The Last Prayer @graefoxx
26The Dining Table

Friends! Happy (eventual)Halloween!

So I've practically given up on trying to update once a week. Despite having more free time, it's almost like I have less time to dedicate to this. So, until... whenever, expect 1 chapter every 2 weeks. This chapter took longer than normal because it was a mission to get right. It took more nuance, which took more detail, which took more research. I'm just going to say, thank God I like writing, or I would've stopped here.

This chapter is 13K and takes place immediately after the last chapter(ch25). Enjoy!

INO

"Someone's excited," Ino teases with a beautifully easy smile.

"Yeah, Karin and I are going over some clan stuff," Naruto explains before asking, "what's up?"

He pauses at the sight of the beautiful blond in her casual royal purple thigh-high skirt that matches her purple, wide-strapped, buttoned crop top that meshed with her long white gloves. He instantly understood, 'easy to take off,' however, her face wasn't blushing like she usually does with impromptu visits. Nor was she looking at him with hungry, sensual eyes.

Naruto's obvious gazing was interrupted with Ino's embarrassed, "what are you looking at?"

Standing straighter, he smiles broadly as he happily answers, "you."

It's such a simple answer but adding to it his bold blue eyes and self-assured posture and a blushing Ino twists a little in place. She can feel her body soften under his gaze and shakes her head when the physical memory of their arousing time together raises her heart rate. After a few weeks without him and carefully managing her cravings with her toy, Ino felt confident these flashes of sexual arousal wouldn't happen, but here she is, getting wet just by being in his presence. It's humiliating for someone with her mental fortitude, but that only adds to her excitement.

Shaking her head to physically clear away the sex-provoking thoughts she contends, "I'm here to see my friend, not my… I thought you might want to hang out." Spotting the red hair coming up behind him, she responds before he can, "but I can see you're busy."

Peering Karin over his shoulder, Naruto waves away Ino's reservation. "It's okay. We were just waiting for visiting hours before we see Iruka-sensei. Do you want to come? He should be out any day now."

Smiling seems to only enhance Ino's beauty as she nods before saying, "I'd love to."

"Hi," Karin says from behind Naruto, adding with a bow, "I'm Uzumaki Karin, which you'd know if my cousin had any manners."

"Sorry, sorry," Naruto expresses with a chuckling grin. "Karin-chan, this is Yamanaka Ino."

"Hi, it's nice to officially meet you and welcome to Konoha," Ino responds, returning her own bow. Karin expresses her gratitude before Ino asks, "I hope I'm not intruding?"

"No, of course not," Karin returns shaking her head. "Except for Naruto and Haku, I don't really know anyone here."

"If it's alright with you, I'd love to take you shopping," Ino proposes with an easy smile before adding, "I know all the best spots with the cutest outfits."

"Really," Karin gasps happily, though, after a second she realizes she has no funds here, nor does her cousin seem to make much. Naruto and Haku seem to pool their income to support themselves. Haku has even told her that Naruto works several jobs to make enough to buy ninja gear. Considering the amount of funds their clan needs to become official, Karin smiles weakly as she admits, "um, well, I'd love to, but, there's still so much to do. Would it be okay if we go at a later date?"

"Of course,"

Turning to her with a curiously quirked brow, Naruto asks, "but don't you need to buy things?"

Karin squints her eyes while she smiles a fake smile as she wraps a stiff arm around Naruto's neck and tells the beautiful blond girl, "just give us a second." Karin pulls Naruto back inside a few steps as she whispers to Naruto, "did you forget we have to spend a lot of ryō—that we don't have—on buying property? I have everything I need, so I don't need to go shopping."

"But if there's something you want, I can pay for you," Naruto argues. "I want you to be comfortable here."

"I am," Karin responds. "Being here is already a hundred times better than where I came from. And when we establish our clan, it'll be even better."

"…Alright," Naruto concedes. "But don't hesitate to ask if you need anything. We're family, which means we're in it together."

Returning to an inquisitive Ino, the Uzumakis apologize for stepping away, to which Ino asks, "is everything alright?"

After they assure her it is, the triplet take a leisure walk to Konoha's Hospital to visit a good man. Iruka is cheerful to see his former students and Karin again and it made them all happy to see him maneuver himself onto his wheelchair without assistance. As Naruto drives the wheelchair, the sensei is amazed to hear everything that happened during the Chūnin exams. From Ino and Karen's experience to Naruto's victory over Sasuke.

"I'm so proud of all of you," Iruka gushes.

"Why? Karin-chan and I didn't even make it into the final test," Ino argues.

"But you tried your best, which is all we can ask for," Iruka argues. "Don't forget, Neji-kun is a taijutsu specialist, a year older than you and the Rookie of the Year. Consider this moment a great learning experience that can help you locate areas of your training you can focus on."

"There's no short cut if you want to be the best," Naruto advocates, to which Iruka whole-heartedly agrees.

"I think I have enough to focus on with our clan," Karin casually admits. "Speaking of," Karin voices stepping ahead of the pace to turn, and while walking backward, ask the man, "I was hoping I can ask you a bit about how we can establish our clan? I read some of your books, but I could use a little more focus. It's a lot of information."

Adding a slant to his neck, Iruka answers, "I know some of what's involved, so I'm certain I can help, but I'm curious. Have you spoken to any clans about this?"

"Uh, like me," Ino interjects raising her hand. Turning to Naruto, Ino asks, "why didn't you ask me? I can always ask tou-chan if I don't know something."

"Really," Karin asks, before turning to Naruto. "I thought you didn't know any clans."

Feeling blitzed by the questions directed at him, Naruto tries, "I- wait," before pausing and recounting to Karin, "you asked if I knew any clan heads, which I don't… other than Ji-chan."

Karin slinks her shoulders wearily while Ino proclaims, "I can still help." Moving to bump Naruto's shoulder, Ino suggests, "how about you, Karin-chan, and Haku-kun have dinner at my place tonight? You can ask tou-chan anything you want."

Looking pleasantly pleased, Karin asks, "really?"

"You mean it," Naruto asks.

Gazing at how elated he is, Ino smiles with a sense of calm serenity as she answers, "of course. Anything I can do to help…"

"Thanks, Ino-chan," Naruto warmly expresses, and she can feel his appreciation. The rest of the visit was spent convincing Naruto not to sneak Iruka out of the hospital for the dinner as well as answering a few of Karin's questions.

MABUI

"You know," "I was so happy meeting you yesterday, I never introduced myself." Infiltration at its essence is simply fitting in within a community. Every aspect of fitting in is important to the overall success, and in this case, their shared interest in Fūinjutsu will help guide her decisions. So rather than remain formal, the beautiful secretary offers a friendlier mode of address. "Please, call me Mabui."

Chuckling, he responds, "okay, but you have to call me Naruto."

Mabui's mind fritzes at his name as he asks, "I've never seen you around here, and if I had, I'm sure I'd remember."

Smiling at the compliment, Mabui focuses on his name, asking, "may I know your surname?"

"Uzumaki," Naruto answers. "But you can call me Naruto."

Mabui is thrown for a loop, shocked and confused, wondering how it's possible this blond boy can be the same one that fought Momochi Zabuza just last night. Aside from looking completely fine, he has Kubikiribōchō. Mabui has never felt so fortuitous in her life. Not only is he a valuable tool to decipher the jutsu in her possession, but he's also in possession of the weapon they traveled to Konohagakure to purchase.

'Or is he,' she wonders. He doesn't look like he's been in a fierce contest that's left him near to the point of death. Two of her three mission objectives seem to have converged, however, she needs to verify he is the right person before formulating scenarios that will best complete her mission.

With a concerned voice and a forward gesture, Mabui leans over the desk to place her hand on his forehead, careful to make certain he can see enough cleavage as she asks, "are you well, Naruto-kun? You seem feverish. Did you sleep well?"

Mabui catches his gaze linger for a second shorter than she expected. With an underbust of thirty inches and a full bust of thirty-six inches, the caramel beauty expected more of a hypnotized gaze rather than his mere glance as she notes how toasty warm he feels.

Naruto's vision has less of the library backdrop and more of the tanned-skin, silver-haired beauty with a stirring set of knockers. He enjoys her scent and proximity as he blandly answers, "no. I feel fine."

"Oh," she voices as she leans back in her seat. Rather than push for certainty, Mabui decides to be patient for an opportune moment or speak with Samui later. The silver-haired Chūnin certainly has a better understanding of why it's so difficult to work with Samui. If the brilliant Jōnin didn't have such a hesitation to speak, Mabui would've made the connection last night that the boy she met in the library was the same one who fought Zabuza… 'and won,' her mind reminds her.

Though it's difficult to see how this young man can be so formidable, Mabui sets her mind to working him, starting with, "good. I wouldn't want you to get ill; not after we've only just met." He smiles happily before she asks, "would it be okay if we learned a bit about each other before we start? So we're more comfortable with each other?"

"Sure," he answers. "Ladies first."

Nodding her, 'thank you,' she starts by saying, "well, I've been into academics since I was a little girl, but recently, I've been more curious about Fūinjutsu." Playing at sad, she comments, "so even though I'm so old, I'm still a beginner in the Sealing Arts."

Mabui understands how most men are evolutionarily predisposed to acting as a protector, instinctively feeling an urge to come to the aid of the opposite sex or someone they're attracted to. It's why it's no surprise to hear an incredulous Naruto respond, "what are you talking about? You're so young though! What are you? Twenty? Twenty-one?" Though Mabui plays the flattered girl—dainty and cute as she tucks a strand of snowy hair behind her tan ear—for her goals, she would've preferred if he gushed about her looks a little more in order to gauge how susceptible he is to suggestion. Naruto, however, simply tells her, "don't let your age be a factor in learning something. My sensei always tells me if you're determined to learn, then nothing can stop you and she's one of the smartest people I know."

Considering how this boy figuratively fell on her lap when she needed to decipher the Fūin seals of her jutsu, Mabui couldn't agree more, answering, "I couldn't agree more." Allowing a frame of her deceased fiance to flash in her mind, she adds, "I absolutely love intelligence. And thank you for saying that. What about you?"

"Not much to say," Naruto bemoans. "I'm going to be the best Hokage in the history of Kages and nothing's going to stop me."

"The Hokage," she repeats with a respectful surprise.

"Yup," he says with a smile and a nod, before finishing, "other than that, I love my friends and training, so, pretty normal I'd say."

"What about your aptitude for Fūinjutsu," Mabui wonders aloud. "That seems beyond normal."

"Mmn," he hums before answering, "I didn't really know about that until recently. Like I said, I just get it."

"It's quite rare to, 'just get,' a skill like that," she comments with a smile. "Speaking of, where would you like to start?"

Mabui couldn't keep up where Naruto started and asked if they can look at something easier than recreating electromagnetic induction powerful enough to light entire city blocks. When he wondered if she might like to retrace complex Fūin modules that link multiple Fūin matrices, she, again, asked for something a little easier. When he suggests elemental seals, she balks by how little she knows while begrudgingly asking, "how do… beginners start learning Fūinjutsu?"

With his head tilted in thought, and his eyes squinted in introspection, Mabui's mind yells in disbelief, 'he actually has to think about it!' Embarrassed, Mabui tries to recall the last time she felt so stupid; made all the more humiliating by how young he is. She's been an academic all her life, and even with two degrees, she can't even keep up with what he's saying. It was too humbling and Mabui worries what that could mean for her goals going forward.

Though the cheery blond seems as content as ever, she wonders if he'll eventually become bored with her clear lack of knowledge on this subject. It's supposed to be an intellectual back-and-forth, however, she has little to add. It makes Mabui feel as if she's not contributing enough, and that, she cannot allow, especially when he suggests the most basic, sealing designs and mechanics.

"You certainly know your stuff," she comments with a smile. "I hope I'm not boring you."

"No way," Naruto assures her. "I've never taught anyone before, so it's pretty fun."

She sets aside thoughts of her old professor and finds his response lacking enthusiasm, leading her to ask, "would it be okay if we sit next to each other? So I can show you if I'm working out the methodology correctly?"

"Sure," he voices and when the boy sits in the armchair next to her, she crosses her legs so that she can bump his when she thinks she's losing his interest. As they work on some sealing frameworks, Mabui wonders when the best time to secure his assistance in deciphering the Heavenly Transfer technique. It'll be a delicate process with her chief concern being if he'll tell anyone. The easiest way to make certain he keeps her confidence is to build a rapport he'll be faithful too.

Spending some time and effort to make sure her seal design for large inanimate objects was impressively perfect, Mabui sweetly calls, "Naruto-kun?" Sky-blue eyes turn to her as she scoots closer to him, feeling her bust jiggle in her fitted white blouse as her foot 'accidentally' touches his leg. She then asks, "would you look this over for me?"

Though she was proud of her flawless work, the way he hums through his examination makes her feel like a fifteen-year-old freshman again, waiting for her sensei's approval. Eventually, he says, "it'll work, but, uh, it's pretty… flat."

"…Flat," Mabui repeats with spooked eyes, trying not to feel so small.

"Um, like," Naruto mumbles as he grabs his black-inked brush, however, Mabui swiftly hands him a red marker. He takes it and highlights fourteen different areas of her design while imparting, "don't be afraid of being creative with Fūinjutsu. It isn't like a lot of the crap you read in scrolls. It's way more fluid than that and can be formed in a lot of ways. I mean, you don't even know how many times I've rolled my eyes at some of the crap I read," he rasps with irritation. "Anyway, what you have here is a bit stiff and, uh, excessive, but you can easily compound several of these arrays into one command with only a couple additions of characters; here, here, and here, written out like this," he slowly voices as he writes.

At the sight of his many red changes all over her work, Mabui mostly forgot about her humiliating inadequacy and simply grew amazed by how his simple alterations somehow make the entire seal compact, dynamic, yet stronger. Reading his corrections made Mabui conclude that this blond-haired blue-eyed boy was not only on another level, but was going to be far better for her time-table than any book will be. With that understanding, she redoubles her determination to do everything in her power to make certain he's in favor of helping her.

"You truly are amazing," Mabui flatters, to which he chuckles, embarrassed.

"Nah! It's nothing," he says scratching the back of his neck.

"If there's anything I can help you with, you have to ask me," Mabui offers. "You're helping me with this and I want to help you as well."

Politely waving away her offer, he relays, "it's okay. You don't-"

Mabui interrupts, "no, I do, Naruto-kun," taking his warm hand in hers as she adds, "I mean it. If there's anything I can help you with, I'd appreciate you allowing me the opportunity to try."

Naruto seems taken aback a moment before lowering his gaze on their joined hands. She lets go with a sheepish smile and he turns pensive for several long moments, clearly mulling over a thought. She pretends to go over her work while he goes back and forth in his mind when he finally says, "nee-san…"

"Yes," she sweetly replies. He still looks hesitant, facing the table as he debates with himself. With a proactive attitude, Mabui takes the arms of his chair and rotates the young man into facing her. Her smile is reassuring as she takes her seat, rotated to face him, and waits.

He shrugs jovially enough before speaking, "there is something I want to know more about, but I'm not sure if it's okay to ask."

"I see," Mabui hums before asserting, "we may not know each other well, but I can assure you, you don't need to be afraid of asking me; sometimes it's easier to ask a stranger than a friend. So, please, ask."

Nodding happily, Naruto asks, "do you know a lot about love and relationships?"

Happy to hear the topic, Mabui sits up, smiling as she answers, "I do, actually." Hoping to add another pillar by which to build a rapport upon, she admits, "I may not look it but I have a background in psychology and sociology, so, I have a very good understanding of those types of human connections."

"Wow," Naruto lets out with relief. "Sweet. What I want to know is, can a marriage, or a relationship, or I guess, just romantic love be between more than two people? Like a group?"

Though she hadn't expected that to come from such an earnest attitude, Mabui doesn't let it show on her captivating caramel features as she asks him without a hint of judgment, "you mean polyamory? More commonly known as polygamy, however, the umbrella term is polyamory."

"Uh, I guess," Naruto answers, having never heard of the term. He further explains, "I've never heard of such a thing, but my friend wants to know if it's possible. He thinks that if multiple girls love you, then you should just be with all of them, but, is that right? Isn't love supposed to be with one person? That's what everyone says, so, I thought I'd ask to see if being with more than one is a thing."

His blue eyes are looking at her innocently for answers but Mabui felt conflicted. She naturally wants to support monogamy, however, she also wants to ensure he subscribes to her in all things. Adding to her conflict is her lack of experience. She's only ever had one exemplary love in her life and he died of a heart attack. Her only other relationship is with Darui and it's so secret, her well-educated mind is telling her she's being used.

Though the Jōnin is an impressive figure, he doesn't seem to care one way or another, serving to either frustrate her for caring too much or forcing her to care as little as he does. How is she supposed to tell Naruto about how she suspects her indifferent-boyfriend cheats on her and likely thinks nothing of it? Mabui naturally wants to support monogamy, however, she can't claim to honor decency when her current relationship feels strictly physical and her deceased fiance was thirty years her senior.

Regardless, even if Mabui felt like she didn't have a leg to stand on, she still knew that a relationship based on love was between two people. Her best guess is Naruto can't decide between two girls he's attracted to and his ''friend'' selfishly and callously reasoned, 'why not both?' To Mabui, this felt like monogamy versus the mission; the truth and possible failure versus the lie and further trust.

In a split second and with plenty of guilt, Mabui sacrifices whoever these girls are to shamelessly stroke the intolerable typical male fantasy for the aid Naruto may provide, asking, "first, are you including harems in your query?"

"Harems?" Naruto starts to ask before he remembers some of the study material he researched before Kurenai began teaching him. "No. I don't think the girls love each other in a harem."

Mabui isn't sure if that's better or worse, however, she comments, "well, it's interesting you should mention that because a core value of non-monogamous relationships is their belief that sexual and relational exclusivity—basically a relationship strictly between two people—is unnecessary to have a deep, committed, and loving relationship."

Quirking his brow, he asks, "really? That's hard to picture."

"Indeed, it's not very common," Mabui claims. "However, I should preface this by saying this is a very nuanced topic with a lot of overlap between the types. Since polyamorous relationships can vary from person-to-person or group-to-group, I'll focus on the three basic styles. There's the Dining Table. In this category, all members, whether you number three or ten, are so comfortable with each other, they can all meet—for example, around the dining table—and connect as well as friends and family can."

Shaking his head in disbelief, Naruto slowly asks, "ten people? In one relationship? Like with love and sex and everything?"

Feeling a little sick in her stomach, Mabui nods her head, 'yes' to each of his questions before stating, "they can spend holidays and activities together, like one big family."

"Hmm… That doesn't sound too bad," a wide-eyed Naruto comments with gasping disbelief. "I've always wanted a big family."

To his credit, Mabui will admit, 'at least he doesn't appear to be a pig about this,' before asking Naruto, "are you a single child?"

"Until until last week, I didn't have any family, at all," Naruto happily tells her. "But then I was lucky enough to find my cousin! Can you believe it? It's been great."

"Oh, Naruto… I'm so happy to hear that," Mabui genuinely remarks, sparing a conflicted thought for her deceased parents; the last of her family. "Congratulations."

"Thanks," he expresses with a nod.

Mabui then continues. "The second style is known as Parallel Poly. Within this polycule, there are individual relationships that know of one another but don't all date one another. For example, you date girl A and girl B but girl A and B prefer not to date or meet each other."

"They won't even be friends with one another?"

"It's up to them," Mabui notes. "Each group is different because everyone is comfortable with different things. Maybe girls A and B are okay with sharing you because they have time constraints. For example, if they have goals that don't allow them enough time to dedicate to a relationship."

"Mmmn," Naruto hums. "I guess that makes sense, but, I'd prefer if people were friends. They can support and help each other. That's what family and friends are for."

Spotting an opportunity, Mabui asks, "do you help your friends, Naruto?"

"Always," Naruto champions before adding a caveat with a smile. "Well, if I can anyway."

"I feel the same," Mabui sweetly responds. "Even now, I'm enjoying helping you with this."

"I really appreciate it," Naruto assures her with beaming interest.

It's exactly the energy she's looking for as she continues. "The third style is the Solo. In this bracket, the individual—you, for example—has multiple romantic relations, whether sexual or not, without the urge to live with any one partner."

"They prefer to be alone," Naruto wonders aloud.

"Yes and no," Mabui responds. "It's not that they prefer to be alone. It's more like they don't believe in the natural progression of exclusivity. So, going from dating to engagement, to marriage, to children, is a natural progression they don't support, even within a polyamorous relationship."

"If I had the option, I'm definitely a Dining Table kind of guy," Naruto admits.

Though she loathes to motivate him, Mabui adds, "I believe so too. Remember, if you do get the option, don't force your partners to be more than they're comfortable with." He accepts her couching without remorse, thanking her for the tip and Mabui only feels terrible for the girls he'll try to swindle in this trial of futility. "After you select what style you prefer, each member of your polycule will then have to figure out how you interact, your values, personal boundaries, domesticity, and future outlook."

"Sound pretty complicated," Naruto notes pensively.

"If you're not in it for the right reasons, it can be," Mabui sagely imparts.

"The right reason is love for each other," Naruto proclaims, surprising Mabui before she nods in agreement.

INO

Opening the door for Karin and Naruto, and Ino immediately appreciates them wearing a black shirt with an orange spiral within a circle at the center. The red-haired Uzumaki wore her black shorts and matching thigh-high leggings while Naruto remained in his orange combat slacks. Though she wonders why they'd choose the same symbol as the one on Konoha's flak jackets, she's more pleased to see how nervous Naruto seems. Ino can't imagine it was Naruto's idea to dress for the evening and appreciates Karin's effort.

After welcoming them in, Ino's content to grab his forearm and pull him before her parents and formally introduce them. At the sight of her rigid father greeting them, Ino empathizes with what he must be feeling as a father, however, she can't deny she's thrilled by such a mundane worry. After the ordeal she went through nearly six months ago, it's a miracle to her she can still be her parent's little girl, if only in their eyes.

Per the dining etiquette, Inoichi sits at the head of the rectangular table with the guest of honor, Naruto, to his right, then herself beside him, her mother at the southern end of the table, followed by Karin and Sakura. Ino asked a few of her cousins if they'd like to earn some quick ryō serving the family, to her parent's surprise, so they can all remain seated while they're served.

In the close proximity of their dining table, Ino feels like her worlds—her masks—are crashing together. He should fell agitated, but that's not the case. Despite the boy she's had sex with sitting next to her father, despite how exciting it is to know that Sakura, her mother, and her father are all keeping her crush on Naruto to themselves, despite what she knows in her heart she must do later, Ino wasn't nervous, shy, or scared. She was happy he was there because if this was the last time this happened, she was going to enjoy it to the fullest.

"Thanks for having us," Naruto tells Inoichi, however, her blank-faced father seems to be deep in his thoughts, to which her mother gently calls, "sweetie," from across the table. Blinking back to reality, Inoichi stumbles through, "hmm? Oh, yes." Turning to Naruto, he conveys, "of course, we're happy to- The Yamanaka Clan is happy… to have you."

"And Haku-kun," Ino asks Naruto, helping her father.

"He couldn't make it," Karin explains.

"Ino tells us you had some questions regarding the restoration of your clan," Ino's mother dictates to Karin next to her.

With a bit of a sobering shakeup, Ino asks "restoration? There was an Uzumaki Clan in Konoha?"

"Not in Konoha," the brunette mother states before asking her daughter, "haven't you noticed the emblem on their shirts is the same one on Konoha's flak jacket?"

"Yeah," Ino answers looking ahead at Karin's shirt before asking, "is that the crest of the Uzumaki Clan?"

"It is," Inoichi answers and the young ones turn to him as he adds, "as an eternal symbol of friendship between our villages."

"I had no idea," Ino gasps toward a nodding and smiling Naruto.

"I'm sure they must've taught it in school," Ino's mother proposes.

"I think I remember that," Sakura slowly voices, tilting her head a bit in thought. "But rather than the Uzumaki Clan, they said the name of the village; Uzo- Uzusho-"

"Uzushiogakure," Karin assists to Sakura's gratitude.

"That's the village our moms came from," Naruto tells Sakura and everyone. A thought pops into his head he can't help but ask. "I wonder if other Uzumakis or villagers from there know that Konoha is friends with Uzushio."

"You think there might be some more in Konoha," Karin asks her blond cousin.

"Maybe," Naruto answers. "It's another reason to establish our clan. If descendants hear about the Uzumaki Clan's return, they might come here."

"I hope so," Karin voices.

"I'm fairly certain there'll be a vetting process, so, be prepared for that," Inoichi claims. "Konoha is a fairly open village, but, they'll be meticulous with anyone who wants to live here."

"Maybe a DNA test," Sakura suggests. "To make sure they're actually of Uzumaki descent."

"Oh, man, I can't wait," an exuberant Naruto exclaims.

"The Yamanaka clan knows why you're here," Ino's mother starts, looking from her daughter to Naruto. "And we want you to know we can certainly help."

"What do you have thus far," Inoichi asks of Naruto.

"Karin and I are Uzumakis," Naruto begins before asking one of his chief concerns. "But we also want Haku to be apart of our clan. That wouldn't be a problem, right?"

Inoichi takes a moment to consider the question before answering, "within Konoha's laws, the only legal ways Haku can gain the surname Uzumaki is if he marries into the clan, or, as a parent-less minor, the clan head adopts. But as Haku is an adult, by law, he can only be a member in all but name. The Yamanaka Clan, as well as all the other clans, have members that do not hold the main family's surname. Just as we do, Haku can be a member who will be better than a clan's sworn retainer, but lower than a relative."

"Hear that, Naruto-sama," Karin calls over with a smirk. "Haku may not have the surname but he can still be a member of the family," she reasons to which the blond shrugs unimpressed.

"Wait," Sakura gasps, turning from Karin to Naruto. "Naruto is clan head?"

"I know, right," a smiling Naruto voices to his pink-haired friend, who nods. "It was weird for me too, but then Haku and Karin convinced me this'll be like being Hokage. Which means I've got to be great at it!"

Staring at him in disbelief, Ino can tell a strange and perverted thought popped in Sakura's mind when the pinkette slowly comments, "I don't know if I can call you Naruto… sama." Looking around with a blushing face, she remarks, "it sounds weird just saying it."

"Naruto-sama," Ino happily tries. "Naruto-sama… I don't know. I kinda like it." Sakura's green eyes widen, a smirking Karin sits up straight—looking between Naruto and Ino—and a red-faced Inoichi struggles to hold in the food he wants to choke out. A slight nudge of her foot from under the table is all Ino needs to know her mother is saying, 'please think of your father.'

Clearing her throat, Karin tells the table, "before you can be the best clan head, we still need property, which won't be easy, as well as a foothold in some part of Konoha's markets. Is there any advice or direction you can give us for that, Inoichi-san?"

Setting down his glass of water, a frazzled father eyes the Yamanaka matriarch, having one of their silent conversations before Inoichi turns to Naruto and says, "the primary reasons why establishing a clan is difficult—nearly to the point of 'why bother'—is because of the initial money involved. It's a lot; in some cases, more than what a person may make in their entire life. And Haku-kun and Karin-chan are correct. A lot of the Hokage's responsibilities is managing the financial life-line of his people. As a leader, you'll need to know your enterprise inside and out, your clan's P & I, which is purchase and import, and you'll have to be meticulous about everything, which means every invoice, every commission, every contract. Your paperwork has to be perfect."

Naruto, Karin, Sakura, and Ino are silent as they take in the information when Ino's mother asks Naruto, "may I assume that your current income is the standard E-7 or 8 for Genins?"

However, Sakura interjects, "actually, Hanaya-san, our team was bumped up to E-9 after the A-Rank mission we completed."

Naruto nods his head in agreement as the brunette Yamanaka adds, "very good. At a minimum, you'll need a hundred times that amount to start. That includes land deeds, filing, village incentives and permits, and miscellaneous fees you won't see coming."

"Then of course," Inoichi begins to follow up. "There's the cost of any business your clan chooses to incorporate into Konoha's economy-"

"Wait," a wide-eyed Ino calls, exasperated by the administration behind every clan, before turning to Karin. She's nearly disgusted with herself at the thought, voicing, "is that… That's why you passed on shopping. Oh, Kami, I'm so sorry. I wasn't thinking-"

"No, please," Karin says, pumping both palms in solidarity. "It was nice of you to offer. I was happy you did. It's just, right now, Haku and Naruto are the only ones bringing in ryō, so every coin counts."

"I'm sure it'll work out," Naruto assures the table, especially Karin.

"Naruto," Sakura speaks. "This is serious. It sounds like it's going to take a lot of ryō and effort."

Inoichi then explains to the guest of honor seated next to him, "as clan head, you have a duty to be aware of the changes you can and can't make for the good of all those you are responsible for. Trust me, they will look to you for safety, not only from physical harm but from financial harm as well."

"Mn, yeah," Naruto agrees with the experienced clan head. "I just mean, I can't see a single thing stopping me from taking care of Karin or Haku or any other Uzumaki we find. So why worry about it? Ryō, land, business… I get that it'll take more than what I have now, but that's fine, because I know I'll do my absolute best for the people I care about, no matter how long it takes."

"Spoken like a true clan head," Hanaya shares, though happily eying her husband as if to say, 'go ahead.'

"Uzumaki-kun," Inoichi starts to which Naruto interjects, "you can call me Naruto."

"Naruto-sama," Hanaya speaks. "What my husband will eventually come around to telling you is that we had two stems of the Fire Slipper Orchid. We know you gifted them, however, Kurenai-sensei has asked us to sell hers on your behalf."

"Whaat," Naruto calls. "But I told her she didn't have to."

Shocked, Sakura asks him, "you gave Kurenai-sensei a flower?"

"And me," Ino smiles at her pink-haired roommate, earning another kick from her mother, reminding her of her dejected father.

"Kurenai-sensei didn't feel taking such an extravagant gift was proper and I agree with her," Hanaya tells Naruto. "You are more than welcome to gift her something else, but she was quite clear, all the ryō the orchid was sold for would be given to you."

Naruto mumbles unfavorably, "I don't know how I feel about this," before Karin curiously asks the Yamanakas, "uh, are flowers worth a lot?"

"Apparently it was quite the bid, but Naruto's Fire Slipper Orchid sold for a record-setting one-point-one million ryō," Inoichi slowly admits, his voice still pained by the blond boy clearly in his daughter's heart and Ino, Sakura, Karin, and Naruto bolted up in their seats absolutely flabbergasted to hear such shocking news.

"One-point-one mil," a wide-eyed Karin yells. "For a flower?!"

"And don't think we're selling yours, honey," Inoichi informs his stunned daughter. Ino and Sakura are silent as their stunned faces turn to Naruto for an explanation, however, he's as befuddled as they are.

"It's fair to say the Uzumaki clan will have sufficient funds to get started," Hanaya comments in amusement. The unexpected news stunted the rest of dinner and it wasn't until Hanaya suggested dessert that Ino asked if they wanted to get popsicles.

NARUTO

The four of them walk the busy streets of Konoha's main market square. Though it's evening, there are many villagers out and hardly anyone glares at Naruto. That alone was enough for Naruto to be happy, but he was also out with three of his good friends, which doubled his elation. His happiness was so astounding, he didn't even want to think about how much money his clan now has.

Walking between Ino and Sakura, who's talking to Karin, Naruto couldn't be happier, until, slowly and unexpectedly, Ino slides the tips of her fingers down the inner side of his forearm before effortlessly slipping into his warm palm and interlacing their fingers. It was so unexpected, Naruto tilts his entire head, staring with large saucer eyes at such a blatantly public display of affection.

Naruto didn't even register the act of hold hands under moon-mixed street lighting and surrounded by a bustling crowd for several moments. Her warm, soft palm was so staggering Naruto looked around for witnesses and immediately spots a few glances; none more noticeably surprised than a blushing Sakura and Karin. Ignoring their giggling, Naruto is even more shocked when his blue eyes land on Ino's. Exception for her blushing cheeks, she was calm, serene, no more or less jovial than before she held his hand, as if being personal with him—of all people—in public didn't affect her.

'It's like she doesn't care who sees,' his thrilled mind gasps.

Not even Nai-chan has breached the public domain of intimacy and Naruto nearly couldn't function. Something as simple as purchasing four popsicles from the vendor was a formidable task for his brain to execute. Naruto simply couldn't think past the warm, pretty, caring hand he was happily holding in public. His heart was beating a mile a minute. With Ino's help, they each had a popsicle to suck on while enjoying the night walk.

After Karin suspiciously mentioned how tired she felt, Naruto made a shadow clone to escort her home. Sakura, Ino, and Naruto continued their walk for another twenty minutes, even running into Kiba and his sister. At the sight of the blonds holding hands, Kiba surprisingly didn't challenge him. After making certain Naruto knew he was going to win the tournament, he along with his sister, Hana, and their canine partners left.

After Ino has a quick word Naruto couldn't hear with Sakura, his teammate felt tired and left soon after with a clone as well. With a comfortable pace, Ino leads them to an unspecified destination, all the while they talk about mundane things like pranking, being a leader, and how she's lived as the heiress of one of the honored clans. He was so engrossed, he was mildly surprised to be in front of his old apartment complex.

His old home was never beautiful to look at, however, it may as well have been a palace compared to what it looks like now. Windows are broken, there appears to be fire damage, it's dirty, and worst of all, it's surrounded by hoodlums. Cracking their knuckles, Naruto and Ino work their way up to the fourth floor, effortlessly decimating the large and armed group of gangsters, and before Naruto enters his old apartment, he creates several clones to go room-by-room to make sure all the thugs were gone.

"Well that was exciting," Ino huffs.

Walking up behind her, Naruto wraps his arms around her midsection, relaying, "I can think of something much more exciting than that."

Inhaling deeply to remain calm, Ino is dazed by how effortlessly his body seems to warm her entire being up as if switching on the light. Her arms wrap over his as she leans back into his buzzing presence. She's only shocked out of her arousing stupor when she hears him whisper by her ear, "will you be my girlfriend?"

She felt her womanhood quiver and grow moist while her heart hammered with excitement. "I'd love to," she answers, however, her mind reminded her of her mission. Of her character, and what it dictates she must do for the person she loves. "But I have to tell you something first," she whispers, feeling her fingers shake.

"It can wait," Naruto happily sings, turning her around to look him.

"Sorry," Ino responds, using the opportunity to step away. The move clearly confused him as she says, "but it can't. What I have to say might… will make you change your mind about me."

"Uh, I doubt that," he laughs as he takes a step toward her. When she takes a step back, he's further perplexed, asking, " Ino…"

"What I have to say will be hard enough," she voices, stomping down on the urge to put more distance between them. She reminds herself, 'I'm not a coward,' before she voices, "but please let me finish."

To his surprise, she kneels, placing her forehead to the floor and triangle-shaped palms on the floor above her crown as well. He abruptly takes a step forward, asserting, "you don't have to kneel-"

"Please," Ino calls loudly, hating how weak she feels about what she must do, however, if she looks at him, she knows his adorably trusting face would make her not want to say it. 'And he deserves the truth,' her mind declares as her voice bids, "let me say it like this, or I won't be able to."

"… okay," he hesitates to agree.

Exhaling a lung-full, Ino speaks. "Before that day that bound us together, I lived in this world I created; second-best kunoichi in our class, most beautiful, smart, confident, in love with the best man, with designs to be his wife one day. In that box I created, everything made sense, and the world was right. After what happened to me with Chōji's dango… the world I had created blew apart. I wasn't the same girl because so much of what made me was gone. I don't want to make excuses but I felt mutated, ugly, and I was so so angry and I couldn't do anything about it because I didn't understand what had happened."

"I'm sorry, Ino," Naruto regretfully admits. "I get that you didn't actually want to do that with me. Had I known, I would've stopped it. I was stupid and but it's different now."

"It is," Ino agrees. "For both of us. That's why I have to be completely honest with you. You deserve to know how horrible I can be-"

"You're not horrible," Naruto interjects, shifting forward. "No more than I am-"

"I raped Sakura," Ino flatly confesses, silencing Naruto down to his breathing. "At my worst, it wasn't so much her words that I couldn't take, but the new reality behind them. I felt like I had lost everything and I let my anger take over. I used my jutsu on her and took compromising photos of her. Then I blackmailed her for the photos by making her…" "ahem, by making her have sex with me and… and even making her have s-sex with you. I've long since learned what I did was horrible, and wrong, and evil, and there's no excuse for it. I understand if you never want to see me again, but you should know I will always cherish you and the times we shared."

Naruto's mind struggles to make sense of the meaning behind her words. They just don't connect with the girl before her in any way as he tries to vocalize the thing that doesn't make sense. "I don't- You couldn't- Ino, tell me- But Sakura's your-"

"I'm so, so, so, sorry, Naruto," Ino interjects, pressing her forehead as hard as she can into the board of the floor. She wants the pain, she needs the pain to get through it as she apologizes. "I won't ever stop being sorry. Till I die, this will be the worst shame of my life."

Naruto takes her hand and pulls her up to see her face. Her face would surely tell the truth, but she looks away, ashamed. "You're lying," he yells with hope that she is. "You couldn't do that!"

Weak in his grip, Ino uses all her strength to look in his beautiful eyes as she affirms, "I wish I were lying… but it's the truth."

Letting her go, Naruto steps back, mouthing, "I don't believe it. I can't! Not of you!"

Smiling with red-rimmed eyes refusing to cry, Ino asserts with confidence, "I have no doubt I would've fallen in love you before long." She back-steps toward the door, leaving him with, "your trust, love, and warmth altered my world for the better, Naruto, and I'll always be grateful to you. I'm sorry," she finishes, exiting the shell of his old apartment and leaving him to his betrayed thoughts.

SAKURA

When Sakura finally hears Ino enter her bedroom, the pink-haired kunoichi grips the instant-photo tightly in her grasp and walks out of her room. Though Ino wanted them to share rooms, Sakura reminded her blond sister that she will be doing a lot of studying and needs peace to fully concentrate. Sliding the last photo she hadn't destroyed in her nighty's pocket, Sakura couldn't believe how blatant Ino was being with her affections toward Naruto.

'They held hands in public,' Sakura's mind screams yet again, as her blushing body feels electric. 'Even Kiba saw them!'

After leaving Naruto and Ino earlier, all Sakura could think about on her walk back to the Yamanaka compound was her night with Naruto, and how Ino would eventually feel the same elation she had felt. Sakura couldn't explain why Ino starting a relationship with a boy she's had sex with excited her so much. She fantasized about it every night since and has already masturbated three times to the last photo of herself giving Naruto's erupting cock one long lick.

The closest the pink-haired genin understood about the photographic evidence, was how the connection it displayed excited her. It was her body in the photo, but Ino was the one licking Naruto's large phallus, and now her blond sister wants the date the boy she had sex with. The connection was titillating to think about, all the more when she realizes Ino was right about their bond.

Standing in front of Ino's door, Sakura doesn't even knock before entering the heiress's room. It was rude, but not without purpose. Sakura may agree with Ino's opinion of their familial relation, but, that doesn't mean she won't demand what she needs. 'Sisters,' Sakura's mind repeats. It was odd how much she agreed with their bond, and realizing how close the girls are—and will always be—made Sakura all the more confident she will have what she wants.

Ino is walking out of her closet in silk purple shorts and top when Sakura enters her room without permission. Sakura finds it odd she would just ignore her and watches Ino walk to her dresser and pick up her brush. The silence between them grows as Ino simply brushes her lustrous blond hair. Setting her resolve, Sakura walks over to Ino, takes the brush from her hand and takes over titivating Ino's golden mane.

Looking at the straight-faced Ino through the mirror, Sakura couldn't get a read on her sister. Still, she says, "I have a problem you're going to help me with." Other than her pupil-less attention, Ino doesn't react any other way. It almost unnerves Sakura from continuing, but, when she thinks about why she has to stay with other ninja's while Naruto can walk around free as he wants, Sakura holds firm.

"When I told you about my training you said I was crazy to train so much and one hour wasn't going to make a dent against all that fatigue," Sakura continues, though delicately brushing Ino's blond hair. "And you were right. Boardgames weren't going to keep me from going crazy, but you can." Eying the girl she remarks, "or to be more precise, Naruto can."

Again there's no reaction and Sakura can't help but wonder, 'what's wrong?'

Pushing through, the blushing girl continues, "even though you're Naruto's girlfriend now, you're going to convince him that you approve of me and him having sex! That's right! I want to have sex with your b-boyfriend, but let's be clear here, it has nothing to do with love and everything to do with your debt to me and assisting me with my training."

Ino takes in a deep breath and seems ready to protest, provoking Sakura to take out the photo as she moves in front of the beautiful heiress, and yell, "and if you don't like that, this should help you realize why you have no choice. I'll tell Naruto what his new girlfriend did to me!"

Breathing heavily, Sakura did not expect Ino to break down and start crying; not a light whimpering or mild shedding of tears. No, the beautiful girl looked pained with fat globs of tears gushed out of her squinting eyes, and her mewling shocked Sakura's heart into racing with worry. Forgetting the picture, Sakura takes her wailing sister in her arms and holds her tightly. Though Sakura tries to ask Ino what was wrong, the wailing girl wouldn't respond. Ino wouldn't even answer to her mother when the matriarch entered the room. In the end, Sakura stayed with Ino all night, holding her as she cried and slept and cried again.

NARUTO

Naruto should be happy to receive the memories of his clones training progress, as well as his clone's talk with Mabui, but he wasn't very content. The silver-haired woman was incredibly attractive, smart, and interested in what he had to say but after the revelation Ino had smacked him with, Naruto couldn't think or feel much of anything else. Seated at the dining table in Iruka's home beside Karin and in front of Ōyashiro-san, he hoped to feel better tomorrow. He wants to be cheerful when he meets the caramel-skinned beauty again.

"I apologize for the late hour, Naruto-dono, Karin-dono, but thank you for meeting me," Ōyashiro speaks. He takes a sip of their tea and compliments Iruka's cozy home. There were many scrolls from Karin's research neatly stacked to the side, but as a whole, the entire house was very clean.

"Well, I still have to give you the ryō for the chakra blades," Naruto comments before Karin asks, "how can we help you?"

"I'll get right to the point," Ōyashiro claims. "I want to be of service to you. I want to be able to facilitate a need of yours in equal measure to the item I'd like in return."

Looking from Naruto to the veteran tradesman, Karin asks, "what item?"

"Kubikiribōchō," Ōyashiro answers.

"Sorry, but it's not for sale," Naruto regretfully admits.

"I see," Ōyashiro easily responds, however, undeterred, he continues. "You must have a sentimental attachment to the weapon- Oh, better yet, I imagine you want to use it to become a legendary swordsman yourself. Legendary swordsman Uzumaki Naruto. It has a nice ring, I must admit."

"Actually, I'm not planning on using it," Naruto tells the man. "It's too big and I'd rather rely on taijutsu than kenjutsu."

"That would explain the chakra knuckle-blades," Ōyashiro mumbles to himself loud enough for the Uzumakis to hear. "So, if not to become a swordsman, then sentimental reasons?"

"No," Naruto callously replies. "I mean, I won it but I don't care about it one way or another."

"Well then, might I ask why not sell it to me," Ōyashiro asks, quickly adding, "I'll pay generously for it."

Even Karin looks at her down cousin curiously when he answers, "I told Zabuza-jiji he can work for it."

"I see," Ōyashiro nods as he responds. "Well, played, Naruto-dono. If I'm understanding you correctly, if Momochi-dono didn't mind you selling Kubikiribōchō, you wouldn't be opposed to selling it to me?"

"Nope," Naruto says.

With a confident voice, Ōyashiro then asks, "and if I offer you triple the retail amount, would your reconsider selling it to me now?"

Curious, Karin asks, "how much is-"

"Four hundred and sixty-six million ryō," Ōyashiro answers all the while staring at the listless Naruto to gauge his response.

Karin gasps, stunned with wide-eyes, but after what Ino admitted to him, Naruto is numb to expression. Ryō isn't everything and he doesn't like the idea of lying, so he answers, "sorry. I wish I could but, I gave Zabuza-jiji my word."

"No need to apologize, Naruto-dono," Ōyashiro says, shaking his head. "It's quite admirable of you. Our word is our bond, after all, and for the moment, I'm quite content with the knowledge of your position."

After they let him out, Karin gasps aloud, "four hundred and sixty-six million! That means the retail for Kubikiribōchō is a hundred and… fifty-five point three something or other! Do you know what we can do with that amount? We'd be one of the richest clans in the village!"

"It's just ryō," Naruto glumly states, before telling Karin, "I'm going for a walk. Will you be okay?"

"Yeah, sure," Karin answers before asking, "are you okay?"

"I'm fine," he responds with a weak smile, happy she didn't ask him about Ino. "I just have a lot on my mind."

Nodding, Karin tells him, "I'll be here if you need me."

"Thanks."

It wasn't long before he found himself in Kurenai's bed. Though they discussed Hinata, she could tell he was distracted. When he eventually opened up, he didn't explain more than his dashed hopes of nearly having a girlfriend, and worse than that, how he feels about the horrible mistakes of an intimately close friend. He nearly feels betrayed. The beautiful Jōnin's words were as comforting as her presence, but even as they sleep together, he doesn't feel quite right.

MABUI

"So he is the same boy," Mabui gasps after Samui gave a detailed description of the Uzumaki who fought and defeated Momochi Zabuza. It was baffling to the silver-haired stunner that a sixteen-year-old genin can be stronger than the Demon of Hidden Mist and prodigious in Fūinjutsu. She can't help but gasp to her teammates, "he didn't even look injured!"

Seated around their small dining table in the middle of their empty living quarters, Atsui seemed pensive, seemingly trying to make sense of the same thing she is. It just didn't seem believable, and if it wasn't for Samui's first-hand account, they wouldn't believe it. The symmetrically beautiful leader is stone-faced, however, and Mabui easily imagines she's reflecting on her lack of communication, as any leader might in such a situation. If Samui would've spoken more, Mabui could've made the connection earlier and they could've planned to use Mabui's connection with Uzumaki to secure his favor, if not outright steal the blade from him.

"Ōyashiro asked for more time," Samui tells her subordinates, forcing Mabui and Atsui to assume that's still the primary course of their mission. Rather than explain to her subordinates if there are any backup plans, Samui stands and retires into their shared bedroom.

Mabui follows and isn't surprised to see Samui is already in her sleeping bag. Her leader wasn't sleeping, so Mabui speaks as she begins to change. "Thank you for telling us Uzumaki's description. With that, I'll try to charm him to our side."

"Understood," Samui voices with her back still to Mabui.

Rather than retain the silence, Mabui asks direct questions to encourage the beautiful leader to speak more, starting with, "is there a specific tactic you would like me to incorporate?"

"…What are his interests," Samui coolly asks.

"Fūinjutsu and…" Mabui hesitates to finish. On a mission, Mabui is fine flirting and seducing others if it's safe to do so, however, she draws the line on going the extra mile, especially all so Bee-sama can have a new sword.

Samui eventually voices "…And?"

Though she doesn't want to be ordered to do anything she would be uncomfortable doing, Mabui answers her commanding officer, "he asked me about women and love."

"Do what you must," Samui states from her resting place in her sleeping bag.

"Understood," Mabui responds. Though she could've ended it there, Mabui's psyche training tells her to speak about her day with the blond prodigy. As Mabui recounts her interaction with Uzumaki Naruto, she hopes to get through to Samui and breakdown, if only a little, some of the girl's fear.

TENTEN

Opening the rear access door of Tent Out of Ten, Tenten asks, "what do you want?"

Without being permission, Haku enters the merchandise bay of the weapons shop. Though Tenten tried to stand in front of him, she can't help but think of her father and weakly allows the beautiful shinobi in as he answers, "I'm here to assess the quality of my weapon."

"I am not your weapon," Tenten cries back.

Haku stops walking toward the stairs that lead to the apartment above and turns to leave, commenting, "very well. I'll let Zabuza-sama know-"

"Wait!" Tenten yells as she reaches for Haku's dark green tunic. "Wait! Are you crazy?! Don't-" Haku's calm dark eyes relay Tenten's clear options, to which the bun-haired belle slowly asks to know, "…how could you be okay with this? If I don't do what you say, Zabuza kills my father!"

"I fail to see how you lose here," Haku calmly responds.

Eyes widening incredulously, Tenten rebuffs, "what I just said already means I lost!"

Calm as ever, the beautiful boy asks, "how? Your father is still alive and will remain so. And all I'm going to ask of you is train to be a weapon even Zabuza-sama would be proud of. Neither of which feels like losing to me."

Cautiously, Tenten asks, "what do you mean by train?"

"You belong to me, Tenten," Haku reiterates. "But you also belong to Zabuza-sama's and Naruto-sama's because what's mine is theirs. That being said, you're so pitiful as a ninja, it would embarrass me to present you to them."

Ruffled by the observation and hating herself for being unable to confidently dispute it, she instead returns, "I don't need you to present me to anybody-"

Turning again to the door to leave, Haku repeats, "I'll alert Zabuza you do not wish to cooperate-"

"Fine," Tenten yells, grabbing the sleeve of his dark green tunic. "Fine. Just- …what do you want?"

Nodding, Haku begins walking again, heading toward the stairs as he asks, "when was the last time you murdered someone?"

Tenten is taken aback at the questions as they walk up the stairs and is slow to honestly respond, "…I've never killed anyone."

"Hmm," Haku lazily hums before abruptly deducing, "I suppose we can find a homeless man for you to kill." At Tenten's yelping cry, Haku turns to the girl as they enter the apartment and relays, "it's fine, Tenten-chan. I won't turn you in to the authorities-"

"It's not about getting caught," she boldly asserts. "I'm not killing some random person! What is wrong with you?"

"I certainly can't claim to be… normal," Haku sheepishly admits with the sweetest smile before purposely pointing out, "however, I am also not weak."

"Neither am I-"

Haku interrupts by asking, "shall we put that to the test?" Tenten stiffens as Haku continues his leisure pace around the living room. "If you beat me, you will no longer be my tool and I'll make certain your father does not die by Zabuza's hand, directly or indirectly."

"And if I lose?"

"Then the status quo remains," Haku answers.

It didn't take Tenten too long to answer with conviction, "fine! After I win, you promise no harm will come to my father?"

"You have my word," Haku asserts with a short bow.

They traveled to the roof for their match and though the space was small, it was equally so. It didn't take long for Tenten to feel that quicksand. She couldn't even manage to make Haku use his jutsu, let alone his weapons. His speed alone outmatched her, the foreign boy parried everything, and she felt the pressure like she was drowning in it. In the end, Haku didn't break a sweat, Tenten never landed a strike, and she couldn't stop disparaging thoughts repeatedly asking, 'how can I be so weak?'

Crouching beside the huffing Tenten, Haku asks, "do you understand now?"

"…No," Tenten growls. "Why are you so good? Why is Naruto? And Neji-kun, Lee, and Guy-sensei? And everybody, but me!"

"I can't speak for your teammates or 'everybody,'" Haku calmly voices. "However, I can tell you why Naruto-sama is strong."

Sitting up, Tenten demands, "tell me. How did he beat Zabuza?"

Taking this conversation indoors, Haku and Tenten settle around the dining table before they speak. Tenten has a bag of ice against her bruised cheek as Haku articulates, "it's not about the strategy Naruto-sama used to beat Zabuza-sama. It's about his mental fortitude." At Tenten's drawn in eyebrows, Haku answers, "Naruto-sama has an innate understanding of who he is and isn't afraid of his capabilities."

She sarcastically asks, "why would he be? Why would anyone be scared of being that strong?"

"Our deepest fears are not rooted in our inadequacy," Haku wise counsels, "humankind's deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. Most people you come across in life are content to simply have a place in society. They are content to conform and with good reason. To do so is much easier to live with; it's accepting, sociable, and comfortable-"

A tired and hurt Tenten accidentally let slip from her lips, "sheep," surprising and scaring her at the same time.

Haku has the decency to let it slide as he continues explaining from across the table. "But playing small doesn't serve the world. It serves the interests of others at the expense of your self and your dreams. Zabuza-sama and Naruto-sama may be polar opposites, but neither men have such fears. They don't accept conformity. They are daring, and without hesitation, would fight death itself for what matters to them. That is the key to their strength."

Tenten takes a minute to consider Haku's words before asking, "and you can make me that strong?"

"I can only show you the way," the boy responds. "You must be the one to walk it, and crucially, without fear."

Tenten sags her shoulders and with deep resignation, answers, "…well, it's not as if I have a choice."

"Good," Haku voices before declaring, "your first task is to kill a homeless-"

"I'm not killing a homeless person," Tenten calls out. "Why do you keep saying that?"

"Tenten-chan," Haku patiently starts. "The largest area of improvement isn't your body, but your mind. You have too much fear, and if you're going to be a weapon worthy of the strongest opponents, you need to change your mindset."

"To that of a killer like Zabuza?"

"Not necessarily," Haku returns truthfully. "I myself do not engage in killing."

"See," Tenten huffs.

"After I killed my father who had killed my mother before trying to kill me, I didn't adhere to it as readily as others might have." Tenten looks at Haku's serene face, and couldn't believe such a calm and beautiful face would say something so horrible. Her own father may value money over many things but even he would attempt to kill his own daughter.

"Still," Haku continues. "That event did brake me enough for Zabuza-sama to mold me into his weapon. Both Naruto-sama and Zabuza-sama have gone through mental barriers I doubt you've ever neared, hence why I suggest murder. No one will miss a homeless person-"

"I'm not killing anyone," Tenten calls, already feeling sick to her stomach at the way Haku wants to train her. Tenten then asks, "is there another barrier that doesn't involve murder?"

Tenten can't help but be jealous of the beautiful boy as he quirks his neat brow in thought. She couldn't believe how unfair his beauty is as the boy mutters to himself, "you're so innocent, there should be something… oh!" Haku then happily asks, "have you had- wait, do you have a boyfriend?"

Startled, Tenten's voice stutters when she asks, "what? Why?"

"Do you," Haku maintains.

"N-no," she hesitates to respond.

Continuing to his invasive questioning, he asks, "do you have someone you love?"

"I… I don't have to tell you that," she defends.

"Then this conversation is over-"

"Wait, wait," she calls before he even gets up. Nervously, she blushes to admit, "I… sort of like someone… but… he doesn't feel the same."

"I see," Haku mumbles. After a moment of deep thought, Haku nods and merrily tells Tenten, "well, if you're opposed to murder, then having sex with Naruto-sama is your only other option."

Dropping the bag of ice, Tenten slams her palms on the dining table, shaking the wood, as she sits up, the movement of which knocks the chair back, and yells, "WHAT! HOW DO YOU- …WHY WOULD YOU- WHAT!"

Standing himself, Haku raises an easing palm to settle the pretty girl's shocked countenance as he explains, "I am not holding your hand through this, Tenten-chan, nor will I explain this multiple times. I'll say this once and give you the week to think it over." He waits several moments for her to object, but the only sound from her is heavy breathing.

"Sex is something intimate," Haku starts. "It's a social bond you share with a significant person you relate well with. In some respects, it's the very vulnerable heart of you as an individual… that level of sensitivity will kill you in battle. As you are, you are all about your feelings; your fears, your insecurities. All of that needs to be dialed back a substantial amount so you can stop thinking about how you feel and instead concentrate on the outcome that must happen. The burden of murder would be a good dampener, but loveless sex works well enough."

Haughty and blushing, Tenten tries to argue, "first, I don't agree-"

"Says the sheep who lost," Haku interjects.

Visibly upset, Tenten struggles to swallow her pride to utter, "…Even if you believe that's what I need, why Naruto-kun? W-why n-not… y-y-you?"

Shrugging the little her question actually matters, Haku answers the wildly blushing girl, "you're not my preference. Also, Naruto's the only person I know in Konoha, we live together, and as his tool, I obviously serve him in any way I can."

With tight animated fists, Tenten cries out, "but SEX!"

With gravitas that cut through her reservations, Haku palpably vocalizes, "you want to change but you don't want to sacrifice. Zabuza-sama, Naruto-sama, myself, and many other strong warriors had to sacrifice who they were to become who they are. I guarantee you no legend you met was born that way. They were made into being; forged into being. I can understand your hesitance to murder someone, but if you're unwilling to sacrifice even this in order to cross beyond your comfortable boundaries, then I don't know how to train you. You have a week, then I will expect an answer."

Though Tenten expected Haku to leave after clearly explaining his position, the confusing boy sits back down. Confused, Tenten looks at the boy with a curiosity that clearly says, 'what more is there to discuss?' Answering as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, Haku asks, "how do you expect to run your shop, alone, while simultaneously continuing your career as a kunoichi without assistance?"

NARUTO

The second Naruto opened his door, he was surprised to see Sakura waiting for him. He's supposed to meet her along with Kakashi and Sasuke at their spot on the bridge and he wasn't looking forward to it. He hadn't seen Sasuke since their match two days ago and now he knows what happened to Sakura by Ino's hands. Looking at her tired, angry, yet lovely face, Naruto isn't sure what to expect but they say their farewell to a studious Karin before leaving.

Fifteen minutes into their walk, Sakura sighs before asking a nervous Naruto, "do you know what I was doing all last night?" He doesn't speak, however, he shakes his head, 'no,' to which she responds, "I was comforting an uncharacteristically distraught and weeping Yamanaka Ino."

Though the day is bright and perfect, Naruto mournfully responds, "…she told me."

"I know," the lethargic Sakura yells. The streets they walk are lamely populated with stragglers as Sakura continues. "The second I threatened to do horrible violence to you, she finally tells me she confessed everything to you and to leave you alone."

Stopping in their tracks, Naruto turns to her and admits his confusion. "I don't understand Sakura. Why are you at her house? Why are you still her friend? Is she still blackmailing-"

Raising her fist and prime to strike him, Sakura seemingly changes her mind and sighs as she lowers her deadly fists. "No, baka," she calmly answers. Resuming their walk, she listlessly informs him, "listen… I was a bitch, like, a true-to-life bitch. And Ino was even colder. It wasn't right what she did and I won't say otherwise, but, I can't say there wasn't a clear benefit."

"And that is," Naruto asks.

"…I was- I learned I was obsessed," she starts, slowly turning to him as she adds, "with Sasuke. I don't know how this happened, but I convinced myself that he was the best thing in this world and I wanted to be his everything. With those photos, Ino forced me to read a lot about obsession… even now, I still hate her for it," she adds with a small smile. "I learned, desire creates paradoxical effects, like, the more you want something, the more you chase after the very thing that eludes you."

"That sounds pretty familiar," Naruto repentantly admits to her. Her green eyes say she understands he's talking about himself because she chuckles and affectionately shoulder-checks him. Her cheeks blush a pretty shade of pink, contrasting alluringly with her green eyes under pink eye-lashes.

"Anyway," she continues. "Another effect is the more interest you show, the more you repel the very object you desire. You know, that same book also said that my approach was so strong, it likely had the effect of making Sasuke uncomfortable. Can you imagine, Sasuke, uncomfortable?"

"Yeah," Naruto chuckles to mentally picture, adding, "oh, man! It'd be like telling the broody bastard the food he's eating was made with love!"

Sakura and Naruto laugh together as they leisurely walk the serene path to meet their teammates. Eventually, Sakura continues, adding, "out of all the books Ino made me read, one said showing contempt and disdain is the prerogative of the king. It makes people want to seek your approval. Where the king's eyes turn, what he decides to see, becomes reality; what he ignores and turns his back on is as good as dead." Wondering about his own obsessed chase of Sakura, the pink-haired girl adds, "I remember thinking that's exactly what it felt like if Sasuke didn't look at me, didn't pay attention to me, like I'd die."

Nodding in understanding, Naruto asks with some amazement, "Ino made you read all that?"

Lazily nodding, she answers, "yeah."

Naruto's mind couldn't help but think that seemed like a benefit. What happened also helped him get over his obsession with Sakura, to which Naruto comments, without embarrassment, "but she also made you have sex with me."

"Now that I think about it," Sakura voices as her brain analyzes the situation with that parameter. "I think she did that because she wanted you to stop chasing me on top of showing me how little I valued myself; sort of like a two-for-one." He nods at the objective assessment when Sakura asks, "you remember asking me if I wanted to stop several times? Well, she also gave me the option to stop or say no, but like Sasuke's attention, I didn't want to feel the ''death'' of losing him, so I always did it. All those experiences helped me realize how far I strayed from the girl I used to be… the one in the park by Yoshino's on her daddy's shoulders watching the Sakura trees bloom."

"You almost sound… okay with what she did."

"I hate that it took so much to make me see things differently," Sakura admits to him though enjoying the birds flying above. "I still have a lot of self-reflection to do, and training on top of that, but I wouldn't be in a position to do so if it wasn't for Ino." Sakura steps in front of Naruto and softly explains, as if defeated, "I don't know how you feel about Ino—I mean she did something immoral and criminal—but I still trust her… crazy as that sounds."

"So, you're okay," Naruto slowly asks. Taking a step closer to really look at her, he emphasizes, "I mean, really, are you okay?"

Smiling the sweetest smile he'd seen in a long time, Sakura answers, "yeah, Naruto. I am." He nods and they walk in silence until they see their teammates, both of them-

"Am I seeing things," a shocked Naruto asks.

"That's… Kakashi-sensei," Sakura gasps. "Early!"

"The hell is going on," Naruto cries.

Naruto enjoys hearing Sakura laugh, and their talk, more than Kurenai's arms holding onto him, made him feel okay about it all. There's more to consider between Ino and himself, however, he feels confident that time will heal this wound.

Sakura brings him out of his thoughts when she tells him, "you know how I know you're going to be okay too?" Quirking his blond brow, he shakes his head, and she responds, "Sasuke tried to kill you and you don't seem to hate him, in fact, you still want to help him. On the bridge, Zabuza nearly killed you, and yet, you didn't hesitate to ask me to help him. Neither one of us hates Kakashi-sensei for neglecting us in favor of Sasuke. This entire village practically hated you and yet, you still want to protect them." Sakura becomes pensive for a moment, a slight smile under her pink cheeks as she jests, "you might be too good for us, Naruto."

Snorting, an embarrassed Naruto chuckles, "nope! Definitely not."

INO

Sweaty yet under her covers, Ino's mind was on a vicious loop. She couldn't process anything but the repeating memory of her self-harming confession. It's night time and she barely remembers admitting to Sakura what happened with Naruto. She barely recalls her mother bringing her food and sadly repeating how it was all her fault. She doesn't remember eating, going to the bathroom, or washing. Ino simply stayed in bed with a mess of tissues scattered all around her.

It even took Ino several minutes before she realized a tapping noise was coming from somewhere, then several minutes after that to turn to the irritating noise. To her horrid shock, Naruto is sticking on the wall outside her window, looking at her.

Immediately, Ino's mind catalogs everything about her appearance that's not up to her standards of public viewing. She could feel her nose is red and stuffy, her eyes were puffy and irritated from all her crying, her usually silky hair was a clumped mess, her skin felt oily and lifeless, and she smelled… horribly. Nothing about her was attractive and her immediate reaction is to throw the covers over herself.

With her trained ears, it's ridiculously easy for her to hear him enter her room and walk to her bed. She can barely breathe and much too soon, he's right beside her. He sits on the bed before placing his hand on her shoulder and she can feel his warmth like she never knew how cold the world actually is. Ino immediately felt his comfort and was aching for more until he slowly tries to draw the comforter off her.

When Ino holds tight, Naruto lets go and slowly voices, "if you hadn't told me, I never would've known." Ino is all too aware of that fact; much to her emotional agony, however, she says nothing as he softly continues. "Despite what you did, I still think you're a good person, Ino… or you never would've told me."

Drawing courage from thoughts of his smile and Kurenai's approval, Ino responds, "if I was a good person, I wouldn't have done that in the first place."

"Maybe," Naruto responds. "But Sakura seems okay with it, and if she can move past it—if she can trust you—then I want to as well." Ino's sure he can feel her heart beating a mile a minute. It's suffocating under the think sheet making her sweat worse, but, she didn't care as long as she can hear him.

"I came here because I don't want to lose you," he voices and an overly mortified, excited, sad, and happy Ino feels him try to remove the thick blanket again, and Kami help her, she lets him. She allows him to see her vulnerable face—mask-less—in all her unappealing emotions. Rather than be disgusted by what must be a laughter-inducing appearance, he smiles his genuinely sweet smile, and it breaks her heart when he confesses, "it won't be as easy as before but I think that's fine. I still want you in my life, Ino."

Rather than voice the immensity of the solace revitalizing her tired veins and withered muscles, Ino just wraps her arms around his strong neck and embraces him as hard as she can for as long as she can until. She hates herself for sobbing in happiness, but she can't stop how she feels. She holds him while he rubs her back, and eventually, she succumbs to slumber from sheer exhaustion.

Yay! There will be more Ino and Naruto in the future but they're in a better place than ever before. They now have a steady foundation to build upon. I always knew that my Ino would eventually confess what she did. She knows it was wrong, and to keep it from Naruto would only propagate how wrong it was to a whole new level. I hope this wasn't too melodramatic, but I needed this to happen so the road will be much smoother between them.

I'll highlight more of Sakura's reasoning later, however, all the ingredients are already there. Sakura needs something, Ino owes her big time, she's already lost her virginity, and there's a hold button on her quest for Sasuke.

A long long time ago, I had one thought for Tenten. "It's be funny is a weapon specialist became a weapon." Stupid I know, but, I still get a childish kick out of it. I also thought it was funny she'd rather Haku do the dirty deed, lol. Anyway, I'm glad she's under Haku's tutelage. I want her to get strong and I think Haku will do a great job. Also, how boss is Haku?! Effing Best Wing-man Ever! More on Tenten later.

Mabui is chipping away at Samui a bit at a time, trying to get at the center of the poor girl, and I'm slowly working them to the deep drill that is Naruto. I can't wait to focus more on them! 😁

Temari is coming up next. I'm salivating to get her in the harem! And I haven't forgotten about Jiraiya! He's coming soon. Lots of very interesting stuff coming guys! 😁

To all my amazing patrons, thank you again! I'm getting closer to hiring an editor for my original because of you guys, so I truly do appreciate your support. Again, my patre on is not for fanfiction but for my original novel. My patrons will receive it before anyone else 😁😁 Ulquiorra, I haven't forgotten about you my friend.

Lastly, Happy Halloween! I am dressing like BBC's Luther and my girl is going to be Alice.

As always, please let me know what you think and have a great one,

-Grae

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