Caliburn Initiative 12
Twelfth Step: A Normal Day in the Life of a Professional Butt Monkey
Disclaimer: I do not own anything. You know the rest.
Author notes: Hmmm….. Kishi has a fetish for skirts?
Kishi: I hate you sister. I hate you so much.
Kur0: Says the bastard who openly told everyone I'm a lolicon. Which I am not. I just like their… design.
Kishi: Design. Is that what they're calling it these days?
Naruto breathed in deeply before slowly exhaling as a titanic mass of golden energy, streaked with red, wreathed above him, slowly twisting itself into two long wormy shapes before springing back into its original form of a sphere.
The massive chamber he was in was ringed by Japanese styled shrines, mental metaphors for the seal keeping the roiling mass of chakra in check.
A tiny frown made itself apparent on the blond's furrowed brows as he breathed in deeply again and the sphere above him twitched once more before it stretched, separating into two long strands that intertwined itself into a beautiful symmetrical double helix shaped halo that spanned the entire room.
"Still took me the better part of two hours to do even that." The blond calmly noted without opening his eyes.
"One does not usually expect to achieve instant and perfect control over all the chakra of a nine tailed fox with only two hours of work." The booming voice deadpanned.
"2 hours minimum a day for the past few years actually." Naruto amended cheerfully.
"To do something I learned the very moment I was born, but then again you're human. It's expected I suppose." The massive kitsune chuffed quietly, or as quietly as something as huge as him could, "Still. I do not deny that it's a massive improvement. Before you could not even interface with it without my help unless you wanted it to burn your mind into ash."
"Technically, I can do it myself. It just wouldn't last as long without your help."
"I still don't see why you insist that I have to do this." The blond commented as he heaved himself to his feet with a sigh.
"Even if you insist on stubbornly refusing on accessing my chakra, and have not done so in active battle for the past 3 years, it does not mean that you should simply let a resource go to waste no?" The old fox countered mildly.
"That's mostly because I've handled everything in the past few years with my other jutsu and spells just fine. Seriously, if I could deal with them with just that, there was no reason whatsoever to bust out the big cannons. That'd be like pulling out a Rasen Shuriken to kill an ant." Naruto squinted into the darkness, "Also, why the hell are you skulking around in the shadows like that?"
"I'm sleepy and that room is too bright." The fox replied blandly, "But yes, I do acknowledge your point. Even so, I don't think that that's a good reason to neglect your training in this area, no? Besides, you yourself have mentioned several times that you've been running into more and more roadblocks when it comes to expanding your jutsu arsenal haven't you?"
"It would certainly help if I had some pointers. Kinda wish Kakashi or Jiraiya thought of throwing a notebook or something in with me in that void. Maybe even Tsunade-baachan's medical diary or something. I wouldn't have been able to do a damn thing with my control, but it'd have given me some idea of where to go instead of just messing around." Naruto grumbled under his breath.
"But they didn't. So instead of worrying about that, why not put that time to more constructive use instead?"
"You're being reasonable." Naruto gasped in mock horror, "You're never reasonable. It's a miracle."
"I feel offended. I will now squish you."
The blond chuckled as he waved and slowly faded away like an old photograph.
Once the blond's presence was completely gone, only then did a patch of the shadows move, slowly and painstakingly before collapsing on the ground with a tired groan.
Lindy smiled patiently as she waited for the blond boy sitting on the couch to finish his daily meditation. It was not a practice she was personally familiar with, but if Naruto enjoyed it then she wasn't going to disturb him.
The blond slowly opened his baby blue eyes and then smiled crookedly at her, "Lindy. Is there anything I can help you with?"
Lindy placed her customary cup of liberally sweetened green tea on to the table with a gentle smile, "It's nothing. I simply figured I'd talk to you."
"It has been a while." Naruto agreed politely.
"And? Chrono has mentioned to me that you rejected his offer to be stationed on the Arthra."
The blond merely shrugged, "I just didn't feel like getting tied to one place yet."
"I've heard. I don't really have access to TSAB files anymore, but some of my friends have been keeping me up to date." She eyed him shrewdly, "Especially about you and your little escapades that don't seem to tally up with the official records."
"You keep tabs on me?" Naruto inquired with a quirked eyebrow.
"I keep tabs on all of you." Lindy corrected, her long green hair rustling as she edged a little closer to the boy, "I know you don't agree, but I DO think of all three of you as my own children, and no parent likes to see their children injured." She said softly.
"Thank you." Naruto said simply with a wry smile, "I'll remember to do something nice for Leti when I see her again."
"She'll deny everything." Lindy commented with a smirk.
"She has a son doesn't she? I remember seeing him around the Academy. Fairly tall, serious kid."
Lindy's eyes twinkled, "Usually has a girl following him around too. Friends of course. Just. Friends. Would be nice if you could give them a… nudge."
"Why do I get the impression that the two of you have discussed *cough*gossiped*cough* this several times already?" Naruto asked himself rhetorically, "That aside, I'm pretty sure he's not even 15 yet."
"Never hurts to get started early." The former admiral declared with all the conviction and resolve of a professional match maker.
"I'm sure Leti doesn't mind either." The blond noted dryly.
"Babies banzai…." Naruto echoed with a complete lack of enthusiasm and an eye roll.
"Mou… you and Chrono are exactly the same. Both of you don't have a single romantic bone in your bodies."
"He's spending more time with Amy than he is with his ero-games now. I'd at least consider that an improvement. Sort of."
"True. True." Lindy mused to herself, "Maybe there's still hope for him. Even if his idea of a date consists of weekend trips to Akihabara."
"At least he admits that he thinks it's a date."
Naruto mentally made a note to do something nice for Chrono in return for essentially throwing him under the BABIES bus.
"Mou… noisy…" the two of them heard the sound of shuffling as Fate meandered into the living room, rubbing her eyes blearily with one hand while the other held a snoring puppy that was Arf.
Padding over to Lindy, Fate seemed to automatically give her a hug before happily curling up on Lindy's lap, burying her face in Arf's fur.
Naruto swore he could practically see Lindy's eyes start to sparkle brightly as she fondly ran a hand through Fate's hair while her maternal instincts basically went into overdrive.
"You know, Fate's gonna graduate in a few months, and then she's going to be a full member of the TSAB."
"I know." Lindy noted with a slightly sad smile as she gazed at him, "So are you though."
Naruto shrugged, "We'll see how it goes. Unlike Fate, I don't really have a concrete idea of what I want to do. If I want to do anything at all."
"That's just how she is. She'll excel and fly through the ranks until she becomes an Enforcer in record time because that's just how she does things. But that doesn't mean that you have to compare yourself to her. It's perfectly alright for you to drift around until you find something you would like for sure." Lindy assured him with a warm smile.
As the blond shinobi merely nodded awkwardly, Fate curled up even tighter and nuzzled Lindy's hand, prompting the green haired mage to smile softly, "Not even a year ago, Fate-chan was still too scared to hug me. But now, every time she does this, my heart swells, and all I can say is that I would have willingly taken any amount of leave if I had to just so that I can help her grow up into the person she should be."
Behind her, a dark haired head warily peeked in and made eye contact with Naruto as they had a brief mental conversation that went along the lines of:
'She's going sappy again isn't she?'
'When is she NOT sappy?'
'She always did want a daughter.'
'She certainly got one.'
'Y'know, if you at least responded a little, she'd probably pamper you six ways to Sunday as well.'
'So she'd target me instead of you?'
'Such a devoted son.'
'This has nothing to do with devotion whatsoever. When Kaa-san gets going, nothing stops her and I don't deal with the touchy feely stuff very well.'
'Neither do I. Now get your otaku ass in here and give me a distraction so I can get away.'
'I'll owe you.'
'Remember what you said yesterday about never getting you back?'
'I also heard something about… ero-games…'
'One day, when we're older, we're going to look back on this and regret that we weren't wise enough to realize how much Kaa-san cares about us, but for now, all I can say is that revenge is really, really sweet.'
'Good luck. I will remember your sacrifice.'
The door closed quietly and Naruto resigned himself to what was going to be a very long morning.
Later that day, Naruto found himself relaxing on the rooftop, chewing on a blade of grass as he daydreamed and watched the clouds pass by above him aimlessly. Class was already over, or at least he thought it was.
He had skipped the last few so that he could here and relax a little.
"What are you hiding up here for?"
So much for relaxing.
"I'm not hiding."
"The same way you're not avoiding Hayate-chan like she's the plague?"
The blond winced, prompting a knowing smirk from Nanoha.
"How did you even track me down?" The blond asked mulishly.
"Because you only ever hide in high places." Nanoha commented indifferently, "Well that and Fate-chan told me. She'd come find you herself, but she promised to help tutor some of our seniors in Math."
Naruto snorted, "Seniors? High school seniors? Really? I can't imagine those idiots taking lessons from a junior."
"It's Fate-chan. She gets along with everyone." Nanoha simply shrugged as if that explained everything, which it did, "So? Why are you running from Hayate-chan like a scared rabbit?"
Naruto squinted at her, "You already know, so why are you asking?"
"I think it's because you and Reinforce-chan decided to be a pair of idiots and handle everything yourselves instead of letting us know, and now you're afraid because you are perfectly aware Hayate-chan absolutely hates it when someone tries to keep her in the dark 'for her own good' so to speak, but rather than facing her directly, you're running away." Nanoha replied bluntly, "But I wanted to hear it from you yourself."
"Ahh… so that's why you're not beating me up yet." The blond muttered under his breath.
"The reason I'm not beating you up yet is because I haven't decided what is the most painful way of making absolutely sure that you won't ever go and do something behind our backs again. I'm pretty sure Fate-chan more or less has the same idea. She's just going to be a lot more subtle about it than I am." Nanoha deadpanned, "And that has nothing to do with you doing your best to avoid Hayate-chan."
"Ugh." Naruto rolled onto his face and lay there like a dead fish, "I'm mentally 20 years old. Why the hell am I so afraid of a kid, awesomely cute accent notwithstanding, hating me?"
Nanoha smirked, "Was it really that hard to admit?"
"Yes. My ego is fragile and easily bruised." The blond deadpanned.
"Boys and their egos." Nanoha rolled her eyes with exasperation.
A muffled chuckle came from the facedown boy as Nanoha sat down next to him on the roof's ledge with a sigh, "Really. I'm only 12 years old and even I know that what you did was stupid."
"It's precisely because you, Fate and Hayate are 12 years old that Rin and me refused to even let you three know in the first place." Naruto pointed out with a muffled huff, "We're older. Or in Rin's case, helluva lot older, so we can deal with it."
"You call her Rin?"
"Yeah? It's shorter."
"Does Fate-chan know you do that?"
"Why would she?"
He curiously looked up to see a massive shit eating grin plastered Nanoha's face.
"Why… are you smiling like all your birthdays just came at the same time?"
"Blackmail. So much blackmail."
"Wow. Everything I've said and the first thing you picked up on is the fact that I call Reinforce, Rin?"
"Well… she's the only person that you call with a sweet nickname."
"I give everyone nicknames."
"Emphasis on the sweet."
Naruto groaned as he sat up in frustration, "What is it with you and Lindy and all this romantic crap? Can I not just be friends with someone?"
"Of course you can. But seeing as you're like my slightly older, much more crazier, adopted brother, it is my sincerest wish to see you coupled, assuming we can find someone stupid enough to accept you, and kissing, preferably somewhere where I can't see you, and doing embarrassing lovey dovey stuff, while I squee about it with Fate-chan and Hayate-chan, but there you go."
"Wow. I read between the lines and realized that you basically just told me to my face that it's your dearest wish to humiliate me as much as possible."
Nanoha tilted her head, "I guess you could put it that way."
"You're such a good friend Pigtails. Please note the sarcasm."
The auburn haired girl's shit eating grin grew even larger, "So…. What do you like about her?"
Naruto groaned louder.
"No really. Please~? I really, really wanna know."
The blond stared at her impassively.
"You might as well give up." She commented in a sing song tone, "If you tell me, I'll even re-consider beating you up. I might even tell Fate and Hayate, then they'll stop thinking about beating you up too!"
"That's….. totally not making me want to tell you anything ever again. Emphasis on the ever."
Nanoha clambered over to the blond and happily plopped her chin on his head as she repeatedly poked his side, "Awww… please? If anything, I think it's really sweet that you went out of your way to protect her alone even if Hayate-chan disagrees."
"You are insane and I want no part of this mess."
"I think I'd rather just go and talk to Hayate and get it done with."
"Eeeh? That's no fun… what are you going to tell her?"
"Simple. I'll just blame you."
"What? How the heck is this my fault?"
"I never said it's your fault. Doesn't mean I can't blame you anyway."
"What kind of shitty logic is that?"
Naruto chuckled as he bumped Nanoha away because she was getting a little too heavy for him, no matter what Fate said.
"I didn't do it because I like her or anything of the sort." Naruto murmured with a sigh of long suffering, knowing full well that the girl would absolutely not leave him alone until he came out with it, "I just want to see her really smile for once."
Nanoha had to literally force herself to not bounce up and down.
The Uzumaki merely smiled wryly at the girl's big sparkly eyes, "Don't get me wrong. It has nothing to do with romance. I just love watching people. I fall again and again each time I see their faces light up, the way their mood shifts when touched by compassion or sadness, their smile when someone tells them they are beautiful. The way they walk their dog, or the way their dog walks them."
He met her eyes and his clear sapphire eyes burned with an inner fire, "The way you tap your toes when you listen to music, the way you get lost in thought whenever you think no one is watching, the way you openly snore when you sleep with Fate, the way the two of you sing, or passionately fight for something you believe in."
"I love watching people, but what I truly love is witnessing people bare their deepest, most authentic self and sentiments to this world. Rin is one of those people that I feel simply never had the chance to enjoy the world the way it was meant to, so she's built this frigid wall around her, a fortress that stops her from hoping too much, from showing how warm and sweet she really is because she still has that sword hanging over her head the entire time, because she thinks it'll just be a bittersweet dream in a never-ending nightmare."
Naruto sighed and ran his right hand, the one that still shook occasionally, through his hair, "To a certain extent, I can understand how she feels. Part of being stuck in the void where I was found was that there was nothing but a deafening silence, an inky all-consuming blackness. I could see nothing, I could hear nothing. I had nothing. It didn't take long before I could literally feel my psyche and personality fracturing to deal with all that nothing. Even now, it still feels like this is all just part of my imagination and I'll wake up again, with nothing around me. That's why I want to be there to prove to her that it's fine to let herself smile a bit, because I'll be there to stop anything from taking it away from her."
"Okay, okay." She sighed softly and leaned into the blond's shoulder to reassure him.
He probably didn't even notice, but the mere act of talking about his time in space still caused him to tremble uncontrollably. It would stop after a few minutes, but she knew that he wasn't going to be able to use that right hand with any degree of accuracy for a while longer.
"If I tried to beat you up after all that, I'd be a pretty terrible friend." She commented airily.
"You already are a terrible friend. Not beating me up after that would just make you a slightly less than terrible friend." The blond teased her with a grin.
Nanoha glanced at him sourly, "I can still tell Hayate-chan AND Reinforce-chan everything you said."
Naruto simply held his hands up in surrender with a crooked smile.
Nanoha scratched her chin, "Alright, I'll go with you to talk with Hayate-chan. We'll see if she'll let you off as long as you promise us that you and Reinforce-chan aren't going to go off and do something stupid again."
She eyed him distrustfully, to which the blond merely chuckled and nodded.
The auburn haired girl huffed with satisfaction at the blond's acquiescence, "Good boy. Now let's go and deal with this and then we'll see if we can't help Reinforce properly." She stood up and pointed at him imperially, "Our school trip is in less than a month, and our TSAB finals are right after that. I'd really not have you carrying all that baggage around if I can help it. After all, I can't study if Fate is too busy worrying about you."
"Chop, chop! No more running!"
"Straight forward as usual I see." Naruto muttered distastefully.
"You say that like it's a bad thing."
The sweet tempered girl with short brown hair stopped contemplating the best way to burn her Math homework when she heard her name being called and looked up.
Then she slowly smirked at the blond shuffling into her classroom behind an energetic Nanoha with a hangdog expression.
"Uh… Yo?" The blond temporarily met her gaze before he averted it again, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly the entire time.
Hayate very deliberately wheeled her wheelchair about so that she could look at him straight in the face, "Is that it?" She questioned him in a deceptively mild tone that had Naruto studying his shoes very intensely.
"Good evening?" He tried again.
Hayate stared at him a bit longer, just so she could make him squirm a little longer, before she finally sighed with great exasperation.
"Really, it's bad enough that all those naughty kids are doing it, but did you have to go and join them? I thought you were on my side."
"In my defence, I was on your side the last time because you were actively involved. This time, it was a personal favour for Rin, and I was fairly sure I could handle it by myself." Naruto hedged sheepishly.
Her eyebrow slowly rose at that and she exchanged a quick glance with the grinning Nanoha who was perfectly happy to watch the whole drama unfold without her input.
"In other words, you're not really sorry at all are you?"
Naruto grimaced, "I can't say I really am."
Her eyebrow slowly rose again, "So if Reinforce-chan asked you to do it all over again, and hide it from us for her, you'd do it?"
"If she can justify her reasons for you guys should be excluded, then I don't really see why not." Naruto admitted, "Granted, it would have been better that all of you were let in from the get go but to be honest, that's it. Given the choice, I wouldn't have wanted any of you near Dead Meat any more than she does."
"So you'd tell us you were in danger, but then you wouldn't let us help. That's some really selfish thoughts right there." Hayate sighed to herself before she smiled wryly, "But I guess that's just how the two of you work."
Naruto blinked dolefully, "So… you're not angry with me? You don't hate me?"
Naruto deflated slightly.
"But I don't hate you. Besides, I already pretty much figured you weren't sorry at all." Hayate noted dryly.
The blond merely chuckled wistfully, "Sorry about that I guess."
"You're as bad as the rest, if not worse. Hard headed and almost completely impossible to reason with once you get something into that thick nut you call a head." Hayate scolded him with an affectionate smile.
"You're not the first to say that to me." Naruto sat down with a rueful smile, "Forgive me?"
Hayate smiled gently and leaned forward to hug the taller boy, "You're my friend, Naruto-kun. You're always forgiven."
The blond grinned, "That was easier than I thought."
"I didn't think I was that scary." Hayate sighed and folded her arms, "So? What's the plan?"
Naruto blinked, "Why would you think I have a plan?"
"The better question here would be, why would we NOT think you have a plan?" Nanoha added dryly, "In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you already have several in place if this place was ever attacked for some strange reason."
"I have two actually." Naruto admitted quietly, "The first if no one is around, and the second, if there are still students."
"Thank you, for making my point for me." The auburn haired girl commented sarcastically.
Naruto simply shrugged uncaringly in reply before turning his attention back to Hayate, "I know that beyond the preliminary health checks, Rin avoids Mid like it's her own personal hell. But I wanted to know if you would let me introduce her to a friend of mine."
"For? And who is this friend you're talking about? Wait, you have friends?"
"….." Naruto eyed Hayate for a very long moment, then he turned to glare at a completely unrepentant, widely grinning Nanoha, "Must you destroy my reputation every time you open your mouth about me?"
"Hey. You like to tease us, so why can't I tease you?"
"I hate you."
"You just can't admit you love it."
"I love it like I love mosquitoes in summer."
Hayate rolled her eyes and then clapped loudly so that the two of them would stop bickering like an old married couple for a moment, "Moving on. You said introduce Rein to someone. Why?"
"She's good with programs and software." Naruto shrugged, "Handles most of our Devices at the Academy as well. I've even seen her do some amazing things with them. And seeing as none of us have any inkling about how any of these programs work, I don't see why we can't get help from someone who might. And even if she doesn't, she'll be able to at least point us to someone who does."
"Fair enough." Hayate said after a long thoughtful moment, "I've asked Rein about this, but it seems like she doesn't have administrative access to any of the Book of the Night Sky's programming, just the library. The damage seems to have affected her memory so she can't remember why either, so your friend might able to help us clear the road block so to speak." She met Naruto's curious gaze, "When do you think you'll be able to set up this meeting?"
"The sooner the better I suppose." Naruto scratched his chin thoughtfully, "I'm going back to Mid in a week since I need to drop off something for the old lady, but I'm not sure if she'll be around then. At most I'll be able to bring her up to speed and let her know what I plan, then we can arrange a time. Preferably before the school trip I guess. Transport won't be an issue, so I'd tentatively say a couple of days after that?"
Hayate sighed with a tiny bit of relief.
Things were not solved yet.
Far from it.
But for the first time in the past day, it seemed like there was some hope for Reinforce.
"Very well. Please do so, Naruto-kun."
"I'll get ready then." The blond replied brusquely as he got up and left the room without saying anything else.
"Ah… so he's not going to get punished?"
"I said he's forgiven. I certainly never said anything about not getting punished."
The two of them exchanged looks and then began to giggle evilly.
One week later.
Anthony, or Ant, as he asked everyone to call him looked up from the mess of circuits he had been peering at on his desk, and smiled faintly.
"Yo, yourself. How was your holiday back on Earth?" The 16 year old rumbled back.
"Stressful." Naruto replied dryly as he threw his duffle bag on the camp bed he had claimed as his own.
"Should I assume that means you blew something up again? Because as far as I recall, you're not due back here quite this early."
"Nothing too valuable." Naruto quirked his lips into a crooked smile, "I just came back here to hand in my report to Crowbel."
The large boy pushed back his goggles to scrutinize the blond, "You had another mission? Why was I not told?"
"There wasn't supposed to be any combat. Simple in and out."
"You said supposed." The large boy said accusingly.
"Supposed." The shinobi shrugged, "A Logia activated in the middle of some ruins. The locals there called us in because they had no idea what it was other than the fact that it was powerful to affect the planet's magnetic field and generate constant earthquakes. I didn't think it was necessary for you to come since I was just going to drop in on my way back to Earth."
Naruto winced, "The ruins were Al Hazredian."
Ant stared at him, "So?"
Most of the missions the blond tended to get were usually related to the Al Hazredians in one or way to another. Especially when the missions involved Al Hazredian ruins that were infamous for their ridiculously complex, lethal and highly advanced traps that seemed to operate outside of any conventional magic TSAB knew about.
Even a full team composed of A rank mages usually had a 40% fatality rate. And that was if it was an easy mission.
Which was why he had been utterly confused when he found out that THE Crowbel-sama had entrusted these sort of missions to the maniac blond until he realized that the Al Hazredian defence systems seem to ignore the idiot for some incomprehensible reason. In fact, the boy had even shown a limited ability to interface with the systems and control them to a certain extent.
Of course, that didn't stop the blond from dragging him alone and then triggering the traps anyway for some extra 'excitement'.
He hadn't quite recovered from their last trip together, and that one had been about half a year ago.
"The locals completely failed to tell us that there were some nomadic tribe that lived around the ruins. Of course, they might not have thought it was significant enough to inform us about but I'm not quite willing to give them the benefit of the doubt after I had to recover in a cave for a week."
"You're still avoiding the topic." Ant noted blandly.
The blond groaned with mild embarrassment, "Turned out they were the descendants of the people who guarded the facility and had passed down the activation sequences like some sort of heirloom rituals. And when they noticed me, they ahh…. performed the rituals, which of course triggered the defense system."
"Again, so? You activate the damn things all the time." Ant pointed out reasonably, "Why was this one any different?"
"Because Al Hazredian traps tend to have two modes. Capture or kill." Naruto deadpanned, "I've never triggered the kill sequence before in case you were wondering."
Ant quirked one eyebrow, "I seem to faintly remember nearly dying a few times anyway."
Naruto childishly stuck his tongue out at the larger boy, "That's cause you're a weakling."
"Whatever." Ant leaned forward with more interest, "So you're saying they triggered the kill sequence? What did it do? How was it different from the usual modes?"
"It started the self-destruct sequence for one. I had to find that Logia in a real hurry, stop the ruins from immolating the entire planet, and that doesn't even take into account the fact that the defence system also summoned two huge honking dragons," The blond deadpanned, "Dragons that proceeded to chase my tail halfway across the planet and blasting everything to pieces in the process."
Ant snorted with amusement, "The fact that you're here and talking to me means that you either escaped them long enough to complete your mission, or more likely, you got annoyed enough to blast both of them into space."
"The latter." Naruto admitted sheepishly, "On a completely unrelated note, if you ever go to Alzus and encounter the natives, never mentioned the word Uzumaki to them."
"Oh? And why would I not want to do that?"
"Because, in their language, the word Uzumaki now means 'Destroyer of Moons.' And they will automatically try to murder you if you do." The blond muttered under his breath.
"They were actually more like slightly larger than normal asteroids orbiting the planet." Naruto hedged.
A grin slowly spread on Ant's lips as he refused to relent, "Plural?"
"There were two dragons." Naruto grumbled defensively.
"And you somehow managed to line them up with a moon? Twice?"
Naruto slumped down with a cloud of despair, "When you've got two fucking huge jaws trying to turn you into lunch when they're not busy launching stupid ass humongous bolts of lightning and lava at you, you tend to forget about the little stuff."
"The little stuff like aiming?"
Naruto began to sob comically, "Like aiming." He agreed petulantly.
Ant guffawed as he turned back to his circuitry, "Crowbel-sama is going to mutilate your dead body. After she castrates you."
"I know." The shinobi sniffed despondently, "I had to spend approximately half my life savings to buy enough alcohol to fill a warship."
"Fair enough. You really should get that looked at though."
"Get what looked at?"
Sitting down on the edge of the bed, Naruto squinted at the other boy who was messing with the electronics on his desk. His huge ape like hands dancing about delicately on the tiny processors like he had been born with tweezers instead of fingers.
"You're the only person I know who can things to explode by simply being in the vicinity. Valuable stuff, like pottery, buildings… moons... It's practically a curse, don't you think?"
There was a minor puff of smoke as the pile of circuitry promptly exploded in Anthony's face, leaving the boy sitting there with wide eyes and a soot darkened face.
He slowly turned around and glared at Naruto, "You see? That was going perfectly fine until you walked in."
Naruto chuckled weakly at that, "You were the one that insisted that we stayed in the same room. Plus, how certain are you that that was my fault and not yours?"
Ant merely glared at him even harder before turning back to his work grumpily.
"Besides, can doctors even fix something like that?"
"They'd probably start by checking if your head is screwed on straight." Ant grumbled to himself snidely.
"All that would do is just tell them what we all already know." Naruto replied whimsically, "Besides, even if they could, why would I want to get rid of such an awesome curse?"
Ant gave him the middle finger without even looking around as he tried to salvage what he could from his project, "In case you haven't noticed, this is our final project. I can't really afford to re-do the whole thing again if you keep blowing it up by just by looking in my general direction."
"To be fair, we haven't really decided if that was caused by me or you." Naruto pointed out with a grin as he received another middle finger in reply.
"Even if it wasn't you, your presence certainly distracted me from finishing this highly sensitive, superbly complicated piece of art. Therefore, by default, you did it."
The blond merely rolled his eyes as he retrieved his white scarf from the bag and wrapped it around his neck with an insulted sniff, "Fine, fine. Be a sourpuss. I'll just go and hand in my report."
Humming to himself, the blond left their little room and promptly stopped outside with a shiver.
Actually, now that he thought about it, he really didn't feel like dying quite that soon.
Looking around desperately for any excuse not to meet Crowbel yet, the blond set off without a destination in mind.
Despite the fact that he was only a little past 15, puberty had essentially bitch slapped Anthony with a dump truck. The nearly 16 year old boy towered above nearly everyone in their Academy and was a far cry from the scrawny gardener's kid Naruto had met 3 years ago and one seriously talented mechanic has far as their classes went.
Which was probably a good thing.
The only reason he hadn't been booted out of the Academy yet was because Anthony didn't mind doing the work for both their parts.
Provided Naruto stayed a minimum of 10 meters away at all times that is.
Or as Ant had oh-so-eloquently put it, 'You can't even use a goddamned microwave without blowing it up. Now GTFO.'
He had been tempted to ask what GTFO meant, but Ant had already booted him out of the dormitory by then.
Not to mention he was perfectly okay with ovens.
As long as they were of the knobs and buttons variety.
Either way, it was kinda ironic.
The blond had repeated this many times already but it never seemed to get past the idiot's head that just because his own energy pool would probably never hit even AA-rank in his life time, it didn't mean that he was a failure. As long as he played to his strengths, the boy would certainly have been one of the stronger fighters around as Naruto had noted many times over, but Ant absolutely refused to accept the fact that his direct combat capacity was limited by his smaller energy pool and he trained with Naruto every day to overcome it.
For the sake of reference, the only other person to attempt it, a nun who had caught them running on the Church walls and then tried to chase them down, had had to be hospitalized after severe dehydration and a torn ligament.
The blond had even developed something of a grudging respect for the other boy, which was the only reason why he hadn't murdered Ant when he insisted on moving in to the same room.
That said, their training was mostly physical in nature and didn't really enhance Ant's pool by very much but that didn't really matter because when someone built like a brick shithouse was trying to rip your head off with his fists, you tended to stop worrying about the little details like the fact that the gorilla trying his best to pound you into fine paste with his bare fists was still only a C rank mage at best.
Nowadays, all Anthony had to do for their weekly practical battles was show up, tower in the middle of the arena and glare at his comparatively puny opponent before his opponent either a) fainted, b) pissed himself or c) both of the above.
Naruto would never admit it, but that had been seriously awesome.
Unfortunately, as Naruto liked to lament to himself occasionally, he would probably never be as well built as Ant, or as tall for that matter, though he did appreciate the greater speed and flexibility his own more slender build afforded him.
People still tended to think that he was a pushover whenever they met him for the first time.
They kept thinking that right up until they realized that the sleepy looking blond's entire fighting strategy consisted of throwing down a basic shield spell and then not giving another fuck until they either knocked themselves out from energy exhaustion trying to break his shield or give up.
It was surprisingly effective as far as battles went.
He never shielded the ground, so it was no one's fault but their own if they failed to think out of the box.
The fact that he got an extra hour of sleep each morning was just an added bonus as far as he was concerned.
The blond blinked as he refocused on the world around him, realizing for a moment that his feet had automatically taken him to the Church wall that he regularly used as his own personal obstacle course much to the frustration of the guards… and every other living person inside it, who had to wake up earlllyyy in morning to the sound of blaring alarms….
Dodging rapid fire lasers, spikes and the occasional nun/priest always kept things a little fresh.
"What's up, yellow."
The girl in nun's robes who had standing outside the gate, apparently watering flowers if the watering can in her hands was any indication, simply frowned at him, though Naruto was fairly sure that she was the only person he knew that could make even frowning look pretty, "Your hair is as yellow as mine. Do you call yourself yellow?"
"Nope." Naruto replied glibly, "I don't really talk to myself all that often actually," He tapped his forehead with one finger, "It's a little too noisy up here to do that peacefully. Of course, when I DO have to talk to myself, I tend to call myself the Great and Awesome Uzumaki-sama."
He tilted his head innocently, "Would you like me to call you the Great and Awesome Uzumaki-sama too?"
The nun shuddered, "Please don't. That would be… unpleasant."
"Okay then." He squinted at her for a moment, "Is in Nou-san in the hospital again? Because that's the only way you'd get out here without triggering an alarm."
The nun rolled her eyes and somehow managed to make it look refined, "You exaggerate. I'm hardly important enough to need a body guard just to go around watering my own flowers, besides this is still within Church territory." She glanced at him shrewdly, "You would know wouldn't you? You've run around our walls and caused us no end of trouble enough times as it is. The fact that you do it at 4am every morning doesn't really help either."
"It depends." Naruto conceded with a grin, "I only do that when I'm bored of the usual routine and I need some challenge. It just so happens that I'm bored most of the time. That and watching Ant curse and run in terror is always fun." He added thoughtfully.
The blond nun quirked one amused brow at him, "Are you trying to tell me that you intentionally trigger our security systems just so that you can entertain yourself by dodging everything the Church throws at you?"
"Pretty much." Naruto deadpanned, "Of course. It's really only fun when Nou-san joins us too. Everyone else just plain fails."
"The first time she tried, she had to be hospitalized." The golden haired nun reminded him with a delicate quirk of her glossy lips, stopping just short of an amused smile.
"Which is exactly she gets the honour of a nickname." Naruto retorted with a childish grin, "She did her best even if she knew that she couldn't match up. I don't dislike that kind of spirit. The rest of your guards on the other hand, used magic to fly and still failed to catch two Academy students. Bear in mind that they've had three years to do it, they had the full might of the Church's defence system throwing everything short of the book at us and the only person to come close in all that time was practically a newbie. Who has only gotten closer ever since if I might add."
"Nouera-san was always a little competitive." The golden haired nun conceded with a proud smile.
"On a completely unrelated note, why does a Church even need such a sophisticated and complicated defence system?"
The nun eyed him with surprise, "You don't know?"
"Would I have asked if I did?" The blond deadpanned.
"Sorry, there was a really big ruckus about it, so I had assumed that everyone would have been informed."
"Ruckus? I don't remember anything like that in the Mid papers though…"
"It wasn't in the papers because it was decided that the civilians didn't need to know that someone had managed to steal a priceless artefact from the Church," The nun whispered conspiratorially, "The Shroud of the Sankt Kaiser to be exact. One of the last few intact pieces of her legacy."
The blond male whistled quietly, "That must have been quite the blow."
The nun bowed her head, "It was. It's also why the Church has drastically upgraded their defence systems with the help of TSAB."
"Defence systems notwithstanding, you should probably do something about the people operating them." Naruto commented lightly, "A system is only as good as the people controlling it and I'm not impressed by what I've seen so far."
"As much as I dislike it… I do acknowledge your point regarding my men. Perhaps you would like to join us as a trainer?" The woman inquired delicately, "You are on the verge of graduating are you not?"
Naruto merely quirked one eyebrow as he suddenly got the suspicion that this meeting had not been coincidental at all.
"That would involve staying in one spot and submitting to the Church's authority rather than the TSAB. None of which I plan to do anytime soon." Naruto pointed out as he leaned on the wall next to the blonde girl since he figured simply walking away would be a tad impolite.
"Technically the Church is part of the TSAB as well." The nun pointed out with a serene smile as she continued to water her flowers, "And while I do not have that authority yet, it probably wouldn't be too difficult to arrange for a few external missions for you if you wished. So there wouldn't really be much difference."
"I'm aware." Naruto admitted plainly, "It doesn't really change the fact that I have an aversion to any sort of organization really."
"But you work with Crowbel and the TSAB."
"I don't really work with them," the blond hedged, "I see myself as more of an independent contractor. Which is exactly why I only run missions for the old lady and will continue to do so even after I graduate. She knows my opinion on this, and she agrees with them somewhat. So I'm typically dispatched on missions where the Logias existence are explicitly driving the rate of progress for the local population to unsustainable levels or missions where a stealthy, surgical insertion would be more valuable than a full team."
He shrugged casually.
The shinobi was already well aware that the nun already had operative access to his files due to her rank in the Church so he didn't really see any reason to hide anything, "Of course, I won't deny that direct combat is occasionally necessary as well but the least I can do in that case is shut it down quickly and extract before any further damage is done."
"Ahh…." The light of understanding dawned in her midnight blue eyes. She finished her watering and gracefully set her watering can down so she could primly lean on the wall next to him, "So why the aversion?"
"The easy answer would be that there's too many rules I'm not interested in following." The blond replied casually.
"And the hard answer?" The nun questioned with great interest.
Naruto pursed his lips thoughtfully and mulled on his answer for a long silent moment.
"By default I don't think that TSAB's goals are wrong." Naruto started by way of explanation, "I know how destructive certain Logias can get, myself included." he conceded blandly, "My problem with that is who gave them that right? The right to arbitrarily enter a system and retrieve Logias? To store them and dictate who can or cannot use them when they themselves have any number of operations and research running on the very Logias they are supposed to keep hidden from the wrong hands?"
Naruto quirked his lips, "For that matter, could you even say that TSAB's hands are the right hands?"
"That's what the Church is for." The nun rebuked him gently after her own pause, "We provide oversight. Ensure that the Logias are not misused. That's why while none of us have any Executive power in the TSAB, some of us do have a position in the TSAB for administrative purposes. Not only that, you are putting it in a misleading manner." The golden haired nun pointed out challengingly, "Can you tell me how many planets we have saved from an untimely activation? Can you tell me how many people would have died if they had accidentally triggered something they had no knowledge about?"
"Enough." Naruto conceded with a grudging smile as he thought of his last mission.
"In other words, moral arguments aside, you think TSAB is doing the right thing."
"And yet you choose to argue, rather hypocritically if I might add, considering the fact that you yourself have retrieved a rather significant amount of Logias for the TSAB, that you don't trust them?"
The blond smiled thinly, "You are the only person I've met so far who can counter my arguments with pure logic and somehow make it seem easy, you know that right?"
The nun smiled gracefully as she accepted the compliment.
He spread his hands with a wistful smile, "Ultimately I know it's just my past bias colouring my opinion on things. The TSAB has been running for a little over six decades now I think, and it's worked thus far. Maybe you're right and there's no reason to believe it will fail in the near future."
"Past bias?" The nun dug inquired curiously.
"Let's just say that for every tree, there's always at least one rotten root." The blond commented cryptically.
"And yet by your own words, you admit that you trust Crowbel to do this without hiding anything from you."
Naruto chuckled to himself, "It would not be wrong to say that the old lady is currently one of only six people I fully trust in the TSAB. Don't tell her that though. She'll get sappy."
"But you still refuse to believe in TSAB."
"It's not that I don't believe in the TSAB." The blond shrugged indolently, "As long as people like you and Crowbel are around, I don't believe for a moment that TSAB will deviate from its path because people like you are too strong minded, too kind, too compassionate to let it do so. The problem here that it's not my problem to begin with. It's not my world." Naruto finished simply.
"And yet, you seem to be doing your best to make sure things don't fall apart, Fortress-kun. The question here, is why?"
"I hate that name. It implies that I'm sort of stupid hero." He muttered half-heartedly as he glanced at the gleaming towers in the distance that formed the core of TSAB's Headquarters, "Whatever the reason, whenever I look at the TSAB, I can't help but see a bloody huge sign telling me that something doesn't quite tally. Maybe I'm being paranoid, maybe I'm just tired. Either way it annoys me, so I might as well get rid of it before I leave cos I got nothing else to do."
The nun observed him for a long moment.
"You have given this more thought than I expected from a person befitting your nature."
"Why does that sound like an insult?"
"Because it was one."
Naruto snorted playfully, "You're just upset I refuse to call you by your name."
A mischievous yet graceful smile graced Carim Garcia's sculpted features.
"Yes. Yes I am."
The next morning found Naruto wincing painfully as he lowered himself gently to the ground and screwed up his eyes to shield them from the sun's harsh rays.
"That's gotta sting." Ant observed with great amusement as he sat himself down next to the blond under their usual tree for lunch.
"I know." Naruto grumbled, "She literally booted me halfway across Mid."
"You're lucky Crowbel-sama didn't boot you straight back to Earth." Ant commented airily, "Though it would probably have saved you the trip."
"Can you please stop enjoying this so much?" The blond asked pleadingly, "My head hurts enough without your help."
"I seem to remember a certain idiot who refused to stop poking my cast a few months back while I was in the hospital with a cracked skull and a broken arm, incidentally because of that very same idiot." Ant grinned savagely, "Turnabout is fair play wouldn't you say?"
"I don't see why you're complaining now." The much larger boy added with a sick sense of amusement, "You certainly weren't complaining last night when you and Crowbel-sama polished off all that alcohol shortly before the two of you decided to climb to the top of the TSAB and perform an impromptu karaoke session for the whole of Mid to hear. At 2 am in the morning no less."
"I do believe you even managed to invent a few notes that've never existed before."
"I didn't even know I could get drunk." The blond moaned piteously, "Supercharged kidney my ass."
"A few thousand litres of sake got rid of that problem just fine apparently."
"I'm more surprised that the two of you aren't dead from alcohol poisoning yet considering all the barrels the cleaners found this morning."
"Forget alive. The old hag was up by 7am and going about like nothing happened at all!"
Ant shrugged, "The benefits of experience I suppose."
"Hah! You called her old!"
The 16 year old boy very calmly leaned out of the way right as a stapler came hurtling through the air all the way from the TSAB headquarters and promptly nailed Naruto straight in the head.
"Experience." Ant commented with an air of great satisfaction.
After three years of close contact with the blond currently lying on the ground with his eyes swirling about his head, he had learned two very important facts. The first was that despite his apparent habit of insulting Crowbel whenever possible, he was actually very close to the usually dignified old lady and it was not at all uncommon to see the two of them acting like a grandmother and her grandson.
A terrifically violent grandmother and her mentally unstable grandson.
The second was the fact that 20 years of sitting in the office instead of active fieldwork had done nothing whatsoever to dull TSAB's Chief of Staff's aim.
Provided Naruto was somewhere on the same planet, Midget Crowbel was apparently perfectly capable of nailing him squarely in the head from her nice cushy seat in TSAB headquarters as long as she had something to use as a projectile. It was actually a fascinating topic for him and he had tried several times to see if she had been using magic to achieve that kind unerring accuracy because as far as he was concerned; bricks, pottery or even heavy stationery just weren't aerodynamic enough to fly like that.
All of his experiments told him the same thing.
She just had that good an aim and an equally good arm.
"I can smell rainbows."
Ant peered down at the dazed blond curiously, "And what do rainbows smell like?"
"Like freshly buttered pants."
"Yup. You're fine."
"I think I have a concussion. Several concussions."
Ant settled back under his tree and unwrapped his breakfast with an amused grin, "Do you think you can pass the exams with a concussion or should I start looking for a new team member?"
"I've done worse things with a concussion." Naruto blinked as the gorilla's words finally sunk in, "Wait. Exams? What exams?"
"The finals." Ant waved airily, "You know, the ones you take so that you can graduate?"
Naruto shot up aghast, "I thought those were in a month!"
"Didn't you say that you spent a week in a cave somewhere while you were unconscious? Maybe you spent more time there than you thought you did." The dark haired boy reasoned.
"No, no, no. I know there's at least a month left! Nanoha even said so last week! It's right after the Uminari school trip!"
Ant merely quirked one eyebrow, "Doesn't she attend the Fourth Ground Forces Academy?"
The clueless blond tilted his head slowly, "Yeaaah?"
"We're in the Second Ground Forces Academy, Naruto." Ant explained dryly with an eye roll, "The Academies don't all hold their finals at the same time. Ours is a little earlier than most because we start earlier too. How the hell do you not know this? You've been here for three years. Granted, you've been asleep for most of that time, but it's still three years."
"That's what you're for isn't it? Paying attention to the little details like my personal secretary while I worry about looking awesome."
Ant hummed nonchalantly, "Perhaps I should tell Diabel that I want a new team…. After all, someone hasn't even done a lick of work for the project has he?"
Naruto shot the ground in a perfect dogeza, "I'm sorry, Anthony-sama. Please ignore my temporary mouth vomits while I was concussed. I didn't mean a single word at all."
"Sure you didn't." Ant noted dryly, "That doesn't change the fact that the exams are later today though. Or at least the practicals are. I thought you were at least vaguely aware, which is why you came back yesterday rather than today."
"So they're not all today?" Naruto peeked up with hope shining in his eyes.
"Of course not. The theoretical papers are tomorrow, and then Device maintenance and construction is the day after that. Today is devoted entirely to the practical combat parts."
Naruto managed to breathe out a sigh of relief, "So it's just team and singles then? I can handle that."
Ant glared at him mildly, "All you're gonna do is fall asleep again anyway."
"Yes. Yes I am." Naruto admitted shamelessly.
"You seem remarkably calm about completely forgetting about the fact that you have your finals though."
"That's because I'm planning on committing some arson tonight." The blond admitted freely.
Ant placed his face in his palms and sighed heavily, "No Naruto, you may not burn down the exam hall tonight just because you don't have an inkling about what they're going to ask on the papers."
Naruto pouted, "Should I tell them I got concussed and then postpone the exam."
"They're not going to postpone the exams for you, idiot."
"SO MUCH PAIN. SO MUCH SUFFERING."
"Gnawing your leg off isn't going to work either." Ant noted with a chuckle as the blond rolled onto his back with a look of resignation while he settled himself back into his breakfast.
The two fell into a comfortable silence, or at least a temporary one while Naruto tried to figure out how he was going to deal with the exams on top of his splitting headache when they noted the sounds of excited chatter from the direction of the main gate.
"Carim-sama, your breakfast is getting cold."
The blond woman gracefully waved at her attendant to set the plate aside as she kept her eye outside the window with an amused smile decorating her lips.
"If I may, what are you looking at that's so interesting?"
Carim sighed ruefully, "Nou-chan… I've told you again and again. You don't have to be so formal with me when we're alone"
"I forget sometimes." The lithe form of Schach Nouera commented blandly with a bob of her head. She paced over to the window, carefully maintaining a distance from Carim and peered out of the window before frowning.
"Is he really that interesting to you?"
"Perhaps interesting isn't quite the right word." Carim waved one hand around her bed chambers, one of the larger ones in the Church, "Tell me, when I step out of this room. What do you think we will see first?"
"Your honour guard of course."
"Indeed." The blond woman nodded slowly with a wry smile, "And tell me, how long have I been interned with the Church?"
"Approximately three years." Nouera replied instantly.
"Five years next month." The lithe swordswoman replied stoically.
"Indeed." Carim returned her gaze to the two boys under the tree in the Academy's courtyard, the blond one comically throwing a shoe at his friend while his friend threw a boulder in return, "And when I leave this room, do you think there will be anyone here other than you who will speak to me as if I am simply another person instead of a symbol?"
Nouera winced, "I… do not think so." She replied timidly.
"Don't you think our positions have a little too much disparity between them? For someone who has joined the Church for a mere two years to be revered above a senior, that is not the purpose of the Church" Carim questioned softly with a disappointed expression, "Why do you think that is?"
"It is because you were born with a Rare skill, Carim-sama." Nouera observed quietly, "I was not."
The blond woman chuckled with a bitter expression, "I joined the Church because there was as the child of an illegitimate mistress, I was exiled from the house of my bloodline, hated by all save my half-brother due to the circumstances of my birth. Is it strange that I find it so ironic that those very same circumstances is the reason I was elevated from a simple nun to the Directress' protégé in a mere two years? Have I proven anything to anybody beyond the fact that I was born in the right place and at the right time?"
"It is the way of our country, Carim-sama. Individual ability is highly valued far above any other. Your capacity is simply higher than ours, and you were awarded accordingly." Nouera stated simply before tilting her head with confusion, "I still don't see how this has anything to do with the Uzumaki."
Carim laughed gently, "I guess if I said something like, 'he didn't treat me like everyone else did', it would sound a little shallow wouldn't it?"
"He has little reason too." Her bodyguard remarked dryly, "If the rumours I've heard are true, he has essentially been handpicked by Crowbel-sama to be her successor although there have been much opposition to this, particularly from TSAB Headquarters. The two of you are basically of the same rank although he's is not as official."
The blond woman gave her friend a wry smile, "After talking to him, do you really think that's why he doesn't respect me at all?"
"No." Nouera conceded, "I get the impression he doesn't respect you simply because he couldn't care less about someone's rank or birth."
Carim laughed at that, "He could be a beggar off the streets and laugh at a king who ordered him to bow."
"The beggar may laugh at the king, but at the end of the day, the beggar is still a beggar, the king is still a king." Nouera commented dryly, "And he is far from either."
"My… you sound like you actually respect him."
"He has a long way to go before I forgive him for that little prank at my expense. But beyond that…." Nouera grimaced, "I cannot deny that he is extremely skilled for an Academy student, albeit an annoying one."
The two of them chuckled quietly as Carim poured tea for the both of them.
Ant looked up curiously while Naruto simply winced again as the noise level slowly rose, compounding his headache.
"I wonder what that is about."
"Don't know, don't care." Naruto muttered sulphurously, "All I know is that I'm the verge of committing murder just so I can get some sleep peacefully.
His friend glanced at him mildly, "If you wanted sleep, then you probably shouldn't do it here. In public. Where everyone and their mother is going to make a lot of guaranteed noise. Saying you want to murder people for the noise they're making here is just you being petulant."
Naruto pouted at him. "Aren't you supposed to be my friend? Why are you defending them instead?"
"I am your friend. Which is exactly why I'm telling you where to shove your nonsense instead of letting you attempt homicide."
The blond stuck his tongue out Ant who merely snorted with amusement as he returned his gaze to the main gates.
Ant frowned as the lone figure confidently cutting a path through the milling students with her long legs as they practically flooded the ground with their saliva, and he didn't blame them for one bit considering how beautiful the woman, began heading towards them.
Or more specifically towards Naruto.
Mid women tended to be on the good looking side of the spectrum as whole, and there were A LOT of them, but this woman could put them all to shame with her almond shaped exotic red eyes, her long wavy white hair and long, svelte looking legs clad in a short pencil skirt that somehow clashed with her homely looking beige sweater but still managed to make her look even more beautiful.
He glanced at the blond who still hadn't noticed a thing considering he was currently trying to see if he could bury his head in the ground and sleep like that.
The woman stopped just shy of the tree's shadow and tilted her head at the blond who was ass up in the air while his head was somewhere below ground, somehow emanating a sense incredulousness despite the fact that her expression had not budged a single inch.
Ant noted that she was carrying a bag of some sort with a nice smell wafting from it.
"What is he doing?"
"Being an idiot again."
She nodded in complete understanding.
That meant that she had spent some time in the blond's presence already.
"And you are?"
Understanding dawned, "You're Rin!"
The Book of the Night Sky's consciousness grimaced at the nickname as she eyed the large boy somewhat warily, expecting to be hostile to her now that he knew her identity, "You… are aware of me?"
Ant shrugged nonchalantly, "He talks about you sometimes. Mostly about how you have very nice legs."
"Oh yeah." Ant continued casually, "Sometimes when we're bored, he looks around at the girls in our class and then starts to compare them to you."
Ant was mildly aware that the woman's icy glare was getting frostier with every word that spilled out of his lips, not to mention Naruto would probably kill him later and then defile his corpse, but FUCKTHATNOISETHISWASNOTFAIR.
Besides, it wasn't his fault that Naruto had his ass in the sky and his head underground instead of the reverse.
"In my defence, none of them could beat yours." A muffled reply came from the blond whose head was still underground, proving him very wrong.
He popped up with a cheerful grin, dirt smearing his face and hair and not a single trace of his previous drunkenness, "Hi Rin."
Then he frowned, "Wait, Rin? Why are you here?"
Reinforce closed her eyes and her lips thinned.
"Puppy Leader. Puppy Leader, come in Puppy Leader."
"Receiving loud and clear, Cosplay leader. What's the status of the package?"
"Cosplay 1 has inserted. Cosplay 2 and 3 are recording the insertion now."
"Cosplay 2 here…" Signum's very embarrassed voice echoed on the network, "Rei… Cosplay 1 has arrived and is prepping for delivery."
"Cosplay 3 here….. Why am I doing this again?" Vita's highly embarrassed and belligerently annoyed voice cracked quietly.
"Are you telling me that you don't mind Cosplay 1 spends time alone with the Target?"
"I do. But was it necessary for me to wear a maid uniform?"
"LOLI MEIDO BANZAI!"
Cosplay 3 started to cry.
"Well at least now we know why that's your call sign, Vita-chan." Puppy leader deadpanned.
Cosplay 3 cried even harder.
"Call signs, Fate-chan."
"Uhh…. Kitten Leader here…. Should we really be doing this? It doesn't feel right to play with Naruto-kun and Reinforce-chan like that…"
There was radio silence before the two other 'Leaders' outright began to cackle evilly.
"I brought you lunch." Reinforce deadpanned.
"… You brought me lunch." Naruto repeated again just in case he had misheard.
"I brought you lunch." Reinforce agreed tonelessly.
Naruto gingerly accepted the lunchbox and set it aside.
"Okay, now I know you are most definitely not Rin."
Reinforce tilted her head slowly, her expression never budging an inch, "And how did you come to that conclusion?"
"Because the Rin would never bring me lunch!" Naruto declared, "I've literally spent a third of my time in your house and you've never let me touch ANY of your cooking, much less bring me a lunch box while I'm in school. Not to mention there's absolutely no reason for you to be on Mid at all!"
Naruto jumped to his feet and began to furiously cast all sorts of identification spells while Reinforce merely endured the blond's nervous breakdown with one raised eyebrow.
10 minutes later, the Uzumaki sat down, calmly opened the lunch box and peered at it distrustfully.
"Should I assume you have finally determined my identity?"
"Pretty much." The blond admitted grudgingly, "Should I assume this was Pigtail's idea?"
"So that's why Signum and Vita are hiding nearby. Badly, but at least they're trying." Naruto muttered under his breath as he eyed the food suspiciously.
"They are at least doing better than the three agents tailing me."
"Just two." Naruto corrected her absent mindedly as he gingerly picked up a sausage wiener.
"Yeah, two. The third isn't an agent." He pinched his temples in a futile attempt to stave away the oncoming headache that would only compound his hangover and wondered if he was going to regret this.
"It's my stalker." He sighed dejectedly, "Well, I did want you to meet her sooner or later anyway. It's a little ahead of schedule but I might as well get it over with."
He whistled loudly, "Inova, stop hiding and come out. You might want to meet this one."
Reinforce merely watched with mild confusion as a blue haired female, about Anthony-san's age stepped out of the trees, gnashing her teeth the entire time as she radiated pure, unadulterated hostility at the statuesque silver haired woman.
She wore the plaid brown Second Ground Forces Academy's uniform, so Reinforce could reasonably assume that she was a student here, not to mention that it seemed like Naruto and Ant were at least familiar with her, but she couldn't quite comprehend why the blue haired woman was carrying a pair of binoculars, a high powered camera and a pair of orange boxers.
The completely unfazed Naruto merely shrugged at her bemused expression, "Rin, meet Inova. She's the third member of my team and the software expert. Ant deals with the hardware while she tells Ant what is or isn't possible."
He gestured for the skittish blue haired student to come closer, "This is Rin, the consciousness of the Book of the Night Sky."
Almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth, all the hostility radiating from the fairly good looking woman with ringed, light blue princess curls faded away and was replaced instead with a look of intense curiosity, "The consciousness of the Book of the Night Sky? The magical construct with a personality? THAT Rin?"
"Yes that one. I'd appreciate it if you didn't call her a magical construct with a personality though." Naruto drawled as he finally popped the sausage wiener into his mouth after he was sure that it wasn't poisoned.
His eyes widened adorably before his jaw went slack.
Then he began to hurriedly shovel the contents of the lunchbox down.
"That's like telling me not to call an orange an orange." Inova noted flatly as she edged a little close for comfort.
"Inova's one of the foremost tech students in our school," Ant commented, seeing that the blond was no longer functioning properly, or at least functioning enough to talk, with great amusement, "Her studies here include programming, intelligence networking, Device development and stalking Naruto. Also, don't bother getting angry if she insists on calling you a magical construct. It's simply her way of showing her interest in you and she meant no insult whatsoever."
Inova hummed in agreement as she as consulted a data device that was already doing a scan on a clearly uncomfortable Reinforce.
Why was she surprised that the Uzumaki was surrounded by people just as mentally unstable as he was again?
"Amazing. Early Ancient Belkan though the core is clearly Al-Hazredian. So I'm going to assume someone found the Tome and decided that slapping an executable control program onto a highly sophisticated and unknown device to help them decipher the contents and then forcefully activating it would be a good idea." Inova murmured to herself, long gone from the world of common sense where you would usually introduce yourself first before you performed an invasive scan on someone.
Reinforce stared at her incredulously.
"Didn't work I'll bet. The source code is a complete mess. It's like they tried to debug a Class 4 Intelligence Device installed with an evolving defence biomatrix with a first generation Storage Device and the two somehow managed to mutate into something coherent by sheer luck alone."
"You…. Found out that much from just one scan?"
Inova stared at Reinforce like she was an idiot, "Well… yes?"
"Don't mind her." Ant remarked humorously, "When she isn't stalking Naruto, she's actually a very competent, if blunt, intelligence officer."
"Hush you." Inova muttered as she continued to scan a frozen stiff Reinforce, "Do you know? It's been about 90 years since the Sankt Kaiser Unification wars, and in all that time, we've managed to get our hands on plenty of their tech but there was not a single functioning Artificial Construct left. All attempts to re-create those have only crystallized in what is known today as an Emotion Synthesizer. Decorative, helpful, but largely unnecessary and impractical since they need large amounts of processing space which restricts them by default as addons to Intelligent Devices." Inova continued rattling off everything as she scanned deeper and deeper, "And still we haven't been able to create a real, true AC. To see a real life one, one that's still functioning, albeit one that is slightly glitchy, is a dream come true for any Investigator…."
Meanwhile, Naruto who had finally come back to Earth eyed Inova warily.
"I think she's about to start stalking Rin instead of me." He whispered.
"Isn't that a good thing for you?"
"It is…. But I feel like I just got dumped and I have no idea why." The blond admitted.
"You haven't been dumped, Naruto-kun~" The girl called back sweetly, "I'm just a little busy right now."
"Never mind. I take everything I said back. Please stop stalking me."
"Why would I want to do that?"
"Because I spend roughly a quarter of my income replacing the underwear you steal?"
"For some strange reason, I suddenly miss Sakura."
Inova popped back up in front of him with amazing speed with righteous fury burning in her eyes, "And who exactly, is this Sakura person?" The blue haired woman whispered with the kind of killing intent you usually reserved for someone who massacred your family, or stole your pudding.
Naruto shook his head frantically, "No one. No one at all."
"Good." Inova promptly shot back to Reinforce to continue whatever it is she was doing.
"I thought stalking was supposed to be a quiet and in the background kind of thing?" Naruto whispered morosely.
"They usually are." Ant commented with great amusement.
He was already halfway through his reserve of 'Watch-Naruto-suffer' popcorn.
"So why did I have to get the one that has absolutely no problem BLATANTLY yelling to the world that she steals my underwear and nail clippings and hair?"
"You're an asshole."
"I'm an amused asshole right now."
"At least she keeps the fan girls away."
"I have fan girls?"
"You did until Inova crippled a few of them."
"Inova did what? She can't fight to save her life!"
"I wouldn't really call sneaking into someone's room at night and then breaking their knees 'fighting'."
"Is that why she was suspended back in first year?"
"And the Academy accepted that whack job back anyway?"
"It accepted you didn't it?"
"Besides, with medical spells, we can heal almost anything short of an S-rank arrow spell to the knee."
Naruto sighed, "Well…. If she can help Rin, I guess I can put up with her for a while."
Ant popped another popcorn into his mouth with a grin.
"Somehow, I get the impression you're going to regret this dearly."
Naruto began to sob to himself, "Yes. Yes I am."
Just as suddenly as she had started, Inova abruptly got up again and almost started to race away.
"I got all the information I needed. I need to do some research!" She called over her shoulder with a near manic glint in her eyes.
"Oh and Inova, the exams are today, please don't forget." Ant shouted back.
The blue haired woman looked at Ant helplessly, "But… but… Artificial Construct! If I can just decipher this, I might be able to replicate how the Belkans constructed their Devices! This could revolutionize Mid spellcrafting!"
Ant sighed, "Well… it's just practicals. So I guess it's alright."
As Inova abruptly sped off to do her research, Naruto was left in the dust with his mouth open, "I… didn't even get to tell her what I wanted."
The large boy shrugged, "Give her some time. Chances are she'll work it out on the way to whatever she's trying to do."
"Well…. It's not like she could have helped in team battles anyway."
"And you do?"
Meanwhile, Reinforce merely stared at him.
"You are having exams?
She pursed her lips disapprovingly.
"Nanoha-san did not mention this."
The blond was silent for a very long time, his jaw opening and closing wordlessly as his mind went curiously blank.
Then he slowly marched over to the tree and started banging his head on the rough bark.
"Fate and Nanoha are going to murder me when they find out I forgot about my exams." He muttered in between bangs.
Ant gleefully emptied the rest of his popcorn into his gaping maw and sighed in delight.