AN: Whooo one week break from writing turned into a month O.o man I have no discipline. Let me know what you guys think! Liking those reviews =)

The Mermaid's Palace was an innovative fusion of nightclub, casino, diner and entertainment district all by itself on board a massive retrofitted cruise liner that was always seen peddling about on the Kapa Lake no matter the hour. The former luxury ocean voyager boasted three separate dance floors, two dining halls, a theater, a casino, two decks dedicated for shopping alone, a floor for entertainment, multiple swimming pools on its open decks, and rooms at the bottom of the hull for those who wanted to rent out a space for more private activities.

Its reputation was a well-earned one, hailed as one of the hottest hang outs for the young and wealthy. There were hushed whispers that perhaps the owner of The Mermaid's Palace was involved with less reputable business ventures, but the air of danger only added to its mystique and allure for those seeking excitement. Unsurprisingly people flocked from all across the elemental nations to party on board the luxury liner or at least wait in line to try to get on board in most cases.

Naruto and Ino arrived at dock 17 where an unending crowd sought entrance to the party ship waited impatiently for a ferry to bring them on board the boat once it was deemed there was enough room for more guests. The line of humanity that snaked together in the immeasurable waiting cue was suffocating to even look at.

Ino had been fairly certain that they'd have to turn back and find another place to go to once she laid eyes on the horde of people seeking entry. Despite her good looks she doubted they'd be getting in just because she batted her eyelashes at the bouncer. But lo and behold, Naruto had marched right up to the head of the line as if he owned the place, not even pausing to acknowledge the disgruntled people glaring at them from the line. Judging by how quickly the entry guard pulled back the red velvet rope holding the crowd back when they spotted him, Ino wouldn't be surprised if Naruto had in fact neglected to mention that he had some ownership of the ship during their lengthy dinner conversation.

There had been much protest from the line, especially the group of young women who had just been refuted entrance despite flashing enough skin to put a strip club to shame. The massive dark skinned bouncer had scowled and told the complainers to shut the hell up or get out of line if they didn't like it. The griping continued, but no one moved.

Naruto led Ino to a smaller more private boat, away from the crowded ferry most the other disgruntled line waiters were being packed onto. The reserved boat was a miniaturized version of the larger transport, with generous spacing where a group of less than ten could seat themselves comfortably in the lavishly designed interior.

Despite the other boat still being grounded, a nod to the captain from Naruto had them taking off for the glowing dot in the distance without further due. Ten minutes of light snacking washed down with some soft drinks and they had found themselves on board the massive cruise, unmolested by the security personal that had simply moved aside as they waltzed past the checkpoint where dozens of others were being searched.

Ino was getting ready to interrogate her date on just what kind of connections he had with the luxury cruise party line, but put if off in favor of admiring the dance floor they found themselves on once past security. Hundreds of people were swaying and bouncing to the psychedelic beat blasting from the speakers, the semi darkness and blinking strobe lights illuminating flashes of sweat and skin.

The dizzying flashes of color was a shock to the senses, ugly if examined closely, but absolutely mesmerizing if you weren't sober. It was doubtful anyone here was sober. People rocked to and fro in time to the sound and slight shift of the waves, all dancing like it was the last night of their lives. There was something primal about the movement of the dancers, as if the music called up something so old and deep within humanity that the higher conscious couldn't truly express in anything less than motion.

The blonde girl found herself on the end of more than one lecherous stare as they cut through the crowd, but the gawkers quickly looked away when Naruto shot them a menacing glare. The few that had dared reach for her quickly withdrew their hands when he bared his teeth at them in a growl noticeable even through the din.

Naruto rested his hand on her lower back gingerly, gently steering them between franticly rushing club goers. His large frame easily shielded her from being jostled by the other guests on board the ship, more than once sending some inattentive person reeling backwards. Though she didn't need the protection Ino greatly appreciated the gesture.

The bar was crowded, but Naruto had volunteered to get them some beverages while they considered their next plan of action. After receiving a warning not to accept any drinks from strangers, and returning with a "do you think I'm stupid?" glare, Ino found herself alone by the tables, watching the writhing crowd with interest. Clubbing had never really been her thing, but she'd been to a few with the girls. None quite as big as this one though.

"Well hello there little lady, you look like you could use some company tonight."

Ino turned and raised a golden eyebrow at the three men who had approached her from behind. The dark markings on their skin branded them as members of the Yakuza, criminal empires that spanned beyond villages and even nations. These sophisticated mobsters did everything from threatening the local mom and pop store for protection money to running the intercontinental opium trade that had its poisonous fingers in just about every walk of life.

On general principles shinobi didn't mess with these ruffians unless they were directly related to the mission objectives. Ninja might be stronger, faster and better killers, but there were a lot of Yakuza. Enough that if they ever decided to start trouble it would prove troublesome to borrow Shikamaru's catchphrase, even for a village full of shinobi.

"I'm fine thank-you," she replied tersely. Turning to move away, she found her arm trapped by the lead man, a shirtless thug whose eyes gleamed with naked lust as he stared at Ino. The blonde felt a shiver of disgust build in the base of her spine. There was hardly any doubt what this vulgar animal wanted with her.

"Hmm don't be like that pretty lady," he leered, eyes roving across her exposed skin. "The boys and I have a private room below where you can entertain us. Only seems fair, after all you are on our boat."

The two other men sniggered, moving forward eagerly, their intentions clear. Ino considered her options. She could stab them, the kunai she had on her was more than adequate for her to kill them with. Hell she could do it with her bare hands.

Of course that might bring an untold amount of trouble on her head if someone recognized her, but by the gods that was tempting. Screaming went against her pride as a kunoichi, and it was doubtful she could be heard over the noise or if anyone would even help anyways.

Jerking her hand back, she glared at the three men, one of her hands snaking towards a hidden kuani.

"I'm warning you asshole, touch me again and you'll regret it," Ino snarled.

"Oh feisty," slurred one of the goons drunkenly. "I like that. You're probably a screamer aren't ya? Why don't you come downstairs scream for us pretty bird? I promise we'll be gentle."

"We have a problem here?"

Ino had never felt so relieved to hear Naruto's voice before.

Turning to scold the blonde for taking so long and leaving her alone to be harassed by these low life's, she felt the words die in her mouth when she caught a glimpse of his scowling visage. There was something decidedly different about Naruto as he stood rigidity with hands drawn into fists by his side, body tensed up like a coiled spring ready to explode outwards with violence. The steely quality in his cobalt eyes seemed wholly unfamiliar on the normally kind faced jinchuriki, a dangerous presence that raised the hair on the nape of her neck.

"Who the fu-"

The threats being issued from the three men fell still as their mouths hung open when they caught sight of him. Evidently it wasn't just her.

"Holy shit! Uzumaki!" blurted out the lead man, eyes widening hilariously.

His frightened gaze darted over to Ino who had suddenly found herself with a warm firm arm wrapped possessively around her waist. The motion seemed so natural that she barely noticed it happening.

She watched in bemusement as the thug's face took on an ashen countenance. It didn't seem possible, but the thug's eyes widened even further.

"She's your woman?" the Yakuza shrilled, doing a mighty impression of a frightened prepubescent boy.

His cronies had taken on a deathly pale appearance, mouths still agape. The lead man took a step back hesitantly as if unsure of whether he wanted to run or not.

Despite not knowing what was going on, Ino saw an amusing opportunity to exploit the situation based on their reaction. Wrapping herself around Naruto's shoulder, she nestled herself closer to him as if to emphasize to them just who she was with. The hand at her waist tightened noticeably, but not to the point it was painful.

"Damn right she is," glowered the demon host, eyes narrowed to dangerous slits. "I'll ask you again. Do. We. Have. A. God. Damn. Problem."

His voice deepened into a frighteningly inhuman growl as he punctuated his statement with a threatening noise from the back of his throat. All three men snapped ramrod straight and bowed sharply at the waist, all arrogance and pretentious airs gone.

"A thousand apologies," stammered out the leader while his lackeys quavered in their position of respect. "We hadn't known she was with you!"

A sharp thrill of fear stabbed at Ino as she felt the killing intent boiling off her date. Beads of sweat had broken out visibly on the three men's forehead, but they remained in their submissive positions, suffering through the moment of silence like cornered animals. After what seemed like an eternity, the dangerous aura finally dimmed, allowing them to breathe again.

"Disappear," snarled Naruto harshly.

The three men scrambled over each other to get away after his abrupt dismissal, racing to see who could put the most distance between them and the spiky haired blonde. Ino let her hold on Naruto loosen, but his own remained securely around her waist, a pleasant reassuring weight.

"Ino," he murmured lowly, drawing her closer. "Are you alright?"

Chuckling at his concern, Ino cocked her head to one side, examining her date. Even through the dim lighting, she could see that the whisker marks had definitely thickened, and this time it was most certainly not her imagination. On impulse she leaned forward and pecked him on the cheek, noting how the whisker marks were not in fact just skin aberrations like most thought, but actual groves that cut deep into the epidermis.

"I'm a big girl Naruto, I can take care of myself," Ino reassured him playfully. "Thanks for the save though, I was gonna start stabbing people and that probably wouldn't have ended well for anyone."

She wiggled her kunai to emphasis her point, hoping the slight levity would calm him down. Seeing no reaction Ino searched his eyes, startled to see flecks of gold glint unnaturally in the normally clear watery sapphire. His breathing was still more labored than normal, a sharp motion in his chest that she could feel against her form due to the closeness of their bodies. Naruto continued to hold her close, his grip relaxing but still protective.

Ino could feel a hot slick dampness that was starting to build up between her legs, but all thoughts of embarrassment was out the window as she remained firmly captivated by his intense gaze that still radiated hostility towards those men who had threatened her.

The naked aggression present was turning her on like nothing before, something about having Naruto so jealously possessive over her made him suddenly all the more attractive. A man who knew what he wanted and wasn't afraid to defend what he considered his. She could get used to that.

The noise and sights of the people around them seemed to fade away to nothing. Ino leaned forward unconsciously, lips parted, noting absently how Naruto was inching towards her as well.

"Well, well, Mad Dog Uzumaki still has what it takes to send my men running like the little puppies that they are hmmm?"

The amused purr broke the two blondes out of their trance, and both took a hasty step back, cheeks flaming with mortification at their interrupted moment. The woman that had addressed them was garbed in a deep mahogany dress with a ferocious golden dragon embalm that coiled around her like a living thing. She had a striking face that overshadowed her full bosom, the classic beauty of her appearance almost unreal to take in.

Dark midnight locks fell around her shoulders like a luscious drape, her ruby lips clamped sensually around a long wooden pipe sending smoke curling in the air. The only thing that marred her perfection was the rough uneven skin around the left side of her neck, the remnants of a burn etched in the form of a spider web pattern that stretched down past the plunging neckline of her dress. She did nothing to hide the blemish, bearing the remnants of her wound proudly for the world to see.

Around the Amazonian beauty standing like silent stone sentries were half a dozen sharply dressed men fanned out in a protective circle around their leader. All bore the same dark web marking on the left side of their neck, just barely visible over the collar of their dark suits, homage to the woman before them. The assortment of blades and various other instruments of war had party goers carefully skirting around the hostile looking group.

'Crap, more Yakuza,' thought Ino tensing up.

She was startled to notice how her companion relaxed visibly at the appearance of this woman rather than get more agitated.

"Madam Sin," Naruto intoned, dipping his head respectfully, though there was a hint of mockery in the gesture. "It has been far too long."

The older woman shook her messy raven curls with a huffy toss of her head. "Indeed it has Naru-chan. I hear you've been back for almost a year now. It took you that long to come visit me?"

A pout would not have looked out of place given her playful tone of voice, but her glacial features were all business. Ino could feel the curiosity burning inside her. There were so many questions she wanted to ask at that moment. Why were the Yakuza scared of Naruto? Who was this woman? Just how much of his past was he hiding from his friends? From her?

Naruto laughed sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head with a free hand unaware of the hole being burned in the side off his skull by a set of curious eyes. "Time keeps getting away from me, I was planning to come see you, honest."

The regal looking woman rolled her eyes. "Uh-huh. Why don't you introduce me to your lady friend here?"

"Ino Yamanaka, meet Misato Kurosaki aka Madam Sin," said Naruto as the women exchanged a polite but rigid inclining of their heads. "If there is something illegal, questionably legal or questionably real, she's the woman to go to if you need to get your hands on it."

"Flatterer," reproached Misato expressionlessly with a puff of her pipe. "Don't think a few honeyed words will make me forgive you so easily. You'll have to earn your redemption Naru-chan."

Ino felt somewhat self-conscious as the older woman eyed her up and down, not bothering to hide the fact that she was examining the younger girl. She was hardly insecure about her appearance, but Misato would put most models to shame despite her scars. After a long moment of feeling suddenly very naked despite her clothing, the mind walker let loose a breath she hadn't known she was holding when those penetrating dark eyes moved away from her.

"Not a bad catch Uzumaki," the smoking woman finally decided. "First girl you bring around and I'd give her a nine out of ten. She wild in bed?"

Ino's mouth hung open in utter shock at the shameless question that had just been issued about her. In front of her! The group of stoic looking Yakuza didn't even so much as bat an eyelash at the crass inquiry.

"Like an animal," affirmed Naruto with a teasing squeeze to Ino's side causing her to blush harder.

"Well I'll up it to a ten then," the older woman commented. "You taking her to the Velvet Room?"

"Nah we're just here to mingle and have fun," replied junchuriki with a shrug.

"You treat her right or you'll hear from me, got it?" threatened the older woman with a stern glare.

Naruto raised his hands in front of him in mocking defense, earning himself a scowl on top of the sharp glance.

Returning her harsh gaze to Ino, Misato gave her another once over. "If this idiot gives you any trouble, come find me and I'll straighten him out. But fair warning little girl, if you hurt my Naru-chan, shinobi or not, I'll have you and your entire family feed the fish at the bottom of Kapa Lake."

And with that, she turned and gave Naruto a curt nod and sauntered away. Her contingent of body guards formed a human barricade around her, easily pushing through the crowd to allow her a personal space no one else was afforded.

Feeling oddly threatened even though the woman had been a civilian, Ino reacted the only way she knew how, by punching Naruto in the arm. Hard.

"Oww," he whined rubbing at the sore spot where her fist had collided. "What was that for Ino-chan?"

"I can't believe you said that!" she shrieked, face alight with indignity.

Her date smirked and snaked his arm back around her waist, closing their distance. Ino squirmed angrily in his grip, but felt her breath hitch when the irate fury wilted at the sudden intimate proximity between them. His naturally musky scent, unhidden by cologne or deodorant tickled her nose pleasantly, a nutty fragrant lightly spiced with something exotic.

"Nothing untrue was said," rumbled the blue eyed blonde, his voice dropping down to a low octave that was more felt in the chest then heard by the ear.

God it wasn't fair, how can anyone have such an effect on her? Her thighs quivered, as if in response to his voice. She was going to wet her panties at this rate if he didn't stop doing that territorial alpha male impression of his.

Falling into the friendly embrace he was giving her, Ino sighed as her anger melted away in his arms, her face rested against his chiseled chest. Her nipples perked up in reaction to his scent which was slowly engulfing her as she rested in his gentle hold.

"Jerk," she mumbled sullenly into his suit jacket, resentful at how effortlessly he had defused her. "Where's my drink?"

"Ah crap," groaned Naruto. "I left before the bartender finished when I saw those clowns hassling you."

"Come on," sighed Ino, towing him by his hand. "I'll come with you this time."

After the two finally managed to retrieve their beverages, a citrusy cocktail for Ino and tumbler of amber liquid on ice for Naruto, they settled at a recently vacated table, one of those tiny round ones that were too tall to be practical requiring chairs that were so high up that even sitting on it when sober was a dangerous feat.

"So, gonna tell me why a bunch of Yaks are running scared from you Mad Dog Uzumaki?" Ino asked sarcastically after taking a sip of her drink.

Naruto had suggested it, and she couldn't disagree with the taste. Just enough sour to offset the bitterness of the liquor with a sweet aftertaste that affectionately balanced out the PH level inside her mouth. This was what alcohol was supposed to taste like in her opinion, contrary to what hard liquor fanatics might claim.

The demon host turned away and looked out into dancing crowd, the surge of humanity all lively and stirring to the tune of the DJ, a singular organism reacting to the sound and light stimulation in the environment. Ino didn't push further, knowing that her friend was simply gathering his thoughts on how much he wanted to share with her.

By the time he returned his attention back to the blonde girl, she had managed to finish off half of her drink.

"Life wasn't easy for me as a genin," he conceded with a sigh. "Old man Kage couldn't help me once I got the headband and even before then his hands were tied. Too many people would have cried favoritism if he gave me more support, hell he risked his title and authority just to make sure I had a roof over my head. I never would have been able to live on my own and put food on the table with my earnings as a genin, not with the way the villagers charged me anyways."

Ino scowled sympathetically as she thought about all the people that had made Naruto's life hard. She really had to wonder how growing up like that he hadn't turned out similar to Gaara when they had first met him. It would hardly have been surprising if he had.

"Assholes," she groused, earning her an appreciative upwards turn of the lip from her friend.

There was another long spell of silence as he examined the crowd intently. Finally he turned, opening his mouth several times and pausing, as if unsure how to phrase what he wanted to say.

"I had to do some side jobs for a while to keep things going. I earned a bit of a reputation with underworld because of that," he finally bit out, discomfort evident in his slouched posture.

The mind walker placed her glass down and gave her fellow shinobi a hard stare when he did not elaborate. "Naruto, you know we can't seek outside employment once we've taken the oath. That's treason."

Naruto snorted dismissively. "Yeah, well treason kept me warm and full, so fuck the asshole that put down those rules. Where were they when I needed a meal? Or when I needed to pay for heat to keep me from freezing during the winter?"

Ino looked away from the angry blonde, feeling for his situation, but torn knowing her friend had broken one of the cardinal rules of being a shinobi. Loyalty above all else. Theirs was a profession that lied, cheated and murdered, but even shinobi held some things sacred, otherwise what did they have left?

But loyalty was a two way street. No one had stepped up to help Naruto when he needed it. Ino certainly hadn't. He had done what was necessary to survive. How can she fault him for that?

"You gonna report me?" Naruto gruffly asked.

"What?" asked Ino startled. "Of course not!"

The look of frank relief on his face was rather insulting.

"Who do you take me for?" she demanded with an incensed huff. "I'm not so shallow to turn in someone for trying to survive! Let alone a friend!"

Naruto sighed and reached out to take her agitated hands in his, rubbing a silent apology into her flesh with his thumb. The two blondes fell into a comfortable silence, nursing their drinks and watching the crowd, their hands slowly becoming more intertwined as time passed.

"So, did you work for Madam Sin?" Ino probed, breaking their silence.

The jinchuriki barked a laugh at her question. "Worked for is the wrong word. Madam Sin was a title she gained after she came into power."

He gestured languidly at their surroundings.

"Back when I ran with her there wasn't all this fancy shit. She was just Misato, a fellow former street urchin albeit older and more settled in life."

"So what's her story?" inquired Ino unable to contain her nosy side. "You don't just end up the head of a Yakuza gang by accident."

Naruto stared considering at her across the rim of his glass, as if weighing his words. "I don't know her whole story; I don't think anyone does but her. I know she's got swift fingers, must have worked as a pick pocket lifting wallets at some point. She knows her way with words a bit too well, especially with the upper class folks so maybe she worked the skin trade for a while. Fights as well anyone who grew up having to defend their sleeping territory every night, but this is all just conjecture. All I know for certain is that she grew up on the streets like me, clawed her way out of the poverty and misery."

The ice in his glass clinked together melodiously as he swirled the amber liquid. His tired smile turned grim as the story continued.

"Then she met a man, a merchant's son. Jinchu Yukihara. He took her from the fighting and living day by day, showed her life meant more than just the next meal. Gave her affection, eventually loved her, and maybe, just maybe she learned to love him back. They were betrothed, set to be married, and for a while Misato allowed herself to believe that she had escaped the life of an alley jackal."

Ino listened to the tale being weaved, mesmerized by the quality of his voice and emotions present. It was obviously more than just a story to him; it was a commentary of his own life, a reflection of similar suffering. She had an idea of how it was going to end already. There are no real fairy tales in life.

"What happened?" she asked quietly.

"Turns out her fiancée's family were getting powerful a bit too quickly for some of the old blood's taste. They hired some Yakuza to threaten them, but they wouldn't be cowed. So they did what Yakuza does best."

Ino looked away as he drew a thumb across his neck with a macabre smile.

"By the time I met her she was as disillusioned as it got. She had given up on life, lost hope and all that shite. But there was still a fire that burned in her; you don't survive the streets by letting every loss weigh you down. You get angry and channel it towards something, sometimes constructive, most time destructive. Misato was ready to die, but she was determined to take those bastards that had robbed her of her happy ending down with her."

"How did you two meet?" she asked interestedly when she had regained her composure.

"Funny story that," laughed Naruto. "She was running from some Yaks she had pissed off, killed a couple of their buddies with a crossbow. Just my crap luck that she ended up breaking into my apartment to hide. I came home to find a bunch of tattooed skinheads about to rape a beaten woman in my home. You can imagine how I reacted."

"So you threw in your lot with her to help her gain vengeance? Didn't take you for the crusader type Naruto."

"Hell no," chuckled the blonde male. "She didn't tell me that until a couple years later. Nah, I was an angry kid back then. I pranked people cause it felt good to get back at them without really hurting anyone, that would have gotten me in some serious trouble."

Naruto stared reflectively into his drink, a bitter smile on his face. "But deep down I think just wanted to hurt people, the same way they had hurt me. I didn't understand why I was suffering, maybe I thought if I hurt them on the outside they'd understand the pain I felt inside. I don't know."

He took a long sip from his whiskey glass, taking the time to mull over his thoughts before continuing.

"But I recognized the pain I saw in her eyes, so I offered her a place to stay for a while. Had a few more unwanted visitors come by while she was healing up, but I took care of them. She saw the potential in having an academy student backing her up and offered me a cut of whatever we could take from the bastards we tangled with. I needed money for food so I didn't think twice. And the rest is history."

The jinchuriki raised his tumbler up in a silent toast to his sordid past, his face twisted into a bitter parody of a smile.

"And somewhere along the way you two managed to birth a criminal empire," Ino remarked drily.

Naruto shrugged, knocked back the rest of his beverage before stealing a sip from her glass, smirking smugly as she sulked protectively over her cup.

"I ran with her back when it was just the two of us against the world. By the time we finally caught up with the man who had been in charge of the gang that had killed her fiancée, she had her own crew, finances, territory; the whole head gangster package. I pulled out after I graduated from the academy and we sort of went our separate ways for a while."

He stared absentmindedly at the empty glass he was twirling on the table. Light reflected off the clear surface of the cup as it spun on the edge of its rim. Ino took a sip from her glass as she waited patiently for him to start up again. Finally the movement of the glass came to a halt.

"She went on to look for the family that had ordered the hit on her lover and I moved on to Team 7. I did odd jobs for her now and again, things her crew wasn't suited for. She would take care of my rent for me. Occasionally I'd find money stuffed under my doorway when my bank account looked particularly slim. I never did ask how she knew."

The blonde's expression turned gloomy, pain evident in his grimace. "Then old man kage died."

Ino's eyes softened when she saw the sad demeanor Naruto had taken on. Even after almost five years it seems Sarutobi's passing still bothered him. She hadn't known the longest reigning Kage of Konoha very well, but she recalled a grandfatherly man who frequently stopped by the academy to encourage the students. It had been a dark day for all leaf shinobi when the disciple of the first and second hokage had passed on to the next life.

"It was a tough time for me, but I thought I could stick it out, that things would get better. Like Misato, I had come to believe that maybe I had finally crawled my way out of that shitty existence. Even if old man Kage was gone, I would live a good life to honor his memory."

Snorting in derision the blonde glared at the clear tumbler he held in his clenched fist. The highball glass cracked audibly and then exploded into shards under the intense pressure of his grip. Ino let out a startled yelp at the unexpected motion. Blood poured from the open wounds on his hand, dying the pieces of broken glass as they fell from his lifeless grasp.

"Let me see that," she said with concern, gently taking his hand in hers.

"Don't bother," Naruto replied curtly. "It'll heal soon enough."

Picking the shards of crystal out of the cuts in his hands, she watched in fascination as his skin began to close up from the shallow lacerations. Ino had heard of his unnatural regenerative capability bestowed by the Kyuubi, but this was the first time she had witnessed it directly. It was different from medical ninjutsu, the skin didn't scar over. The bleeding flesh seemed to simply knit back together, not a single sign of previous damage visible.

"Sasuke running off to get butt raped by Orochimaru was the final nail in the coffin," the blonde continued sardonically, closing his eyes as she caressed his newly formed skin.

"I was angry again, hated the world for being cruel enough to give me hope then taking it away. I wanted to fight, to lose myself in physical pain so that I could take my mind off of the ache that the fuzz ball couldn't heal for me."

Ino cupped his hand in hers, stroking them gently without thought. The tender smile she received from him warmed her insides.

"Misato had gotten into a bit of hot water by then. Fell into the same trap as her fiancée's family, got too big too quick. Other Yakuza gangs didn't like the new competition, so they formed an alliance to take her group out. When she came calling, I answered."

The Yamanaka watched as he clenched his hand again, observing the way his muscles bulged in that simple flexing motion. When he opened his eyes again they were sad and pensive, a far cry from their usual playfulness.

"I'm not proud of what I did, but I stand by them. I can understand if you don't want anything to do with me anymore."

The amount of torment present in his expression cut deep into Ino's heart. She had no idea how much her friend had struggled while she had been gripping away over some silly crush over a boy or complaining about her lazy teammates and sensei. Taking up his hand again in both of hers, she brushed the back of his palm against her cheek, smiling kindly at him.

"Don't be an idiot," she replied with a teary smile. "I've killed plenty of people as well, I can hardly point fingers. I doubt any of them could claim to have not deserved it anyways. Though honestly, how much of a challenge could a bunch of Yakuza be?"

"You'd be surprised," said Naruto. "A lot of Yaks are disgraced samurai who decided honor wasn't worth cutting their bellies open for or academy flunk outs who don't know anything but fighting. Many of them can use chakra and know their way around a weapon. The better ones could probably go toe to toe with chunin as long as it's a straight up fight."

"Really?" Ino asked surprised.

"Had my share of close calls back in those days," he snorted with a harsh laugh. "The Kyuubi wasn't as agreeable with his healing when I was younger. He'd only put out if my life was in eminent danger. I could heal from most injuries given enough time, but I doubt even I can regenerate a limb or my head."

"Sounds like there was a war out in the streets," commented Ino thoughtfully. "I never heard about this though. How did no one notice?"

Naruto shrugged. "Crime rates used to be much lower back when the Uchiha were policing Konoha, but after Itachi and his little tantrum it pretty much fell to ANBU who were already stretched thin as it was with lower recruit rates during peace time. No one wanted to go out and die for your country when there was a chance for a good life back at home."

He absentmindedly entwined his fingers with hers, raising her smaller hand up to examine them with curiosity. They were much smaller than his, soft and feminine despite their occupation.

"Anyways, ANBU is more about keeping foreigners out more than keeping locals from killing each other. A bunch of Yaks killing each other meant one less problem they had to deal with down the line. Often times they just disposed of the bodies and cleaned up the aftermath."

"Well you hardly seem like the angry kid anymore," prodded Ino.

"Jiraiya straightened me out when he took me out of the village. Maybe it was having someone who genuinely cared about me enough to involve me in every aspect of their life. Or maybe it was seeing the bigger world that put my problems in perspective."

The thoughtful look on his whiskered face took out a lot of the age and pain. That was more like the cheerful knucklehead Ino knew.

"I don't know what it was, but somewhere along the way I made peace with it. Yeah my life was hard, but I got it better than some and I'll work to make it better every day."

Grinning at the small smile on his face, Ino decided that as much as she wanted to get him to open up about his past it was time to move onto something more fun. Tugging the surprised Naruto onto his feet, she dragged him out towards the dance floor.

"Enough with the doom and gloom," she shouted excitedly over the dull thump of the music. "Show me your moves Uzumaki!"

And dance they did. Ino considered herself to be a pretty good dancer, she had taken some classes as a child, but was no stranger to the club variation that was made up of a lot of hip gyration and body grinding. Judging by how skillfully Naruto matched up with her movements, he was no stranger to this particular style either.

Ino pulled the chopsticks holding her hair up, allowing her long pale silky locks to fall in a messy bundle carelessly over her shoulder. Something about the wild beat of the heavy bass and the enthralling synth rip being produced made her want to let go, to forget all her worries and problems and just exist in this moment.

She grinded her hips erotically against Naruto, shaking her backside enthusiastically in a circular frenzy at a dizzying tempo in beat with the escalating music. Ino had practiced that particular motion in front of a mirror until she had perfected the sexually charged movement just to see if she could, but had never done it for any guy before.

As she slowed her dancing in time with the music, his hands clasped the sides of her hips, rough and wanting, but not insecurely so. His breath sounded heavy with desire as he nuzzled her hair sending a shiver down her spine as he trapped her earlobe in his lips. His teeth nipped at the flap of skin and cartilage, sending jolts of pleasure that caused her spine to arch in response.

Ino let loose an intense moan that was loss in the heavy sounds of music and cheering dancers, pressing her backside along Naruto's hardening length as he suckled on the sensitive flesh along the side of her neck, a trail of heat creeping down her skin towards her collarbone. The electricity running through her body at the points of contact with his lips was almost terrifying.

Turning, she gazed up at her date noting the hungry desire in his eyes. Throwing caution to the wind, she pressed up to kiss him. His mouth was warm and soft, practically searing her lips with heat. Naughty hands found a firm grip on her buttocks, the jolt of his touch causing the mind walker to groan against his lips. He worked his hands, kneading away at her bottom like soft dough. She should be mad, really, really mad. Naruto was groping her! But damn his skillful hands, she didn't want him to stop no matter how much her quickly silenced rational mind protested.

As Ino continued to kiss him, she felt his heated tongue gently probe her lips. Yielding to his demands, she parted her mouth guardedly allowing his searching tongue entryway. She had never kissed someone this way before, the alien sensation was odd but not unpleasing. Touching his exploring tongue with her own, the young couple found themselves lost in a haze of pleasure as they made out shamelessly on the dance floor.

Finally acquiescing to the biological needs of the body for oxygen, Ino reluctantly pulled back from Naruto, panting slightly as hormones flooded her body with urgent need. This was not good, not good at all. She wanted so badly to continue what they were doing; her body was practically screaming at her to pounce him, to take him somewhere dark and quiet away from prying eyes and give him a private show that would leave them both sweaty and most probably very naked.

Judging by the perceptive gleam in his eyes, Naruto's brain had the same idea. Definitely not good.

Tearing herself away from her desires took herculean effort, more than she thought she could muster, but somehow Ino managed it. She turned around and went back to dancing, shivering as she felt his hands find their way back onto her waist, fingertips trailing mischievously against her body. Ino fervently hoped the aching desire building between her dampening thighs would die down if she wasn't looking at him. No such luck.

Soft lips found their way back to her sensitive neckline trailing teasing nibbles up the reactive skin. Ino groaned audibly as Naruto found his way past her collarbone. She could feel her nipples straining against the fabric of her bra, wanting to feel the attention of his skillful tongue and suckling lips.

His throbbing member seemed to have awoken fully now, the heat from the blood filled organ burning passionately against her buttocks even through his pants and her dress. Gods above and below, if there wasn't the fabric between them, Ino couldn't even begin to imagine how that might feel. Instead of being disgusted as she would have been with any other guy, Ino was finding it harder and harder to turn her mind away from certain activities with the blonde man behind her that she knew she really shouldn't be contemplating.

A pleading whimper escaped her lips as his fingers slipped their way past the modest cut of her dress and crawling maddeningly slowly up her leg. Rough hard skin scraped their way against her smooth thigh, coming dangerously close to the moist wet lingerie that was the only barrier between his searching hands and her aching womanhood.

He traced his fingertips delicately against the damp fabric, stimulating the lips of her opening with electrical fire at the brief contact. And just as quickly, the hand was withdrawn and back at her waist, leaving Ino a quivering mess, barley able to stand if not for the man holding her up from behind.

She turned and watched through lidded eyes as Naruto raised the hand that had reached below her dress and licked each finger. Her eyes remained riveted on the pink tongue that flickered against each digit, mind wondering just what that fleshy appendage would feel like elsewhere.

After a long moment to recover her senses, Ino turned and wrapped her warms around Naruto's neck, determined not to let him win. The two blondes continued to move and writhe to the wild rhythm being played, their bodies taking on life of their own as they moved from song to song.

The night was still young, and so were they. With desire setting their blood afire, the two shinobi danced away the hour, taking time in exploring the new level their relationship had opened up to.

"Alright I'm pooped," Ino gasped as she fell into an open bar stool. They had finally retreated form the dance floor when her feet had begun to ache, and now found themselves back at the bar.

A much happier Naruto was downing a fruity looking cocktail complete with a miniature umbrella of a gaudy orange.

"Let's go hit up the craps table!" he said as their bartender placed the Tropical Mojito Ino had ordered in front of her.

"You sure gambling while sloshed is such a good idea?" she laughed, taking a tentative taste of her drink. Not bad.

"Fine I won't, but I'll watch you!"

Not quite following the logic but agreeing amiability nonetheless, Ino allowed herself to be led towards the casino area, noting how the room was beginning to sway a bit more than the calm waters of Kapa Lake warranted.

Maybe it was time to put a pause on the liquor. Horny Ino plus more alcohol was probably going to equal naked Ino back in bed with an equally naked Naruto doing bad things. The fact that her mind was cheerfully green lighting that prospect was a major warning sign she had already crossed her thresholds on how much she should be having.

The blonde girl blinked stupidly when Naruto produced a gold brick the size of a candy bar from his inner jacket pocket to present to the cashier person. A massive stack of chips was handed back over to the whiskered blonde.

"Naruto," she asked slowly. "Why are you carrying around a bar of gold?"

"In case I needed it?"

"When do you ever need a bar of gold?" Ino deadpanned.

"Uh like right now?"

Shaking her head, she took some of the chips from him, rolling the hundred piece between her knuckles dexterously despite her state of intoxication, noting how it weighed a lot more than it looked. She had never really gambled before. How hard could it be?

Half an hour later she found her answer to that question.

"Oh my god," laughed Naruto in absolute hysterics. "You suck Ino! I've never seen anyone so bad at gambling in my life and I've seen Baa-chan go at it!"

Ino pouted, it wasn't her fault the stupid dice kept rolling against her!

"They're cheating! I just know it!" the Yamanaka grumbled as they made their way from the casino tables that had pretty much swallowed up all the money he had traded in.

"Of course they are," chuckled Naruto with a nudge to her ribs. "The rules are rigged in favor of the house to begin with!"

Ino scrunched her nose up cutely and scowled. Naruto smiled and ducked in to steal a quick kiss, pleased when she did not pull away from the public display of affection. The pretty blush adorning her face when he pulled back elicited a second, much longer kiss.

Hands clasped together, the two blondes moved to the upper deck of the cruise liner, wanting to get away from the noise and bright lights within. Ino shivered against the chilly air, beaming at Naruto as he eased out of his jacket and placed it around her.

His solid build was made apparent when the suit top easily dwarfed her curvaceous frame. The leftover heat from his body made a toasty ward against the frosty evening air, causing Ino to snuggle happily into its warm embrace. Thick powerful arms added to that layer of protection, gaining him an affectionate peck on his jaw as a reward.

The two shinobi found themselves leaning over the guard railing, staring out into the distant harbor in Kyota. Truly it was the city that never slept, even now with the hour pushing past two in the morning there were still plenty of lights to be seen on shore.

Ino rested contentedly against her date, wondering at what point she had gotten so comfortable with him.

His figure covering her from behind just felt natural, never mind the fact that his hands were crossed over her boobs. He didn't realize it, but the way the cuffs of his sleeves were rubbing against the hardening tips of her breasts was maddeningly distracting. Of course she wasn't going to tell him that.

"What would you have been if you hadn't become a shinobi Ino?"

They had been trading off on random questions to continue to get learn more about one another for a while now, and so far Ino had compiled quite the list of random facts about her blonde friend. Apparently Naruto used to have a teddy bear named BoBo which she found absolutely adorable. Or that he had once swallowed a live baby rat on a dare and been sick for two days afterwards. Gross.

"Oh, I don't know," replied Ino thoughtfully as she gazed out at the distant shore.

She smiled when Naruto rested his chin on her shoulder, nuzzling her hair affectionately.

"My family have all been shinobi you know? It's never been a question what I wanted to do even way back then. I supposed I might have been a dancer, or maybe just been a florist."

"Ino the dancer huh," asked Naruto with a smile. "I would have paid to go see you."

She giggled at the thought. "You make me sound like a stripper. I'd probably have picked a better stage name than that."

The blonde girl huddled closer to her personal fleshy heater as a particularly cold gust of wind blew across the deck. The chill only served to contrast against the protective warmth she was receiving from the man holding her. She could really get used to this.

"Alright your turn," said Naruto.

Ino wracked her brain for a question, but the combination of abundant alcohol and late hour seemed to have robbed her mind of the ability to think. Instead, she turned and examined her companion in consideration before pressing her lips against his.

The kiss seemed to have caught Naruto off guard, but he quickly rallied and returned the effort. It was different from their little make out session on the dance floor; there was little lust behind their current affectionate activity. It was simply an exploration of each other, as if they were trying to wordlessly gauge the other person's feeling through the contact of their lips.

Finally breaking out of their lip lock, they returned to their prior position, staring out quietly at the bay. There really wasn't much to say, the attraction between them was evidently mutual. Their silent contemplation was broken by a particularly violent shiver from Ino, prompting a look of concern from her date.

"Maybe it's time to get back," Naruto suggested. "Think your dad's broken into my apartment yet?"

Ino laughed at the thought of her father skulking around inside Naruto's home, kunai in hand waiting to murder the man who had dared take his baby girl out past midnight.

The ride back to Konoha was strangely subdued, but the atmosphere was comforting. Part of Ino had been expecting, even wanting a heavy petting and make out session in the warm carriage that afforded them privacy. Honestly if he had starting removing her dress and taken her then and there she not have refuted him. Surprisingly he hadn't, despite the throbbing length visibly protruding from his lower region.

Instead they had kicked off their shoes and cuddled together on one side of the cushy seats, a thick wooly blanket that had been hidden under the seat compartment covering their bodies. Ino leaned up occasionally for a sleepy kiss, and received a soft stroking to her backside in return, but other than that the couple was content to simply enjoy their close proximity.

Their carriage pulled to a halt signaling an end to their long ride home. Stepping outside after straightening up both themselves and the interior, they were surprised to find themselves at the gates of Konoha rather than inside her.

"I'm sorry sir," apologized their chauffer. "Konoha has explicit rules against vehicles within after hours, I'm afraid this is as far as I go."

Ino watched as Naruto pulled up to whisper something to their driver, before pressing something into his hands which earned him a gratified smile from the older man. As the carriage turned to leave, Ino called out her thanks to the driver getting a merry wave over his shoulder.

The mind walker looped her arm around Naruto's, heedless of the interested looks they were receiving from the graveyard shift gate guards manning the post, nodding in greeting as they walked past. Let the gossip spread, she couldn't care less at this moment. She was walking on cloud nine.

Konoha was the opposite of Kyota at night time. There was almost no sound to be heard save for the occasional hoot of an owl or the rustle of some other nocturnal critter going about its business. A shadow would flit by overhead occasionally, a shinobi off on some nighttime errand or returning from a mission. The street lights were on, dim but illuminating the pavement well enough to safely navigate even given their inebriated state.

Naruto was humming happily to himself, content with how the night had gone. He had arranged for this special night as an apology for having taken advantage of Ino. Despite what Ino might say otherwise, he still carried a small amount of guilt for having taken away her first time in a drunken stupor. There had been some tribulation on his part, perhaps because of the genuine attraction he had for Ino, but the night had turned out fantastic, far beyond his wildest dreams.

Ino herself was contemplating thoughts of a different nature. While Naruto had been lost in his own world and allowing her to steer them, her feet had unconsciously been making a steady path towards his apartment rather than her home. The mind walker bit her lip in an internal struggle, sneaking a look at the happily oblivious blonde at her side. She really wasn't ready for the night to end, and at this moment despite any lingering doubts she had in her mind, Ino wanted to show Naruto a bit of appreciation for what he had done for her.

No man had ever made her feel so special, paid her the kind of attention he had. It was supposed to be a date to get a feel for each other, and she had gotten enough to know that they were more than compatible. It scared her because she had never been in a real relationship before, all prior attraction she thought she had had now revealed to be superficial in face of her rising feelings for the man besides her. But as scary as it was, it was also exhilarating. She was right at the edge of the cliff, a single step would send her over into an area she had never been to before.

Naruto blinked in surprise when he found them standing in front of the stairwell to his apartment.

"Ino," he said confused, "what…?"

The blonde haired goddess before him turned her gaze away shyly.

"Naruto I…"

Unable to find the words, or perhaps just too embarrassed to utter them, Ino instead put her hand around his face and pulled him into a deep passionate kiss. He reciprocated, though hesitantly as if unsure of his own actions. She trailed her lips down his throat, eliciting a husky growl from the male, her hands running themselves mindlessly against his body, exploring the hard muscles he earned from years of hard work.

"Wait Ino," he murmured against her hair as she worked her hands lower reaching for his awakening member.

She could see the way his length strained against the fabric of his pants, a representation of the physical yearning he was suffering through because of her. Reaching down, Ino ran the edges of her nails against his manhood through his pants, silently delighting at the way he groaned her name. The power and control she had over him at the moment was intoxicating. She couldn't wait to find out just what else she could do to him.

"Wait," he growled, seizing her by her shoulders and halting her stroking motion.

Ino gazed back into his eyes, startled by the intensity she found there.

"Naruto," she whispered softly, gently breaking from his grip.

Leaning forward until her lips were near to his ear, she gave his cheek a soft chaste kiss.

"Please, Naruto," she pleaded, taking his hand and resting it against her pounding heart. "I want this."

She could see the way his pupils dilated with desire at her words and could feel her own body reacting to his touch. He closed his eyes for a long moment, taking a deep steadying breath before resting his hands on her shoulders again, putting her at arms distance.

"You have no idea how much I want it too," he murmured softly.

"Then why…?" she asked hurt by the sudden rejection.

Her eyes searched his face for answers, but found nothing except passionate longing present.

"I feel there is something special growing between us," he whispered hoarsely. "I want to nurture it, to see what can happen between us. As much as I would love to take you upstairs right now, I want to take it slow. I want any relationship between us to be more than just about sex Ino-chan. You deserve more than that."

The tender care mixed in with the lustful hunger in which he delivered his explanation made him all the more desirable to Ino. Here was a guy who she had pretty much just offered herself to with no strings attached and his response had been a no because he wanted her to have something more exceptional. Any doubts she had fled her mind. Naruto could protest all he wanted, but she was going to find a way into his bed tonight one way or another, consequences be damned.

A familiar sounding sharp clearing of a throat threw a bucket of ice water over Ino's arousal. Seeing the alarmed and slightly frightened expression on her date's face, she didn't have to turn to know who it was most likely standing behind her.

"Well said Naruto. I'm glad that one of you managed to keep a responsible frame of mind."

Ino buried her face into Naruto's chest, not wanting to see her father's scowling form at the moment. She was absolutely mortified. Her dad had just seen and heard her offer sex to a boy she had in his mind only gone out with only once. He was most likely going to never let her leave her room again after this.

"Inoichi-san," Naruto greeted neutrally after schooling his expression.

"I see you managed to bring my daughter back in one piece," the Yamanaka clan head replied gruffly. "Come along now Ino, say your goodnight to your friend before we head back."

Ino didn't turn, instead leaning forward and giving Naruto a tender kiss. They stared into each other's eyes for a spell, a silent unspoken promise to explore this passing between them. Another pointed uncomfortable cough from Inoichi interrupted their moment, finally breaking the two blondes out of their own little world.

Sighing, Ino turned to follow her father away. At least daddy wasn't yelling at her. Yet.

"Ino-chan," called out Naruto just as the father and daughter were passing by the gate. "Would you be my girlfriend?"

Judging by the stunned expression on her father's face, he hadn't expected the brazen question to be asked in his presence despite Naruto's well-known lack of tact.

Grinning, Ino turned and gave a cheeky wave.

"I'll think about it!" she called back.

"That's all I can ask princess," Naruto said with a wide goofy grin.

Hearing the strangled choking noises her father was making, Ino decided it was time to leave before the poor man spontaneously combusted.

"How was your evening daddy?" she asked sweetly as she led the stuttering and convulsing clan head away.

AN: Honestly doesn't feel like my best chapter, but it got the story across. Dunno maybe when I finish this story I'll tear this chapter apart with red marker. Almost there folks! Expect shorter chapters coming up, hopefully meaning they'll come faster. I foresee maybe 5 maybe six chapters left. Maybe one more fluffy chapter then we get rolling. Let me know your thoughts about this chapter. It's also fun to see people speculate where they think i'm taking it =) Until next time!