallet.

"No worries. I was supposed to have saved up some money for a decent pair of sabers to start out with, but my godfather surprised me with the Masamune order out of his own pocket. Throw in the money from catching a traitor, and I was suddenly left with a lot of money and no idea what to do with it. This'll be a good investment toward keeping me protected out there. I have people I must return home to no matter what." he explained with an affectionate expression directed at the Hyuuga sisters and Ino, who practically melted on the inside upon realizing he got the best in order to gain the highest chances of surviving for them and the others.

"An excellent reason." Keita replied with an admiring grin before ringing up the total, which made even the heiresses of two wealthy clans balk. Naruto handed him the money without blinking.

After an exchange of thanks and sealing his purchase into a storage scroll, he then left with the Hyuuga sisters and Ino in tow. Tenten was watching them go.

"He's a good lad to think of his loved ones with this purchase, instead of either being cheap or going for flash like most other customers." her father suddenly spoke up next to her. She nodded with a smile.

"Too bad he's taken."

Keita raised an eyebrow.

"You do realize he's seeing those two young women? Lady Yamanaka may have been hiding it, but it was kind of obvious."

"I know. Even if he's taking on more women, I'm not the sharing type. He's cute and funny, but I just can't see myself getting along with any of his girlfriends just as well as Ino-san and Hinata-san seemed to with each other. I wouldn't mind staying friends with him, though." Tenten explained with a shrug before getting back to work. Her father watched her walk off with a grin.

Her loss. I hear the Uzumaki clan had quite a few unique weapons in its history. I'm not about to remind her otherwise, though.

Later in the Hokage's office

"I see you've returned from your brief expedition into Training Ground Forty-four, Naruto-kun. And with a new wardrobe too." the Hokage spoke conversationally as he scanned through the new profile folder for the blonde standing cross-armed in front of him. Naruto had left the Hyuuga sisters and Ino for them to do their own errands for the next few hours.

"Yeah, it was a nice vacation." Naruto replied with a lazy grin, making the Hokage and all of the hidden ANBU guards in the office sweatdrop.

Nice vacation…my ass! all thought at the same time. The Third put the folder down.

"Well, it all looks to be in order. Congratulations on joining my command. You will go far as a shinobi of Konohagakure, Naruto-kun." he commended with a grin. Naruto straightened up. With his new looks, he actually looked like a serious shinobi here.

"Thank you, Hokage-sama!"

"I prefer my previous address, actually. I'm sure you'd know the appropriate times to be formal."

Naruto grinned.

"Okay, Hokage-jiji. Though isn't it premature to say I'm actually under your command yet?"

Hiruzen raised an eyebrow before letting out a soft scoff.

"It figures you'd know about the true genin exam occurring after team assignment."

The blonde nodded with a knowing grin.

"That's actually up to the jounin-sensei's discretion. If they believe they have exceptional students, they may just pass them with little effort. Something tells me your jounin won't even bother."

"Hell yeah, I'm just awesome like that!" Naruto exclaimed with a fist up in the air, making the Hokage chuckle.

"Now go on. I have work to do, Naruto-kun." he shooed gently and the blonde bowed slightly before turning to leave.

"Oh! And one more thing."

He froze with a bemused expression.

"I would like to thank you for helping my grandson out."

"Konohamaru? I don't think I've met him. What did I do to earn your thanks?"

"You gave some advice to one of his classmates and she rallied their class to treat him like a normal boy, not as a grandson of the Hokage. He seems to be more content now and hasn't been actively seeking whatever attention he could find lately. He's even choosing to attend more academy classes instead of his private lessons. I hadn't realized being known as my grandson was affecting him negatively to such a degree."

Naruto showed a soft smile.

"It was no big deal. Anyone would want to feel like they exist and get true recognition from those around them. See you later, Hokage-jiji."

The Third nodded grimly, unsure what to say as he watched the blonde leave his office. He hadn't thought Konohamaru's situation would have hit so close to home for this young man, even if was something relatively innocuous like being a Hokage's grandson compared to being a hated 'demon'. In any case, he was glad Naruto was able to impart some wisdom on this subject. Because of that, his grandson ceased his 'assassination' attempts, which were in order to get the Hokage's hat and be known by his given name rather than 'Honorable Grandson'.

"Thank Kami…" Hiruzen muttered in relief, finally free from that annoying almost-daily occurrence.

Later in the evening in Naruto's apartment

"Say ahh!" Ino encouraged as she reached around Naruto's head and dangled a grape near his mouth. She was sitting on a kitchen counter with her man facing out and leaning against the counter between her legs loosely wrapped around his waist. They were both dressed comfortably in loose shorts and shirts to relax at home.

"This is kinda embarrassing." Naruto murmured with a slight blush, but easily took the grape into his mouth anyway. Ino grinned as she tossed another grape into her own mouth from a nearby bowl.

"Take it like a man. We're supposed to just relax and goof off tonight." she replied unsympathetically as she dangled one more grape in front of his face. He sighed in resignation and chomped on it, making her giggle before pressing a chaste kiss to the back of his neck for his reward.

"Ino-chan, we shouldn't spoil his appetite before dinner." Hinata piped up as she did her cooking in front of the stove across the kitchen from the playing couple. She was also dressed in shorts and shirt, and her beautiful long hair was tied up into a high ponytail. Naruto thought she looked amazing, especially with her enticing shoulders now mostly unhidden.

Ino hummed softly as she pressed her cheek against his own and wrapped her arms tightly around his chest under his arms. Meanwhile, he was trying rather hard not to focus on a pair of soft and still-growing breasts tightly pressed to his back. Lately the girls had been getting more comfortable with their bodies around him.

"Did you forget about how he easily polishes off at least ten bowls of ramen every time at the ramen stand?" the blond mind-walker pointed out.

"Yes, but the key word here is ramen. For some reason, his appetite is only just above average with any other entrée."

"Now that you mention it...I've never seen him eat anything else as much as he did ramen. Do you think we should try feeding him everything and see if it's only ramen that he has a 'black hole' in his stomach for?"

"Oi! I'm not some dissection!"

The girls giggled at Naruto's irritation before Hinata turned toward him with a spoon full of curry.

"Naruto-kun, would you please taste this for me?" she asked with an expectant expression that Naruto could never resist even if he wanted to. He nodded and moved easily even with Ino still strapped to his back. She let out a whoop as he stepped up to Hinata holding out the spoon for him.

"Ano…please say 'ahh'…" she mumbled shyly with an intensifying blush, not quite as bold as Ino was. Naruto's cheeks became pink at this adorable sight while a shaking Ino was pressing her face into his back in order to repress her bubbling laughter.

"You're going to make me blush seeing you like this, Hinata-chan." he teased before quickly getting the spoon into his mouth before she could retract it in embarrassment at his words. It took only a second for him to deliver his judgment.

"It's great!"

Hinata beamed, and her dazzling smile could have lit up the night like it was daytime. She then let her long hair down and took her apron off.

"Then that means dinner is ready." she announced. The blondes both saluted before Naruto made his way over to the dining table with Ino still on his back. At that point, they finally disengaged so they could get into their chairs. They then waited on Hinata as she brought over a large curry pot, rice, and some fried pork cutlets.

"These look amazing as always, Hinata-chan!" Ino exclaimed as her eyes lit up in delight at the delicious-looking food. Hinata blushed prettily as she prepared tea for all.

"These are just simple dishes. They aren't difficult to prepare."

Naruto waved it off with an assuring grin.

"Trust me when I say your cooking make even ordinary dishes taste like they're fit for the Daimyo."

"Must be the love she was pouring into her cooking, especially with you in her thoughts." Ino teased as she prepared her plate. Hinata blushed even more. Was that true? No matter how often she cooked, Naruto was always on her mind; even during times he hadn't been around to eat her food.

Once all three were seated with their plates ready, they all raised their cup of tea to clack over the table.

"To our safety." Naruto spoke with a smile.

"To our happiness." Ino put in.

"To our future together." Hinata finished boldly, and blushed slightly when Ino and Naruto grinned at her before they all dug in. After quite a few compliments on Hinata's cooking, they were contented and relaxing in their chairs.

"Are you sure this is what you girls want? We could've done anything else, like go out into town." Naruto inquired a little worriedly. Ino smiled as she scooted her chair up next to him and laid her head on his right shoulder. Hinata mirrored her actions on his left.

"We want to have some quiet time with you, Naruto-kun. We can go out any other time. Right now, this is the last night of true peace for all of us before we go out into the world as shinobi and kunoichi. I just want to enjoy being with you for as long as I can tonight." Ino murmured lovingly as she pecked him on his cheek.

"It's the same for me, Naruto-kun." Hinata whispered and followed up with a peck as well. Naruto smiled warmly at his amazing girls.

"Just how did I even deserve one of you, let alone both?" he spoke thickly as he hugged both girls to his sides.

"I feel it's more like how did so many of us deserve you? You have been nothing but an amazing presence in most of our lives." Hinata replied as she cuddled into his side.

"I just wish Anko-chan was here, though. It feels like she should've been here with us." Ino murmured a little dejectedly. Naruto nodded sadly.

"I did invite her, but she turned me down saying she had business to take care of tonight."

She frowned in suspicion.

"I wonder if she's really busy, or is she avoiding you?"

Naruto glanced at her quizzically.

"I can sense her chakra signature. She hadn't moved a single foot out of her apartment all night." she explained.

He shook his head disapprovingly.

"Don't pay too much attention to that and let her have her privacy. She has her reasons and I'm sure we'll find out soon if she wants us to know."

Ino nodded obediently, but with a slight frown. She honestly didn't want to leave this alone since Anko's sudden attitude change bothered her. However, she also knew it wasn't up to her to pry so she'd do as her lover asked and tone down her sensing tonight.

Hinata's hand began to rub Naruto's chest, getting his attention.

"Let's go back to happier topics. I just want us to enjoy this night." she suggested. He grinned and nodded along with Ino. They got up to move to the living room and just cuddled up for the evening while making small talk about many things. It was easily the best time they've had so far in their growing relationship. It wasn't until near midnight when Naruto walked his girlfriends to their homes for all of them to get some sleep.

Next morning outside the academy

Naruto, now clothed in his new shinobi outfit, stretched his arms overhead tiredly as he walked down the street toward the academy building, pointedly ignoring the increased glares from the villagers around him. Apparently they took his more aggressive outfit to mean the Kyuubi was taking over faster. He didn't care about what the villagers thought; never had for a long time. They weren't his problem anymore now that he officially became a shinobi and totally out of their reach permanently.

Thanks for letting me relax, Kurama. Naruto thought to his tenant, referring to how the two of them just rested in his mindscape last night with little training. The beautiful vixen especially made sure she wasn't outdone in the cuddling department by his two girlfriends.

Well, your women were right. It was the last truly peaceful night for a good while so I figured we might as well just chill. Today is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives together. I certainly hope your jounin is up to the task of commanding you.

We'll find out in a couple hours.

Just then, Hinata and Ino landed nearby from the rooftops. Naruto gave them an appreciative look due to their shinobi outfits.

Hinata was wearing black sandals, dark blue pair of loose capri pants, bandages and a holster around her right thigh, a large rear waist pouch, and a tight black shirt with some mesh underneath a large jacket. Instead of the heavy and bulky beige jacket when she first met Naruto, her current long-sleeved lavender and cream jacket was much more streamlined around her maturing curves yet somewhat still loose enough to not give any leering male a good idea of her womanly proportions. Her new hitai-ate hung loosely from around her neck. Her beautiful waist-length and princess-cut indigo hair was left to flow freely down her back, making her look like a truly noble kunoichi.

Ino had wrapped her body in bandages from above her bust to just past her thighs. She then put on a dark purple blouse-like vest with a high collar over her torso, leaving her bandaged stomach and arms bare except for a pair of mesh elbow sleeves. Her shoulder-length platinum blond hair was pulled back into a high ponytail that got a bit curly at the end. The long bang over her right eye was the same as usual. For the bottom, she wore a loose apron-like skirt the same color as her vest. Her leg holster was secured to her thigh underneath the loose skirt and she was also wearing a large beige rear waist pouch. She finished off the ensemble with a pair of mesh knee sleeves, dark purple sandals, and finally her hitai-ate on a black cloth tied around her waist. The outfit made her proportions a little easier to figure out than Hinata's, but it was still covered up tastefully enough to not be too enticing unless she wished so.

"Wow! You two look great!" Naruto blurted out, making the young women beam at the sincere praise.

"Thanks! We were trying for something we'd like but can also be practical." Ino clarified as she and Hinata joined Naruto in their walk to the academy building. He grinned.

"I think you've got it just right."

That statement earned him a pair of chaste kisses on his lips when no one was looking. It wasn't long until they arrived at the school and Naruto noticed something up on the roof. His right eye narrowed.

"Sorry girls, but can you go on ahead? I'll be right behind you."

Ino and Hinata, thanks to their abilities, knew exactly what caught Naruto's attention, and didn't object at all as they nodded and went inside. The blonde disappeared in a blur at that moment.

In the next instant, he reappeared on the academy building's rooftop. He found himself looking into a pair of dull black eyes belonging to Sai. The black-haired boy barely reacted to Naruto's sudden appearance before turning back to continue staring out over the village from his vantage point.

"Fancy seeing you here, Sai. I'll have to admit I was surprised when you suddenly showed up for the exams last week after being absent since summer."

"I appreciate your concern, dickless." he replied emotionlessly, never taking his eyes off the view. Naruto scoffed.

"I'm glad to see that part of you hasn't disappeared."

"Strange, most people I have met seem to dislike this part of me. Are you a masochist?"

"Your inability to pick up on sarcasm hasn't changed either."

Sai finally tore his gaze away from the view to look into Naruto's curious eye with a painfully fake smile.

"What have you come up here for? Surely it cannot be for us to exchange insults, dickless."

"Just curious about why you're here. Most people would have just skipped to next year to try again and get better grades. Yet, you came back at the worst possible time to even redeem any part of your grades, knowing you would end up being the class dobe. So I wonder if it's a deliberate ploy in order to get on the same team as a certain Uchiha."

Sai's eyebrow twitched slightly at this apparently correct guess. Naruto frowned.

"I hope it's on orders from higher-ups and not your own agenda."

"You're surprisingly protective of someone who've antagonized you in the past."

"He's an asshole, alright, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to protect him as fellow Konoha shinobi."

"It's alright, Naruto." a third voice cut into their conversation. Naruto turned to see Hatake Kakashi lazily squatted on top of one of the rooftop's air conditioner units, reading his orange book.

"Kakashi-sensei!"

"With his advanced skills, Sai might have already been a genin months ago, but it was decided he was to be put back in this graduating class mostly to improve his social skills with his peers. He's also to help me watch over Sasuke because of the possible flight risk. Think of that as a secondary mission just in case."

Naruto nodded in understanding, now feeling better about Sai's sudden presence today.

"Sounds like you're getting those two and I'm guessing Sakura-san too. Is it okay telling me this much?" he quizzed with a tilted head. Kakashi shrugged uncaringly, making the blonde sweatdrop before turning to Sai and inclined his head.

"Sorry for getting on your case like that."

Sai seemed surprised to have gotten an apology, but nodded his acceptance before excusing himself to make his way into the academy via the rooftop exit. Naruto stretched his arms out.

"Guess I'd better get to the classroom too. See you around, Kakashi-sensei."

"Naruto." the jounin's voice stopped him. "You would have passed my genin test already."

"What do you mean?"

"Despite your history with Sasuke, your willingness to shield him from possible threats even now -like when you thought Sai might have had his own agenda-would've met the goal of my exam, which is teamwork."

Naruto grinned.

"Here's hoping your new genin figure this out themselves then."

Kakashi nodded and went back to his porn book as the blonde was making his way to the exit. However, he stopped suddenly when a thought came to him.

"Oi, now that you're already here, are you actually going to show up right after the team announcement?"

"Hell no."

"It figures. I pity those poor souls for being burdened with you." Naruto muttered humorously as he disappeared downstairs. Kakashi shrugged lazily as he got himself comfortable for the next few hours of reading.

Soon in the classroom

"Alright, let's get started on the team assignment!" Iruka exclaimed, waking up most of his former students who fell asleep during his long-winded speech about the meaning of being a genin, and they all leaned forward in anticipation. The sensei cleared his throat.

"Team One…" and this went on with Naruto and his friends tuning him out until the first significant name hit their ears.

"Team Seven will be Uchiha Sasuke, Shimura Sai, and Haruno Sakura. Your sensei is Hatake Kakashi."

The two boys were stoic in their reaction to the news while Sakura silently nodded her acceptance with determination.

"Team Eight will be Inuzuka Kiba, Aburame Shino, and Hyuuga Hinata. Your sensei is Yuhi Kurenai."

Kiba grinned broadly at being teamed with two of his friends from the get go. Shino nodded his acceptance stoically. Hinata let out a small sigh of disappointment at not being teamed with Naruto, even though she had been somewhat expecting this. Her boyfriend gave her hand a squeeze under the desk, making sure to convey to her it would be fine. She recovered with a grateful smile for him, at least happy that she was teamed with friends.

"Team Nine is still in circulation so let's move on to the next one. Team Ten will be Yamanaka Ino, Nara Shikamaru, and Akimichi Choji. Your sensei is Sarutobi Asuma."

Shikamaru and Choji grinned happily at being teamed together while Ino nodded calmly, having already expected this outcome. Then something hit her.

"Wait…Iruka-sensei, what about Naruto-kun? There are no more genin here for him to be assigned with." she asked in confusion as she glanced worriedly at a calm Naruto. Iruka scratched behind his neck as he looked down at the clipboard. Meanwhile, Sasuke was smirking smugly, thinking Naruto deserved being left out like this. However, Iruka's next words shattered his brief sense of superiority.

"You're right, Ino-san. Uzumaki Naruto has received a special assignment because Hokage-sama himself is personally interested in forming a two-man squad with him and a powerful jounin."

This sent the shocked crowd into an uproar as Naruto watched all of this with a raised eyebrow. He wondered what was going to happen with him being the odd one out, but somehow this worked out. However, he had a sinking feeling he knew who his jounin was going to be. He glanced over at the Uchiha, who was sitting still and speechless with fury to react to this news.

At least he's not whining like a bitch now. I could feel the smugness coming off him in waves just a moment ago.

For now…if it weren't for what's coming, he'd have had time to throw a tantrum.

What do you mean 'what's coming'?

Iruka's voice cut into his thoughts.

"He will be teamed with -!"

CRASH!

That was as far as he got when a large bundle of dark fabric smashed through the classroom's window with a loud bang, which made everyone but Naruto jump in their seats. The blonde smacked his forehead as he realized who this was.

The bundle rolled on the floor for an instant before kunai suddenly shot out. However, it was clear something screwed up because the kunai all shot in a tight group in the direction of Iruka, who shrieked like a girl as he barely dodged all four kunai passing by. Before he could even catch his breath in relief, he realized too late those kunai had fabric attached to their ends and they were pulling a large tarp toward him. In the next instant, he was wriggling around in the tarp trapping him tightly to the back wall, screaming out muffled curses that would have made a sailor blush.

All the genin were stunned at this oddness until they noticed something written across the tarp, in which reading was made difficult by the trapped sensei trying to wriggle his way out.

'Here comes the awesome and sexy jounin: Mitarashi Anko!' was what everyone read. Meanwhile, a female kunoichi, revealed when the tarp flew away, was standing in the center of the room staring at the wriggling and cursing tarp with her back to the genin. For a long moment they silently stared disbelievingly at her until she turned around with a hand behind her neck and her tongue stuck out cutely.

"Whoops! Guess I'm early. That was my first time trying this, but I'll be sure to improve next time!"

All the new genin faceplanted on their desks. She didn't even sound apologetic one bit!

"Alright! I'm Mitarashi Anko here for my team!" she declared as she scanned the room for a certain orange-clad blonde.

She had trouble at first because she hadn't seen his new changes yet and when she finally found him because he was the only whiskered and eye-patched man in the room, she almost blushed at his handsome and animalistic new look. She had to fight down her body's overwhelming impulse to tackle Naruto in his seat and kiss him senselessly.

No! I did not avoid him all this time just to lose control now! I didn't spend most of last night awake regretting turning him down just so I could lose my resolve at this moment! I need to go through with this and just hope to Kami this will be all worth it later. Anko admonished herself harshly as she squashed down her feelings, knowing this would all pay off in the end eventually. She then pointed boldly at the bemused blonde with her other hand on her hips.

"You! Uzumaki Naruto! You're going to be my bit- I mean, my subordinate! Get your ass out of that seat and down here!"

Naruto grinned happily at being assigned with Anko. It meant he could fulfill his promise to watch her back on missions much sooner than expected.

He also now understood why she acted like she did yesterday. She had made the difficult decision to take him on knowing this would put their developing romantic feelings on hold, and it took all she had to make it to this day without reversing her choice. They could not afford to deal with the developing and awkward feelings while trying to work together as comrades that had to trust each other explicitly on missions, especially in dangerous situations. They needed to develop absolutely unbreakable bonds as comrades first. Only then would they consider moving on to being lovers, knowing any issue that may result would not ruin their camaraderie on missions.

He completely agreed with Anko on this, but he also felt a large pang of regret on not getting to know her on a more romantic basis for a while longer. He only hoped this wait would not be too lengthy and that he would have the patience for however long he needed it.

As Naruto stood up out of his seat, he gave a goodbye nod to his friends and girlfriends before stepping down to the floor with Anko. He stood straight and looked into Anko's eyes, which he noticed had a tinge of sadness in them.

"What's next, Anko-sensei?"

That was it. They both knew that Naruto addressing her formally meant he understood and accepted the situation between the two of them. Anko swallowed slightly and nodded resolutely before putting on a worried expression.

"For starters, let's get the hell out of here before that guy gets free!" she fidgeted nervously, indicating Iruka who was about to break out. His angry cursing was becoming intelligible and all the young impressionable teens were learning new vocabulary every second now. Naruto grinned before quickly following Anko out the window she crashed through, leaving behind a bewildered classroom.

They all decided then they were lucky enough to not have been assigned with that crazy woman and sent out a silent prayer for their dearly departed blond classmate.

While Iruka's struggling and cursing continued in the background, Ino slumped down in her seat with crossed arms next to a visibly sad Hinata, her next words summing up their feelings on this development.

"This fucking sucks for them."


Omake: Revenge is a Ramen Bowl Best Served Cold

Naruto's apartment one day

A shadow zipped through the empty apartment. It was apparent this person had taken advantage of the fact no one was at home at this time. The shadow stepped into the kitchen and an evil giggle escaped as it made its way to a cabinet where its target rested.

"Think you can get away with switching my precious autographed limited-edition Icha-Icha series out with pathetic copies? I'll show you!" the shadow muttered insanely in a male voice as he reached up to open the cabinet door, revealing a well-maintained large bowl that this apartment's owner always used for ramen made at home. It was relatively simple with its white-and-blue horizontal stripes, but it didn't change the fact this was beloved by Naruto.

"I'll switch this with a different bowl and see how you like missing eating out of your beloved bowl! You shall feel a little of my pain!" he growled as he reached up to remove the bowl but it slipped out of his usually sure grip and fell down to the counter below with a loud shatter.

The entire apartment became dead silent for a long moment as the shadow stared down at the pieces disbelievingly.

"Well…fuck."

And so, it was never known who actually broke the bowl and Naruto continued to suspect Anko since she was the only other one with a key to his apartment.


If you haven't figured out who actually broke Naruto's beloved ramen bowl from the heavy hints in this omake…well…I honestly don't know what to say. :-) I'm not satisfied with this omake so I might just change it around later on if better ideas come to me.

Now, please don't lynch me about Anko and Naruto's choice to put their romance on hold. I've always been planning for those two to be assigned together from even the first chapter two years ago and I honestly feel this is a logical path for them as they deal with facing dangerous situations as comrades. They cannot afford to have conflicting emotions distract them. Don't worry, I've already planned the moment they'd decided they've waited long enough. It's going to be a pretty awesome moment and it'll be sooner than most of you might think.

I hope you didn't mind the amount of fluff in this chapter, but that's just because the next few chapters is going to be mostly devoid of those as I focus on Anko and Naruto doing their missions together. Yes, I'm somewhat taking some liberties and putting the Wave Mission off for a while longer than likely canon timeline.

Hinata and Ino's kunoichi outfits are kind of a mixture of their early and shippuden outfits; like how I replaced early years Ino's forearm warmers with elbow mesh sleeves from later year and so on. Of course, Hinata at this point in this story is pretty much similar to the older canon Hinata. The girls will get new outfits later as they get older, but for now, I feel these outfits are good enough for them at this time.

Naruto's new outfit…yep, a bit different from the popular outfits of fanficdom as far I've seen, especially flame-lined trench coats. I've had my fill of that. :-) I'm going down a different path and I want him to seem somewhat animalistic and intimidating and I feel the outfit conveys that well enough. Plus, I've always liked the Second Hokage's outfit and thought it would do well on Naruto with some updates and changes.

If you want to get a good idea of what his outfit mostly looks like in picture form then have a look at Kajima Satomi's outfit on page 16, chapter 561 of History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi on the Mangahere website. He even came complete with the 'sode' armors, sleeve guards, and the fur collar.

Now, you might think this inspired Naruto's outfit, but I've actually decided on the basic setup of his outfit long before Kajima donned that badass outfit…it was pure coincidence…even the fact they're both eye-patched. However, this did help me refine some details in my head. Anyway, hope you like the outfit I've thought up for Naruto.

Let me know what you think of the latest chapter however you like in reviews.