Well, isn't this quite speedy? Ok guys let's get a warning over and done with: WARNING, this chapter might be a little uncomfortable for you guys. However, if you like Law & Order, then perhaps you are fine with this. To be honest, i'm not sure why i wrote this chapter this way, but it's been something i've had in my mind for months and it wouldn't go away. Like the tails. So! Just bear with my selfishness, because honestly you guys have been getting spoiled with light hearted stuff.

Now, there are some reviews i want to adress here. If you don't care, then just skip on to the chapter.

From Guest 1: No, they're going to keep calling naruto, "Naru-chan" if they feel like it. Why? Because technically, they ARE older than him, he hasn't even been born yet what the hell do you mean NARUTO is older? And besides, i'm not Japanese. Don't have japanese friends or a japanese grammar book from which i can consult. If i am using the suffix wrong, then forgive me because that's what anime, manga, and fanfics have led me to believe.

Guest 2 (and fan): I appreciate the fact that you like NaruXKatsu. Really, i love it. But dude come on. I'm not making them kiss. Why? Because they're barely thirteen, only a few months into it really, and they've been best friends for a hell of a lot longer than puberty has addled their minds. Meaning, that for the longest time they've only seen each other as best friends, and granted they knew they would never be apart, that does not MEAN they think romantically. For example, before Naruto used to think of Katsu as cute and pretty in nice dresses. But in Ch. 25, when he saw her in shorts he noticed the skin she was showing. As is typical of a thirteen year-old who is starting to get hit by puberty hormones. Realistically speaking, would you suddenly start kissing and acting all romantic with your childhood friend, even if you did like her a lot? No, right? You'd try to get her to notice you as a man, as someone who she could eventually want to be with in that way. Or at least, that's how i see it.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Naruto, Masashi Kishimoto does. Similarly, i do not own any songs english or japanese.


Chapter Twenty-Seven

Watch out for Thorns and Branches, Uzumaki Naruto


"Okay, who's next to read?" Minato prompts.

"Ooh! Oh, me!" Kushina volunteers promptly.

"Flip a coin for it?" Jiraiya asks, smirking. He reaches in his pocket and pulls out a simple 10 ryo coin.

"Heads." Kushina calls as soon as the coin is flipped. She regrets that decision when the coin falls on the tails side.

"Looks to be my turn. Maybe next chapter Kushina, no pouting." Jiraiya chuckles.

". . . 98!" Naruto grunts, arms straight and quivering with intense burning exhaustion as he correctly finishes his push-up.

"98? No, we're missing something here. He must have done like four sets prior to this." Kakashi shakes his head, sure of his guess.

"Naturally— I've never known an Uzumaki to get winded after just 98." Minato jokes.

"Idiot, you've only known me." Kushina scowls.

"Come on Naruto-kun, you can do it!" Lee shouts encouragingly.

"That's right Naruto-kun! Like my young pupil Lee, you too are letting your flames of youth burn with uncontrollable might!" Gai shouts.

Naruto grits his teeth, begging over and over again for his arms not to fail him as he sinks again for the second to last push-up. A harsh breath blowing out form between his teeth, sweat dripping from his face onto the green grass below, he starts to push his body up again.

"Vertical push-ups? More demanding than just regular ones, but doing too many sets can be harsh." Tsunade mumbles.

"99!" Naruto groans. He couldn't believe Lee did this daily, three sets. You had to be some kind of crazy to do vertical push-ups with a 1,000 pound boulder balancing on their feet. So what did that make him, who knew what he was getting into and still do it?

"Oh, honey, isn't that going a little too far? You're just not made for lots of power, you could hurt yourself like that!" Kushina frets.

"Just because a body isn't made for power, does not mean you can overlook power. Though it might never be his forte, it bodes him well to not make it his weakness." Jiraiya lectures.

"But she's right, that's outrageous! Gai and Lee are stupid for doing it too, but it's a little better for them since they are used to pushing their bodies to such limits daily!" Tsunade argues fiercely.

". . ." Naruto pants, eye blurring for a moment as sweat manages to catch at his eyelashes. "100!" He shouts, and it's like a sounding call for his muscles as his arms give way and he has only the merest forethought to swing his legs to the other side so the boulder doesn't crush him. Before it can roll far enough Lee is there to grab it and keep it still, Gai walking up to Naruto and unscrewing a canteen.

"You did excellently Naruto-kun." Gai's voice is, in a rare moment of forethought from the man, quiet but the warmth is just as present as if he'd been shouting youthfully.

Naruto nods, panting too hard to speak as he grins wanly. Kami he was so sore . . . "Nothing on you and Lee though." He whispers.

"Nonsense Naruto-kun!" Lee denied. "For this being your first time, completing two sets of one-hundred vertical push-ups is nothing short of exemplary. If you continue to train with us, you'll be able to do two without a break, and then three sets like Gai-sensei and I!"

"Whoo, give it up for the kid!" Obito hollers, clapping up a storm. The others follow quickly, cheers and whistles filling the room with noise.

Naruto stares at Lee incredulously. "I took a break . . . for one minute!" Groaning, he forces himself to sit up, and takes his canteen with a grateful thank you to Gai. As Gai and Lee roll the boulder back to its normal resting place, Naruto takes the time to recuperate. In a few minutes, they are back.

"So, anything else?" Naruto asks, breathing deeply.

Gai blinks in surprise. He bounces back quickly, and I'm not entirely sure it's solely on the Kyuubi. "Not today Naruto-kun, your body needs a longer recuperation time than your mind thinks. We'll meet next time we are all available."

"Well, Uzumaki are always up and ready to go no matter what." Kushina boasts smugly.

"Really? That wasn't what I was seeing last night." Minato muses innocently.

"Sensei!" Rin wails, face beet red as she shuts her eyes tight to ward away any mental images.

While Kushina is too shocked to do naught but gawk Minato holds out his hand palm face up to Jiraiya. "Totally worth it." He states as Jiraiya uncurls himself from his hysterics and gives him an enthusiastic low-five.

Kushina breaks from her stupor at Tsunade's so not lady-like snort and with a quick motion bruises her knuckles against Minato's cranium.

"Still worth it." Minato hisses through gritted teeth as he clutches at the back of his head in pain, doubled over.

"Okay!" Naruto sighs, not without some relief. Standing up he puts on his shirt and jacket, grimacing at the sticky feel of his shirt and sweat. "Thank you for your time Lee, Gai-sensei." Naruto thanks them and bows.

"Anytime Naruto-kun!" Lee and Gai bow back. Naruto grins and races off, heading home to take a nap, then bathe, and then eat everything in the kitchen. Bounding inside the house, he hears the scratch-scratch of a pencil and absentminded humming coming from the living room.

"Hey, hime, what are you doing?" Naruto asks as he plops down on the couch. He raises an eyebrow at the school books he hasn't seen for months. Jeez, he completely forgot she was still going to school . . . it's like she had no homework, no projects, anything!

"I was bored so I decided to study." Katsu answers quietly, expression plainly adding to her statement.

"Studying is so not going to relieve your boredom." Obito snorts.

"Oh?" Naruto mutters as he leans back against the couch. An idea forms in his head, and he slaps his knees and rises from the couch. "Hime, let's go visit Nami-baba and Katsuro-sama."

"That brat actually calls someone with a respectful prefix?" Jiraiya mutters with raised eyebrows.

"He must have been important in his life." Rin murmurs.

"Hmm . . . that's right, you didn't get to go with me this year right?" Katsu murmurs, taking his offered hand and stands up.

"Yeah, I want to go and pay my respects." Naruto agrees.

"Ok, let's wash up and head over there! Nami-baba hated it if we went places without freshening up." Katsu reminds him with a laugh.

"Yeah, I remember." Naruto grumbles, rubbing away the phantom pain from his ear. The old girl's fingers were like pincers.

They take baths and dress nicely, Katsu in a pretty emerald half-sleeve dress and Naruto in a navy button-down with rolled sleeves and jeans. They leave the house and walk through the town, nodding politely to people they know. They make their first stop at the Yamanaka Flower Shop.

"Welcome to Yamanaka . . . Naruto? Katsu? What are you guys doing here?" Ino asks in surprise, staring in surprise.

"Buying flowers. And before you ask why . . . because we want to." Naruto answers, snickering at Ino's glare. While Katsu goes to the other side to pick up her grandmother's and father's favorite flowers, he moves up to the counter.

"Father!" Obito gasps.

"So her father's name is Kuroshio Katsuro? He got her name from him, that's cute." Kushina smiles.

"Now that I think about it, that name seems very familiar." Minato mentioned.

"Does it? There' something faint, but I don't know." Kushina mutters.

"If I remember correctly, you keep the very nice and very expensive flower arrangements in the back correct?" Naruto asks.

"Yes, just depends on what you're looking for?" Ino returns, brows furrowing. This was strange, she'd never seen Naruto or Katsu here . . .

"We usually deal with your mother on our days here," Naruto answers her unspoken question, clearly written on her face. "There should be two custom made wreaths, I don't know the way she named them . . . , let's see, there should be white carnations—"

"Pink ones too, and forget-me-nots. Okay . . ." Ino mutters, feeling even more confused than before. Gratitude, remembrance, and remember me forever. Who did they have to go and visit? She had assumed that like Naruto, Katsu was an orphan and she didn't know her parents either. Carefully handling the two arrangements of prudently paired flowers, she lightly touches the petal of a forget-me-not, wondering who had designed the arrangement if it was custom-made.

Walking out, she sets them down gently on the counter. "Okay, and your total comes out to . . ."

"It's okay, I've done this enough times. The exact amount." Naruto assures her with a small smile, handing her the money. Ino glances at the total she'd arrived to and then counts the money. He's right, it's all there.

"Are you going to lay these at the Sandaime's memorial?" Ino asks curiously.

Naruto's eyes widen. "No, but now that you mention it—"

"Don't worry I've got the lilies." Katsu breaks in with a grin, arms cradling the lilies, amaryllis and blue cosmos.

"Great, we'll be making a stop there then." Naruto chirps.

"So then who . . ." Ino suddenly pauses, realizing what she's asking. "Gah, sorry. It's not my business."

"No, it's fine Ino-san." Katsu says. "We're visiting my grandmother and father."

"Your father and grandmother?" Ino whispers. She clears her throat. "Could I . . . also pay my respects to them?"

"That's a nice thing for her to do." Tsunade advocates, nodding in agreement.

Katsu and Naruto exchange glances. "Well sure, but you don't need to trouble yourself."

"No, my kaa-san is coming in a few minutes anyway so I'll grab a couple flowers . . . should I just get some more blue cosmos or—"

"No, trust me any more flowers and the old baba might just rise up to scold us on frivolous wastes of flowers." Naruto snorts.

"Not nice!" Katsu tries to scold, but her chuckle dashes that.

"Well let me just ring these up and then I'll tell my tou-san where I'm going." Ino lists absentmindedly as she rings up the flowers, giving the total and then cleanly slipping in the bills to her register. Smiling at them briefly, she turns and jogs to the back room where her father's closed office door is. She knows he's in there, looking over the books.

"Tou-san! I'm going out okay? Kaa-san will be back in a few minutes, and I've got to go." Ino shouts, already inching back.

"Go do what?" Inoichi asks suspiciously.

"Pay my respects." Ino answers succinctly, and then jogs back to the front. Smiling perkily at Naruto and Katsu, she chirps, "Let's go!"

"I bet that confused old Ino." Kushina chuckles lightly.

They leave the shop, not bothering with bags and so they are treated to more than a few stares as they walk through town to the cemetery.

"Hime!" Katsu turns, smiling at Hinata as the Hyuuga heiress jogs up to them.

"Sunny!" Katsu chirps, darting forward to kiss Hinata on the cheek when the girl is close enough, her arms preoccupied with flowers.

"Hey, where are you guys going with all those flowers?" Hinata asked, Kiba and Shino coming up with Kurenai to them.

"We're going to pay our respects to my family, and Sandaime-sama as well." Katsu replies.

"Oh, your grandmother and . . ." Hinata bites her lips, looking unsure as she trails off from saying that last name. "Can I come as well?"

"Sure, I did promise to introduce you to them." Katsu agrees happily.

"I'll come along if that's alright, I have to escort Hinata home anyway." Kurenai adds.

"Kiba-san and I have clan obligations, but we offer our respects to your loved ones Katsuhime-san." Shino offers in his typical clinical tone.

"Thank you for your kind words Shino-san." Katsu bows slightly, and with a goodbye the group parts with two more in tow to the gravesites.

"Naruto!"

"Shit, are we taking a parade with us today?" Naruto grumbles, Hinata and Katsu laughing.

"Hey, where are all you guys heading?" Kakashi asks upon arriving with his two remaining students. Sakura waves and Sasuke gives a curt nod too short to be respectful.

"We're visiting my grandmother and father's graves, then Sandaime's memorial." Katsu answers.

"You know your— ah!" Sakura gasps, slapping a hand to her mouth.

"That was insensitive." Kakashi mutters, almost scolds.

"Yes, Sakura she knows her family. Some orphans get lucky like that." Naruto snorts, laughing. "If you guys want to come along, hurry up, I'd like to get there before we bring the whole jounin force."

Chuckling, the group continues on, finally arriving to the Konoha Cemetery. They go through the rows, walking up the steps on the hill as they head toward the Kuroshio graves.

"Here we are!" Katsu yips, running over to two headstones side by side. She places the red amaryllis tenderly on the right headstone, and then deposits the blue cosmos on the left with equal care. She lovingly traces the small treasure chests on each headstone. Kneeling, she bows to them.

"It's been a while obaa-chan, papa." Katsu murmurs, looking up and smiling.

Naruto steps over after Katsu has finished her greeting, placing the memorial wreaths on the stones. "Nami-baba, I'm back too. It's been even longer for me, I hope you're well up there. Katsuro-sama, it's good to visit you again as well. I'm taking good care of your daughter, but I know it's still probably not up to your standard. You'll have to forgive my flaws." He bows to them, and then gets up from his kneeling position. "Katsu, we have introductions to do."

"Well it makes sense now why he uses such a respectful tone." Kushina murmurs, eyes misting slightly.

"Always good to butter up the father-in-law, especially if he can enforce a little heavenly justice no matter how small." Obito chuckles.

"Ah!" Katsu remembers, and with a surreptitious movement to dry her eyes she gets up and turns to the group.

"Everyone, I'd like to introduce you to my grandmother, Kuroshio Nami . . . and my papa, Kuroshio Katsuro."

"You got your name from your father, what else then? I have to admit the name Kuroshio sounded familiar even when we first met." Kakashi murmurs, stepping over to the headstones and bowing.

"We can talk about all of that, but first . . ." Naruto opens up a scroll he pulled from out of thin air it seems, and unleashes a full picnic. "Let's eat!"

"Should we r-really eat at a grave site?" Hinata asks nervously, watching Naruto and Katsu set up the picnic basket.

"It's fine, totally fine! Papa would love this stuff!" Katsu laughs, settling down and waving them down as well. Slowly, they all situate themselves and grab bentos from the picnic basket.

"She sounds more familiar with him than just listening to her obaa-san's stories would allow. Perhaps, he died before she met Naruto?" Kakashi wonders.

"Would she really have been so cheerful so soon afterwards?" Rin wonders.

"When you have loved ones lost, you have to live happy, so that you don't have to worry that they'll worry." Kushina murmurs.

"So . . . your obaa-san told you about your papa?" Sakura asks, glaring at the insistent nudging of Ino's skinny elbow in her side.

"No, my papa died when I was three years-old, almost four. So I have some memories of him, very few clear." Katsu answers.

"That's very sad. I know my father is the most important man in my life, I couldn't bear to lose him so early." Rin whispers.

"It's sad, but it'd be even worse for us to pity her when she's come so far." Jiraiya rumbles.

"Naruto, you seem rather familiar with him?" Kurenai asks of the young boy.

"No, I never met him. But, I always felt like I knew him because Nami-baba would say that he and I were quite similar, most especially in regards to Kurohime over here." Naruto chuckles. "Nami-baba would always look so frustrated talking about how he spoiled hime, and dressed her up in different frilly dresses at least four different times each day."

"He continued that up until the end, and I never really lost the habit of wearing dresses." Katsu agrees, tone thick with nostalgia. "Kakashi, you said he seemed familiar. Papa was a shinobi too."

"Oh now this is interesting!" Tsunade chirps. "This will make finding her family much easier. Let's be sure to ask sensei first thing getting home Jiraiya."

"Maybe not immediately, we don't want to affect his fate any earlier than necessary. Perhaps after the war, so we'll have some time." Jiraiya assures her.

"We ought to know him, we really should." Minato mutters to Kushina, brow furrowed. "He can't be much older or younger than us."

"Eh?!" The genin yelled. Kakashi raised an eyebrow as Kurenai's eyes widened.

"You wouldn't really remember him, papa was in ANBU for a long time, either that or he was doing things with T&I, or the Research sector. Papa, for some very strange reason, preferred to work in the shadows."

"Even so, I might have seen him in ANBU sometimes . . ." Minato murmured.

"No," Jiraiya shook his head. "You were only there two years. Even in ANBU, either you took missions or you were with me, even working on the front lines back in the early days of the war."

"Why's it weird?"

"Well . . ." Naruto gently pushes past some amaryllis to the treasure chest behind it. Opening it, he pulls out a framed picture, and holds it up for them all to see. "It's funny and very strange considering what he looks like."

"AH!" Ino screams, snatching the picture.

"Careful!" Naruto hisses, bristling.

Though she sends Katsu an apologetic glance, Ino is dumbfounded by the picture and gestures frantically to it. "He . . . this! Your papa was hot! He reminds me a lot of Tama from the Host Club manga! Only with orange— hey, he has orange hair and gold eyes!"

"Could we see a picture of him?" Rin asks.

"What, want to see how hot he is for your own eyes?" Obito teases.

One Kuroshio Katsuro, coming right up! The pixels disintegrate, swirl, and then rush forward to complete the new picture, showing Kuroshio Katsu. The room fills with the considering hums of the females. He certainly was a beautiful man, with lightly tousled spiky orange hair around his face and slightly slanted molten gold eyes that sparkled with playfulness to match the flirty grin on his lips. He seems tall with a whipcord leanness that added to his boyishly handsome appearance.

"I thought his eyes were green?" Kushina mutters in confusion. "He must have been wearing contacts or maybe it was a trick of the light . . ."

"He seems even more familiar . . . Kushina I think he was in the class a year younger than us!" Minato reveals.

"Eh, maybe so . . ." Kushina mumbles. "Ah, but don't worry Minato you're still more handsome. Just a little though."

"How lovely, to have your looks from your father." Hinata murmurs pleasantly.

"I would definitely have remembered someone like him, but I guess he was deep into the shadows when I first got into the shinobi business. Looks aside though, why would it be strange for him to be in ANBU? I can guess why for research but . . ." Kurenai muses.

"Even my sensei the Yondaime Hokage was in ANBU, and I believe he had a fair few admirers." Kakashi agrees, casting a disinterested sigh at the gawking stares from Ino and Sakura, even the slightly wider eyes of Sasuke.

Rin and Kushina snort. "A fair few? Try most of the female population single or otherwise, and a fair few males." Rin corrects with an almost bragging tone, as if it's something to be proud of.

"Rin, please don't mention it again. Ever." Minato mumbles uncomfortably.

"Yes, but mainly this is just my memories talking. Papa was a complete idiot. He loved me a whole lot. My obaa-chan always said he had no set definition of the word limits— not just for me too. He was always friendly with everyone." Katsu sighs.

"He was an idiot for his daughter though— a super-doting parent." Tsunade chuckles.

"Nothing better for a little girl." Kushina agrees with a giggle.

"Can we see your obaa-chan?" Hinata asks. Katsu agrees, pulling out a picture from the treasure chest behind the cosmos, handing it to Hinata with a fond smile.

"She looks beautiful . . . in a regal sense. She looks firm." Kurenai notices, taking in the details of the iron-haired woman with the smooth smile that seemed just as warm as her son's playfully flirty smile. Her eyes were cobalt blue, differing from her son, and they seemed to analyze one from the inside out.

"Kuroshio-san and Katsuro-san don't look very similar." Kakashi notices.

"Well . . ." Katsu trails off, licking her lips. "Papa wasn't exactly planned. I have a large family, mostly court officials or court soldiers in Shimo no Kuni. It may be a small place, but the Kuroshio name is big over there. Well, there was a raid once when obaa-chan was very young, and they managed to infiltrate the Kuroshio Compound. She was . . . attacked, and there was a lot of pressure from the family for her to get rid of the child."

"Sad as it might sound, and as cruel as it might be, that really would be the kinder option for girls in traditional families like that." Tsunade sighs.

"How terrible, didn't they care at all?" Sakura whispers, hand to her mouth.

Naruto sighs shaking his head. "That was their way of caring. If she had kept the child in those days, she would have been named an outcast, and she would never have known peace."

"Which is why obaa-chan moved to Konoha and had my papa here!" Katsu chirps. "And the rest is history. The family didn't like baa-chan's decision, so, here we are."

"Kuroshio-san is a very strong woman." Minato contemplates.

"All by herself, without her family." Rin murmurs.

Obito snorts. "She might have been better off— not once have we heard about that family coming to see or check on Katsu."

"Well how did you come along?" Ino wants to know.

Katsu blushes. "Er, I . . . well papa was papa. He, at least, knew of his good looks and took advantage." Hearing the subtle dig to his father, Naruto snorted.

"Well excuse me for being decent." Minato snorts.

"No, when the owner of a resort in the Land of Hot Springs offers you free rooms and all you had to do was flirt with her . . . that's not decent, that's stupid." Kakashi argues firmly.

"Completely stupid." Rin agrees.

"You're an idiot, sensei." Obito adds.

"I'm so ashamed of you right now." Jiraiya and Kushina mutter.

"It's okay Minato, I know at least of a few times where you did use your good looks," Tsunade soothes the jounin's pride. "Like to get your students out the hospitals when they wanted." She mutters with an amused look to the suddenly sheepish teenagers.

"So, he had some particular luck with a courtesan from Kiba no Kuni . . . and after nine moths I was delivered to his doorstep."

"Delivered?!" Kushina growls. "Just put in some baby bottles and shipped her off, I bet— ugh!"

"Delivered?" Kurenai gasps. "Your mother just left you there, with a man she barely knew—"

"And I am glad she did." Katsu says stiffly. "But I understand your point. However, she was a prominent courtesan, and she couldn't keep me. She didn't really want a child, but she knew my papa would just love me. I'm glad, it was a final act of kindness from her and I'm forever grateful."

"So you don't know your kaa-san?" Sasuke asks.

Katsu grinned sheepishly. "Well . . . no, but I know something of her. Papa and obaa-chan described her to me."

"Uh-huh," Naruto pitched in. "Hime got papa's coloring, but this pretty little bone structure is all her mama's. Look at her, tiny as a bird!" Naruto coos mockingly, pinching her cheek. Katsu snarls, mood doing a definite 180 degrees, and clocks him good.

"Someone's touchy about being short." Kakashi snorts.

"Well, it's never fun. I didn't get my growth spurts until later on." Tsunade recalls.

Jiraiya snorts. "Yeah. Both of your growth spurts."

The others just sweat drop at this.

"She has issues regarding her height huh?" Hinata mumbles, filing this away as she watches with amazement one of the strongest ninja of her age group be pummeled mercilessly by his civilian love interest.

The next time Hinata sees Naruto, she and her team are being dismissed after receiving a B-rank mission from the Hokage. She waves to Naruto as he passes, and he grins as he waves back.

"Are you going for a mission?" Hinata asks.

"Yes, apparently I've been summoned with Team Seven again." Naruto grins.

Hinata smiles. "Well then, good luck on your mission!"

"You too Himawari-hime." Naruto chirps, walking into the office of the Hokage.

He enters the office, and goes to stand beside Kakashi, grinning at Sakura and Sasuke. Tsunade looks at them, mouth hidden by folded hands as she silently assesses them with a sharp gaze.

"Your mission is two-fold this time. You are to guard your client while he attends to business in Shōdo, and also look into strange rumors about a man named Hashimoto Daiki."

"If it's all rumors then why are we investigating them?" Sasuke asks, an arrogant eyebrow raised.

"Though it might be a good question, it wouldn't hurt to keep a civil tone." Minato chides.

Tsunade takes a deep breath. If she harmed the Uchiha, the Civilian Council would give her irritating looks for months afterwards. And Naruto would be upset. "You're not going in-depth for this, not like what you did in Nami with Gato. Instead you will merely observe him, see what kind of threat he is . . . sources say he's something of an up and coming crime boss though he's currently local. Still, the rumors that surround him are concerning to say the least, and I'd like to nip any troubles in the bud."

"If it's just for the party, why do they need guards?" Sakura asked.

Tsunade smirked. "Coincidentally, Hashimoto Daiki seems to be trying to get in on their sudden growth, and they've heard the rumors too."

"Considering the scope of this mission, I'm sending one other jounin with you. Shiranui Genma." Tsunade added, tossing the mission scroll to Kakashi.

Catching it in one hand, Kakashi's eye curves into a friendly crescent. "Ah, then I can rest easy."

Naruto grinned madly. Genma was coming with them?! This mission would be so awesome!

"I wonder if it'll end up just as crazy as their last one." Obito let loose his own crazed grin.

Tsunade sighed at the looks that passed over Kakashi's and Naruto's faces. "Don't get any ideas. Whatever happens, I won't back you up— Iwa can come and get you all, for all I'll care!"

"Mou, so tsundere." Naruto pouted, and without missing a beat he bent nearly ninety degrees to dodge the heavy ledger thrown his way.

"Just get out of my office!" Tsunade barks, growling. With a hasty goodbye, Team Seven leaves for their mission, but Naruto makes a stop by the door before leaving.

"Ah, Hokage-sama," Tsunade flicks a glare his way. "That project . . . it's done and complete. At least, the two hundred you ordered— shall I expect a pick-up later this evening?"

"It's done? Excellent . . . yes, I'll send Hato to pick them up, can you box them please? And make sure to wrap them carefully." Tsunade instructs.

"Yes hime." Naruto bows, dodging a stapler that hits an unfortunate courier nin who just so happened to be passing by him. With a smirk, Naruto departs.

"Ugh, so damn infuriating." Tsunade huffs.

"My bad." Tsunade calls to the downed nin, blinking innocently.

The next morning is bright and early, the pearly blues of retreating night giving way to the gold of sunrise. Naruto is waiting with Sasuke at the gate for the rest of their team. As the young chuunin munches on some apple slices he hastily prepared before leaving, he observe the ever stoic Uchiha.

"Sasuke would you like some apples? I have enough." Naruto offers, extending the paper bag to the boy.

Sasuke considers it. "No thanks." He denies, voice quiet as he stares at the gates.

"There's much more interesting things to be staring at than just a silly gate," Naruto chides. He sweeps an arm in a grand fashion. "Just look at this beautiful morning! And, hey, the vendors are starting to set up now. How's about I treat you to a tomato?"

Sasuke perks up just the tiniest bit; there's a flicker of interest in normally cold black eyes. ". . . Thanks." He mutters, and Naruto grins as he sets off for a tomato. A couple of minutes he is back, handing the fresh, juicy red fruit to Sasuke.

"Tomatoes are a fruit?!" Obito gapes. "When the hell was this?!"

"Dude, like, since the beginning of time?" Kakashi snorts.

"Don't feel bad, I found that out only a month ago. I could have sworn it was a vegetable." Rin sympathizes.

Sasuke rubs the tomato on his shirt, and then bites into it just like it were an apple. Naruto can't help the slight grimace that flits across his face. "You can really eat tomatoes like that?"

Sasuke shrugs. "Why not? They're a fruit. Have you gotten down the Grand Fireball jutsu?"

Naruto sighs. "It's a fireball . . . just not a grand one."

Sasuke snorts. "Hn. Maybe if you stopped spending so much time on ridiculous seals you could concentrate on more practical things."

"Seals are practical." Minato pouts.

"Seals are practical Sasuke!" Naruto argues. "The only limiting factor is time, but if you're good enough the time taken to draw seals can be a minimal worry, next to nothing. You know, we had a Hokage who was famous for his seals. Hiraishin ring any bells? Seals, man. Seals can do lots of practical things."

"Whatever you say." Sasuke cuts the argument, but Naruto isn't offended in the least. Indeed, he has to bite back a genuinely large grin, because he knew that was Sasuke's way of conceding the argument. Sasuke never conceded an argument— at least, not so gracefully as that.

Two pairs of ears twitch at the high yawn that comes from someone approaching them. They turn and see Sakura, eyes slightly tearing from her drowsiness. "Ohaiyou, guys. Man, isn't it super early?"

Naruto shrugs. "I get up this early most of the time anyway."

"It's easier to train in the morning, the day is cooler and the body is fresher." Sasuke agrees.

Sakura just sighs. She would never really understand these two, with their quirks. She would absolutely never understand the strange . . . relationship they had either, definitely. "Well, we have ten more minutes before we have to leave, so I wonder who will show up first?"

"Let me ease your anticipation then." A smooth voice sounds from behind her, and Sakura gasps as she spins around. The proctor from the Chuunin Exams, Genma-san, smirks at her as he and Kakashi walk up to the font of their little group.

"Genma!" Naruto grins, perking up as the man ruffles his hair roughly.

"Yo, Naruto. You ready to get wild?" Genma asked with a roguish grin.

His response was a wicked toothy grin and a snarl of anticipation. "That's what I like to hear!" Genma cheered.

Kakashi sighed as he put his hands in his pockets. "Need I remind you that the Hokage will not vouch for any damages accrued by any antics? Let's keep low profile, and I'll treat everyone to dinner at the Akamichi barbeque."

"Do I really think that's going to work?" Kakashi snorts.

"Yosh!" everyone except Sasuke yelled excitedly.

Shōdo lies directly on the border between Hi no Kuni and Tsuchi no Kuni. Here the land is rocky terrain and lush forests, a blend of Fire and Earth before it gives over completely to mountains and craggy surfaces, more sparse brush than green life. The town is nothing too big— not enough to count as a metropolitan area, but certainly bigger than Konoha, and one of the most thriving areas to work and play. It's a place for duties and pleasures, dark and light, carnal and friendly. Shōdo is a completely murky grey area, not one speck of white and if you are very lucky you won't fall into the black.

Kakashi is careful to underline the importance of inconspicuousness and anonymity in a place like Shōdo. "If you attract the wrong attention, consider our mission done and over." He warns. They are approaching a smaller town called Fujiwara, where they would meet the client to begin their mission.

"Mind you keep an eye on your possessions, lest you find them plucked away by pick pockets." Genma hums thoughtfully, toothpick bobbing in his mouth as he speaks.

"We should probably buy Sasuke a hoodie— such a pretty face would sell well on the Black Market." Naruto snickers, eyes flashing at the Uchiha's death glare.

"Naruto, don't tease. Help your kouhai camouflage." Kakashi speaks in a bored fashion, walking through the town as he searches for the hotel the client is staying in.

Naruto laughs. "There's not much to say! Shōdo is great in that it plays host to many different and interesting characters, all colorful and unique. As long as you play it cool and don't show any fear or hesitation you will be fine. Don't let anyone intimidate you! Fear in the air is like blood in the water— sharks will always come."

"Well said Blondie!" Genma applauses.

"Why thank you." Naruto demurs.

"Ah, here's the place." Kakashi announces, and they all stare up at the large, ornately designed traditional style hotel. Paper lanterns line the walkway up to the hotel entrance, not yet lit because of the brightness of the day.

"What affluent settings," Naruto remarks. "Are we to wait outside, or shall we darken their doorstep with our unworthy hides?"

"I'd think such a lovely group would only add to the ambience, young man." A melodic voice speaks up from the side, and they turn. In front of them stands a woman of great bearing with proud and beautiful features carefully highlighted with makeup, hair like black silk that shined in the elegant up-do she kept it in.

Rouge-tinted lips stretched into a lovely smile. "Are you the team I've hired?"

Kakashi steps forward, marking him as the leader. "Yes, I am the squad leader Hatake Kakashi." He introduces the others, pointing them out as they bow in greeting. "Here are Shiraniu Genma, Uzumaki Naruto, and my students Uchiha Sasuke and Sakura Haruno."

"It's a pleasure to meet you all. I am Akiyama Ayako." The woman gives them a light bow, as befitting her status. Smoothing a wrinkle from her dress, she sighs.

"I am also traveling with my brother, Akiyama Kaoru. We are traveling to Shōdo due to a business associate of ours choosing to have a party there. We'd like to leave as soon as possible, if that's fine."

"There's no trouble with that." Kakashi agrees. "Are you waiting for a carriage, or will you be taking this journey on foot?"

"On foot." Ayako sighs, looking irritated. "I wish Kaoru had told me that we'd be walking— I'd have gotten more appropriate clothing."

"Well, ma'am there's still time to buy something more roadworthy." Naruto points out. "Our friendly kunoichi here could help you out." Patting Sakura on the shoulder, the girl immediately steps forward and smiles sunnily.

"If you have the time, I'd be glad to help you!" Sakura says happily.

Ayako brightens. "Why thank you! If we hurry, there's a shop down the road . . . let's go." Walking quickly, they promise to come back in fifteen minutes time.

"She seemed to give you an extra warm glance Naruto." Genma teases.

"Though I doubt she was, it makes sense. Compared to you, I'm downright godly." Naruto deadpans, grinning when he's forced to dodge a toothpick missile.

"Burn." Rin and Obito hiss.

"Insufferable brat." Genma growls.

"Speaking of insufferable . . . Sasuke have you ever had a problem with burning your throat during fire jutsu?" Naruto switches up the topic, tripping Sasuke up for only a second.

"Dobe, that's only to be expected. You have to get used to it in order to be able to use fire jutsu. You think it only gets hot when it comes out?" Sasuke snorted.

"Jeez, what's up with crazy ass prodigies and pain thresholds?" Naruto sighs.

"I didn't make these rules, I just abide by them with a certain fervor." Sasuke shrugs.

"Pyro, and an M?" Naruto shakes his head. "I would never have guessed."

Sasuke, rather than waste his breath, just flipped Naruto the bird.

As they waited, a man walked up to them, eyes flicking over them with an assessing gaze as if he didn't find them worthy.

"Are you the team my sister hired?" the man asked.

Kakashi turned, looking over the man. "We are the team from Konoha . . . well, minus one. My student Sakura went with your sister to find the lady some more roadworthy clothes."

"Hmm." The man hummed noncommittally. "Since we'll be walking I'd like to keep a brisk pace. I wish for my sister and I to get to Shōdo in two days' time."

"Rest assured, your schedule will be kept Akiyama-san." Genma assures, placing another toothpick in his mouth to compensate for the one lost before.

The man in question raised an eyebrow. "So my sister already introduced me."

Naruto observed the man, and aside from a few small similarities this man and his sister looked completely different. As opposed to the inky black hair and proud features of his sister, Akiyama Kaoru had gleaming chestnut hair combed away from his face and regal, cold features that complimented his traditional haori and hakama.

"Ah, Kaoru, there you are!" Ayako's delighted voice made them all turn to see her jogging up with Sakura. The woman now wore a Chinese style high-collared shirt and pants with delicate sandals that were at best roadworthy.

"Don't you want to change into something easier?" Ayako questioned.

Kaoru graced his sister with a small smile. "This is easier. If you had listened carefully to my words, you would have packed better. I spoil you too much." Ayako merely huffed, but fell into step next to him as he walked forwards.

"Konoha shinobi, I expect a flawless job. Should any harm come to me or my sister, the Elemental Nations will surely here about it." Kaoru spoke coldly, in a factual tone as the squad grouped themselves around the clients.

"Not a bad guy, he just demands the full worth of things." Kushina murmurs.

"Yeah, but you'd still try and pick fights with him." Minato teases.

"Rest assured, we are all fully capable of taking care of any situation that should arise." Kakashi assured.

Naruto feels a little strange, it has been so long since he's traveled strictly by dirt road, without once retreating to the trees. Well, he supposed he deserved it for being so lax. A shinobi should be prepared for anything, right?

"Uzumaki-kun?" Ayako calls him.

"Yes Akiyama-san?" Naruto answers pleasantly.

"You do not wear a vest like Kakashi-san or Genma-san. Are you a student of theirs?" Ayako inquires.

"I was once a student under Kakashi. However I advanced a rank, and I chose not to wear the vest that comes with it." Naruto explains.

"Why would you not want to wear a distinction of your rank? If you worked hard for it, it seems a waste to not show it. Isn't the vest a show of power, a representation of the respect you deserve?" Kaoru steps in now, looking askance at Naruto.

"But it's so much easier when everyone underestimates me for not wearing a vest. For now, I still look like a genin." Naruto smirks.

Kaoru just looks at him before looking away, and Naruto wondered briefly whether or not his answer dissatisfied Kaoru. He looked away, unconcerned after a moment.

The walk continued in silence for another hour before Ayako broke. Throwing her hands up Ayako complained, "This trip is going to be dreadful if everyone just stays quiet. Please will somebody speak?"

"What would you prefer Akiyama-san?" Sakura asked.

Ayako looked like she just barely held herself back from snorting. "Conversation shouldn't have to be planned or directed. Someone, anyone?"

"Leave them be Ayako, the silence is a good sign. It shows they're concentrating on their mission." Kaoru said mildly, head tilted back to see the sun in a lower position in the sky. Looking at his watch he sighed— hey had a while to go before a time to set up for the night.

"Well, how about your company's recent expansion to Yuki no Kuni?" Naruto prompted.

Ayako regarded him with surprise. "How did you know about that?"

"I've got friends in different countries. We write to each other, and they tell me new things that happen in their homes. My friend in Yuki was particularly excited." Naruto explained. The members of Team Seven had to hold back smiles at the thought of just who Naruto's "friend" was. How would the Akiyama siblings react if Naruto's "friend" was the Daimyou of Snow?

"Yes I'm sure any chance for economic advancement in Yuki would be very welcome from their Daimyou." Tsunade smiles.

"Well, it was far easier than trying for a country with one of the Big Five in it, as Yuki no Kuni has just started to get back on its feet after the switch in power." Ayako started. "It's very beneficial to them to have our company there."

"There must be some benefits for you?" Naruto inquired.

"Some, few but very powerful." Kaoru agreed, his esteem of Konoha ninja rising as the conversation continued. As the Akiyama siblings explained the superficial details of the deal (no way they were going into deeper thoughts with the ninja), the day grew darker and night approached.

"Let's set up camp and continue on in the morning. Since we've got three high ranked shinobi, Sakura and Sasuke you guys can just sleep soundly tonight. I'll take first watch." Kakashi orders. The camp is set up quickly, sleeping bags rolled out and set around the campfire they set up. A quick dinner of instant ramen satisfied their bellies and with murmurs of goodnight the Akiyama siblings drifted off to sleep. Soon Sasuke and Sakura followed after them into the land of dreams.

"You guys get some sleep, Naruto you'll have the last watch." Kakashi murmurs, moving to lean against a tree.

"Goodnight, nii-san. Night, Genma." Naruto murmurs, and without much trouble he is asleep also.

He reappears in his mindscape. Smiling at the Kyuubi's curious look, Naruto climbs the rocks to Kyuubi's throne, settling in by the fox's hindquarters.

"Oh, that is so cute." Rin awes quietly.

"Get the hell away from me brat." Kyuubi growls, but apart from a sharp slap against his arm from a tail, Kyuubi does not move Naruto. Naruto just smirks and makes a show of snuggling closer to the fox's warm body. Eventually, he drifts to sleep next to the Kyuubi, curled into a ball. The fox sighs and looks away as if disgusted, but he doesn't move an inch.

It only seems a short time, but soon Naruto is being shaken awake. Genma is above him, shaking his shoulder. "Your turn kid, let's go." Genma murmurs, already rising to move to his sleeping bag.

Yawning, Naruto brushes mussed bangs away from his eyes and gets up with a small groan. He makes five clones to go around the perimeter of their camp, and then sits himself at the same tree Kakashi had leaned against earlier in the night.

Shōdo . . . I knew a demon named Shōdo once. Kyuubi muses.

Naruto's interest is perked. Oh really? Cool name . . . was he a cool guy?

Nope. He was a dick . . . the only thing I enjoyed about him was the way he died. Kyuubi laughs, and Naruto is hard pressed to contain a snort.

"Oh I like that." Obito murmurs. He turns to Kushina, grinning. "Ask Kyuubi if I can use that pretty please?"

Kushina snorts. "It's not as easy as—" Yes, he can have it. "— Apparently it is. Yes, you can have it."

Terrible. He scolds half-heartedly. The Kyuubi leaves him to his thoughts, and Naruto lifts his head to look through the tree branches. Annoyed at the obscured view of the sky, he gets up and moves from under the tree, watching the sky gradually lighten. Occasionally the crack of a twig from an animal's step, or the ambience of the forest will catch his attention for a brief moment.

He takes a deep breath. The dawn approaches soon, he can smell the changes as the dew beads and the nocturnal creatures retreat. When morning breaches and the light begins to penetrate deep slumber, Naruto wakes Kakashi and Genma.

They continue in much the same fashion as the day before, though now the group was a bit chattier in compliance with Ayako's wishes. On the morning of the third day, they arrived in Shōdo.

Tall buildings and cramped spaces filled with vendors, loiterers, and street players. Lines of wash went from building to building, sometimes wires crisscrossed from street to street covered with paper lanterns, other random tidbits. It was busy and chaotic and if you didn't walk in single file with only a breath of space between you you'd be swallowed by the crowd.

Naruto absolutely adored Shōdo.

"Figures— he's a social butterfly despite his handicap in the village." Kakashi mutters.

"Don't look so . . . energetic you blonde kappa." Genma grumbled. Naruto just grinned and walked up to the Akiyama siblings.

"So will you be heading to the hotel first? Or is there some business you must attend to?" Naruto inquires politely.

Ayako smiles down at the boy. "Yes we plan to spend three days here and then your mission is complete! So, you'll either be guarding us or doing your own thing."

"Genma and I have guard duty, so you kids can just do what you want." Kakashi smiles, but as he catches Naruto's eye, and the boy understands what his brother wants him to do. Naruto looks away, and Kakashi is sure the message was understood.

They escort the siblings to their hotel, just as elaborate but more modern than the one in Fujiwara. Then they are given the two keys to their rooms— one room for the jounins, one for the kids.

"Okay, let's go explore the town guys!" Naruto cheers, and not leaving any room for dissent he puts his hands firmly on Sasuke and Sakura's backs as he leads them away.

"Have fun!" Ayako waves goodbye, and they all wave back.

"Hey, I never agreed to have fun." Sasuke grumbles as they walk out the hotel. When Naruto continues to walk them down the street, he throws an irritated glance at the blonde boy.

"Naru—"

"We have our orders genin, and for the foreseeable future your orders are to follow my orders." It is Naruto's quiet voice, not the demanding words that make Sasuke pause.

"Naruto?" Sakura asks meekly, Naruto's command subduing her.

"We were also instructed to find out about Hashimoto Daiki were we not?" Naruto reminds them. Going back into the heart of the town, they stick close together in the thick sea of bodies. Lunchtime, and Naruto wonders if the traffic could get any worse.

"So? We can't do anything without Kakashi—" Sakura tries to argue.

"Correction. You two cannot do anything without the approval and guidance of a superior and, what do you know? I'm your superior in the field!" Naruto says mockingly.

"Rub it in why don't you?" Obito drawls with a sly look to Kakashi.

"You'd be even worse if the positions were switched— and that is not what I meant." Kakashi scowls at Obito's grin, knowing he should have just said roles. But then, wouldn't Obito have still found a dirty joke in there?

Sasuke grits his teeth at the reminder— yes, Naruto was a chuunin. He was still a genin. His train of thought was derailed by Naruto's abrupt hold on his shirt as he pushes him down into a seat under an umbrella. They had moved to an open air restaurant, and Naruto slips in to his seat, smoothly opening his menu.

"My treat, so you guys get whatever." Naruto grins.

"Did you just derail my train of thought on purpose?" Sasuke blurts out, and he has to further restrain himself from slapping a hand to his face, in order to save face. He cannot believe he just said that.

Though Naruto has a perfect expression of cluelessness, his eyes glow with something akin to humor. "I have no idea what you are talking about."

"Should we really be eating at a time like this?" Sakura whispers.

"You get caught up in the hype too much. You think just because we decide to find Hashimoto, we will? Welcome to Spying 101, I'm your professor for this course. First lesson: gathering Intel." Naruto pauses as a waiter comes up. Smiling he orders sushi and iced tea.

"Take note Minato. Spying 101 for the Academy." Jiraiya orders with a cheeky grin.

Spluttering, Sakura orders a slice of cheesecake, while Sasuke curtly orders coffee cake.

"So," Sasuke leans forward on his elbows, hands folded together in front of his mouth. "How do we do this then? Will you—"

"I," Naruto interrupts. "Am overseeing your first time trying out information gathering and offering some assistance along the way. So, let's start this way . . . you guys are going to go around and listen out for the name Hashimoto Daiki. You will not engage in the conversation, but you will listen for any pertinent information. The first step is not to talk, but listen. So no looking interested, just here it and move on."

"Acceptable advice for greenhorns, by a slightly more advanced greenhorn." Jiraiya muses.

"Sounds good to me." Kushina chirps in support of her sochi.

Naruto once again stops to thank the waiter as their food and drinks are brought. Plucking up a roll of sushi he savors it.

"Once you're done eating, you have three hours to get as much information as you can." Naruto informs them, taking a sip of his tea.

"But we have to be back in three hours!" Sakura protests.

"Why yes," Naruto murmurs, chopsticks twirling around dexterous fingers. "So you had better hurry."

"Just look at him," Minato boasts. "He was made to be a sensei!"

Sakura and Sasuke gape at the audacity of the young blonde, who just smiles around his bite of wasabi-dipped sushi. Glaring at him, they scarf down their meals, gulp their drinks and then dash off. Naruto watches them go with a sigh, shaking his head.

"Way to blend in." He sighs. He raises his hand to signal for the waiter. "Check please!" he calls.

When Naruto has paid for his meal and left, he loiters around town, taking in the sights and sounds of the ever busy Shōdo. He passes by a gaggle of girls who all coo and stare at him. When he winks at them, they all burst into frenzied whispers and even higher giggles.

"Hmph." Kushina sniffs. "Hussies."

Walking away from them, Naruto stops as he sees a woman selling eggs by the crate. A wicked idea forms in his head. He buys a crate and then buys a water bottle and quickly takes to the rooftops, searching for Kakashi's chakra signature. The man is only two miles from him. He finds him, with Genma waiting outside an official looking building where no doubt there clients are. The same building he happens to be on.

Crouching down, he quickly unscrews the cap on the water bottle and cracks three eggs inside of it. He swishes the gooey mixture around, making sure it is loose. He seals the lid back on, then pops the small cap up to let the gooey mixture flow. Leaning over the edge, he tilts the bottle directly over Genma, grinning widely as the egg yolk slithers down.

"Oh, eeww!" Rin, Obito, Tsunade and Kushina whine and shudder.

"Good one." Minato congratulates.

Genma abruptly stiffens, feeling something slimy slide down the back of his neck, soaking his shirt collar and getting in his hair. Kakashi looks over, confused. "You alright?" he aksks warily, seeing Genma shudder and twitch violently.

"What the hell is on my neck?" Genma hisses, hand coming up to wipe at whatever is there. Looking at his hand, he frowns at the shiny liquid. He leans forward and sniffs it, growling dangerously. "Egg yolk. Then—!" he snarls, looking up just in time to see a shadow grow as it descends upon him.

Kakashi looks annoyed as he watches Naruto tackle Genma to the floor with wild cackles, the two immediately tussling in the dirt. As dirt clouds waft up and stares grow, he feels the need to speak.

"That is not professional behavior Naruto." Minato reprimands with cold blue eyes, Kushina also stern by his side.

"The client isn't there to see them." Rin murmurs in way of defense.

"That doesn't matter. Right now two leaf nins are tussling like thugs in the street— what does that say? When on a mission, you are always professional no matter what." Jiraiya rumbles.

"You guys—" Crack. Kakashi freezes as he feels something slimy go down his neck. Reaching up, he feels his hair matted by egg yolk, and feels the sharp little bits of the egg that cracked against his head. He snatches his hand away and takes a deep breath.

Two deep breaths.

"Naruto—"

Crack.

"What the fuck?!" he growls, looking up to see a grinning clone.

Minato opens his mouth to warn his kids against yet another unprofessional action. He did not expect laughter.

"I mean . . ." he starts, but then sighs. He points at Kakashi. "HA!"

Kaoru and Ayako leave the building. "Kakashi-san, Genma-san we can—" The two stop as they see the egg covered jounin, Genma in particular roughed up and dirtied. "What happened here?" Kaoru asked slowly, gaze roving over the bedraggled men.

Kakashi wishes he could explain, but the perpetrator had disappeared as soon as the two come out, making use of some commendable speed. Kakashi forces himself to smile, thankful for the mask that hid the twitching muscles in his jaw. "Some kids being kids." He tells a half-truth.

"So, little boy wants to play." Genma purrs, chuckling shakily as he stands up, trying in vain to brush off the dust.

"So, this is how it starts." Tsunade murmurs.

Ayako is confused, but brushes it off. "Well . . . let's continue back to the hotel."

As the group walks off, Kakashi and Genma look back to the roof, and see a cackling Naruto. The two jounin narrow their eyes, promising vengeance.

Naruto smiles as he sees them walk off. Grinning, he looks down at the crate off eggs. "What should I do with the rest?" he wonders. Shrugging, he takes them back to the hotel with him, and waits for Sasuke and Sakura.

Two hours later there is a knock on the door. Sensing his friends' chakra, he opens the door and sees them looking faintly nervous. He frowns. "What?"

"Grab him!" Naruto's eyes widen as he is grabbed by the front of his jacket and hauled to a chest, and then closes his eyes as they shunshin. Naruto is shoved into another pair of arms that restrict him and his eyes open, blinking rapidly. He looks back to see Genma grinning wildly, now clean of any traces of dirt or yolk. He looks forward to see Kakashi glaring at him with vengeful glee.

"Where are . . . ?" Naruto trailed off, paling as he saw the signs and the telltale signs of very loose kimono clad waifs and girlish laughter, mixing with the raucous laughter of inebriated men.

"Kakashi," Minato sighs. "You're encouraging this behavior?"

"And you're sending my baby to a Red Light District? At least he knows the one in Konoha!" Kushina protests, a scar scowl on her face.

"When did you have time to find the Red Light District?" Naruto asks.

"We're ninja. Of course we had this place mapped out." Genma smirks. Pushing Naruto away, the boy stands between the two men as he looks at them warily. Suddenly, Kakashi's arm is a blur and Naruto gapes in disbelief as he's hit with a cloud of powder . . . glitter?

Again, he is hit from the back. Turning his head he spies more glitter of the rainbow variety. Glaring at the two, he growls out, "You won't win."

Kakashi smiles cheerfully. "I beg to differ." And, with that same smile, he lifts a bag over Naruto's head, upends it, and covers the young man in pounds of rainbow glitter.

Minato chuckles, head going back to lean against the back of the couch. "You win— play to your heart's content. I should just enjoy my son enjoying himself right?"

"That's the spirit!" Obito cheers, much to the amusement of the others.

Naruto closes his eyes, refusing to look at himself. "You . . . son of a bitch."

"Sticks and stones, Naru-chan." Genma chirps cheerfully.

"When I— ack!" Naruto is stopped from bellowing an impressive threat as he is lifted by Kakashi and Genma, and then thrown through the swinging doors of an establishment with impressive force, flying until he lands in a pile of soft . . . OH, my Kami, I'm in a pile of whores!

Kakashi's and Genma's cheerful voices unify from outside the establishment he was bodily thrown into. "Have fun Naru-chan! Don't do anything we wouldn't do!"

They were gone. He could feel them leaving.

He could also feel the agitated tensing of the bodies he was currently entangled with. They shoved him off, and he fell to the floor with an oof.

"Kid, you got thirty seconds to either come up with some money for the free feels you got, or a good enough story we don't automatically kill you." An icy, feminine voice comes from in front of him and he can smell the sweet perfume and the many other scents that mingle on the body before him.

"Well, it's his first Jiraiya situation. Let's see how he handles this." Tsunade declares.

"Hey!" Jiraiya grumbles.

His eyes were still closed. He only had one card left to play. Naruto's eyes shoot open, blinking rapidly. He turns and sightless blue eyes clouded over with a hazy film stare in the general direction of the girls.

"W-where am I?" He whimpers. "Who . . . who are you?"

"HOLY FUCK HE DID NOT." Obito shouts, jumping out of his chair. Falling to his knees, he grabs at his hair. "My kami . . . the answer was truly that simple. I am in awe. He is my new God."

Jiraiya was in similar conniptions. "That's it?! Just pretend to be blind?! Shit, why didn't I think of that before!"

Back at the hotel, Kakashi and Genma sip tea in the room of the little genin, listening to their report on Hashimoto. It seemed discretion was not in the man's vocabulary— he was a prominent part of daily life, and more worrisome, he just so happened to be one of the guests invited to the very same party the Akiyama's were attending.

"Hm," Kakashi mutters. "You guys did good work. It appears we can do nothing more. Well, if it happens that we have to see him let's not do anything. We were only sent to observe him, not act."

"Yes sensei." Sakura mutters, and Sasuke just nods curtly.

"Where's Naruto?" Sasuke asks.

Genma and Kakashi look at each other. "He's—"

The door bursts open to reveal the glittering boy in question, hand tight and trembling on the doorknob. "Right. Here." He grits out. Pointing to Sasuke and Sakura as he stomps toward his bag, he growls, "Tell me everything after I take a shower."

Grabbing some clothes, he stomps into the bathroom, slamming it shut. "Was he . . . ?" Sakura trails off, pointing to the door.

"Yes." Sasuke answers, deactivating the Sharingan. "Yes he was. And I shall remember it forever."

"Excellent, my young student." Kakashi chuckles evilly.

"Very good my young student." Kakashi nods.

After Naruto had washed away most traces of the dreaded glitter— the exceptions being the odd patch on his arms or on his neck for example— then the team was informed they were to escort the Akiyamas to a smaller dinner party and scout from the outside.

"So, we'll all be in the trees— Naruto it would be nice if you could henge some clones so that we could be sure of the inside as well." Kakashi mentioned.

Naruto nodded. "Sure, I'll henge two clones into pins or something for the Akiyama's to carry inside with them."

"Excellent. Well, let's move out."

Walking down to the reception area, the shinobi met up with Ayako and Kaoru.

"Are you guys ready to go?" Kakashi asks.

Kaoru grunts. "Almost, we're waiting for Hashimoto."

The shinobi all show interested reactions. "Oh?" Genma murmurs.

Speak of the devil and he shall appear. "Akiyama-san, Akiyama-chan!" a rich, jaunty voice calls.

Hashimoto Daiki is an older man in his mid-fifties with hair that's beginning to gray at his temples and a gracefully lined face that almost seems pressed and ironed in its disciplined form. And yet, that same ironed face is creased into a genial smile that by all rights should promote good feelings. So why is it, Naruto wonders, that he feels distinctly uncomfortable under the man's sharp gaze? Judging by the small shudder Sakura gives, he knows he's not the only one.

"Crime bosses tend not to give off good aura." Tsunade confesses, as if owning up to some big secret.

"My, what lovely company you keep!" Hashimoto laughs. It appears he is speaking about Sakura since he looked at her.

. . . Right?

Minato frowns. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"Who would he be looking at?" Rin murmurs.

"These are the shinobi brother hired to keep us safe." Ayako says, and though it is a lie not one of them who know the truth will call her on it.

"Ah, then I best keep on my toes." The man jokes with a congenial wink to, once again, Sakura. Or at least, the general direction of her and the other two boys.

"What is he winking at her for?" Obito asks in disgust.

"If he's winking at any of those kids it is not good." Kushina corrects roughly.

The restaurant was not very far from the hotel, on the water's edge of a lake that had floating boats full of candles slicing through its otherwise crystal clear surfaces. The pagoda-styled eatery was lit up and beautiful, fine ladies in dresses or kimonos, and men in suits or kimono themselves stepped in and dined with a happy atmosphere.

The same could not be said for all the shinobi in the trees.

"Man, wish we could have some of that food." Naruto sighs, tilting his head back to bask in the moonlight.

"And risk being near that Hashimoto creep? Ugh, no way." Sakura protests lowly over their radio com link.

"He was an uncomfortable guy wasn't he?" Genma chuckles.

"Yeah, i—" Naruto pauses, turning in the direction of the large window where their clients and guests sit.

"Naruto?" Sasuke asks.

Naruto scans the party, then the surrounding darkness outside of the warm glowing bubble they create. "Nothing . . . I felt like I was being watched. I can't sense anybody. Must just be my imagination."

"Don't ignore your instincts son, they're usually pretty good." Minato shakes his head.

"Hm, you sure? You're usually spot on." Kakashi mutters.

"Yeah, I'm not sensing anything." Naruto nods.

"Whatever you say!" Kakashi sighs.

Tsunade raises an eyebrow. "And you're letting it go just like that?"

Kakashi frowns. "This is a book, it's more general point of view. In my point of view, perhaps some things haven't been caught in my notice."

The dinner is over soon, and the shinobi meet the Akiyama's at the front of the restaurant to escort them back to the hotel. Hashimoto bids them all goodnight, but Sasuke is the only one to notice the way his eyes stay on Naruto and Sakura for a second too long. He frowns, but decides to address it with the blonde in question and Kakashi tomorrow.

"By all accounts it seems it's Sakura he's keeping an eye on." Kakashi murmurs.

"And yet . . ." Kushina trails off, biting her lip.

That night the team settles in for a restful sleep. The hour darkens and the shadows lengthen.

Clack.

Genma's eyes open halfway, a hand already moving to the bedside stand.

"Leave it, these are civilians." Kakashi murmurs. Genma's ears prick at the broken silence, and he turns over on his back as he blinks in response to his eyes adjusting to the dark.

"What the hell are they doing here?" Genma questions.

"Stupid civilians." Tsunade mutters.

The door opens. They'll find out soon enough, he supposes.

Light footsteps and soft, fluffy giggles. "Special delivery from Naru to his favorite jounin?" a low voice invites them. Genma raises an eyebrow at the husky tone of the voice. Well, as long as they screamed high, he didn't care.

"Hookers?" Kushina sighs in disapproval.

"Hookers Naruto?" Kakashi sighs in a far lighter tone than Kushina. "Oh little brother, you shouldn't have!"

"Well Kakashi, look at Naruto! A regular good sport." Genma cheers.

"Hm." Kakashi mutters. "Ladies I thank you for the offer but—"

"Oh little Naruto said you'd be difficult." Another voice, a little lighter than the first muses. "Don't you worry baby, we'll leave you a little something left for the morning."

"Man this feels awkward to read." Jiraiya mutters.

"It's Naruto. This can't be genuine— this has to be a revenge trick." Rin insists.

"Well if you insist." Genma murmurs with a wide grin, feeling a body's weight make his mattress dip, then feeling a body straddle his hips. His grin falters there, just a little, because something feels rather weird.

"Uh, ladies . . ." Kakashi seems to have found the same oddness in his own girl. "Naruto picked you up from where?"

"Does it matter?" A throaty whisper.

"I guess not. Does it matter to you if the lights are on? I feel a little better that way." Kakashi's smooth lie brings butterflies to Genma's stomach. If Kakashi felt a need for visual confirmation, then something was seriously afoot.

The light turns on.

Genma promptly screams at the same time Kakashi goes, "Aw fuck!"

"What?! What is it?" Obito squeals.

"Damn, they won't tell us yet." Jiraiya grumbles.

In the joining room Naruto awakes violently at the sound of the screams and banging noises coming from the other room.

"What . . . ? What's happening?" Sakura slurs.

Naruto furrows his brows, and then it clicks. He bursts into raucous guffaws that not even thrown pillows and irritated grumbles can alleviate.

He hears screams from the other room. "Transvestites Naruto?! Seriously!" Genma screams, and he falls helplessly to the floor in his amusement.

"Ooh!" The group collectively wince.

"Vindictive little fucker!" Kakashi spits under his breath.

The next morning the tension is palpable between Naruto and the two lead jounin, though the Uzumaki only smiles benignly in response. Kakashi seemed only seconds away from snapping Naruto's neck and Genma instead fisted his senbon as opposed to chewing on toothpicks as he usually did.

"Your death will be slow, painful, and not at all clean." Kakashi's silky murmur seems to wrap around Naruto with the distinct malicious intent to kill. Naruto just winks at the older man.

That tension was only heightened and transferred to Hashimoto Daiki when he made a surprise visit to the Akiyama's breakfast. He once again smiled at Sakura— this time Sasuke was not the only one to notice that the man wasn't looking specifically at Sakura, just in her direction. Genma noticed, and he frowned contemplatively before looking away— and the overall atmosphere was one of discomfort. You wouldn't know it from Hashimoto's careful smile however, though there was some speculation as to whether or not he knew how uncomfortable they were and it amused him.

Kushina whines in discomfort. "There's a pattern here and I don't like it."

"What do you see?" Tsuande asks worriedly.

"Whenever he looks at Sakura, Naruto also happens to be near her." Kushina growls.

"Honey, it's fine. As long as the kids are near Kakashi or Genma, nothing will happen." Minato murmurs soothingly, rubbing warm hands up and down Kushina's arms.

Later Ayako apologizes. "You must excuse us, but we cannot be as candid as we like with Hashimoto-san. He might be a potential business partner, despite my many vocal complaints about him to brother."

Kaoru merely sighs. "Despite his . . . mannerisms Hashimoto is a shrewd businessman."

"But the way he looks at the children!" Ayako frowns.

"See? She notices." Kushina points out.

Genma raises an eyebrow. "So you noticed as well?"

Ayako nods. "Hashimoto is known largely for his fascination with aesthetics. But, I've never heard of anything untoward happening involving him, so you don't have to worry. Just a bachelor with a playful streak."

"So long as he plays with himself, he can live another day." Naruto murmurs, smiling reassuringly at Sakura who laughs quietly.

Sasuke narrows his eyes, but says nothing. Then, that would account for that strange look the other day. Figuring that to be it, he casts his mind to other subjects like the mission, new jutsus that Naruto had introduced him to, and so on . . .

The day is spent with the jounin tailing their clients and the genin fishing for more information under Naruto's command. He too, is searching through in his own way.

"So . . ." Naruto murmurs, swirling his drink with one finger. "You from around here? You look far too young and pure to be a local."

The girl, a few years older than him, smirks in faux confidence though the blush and the wavering of her eyes suggests her inexperience with flirting. "I'm telling you— born and bred on the streets. But you're a tourist," she flicks eyes up and down his slim frame. "Pretty risky to be coming in this place kid."

"That's all me." Jiraiya pats his own chest in pride, smirking.

"Excuse me? This wouldn't happen without my looks." Minato smirks.

"Now I know who to beat up, dattebane!" Kushina growls.

"You aren't that much older than me." Naruto smirks. "I'm here looking around for a friend."

"A friend?" the girl repeats, pushing back dirty blonde hair.

"He's looking to start up a little business, figures Shōdo is the best place to start. Wanted me to scope out any competition, potential threats . . ." Naruto trails off. He tips his head back and takes a long gulp of his drink. He can feel her eyes follow the path of his neck as he swallows. Licking his lower lip, he asks her, "Got a bite or two of info to share?"

"That seduction book from Genma is coming in handy here." Obito comments with barely a discernible shake in his voice from repressed amusement.

"What do I get out of it?" The girl pouts, flushing deeper.

"A free drink . . . for now. Now, I hear that I have to really look out for some Hashimoto character. But he's just an old man, right?" Naruto smiles.

She spills quite a bit to Naruto. How Hashimoto started making waves about a year and a half ago, squashing any small or upstart businesses quickly and ruthlessly. She detailed Hashimoto's lavish parties and the equally lavish eye candy he kept in stock for such occasions. The man was one for lush aesthetics and had a taste for the exotic everything— clothes, foods, women, whatever could look striking he wanted it.

"Lavish and exotic . . . huh?" Rin murmurs, eyes narrowing. "Just women though?"

No one else hears her musings except for Obito, who casts a furtive glance at her.

Naruto tells his team this much later that evening, and the jounin have thoughtful looks upon their faces.

"Lavish women huh? That falls in line with what we've heard. Hashimoto seems to be quite the pleasure seeker, in more ways than one." Genma recalls, reclining against the headboard of his bed.

"He also has quite the reputation for monopolizing the financial game. After ruining local competition, his interest in the Akiyama business does not seem unfounded or unplanned." Kakashi adds quietly.

Tsunade snorts. "Another Gato?"

"So what do we do? Should we alert the Akiyama's?" Sakura asks in concern.

Kakashi smiles, ruffling her hair and ignoring the venomous glare he gets in return. "No, they've pretty much made up their mind to say no. They've got sharp instincts, and so they won't ruin their fortune on a man like Hashimoto."

"Instead, we should be focusing on a plan of action for tomorrow night." Genma brings them back to the main point of the mission. "We'll be surrounding the perimeter— Kakashi and I already have the place mapped out so here are your areas." He stands up, reaching over to the dresser to snatch a rolled up map and then unfolds it, revealing a sketch of the party pavilion.

"Sasuke you'll be with Kakashi in the southern and eastern end, and Sakura you're with me in the north and west. Naruto, you've got the areas closest to the party pavilion, so you'll be our eagle eyes for the night." Genma rattles off.

"Kakashi you should keep him with you." Kushina whispers.

"Kushina-san, I'm sure he'll be fine." Kakakshi murmurs, but he is beginning to feel the worried and tensed atmosphere in the room. He wonders if future him is making the right choice.

"Sounds good to me." Naruto affirms.

"That good with the rest of you?" Kakashi asks, looking down at Sasuke and Sakura.

"Yes." They answer shortly, nodding their heads.

"Good. So, let's get some rest. All of us will be tagging the clients as they prepare for the party for the day, and then at night we take our places." Kakashi lays out the orders in clear terms.

The morning dawns bright and cheery . . . and so does Genma's face.

"NARUTO!"

Kushina's lips twitch, but she can't take joy in her son's marvelous pranking streak when she feels something seriously off . . . women's intuition, and it had never failed her before. Most of the time.

The shout is heard all up and down the hall, and the blonde in question just smiles in contentment as he opens the window and throws himself out of it at the exact same time his door is kicked open by the enraged jounin. Sakura and Sasuke snort, struggling to contain their amusement at the painted face of Genma. Sparkling gold eyeliner, emerald eye shadow and a light tint of red on his lips . . . really, the terrible thing was that Genma's makeup was fabulous.

"I'd wonder where he learned that, but . . ." Minato snorts. "I can take a guess."

"I wonder why he learned that." Obito snorts.

Rin frowns. "What will you do if you can't use henge? He's got an advantage at hand-crafted disguise."

Genma had no time to exact revenge as he had to focus all his energies on removing the makeup— though halfway through his good humor returned and he left the gold eyeliner on his bottom lid— and setting off with Kakashi to guard the Akiyama duo as they prepared for the party. Sakura, Sasuke and Naruto just spent the day in their hotel room, playing card games or playing spitball with the unsuspecting passerby that passed by their windows.

Dinner is sent up to them, and they are so taken by the room service their eyes sparkle. "Who is it from?" Sasuke asks suspiciously.

"Akiyama." The server replies shortly. They take the answer at face value and let themselves enjoy it.

"Hold on." Tsunade interrupts forcefully. "The way that was worded . . . take the answer at face value? It would be easy to bribe hotel workers, with enough money . . ."

"Well drugs take effect relatively quickly." Rin shrugs.

"With metabolism like that, I think not. Besides, new drugs are made all the time." Tsunade murmurs, face dark.

A large banquet that comes up in several trays, and even Sakura indulges herself and eats two plates, while the boys help themselves to even healthier portions.

Around late afternoon, as sunset encroached, Kakashi returned. "Get ready everyone, in an hour we leave to guard the Akiyama's, alright?" he eye smiled, and without waiting for a confirmation he shunshined away.

"I suppose the plates were cleared away before I got there." Kakashi murmurs, face carefully blank.

Night cast itself upon the land quickly, the dark sky liquid and the stars that peppered it liberally like diamond dust thrown into the water. The moon hung heavy and sterling in the sky as the shinobi traversed patches of shadow and rooftops to guard the Akiyama's discreetly. The pavilion where the event was being held was several miles away from the hotel, further away from the seedier areas of Shōdo. When a cloud passed over the moon, they were no longer in city limits, but now at home in the trees. The guests walked along a lit path in the forest, the trees on either side encircled with strings of clear lights. Women and men in kimono walked with dignity and grace, giggles hushed to more demure forms and smiles carefully masked behind fans or controlled to proper levels.

Kakashi raises an eyebrow when he sees Kaoru look to the tree line, obviously searching for something. He leaps toward the man, standing with a hand in his pocket as he watches the group. Hashimoto Daiki has joined the two, and judging by the looks in his and his sister's faces, they dearly wished they hadn't.

"Him, always him." Kakashi mumbles. "What is he so taken with their presence for?"

"Kakashi," Kaoru murmurs. "Daiki-san wished to give these roses to your student, Sakura. Would you . . . ?"

Kakashi looks at the arrangement of a dozen scarlet blooms with a curious interest. "Well, I'm sure she'll appreciate this." He smiles at the man.

Hashimoto smiles back. "My company is also funding this party, and all the ladies here are receiving flowers— I'm sure you're student would also appreciate some, goodness knows we have enough!" he laughs.

Kakashi just smiles, opting not to speak. Looking around he can see the man speaks the truth, and there isn't anything wrong exactly with his student receiving flowers, but . . . his instincts are telling him to be wary. Of what exactly? He'd seen the women Hashimoto liked, Sakura was quite a few years from that standard if ever.

"She's not . . . exotic enough." Rin murmurs, nose scrunching in her confusion. "So why . . . ?"

"Well, I'll be off now." Kakashi excuses himself, and grabbing the bouquet carefully he departs with nary a sound. Returning to his group, he smirks at Sakura and hands her the roses.

"A party favor." Kakashi informs, watching with amusement as Sakura handles the flowers gingerly like an exploding tag liable to blow up in her face at any moment.

"Ugh— no thanks. Here!" she thrusts the flowers into Naruto's arms, blinking at the growl that erupts from the boy.

"There are thorns on this thing bitch!" Naruto growls, moving the bouquet into his hands while observing the faint red lines on his inner arms from the surprisingly sharp, large thorns. If he had worn his gloves this wouldn't have happened, he clucked his tongue.

"Thorns on roses meant as party favors?" Jiraiya raises an eyebrow.

"Hashimoto had it on him. Did he make sure to give them the thorny roses? As a warning?" Minato wonders.

"Sorry, I didn't notice!" Sakura winces.

Naruto, not satisfied with that light apology mutters, "You'd have noticed if it was the Uchiha you were giving them too." Glaring at Sakura, mouth open for a heated retort, they are sidelined by Kakashi who bonks them lightly on both their heads.

"There were thorns? Why would he give the guests roses that haven't had the thorns taken off?" Kakashi mutters.

"Does it matter?" Sasuke sighs. "Let's just get the mission done."

Kakashi sighs. "So impatient. Okay, Naruto you just go a little further over there, okay? Sasuke, let's go." He and the last Uchiha disappear into the inky darkness of the forest.

"Sakura, let's go." Genma whispers and the pink-haired girl nods sharply, eyes burning in determination. They jump away to their posts, turning on their radio com links.

Naruto snorts, moving to situate himself. He's not close enough where anyone could glimpse him, but where he could observe his clients perfectly. He settles himself back into the tree, letting the bark and the branches act as nature's couch. Glaring down at the roses, he contemplates throwing them down but they're such beautiful blooms he feels it would be a waste. So he just settles them against his sternum, between his arms as he takes watch.

"That's nice of you Naru-chan, but you should probably get rid of them." Rin chuckles nervously.

Let's hope the siblings are not heavy partiers. Kyuubi comments.

Naruto chuckles. Man I hope not. Otherwise I'll have to do some party crashing— henge, of course.

No I don't imagine you could control yourself from not being in a party. You just aren't the type. Kyuubi snorts. So long as I see interesting things, I don't particularly care. Provided, of course, it's not life threatening.

Concerned?

For myself, brat, don't get cocky. You die, I die remember?

Oh all too well. Naruto teases, stifling a snort at the Kyuubi's growl. He yawns lightly, and then frowns. He had gotten a good sleep, and hadn't done anything strenuous today. Could he be bored already?

Why are you asking yourself that? Kyuubi scoffs. Inwardly though, the demon fox frowns in contemplation.

Rin narrows her eyes, and Obito catches notice of it. "Rin?" he whispers.

"Those thorns scratched him . . . deeply? It didn't say." She murmurs.

Naruto smirks, and shakes his head to rid himself of any feeling of boredom or tiredness. But . . . if anything, that makes it worse. He frowns, a feeling almost like nausea beginning to build in his stomach.

"Tsunade-sama." Rin calls sharply.

"Damn," Tsunade mutters, biting her thumb. "If that truly is . . ."

"What?" Kushina demands, but Tsunade waves her down to silence and gestures for the reading to continue.

What the hell . . . ? Did I eat something weird? Naruto frowns, thinking about it. The food had smelled fresh, and it had tasted even better. He taps the radio com link.

"Sasuke, Sakura." He mutters quietly, waiting for a response.

"What dobe?" Sasuke grunts.

"Do you guys . . . feel weird or something?" Naruto asks, feeling a little stupid.

"What are you talking about? The only thing I feel is bored, and cramped from crouching in this stupid tree." Sakura's annoyed voice quells any suspicions in Naruto's mind, if only because he doesn't want to annoy the girl further. They'd hear about it all night long.

But he starts to feel worse, and absentmindedly he crushes the roses to him, only noticing when once again he's scratched by the thorns. He winces, snarling at the roses.

Naruto, throw the roses down! Kyuubi's harsh bark startles Naruto so much he nearly falls.

"He felt bad after the roses scratched him." Kushina murmurs, the events starting to connect.

"He only realized after that, but I think this has been building." Tsunade corrects quietly.

"You don't mean to say . . . he's being drugged? Then, if Sakura hadn't of been careful she would have been drugged?" Kakashi asks.

"No," Rin speaks up, drawing their attention. "Hashimoto likes exotic looks, lush things . . . Naruto, by his very nature, is more appealing than Sakura in objective terms like that."

Wha— he tries to make sense of the order, feeling strangely lethargic.

Drop them! Kyuubi snarls. Naruto does so in an instant, feeling confused and a whole host of other things. As he drops them though, he takes notice of the way his arms just dropped limply, not the usual smooth motions.

Oh, his head . . . he winces. What was this film of cotton that seemed to cover his senses?

Naruto, call Kakashi. Call him, Naruto. The Kyuubi's urgency is shared by him, panic starting to flare lightly as he realizes the shadows seem to be moving. His arms are sluggish, his bodies are slow to follow commands.

"Please, call Kakashi. Just call him." Kushina murmurs.

I . . . I can't move very well . . . even his thought process is starting to fog up, he thinks fuzzily. Kyuubi . . .

Don't fall asleep, just call Kakashi. Call someone, anyone— out loud you idiot, just call! Kyuubi snaps. Was Kyuubi's voice starting to fade?

". . . nggh." Naruto can't speak. He drops to the forest floor, branches and twigs snapping as he falls heavily. His entire world goes black and cold, only Kyuubi's frustrated snarl echoing in his mind as the last cognizant thought.

He wakes up slowly, and even then he wonders if he woke up at all. He feels terrible, fuzzy and uncoordinated, and his limbs still won't respond to him!

But maybe that's because his wrists are bound and his arms are stretched above his head.

Ah, no . . . his arms still won't move. His body cannot move. His head lolls to the side and he sees his feet bound. His legs aren't responding either. Was he drugged . . . ? What the hell kind of drug could incapacitate him, with his super metabolism?

It's not so much the type of drug, as the fact that you're pumped with enough of it to down two full grown elephants. Kyuubi's grumblings are a welcome relief, and he relaxes. Well, not like he can do much else, his body wouldn't even tense up.

"How would someone know to do that?" Tsunade asks suspiciously.

"They wouldn't." Kushina growls. "That bastard just put any old drug, and enough to probably kill a regular person. Even still, Naruto could be adversely affected long after the drug leaves!"

What happened? He whimpers to the Kyuubi. His head was aching, and the inability to move or assess his situation was unnerving.

I have absolutely no idea. My senses are connected to yours, once you shut down; I'm left without any information. However, I can guess that you were drugged . . . but the way you were drugged . . . and the fact that you're alive . . . kidnapping? I don't know. But it's very hard trying to work through these drugs, there's a lot and it's unfamiliar. Your antibodies are having a hard time making defenses against it. This is the most Kyuubi's ever spoken, and Naruto wonders why he's chosen now to be so chatty.

"We babble when we're nervous. It's always been a trait of my family, those I remember anyway." Kushina murmurs.

Ah . . . I see. Naruto replies to the Kyuubi absently.

His eyes widen when the click of the doorknob turning catches his attention. Inwardly he curses his state. He should have been able to hear footsteps from down the hall! The door opens, only enough to let in the form of a man . . . and there is no light in the hallway so Naruto squints to recognize this person. Well, his vision is still a little off, but he can clearly see the form of Hashimoto Daiki, and the slippery smile that darkens the room once the man steps into moonlight. He glares at the man, wishing he had enough control of his body to snarl, or perhaps bite off the man's foot from the ankle.

"Ah, I see you are awake. Funny, my men assured me you'd be out for a lot longer. You must have a hardy constitution!" the man laughs gently, as if speaking with a favored grandson as he walks forward. He moves to stand in front of the window that allows light to pour in from the room, lighting up the entirety of Naruto's body. He gazes down at Naruto.

Rin shivers, a cold feeling that seems to seep into her like water through her clothing. Please, she begged, don't let her be right.

Naruto feels his insides squirm uncomfortably at the stare. Why did Hashimoto look at him with such a gaze? It was weird . . . like the man wanted to eat him or something. Why would Hashimoto kidnap him?

They are starting to understand why— a reasoning that happens more quickly than with Naruto, both because of their outside perspective and their more jaded outlooks. The horror and disgust that starts to bloom in them grows rapidly.

"I'm terribly sorry," Hashimoto stirs the silence with a soft voice, gazing down at Naruto with a tender look in his eye. "Usually I'm much more thorough with my ways, but as I heard you would only be here for three days I had to make haste."

Naruto's scrunched brows telegraph his confusion for all to see. Hashimoto kneels down by Naruto's hip, one hand reaching up to gently cup a whiskered cheek. "I noticed you right off, my young beauty." Hashimoto chuckles.

"No," Kushina whispers, fists tight. She can feel the blunt half-moons of her nails digging so hard into her palm they cut into skin. "Please . . . please no."

Minato uncurls one fist and nearly crushes it in his grip, face frozen and tense, eyes starting to glow in a promise of pain and vengeance.

If Naruto's mouth were dry, it felt like the Suna desert now.

Oh hell no.

"As soon as I looked into those beautiful blue eyes of yours . . . so full of fire! I just had to take that fire and crush it under my heel, make it mine." Hashimoto cries.

Oh HELL no. Naruto deadpans, glaring even hotly when the man starts to rub the cupped cheek with a soft touch. Wasn't this old bastard interested in Sakura?!

Hashimoto seems in the mood to monologue, which would have been fine for Naruto if the man hadn't decided to be efficient and multitask. "I know . . . all the rumors that circulate around the town, nothing had mentioned my being attracted to males right?" he chuckles, the knuckle of his right index finger tracing the thin whisker marks on Naruto's face. "Well of course not, I'd never get much business that way! Besides, I'm not attracted to them exclusively. I'm a lover of beauty, no matter what barrier is cast in my way! Gender, social class, age . . ."

Naruto thought he might be sick. Hashimoto was now tracing his jawline, down to his neck . . . "I have to admit though, no one has intrigued me quite like you. You, with your blonde hair that shines like a crown— such bewitching blue eyes, they glow!" Hashimoto moves down, lovingly caressing Naruto's collarbone.

Minato, if he could speak beyond the choking dryness and lump in his throat, would probably have hissed a few venomous things that would have scared the group. As it was, he could only snarl, and roughly pull Kushina to him, stilling her trembling form in his own constricting grip.

Not my baby, not my son! He thinks in agony. Please, don't make us read this!

"I've been having you watched, and I knew that girl would mistake those roses as tokens of my affection. She'd just throw them at you, because you aren't the one she's interested in, she doesn't care about you." Hashimoto simpers.

No— don't you dare blame her for this! Naruto vainly wishes to rebel from the foreign touch, to rebel before the man can go further. But no matter how hard he tries, the best he can do is flop his head to the side and slur out some sort of incoherent mess or groan.

Hush, Naruto, I just need to keep working . . . Kyuubi's quiet words are filled with a powerful anger and intensity that simultaneously cows and bolsters Naruto. There's just so much, I'm working as hard as I can.

"Hurry, please, please hurry." Kushina chokes out, gripping fistfuls of Minato's shirt with enough force to perhaps rip out chunks of the fabric.

"I'm so sorry," Kakashi mutters, face in his hands as he shakes his head slowly. "I'm so very sorry."

Please . . . Kyuubi I— Naruto is taken from the Kyuubi's attention when he sees Hashimoto rise up to his feet, grabbing something on the dresser he's tied to. Coming back down to kneel on his knees the older man shuffles around to Naruto's legs. He spreads them and moves in between them, letting the boy's slim legs rest on his thighs.

"Oh, Kami . . ." Tsunade whispers, head dropping into her hands, fingers tangling and tugging at pale blonde hair.

Kushina starts to rock back and forth, dislodging herself almost violently from Minato's grip. Her legs come up, face burying in her knees as she slaps her hands over her ears. "I can't hear this! I can't hear this!" she wails shrilly.

Minato cannot bear this, does not want to . . . but they must go through this, so that this can never happen. He pulls Kushina onto his lap, curled up as she is, and pulls her hands away from her ears to lace their fingers together and wrap around her. He hugs her tightly, so tight she gasps shallowly for breath.

"I don't want to either," he whispers, pained. "But we have to, and I'm so sorry."

Inside his mind, the only place his voice isn't held back, there are growls and hisses, hurling vitriol at the man he desperately wishes could be heard. He's not sure who's louder, him or Kyuubi as they snarl at the situation.

When is someone going to notice I'm missing?! He thinks frantically. Genma, Sakura, Sasuke . . . where is onii-san?

That almost breaks Kakashi, who hunches over as if having taken a blow to the midsection, and he groans in misery. "Please forgive me, I'm so so sorry." He prays over and over.

Obito shakes his head, or maybe that's just his whole body shaking. "This . . . this can't happen. Somebody . . . someone has to save him. This just can't happen!"

"Obito!" Jiraiya calls sharply, roughly. It's the first thing he's said since this started besides reading, but he was always the type to internalize his agony, carefully fold it into a compartment in his heart so as not to disturb anyone. But this is his godson they are talking about, and the fact that he's nowhere near enough to help is appalling.

Hashimoto brings up the thing he's taken from the dresser— a knife. He reaches over with the knife and plucks at the zipper of Naruto's jacket. The jacket is unzipped and pushed aside to reveal the black cotton shirt underneath. Naruto eyes the knife warily, watching it descend towards him. Hashimoto traces the silver, icy edge down his neck, circling the hollow of his throat, and then catches the t-shirt. A hand pulls at the edge as the knife makes a laborious path down the shirt, cutting it raggedly in two.

Hashimoto breathes out a sigh, and Naruto is wildly alarmed at the ragged quality the man's breathing has taken.

"Beautiful." Hashimoto's breathy whisper is a litany and it sends a jolt of fear through Naruto.

"My baby's scared . . ." Kushina moans as if in pain. Minato kisses her forehead, smoothing back bloody hair as he breathes in deep and holds it in, lest he screams.

Jiraiya's voice gets gruff, and it is clear to all that it pains him to read the words.

His head turns to the side in protest as he feels smooth hands— greedy hands, hands that have never known labor and only taking— trace paths down his front. From chest to hip, and Hashimoto does take special care to trace his hipbones.

"Get off him, get off him . . ." Rin chants in almost a monotone, if not for the intensity behind his words.

"Bas . . ." Naruto groans, but still groggy he can't form the words on a tongue that feels covered in cotton.

No, no, no, no . . . get off! Get OFF me! Naruto snarls. I don't want this . . . let me go—

Kit . . . Kyuubi growls, and Naruto is alarmed at the off tone in his voice. Like he's withholding something. Just focus on me, okay?

Kyuubi speaks in quiet murmurs, each word carefully measured with intent to keep Naruto's mind preoccupied, even as he eyes the seal on his collar with hatred. If only . . . he scratches at the collar. If only . . . even if he could just rush more power through Naruto!

Kyuubi . . . Naruto's tone has changed from panic to a shaky vindictive anger.

Yes, Naruto? Kyuubi replies, huffing as he stalks the cave up and down with growing frustration, the drugs in the boy's system too much for what little he could do.

Don't worry. Just keep working. Even if . . . no matter what he does to me, it'll be alright if I can move eventually. I'll rip out his throat, and when he's choking on his own blood but still clinging to life I'll ROAST him. Naruto promises in a dark tone. The familiar feelings of anger and wrath fill Kyuubi.

"He's dead, he is so dead when we find him." Obito snaps.

Don't give up just yet. I'll keep working— Kyuubi is abruptly startled as rocks start to shake from the cave. What?!

Naruto's heart races in fear— was this it? He didn't want this, he couldn't take this . . . Hashimoto's hands drift to his hips, gripping them firmly as he shuffles back.

"Oh Kami no." Minato sobs, his self-control starting to fail as he grips a near hysterical Kushina closer, now rocking with her.

". . . Nn . . ." Naruto moans. "No . . ."

"Now . . . don't worry my pet," Hashimoto croons. "I'll make you happy, and you can be my little assassin. Your rewards shall be most pleasurable." The thumbs that rub at caramel skin set the blonde boy's nerves on edge like ice and electricity— please, he begs, eyes closing. Please, someone . . . !

Hashimoto smiles, reaching for the boy's pants. He was so close . . .

He jerks to a stop, eyes bulging at the sharp needle like pains that hit him. A trembling hand pats his back, where long needle like projections are imbedded. More come, and in his pain he is like a marionette with cut strings.

"Oh Kami please let that be Genma!" Rin cries out, hands harshly shoving back hair from her face as she snaps up.

Naruto's eyes pop open, a gasp escaping his parted lips as the weight of a body drops on him. In his panic his eyes rove around, and his gaze is locked on a very familiar mask.

". . . H-ha . . ." His voice is a choked whisper, but he is rewarded with the turning of the mask, a slim hand rising up to take it off and revealing the beautiful face of his friend. Haku's face is a careful mask of concern, but if Naruto were more aware he'd see the wild seething in those dark eyes.

Kushina freezes, taking in the words, and upon hearing Haku's name she falls against Minato, weeping in relief. Minato sighs shakily, tears that are now useless wobbling in his voice. He hugs Kushina to him, kissing her gently and wiping away tears.

"There now, our baby is fine . . ." he croons, still rocking her gently. "Naru-chan is saved now."

"Oh thank you Kami!" Obito and Kakashi sigh in relief, while Rin just sags against Obito with a hand to her heart, face pale but utterly relieved. Tsunade claps Jiraiya on the back, the latter grinning at the Slug Princess in liberation.

"It's okay Naruto. I'm going to take you out of here." Haku murmurs, striding forward with a swift gait. Hashimoto is thrown away from him without a care, and Naruto is soon lifted up, embarrassingly enough in bridal style.

Obito keeps his thought to himself, suppressing a snort. After all that, you find being carried embarrassing? You're something else Naruto.

"Wh—"

Haku smiles at him. "Zabuza-sama and I just so happened to be in the neighborhood, and we saw your sensei rushing around like a chicken with his head cut off. Once Zabuza-sama heard you were involved, he quickly helped."

Naruto has enough energy to let the corners of his lips wobble in a semblance of a smile. "Thank . . . you, Ha—"

"Don't talk, conserve your energy. You'll need it to flush out those drugs." Haku walks away, leaving a gasping Hashimoto to grasp at thin air, begging in a weak, reedy voice for his precious possession back. Naruto shivers— more grateful than he could express that Haku had saved him.

Once they step out of the room, they are immediately joined by Kakashi and Genma, who stare at him with haunted expressions.

What hurts Kakashi most though, is the way Naruto's face lights up upon seeing them, and the way he tries to lean forward despite his drug-induced state of relaxation. "Nii . . . just in time . . . !"

Kushina, left abruptly with emotional turmoil that built inside her so tremendously, has plenty to say about Kakashi's involvement and his timing, but the utterly heartbroken expression on the boy's face stops her. Really, she could never be that cruel, and Haku said Kakashi had been looking for him.

(Kakashi would never be able to forgive himself for this entirely) He smiles and ruffles hair corn silk in the fading moonlight. "Go back to the hotel, Naruto . . . Zubuza and I just have to finish some things up." Kakashi gives Haku a meaningful glance, and the Hyouton user reclines his head.

Naruto was only aware of a fleeting pain, as Haku chopped the back of his neck and knocked him out.

He was suddenly in his mindscape, and he looked around frantically for the only one who could comfort him now. He sees Kyuubi, who had noticed his arrival and risen to sit on his haunches. Trembling with relief (and fear, and to his self-disgust shame) he sprints for the large demon fox and nearly throws himself at the bijuu. He slides down and hugs the fox around the middle, burying his face into a large hindquarter as he shakes. The brush of a tail against his shoulder prompts him to look up.

Kyuubi is staring down at him with a blank face but approval clear in his eyes. "You did not give up."

Kushina smiles shakily, head dropping into the crook of Minato's neck as she sends fervent litanies of gratitude to the demon within.

Naruto swallows, though it does nothing for his parched throat. "B-but I . . . I did, I—"

Kyuubi's tails brush against him comfortingly, never wrapping around him (but Naruto is so grateful for even this he feels tears burn at his eyes), as the fox murmurs, "You never did."

Naruto stares at Kyuubi, blinking rapidly, before he smiles tremulously and just sinks into the fox almost, body sagging with untold relief. Kyuubi lets him, never looking away from the human.

Naruto wakes up who knows how many hours later and notices right off the bat that he is in a bed, effectively surrounded in a circle by Haku, Sakura and Sasuke. Genma is off to the side sitting in chair. But the first thing he sees is the sight of Zabuza knocking a fist into Kakashi's masked jaw with such force the man stumbles back a few feet.

Kakashi growls, but does not retaliate. "Not here— outside." He snarls, and grabbing Zabuza's shirt— since when did he wear shirts? — the two vanish in a swirl of leaves.

Minato thinks that whatever Zabuza— and most likely after reading the mission reports, Tsunade— will say to Kakashi negates the purpose of speaking to Kakashi now. Besides, the poor child still looks lost and heartbroken by the faith of his little brother.

Naruto takes this time to alert the others to his return to the world of the waking, groaning pitifully when he feels his stomach flip-flop, or more accurately completely roll over and twist into knots. He suddenly feels himself shivering, and feels strangely sleepy, despite having just woken up.

"Naruto!" Sakura gasps, and immediately everyone shift in his direction. As Haku and Sakura, the only ones with medical training, fuss over him Naruto takes the time to observe Sasuke, who is nearly boring holes into him with his intense scrutiny.

"I . . . I think I'm going to—" Naruto whimpers, and then he nearly hurls himself off the bed, thankful for Genma's quick reaction in getting a wastebasket under him. A hand rubs soothing circles on his back as he empties his stomach, and perhaps throws up that as well.

"God I feel awful." He moans, slumping back onto the bed.

"That's to be expected," Genma sighs, standing up to walk over and crouch beside the bed. "Apparently you were pumped with enough drugs to kill anyone else."

Naruto snorted. "Yeah, I figured that out. How did you guys find me?"

"Kakashi's dogs managed to catch your scent." Genma explained. "As for the getting in the building part . . . well, Zabuza was a great help. However, neither I nor Kakashi saw him and thus it was the adrenaline. Officially."

Naruto opens his mouth to respond, but the door opens and in stomps Zabuza looking a little less deadly than before, a slightly ruffled but otherwise placid Kakashi sauntering in behind him.

"He left you alive?" Obito gasps dramatically.

"Hello there Zaza." Naruto teases with a smirk. He imagines it is only the fact that he looks like death warmed over and his voice has yet to recover that saves him from being chopped up like so much firewood.

"So, you just can't help but get in trouble. What happened to the kid with an ace up his sleeve for every occasion?" Zabuza snorted, leaning back on one leg and crossing his arms over his black grey t-shirt.

"This kid underestimated his own sex appeal." Naruto jokes weakly, chuckling.

"Too soon you reckless brat." Tsunade huffs.

"Too soon kid, that was no joke." Genma murmurs in gentle reproach, making Naruto sigh and droop.

"What were you and Haku doing here?" Naruto switches topics, realizing the truth in Genma's words when he sees the wound-up bodies of his old team.

Zabuza chuckles for a short moment, actually glancing away. As Naruto marvels at the deliberate showoff weakness from Zabuza of all people, the missing nin answers. "Well . . . I heard Hashimoto Daiki was looking for some temporary bodyguards for his foray into Tetsu no Kuni."

"Anyone else getting déjà vu?" Rin jokes.

"Oh Zaza . . . just can't help yourself!" Obito sighs.

Naruto's lips twitch, struggling to hide a smile. "Were you also aware he was an up-and-coming crime boss?"

Zabuza allows a small smirk to grace his features, even if it is not entirely visible from behind his bandages. "It didn't escape my notice."

Naruto laughs heartily, for about five seconds— then his body tries its hardest to cough out his internal organs and Haku and Sakura begin fussing over him again.

Naruto discovers that he had apparently been out for an entire day, waking at the end just as they were discussing who would take him back to Konoha. However, the Akiyama's plans deviate slightly and so they relieve the Konoha shinobis of their duty to escort them back to Fujiwara— a true blessing as the brother and sister had no idea what happened to Naruto.

Naruto was rather relieved to find out that Hashimoto had been disposed of (and he can guess who, glancing at the spot of blood on the edge of Kakashi's jacket, and the small spots of crusted blood underneath the man's fingernails). So, when he is told that a letter was sent back to Tsunade in order for her to be aware of the situation, he understand and excepts it but does not really understand the implications of this. Kakashi is then tasked with explaining just what it really means, and he feels somewhat guilty to see Naruto's expression of acceptance morph into horrified mortification in a split second.

"You shouldn't be mortified," Kushina chastises softly. "You should be thankful, not embarrassed."

"It's different for boys than for girls." Tsunade shrugs. "And seeing as I'm family, that makes it even more embarrassing I bet."

Tsunade knows exactly what happened, and she has ordered in her return letter that as soon as they return to the village Naruto is to be taken to the hospital for any damage. Of any kind.

And, despite Naruto's vehement insistence that Hashimoto had done nothing of thatnature to him, he must also grudgingly admit that there are a few hours gap in which he was unconscious and therefore cannot say with certainty that nothing happened. He still maintains however, that since his healing factor was messed up significantly by the drugs, he would know— "So this whole thing is completely stupid and embarrassing dattebayo!"

"It may be embarrassing, but it's completely necessary." Rin corrects with a stern tone of voice.

The trip home is extremely irritating for Naruto. No one will let him walk any further than five feet from the group, and he is constantly watched to make sure he's eating all his food and to ensure no nausea or illness has struck him. It might have been better had Haku and Zabuza come along, but they left long ago to find fortune somewhere else, and of course to avoid hunter-nins. While in any other case he would have railed against such overprotective measures, he also remembers the red eyes of Sakura with drying tears still clinging to her eyelashes and the cold look in Sasuke's eyes when he stumbled or had to draw a deep breath in his fever-like state from the night before. So, with a grimly set mouth and a forbearance that surprises even him, he allows them to treat him like an invalid, because he figures he deserves it for being caught off guard so pathetically.

"The forbearance is appreciated, but you weren't caught off guard pathetically. You're thirteen, you haven't had near enough years to get paranoid enough to suspect everything." Jiraiya points out mildly.

"Right, but he certainly has learned a lesson now." Minato sighs, feeling strangely drained.

The gates of Konoha loom ahead of them, dark silhouettes against the sky that bleeds into dusk. It fills Naruto with relief and something like dread because Shizune is standing right in front of the gates, and has her eyes trained on the path for them. So with a heavy sigh he allows himself to be escorted by the fretting woman to the hospital while the others head to the Hokage Tower to fill in the report and perhaps speak to Tsunade about the mission.

Except Tsunade is in the hospital, and is the one in charge of his examination.

"I can't believe he expected anything else." Tsunade laughs.

Seeing his ashen expression, Tsunade eases his worries. "I'm only doing a normal check-up, and some blood work. If I find anything out of the ordinary," she pauses, a brief prayer that she doesn't and never ever will running through her head. "Then another doctor, male, will be checking you."

It's not much of a compromise, Naruto thinks sullenly, but he is quiet and merely steps into Tsunade's reach for the hug they both reach out for. Tsunade squeezes him so hard he thinks a rib is about to shatter, and then releases him, all business now. She checks his heart rate, takes blood samples and sends them to the lab for inspection. As glowing green palms hover over him, examining his chakra network and other internal affairs, Naruto huffs but sits still.

When she steps back and frowns, Naruto takes it to be a thoughtful frown and not an 'oh-dear' frown. "Is everything in order then— like I said— Tsunade baa-chan?" Naruto asks knowingly.

Tsunade sighs, her sharp glare letting him know she would let the grandmother slide just this once (again). "Yes, Naruto . . . the drugs have nearly left your system. You'll be fine . . ." Physically. It's the word she left out, and it's a very meaningful word.

Naruto smiles. "I'm not the type to have panic attacks, Nade. My mental state is just fine— I was scared, but then I was saved, so now I'm fine."

Tsunade eyes him, but she knows that if he wanted to hide something, it'd take a Yamanaka and some serious incentive to get him to confide. "I'm taking your word for it Naruto." Don't abuse my trust.

"Great!" Naruto cheers with a smile. I won't.

Tsunade seems to remember something, because she starts and then looks at him a little sheepishly.

Naruto frowns, puzzled, but then his face drains of color. "Oh my Kami you told Jiraiya."

"What's wrong with telling me?" Jiraiya frowns.

"You're the godfather, the second father!" Obito cries. "Of course it'd be embarrassing to tell you . . . it's like . . . I mean . . . it's you!"

"I had to—"

"Oh my sweet lord."

"He is your godfather—"

"But you told him, and exaggerated I bet—"

"It's not like he'll be mad at you—"

"Kakashi is one of your best jounin, you can't afford to have him dead—"

"Oh." Jiraiya realized, eyes widening. Seeing Kakashi's hurt expression he backtracks. "Well, it's the future! The future! Older you is probably expecting it, anyway."

"If he plays dead after fifteen minutes or so, Jiraiya will back off!"

"Tsunade. How could you." Naruto mumbles, shaking his head. Tsunade looks at him, then giggles and ruffles his hair. Naruto peeks up at her from under long bangs, and unwillingly a smile curls the right side of his lips.

At this point he's spent far too long in this hospital and Tsunade, quite accustomed to the instinctual dislike of hospitals all ninja have, just scoffs. "Go home brat, and get some good food in you. As I recall, Katsu—"

He's already gone. Tsunade sighs in exasperation. "He was just waiting for confirmation she was home wasn't he?"

"Ooh, he's gotten fast." Minato mumbles.

That's exactly what Naruto was waiting for. A quick shower later, he is burrowing into the downy soft sheets of the bed, and curling around Katsu quite like the boa constrictor Anko showed them once just to brag. Katsu, to her credit, simply accept this and takes special care to make sure her arms are wrapped around Naruto in a hug just as securely.

"And that chapter, thank the kamis, is over." Jiraiya sighs, shutting the book and dropping it on the table.

"I need a drink, who's with me?" Tsunade rises up, looking over at them.

Every hand rises. "I am!"


Well how about it folks? Reviews are quite interesting to read, you know. We've got two more fillers to go, then VotE! Woo! Woo!

Love,

Bloody Mad~3