Welcome to my new story. I am not finished writing this one yet; I have about seven chapters finished. I began writing this during NaNoWriMo 2011 and have been working on it alongside KW for quite a while now. I felt it was time to let the first chapter be exposed.

As always, I only own my Original Characters (who are only prevalent at the beginning, if you're worried) and the chain of events. Everything else is of course the property of Naruto's writer and publishers.

This is rated for violence and mentions of prostitution and drug use.

This story addresses what I consider a plot hole canon: how Sarutobi would allow Naruto to grow up so mistreated in a village without any training in being a jinchuuriki when he understood that Minato had left Naruto as insurance. The blind optimism that apparently fueled Sarutobi's decision to leave the immense power of the Kyuubi in Naruto's downtrodden hands when Naruto could have easily come to hate the village sparked this alternative in me.

Sarutobi Hiruzen stopped pressing against the invisible barrier only because it ceased to exist. He stumbled forward a few steps, his knees aching.

He was too old for this bullshit.

The baby was screaming, wailing for the milk and comfort his cooling mother was no longer in a position to give. Hiruzen's subordinates immediately went to their fallen Yondaime's side, though some turned to his wife. Hiruzen alone went to the baby lying in the middle of the smoking candles.

Golden fuzz hinted that the child followed more closely in his father's footsteps than his mother's. The whisker marks pointed to the child having shared his mother's body with the beast now sharing his. An unfortunate tell.

Hiruzen scooped the child up and signalled that his shadows attend him. Two flitted away from the Yondaime's bloody corpse to stand just behind him.

"Gather what personnel you can and search neighbouring villages and beyond, but not Konoha, for a woman capable of breastfeeding this boy alongside her own child if necessary. Preference will be given to a mother without a child to compete with him. Find a bottle of breast-milk for him in the meantime, even if you have to plunder Kushina's corpse. He needs sustenance if he's going to live. Present a list to me within three days. We do not have much time to settle him before the chaos clears enough that people begin asking questions. Minato-sama sacrificed his son. It is our job to see that my successor's gamble pays off."

The shadows disappeared.

The baby continued to howl.

Sighing, Hiruzen began the trek back to the office he had given up to the promising young man who would begin to rot soon.

Jiraiya was in Lightning when the message caught up with him.

The toad shuffled uncomfortably as the legendary ninja, once part of a trio of legendary ninjas, buried his face in his palms and started crying.

The Sandaime concluded several things when ANBU agents finished reporting what little they had managed to gather from the place he had sent Uzumaki Kushina to give birth.

The first rattled him. His wife was dead.

The urge to shake and rage like a much younger man blazed through him, but time had given him external calm many found frightening. This calm just left him sick and exhausted and alone. How was he going to tell his sons?

The world was not kind to shaken fathers, because there were further details to ponder.

The guards that should have prevented Biwako's murderer's entry were dead as well, having been found after their corpses bobbed to the surface of the river further downstream. The med-nin that had been assigned to assist Biwako was also dead.

That meant there were no witnesses.

Hiruzen was not alive at his ripe old age by being unsuspicious and naive. If there were no witnesses, it was likely that was intentional.

This implied that Kyuubi had not broken out on his own since all these murdered witnesses were in no way singed or showed any other signs that implied the Kyuubi had been behind their death. That implied a third party since Sarutobi would not even pause to consider the possibility Kushina or Minato had murdered their attendants. Inuzuka ANBU had verified a foreign scent's presence in the cave.

This third party had apparently been involved in events that had broken Kyuubi free of Kushina and left little Naruto an orphan. Minato had willingly put the Kyuubi in his son after bearing loving witness to the suffering it had inflicted on the wife he adored instead of allowing his dying wife to take the Kyuubi with her.

Hiruzen was certain that this third party was a major threat and probably the lynchpin behind all this death. He was also cautiously assuming that Minato had left Naruto Kyuubi as insurance.

Dangerous insurance.

The boy would need guarding before being able to cash in on his father's parting gift.

In the end, Hiruzen had the uneasy feeling that his concern over the stress on the seal from childbirth had played right into the third party's hands.

But this implied that the third party had known about Kyuubi in Kushina, had known about the seal's weakness, and had somehow seen use in something as wild as Kyuubi.

That cave had been a long way from Konoha. And no one had seen or sensed the beast approaching until it had been on the wrong side of Konoha's wall.

It was as if the Yondaime had teleported it there or it had been summoned there, since the former was as likely as the moon being made of cheese and Hiruzen being able to convince his unruly younger son that smoking cigarettes was not something you should start doing in order to show your pipe-smoking father how behind the times he was. Hiruzen rubbed his eyes. The list of people that could control the Kyuubi and summon it so stealthily from inside Konoha without alerting the barrier team to a foreign presence was very short, so short indeed that it should be nonexistent.

Naruto started snivelling, stirring in the basket Hiruzen had dug out of his attic. The Hokage made a beckoning motion, and a snake-masked agent appeared before him and passed him a bottle of milk.

"And what if he's unhappy about his diaper instead? Will you assist me with that as well?"

With a snort, the agent disappeared.

Hiruzen chuckled.

The disturbing thought that if Uchiha Madara was still somehow alive despite all expectations, how he had figured out that Kushina was the new vessel and when and where she would be at her weakest nagged at him.

A traitor in their midst wasn't an implication Hiruzen was comfortable with.

Rat–12 stumbled back into Konoha around midnight, passing over the wall gracelessly. Despite the hour, he headed straight for the Hokage Monument and climbed the cliff to stand in front of ANBU headquarters. The two Boar agents standing guard at the door quizzed him briefly before letting him pass. He faced the same ordeal twice more as he made his way deeper into the warren that ANBU maintained.

Dragon–1 looked up from his paperwork when Rat finally knelt before him. "So?"

Rat raised his head to attempt to read his faceless leader. "I've found a prostitute who might suit. Her child…"


Rat shrugged. "But very late. She claims miscarriage. Rumour has it that she was beaten late in her third trimester and that it killed the baby. In any case, she's desperate for money, knows how to keep her mouth shut, and is miraculously clean of disease for the most part, though I suspect warts or herpes. She's new to her trade, though she's been exposed to it for a long time. Money would motivate her to be mobile. She's lactating, so she should suit."

Dragon–1 nodded. "Her name and location, for the list."

"Mae, no clan name apparently, from Tanzaku Gai's pleasure district." He shuffled, torn between curiosity and weariness. "How long is the list?"

"Ten so far. Quite a few have yet to report in. All of them have one flaw or another. Go get some rest."

Hiruzen inspected the list. Forty names with their locations and their circumstances graced the paper. Some women had other children. Others were bound to a husband, which would make things complicated. One more person to hold the secret, to weaken the security of the secret. No, a husband was not acceptable. Neither were other children, as they were just as likely to blab, if less likely to need to be told the whole story.

That shortened the list to three candidates. One widow woman had lost her child to health problems her village physician had been unable to handle. A woman deep in grief would benefit from Naruto's happy manners, but she had family who would ask questions. Yet another impossibility. The second was a prostitute. Not a particularly happy placing for Naruto, since the agent had marked the woman as crass and ill tempered, but she was alone in the world.

The last woman lived with her brother.

Hiruzen glanced at Naruto, who was drooling in his sleep. "My poor boy, it looks like the whore is your best choice. You and I will have to be quiet about this though. My teammates and Danzou want me to keep you here, where you'll be protected and forever watched. We cannot chance it though, little man. Who is to say that you being here, in the midst of anger and grief, would be better for you? No, best you escape with a guard strong in the way of disguise and secrecy. Someone who can help you escape the fastest is best because fighting Uchiha Madara is not an option if he really did survive his battle with Shodaime-sama."

Naruto snoozed on, oblivious.

Hiruzen cocked a finger, and a Ram agent appeared before him. "Bring Dragon–1 to me. Tell him to bring along the roster of spies and scouts."

Dragon–1 spread the lists out before his newly reinstated Hokage, but the old man focused on him instead.

"Who's the best at hiding?"

"Conventional hiding?" asked Dragon.

"Hiding and blending in, maintaining cover."

Dragon pointed at Rat–12, 67, 173, Snake–5, 17, Monkey–12, and 25.

"Which of those is the best at escaping?"

Dragon eliminated Rat–173 and Snake–17.

"Who is the best at extending these skills to another person?"

Dragon eliminated Rat–12, Snake–5, and Monkey–25.

"Which of those that remain is the most loyal, the best, the most fit to be a guardian to two for years?"

Dragon hesitated. He pointed at Rat–67 at last. "He's unattached, so his absence from Konoha won't be as big a deal as it would for the others. He's respectable but has no experience as a guardian save for the occasional guarding mission and his 'mother hen' role in any team. Is this for…?" He glanced at Naruto.

The Sandaime nodded, having been able to see the motion through the eye slits in Dragon's mask.

"Then I would suggest one other."


"The boy who possesses the lost element."

The Sandaime frowned for a moment before he worked it out and grinned. "A wise idea, however little I like the idea of sending him out there."

"The village is not the ideal environment for him in his orphaned and experimental state, given how we keep him in ANBU. Playing older brother would help him adjust, maybe."

Sarutobi-sama nodded. "I'll check in with his therapist. Otherwise, bring Rat–67 before me and make sure that Inoichi is on standby. I can't take any risks. Someone knew about Kushina. We must ensure that secrecy will be absolute until the boy is strong enough that delivering him to his godfather will not be a hasty move."

Dragon gathered up his scrolls and saluted. "I'll ensure that the Uchiha know nothing of the move."

"The Uchiha?" Sarutobi-sama was frowning.

"Whispers have been going around that many of the Uchiha adults were missing the night of the attack. Also, one of my agents noted that Uchiha Mikoto was the only person Uzumaki Kushina-sama spoke to before leaving the village with Biwako-sama. The Kyuubi has long been a symbol of their strength."

The Hokage looked troubled when he dismissed Dragon–1 without another word.

The Uchiha are suspect? Hiruzen couldn't say he was surprised; the Uchiha did flaunt their association with fire. However, Uchiha Madara had split from the Uchiha that remained in Konoha, spiting their refusal to help him rebel. His hatred for them was probably only second to his hatred for the Shodaime. Would he have set aside that hatred for the chance to reclaim the Kyuubi? The scent had been foreign though. He would have to make sure the Inuzuka ANBU went through the Uchiha area. Scents could be masked, but at least this would give a bit more certainty.

All this speculation of course begged the question of what on earth Madara wanted with Kyuubi. The obvious answer was the destruction of Konoha. It was likely, but Hiruzen felt that for all the symbolism of stealing back a lost weapon and unleashing it on the very place that had laid claim to it, it didn't seem to be enough. Uchiha Madara had been powerful enough to carve a valley when he had clashed with Shodaime-sama. He was capable of levelling Konoha without Kyuubi.

"Little man, did the man who interrupted your birth say anything to you about why he had gone to all this trouble?"

Naruto only whimpered for a diaper change.

Takashi rolled his shoulder nervously as he peered out from behind his rat mask at the sparse details the mission scroll provided him.

Duration: five to ten years

Breaks: none permitted

Location: Fire (absolute location yet to be decided)

Essential Skills: child rearing, undercover operation techniques, further skills to be disclosed later

Team Size: four

Client: Yondaime and Sandaime Hokage

It was strange that the Yondaime claimed to be requesting this mission when he had died four days ago and the mission had been logged as of that morning. Takashi supposed that meant it was being done according to the Yondaime's will or it aided his former purposes. The Sandaime and the Council were the only ones with enough authority to legally tack his name onto this mission, not that anyone but the Council, ANBU, and the Hokage would ever see the details of this top secret mission.

"Well?" said Dragon–1.

"Sir, this is very secret?"

"Very. You are not allowed to discuss this mission with anyone other than me and the Sandaime Hokage."

The Council was not allowed to be involved. That made Takashi nervous because that meant that if the Sandaime also died, this mission would have no one heading it and the only one aware of its existence would be the team and Dragon–1. "Is it very important to the wellbeing of the village?"

Dragon–1 paused. "I am betting so, though I think it will take many years for the true extent of the mission's importance to become obvious. Sandaime-sama better understands the particulars. I need to mention that if you accept this mission, you will be undergoing a deep scan by the Interrogation Commander."

So it was very important. And very secret.

Takashi gulped silently. "May I have a day to consider it?"

"Six hours," Dragon–1 said grudgingly. "There isn't much time. Delay only makes things worse."

So it was time sensitive too. Rat–67 handed the mission scroll back, accepted the silencing seal Dragon–1 painted on the back of his hand, and slipped out of the room.

As he wandered out of the warren of ANBU headquarters and along the top of the Hokage Monument, Takashi considered his options as he carefully kept his silence seal intact: any disturbance of the lines would lead to interrogation. This was obviously a mission he was not allowed to talk about at all. That meant that if he did refuse the mission, he would be seeing a Yamanaka to edit out his knowledge of it.

Scary stuff.

Did he want to throw aside his life in Konoha, such as it was, for the next five to ten years? He wasn't unused to long missions, but the longest he had been out of the village at a stretch had been two years on an undercover mission in Lightning. When he had gotten back, it had taken months to reconnect with his friends, never mind his former teammates. It would be at least twice as bad when he returned if he accepted this mission.

No doubt, his crush, Hyuuga Sora, would be bound in marriage with children by then, not that she reciprocated at all.

ANBU agents didn't have personal lives, for the most part. He'd heard Snake–28 telling the Hatake kid that once in the mess hall shortly after the kid had claimed a dog mask. The fact that Snake–28 was a conniving old bitch didn't make her words any less true.

Sighing, Takashi headed back inside, only eighteen minutes of his six hours used up. The rest of his time could be spent figuring out what to do with his worldly belongings and his apartment. ANBU would handle his landlord, either by paying off his rent until his contract ran out by subletting his place or by terminating his lease early. His stuff could go into storage or be sold off. Takashi was leaning towards the latter since the chances he would come back with the same tastes were slim.

He'd learned after his last mission that returning to his reclaimed and refurnished apartment hadn't been the same as coming home. All his trappings had felt odd, as though they belonged in a museum. It had been a disconcerting experience.

He had every intention of avoiding it this time by selling everything except his photo albums.

Takashi swayed slightly in his chair as Yamanaka Inoichi shut the door behind himself.

Sandaime-sama was watching him with a pitying and proud expression. "Thank you for enduring that. I suspect a spy, so I had to be sure."

"Hai, Hokage-sama."

Sarutobi-sama clapped his hands, and a genjutsu dissolved, revealing that a collection of three cushions carefully stacked in the far corner of the office was instead a basket. The old Hokage shuffled across the room to collect the wicker contraption, revealing that a baby with blond fuzz lay nestled amidst the blankets it contained.

Rat–67 suddenly understood why Yondaime-sama was considered in on this mission. "Permission to speak freely?"

"Granted, Takashi-kun."

He relaxed slightly. "What are the whisker marks from?"

"It was not widely known, but Uzumaki Kushina-sama was Senju Mito's successor. Both women had the Kyuubi sealed inside them, making them what are commonly called jinchuuriki. Children carried in jinchuuriki seem to inevitably carry some mark of their unusual confinement. Mito-sama's child bore similar marks. Kyuubi escaped from Kushina-sama somehow during her delivery of Naruto, which happened outside of the village because giving birth weakened the seal used on Kyuubi. Unfortunately, the events you know of came to pass, and the Yondaime and his wife are no longer with us. I witnessed them sealing Kyuubi into their son, Uzumaki Naruto."

Takashi glanced at the boy as the Sandaime pulled aside the blanket to reveal the babe's belly. The Hokage somehow pushed chakra through the boy's system, revealing a dark seal around the bellybutton, which still had some dried umbilical cord attached to it.

"Someone brought Kyuubi into Konoha. Someone murdered everyone at the birth except for Kushina-sama, Minato-sama, and Naruto-kun here, our sole true survivor. That someone found out about the secret birth despite all our efforts and security. We must get Naruto-kun out of Konoha and safely hidden.

"You were selected because this mission is not about fighting; it is about hiding this boy and ensuring he grows up well enough. You will lead this mission and do whatever it takes to make it succeed."

"What happens to the boy when the mission ends?"

"He will go to his godfather, Jiraiya. I would send him to him now, but it is likely that Jiraiya will be watched, given the close ties between him and Minato-sama. Putting them together at this point isn't wise."

"So you don't want him to enter the Academy?"

"At the moment, no. Our security has been severely breached. I cannot see Konoha as a safe place any longer, not for the bearer of the Kyuubi. Yes, the attacker waited until Kushina-sama was outside our walls, but I do not know if that was because that was where she was giving birth or if our defences were what warned him off. I suspect the former given how Kyuubi was likely summoned into the village. Naruto-kun, being a man, will never suffer the weakness of childbirth, so his seal will remain strong. It is in the assailant's best interest to kill him as soon as possible and wait for Kyuubi to escape death. That or drive Naruto into losing himself to Kyuubi."

"So," said Takashi carefully, struggling to keep up, "for the first few years, I should expect assassination, while later on I should expect someone to brainwash Naruto-kun into voiding the seal somehow?"

"Or giving in to rage. Mito-sama and Kushina-sama noted that darker emotions tended to weaken them to Kyuubi's influence." The Sandaime settled the blanket back over Naruto when the babe protested the cold. "Now, the team. You will have another agent with you. Tenzou-kun is young enough that he will be able to act as an elder brother to the boy. Better still, Tenzou-kun carries the same genetic skills that Shodaime-sama did in almost all respects, save that his strength with these gifts doesn't compare."

"So you hope he'll be able to exert some control over Kyuubi if Naruto does start losing himself."

"Exactly, Takashi-kun. You are quick to catch on. Good. Now, your other teammate is less reliable than Tenzou-kun, unfortunately, but she is absolutely necessary, at least for a few months."

"A few months… A milk mother."

"Exactly. Mae-san is a … courtesan from Tanzaku Gai. She has lost her own child, but she still is producing milk, so she will be able to wean Naruto-kun. Her loyalty is unfortunately only through money, so you will have to be wary of her. Also, what to do with her after her usefulness is ended is up to you. I ask that you contact Konoha for assistance in this matter only if you deem it absolutely necessary."

In other words, he could terminate her in order to ensure secrecy if he felt bothering with a memory block would be too troublesome. "Have you chosen the location for the mission? Have you selected a cover?"

The Sandaime shook his head. "I've deliberately left that up to you. I would rather that there is no way Konoha can provide leads to where you are. You will be provided with relay seals, so you can communicate directly with Dragon–1 or myself if necessary, but I ask that you use them only in the direst circumstances except for the occasional 'all is well'. You are running this show. Do whatever you must to keep this child safe and raise him to be resourceful as best you can, Takashi-kun. Also, do the same for Tenzou-kun. His upbringing has been very dark. I've assigned him to you in the hope that leaving Konoha will bring some light into his life."

The boy codenamed Tenzou glanced up from checking his kunai at a knock on his door. "Who is it?"


Tenzou struggled to remember which of the many Rat agents 67 was. He failed. "What is it?"

"Mission, Tiger–19. I need you to come with me to a briefing room."

He gathered his kunai back into his pouch, donned his mask, and slid open the door.

Rat–67 was average height, average colouring for a farmer from what little skin Tenzou could see, and of medium build. His mask was primarily inked with green, meaning he worked solo, but there was some of the expected black and red to show he worked as a team captain and a subordinate on occasion. He wore the standard uniform without the cloak. As a Rat agent, the man had to have leadership abilities, so it was odd that he worked primarily solo. It was more common for Monkeys and Snakes to be solo agents, being master spies and master assassins respectively. Other than these observations, Tenzou knew little of the man.

"Come. We're keeping Hokage-sama waiting."

Tenzou hurried now. He was more used to Minato-sama, but Sarutobi-sama was also kind to him, even if it was more of a guilty kindness than Minato-sama's was. He had heard that Orochimaru, the man who had altered him, had been Sarutobi-sama's student, which explained the guilt. Still, if that guilt included candied walnuts and meat buns, Tenzou was not going to complain.

When they slipped into Dragon–1's private briefing room, Sarutobi-sama activated the seals that warded against eavesdropping as a baby in a basket on the table started squirming and wailing. This mission must be very secret. Tenzou had never seen Sarutobi-sama use the seals in his office or in the ANBU briefing rooms before.

"Masks off," said Rat–67, reaching for his own.

"What?" Tenzou was astounded even as he began to obey.

"It is either 'pardon' or 'why', Tenzou-kun," Sarutobi-sama said. "'What' implies that you did not hear the order and is much ruder than 'pardon'."

"Hai, Hokage-sama."

Rat–67 set his wooden mask on the table and settled in a chair adjacent to the Hokage. Tenzou set his Tiger mask on the table as well and sat in the last chair.

"Tenzou-kun, for this mission, you are being assigned a codename, as is Rat–67. It will be a long mission, so I'm sure you will grow into it. You will both go unmasked. Rat–67 will be your squad leader, and he may change your codename at any point."

"Hai, Hokage-sama."

Rat slouched in his chair, knitting his fingers together as he set his clasped hands on the table. "Seiichi will be your first name, Tiger–19. I will be Mamoru. The baby shall be called…" He glanced at Sarutobi-sama.

The old man sighed. "Yes, he'll have a different name too."

"I just worry because he's young enough that his codename will stick for him. He won't understand."

"I trust you and Seiichi-kun can explain things to him, Mamoru-kun. He shall be Yuji-kun. Mae-san will need a different name as well."

Rat shuffled slightly, betraying nerves. Seiichi wondered who this Mae-san was and why she was frightening for his team leader. "I will collaborate with her on it. She may not understand the reasoning."

"Very good, Mamoru-kun. Now, Seiichi-kun, the mission is to be a brother to Yuji-kun here. Mamoru-kun will be your father figure, and Mae-san will act as Yuji-kun's mother figure for a time. We're counting on you to teach Yuji-kun how to be a good boy and how to begin to become a good ninja. As a good boy, he must learn how to make friends with boys and girls, learn how to play with them properly, and learn how to respect his elders. As a good ninja, he must know how to be sneaky, be swift, and be strong. Mamoru-kun will help you teach him how to be a good ninja."

Seiichi itched to ask why, why all this, but ANBU was not supposed to know the why. Only the how. "Hai, Hokage-sama."

"This mission will last years, so you will have lots of time to get it right." Sarutobi-sama handed over a book. Seiichi took it, resisting the urge to flip through its pages. "This is for you and you alone, unless Mamoru-kun absolutely needs to use it. You must never let Mae-san touch it or know it exists."

"What about Yuji-kun?" asked Rat, glancing at the baby.

"That will be for Seiichi-kun to decide. You may open the book."

Seiichi forced himself to go slowly, inspecting the cover, noting the subtle lines inscribed in the painted canvas cover. "A seal?"


Seiichi now opened the cover and investigated one blank page after another. "A journal?"

"As a cover. I would recommend using it as one to increase your cover as well. Every once in a while, write an entry about your day, in character. Now, repeat after me. Dear Fire, I've been thinking."

"Dear Fire, I've been thinking…?"

Hokage-sama handed him a pencil. "Write it in kanji."

Seiichi carefully scrawled down the kanji, struggling to remember the correct characters.

"No, Seiichi-kun, that one needs to be something different."

Seiichi quickly scratched out the character.

The Hokage shook his head. "No, you'll have to start again. Erase your previous attempt entirely. The words are a sequence that the seal recognizes. They must be written correctly without interruption, or the seal will not activate."

Seiichi made liberal use of his eraser as Mamoru-san and Sarutobi-sama corrected his stroke order. When he finally got the phrase correctly down, the characters were wiped from the page, leaving only the pressure indentations. Sarutobi-sama pulled out a matching book. "Keep writing, Seiichi-kun. Say anything you like."

I would like to thank Sarutobi-sama for trusting me with this mission. I don't understand why Yuji-kun needs to be hidden. The words faded from the page, the same way the opening phrase had, though a little slower.

"Are you done?"

Seiichi nodded.

"Now write 'That is a weight off my mind' in katakana. That is the end sequence for the seal."

This time, Seiichi had no trouble. Katakana were easier.

"Now write something simple anywhere on the page, even over where you were writing before."

Tigers are good fighters. The words stayed on the page. "Where did my other words go?"

Sarutobi opened his book and showed him the empty pages. He took out a pencil and scribbled three fire characters on the top of his page. Seiichi's words appeared on the first empty line, exactly as he had written them. "For you, the code for getting my messages is a little more complicated. At the top of a page, write 'And what do you think?' in katakana and my reply should appear." Sarutobi-sama turned his book to face him and scrawled a short message. "Go on."

"Hai, Hokage-sama." Seiichi watched the Hokage's writing's appear on his page, starting on the first empty line. Yuji-kun is being hunted by bad people. We must keep him safe.

"Now wipe my words by writing 'That was helpful.' You must be careful when you are writing with a pen or a pencil. As you saw on your first page, the markings disappear, but the pressure marks are still there. Someone very clever could figure out your messages. If you can, try to use a brush and light pressure. That way, there will be no trace."

"Why give this to me, Hokage-sama?"

The old man smiled sadly. "You have been made into the Shodaime's image, but you have only begun to learn how to touch those gifts, never mind how to harness them. I do not have time to teach you now that you must go with Yuji-kun and Mamoru-kun. So, we will use this method to keep in touch. I will give you lessons through the journal. You will write any questions or concerns to me in there as well using the seal to send them to me and wipe them so no one else will be able to see them. This is a very complicated bit of seal work, so you must guard it carefully. It is valuable. Other ninja would find this very useful. We only let our agents use this in very special cases."

"Thank you, Hokage-sama," Seiichi whispered.

"You're welcome, Seiichi-kun. Now, you can only read my reply once, so be sure to memorize it before you wipe it. Never forget to wipe my reply before you set your diary aside."

Mae languidly licked beads of perspiration off the side of her straw, letting her lashes brush just so against her cheeks. She heard someone's breath catch to her left along the counter and let a slow smile curl the corners of her mouth as she put the straw back in her soda and drew the tip between her lips. Sweetness, fizz, and artificial flavour blasted her tongue, but she was more focused on the breathing rate of the person watching her.

Her target had been to her right, a youngish man out with his date. She would have passed her self-set test if she had managed to drag his eyes from his date to her. She had failed. Instead, Mae had drawn the attention of the woman sitting three seats to her left.

Oh well. That was fine.

Her breasts ached, and she couldn't keep a shirt clean and dry nowadays. Miscarrying was a pain in the ass. She hadn't had a sane client ever since she had failed to terminate her mistake in the first few weeks. She had stopped trying after that. She'd done some research. She didn't want to kill something with a head, with eyes. No, at that point, she'd been resigned to stretch marks and being stretched out down where being tight was a necessity. Her dreams of silk kimonos and tea ceremonies had died painfully.

She had resigned herself to fucking sickos who had a thing for pregnant women and milk-heavy breasts.

Then the worst sicko had decided to beat the baby out of shape while it was still in her. With his feet.

She fought the grimace off her face and sighed instead. Grimaces were never sexy. Sighs, deep and mournful or light and wistful, could be a hook.

The woman watching her cleared her throat and called for the bill.

Mae traced a corkscrew curl she had somehow threatened and tortured out of its genetically programmed ridiculously tight coils into something halfway passable.

The woman dropped an overly generous tip and fled.

Mae chuckled quietly. Obviously, someone was not comfortable with being anything but het.

Her mirth was cut short when the bust of her dress pressed against her carefully placed arm felt very damp.


The shop's bell clanged as someone pulled the door open. Strange, she couldn't hear his footsteps. "Mae-san?"

She jumped at how close behind her his voice was, spinning to stare at him, her carefully crafted pose ruined. The man's badly chopped hair and patchy beard caught her attention before she found his dark eyes. The contempt in them told her that he wasn't here for her cunt. His contempt, his silence, his bad haircut, and the scars she could see on his exposed skin led her to one conclusion.


With a weary groan and a teasing smile, he sat down next to her. If it wasn't for the lingering contempt hiding in his eyes, she would have thought he was an old friend she was supposed to be meeting. Maybe he could have been a former classmate from the school she had never attended regularly enough to remember its name or where her desk was. "You didn't get me anything?"

"I'm terribly sorry," she gushed, carefully positioning her arm to hide her wet bust again. He had noticed it in the penetrative glance he had met her with. If his contempt hadn't made her so angry, she would have been slightly embarrassed. "It's been a while. I wasn't sure you liked iced tea anymore, so I didn't dare jump the gun."

"Ginger ale is always a much safer bet. I've gotten over iced tea."

"Ha! You see? It's not like it takes long." Mae leaned forward and waved the proprietress over. "A ginger ale for my friend and a kettle corn parfait just for me."

Mamoru-san's face was a picture of disgust. "Popcorn and whipped cream?"

"Hush! I told you, the flavours jibe."

The proprietress returned with their orders, and they set to absent chatter, carefully taking their cues from each other. Mae was a consummate actress by necessity—men (and women) needed to be convinced she was enjoying herself (against her will sometimes) since it made them come back for more ego stroking. It seemed Mamoru-san was no slouch either. They ended up moving to a booth where she could lean back against the too red vinyl seats and spoon the odd confection into her mouth while he sipped from his tumbler, elbows on the table.

He knocked the conversation off its lighthearted track after a lull. "If you could pick a name, any name, for yourself, what would it be? You can't pick Mae."

With a slight frown, she licked her spoon sensuously to see if he would twitch, but he was stone. "Hmm. A name for myself?" She dragged a finger along the inside of her parfait glass, scooping up chocolate and whipped cream traces. She sucked her finger clean slowly and very thoroughly until Mamoru-san snorted.

"You sure that's clean enough? Maybe there's some ghost of sticky residue still haunting your fingerprint."

She pouted at him. "Meanie! It tastes good. I don't want to waste any of it!"

"A name, greedy guts?"

She huffed. "Fine, Hiromi. That way my name would perfectly reflect my physical perfection."

He puffed a breathy laugh into his forearms before raising his head. "Very well then, no take-backs."

"Why would I?" she asked, smearing the last traces of her treat onto her finger, setting her glass aside, and dropping her spoon in with a chink as she cleaned her finger off for the last time.

"You'll see. Should we get going?"

If she understood this correctly, this was the point where she had to accept or reject the job offer. There was some baby they wanted her to feed. The amount of money they had offered her was staggering, more than enough to maybe restore her dreams of silken kimono and poetry. If she wanted to be stupid and say no, she would beg off.

Mae was not stupid, just bruised and burdened with aching, leaking breasts. "Sure."

Mamoru led the slut from the sweets shop through Tanzaku Gai's streets to the hotel he had left Seiichi and Yuji to lay low at. She took his hand, threaded her fingers through his, and swung their linked arms playfully every now and then as she chattered to fill their silence. He tried to keep up, tried to keep being absorbed in catching up with a classmate, but she was too much. Everything about her was sex. She was so focused on it, on projecting it, and on forcing everyone within a certain radius of her to make her the object of their sexual desires.

He wasn't interested, so her insistence kept bouncing off his wall, which only made her push harder.

He would need to lay out some ground rules and force her to settle down. He needed her focused on Yuji, not on plying her trade.

Besides, she would freak poor Seiichi-kun out.


She was forced to stop with him in the hotel lobby, her momentum and her grip on his hand spinning her to face him. She cocked her head questioningly.

"I need you to…" He sighed and raked his free hand through his hair.


"Seiichi's not used to… you know. He's not even eleven. So can you…?"

"Tone it down?"

He allowed a relieved smile to curl his lips and soften the creases around his eyes. "Yeah."

She nodded and propped a hand on her hip. "Silly Mamoru! You're still a worrywart. I would never spoil his virgin ears and eyes. This is just for you."

He ignored her last words. "He's still torn up about…" His shoulders slumped. "I never thought she would…"

Hiromi-san paused for a long moment, obviously scrambling to catch up. "No, I never considered it either," she whispered, squeezing his hand. "It's okay. She's watching over you three. I'm sure of it."

The whore was good. Very good. Mamoru relaxed internally, glad his doubts about her ability to count and make the proper deductions had been blasted to smithereens. He nodded and glanced up at her through his bangs. "Yeah…"

She ducked down and peered up at him in order to better meet his gaze, a sad smile creasing her coffee skin. "Let's go, huh? We can't keep Seiichi-kun waiting."

With a decisive nod, he strode towards the stairs, not sparing the receptionist that had played audience to their performance a glance.