The Last Prayer @graefoxx
28Hope Vs Experience

Hey friends! Happy Holidays!

First, my customary apology. I wanted this chapter out a week and a half ago, however, family, friends, holiday shenanigans... it was difficult. Additionally, this chapter was a stubborn one but I got through it.

FYI it's only been a couple days since the Omiai stuff in Hiruzen's office.

Warning: Kissing, Language, Complicated Physics.

14K for those who like to know. Enjoy!

KURENAI

Sitting comfortably on Kurenai's couch, cups of tea and an empty box of dango on the coffee table, Kurenai just finished explaining last night's dinner with Naruto, Karin, and Hinata. Kurenai remained silent, waiting on her pensive friend.

The choice to remain silent was finally broken with a short snicker. Slumping her shoulders, Kurenai exhales as her dearest friend gradually chuckles louder. The erotic kunoichi manages to yell, "are you fucking shittin' me?!" before laughing out loud. The dark-haired woman leans back, holding her gut as she laughs for several long minutes, till she's leaking from her eyes and hurting from her jaw and abdomen.

"Anko," Kurenai eventually groans.

She can't completely stop snickering, however, she calms down enough to apologize. "I'm sorry, babe," she says. "It's just- come on! The same fucking thing? The same situation twice in one year? It's insanity! Asuma had to be the escort for that bitch-princess and now Naruto has to escort the Kazekage's daughter!"

"It's not funny," Kurenai groans around rubbing her frustrated face. "And it's not the same-"

"You have to tell him," Anko interjects rubbing the laughing-tears from the corners of her leaking eyes.

Shaking her head with some confusion, Kurenai asks, "tell who what?"

"Oh don't even try to spin that nonsense with-"

Kurenai cuts in, "it's not nonsense-"

To which Anko easily cuts in, "I'm not an idiot-"

Leading Kurenai to interject, "I didn't say you were but don't just assume-"

"You're falling for him! For Naruto," Anko yells, silencing Kurenai. "Why else would this bother you enough to tell me? Because you're like, really and properly falling-"

"I'm not-"

"You are," Anko maintains. "You are, and stop bullshitting a bullshitter."

Kurenai begins to say, "I…" however, can't quite separate her thoughts from her emotions and it's unclear to her what she wants. It still amazes her that Naruto can matter this much to her; that she's truly considering a public and committed relationship with him. But it's not what's expected of her. What if it doesn't work? Would her father approve? Would her Hokage approve? Is their relationship fine as it is? Kurenai is bombarded with questions she can't answer without some perspective. It's why she immediately called Anko. Exhaling, Kurenai simply talks to her friend.

"Anko, I know for sure I love parts of him and really really like all of him," Kurenai begins. "He's just amazing, plain and simple. Someone who's suffered so much for so long and still cares that much about his village is almost impossible to imagine in our world, but I see it in him every day. He's handsome and strong… really strong. In fact, I'm fairly certain he can be promoted to a special-Jōnin on his Fūinjutsu acumen alone."

"That's hilarious," Anko quips with a snort. Having read the genin's jacket, Anko knows a great deal about the blond and comments, "Uzumaki Naruto, the dead last of his class being bumped up to the brain sect with all the other geniuses. Kami, who would've thought, eh?"

"He's just full of surprises," Kurenai replies. Blushing, she honestly adds, "and the sex… it's, well, otherworldly. He's a beast and I can't keep up anymore."

"Mnn, do tell," Anko seductively voices with a coy grin.

Ignoring her friend's lewdness, the raven-haired beauty speaks, "there are so many reasons why he's great, but that's not love; not romance. When Asuma and I were together, every day was pure joy. I felt so loved and beautiful and energized and smitten and nothing in this world seemed insurmountable so long as I loved him and he loved me."

Earnestly, Anko asks her confused friend, "and you don't feel the same for Naruto?"

"No," Kurenai sadly answers.

"I guess I'm screwed then," Anko huffs.

Focusing her curious gaze on her friend, Kurenai asks, "what do you mean?"

Anko prefaces her answer by asking a question. "Does that mean you can't love Naruto or someone in a different way?" Kurenai isn't sure how that relates until Anko further explains, "what you just described when you and Asuma were together is the type of love I hear all these young bitches gush about like it's the single most amazing thing in the world. Not that I'm knocking you for it, but, five, six years ago, you were the same. That's romanticism and if that's the only way to have that long-haul love, then I'll never find someone because I can't stomach shit like that."

"It's not the only way to love someone," Kurenai admits. With considering, the red-eyed Jōnin states, "your love will be different from my love but that certainly doesn't say you can't wake up every day just thrilled to be alive, in love, and full of hope."

"I get that," Anko agrees, adding, "and that sounds nice."

"It is," Kurenai assures her.

However, Anko's face winces as she slowly affirms, "a little too nice."

Tilting her head so her lush ebony hair slides farther along her shoulder, Kurenai groans, "Anko…"

"No, babe," Anko protests. With animated hands and a head full of steam, Anko argues, "I like the sound of that, really, I do, but, rhetorical question here; who's dick is currently fucking you into high heaven? Are you going to blame not currently being with Asuma on timing, circumstance, or your careers? As if things like that are strong enough to erode that life-long pure joy?" With racing thoughts, Kurenai remains silent and Anko continues to say her piece. "In my rather humble observation, a long-lasting healthy relationship needs more than just that frilly love or, by definition, it's not as strong as it can be. It's like you tell your brats, you need more than one skill up your sleeve or you don't make it in this world. You love Asuma but as great as your love was, as much joy as you had, you aren't together. You guys didn't have the… whatever else you needed to get that mission success."

Kurenai felt judged and sidelined, but disregarding her knee-jerk emotions, she listened to the blunt words for what they were and respond, "I'm not trying to be argumentative about this, but, I felt like Asuma and I had more than love. We were friends first and have a working relationship." Thinking about his life as the Hokage's son and the string of loveless relationships he's had, Kurenai admits, "I knew we were different, but I'm telling you, I felt we understood enough to make our love work."

"You're not alone. We all did," Anko remarks, shuffling closer to her upset friend. "If you forgave him for the bitch princess, I'd even say you'd more than likely be together by now, maybe pop out a kid in a couple of years… or maybe not."

"I remember how certain I was that my heart belonged to him," Kurenai sadly recalls, falling further into her clear memory banks. "Even now, I- my heart still wants him more than anyone."

"I know, Babe," Anko sympathizes, taking ahold of her friend around the shoulder for a firm supportive hug. "You've been distracting yourself with your team and with Naruto, but I think it's been long enough. It's time to put on your big-girl panties and come to terms you can live with. I mean, when stuff doesn't work out, most of us want there to be meaning behind it, but whether there is or isn't, you gotta figure if this is just a holding pattern, or, is this the new you."

"Being precedes essence," Kurenai softly recites into Anko's strong nape.

"Come again," Anko curiously asks.

"It's a concept of existentialism," Kurnai lazily answers, enjoying the comforting embrace of her friend. "It boils down to having a choice even when we're under the illusion that we don't."

"Kami, you're such a nerd," Anko happily huffs, easily adding with a pinch of her shirt-covered nipple, "a super hot nerd."

Pushing away, Kurenai laughs. "Ever since my father, I've always been independent, and with Asuma, I truly felt in my heart I could finally devote myself to another man again… but now… after everything Asuma and I have been through… and Naruto… it's like choosing between experience and pragmatism or love and hope."

"Sounds shitty," a nodding Anko agrees before asking, "how many times have you guys broken up?"

"Ugh, three times," Kurenai shamefully admits. "The first one was when he didn't know how serious I felt about him. He thought we were just having fun."

"It's hard to give up the bachelors' life," Anko mumbles her commentary.

"Second time was after our fight about him giving up being a field ninja," Kurenai stresses aloud.

"Oh, yeah," Anko recalls with a hum. "You wanted him to be the Head of the Sarutobi Clan?"

"Sandaime-sama wanted it as well," Kurenai argues, making it clear she wasn't forcing Asuma into it. "And it would've been safer."

"That's true," Anko chimes, taking a sip of her cool tea. "The third one was… oh, yeah, he wanted you to stay home; cook, clean, and pump out baby after baby."

"We both wanted different things," Kurenai slowly supposes. "To do, and be, more for the village."

"Does Naruto care what you do?"

"He just wants me to be safe and happy," Kurenai affirms. "…he said he'd always protect me," she shyly adds with a repressed grin and slightly blushing cheeks.

"Look at you all giddy and girly," Anko teases, poking at her friend. "Kami, that's so disgustingly cute. Making me wish I fucked him first."

Wide-eyed, Kurenai yells, "Anko!"

Raising her hands into an X, Anko calls out, "alright, no B.S, no judgment, no one but you and Naruto. Just brutal, ugly, uncomfortable truth…" Kurenai's anxiety amped up in the short pause before Anko asks, "can you love- can you be happy with Naruto?"

For a solid two minutes, Kurenai sat in silence, staring at nothing, deep in thought, and blank in expression until her cheeks blush red and plops her face in her hands, as if defeated. Anko was nice enough to withhold her laughter and just smiled broadly.

NARUTO

With his eyes closed, the sound of a falling stream of water splashing into a tranquil pond felt no different than the flow of natural energy fusing with Naruto's expanse of chakra. Naruto felt at peace molding with nature like the purity of serenity. Everything feels in line with how Naru-nii had described the feeling and he was ready for the substantial increase in his strength when a horribly rigid club whacks Naruto hard against his skull.

"Oww," Naruto yells as Pa huffs, "alright," dripping with sweat. "Break time."

Wincing while he rubs his head, Naruto complains, "but I can keep going," as Pa smacks the five clones Naruto has meditating near the oil into puffs of white smoke.

"Well I most certainly can't, ma boy," Pa responds, wiping his brow of sweat. "We've been at it all morning and you're doing phenomenally well. I assume your future self gave you some insights as to how it's supposed to feel."

"He did," Naruto replies before adding, "but so did the Kyūbi," with a smack to his stomach.

Nearly gasping, he asks, "truly?"

"Yup," Naruto enunciates with a hard P. "He said since all bijū are half nature and half something else, I've been exposed to it for a long time."

Curious thick and gray brows draw together as Pa asks, "something else?"

"He wouldn't say," Naruto asserts with a shrug. "But he said all the bijū have an affinity for natural energy, which is probably why it doesn't feel all that impossible for me."

"There's some logic there, and if true, that's quite the benefit for you," Pa hums. "Let's grab some grub. Ma's cooking the good worms for you today."

His stomach lurches at the thought of eating more of Ma's worm soup. Smiling politely, Naruto shyly admits, "you know, I can just wait for you here- AH!"

Raising his brow in concern, Pa asks, "what?"

"Naru-nii is here," Naruto gratefully declares. "I should…"

"Of course, of course," Pa chimes with a wave of his webbed feet. "Tell him we say hello and thank you."

"Will do," Naruto responds before taking his mediation pose and mentally greeting, 'yo! Perfect timing. I nearly had to eat more of Ma's cooking!'

Naruto can almost sense his future counterparts need to hurl, sounding, 'Ugh… the worms,' across Naruto's mind. 'I'm here for ya man,' Naru-nii sternly promises.

'They say hello by the way,' Naruto readily passes on.

'Cool,' Naru-nii comments. 'It's weird how other people know about me now.'

'I know,' Naruto agrees, shifting in his stone seat. 'Ero-sennin actually took it pretty hard but I think he's better now. I can't tell if it's a good thing or not. Makes me wonder about who else we should tell.'

'Yeah, same here, but I think coming clean is for the best,' Naru-nii slowly and objectively voices. 'Doing this by ourselves doesn't feel right, which only means that some people need to know.'

'Here's hoping,' Naruto mumbles.

'We gotta talk about the Hiraishin,' Naru-nii proclaims. Naruto perks up as his future self adds, 'not sure if we have enough time though, which is pretty funny.'

Naruto chuckles at the irony of not having enough time to talk about a time extending technique before asking, 'what's up?'

'So, you know the time expansion at the heart of the contract? Not the chakra imitating gravity part-"

As a bird lands on his shoulder, Naruto mentally asks, 'the equation? T=To/√1-V²/C²?'

'Yeah,' Naru-nii answers before further adding, 'breaking down the guts of this tech doesn't quite fit with how Tou-chan described it.'

'You know,' Naruto hums recalling that odd feeling. 'At the time I was just super stoked to be talking to Tou-chan so I hadn't noticed, but when I was repeating it back to you, I did think something wasn't adding up. I'm pretty sure I wrote it out right.'

'Yeah, you did,' Naru-nii assures him. 'Looking over it, it should work fine. It's just how tou-chan worded it that threw me a bit.'

'What'cha got?'

'Nothing too difficult,' Naru-nii answers. Like a gut instinct, Naruto doesn't need to really think when he hears Naru-nii orate with technical accuracy, 'T, which is time, equals To, which is the time recorded on earth, over √one minus V², which is velocity-squared, over C². C is, obviously, the speed of light, which is then squared.'

Nodding in total understanding, Naruto allows his intuition to speak the pictures in his head, easily plugging in, 'T is the time I move in relative to others. To is the time recorded of the people on the earth, which is a relatively slower velocity than me. V is the velocity of the earth. C is the speed of light.'

'Right,' Naru-nii agrees before voicing, 'so, if I need your speed—T— within the tunnel created by the gravity function to be faster than everyone else's—To—outside the tunnel, then I need to solve for velocity to make the speed you move at—relative to everyone else—closer to the speed of light so that from your perspective, everyone'll look like they're frozen.'

'Sounds like how I wrote it,' Naruto thoughtfully points out, easily recalling the formula. 'There's also the gravitational function of the Fūin contract which uses my chakra to create a hole in space-time I can pass through—the tunnel—which is going to take a lot of chakra.'

'I think that's the info tou-chan was mixed up on,' Naru-nii voices with mild concern. 'Like, I know he didn't have a lot of time to explain everything, but he didn't even mention how you can make the distance you 'teleport' feel shorter by adding more chakra to condense the tunnel you're traveling through. Imagine how much easier it'll be spending minutes inside the Hiraishin instead of hours to 'instantly' 'teleport' to Suna or somewhere far.'

'You think there's any chance I can see him again,' Naruto asks before elaborating, 'you know, just to tell him?'

'Kami do I wish there was,' Naru-nii sadly confesses. A moment of silence passes between the orphaned blonds before the future Naruto adds, 'I never say never, but…'

'…Yeah,' Naruto agrees with a dour tone. Another bird lands on his shoulder before he moves away from that sore ache in his heart. 'Um, yeah, so, that gravity energy part is my chakra manipulating mass and warping matter around me which lets me pass through solid objects and space in an 'instant.''

'You got it,' Naru-nii agrees as if they're one mind. 'Basically, the laws of nature say that Space is a three-dimensional spectrum that provides us with length, width, and height. Time is the fourth dimension and offers a forward direction to that spectrum, thus a space-time continuum. Gravity is a curve in space-time, which means gravity can bend time and space, so according to this Fūin contract, your chakra, acting like gravitational energy, warps matter around you like a hole.'

'I wonder what the tunnel's going to look like,' Naruto casually muses. 'I'm imagining one of those funny mirrors, you know, the warped ones that make everything look twisted or curved but more circular,' Naruto postulates, tilting his head so the birds momentarily flap away before returning.

'Same here,' Naru-nii chuckles. 'It'll be super heavy moving through that tunnel so you'll really need to train your ass off if you don't want to be crushed to death. The faster you can get through the tunnel, the less chakra you need to use.'

With serious concern, Naruto exhales through his teeth and flapping lips, sounding, 'psshhh, a lot of training is the bare minimum to becoming Hokage, so I got this. But, considering what I'm up against, I can't help but feel a bit green, you know?' Naru-nii hums in agreement before Naruto adds, 'we're less than three weeks from the third task, and even though Ero-sennin promised to stay for the invasion, Orochimaru is crazy strong.'

Naru-nii pauses a second before doubtlessly asking, 'is that going to stop you from fighting Orochimaru or anyone else who's stronger?'

'Hell no,' Naruto quickly asserts.

'I know,' Naru-nii calls out, further arguing, 'it's how we're wired. Look, when you get back to Konoha, ask for help where you need it. There's nothing we can't do when it comes to saving our special people. Definitely ask Hinata-chan for pointers on shooting out chakra from your tenketsu.' After Naruto's agreeable hum, Naru-nii adds, 'let people help you because I know you're going to do everything in your power to stop the invasion, stop Ji-chan's death, stop Gaara, and capture Orochimaru.'

'It sounds insane when you say it out loud,' Naruto briskly utters.

'Life of a hero, dattebayo,' Naru-nii proudly proclaims. 'I have the utmost faith in myself which means I have the utmost faith in you. As much as you want to protect Iruka-sensei, Ji-chan, Team 7, Kurenai-chan, Karin-chan, Haku-kun, on top of all our friends and sensei, they definitely want to protect you too.'

'…You're making me want to train so bad right now,' Naruto mentally admits feeling hot moisture form at the corners of his closed eyes.

'I know the feeling but don't burn yourself out,' Naru-nii warns. 'I've passed out a few times going all out. It wastes more time than saves. Actually, tell me what's been going on with you. We've been all about the Hiraishin for a while, we haven't really talked.'

Happy and eager to oblige, Naruto begins by asking, 'out of curiosity, did Temari-chan ever say she liked you?'

Naruto can't hear his future-self smack himself in the head, however, he can imagine it before the older Naruto wearily challenges, 'you gotta be shittin' me… another one?'

Fortunately, Naru-nii hadn't taken the sudden and astonishing alternative development of Temari's Omiai too personally. Naruto had explained signing a document diplomatically outlining everything they had gone over in Ji-chan's office and how the relationship is nothing more or less than what they want it to be. Naruto also told his future ego how he's planning on using this opportunity to get closer to Gaara.

'If we don't have to fight,' Naruto mentally reasons, asking, 'that'd be better, wouldn't it?'

'I guess,' Naru-nii capitulates. 'So long as you both truly understand each other, then yeah; that's all that matters. It sucks about Temari's dad making her do that though. How'd Ino-chan or Kurenai-chan react when you told them?'

'I haven't had a chance to tell Ino-chan yet,' Naruto starts before he further reasons, 'and I figure, with the invasion coming, there wasn't much need to tell Nai-chan more than the escort story.'

'Ugh, I hate lying,' Naru-nii muses.

'Same,' Naruto emphatically agrees, nodding his head and momentarily clearing his head of a resting bluebird before it lands on his soft hair again.

As previously stated, Naru-nii makes certain that Naruto understands, 'you know I don't care if you tell Kurenai about me, right?'

Naruto answers with a droll certainty, 'I know.' Standing from the stone platform bordering the pond, the blond begins stretching as he explains, 'I want to, but with her, I think she'd prefer not to know… unless ordered to. She's really big on covert intel gathering, management, and dissemination. I can hear her voice now, telling me how flattered she is that I trust her so much but how dangerous the information is and how I need to be more responsible and words, words, words. She's such an adult,' he finishes with a roll of his humored eyes and a small smirk.

Chuckling a bit, Naru-nii comments, 'that's funny. Was she cool with the escort thing?'

'She said she understands,' Naruto hesitates to admit. Thinking over dinner with Kurenai, Hinata, and Karin, Naruto felt as if Hinata's and Kurenai's reactions were lackluster. Karin seemed excited, however, recalling Hinata and Kurenai's tepid feedback, Naruto responds, 'but it didn't feel like she was okay with it. Plus, the skin between her brow crinkles when she thinks too much about something that worries her.'

'Maybe it does worry her… or doesn't… I don't know,' Naru-nii huffs. 'You know I'm clueless about this kind of stuff. Though, I did gain more insight into people when I mastered Kyūbi Sage mode. Maybe that'll help you out.'

'Sounds sweet,' Naruto happily notes. 'How long do you think before I master that?'

'Oh, not anytime soon,' Naru-nii quickly responds, making Naruto grumble at the loss of instant gratification. 'Anyway, I'm about out…'

Lately, it's been getting harder and harder to leave Naru-nii for the day. The more Naruto wants to help his important people in his timeline, the more he wants his future self. Even though the only difference between them is age, Naruto sees him more as a brother than his future self; always watching out for him like he imagined brothers do. So with a hint of melancholy, Naruto responds, 'thanks, Naru-nii. Tomorrow?'

'Tomorrow,' Naru-nii replies with determination.

After a quick chat with Kurama, the rest of his training on Mount Myōboku went well. Naruto felt closer to tapping into the monstrous might of the planet's spirit energy known as senjutsu chakra. After Pa called it for the day, Naruto became eager to return to Konoha and meet his appointments. With the sudden amount of connections in his life, he felt a warm comfort at the thought meeting Karin to talk clan business, Mabui to talk Fūinjutsu, Ino-chan to become centered, Temari to learn more about her family, his team for comradery. As it's been the past two days, Naruto is returned in a puff of white smoke atop the stone monument of his father so he can gaze upon the lush wonder of his home. Regardless of the village's hostility toward him, he has more than enough people in his life to make this community a home.

Creating three clones, one heads to meet Karin, another meets Mabui, and the third meets with Temari while he visits Iruka before meeting his team.

MABUI

"You continue to impress," Mabui gushes in genuine amazement. She and Naruto are closing the numerous scrolls laid out on the table. They've been meeting fairly regularly to discuss and practice Fūinjutsu and though neither of them said it out loud, Mabui has become his unofficial student. Mabui recognizes his brilliance and can't help but ask him all sorts of questions about processes and procedures. With two master's degrees, the silver-haired model feels like a student again looking up to her young genius sensei.

Naruto blushes and waves her compliment away, chuckling, "thanks but it's nothing."

Watching him seal all his materials in his a single scroll before pocketing it in his back pounch, Mabui shakes her head, asserting, "it most certainly is not nothing. You could be instructing the finest Fūinjutsu masters."

Walking out of the Fūinjutsu section of the library, Naruto chuckles before responding with, "well, right now, you're my only… student? Which is beyond weird to think about!"

With her mission always in mind, Mabui tends to stay as close as physically possible when they study, always leaning toward him when she asks for help and as they exit the library to the wonderful daylight and busy Konoha streets, she merrily bumps him with her shoulder. Continuing to tease, Mabui asks as if wounded, "because I'm old?"

"If you're old then I must still be sperm," Naruto jokes, making light of the small age difference between them. They walk to their usual bench in the nearby park. Many kids play and chase each other and a few of the men openly stare at Mabui's statuesque form in a fitted pencil skirt and long sleeve gray blouse. As they take a seat, Naruto explains, "it's weird because no one's ever thought of me like a sensei before."

"That can't be," Mabui asserts with confidence.

"It's true," the blond argues.

"If I may be candid," she voices in askance. With his nod, she pridefully answers, "in all my years of study, you are one of the greatest practitioners of Fūinjutsu I've ever met, and I used to rub shoulders with the upper echelon of academics." Mabui doesn't mention how hard it was to be in some of those parties or discussions and remain professional. In fact, she's certain her fiance took her to many of these gatherings because he knew she was a sapiosexual and would be aroused the entire night. While Mabui wouldn't say intelligence is her number one desirable trait in a partner—kindness to all and strength also factor in—she knows how wet she can get when a genius is blowing her mind with phenomenal expertise.

Naruto's explanations tend to have her warm and moist by the end of their study sessions, though, fortunately for her, he's rather young for her. Her fiance may have been thirty years her senior but there's something about sexual relations with a boy ten years younger than her that seems taboo. Even still, she enjoys her time with him as she adds, "so, I find it incredibly difficult to believe you're not the most influential name in the field of Fūinjutsu across the five nations."

"Wow, I wouldn't go that far," Naruto responds with a chuckle. Mabui looks at him in earnest, to the point a doubtful Naruto has to ask, "…are you being serious?"

"Of course," Mabui returns, fingers in her hair to keep in place as the wind picks up. Mabui ignores the few men glancing at her seated, leg crossed, as she readily informs the blond genius, "I should be calling you Naruto-sensei."

"Stop it," he lamely gaffs. Looking at her as if she were crazy, Naruto admits, "I may know a little more than you, but you're learning really fast. You're nearly at the intermediate stuff and it's only been a week since we met." When Mabui thinks about how many months she's spent attempting to decipher a single Fūinjutsu, his comment doesn't feel as flattering. She quickly becomes a mixture of aroused and scared when he finishes, "I'm a hundred percent sure you'll figure out that secret project you keep showing me in no time."

Surprised he could tell she's been sneaking segments of the old Fūin scroll she inherited, Mabui's face braces as she hesitates to ask, "you could tell?"

"Yeah," Naruto easily replies. She feels defeated when he adds, "you've only snuck in three segments of the initial array but it's pretty obvious they come from the same jutsu."

Cautiously, Mabui asks, "does it bother you that I'm keeping it a secret?"

"No," he quickly assures her and it just touches her heart when he reassures her, "I only want to help."

"Funny," Mabui enjoys saying, adding, "that's exactly what a sensei would say." Naruto rolls his head back exhaustively and Mabui smiles as she tells him, "I'd like to help you too. That is to say, I don't want you to think I'm only using you for your intelligence."

"Add that to the list of things no one's ever said to me before," Naruto blurts

"Well then, it's my honor to be your first," Mabui teases, tightening her thighs together at the titillating thought of taking the virginity of a genius. "Maybe if I know I've helped you, maybe with your love life, then I'll feel more comfortable trusting you with my family's Fūinjutsu. Have you asked either one of those girls about… You didn't ask, did you?" The sour look washing over his face was answer enough.

With a spirit of failure, he huffs, "well… it's not an easy thing to ask! How would you feel if your boyfriend asked you to be in a polyamorous relationship with another girl?"

A sequenced flicker of reflected light tells Mabui that Samui is nearby observing. With the stoic beauty near, Mabui knew there was only one answer to that question. Despite her aversion toward the poly lifestyle, Mabui knew she had to say whatever she needed to for the desired outcome. Adopting a cute disposition, Mabui bashfully answers, "I'm currently not dating anyone, but—and this is a big but—if the right man asked me and the other girl turned out to be someone I can truly care for, yeah, I'd consider it."

With squinted eyes, Naruto's jaw drops. Surprised throughout, he asks, "really? Wait, you don't have a boyfriend?! But you're so gorgeous! How's that possible?"

"First, thank you. That's sweet of you to say," Mabui genuinely responds. Pushing the mental image of the confusion Darui brings her, she articulates, "but yes, I'm currently single, and to answer your question, selecting someone on the basis of appearance is superficial and doesn't last long when conversation happens. Beauty can easily lead to sex but that's no guarantee of building a meaningful relationship, and on many occasions, it doesn't."

Mabui couldn't help but wonder about Darui. The green-eyed beauty recalls their conversations perfectly and very little of the dialog has to do with anything meaningful such as interests, philosophy, politics, or future goals. Darui's very confident and forthright about his assertions, however, her intuition tells her he's treating her exactly like any other girl. Mabui doesn't feel special, and what's worse about feeling ordinary, is her opinion of Darui. If her fiance were alive right now, Mabui knows she'd drop Darui in an instant. Her first love is the new gauge by which all men are now stacked against, and though Darui is the highest thus far, he doesn't measure up.

Realizing she's never spoken about this aloud, Mabui tentatively takes a minuscule moment for herself to enjoy the sun in the shade among a lively village before she unburdens just a small portion of the baggage she's been carrying about the man she's been secretly seeing.

Sincerely, she voices, "more often than not, a physical match doesn't equate to an emotional one." Looking out into the park with parents or villagers on the streets, Mabui proclaims, "when you consider the majority of people are average looking, just because an exceptional shape and size of a human can make us weak in the knees doesn't mean the other less symmetrical or less fit are any less ideal. It's why it's valuable to look beyond the physical."

Though feels like a hypocrite, Naruto nods in agreement as he adds, "my sensei says that being really pretty can also be a problem because their looks can make it hard for the average guy to approach them."

"Your sensei's right," Mabui wholly agrees. "On many occasions, the only men that approach me are the players. Unfortunately, what they want is so base and superficial and obvious, it's a complete turn off for me. In truth, I often find myself remaining single for long periods."

Naruto nods in understanding before adding the opposite end of the same dilemma. "But you can't be too approachable because the guy who can only date you like that might get jealous easily and my sensei thinks that's the most unattractive quality."

"Your sensei seems very wise," Mabui comments, appreciating how attentive and studious Naruto is. In addition to identifying with sapiosexuality, Mabui has also been affected but the student and sensei relationship. She's always felt a strong bond with them. As an adolescent girl escaping the dregs of her poverty-stricken family and village, she understood that the role of a sensei is to provide her with all the tools she needs to ascend to a better state of living. When she had nothing, her sensei taught her to save herself, especially her late fiance. Forcing away those sad thoughts, Mabui adds, "being somewhat unapproachable helps to avoid insecure, clingy, controlling, and overly protective men that I may otherwise date. So, yes, there is a balance and it can be hard to navigate. Too sociable and you're just the girl of the night. Too reserved and you're alone a lot."

"That must be tough for you," Naruto sympathizes. "What's your type… or, I guess what I mean to ask is, what kind of guy would you be with that might make you say yes to polyamory?"

"Mnn," Mabui sounds, tilting her head a bit to think before answering. "I… this is a little embarrassing to admit but I'm attracted to men like y- uh, men with many of your qualities." Nodding her head to his quirking brow, she lists off, "handsome, funny, and above everything else intelligent. I absolutely idolize intelligence."

"I don't see why that's embarrassing," Naruto wonders aloud. "Aren't there a lot of handsome, funny and intelligent men out there?"

"I suppose that's a bit broad," Mabui admits. "However, I can't really prescribe what might make me say yes. A man can have those qualities in abundance and I could still say no, or yes. I guess it depends on their character. I may come around to the idea of being in a polyamorous relationship but the only way I can see that happening is if the man at the center is worth it. I know it's not a definite answer but that lifestyle is not something that just anybody can do. I suppose the key component is a confident personality."

Curiously, Naruto tries to understand the sort of confidence needed by asking, "like how I know I'm going to be the best Hokage of all time?"

"Precisely," Mabui agrees, wondering how likely it is he'll become Konoha's strongest leader. "Just like that."

He ponders in thought a moment before he surprises her by asking, "can you think of a way I might be able to practice this? So I can feel more positive about asking a girl I'm interested in? I'm more of a hands-on type of learner."

Mabui marvels at how innocent he appears despite genuinely asking how to practice polyamory, as if he wasn't perfectly setting her up for a way to subtly earn his favor and complete the mission. After spending some time with him, she's certain Fūinjutsu is the only area he truly excels at. As she's never seen him fight and only has Samui's short description of his victory of the Demon of Hidden Mist, she can only say with some degree of certainty that he's likely a very good combat specialist as well. Other than those two positives, he's kind, respectful, and trusting—a little too trusting. It's this blind spot of his that tells her he truly wants a way to practice polyamorous relations and not outright inviting her.

Still, this is to her advantage and Mabui responds, "well, I don't see why not. I'll have to brainstorm ideas that have the highest possibility of success. But I have to ask, is this a lifestyle you want to pursue?"

"Well," Naruto hums, creasing his brows in deep thought. "I think I'd be fine with one girl, but… well, to put it mildly, I've met plenty of girls, but not one girlfriend, if that makes sense. I can be everything a boyfriend can be, but for one reason or another, no one wants me like that. I don't know if it's me, but, lately, I'm getting the impression that there is no one."

"Seems like there's a story there," Mabui teases while wondering about his experiences. Mabui makes a mental note to closely observe any girl he interacts with as she assures Naruto, "it's fine, you don't have to tell me, but, if you ever do, I'd be happy to listen."

"Thanks," he gratefully tells her.

She smiles as she assures him, "I want to help you, so, I'll let you know what I come up with."

"Thanks, Mabui-chan. That'd be really helpful."

"You're welcome," Mabui returns. Mabui stands from the bench, making a point to arc and pivot seductively before she turns to him and brightly asks, "same time tomorrow?"

"Sure," Naruto replies with his bright smile before he leaves.

For the surveillance she isn't sure is watching her, Mabui walks the third strategically planned route back to base. It takes her an additional thirty minutes to reach their new hideout, however, she knows Samui is observing her every step until she's finally in their second, extended-stay, safe house.

After Ōyashiro had told them he can no longer facilitate an aboveboard deal for them, the least he could provide was a small home near the farming fields of Konoha. It's an old wooden cottage with one bedroom for Mabui and Samui, a single bathroom, and a kitchen that doubles as the living room for Atsui to sleep in. The shabby rooms had minimal furnishings—an old stove, a small fridge, a creaky bed, a dining table, and four chairs—and part of the deal was Atsui had to help the farmer with labor on the fields. Luckily there was only a minimal amount of mold growth that they were able to completely remove.

Once Mabui bypasses the safeguards in place, she enters the dreary and vacant cabin and begins preparing the evening's meal. Eventually, Atsui returns from working the fields and Mabui is forced to hear the blond man whine about his degrading assignment, oblivious to the fact that her assignment is prostitution. Though the temptation to punch him in the mouth never ceased, the silver-haired beauty refrained. The Monster Report gave her all the patience she needed with him, thin though it may be. So even if her assignment in this team is to prostitute herself for a big sword, she doesn't compare their tasks.

The meal is ready when Samui finally returns. As they take a seat around the small and splintered dining table, the gorgeous blond takes out a small roll of paper that was no doubt delivered via messenger hawk and tells her team, "orders from A-sama." Placing the paper on the table, Samui recites from memory, "if Mabui cannot secure Kubikiribōchō through seduction, we are to take it-"

"Then let's just take it," Atsui hastily and passionately interrupts his sister. His voice is loud enough to concern Mabui as he continues to say, "we don't have to make my Mabui-chan do shit with that brat! That snot-nosed punk doesn't even deserve her attention! This ain't hot, sis! This ain't hot." Mabui can't disagree more with Atsui. Naruto is the key to figuring out the Heavenly Transfer Technique and hopefully, gaining the rank of Jōnin. Though Naruto is too young for her, at the very least, he's caring, helpful, and once in a lifetime genius.

Without explaining more, Samui answers her little brother, "we're not equipped for that engagement."

Mabui has been around the stoic woman long enough to eventually understand that the 'we' Samui is referring to is the two Chūnin on the three-man team. As their exit strategy in the heart of enemy territory would be more important than the actual theft, Mabui can't imagine a village as strong at Konoha would have any difficulty catching up to and capturing lower rank ninja like herself or Atsui. It's clear Samui would consider that a failure, as would their Raikage. Additionally, Mabui understands if Samui was teamed with other Jōnin, the situation would be different, which means her role seducing Naruto is still their best strategy.

Just then, a disturbing detail dons on Mabui, chilling her spine when she suddenly recalls how missions are discussed with A-sama's most trusted advisers, Dodai and Darui. Her green eyes widen at the thought Darui might know she has to seduce another man and her instinctual reaction felt vindictive.

'Finally,' her mind yelled. 'A taste of his own duplicitous medicine.'

However, she quickly ceased feeding those darker thoughts for a higher self-worth. Even if her relationship with Darui is secret and rocky, it's still a relationship. He's a person with feelings and she doesn't want to betray another person's emotional trust. She didn't want to be the sort of person that would enjoy causing someone else emotional pain.

Tentatively, Mabui asks, "did A-sama discuss this with… anyone?"

"He makes his own decisions," Samui simply answers, to Mabui's relief, until the blond bombshell casually adds, "however, Darui-san and Dodai-san advise when available."

"Were they," Mabui quickly asks, clarifying, "were they available to advise?"

"That's unimportant," Samui replies as she offhandedly destroys the missive with a flash of fire. "We have our orders. Atsui, reconn options of retreat. I'll set traps. Mabui, seduce Uzumaki." Atsui's eye twitches as he holds in his immense displeasure. Samui ignores him to further instruct Mabui, "if he's uncooperative, we'll lure him to the ambush. Dismissed."

There's so much detail missing from that plan, Mabui can't help but mentally scream, 'how?' Rather than vocalize that, however, she asks, "ah, Samui-taichou, may I speak with you in private?"

"If it has to do with the mission, I should hear too," Atsui protests.

Samui instructs her brother to leave with a single word. "Atsui," she voices and with a loud huff, her offended brother leaves them before she turns to her.

"I feel it's important… for the mission, to know how far I've been ordered to seduce Uzumaki," Mabui begins.

"No boundaries were detailed," Samui dispassionately responds.

Mabui proactively asks, "none?" The beautiful blond Jōnin would've answered if there was an answer to give, prompting Mabui to then ask, "and if it goes as far as sex? Is he- are they okay with that?" Again, Samui remains silent, to which Mabui interprets to mean if there was a limit, Samui would say as much.

The woman's silence felt like a blunt reality check, of sorts, for Mabui on the status of her relationship with Darui. It's similar to third-hand information, not all reliable but not to be discounted either. It tells her that Darui didn't succeed in setting a limit to how far she should go, or if he cared at all. It's not proof that Darui isn't serious about their relationship, but it's also not proof that he is either.

Samui turns to leave when Mabui quickly asks, "Samui-taichou, may I know- may I hear directly from you, my commanding officer, how far you would like me to go with Uzumaki-kun? I know how important Kubikiribōchō is to A-sama, but in your professional opinion, how far do you think I should go for a weapon?"

"…A mission is a mission," Samui begins, finishing, "whatever it takes."

TEMARI

Walking the crowded streets of Konoha under a bright sun and clear blue skies toward their meeting spot, Temari is in deep thought. To avoid the bustling crowds she takes alleys and outlining streets, and even then, there are a lot of shoppers, families, friends, ninja, tradesmen, dogs, cats, birds to fill the senses. Dressed in her usual short-sleeved purple kimono with slits in the skirt and a more revealing neckline, Temari ignores the crow as she repeatedly recalls her conversation with Baki-sensei.

"Are these the photos," Baki asks, accepting Temari's sealed scroll after returning from a tour with Naruto.

"Photo," Temari corrects, crossing her arms and leaning against the wall of their living room. It's just her and Baki in their shared three-bedroom apartment as she adds, "his cousin seems to be the only family he has, though a third or fourth person lives in the house with him. I haven't met the others."

"Already in his home and near his family," Baki pensively comments. "He always struck me as an open individual."

"His mistake," Temari remarks with a hint of pride.

"Is it?" Baki's question instantly makes Temari's rapid mind ponder alternative explanations as her half-faced sensei continues. "It'll be that much harder for you."

With their goal in mind, Temari reasons aloud, "because he's easy… which means visiting his home is nothing significant."

"Precisely," Baki tells her. "He may have shown you around his village and home, and you may have met his cousin, however, it seems he would do that with anyone, which means you're not special to him."

After signing diplomatic documents for liability and prosperity, Naruto had shown her around the village. They went to his favorite spots and eventually ending the tour at his home where she met his only family, Karin-chan. Though she felt it was progress, she suddenly realizes it's not and bemoans, "it's only been one day."

"You have less than three weeks to make him fall in love with you," Baki reminds her. "Your opening stroke was brilliant. It's allowed you in the door, now you have to make an impression."

"I will," Temari heatedly declared before leaving.

The worst thing about that exchange is the perspective it provides. Temari feels as if she will have to be drastic with her advancement. Walking the slightly more familiar streets of Konoha, Temari mentally prepares to interact with Naruto again by recalling ever exchange of dialog she had with Naruto and his cousin to practice witty and cutesy responses. Temari will admit she's never seduced a man before in her life, however, she's taken a mandatory class on employing seduction techniques to gather vital intelligence. In hindsight, she currently feels she shouldn't have used her status as the Kage's daughter to skip most of the classes.

Luckily, she's interacted with Naruto enough times prior to this prostitution that it would be strange if she was suddenly cute and whorish, so she commits to being attentive and supportive of him and his ideas. At many stages in their tour the day before, Temari mentally tallies all points of note. So far, she's still certain she can manipulate him. He's strong but seems dull and easily pleased. Learning how the orphans are attempting to establish their clan in Konoha was a good burden to help them with, however, Temari knew it wouldn't be enough. Walking up the street to the Uzumaki's home, the straw-colored blond knew what she needed was something more singular; something that screamed 'must marry' not 'property developer.'

She abruptly hears, "hey Temari-chan," from behind her, stunning her spine straight and freezing her heart still for a fraction of a second. She lets out a settling breath as she turns to the smiling Naruto in his beaten and worn orange jumpsuit. "Sorry."

Shaking her head as if there's no need to apologize, she asks, "how was your day?"

"Pretty good," Naruto answers. "I got a lot of training in but not a lot of results… yet."

Smiling at his confidence, her inquisitive mind wants to know, "what sort of training?"

Though Temari is eager for any new intel to pass on, she disappointed to hear him glumly answer, "mostly meditation stuff. Trying to be really still is hard for me since I have so much energy."

It sounded like mental discipline training and nothing special, however, she kindly replies, "I can imagine. So what would you like to do today?"

"I'm just a clone but I'm down for anything," he tells her, to her disappointment.

Though Temari appreciates him saying as much, she feels insulted that it's a clone and not the real body. It sends the message that she's not a priority and that won't do, not with so much at stake and so many depending on her. 'Earn his trust, earn his trust, earn his trust,' her mind yells in repetition as her voice asks, "may I know where the real Naruto is?"

"He's training with the Team right now," the clone replies.

"No offense, but can we wait for him nearby," Temari softly asks. "You and I can still talk, but I was hoping to tell him something personal."

"Yeah sure," the Naruto clone responds.

Deciding talking to the clone will suffice, for now, they make their way as Temari asks, "I can imagine this whole thing with me and the Omiai must be pretty weird for you."

"Well… a little," Naruto gruffly answers, lazily seesawing a flat palm. "Isn't it weird for you? I mean, your tou-chan wants you to marry someone you don't know? That would do my head in."

"Yes and no," she answers after a long exhale. "Obviously, I'd prefer to marry someone I love, but I doubt I'm the kind of girl that falls in love at first sight. What I value in a man isn't something you can see on the surface."

"What's that-" Naruto halts his curiosity when his brain answers faster. "Oh! Let me guess. Intelligence?"

Surprised, she turns to his smirking face and answers with an amused tone, "yes, actually. I didn't think I was that transparent."

Snickering, Naruto reassures her, "you're not," adding with a melancholy smile, "I've just heard that before."

Immediately, Temari wonders about other women in his life who may have told him that. The fact that he remembered suggests she's important or a sensei. Temari's original strategy involved removing any female attention in Naruto's life, however, considering how all of Konoha no longer have a future at the end of the month, any kunoichi attracted to Naruto will continue to take things slow. Besides, any kunoichi Naruto is attracted to will evaporate from his mind as much as his heart when he feels what she'll do to him.

"What do you look for in a girl?"

"Uh, well, I thought I knew what I liked but I've learned a lot in the past few months so now I'm not sure. Right now, I know for sure I like honest and pretty girls."

'Possible rejection,' Temari mentally catalogs, thinking how that heartache works in her favor. "To answer your earlier question, this isn't all that weird to me because the thing I like most about a partner takes time. So I have to get to know a person before I date them anyway. What makes the Omiai bad is it has less to do with my needs and more to do with the needs of the village."

"What does Gaara think about that," Naruto asks. "You're brother and sister. He can't be okay with this."

With a heightened curiosity about his mental train of thought, Temari bluntly answers, "my little brother doesn't care."

"Well he should," Naruto angrily asserts. "I get that he's had a tough life but you're family!"

Again, the connection Naruto seems to have with her brother seems to stem from a shared predicament. Cautiously, Temari asks, "why do you think he's had a hard life? He's the son of a Kage."

Turning to her, Naruto leans forward so as his eyes stare more prominently at her as he gravely answers, "it's in the eyes." Stepping back, he amusingly adds, "plus he always talks about killing people."

Impulsively, Temari snorts at the blasé manner Naruto accepts Gaara's homicidal declarations. She feared he would think she was a morbid for laughing at his comment, however, to her great relief, he simply smiles.

"My little brother has certainly gone through a lot in his life," she admits. Rather than change the subject away from her brother, she allows Naruto to indulge in the topic, offering, "maybe we can have dinner one day."

She's certain Naruto would be the only boy who'd happily answer, "that would be great."

His excitement to have dinner with her brother has Temari hoping Naruto is secretly a homosexual. Though that doesn't change what she has to do and it's a little off-putting if her first is gay, her mind effortlessly plays out a scenario in which he's unable to get an erection and she comforts him, thereby earning his trust.

'Kami, let that be the case,' her mind praises as she informs him, "I'll let you know what he says."

"Sweet."

Throughout the rest of their walk, they talk about mild subjects like interests and dislikes. Temari always allows him to go first to feed his ego and to gauge whether she should agree or disagree with his replies. They speak for nearly three hours when the real Naruto spots them. The clone says his farewell before popping away. His team seems odd. Naruto is holding up his pink-haired worn and exhausted pink-haired teammate. Their sensei is openly reading the same filth Baki gave her to research from. And the handsome Uchiha continues walking with little more than a sideways glance at her as he leaves.

"Hey, Temari-chan," Naruto greets before creating a clone to pick up an exhausted Haruno, princess style, and leaping away.

Temari smiles at the blond before bowing to his sensei, greeting him, "hello, Kakashi-sensei."

"Temari-chan," Kakashi greets. He then tells them, "I was asked to chaperon whenever possible, but." Turning to Naruto, he asks, "if you're fine on your own…"

"Yeah, we'll be fine, Kakashi-sensei," Naruto tells his sensei.

"See you tomorrow," the legendary Copy-ninja states before nodding to, "Temari-chan."

As Team 7 split between Kakashi trailing Sasuke and Naruto carrying Sakura, Naruto can't help but apologize to Temari. "Sorry about my team. Ever since the second task, Sakura's been training like hell to get better and Sasuke's just a moody booty."

Again, without a thought, she snorts at his quip while he smiles. Shaking her head, she casually replies, "no apologies necessary."

Naruto returns his attention to the Suna heiress to ask, "so you wanted to talk about something personal?"

Lighting up at the subject, Temari answers "I do. Can we go somewhere private?"

"Sure," he returns looking around the wide trail leading to the training grounds. He hums a moment before snapping his fingers and proclaiming, "there's a place close by I like to go to." Temari and Naruto walk into the forest talking about their day and some of the best meals they've ever had. By the time they reach an out of place waterfall in a field surrounded by forest, Temari is certain Naruto is addicted to ramen.

The sound of rushing water intensifies the closer they get and soon Temari can feel a light mist of moisture on her skin. There are a total of three hidden waterfalls near Sunagakura, none are as large, loud, or spectacular as this. When they stop at the ravine, Temari wonders around the straight branch stretching the length of the falling water at the halfway point.

"This way," Naruto calls out, leaping on the water. She follows him as he searches for something specific. When he stops, she doesn't understand why he tells her, "hold on," before he scoops her up and jumps straight at the waterfall. Holding him around his neck, her brain tells her not to worry before they break the rushing wall of water and land inside a cave. He sets her down before walking to some towels. Handing her one, she scans the room for any threats before taking stock of the simple furnishing in the mildly large room. There's a coffee table a few two sleeping bags and a carousel heater. It would be a square room if not for the rounded walls.

As Naruto asks, "how's this?" Temari is thrilled by the very wide whitish-blue wall of water.

"Aside from being wet," Temari begins, toweling herself off. "It's beautiful… and certainly private. Thank you."

He waves her off before asking over the rushing sound of the nearby waterfall, "so what's up?"

Releasing her wet pigtails, Temari is drying her hair as she hesitates to begin. "Um, can I be honest with you?"

"Always," he assures her, sitting on a soft pad by the table.

"Because I don't know what's going to happen with this Omiai, I'm nervous," she restlessly admits. Walking around the room and sitting on the padding opposite him at the table, she tells him, "I generally enjoy engaging my mind with random experiments like probability statistics or card games. It feels nice when I assess all the relevant variables to a given situation then accurately predict a future outcome. It's one of my strengths and I'm proud of it, but, I don't know how this—between us—will end. It's a lot."

"Yeah, it's pretty bonkers," Naruto agrees, then adds, "but, if it makes you feel better, I know how it'll end."

With a tilt of her wet head and suspiciously amused eyes, she responds, "oh?"

"Yup," he returns with his signature smile before answering, "it'll end how we want it to. As long as we understand one another, I think it'll be alright."

"Then I think we should talk about that," Temari says, leading him to her planned topic. "We've spoken in front of our respective leaders and officials, but it's just us now, and I feel we should discover what this means without the politics."

Nodding, Naruto says, "yeah, I like that," quickly asserting, "I don't know about you but I definitely want to be friends, no matter what."

"I'd like that too," Temari forces herself to lie. In her heart she couldn't care less if she were friends or not, however, she hates the deception. She's already noticed that he's a nice and open person and the more he continues to be that way the more she wishes he was an asshole. As he is, she feels like she's leading a lovably peaceful cow to the slaughterhouse. Her emotional training taught her that this feeling is just the humanity within her desiring to preserve the sanctity of life, however, she can't listen to that part of her now. Her mission is as hard as it is clear.

Temari then asks Naruto, "have you ever heard of a Love Map?" Shaking his blond locks, no, he leans his elbows on the table as she answers, "when you share your life with someone, I think it's important to show how much you care. Think of it as training. Rather than just saying you train every day, you physically show it. Little things, like hugs or notes, to big things like goals or anniversaries; it's nice to feel how much you're cared for and loved."

Looking at her in wonder, as if picturing that kind of life, Naruto warmly expresses, "that sounds nice."

"Yeah, right?" Temari agrees before continuing. "So this meticulous attention to showing how important someone is, rather than saying it, is called a Love Map. Being able to write down the map of your partner's likes, dislikes, hobbies, goals, and habits. It's important to any strong relationship."

"Yeah, I think so too," Naruto offers, recalling his own examples of this attention. "Like how I know when my sensei is worried about something without her saying anything, or when Sakura is about to quote a book or when Ichraku's is out of pork noodles by how many people are outside of the stand."

"Uh… yes," Temari agrees with reluctance. In her mind, she's just happy he understands the concept. "Though I was referring specifically to romantic partnerships, the theory is essentially the same. All of those examples, however, need one thing to survive, time. It takes time to know those small details but when you take the time and patience to do this, it can lead any couple to become… emotionally intelligent, which is vital to a long-lasting relationship."

"Cool," Naruto answers. "A Love Map makes a lot of sense now," he adds with wonder and deep thought. "Can you use this with anyone you know or does it have to be with the person you're dating?"

"Uh, I don't see why it couldn't work with your friends," she presumes.

"Cool," he replies. "I used to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make friends but I never heard about mapping out that stuff."

"Happy to help," she quips. Looking out into the mesmerizing fuzz of rushing water, she voices over the cold water, "so, I'm saying all this because I… and this is really embarrassing to admit, but, I want to experience growing such a connection to someone. Not just anyone either. I want to learn about my Love Map with a partner of my choosing."

Quirking his brow, he asks, "like a boyfriend?"

"I'll probably be married before I ever have a boyfriend and I doubt I'll have much of an option as to who I marry," Temari assertively remarks. "But I did choose you, and despite the odds, Otou-sama agreed. So, since we're here, rather than be down about it, why not make the most of it and build a Love Map of my own? If you and I don't work out months later, that's fine, but right now… I know you said you want to be friends, and so do I, but-" Temari clears her throat and can already feel her cheeks blushing as she struggles to say, "I want to experience things with someone I chose… rather than someone my father has me marry."

"Things like what?" Though he cuts himself off to pointedly assert, "I still think you should talk to your dad. How can he not understand? He's your dad," he exclaims with extended and open palms.

"Thanks," Temari genuinely appreciates, then immediately recalls how much she wants him to be an asshole instead. Clearing her throat, she replies, "you don't know him. A small part of him is my father but when you're the leader of a village, the majority of him is the Kazekage. He can't be like normal fathers just like I can't be a normal daughter."

"Then he needs to change that," Naruto immediately claims. "When I become Hokage, I'm definitely not going to do something like that."

"You have my vote," she quips. "So, things like what, you asked. If you're not against it, I'd like to do things a little differently." With a blank look on his face, he simply nods before she continues. "I'd like to reverse our roles." Confusion settles on his face before she elaborates. "Normally the man tends to initiate things like being the one to approach a girl, asking her out, essentially making the first move."

Naruto easily understands, asserting, "Oh, yeah, my sensei says that comes from the very old way of doing things. Years and years ago, women handled the subtle jobs like running the day-to-day of a home, healing, or raising children while the men handled the more extreme jobs like hunting, building, fighting, all that kind of stuff. So, the strong and confident guys would ask the girl out, but the women would feel if he can do all the things that'll give her a good life. And that's how it would go, generation after generation until it became normal."

"The only reason that worked was because both parties knew the specific things they needed to survive and that system helped facilitate it," Temari comments, actually enjoying the insightful conversation. "Men wanted sex and someone to take care of their offspring. Women wanted to be protected from the elements, physical assault, or poverty as they raise their young." Naruto agrees with a nod before she continues, "fortunately, society isn't so primitive anymore, which is why I think I'll enjoy switching the roles a bit."

Again, his eyes squint in confusion before he cautiously asks, "so, you want to ask me out?"

"If it's okay with you, I'd like to initiate the first move," Temari purports. It's a bit of a gamble because she doesn't want it to seem like she's threatening his masculinity. He can be slow at times but he's always struck her as confident, and confident people don't depend on others to make their decisions. Temari makes certain he understands, "I don't mean I want to make all the decisions or take the lead. I'd simply like it if, for instance, we were out together and I want to hold your hand, rather than waiting until you do it, I'd like to know it's okay with you if I do it."

Temari can't help like she's betraying all independent women everywhere, along with Naruto. The daughter of the Kazekage, highly instructed in the ways of the killing arts, top of her class, a strong kunoichi like her shouldn't need to ask permission to be assertive. But she can't take the risk he'd be intimidated by an assertive girl, not when she has no other option but to make it work with him.

To her delight, he reacts as if her worry was ludicrous to begin with, crunching his facial features together as he scoffs, "yeah, I don't mind. But I definitely don't want you to do anything you're not comfortable with. The great thing about being friends is as long as we're honest, you don't have to be anyone but yourself."

'Again with the friendship,' Temari mentally tallies. 'It's like he's testing me.' She might consider that possibility if he were a little more cunning, however, he seems too straightforward for that type of thinking, and answers him, "that's good to hear, because, if I'm being honest, I'm a little excited to experience this to the fullest. I want you to enjoy yourself too. And who knows, maybe in a couple of months we may develop a really strong relationship."

"I know we will," he confidently tells her.

"You know the future?" Temari teases before asking, "what makes you so confident? I mean it's not like we really know each other. You already know how much I detest squid, but you like it. What if there's something about me you won't like?"

"I don't know about all that," Naruto replies. He rubs the table of the bit of dust on it, thinking a moment until he states, "mnn, well, I know Gaara is a handful, but you still care about him, which means you love your family. We have that in common." Smiling, he adds, "you're smart, strong, pretty, and you love your family… I mean, it's a fair bet we'll get along."

With the orange sun beginning to set, radiating a warm glow through the whitish-blue rush of water, a hesitant and nervous Temari inhales before leaning over the table and giving him a quick kiss on his lips. As far as kisses go, it was over too quick to feel good. Temari suddenly felt so dumb and mortified and unattractive, that she blushes deep red before spontaneously covering her beet-red face in her hands and face-planting forward on the table. Temari's mind is rarely so chaotic and hectic. Her mind is racing with negative and critical thoughts of her pathetic attempt to be charming.

She's trying to catch her breath when she hears Naruto ask over her heavy breathing and waterfall, "are you okay?" It only made Temari feel more embarrassed that she's making him worry over her. She's nearly sure she failed when he hesitates to ask, "uh, do you want to be my girlfriend?

Recalling how she prepared for that question, she takes several moments to regain calm down enough to recite from memory, "that doesn't matter to me. That title is so other people know what we mean to each other. Right now, I'm not worried about other people. I just want to see what you can mean to me."

"Oh," Naruto hums with amazement, giving her a desperate boost of confidence. "So… uh, we're… whatever?"

"Fluid," Temari suggests before adding, "anything and everything we want."

Raising the edge of his brow, Naruto cautiously asks, "and kissing?"

Again, Temari's panic checks her in the gut as she voices with complete certainty, "you hated it, didn't you?" Even as he waves his hands, she continues, "I don't have a lot of experience-"

"No, no, no, I didn't…" Patiently Temari waits for his meaning and though he only paused for a moment, it may as well been an hour before he clarifies, "I uh, barely felt it- ah! But not because it was bad or anything. It was just over so quickly. I swear." With her higher reasoning assuring her that makes sense, Temari nods before he asks her, "but you're okay kissing me?"

"I… I'm a girl!" she asserts like that's neglected information. Temari knows she always wants to present a strong and intelligent front, but that shouldn't mean she can't be feminine either. She rightly argues, "I feel things other girls feel-" "Oh, yeah, I'm not saying-" Naruto tries to interject but she cuts him off to embarrassingly proclaim, "and it's not like I don't find you attractive. So, yes, k-kissing is… I'd like to try that…"

"Oh, okay," Naruto easily accepts with a shrug and a nod. Standing, he takes his cushion and places it on the table before asking her, "come here." He pats the cushion as he asks, "have you ever kissed anyone?"

Taking control of her emotions, Temari stands as she answers, "I… you won't tell anyone right?"

Tilting his head with plain eyes as if to physically ask, 'really,' she sits on the cushion on the table. He steps in front of her and widens his stance so her head is leveled with his chest as he assures her, "believe me, I can keep a secret."

Feeling the first traces of his body heat, she clears her throat as she voices, "that's good. Um, I've kissed one boy."

Looking down at her darker blond and damp hair, Naruto moves in closer as he inquires, "didn't it work out with him?"

"…No," she answers, willing her muscles to not react to his close proximity. Though her thoughts recovered memories of the hyper Daimaru, she didn't want to sour the mood by mentioning his death. "He left the village." Awkwardly, he apologizes, but she shakes her head before moving on to ask, "have you kissed anyone?"

"Yup," Naruto enunciates with a pop. She's sitting on the table, her closed legs underneath his wider stance, and inches away from his chest. His body heat washes over her, making her realize she was cold before as he commands her to, "close your eyes." She tries to ask why when he interjects, "come on. I know you'll like it."

This felt like a pivotal moment for Temari. She never wanted to compromise her safety by trusting him in such a vulnerable position. Though he doesn't act like her brother, Naruto and Gaara are the same and Temari's never forgotten how dangerous he is. Half smirking, he looks at her with his large sky-blue eyes, never once showing any signs of duplicity. With a deep breath, she mentally says a last prayer before yielding and shutting her eyes.

With her sense of sight obstructed, Temari redoubles her efforts to remain as calm as possible. Calling on all her mental training, she concentrates on how the foreign sound of water falling rapidly becomes much more clearer. She can acutely feel his presence when she hears Naruto softly say, "I want you to relax, Temari. Relax and concentrate on your breathing. Like you do in training. Inhale deeply. Exhale steadily. And with every breath you take, try and feel it in your body how at peace you are."

Despite the present possibility of danger, it was easy to fall on her training and slowly relax with the exotic sound of water rushing in the background. With another full breath, Temari can feel a bubble of toasty body heat around Naruto and herself defend them against the cool atmosphere of the spacious cave behind the waterfall. She hears Naruto shift slightly before feeling his warm hands land on her shoulders. She couldn't help but tense up.

"Stay loose and relaxed," Naruto softly voices. "Breathe, Temari. Breathe."

When her shoulders feel like warm butter again, Naruto begins massaging her deltoids. His grips hold her muscle firmly, near to the point of tight as he commands her to keep breathing deeply. Soon she relaxes and she can feel tension she didn't know she had left her shoulders. He then begins to draw the softened muscle up with gentle and constant pressure. With her eyes closed, surrounded by the unnatural warmth of his body, feeling put under by the hypnotizing sound of rushing water, loosening to his firm touch as he expertly kneads, caresses, and rubs out all the tension and stress in her shoulders.

Naruto worked her shoulders then traps till she was on the verge of sleep when she suddenly feels warm pillow-soft lips against her own. Her eyes snap open when she realizes he's kissing her full on the lips. The surprise lingers when his warm, strong hands slide up her graceful neck to cup her jaw before tilting his head so their noses are side by side. Opening his lips pressed against hers wider, Temari is easily overwhelmed. Her mind froze for several moments, however, the soft and gentle way he moved and played with her lips made her wonder if he enjoys kissing her, if she's doing a good job, if she feels good and just then, the setting, the warmth, and the affection helped her to relax.

Temari kissed him back and recalling some unknown origin of knowledge, she mirrors what he does with just as much affection and patience. She doesn't have much experience doing this or anything beyond kissing, but she was surprised by the combinations of soft natural lips with just a little bit of tongue. It was as if he knew thirty ways of kissing and Temari was lost. Naruto swept her up and to her surprise, she wanted more.

Her arms shot out of their own accord and wrap around his neck, dragging him in, or so she thought. Temari was pleased when his arms descended around her bodice and lifted her off the table and her feet. She took control then and he amazingly allowed her to lead, swivel and dip their stretched, pressed, and wet lips. Temari couldn't believe how amazing kissing could feel and enjoys every second of their combined taste, smell, heat, moans, and desire. They were present in the hot feeling and it felt like it could last for hours.

It's when her foggy and lethargic mind finally registers his strong chest pressed flat against her womanly bust that she feels a world beyond kissing. To her great astonishment, the core of her womanhood reflexed with juicy desire and her inner thighs tensed like an electric shock struck through them. It was a wake-up call. Temari felt like she was put under genjutsu and very little made sense anymore.

Naruto was still holding her to him when she suddenly breaks their kissing session. Panting, Temari notes her right leg is wrapped around his left leg, her arms are around his neck, her lips feel hot and swollen, her eyes are lidded, and on top of smiling, his expression seems just as captivated.

"You're a really good kisser," he happily tells her and she could feel her face flush with more rushing blood.

Ignoring how embarrassing her beet-red face must appear to him, an elated and weightless Temari clears her throat to thank him, but instead sounds, "wow." Mortified, Temari slumps her head on his shoulder, never having felt so awkward in her life. She knew she didn't have a lot of experience, but as long as she remembered what she read, she always felt she would be alright. She never expected Naruto to be one of the best kissers in existence. 'He may only be the second man I've ever kissed, but, Naruto must be in the top percentile,' her mind argues.

"Was that too much," she softly hears from him.

Hopping back, Temari shakes her head as she doesn't want to speak. Turning her attention to the waterfall, she hastens to the rushing wall of water and dunks her head in. The rapid cold did wonders to wake her from her thrilling haze. With a deep exhale she turns to him, dripping water as she smiles and says, "that was… it felt really good."

"Oh, cool," he casually replies before asking, "again?"

She felt her legs wanting to move, however, looking at him, she suddenly struggled with her mission. This must be what they referred to by saying don't get too close. 'Always remain detached,' she recalls her sensei lecturing. She also recalls her sensei teach, 'if you do get attached, then you should not pull back because they will feel it. You simply need to take more time before the moment when the mark's usefulness comes to an end. That is the time to be heartless and complete your mission.'

Temari never thought she would be in this position but looking at Naruto, she's uncertain of how she'll react, and that scares her. She's tempted to take a step back, but not only could that send the wrong message, she recognized that hesitation, that fear, so with great trepidation and uncertainty, Temari takes a step forward and nods. The rest of the evening was dedicated to his lips and hands. Temari was in such a daze she didn't even realize how she made it back to her room until she closed the door behind her.

A knock came then before she hears her sensei's voice through the wood asking, "anything to report?"

'He's the Kami of Kissing,' Temari's mind answers. She shakes her head before she answers, "some progress was made. Nothing more." When she hears him leave, Temari abruptly asks, "where's Gaara?"

"On the roof," Baki answer. "He's been… restless. Why?"

She had thought to talk to him but knew it was impossible now. Her baby brother is craving a kill. And in three weeks, she'll be feeding her monster-possessed brother Naruto… whether she wants to or not.

INO

Returning late to her home after hanging out with Naruto's clone, Ino eagerly rushes up the stairs and into Sakura's room to gush about their night. It was a friendly affair, but it's the best night yet. Though Ino wishes painfully to her bones things were different between Naruto and her—that she hadn't made so grave mistakes—she's simply happy that they're working on being trusting friends again.

Though Ino hadn't expected Naruto would tell Kurenai-sensei, she's glad he did. Ino respects Kurenai a great deal and it hurt deeply when the beautiful sensei explained how disappointed she was in her. Ino didn't even want to touch her tea, her stomach was in such knots. However, the beautiful woman understood the situation and while she didn't approve, she didn't see any malice in her heart.

"You were hurting and lashed out," Kurenai-sensei said. "You're not the first person that's happened to and you won't be the last. Your effort to make amends is encouraging and I still support you, Ino-chan."

It was a fabulous start to her day and astonishingly enough, she hung out with Naruto for hours. More than anyone, she wanted to share it with her sister. Unfortunately, the pink-haired girl was passed out in her bed. It's been like this since the second task. Ino hardly sees her and when she does, the girl is frustrated, studying, or sleeping.

Ino's too excited to leave Sakura be, however, rather than waking her up Ino showers, changes, and slips into bed with Sakura. The blond whispers her hopes for the future, her apologies for the past, and her gratitude for the present before going to sleep with her dear friend.

SASUKE

Walking out onto the stone path of the courtyard of his clan's estate, Sasuke asks the shinobi hidden in the shadows of the moonlight, "what are you doing here, Kakashi-sensei?"

Stepping out of the shadows created by the hip and gabled roof of the ancestral home, Kakashi casually answers his student. "There's been an incident." Sasuke crosses his arms as he stretches his senses to detect as much as he can. He's certain the three-man team of Jōnin are watching him when Kakashi adds, "one of the finalists has died."

"Why are you here," Sasuke asks his sensei.

Kakashi explains, "there's been a lot of deliberation behind my being here. Your absence was of great disappointment to certain groups interested in the Uchiha name; the last true Sharingan user. As such, rather than arrange the current contenders in an uneven tournament, Hokage-sama has approved offering you the opportunity to enter the tournament-"

"I accept," Sasuke quickly asserts.

"Easy now," Kakashi tries to placate his student. "Before you do, you should be aware… there's a caveat."

"It doesn't matter," Sasuke contends. "I accept."

"At least hear me out," Kakashi asserts. "Under no circumstances, will you be able to win the promotion to become Chūnin."

Drawing his brows together in some confusion, Sasuke asks, "what do you mean?"

Looking up at the night sky, Kakashi explains, "while it's true you're one of the top genin in our forces, and even stronger than some of the participants currently in the third task, you did lose in the preliminary." Sasuke scowls a moment, ashamed by his loss to Naruto. "So even if you beat every contender in the third task, you will not be promoted. Your participation in the tournament is strict to appease interested groups."

Sasuke's goal in life never strays far from his thoughts. The memories littering his clan's home always reminds him of the love that's been stolen from him. Itachi's death is his only goal and gaining promotions matter for the opportunity they offer to teach him more.

'Teach me like Orochimaru is offering to,' Sasuke thinks. Sasuke vaguely wonders if the incident that happened tonight has to do with him. 'It doesn't matter,' he thinks. 'My decision is clear.'

Kakashi allows a moment to pass in silence before asking, "well?"

"I accept," Sasuke coldly declares.

Wow, this chapter kicked my ass, lol. I don't know what it was but nothing seemed to click and it felt all over the place. Sadly, I just had to post it because three weeks on one chapter is unacceptable to me. Though as I said, holidays with family and friends took a lot of my time.

Just FYI, Polygamy is based on marriage. So, more than one wife or husband. Polyamory is the practice of having more than one loving relationship at a time where all parties involved are aware of the each other. Also, love is the emphasis here, so sex doesn't have to be included.

I'd love to thank my amazing patrons! You guys are amazing and a special thank you to you all! Thank you! /Graefoxx for those who would like to support me and my original work. My fanfic stuff is of course free.

As always I'd love to know your thoughts, comments, observations. Every little bit helps me be better. For example, a fan mentioned to me how the physics I used as the blueprint of Hiraishin didn't make sense. Now, I'm no physicist, but when I realized they were right, I fixed it as I progressed the story forward. I don't go back, if that makes sense. It's a mentality/philosophy thing for me not to go back.

Next update will be my Harry Potter fic, From Ruin, however, I'm going to give myself a couple days to enjoy Christmas then New Years, so a rough release date: 3 weeks. I'll push for less tho.

Have a great one, a great Holidays, and a Happy New Year, from a most grateful author,

-Grae

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