Finally! I'm finally satisfied with this chapter and the plot line and so, here it is. Sorry for the long wait.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
There were few sights in the entire mainland that rivaled the beauty of the Land of Spring. Even the golden plains of the Land of Vegetables seemed to fall short to the endless fields of lush green grass and flowers of seemingly every type that blended together into a vibrant sea of color that stretched as far as the eye could see. This was especially clear with the view from the upper walkway of the Feudal Lord's castle and Jiraiya, Naruto and Koyuki, who stood behind the blond and rested a hand on his back, took a moment to soak in the view as the wind blew the pure scent of the flowers over the castle...
Fuu however, was too busy glaring lightly at Koyuki and her proximity to a certain blond to appreciate the sight.
"So, you don't have any clue at all?" Naruto asked the feudal lord with his eyebrows raised.
Koyuki shook her head. "No, I'm afraid not. I mean, we aren't complaining, but our scientists haven't found any explanation for how the local plant life proved so... robust." She said, searching for a moment to find a word appropriate for her nation's unusual burst of plant growth.
"How's the soil faring? I'd imagine it's pretty strained under this kind of load..." Jiraiya questioned.
"We've been experimenting with various fertilizers which seem to keep it healthy."
"What about the local wildlife?" Fuu piped in, curious despite herself. Since she'd arrived, she'd barely sensed any insects. Not surprising considering the former climate. Chances are what was there were brought on the boats. The void the lack of their presence left was always unsettling to her.
Koyuki grimaced slightly and looked away as she said, "That... is a problem..."
"I figured. How bad is it?" The mint haired kunoichi asked.
"There are a lot of words that would suit the situation but would be rather crass of me to actually use. Suffice to say our ecosystem's been devastated." She said before sighing, placing a hand to her forehead. "Not that that's a surprise given that we more or less reversed the climate in a single day. Aside from the fact that we had to make a mad dash to capture members of several dozen native species when we realized they were dying out because they couldn't adapt, we have to decide on what to bring in to fill in the gaps they've left behind. Not only will we have to either send genin out to secure the prospective additions or pay others to do so, we have to be careful or we could wind up tearing apart the already fragile environment. We also don't have anything but the wind to pollinate the flowers. In some areas the wind is sufficient but in others... not so much, and the only insect that can fulfill that role and can be found in suitable quantities are bees... and I'm rather hesitant to import them when they'd have no natural predators."
"That sounds rough." Naruto noted with a frown, receiving a nod in return.
"You really know about this stuff, huh?" Fuu inquired.
The brunette turned her head to the younger girl and smiled. "Of course... This land's well-being is my responsibility. I'll admit the science behind much of our technology is a bit beyond me, but I'm expected to keep an eye on issues and keep ahead of any problems we might face. I've picked up a lot over the last year."
"Well, hopefully it sorts itself out eventually." Jiraiya said before staring out at the land. "But man, I just can't get over how big a change one heat generator made to this country. I hardly even recognized this place at first."
"Indeed. Problems aside, it's amazing what can be accomplished with the proper technology, isn't it?" Koyuki said as she turned to the Sannin before she resumed walking, pulling the blond with her with the rest trailing behind.
"You can say that again, though it doesn't do you any favors when you let it go to your head. Soragakure proved that." The eldest of the group replied, adding the second part as an afterthought.
"Who..?" Naruto asked, turning to his sensei and frowning in curiosity.
"It was a minor village that was destroyed back during the Second Shinobi World War." Fuu answered, perking up a bit. The capabilities of that country broached a subject dear to her heart. "Their nation was kind of like the Land of Spring; way more advanced than every other country. The technology they had at their disposal was amazing! Get this; they even had a flying city!" She said, growing more and more enthusiastic she continued.
"Seriouslly..!? Man that must have been a sight to see!" Naruto said with a grin as he tried to picture it. It sounded awesome!
"Tell me about it!" Fuu replied with a wide smile and excited eyes. She'd always dreamed of what it'd be like to soar above the clouds, free as the wind that would rush through her hair as she looked down on the land below her. It was ironic that she had a Bijū sealed inside of her capable of just that; in fact that desire was something they actually shared. A shame that they'd never really spoken and she'd probably never share the experience herself. Even if she ever gained full control over its power, she doubted that she'd call on it just to satisfy a whimsical desire of hers. She sighed and shook her head, sobering as she remembered how the tale ended. "Too bad they thought the way that Doto guy seemed to: with their technology no one could hope to win against them. They tried to overthrow the Five Great Villages and... Well, it didn't end well for them..."
"That kind of thing happens all too often when a group of people start thinking they're better than everyone else." Jiraiya said with a frown as they came to a halt. "I'll give them this much though, it was a hell of a fight. They were probably the only minor village that I can honestly say terrified the major ones. We had numbers, skill and strategic ability on our side, but their technology gave them the edge." He crossed his arms as he remembered some of the more desperate moments of that war. "Hell, if they'd made allies of another small country or two and shared their technology, they might have won. Good thing for us they were so sure they didn't need anyone's help."
"Indeed. Truthfully, our nation once thought the same way." Koyuki said somewhat sadly. "The fate of Soragakure and the Land of the Sky was a harsh lesson and my father and grandfather took it to heart." She frowned then, her eyes hardening and her tone gaining an edge as she thought of her traitorous uncle. "Doto on the other hand never stopped believing it, and I'm sure there are a few to this day who believe that we can succeed where they failed, never mind that their technology was actually more advanced than our own."
Naruto made a sound of displeasure at that such warmongers existed in the world and the consequences of their actions before something occurred to him. Looking up to his sensei, he asked, "Hey wait, what happened to Soragakure's technology? I mean, there must have at least been ruins or something, right?"
"Oh yeah, there was plenty of loot after the war." Jiraiya nodded. "But it was all lost over the following months. The villages scrambled to take a piece of Sora's tech for themselves and what they couldn't recover, they'd rather see destroyed than in the hands of other nations. Konoha was actually the ones that fought them, so we got the biggest piece of the pie, but in the end we sabotaged each other until there was nothing of value left."
"Man that blows..." Naruto shook his head.
"The loss of their capabilities was a tragedy." Koyuki said before giving the group a smile. "Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed in our nation." She then turned to Naruto. "And we owe it all to you, Naruto. We owe you a great debt... as do I personally." She closed her eyes. "More than we can ever repay. You're a hero to the people of this country and to me especially."
Naruto grinned sheepishly and rubbed the back of his head, blushing slightly while Fuu's face fell forward, her face hidden by the shadows of her hair and her hands balled to fists at her sides in impotent frustration. Jiraiya had to cover his mouth to hold in a chuckle, lest Fuu focus her smoldering gaze on him.
It wasn't long before the tour was completed and the four found themselves seated in a banquet hall, sitting before a small feast prepared to perfection by some of the greatest cooks the Land of Spring had to offer.
"Extravagant. Now this is a meal fit for royalty!" Jiraiya exalted.
As Naruto turned away from his udon and grinned at their host. "You can say that again! This is a great spread you've got here, Koyuki!"
"You've got to have the best chefs in the country!" Fuu cheered.
"In fact, we do." The princess replied with a smile. "They were practically lining up to serve here once we reopened the castle. Everyone was so grateful that Doto's hold on our nation had been broken. Combine that with the first spring our country has ever enjoyed and let's just say I'm very popular right now, even without my career as an actress. The people want to help me anyway they can."
Naruto slurped down some noodles and swallowed before grinning and saying, "Yeah, I can see how everyone would be happy about that." He blinked when Koyuki's expression soured slightly.
The Feudal Lord of the Land of Snow looked down at her wine glass, staring into the crimson liquid. "If only everyone was as happy about it as we are..."
"What?" Naruto asked before thinking about it a moment, then realization hit him. "Oh, is this about your shinobi's ninjutsu?"
Koyuki nodded, "It's exactly that, I'm afraid." She said, her tone conveying a slight weariness. It is because as much as she hates to admit it, the argument did have a point.
Fuu frowned and cupped her chin. "Yeah, I can see how some people wouldn't be kind of worried about the weather when you built your village's ninjutsu around snow." She looked up at the older woman. "But can't your ninja just summon it? They must have when they traveled to other villages."
Koyuki nodded. "That's true, but only on a limited area. It's like... the difference between carrying a supply of kunai and having an unlimited arsenal."
"Well, can't you just, I don't know, build snow making machines for that?" Naruto asked.
"Of course, but it would be a massive undertaking and there's always the risk of them being sabotaged."
The blond frowned. He really didn't like to admit it, but he could see where they were coming from. Back when he was still a bratty kid, he'd always focused on the goal of being Hokage solely for the acknowledgment. He'd never given any thought to what the job entailed. It was the easiest way he could think of to have everyone looks at him with respect, with warmth... hell, like they didn't hope he would drop dead. But now... now he knew what it would mean to be a leader, and one thing was to make sure your people were happy and safe. That was the problem, the eternal spring made everyone happy... but also left them more vulnerable, and with their technology, they would make a very appealing target.
He could honestly say he didn't envy Koyuki's position of having to weigh her people's wants against their safety. "So... I take it it's a pretty popular argument to anyone who supported Doto." He was sure some of them escaped justice. "How bad is it?"
She sighed. "It is worse than I'd hoped. I'd like to say it's better than I'd feared, but..." She scoffed. "Considering I'd written the country off before I met you, that wouldn't be saying much..."
While Fuu still felt a sense of ire towards Koyuki, though it had simmered down now that she was away from Naruto, she did understand her plight and wanted to help out. "Well, why don't you just focus on your technology then? I mean, Soragakure's ninjutsu was mostly based around flight, tricky but not all that great. Their tech's really all they had to defend themselves with."
"That would be the best option." Koyuki admitted with a frown. "However... the industry is hands of people I don't entirely trust and giving them more funding may put me in a... precarious position down the line I'm afraid." She didn't need to spell it out for them further.
When she thought about it, Fuu wasn't surprised. It'd be easy for the people Doto put in charge of the country's industry to claim they didn't have a choice. It'd be hard to tell who was really loyal to him and who was acting under duress and she couldn't just remove them if they'd kept their hands clean. They knew how their tech work and if they felt cheated, some less scrupulous ones, or anyone greedy enough who wanted payback, may be willing to sell the information for the right price. Not to mention they'd probably made connections during their decade long domination of the country. All that made removing them from power difficult without evidence of wrongdoing on their part.
Jiraiya watched silently as his students talked to the princess, wanting to see how they handled her situation.
"Hopefully," Koyuki said, "The good will we buy by selling our less destructive advances will be enough to ward off any future attacks, or win us more allies if it doesn't."
"Are you looking at Kiri? They could be pretty good friends to have and they could really use a hand right now. They'd owe you big if you helped them out." Naruto suggested. The Hidden Mist Village was still recovering from the disastrous reign of the Fourth Mizukage.
"Indeed we are."
"Yeah, I could see that. As long they don't think you're trying to take advantage of them or something." Fuu said before she looked beside her, noticing Naruto was staring at his plate with a frown. "Is there something on your mind?"
Naruto looked up. "Oh, I was just wondering if maybe we could work out an alliance between them, us and Kiri."
"Oh? How would you do that?" Koyuki asked, intrigued. As one would expect, Kiri had the strongest navy. Combine that with the fact that Kiri was on the other side of their nation from the Land of Fire, and that made this a very attractive idea if they could work it out.
"Well, there's something on the horizon that'll be pretty bad for everyone." The blond replied. "That might be a good stick, and for the carrot, I know where one of their Seven Blades of the Mist is." Fuu frowned, doubting he was talking about her swords before she remembered the story of the first real mission he'd been on.
"Oh right!" She held her palm flat up and on the table pounded her fist onto it, a look of realization on her face. "That's it, Zabuza's sword, the Kubikiribocho!"
Naruto nodded. "But there is a problem with that..." Fuu nodded back, her expression becoming serious. If they did that, Kiri probably wouldn't appreciate it when they found out she had the Kiba blades. She really didn't want to give them up. 'Those blades are so awesome!' but if it got her new home an ally...
Well, maybe she'd be allowed to keep them. 'Not likely...' Besides, when she thought about it, it probably wasn't a good idea to leave the sword there, grave marker or no. She didn't like the idea of removing it, it was a gesture of respect and an appropriate headstone for the renowned ninja, but there were plenty of people out there who would take it for themselves if they knew where it was. She made a mental note to mention they should retrieve it before they reached Konoha.
"Oh? And that would be?" Koyuki asked, curious. It sounded like a very good idea. Her villages' resources and technology and one of the fabled blades of the Seven Swords of the Mist would be very appealing for the currently down on their luck village.
Naruto rubbed the back of his head and smiled sheepishly. "Sorry, not my place to say..."
"I think you might be getting a little ahead of yourself there." Jiraiya interrupted. The Sannin had been impressed with the pair so far. It was clear as day how much Naruto had grown since they met. Fuu... it was harder to tell how much her ability to read such situations improved given how studious she was, but regardless he was proud to call them his students. Now to see how they handled a debate. "It sounds like a pretty good idea and I can see it from the Land of Spring's perspective, but you haven't stopped and considered if we'd actually want them as allies. They don't call it 'The Village of the Bloody Mist' for nothing, you know."
Naruto frowned, wondering what the perverted sage's game was, before shrugging. "Well, it's not like they've got a lot of options. I mean, most of the other nations in spitting distance of the Land of Spring don't have villages... well, except the Land of the Moon I guess but they get most of their money from tourists, they've only got just enough shinobi to defend themselves, forget about lending someone else a hand. Kumo doesn't exactly trust outsiders and Iwa's practically guaranteed to stab them in the back! That's not even counting that they're too far away, like Suna."
Jiraiya blinked. That... was a surprisingly accurate assessment coming from the blond. And since when did he did he know geography? Not to mention the state of the surrounding nations? I mean, sure he'd had the boy study history with his clones, but only Konoha's history and what he needed to know, not that in depth. The sannin leaned forward and grinned, "Well, well, well! Color me impressed. Since when did you turn into such an expert?"
Naruto rubbed the back of his head and smiled sheepishly. "You've got Fuu to thank for that one! I asked her to help me out a while back since she knows so much about the countries and all. We've only gone over existing countries right now, so we haven't gotten around to places like Sora and Uzu, but I learned a lot about the nations from her. A Hokage's gotta know this stuff, right?"
Fuu gave the blond a smile as she said, "It was no trouble at all. It's not like you were asking for that much. Besides, it was easy."
"Tell that to Iruka-sensei! He drove himself up a wall trying to get through to me!" Naruto replied with a laugh, remembering how frustrated his surrogate older brother would become with him when back in his academy days. "I actually had good time learning about history from you. Hell, it probably doesn't even matter what we did, I'd like hanging out with you all day, any day."
Fuu blushed slightly and looked to her plate with an embarrassed expression, scratching the side of her cheek. Jiraiya chuckled with a grin and Koyuki giggled, raising her hand to cover her mouth. "Oh my, that's quite the declaration Naruto. So you sound like spending time with her is one of your favorite things in the world."
"It is!" He replied obliviously, causing Fuu's blush to deepen and their sensei to laugh uproariously.
"Man oh man! I can understand that you like to hang out, but I gotta wonder just what you've been up to for you to enjoy her company that much!" The Sannin said before leaning forward, resting his hand on the table and grinning at his student. "What have you been up to while I wasn't looking? Hope you haven't gone too far, you're still a bit too young for that, you know?"
"W- What?" Naruto choked on his own words, his entire face lighting up in a crimson glow as Fuu glared at their sensei, her own face so red it that with her green hair it almost resembled strawberry.
Koyuki seemed somewhat amused and gave Jiraiya a light but playful glare. "Please, there's no need to be so crass."
"We haven't done anything like that! Get your head out of the gutter Ero-sensei!"
"Yeah, it's nothing like that! So what if I like being with her? It doesn't mean we're going out!"
Jiraiya smirked knowingly. "Do you want to?"
Naruto blinked. "Huh?"
"Do you want to go out with her? For real..?" Naruto sputtered in response while Fuu's gaze darted between her partner and their teacher, her mind jolting through thoughts too quickly for her to process.
Koyuki giggled again before saying, "Stop torturing them, Master Jiraiya."
"Ah, all right, all right." Jiraiya waved her off, maintaining his amused expression as he continued. "Anyway, my point still stands. You are right about this land's lack of options, but that wouldn't mean that the choices that are available are good ones.
Naruto placed a hand on his chest and sighed as the conversation was steered towards a subject that he found much easier to handle, though he briefly wondered why his heart was beating so quickly, unaware Fuu was wondering the same thing beside him. "Well... You have a point, but they just got out of a civil war fighting the guys who supported the way they used to be. Yeah, they might turn out to be just as bad as the guys before them, but who knows? Sometimes you've just gotta take a bet you like and roll the dice. Besides, nothing will ever change if everyone just plays it safe and clings to the past. What if we hadn't forgiven Suna for letting Orochimaru trick them? Or look at Iwa; they played it safe all the time and now they can't get anyone to work with them for nothing." He shrugged, his mouth widening into a slight grin. "The trust has to start somewhere. Right..? You have to be careful, but someone's gotta take the first step."
There was a pause after Naruto's short speech while the Sannin weighed his words before he grinned and chuckled as he sat back.
"I guess you've got something there, brat."
"Well, I for one hope we can make this idea work." Koyuki said. "Such an alliance would be a great thing for all of our villages and go a long way towards quieting my critics."
After the meal was concluded, the group remained in the room for a while and talked before leaving the room together. During their meal, the sun had set and night had descended across the land, blanketing the land beneath the night sky, the blackness giving way to dark blue at the edge of the horizon, showing that the twilight's end was recent. It was a cloudy night, only strips of the starry abyss could be seen peeking through the fluffy pillows and half of the crescent moon was hidden, dimming its light. Still, the moonlight illuminated the outer hallway as Koyuki they stepped into the outer corridor.
"Would you look at that? The sun's already set on us. Time sure flies." Jiraiya said as he looked up at the sky before turning to Koyuki. "How about we pick up the diplomatic talks in the morning? It would probably be best if we were all bright eyed for that kind of thing."
"My thoughts exactly... I take it you won't object to staying in the guest rooms here in the palace." Koyuki replied.
"Are you kidding!? This place has the best beds I ever slept in." Naruto said with a grin.
"I'm glad to hear that. I suppose I'll retire for the evening. You remember the way, right?" Koyuki said, receiving nods from the two genin in the group before she turned to the youngest of her guests. "Naruto... I'd like to speak with you. Would you walk with me?"
"Huh?" Naruto blinked before shrugging. "Sure." He turned to his partner and teacher. "I guess I'll catch up to you guys in a bit."
Fuu started to say something before stopping and seeming to think better of it. She nodded and smiled brightly. "Right... See you soon."
Naruto frowned slightly. "... Is there something wrong?"
Fuu waved him off. "Oh no, of course not..! Now, why don't you get going? You can't turn down a personal request from a lord."
Naruto stared for a moment. Something was off with the smile she was giving him. In the end he nodded. "All right... Wait up for me, ok?"
"Count on it!" Fuu replied. As Naruto walked off with Koyuki her smile faded, giving way to a troubled expression.
"So what did you want to talk to me about?" Naruto asked as he walked alongside Koyuki on the moonlit hall.
"I just wanted to thank you again... for what you did for me." The feudal lord of the country replied as she turned her head to look at Naruto out of the corner of her eye. "I feel I never properly said how grateful I was the last time we met."
"Eh?" Naruto blinked. "What? I mean, didn't you already do that back when we were here the first time?"
"It's not the same." She replied with a shake of her head. "I thanked your team for defeating Doto and avenging Sandayu and my father, along with everyone else my uncle killed in his bid for power." She stopped and turned fully to the blond. "You inspired me when I had given up on life and helped me truly live again." Her expression darkened as she though back to her life back before her return to her birthplace... "I was an empty woman back then. I never gave any thought to my past or my future. I had so much to be proud of... but I never felt anything about my career or my fans. I simply lived without any purpose or even real wants beyond surviving to see another meaningless day, shunning everyone who tried to get close to me." Her full lips spread into a smile. "Even before you'd defeated Doto, you'd made me believe that there was more to life than just survival again. I remembered what my father taught me, thanks to you. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you."
Naruto blinked before smiling in a somewhat embarrassed manner. "Eh, it was nothing. I mean, I could see you were in a bad way and I couldn't just leave you like that."
"Most would have." Koyuki countered.
"And most people aren't Naruto Uzumaki," grinning, Naruto thumped a fist against his chest, "I don't know if you noticed, but I don't back down just because things get tough."
Koyuki chuckled, "Oh, I don't think anyone wouldn't notice. You're head's gotta the hardest thing I've ever encountered."
"Hey, that didn't sound very flattering, Koyuki!"
"Who said it was supposed to?" Koyuki smirked mischievously.
Naruto gave her a mock pout. "That's not a nice way to treat the guy that saved your life, you know?"
"Maybe, but someone of noble stature can't condone lying." The feudal lord replied, putting on an air of stuck up nobility as she closed her eyes and raised her head haughtily. After a moment, the two began to laugh. After sharing their mirth for a few moments, Koyuki said, "It really is good to see you again."
"You too, Koyuki." Naruto replied with a nod before walking over and leaning on the rail, looking out at the country. He turned his head towards the brunette as she stepped beside him. "So, is it hard? Leading a country I mean?"
"Well, it's more fulfilling than being an actress, I can say that much." Koyuki replied. "Seeing my people smiling and happy, and not because of a lie I'm portraying on the big screen, no matter how entertaining it might be, and safe makes it worth it. It can be hard at times. Rebuilding the economy after Doto basically tore every industry outside of mining and weapons development apart was particularly hard, but it's worth it." Naruto nodded before looking out at the moon. "Worried about leading a village someday?"
Naruto snorted at the accusation. "No. Come on, you know me better than that!"
Koyuki giggled. "I suppose I do." She turned towards the boy, smiling as she continued, "Well from what I've seen, I'm not worried." He looked up at her. "Being a leader isn't easy, but everything I've seen from you tells me you're up to the challenge. You have the power to make even the most obstinate and cynical people believe in you. I'm sure that someday soon, you'll become a Hokage greater than any who came before you."
Naruto grinned. "You know it!"
Meanwhile, as Naruto and Koyuki were having their talk, a certain individual couldn't help but feel anxious as she tried to ease her perturbed mind. Fuu sat in her chosen room with a book in her lap. It was a fairly luxurious space, as to be expected of a palace. The floor was decorated with a mix of eastern and western styles to cater to any important guests. The was a plush, red arm chair that the girl currently rested on while across the room was a low legged table with red cushions placed on the floor around it. It was there that her sensei, who had decided to visit the young Jinchuriki for a bit, sipping on a cup of sake before pouring himself another. There was a cream colored paper lantern emblazoned with a black dragon pattern suspended above the room and a large, queen sized bed with white sheets with a single, red line down the center sitting on a black rug adorned with gold markings.
Yet the girl wasn't the least bit interested in her opulent surroundings at the moment. One look at her was all you'd need to tell she was only half looking at the words in her novel. Clearly, something was occupying the mint haired kunoichi's mind.
"Sure you wouldn't like some, Fuu?" Jiraiya asked, raising the bottle of sake and shaking it enticingly. "You can always count on nobles to have the best vintage."
"No thanks." Fuu replied, briefly looking up from her book. "Doesn't bother you that you're asking a minor to drink?"
"Tch. By five years, big deal. Besides, old enough to kill, old enough to drink. Among other things, right?" The famed shinobi replied with a grin, earning a scoff from his pupil who returned her orange eyes to the novel in her lap. "Come on, you know as well as I do that as soon as you got that headband you were considered an adult. Why don't you try it? It could be better than you think."
"Sure you did." Jiraiya replied sarcastically. "So what was that about being a minor?"
"I was trying to appeal to your sense of decency. My mistake." The mint haired kunoichi answered dryly.
"You know, it makes me feel so loved when you talk that way." The Sannin said in a deadpan.
Fuu smiled brightly, briefly giving the impression of her usual self. "I aim to please, sensei!"
A few moments of silence passed between them before the toad sage spoke. "So?"
"What do you think of sake? Or maybe you prefer wine?"
"I don't drink wine or sake. Waste of time." Fuu replied with a wave of her hand before looking at her sensei and pointing out herself with her index finger. "Benefits of being what I am, I can't smashed. Not even a little." She remembered one time she'd tried to drown her sorrows after coming to the conclusion that she'd probably always be alone. She'd drink ten whole bottles in hopes of feeling something. All it did was keep her up all night.
Jiraiya blinked. That he hadn't known. "Really?" Kushina was the only other Jinchuriki he'd ever known personally besides his students and she hadn't really been a drinker... then again, when he thought about it the few times someone did convince her to drink she never got even slightly hammered.
"Really." Fuu nodded. She laced her finger on her chin and looked to the ceiling as she mused, "I guess I should be thankful. Somehow, I don't think my parents would have approved of me being a lush by age 12." She'd been told often by Shibuki and his father that they'd loved her and been so excited to see how she'd grow up. She liked to think they wouldn't have cared about her being a Jinchuriki.
"No, I'd have to agree with you there." The sage agreed before pouring himself another cup with a grin. "But everything in moderation."
Fuu shook her head with an amused smile. "Just don't overdo it Ero-sensei. If we have to drag you to the table tomorrow, we'll make you regret it!" She said in a joking manner, raising a fist in a mock threatening way.
"Well, I'll just have to get some of this to go!" The Sannin laughed before he threw back another cup of sake and Fuu rolled her eyes and returned to her book. After a minute, he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye to see the former Taki kunoichi trying to read. "Got something on your mind?" He asked, once more drawing her attention. At her look, he continued, "You've been on the same page for the last ten minutes, that's not like you at all. Usually, you chew through any book in front of you like the little bookworm you are."
Fuu's eye twitched and she glared at her sensei. "Hey, don't say it like that! I'm proud to be a bookworm!"
"I didn't mean it as an insult." Jiraiya waved off his student's response. "Anyway, my point stands. So, ryo for your thoughts?" Fuu's expression cooled and she stared down at the book, her face troubled as she tried to figure out just what she was feeling before shrugging. That was about what he expected, but he didn't let this reflect on his features. "You don't actually know yourself?"
Fuu shook her head and looked past her book to the floor. "I just... feel... I don't know... kind of nervous. Like I want to be anywhere but here and I don't know why."
Jiraiya gave a knowing smirk. "Oh? I think I have an idea of where you want to be. This wouldn't happen to have anything to do with Naruto's moonlit stroll with the Lady, does it?"
Fuu turned her head away and let out a huff, closing her eyes with her face twisted in anger. "Of course that's what you'd think. That's your first thought for everything."
"Well you too haven't exactly done much to prove me wrong. Tell me, how many not-dates have you gone on so far?" Jiraiya teased, earning him a glare from Fuu. "Trust me, kid. You should just accept it."
Fuu rolled her eyes. "Right, I'm going to listen to a self-proclaimed super pervert who spends most of his free time writing smut for advice on my love life. That's a brilliant idea." She placed her book in the chair and rose to her feet. "If that's all you're going to talk to me about, I'm going on a walk." And with that she walked towards the door, but just as she reached for it, Jiraiya's voice stopped her.
"Fuu!" This had gone on long enough. Yeah, he might be having a lot of fun poking them about it, but at the same time it was kind of irritating how everyone but they could see it. They may have hit a rocky area since the revelation of his relationship to Naruto, but only the most cold and hardened ninja didn't eventually think of their students like children. He wanted them to be happy, they deserved it after what they'd been through, and all it would take was one of them finally letting their feelings get through thick skulls of theirs. "Just humor me on this, how does he make you feel? You don't have anything to lose just by talking about it."
Fuu considered just walking out the door for a few moments before she sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "Fine, fine." She replied, if only to shut him up about it. Besides much as part of her didn't want to admit it, she was questioning just what she felt for him. Most of the time when she even considered the possibility she shut it down. He'd said time and time again how he felt about Sakura. If she felt that way and he didn't return her feelings... what would it do to their friendship? The first friendship she'd ever had.
So... what did he make her feel? Her face clouded over as she placed her hand on her heart, thinking of her times with Naruto. "Being with him makes me feel... like I don't need to hide anything. Like I can be my real self without any worrying about being hurt or... anything really. When he's near me... or holding me, I feel... warm. And safe. It's like... I know he'll always be there for me. When he's hurt..." She threw him a dirty look. "Like when he found out that you'd basically abandoned him." He raised his hands in a placating manner and her eyes returned to their previous state. "Or when he worried about Sakura and Sasuke, I feel like I need to be there... like I hurt just as much. And it... it hurts when he talks about Sakura. I feel happy whenever he's with me, and seeing him smile makes me..." She trailed off into silence. Slowly, she took on a look of almost terrified realization. After a few moments, her face fell and her hand clutched her breast. "I... I've really fallen for him, haven't I?"
Jiraiya threw up his hands and turned his face to the sky. "Hallelujah, she finally gets it."
Fuu rounded on her sensei and gave him a look half way between anger and panic. "Don't make it sound so simple you stupid pervert! In case you've forgotten, he's already in love with someone else!" She threw her arm out to the side. "Do you get what that means!? I'm in a love triangle, and that never ends well! Especially for the second girl!" She brought her hands to the sides of her head, burying her fingers in her hair. "And what if he never feels the way I do? I'll mess up the only real friendship I've ever had! What if he..."
"Geez, calm down would you?" Jiraiya interrupted her tirade, rubbing a finger in his ear. Anyone in the wing had probably heard her. "Firstly, don't rely on your novels for romantic experience. I mean yeah, it can play out anyway under the sun, but it's usually pretty obvious which way the wind's blowing and those perfect storybook romances almost never happen in reality. Secondly, you don't need to worry." Seeing her incredulous expression, as if to say 'how can I not worry!?' he continued, "In case you've forgotten I've been trying to get this through your thick skulls for who knows how long, and trust me on this; the way you've been looking at him? The way that made it so painfully obvious to everyone but you two how you felt? He's been looking at you the same way."
"R- Really?" The orange eyed Jinchuriki breathed out in a disbelieving whisper.
"Really." The toad sage nodded.
Fuu was silent for a long moment, contemplating what she'd heard as she came to grips with how she felt. Despite what Jiraiya said, she still felt uneasy. Her main concern being what one of the main causes for her to deny her heart all this time. If he was wrong and Naruto didn't feel the same, what would it do to their bond? "... I'm going on that walk, Ero-sensei." The white haired Sannin watched as she reached for the door again.
"Ok, you do that. Just be sure you don't wait 'til we get back to Konoha. If you're worried now, the competition will really heat up then." Jiraiya commented as Fuu opened the door and took two steps outside. The Sannin then smirked. "Oh, and when you do take my advice, be sure to do me a favor and rock his world! Make him hard like a kunai and give him the ride of his life!" That made Fuu freezes mid-step. Smirking, the Sannin continued, "Just do me favor and make sure he goes off outside, all right? We don't want any littler brats running around too soon, do we?" He said with a slight laugh.
Fuu trembled, clenching her left hand into a fist and bringing it to her chest. Her right hand opened and droplets of moisture were drawn to her palm, forming a jagged longsword. Jiraiya grinned as he drained the last of sake and chuckled slightly.
The next moment, the two were running through the halls, the Sannin laughing as his student trailed behind, swinging her water blade in wild arcs.
"GET BACK HERE YOU PERVERT!"
Naruto walked through the outer hallway of the castle as he made his way through the somewhat familiar castle. He'd gotten lost briefly, he'd only been there once before and had only been given a brief tour, but one of the servants had pointed the way to the guest quarters for him. As he turned a corner, he blinked as he found Fuu, leaning on the railing, her form bathed in moonlight as he stared out into the night.
The mint haired girl let out a breath. After chasing her sensei for a few minutes, he'd managed to give her the slip as he turned a corner. She was sure he was laughing his ass off somewhere beyond her reach and it irritated her to no end.
"Fuu?" Naruto called out, causing his fellow Jinchuriki to turn to him.
"Oh, heya Naruto!" Fuu greeted with a smile as he walked over to her side.
"What are you doing out here? Didn't get enough of the sights?" The blond asked, only to raise a brow when Fuu's expression suddenly became irritated, her eyes vanishing into shadows.
"Jiraiya escaped a well-deserved punishment..."
Naruto's face took on a hint of annoyance. "Let me guess, he said something perverted, right?"
"What else could he have done?" The mint haired girl asked. That was pretty much his MO and he was still bound by their bet so he couldn't have actually done anything perverted. Her orange eyes once more revealed to Naruto, she asked, "What did Koyuki want to talk about?"
"Oh, you know." Naruto shrugged. "She just wanted to talk a bit about last time I was here. I asked her what it was like leading a country and that went on for a while. Running a ninja village probably isn't that different, so I wanted to hear her thoughts since I'm planning on being Hokage someday."
"Was that all?" Fuu asked somewhat skeptically.
Naruto frowned curiously. "Yeah," Fuu relaxed slightly at that "why? What else would we have talked about?"
Fuu decided to tease the blond and shrugged "Not much. I was just thinking that this was the kind of scene where the princess confesses her love to her gallant hero, that's all."
"WH- WHAT!?" Naruto shouted, taken aback. His eye bugging out and he took a step back, causing the girl to giggle. "Wh- what the hell, Fuu!? Has that old pervert been rubbing off on you!?"
"Hey! I resent that. I was just teasing, that's no reason to compare me to that dirty old man!" Fuu said with mock outrage. "I wasn't kidding though. That is what happens in a lot of romantic novels like in 'A Path of Might and Ninjutsu'." She closed her eyes and raised her hand. "The princess took her hero on a moonlit stroll through her castle and on its highest tower, admitted that she'd fallen in love with him, only for him to turn her down as he'd already fallen for his companion." She placed her hands on her cheeks and shook her head from side to side as she continued to gush. "It was one of the sweetest scenes I've ever read, topped only by the moment when he finally confessed his love for his beloved partner."
Naruto crossed his arms. "Well it's not what happened here. Koyuki and me are friends that are all."
"This is a nice place for it though, isn't it?" Fuu inquired before once again looking out at the land.
Naruto followed her gaze to the field of flowers and the river cutting through it, taking in their colors, dim but still visible and how the water reflected the crescent of silvery light hovering in the sky. The clouds had moved, revealing the moon in its full glory. "... Yeah, I guess it is."
"You... probably wish Sakura was here, don't you?" Fuu hesitantly fished for information.
Naruto crossed his arms and thought intensely, managing to look both serious and silly at the same time before finally, he shrugged. "Maybe."
Fuu raised an eyebrow. "Maybe?"
Naruto grinned and scratched the back of his head, "Well, I honestly haven't thought about her all that much so..."
"Oh, I see." She once more looked out on the land to conceal her expression from him, her thoughts racing. Was... was the old pervert actually right?
"Fuu?" Naruto questioned at her silence.
Fuu took a deep breath and gulped, trying to calm the feeling of anxiousness and anticipation she felt welling up inside, fluttering around in her belly so much like the cliché expression of butterflies. She remained silent as she thought on what to say. She was scared, so very scared, of being rejected. Of how that could destroy the first bond she'd ever forged with anyone close to her age. But at the same time, she'd read enough romantic stories to know that nothing good ever came from holding off on confessing one's feelings. At best, a lot of time was wasted as friends when the pair could have been so much more. At worst, the hesitant girl could lose the object of their affections to another, more confident and straightforward girl, or it could cause all kinds of conflict if the confession came after someone else's. "Naruto..." She began, turning to the blond. She could hear her heart beating in her ears. "... what do you think of me?"
Naruto blinked at the question and Fuu's demeanor. He'd never seen her look like this before. She was almost always happy or wearing the cold mask she put up when they first met to shield her heart from a world that hated her for what she held, not counting when she was angry of course. He'd never seen her look so... uncertain. Nervous. Vulnerable. "Huh? What brought this on?"
"Could you just answer the question?"
"Alright, alright." Naruto replied before he just let the words come to him. "Honestly, I think you're great." He said with a shrug and smiled at her. "I mean, you're probably the best friend I've ever had. You're smart, funny, and really pretty and you always lend me a hand when I need it. I feel like I could just spend all day, every day with you and it would all I'd need."
Fuu's cheeks had grown redder and redder as the blond had obliviously gone on. She uncertainly asked, "D- do you really think I'm pretty?" She asked, having never been complimented on her appearance before.
"Why the hell would I call you pretty if I didn't mean it?" Naruto replied, somewhat irritated that she thought he'd just say something like that. "You're one of the most beautiful girls I know!" Fuu's blush deepened at that.
"G- Geez, it's like you have feelings me or something." Fuu replied, half joking and secretly half hopeful.
"Ah-!" Naruto's eyes widened and his own face lit up. "I- it's not that. I mean, I do like a lot you, but- Ah! What am I saying!?" Fuu laughed as he stumbled over his words, feeling somewhat at ease until he calmed down somewhat. "A- anyway, where'd this come from all of a sudden?"
She gulped, her nervousness returning. She tried her best to resolve herself, readying to take the plunge. "N- Naruto... It's... well I..."
Naruto frowned and tilted his head to the side in curiosity. "Well..."
"I just..." Fuu started hesitantly, her eyes shifting from place to place as her wants and fears warred within her, her limbs feeling cold as she contemplated the crossroads she found herself at. It sounded like Naruto MIGHT feel the same way she did but... if he didn't and she told him how she felt, she could lose the only friend she ever had. A better friend than she ever thought she'd have. Someone she realized she wanted to spend her life with, someone she'd give anything for. Could she risk destroying their friendship in hopes that it might evolve into something more?
She sighed and shook her head. "It's nothing. Never mind." She couldn't do it. There was too much at stake. The mint haired Jinchuriki turned and began to walk away, only for Naruto to grip her arm. "I'm going to head back to-"
That was as far as she got before Naruto grabbed her left arm, firmly holding her in place as he looked at her determinedly. "Fuu, there's no way all that stuttering was 'nothing'. Tell me what's bothering you."
Fuu looked away. "There's nothing bothering me, I just... I don't know, look just let go alright?"
Naruto shook his head. "Not until you tell me what's wrong."
Fuu turned around and knocked his hand away, getting incensed. Why'd he have to make this more difficult. The worst part was she couldn't really blame him, it was obvious something was troubling at her and he just wanted to help. She was really more annoyed with herself for making it so obvious while she was having her internal conflict. "There's nothing wrong! Why are you making such a big deal over this?"
"Because I don't like seeing you upset!" Naruto answered heatedly, causing her eyes to widen. "Something's been eating you since we got to this castle. Just tell me so I can help you."
"..." Fuu looked away, her face taking on an uncertain look again as her cheeks reddened slightly and she cursed internally herself. "... It's nothing you can help with. So just leave it."
"Try me." Naruto said adamantly.
Fuu growled under her breath. Why'd he have to be so stubborn!? "I'm telling you to leave it!"
"And I'm telling you I won't! Just tell me so I can help you!"
"Fine! You really want to know!?"
"Yes! What, have you gone deaf!? That's what I've been saying!"
Fuu's response was something the blond could never have seen coming in a million years. The mint haired girl grabbed his head, her fingers burying themselves in his blond hair and pulled him to her, closing her eyes and pressing their lips together.
And it was wonderful.
The blond Uzumaki was frozen in place, his eyes widening in shock as Fuu's warm, soft lips pressed against his own. For a few moments, all he could do was stand there numbly as Fuu's grip on his head softened, his mind locked between being stunned by her actions and mesmerized by what he was feeling.
And then it was over. Fuu pulled away, first seeming pleased with, then terrified by her actions as she stepped away, bringing her hands in front of her chest as her cheeks flamed, matching Naruto's. The blond didn't like the way she looked there. He'd never seen her look so afraid before. Part of him wanted to wrap his arms around her and comfort her. Another wanted to kiss her again, but his mind was still refusing to work as he stood there stock still, his eyes wide and his mouth agape.
"Well... I guess you know what was bothering me this whole time now." She said, a little hesitantly, though seeming to gain courage as she continued. There was no going back now anyway. "Sorry. I tried not to let you notice but... seeing Koyuki cling to you... it hurt. Like thinking about how you felt about Sakura has for a while now. So you're probably wondering when this started. When did I... fall for you?" She chuckled ruefully to herself. "Honestly... I don't know. Ever since you got me to open up, I wanted to stay close to you. You made me happy, truly happy without a cloud hanging over me for the first time in years. But... I'd never felt like that before. You made all the pain I felt ebb away, until all that was left were whispers I could barely even hear. No matter how we fought or what happened, you stood by me. Just having you near me became enough to make me smile. The best moments of my life have been by your side. I took me a while, but I finally realized... I want to be with you, always. And bring you the same joy and comfort you gave me."
Naruto didn't budge as her words sunk in. Countless thoughts flooded his mind, clashing with each other in a roaring maelstrom that left his mind paralyzed as he processed them all.
"But... you always went on about how you wanted to make Sakura happy, so I always told myself not to even think about it. And... I was afraid. Because you were the first friend I ever had. Things would never be the same if I told you and if you turned me down..." She trailed off, averting her eyes, looking like it was painful even considering what could happen if he did that. "That's why I kept telling myself you were just a friend. So I could stay with you, even if it wasn't the way I really wanted, but I couldn't lie to myself anymore."
Fuu managed a smile, doing her best to hide how nervous she was. "I won't ask for you to answer now. But please... don't leave me."
With that, she turned and walked away as his eyes followed her reflexively. She briefly turning back to him when she reached the corner before vanishing from sight. Moments later, Naruto blinked as he finally came to his senses. He stood there and placed his fingers to his mouth, the feel of Fuu's lips against his tantalizing him and brought out a warm feeling in his chest as a single thought consumed his mind.
What the hell just happened?
And then in a rush, the memory of Fuu's confession came to him and he froze all over again.
Koyuki made her way to her room, thinking back to her talk with the blond. She smirked as she wondered if she succeeded in her endeavor. Jealousy was always a strong clue to the heart's' true desire after all.
She hoped that, in their absence, Fuu would realize what she felt and act on her feelings. It was clear as day Naruto felt the same, even if neither of them realized. Personally, she lamented that he wasn't a few years older; otherwise she really might have tried to snatch him up for herself. He had so many traits that could make a person fall for him. But, there was no point dwelling on what ifs, that was something she'd learned during her life on the run, even if she wasn't as cynical about what was and wasn't possible anymore.
She slid open the door to her room... and found a perfect replica of herself sitting at her desk, staring at her mirror. Her copy turned to her and smiled before she heard something drop behind her, then she knew only darkness as she lost consciousness.
I hope you enjoyed it. Please review.