The Last Prayer @graefoxx
34A New Prank

Hey friends!

Where to begin. We can't forget that life is what it is, but we can focus on the positive. I hope everyone and their families/friends/loved ones are doing well. Special thank you to my patrons! You wonderful angels helped with the groceries this month!

Apologies for those expecting an update on From Ruin. More on that in the bottom Author's Notes.

I don't want to keep you from the story but special announcement in the bottom AN.

Warning: Light Lemons.

16.2K word count. And without further ado, enjoy!

JIRAIYA

From atop the hip-gabled, shingled roof of a tall hotel, the long-haired legendary sannin watched his distant target like a hawk. Jiraiya was dressed in black, dark gray & blue, and his normally white hair is ebony and tied back. His ears were perked and perceptive to all sounds carried by the mercy of the conveying wind. Reprogramming his brain so his already sharp eyes enhance color, and light, Jiraiya waits patiently, silently, until he's certain his target will never notice him before he moves again. This mission was that critical.

His blond-haired Godson thought he shook him after leaving the construction site, his teammate's compound, and even Temari's underground cell but Jiraiya was a master of infiltration and surveillance and he will not let go of this juicy morsel of research. He can feel his fingertips itching to write his magnum opus, Icha Icha Palace.

Giggling to himself, he thought, 'you did well, Naruto; checking your surroundings in intervals, using reflections, blending with the crowd, but you underestimate the importance of this for men everywhere! OOHHH!'

From a distance, Naruto didn't seem dejected to the old sage, which may or may not indicate the direction of his conversation with Temari. Jiraiya assumed if Temari and Naruto rejected the Omiai, then Naruto would go home to Iruka's. Instead, he slowly but surely followed Naruto from Temari's cell to Kurenai's home in the residential area for many clerical shinobi. He can assume Naruto wanted to update one of his sensei, since she's on the way to Iruka's. If it was a short stay, Jiraiya could reason the Omiai was dead in the water. If it was longer—likely to discuss the institution of marriage—then his research, and thus, his novel was still viable.

Naruto entered without announcing himself, making Jiraiya wonder how many times he's been to Kurenai's home. Moving as close as he dared, he was surprised to note through the window near the living room that Asuma was also in the two-story house. Crouched on a roof three houses away, Jiraiya can see the three in the living room, standing close to one another. After seven minutes, Asuma abruptly leaves and to Jiraiya's surprise, he angrily slams the door behind him. Keeping his sense of sound focused on the house, Jiraiya navigates around Kurenai's property to the front, landing on the top of a power-pole and is confused at the sight of a frustrated Asuma, standing in the middle of the street with his shoulders tight and hunched, staring at the house he just left.

Jiraiya recognizes the look of a man who's just heard hard information he doesn't agree with and is nearly sure it has to do with Naruto, but he wonders if Asuma disagrees with the Omiai. Jiraiya knows that Asuma considers Naruto to be something akin to a little brother. Perhaps he doesn't agree with the political marriage, which is confirmation enough that the Omiai is still on. Smiling broadly, Jiraiya leaves a toad to watch the house for Naruto's departure and follows after Asuma. Landing beside the large man, Jiraiya is calmly aware of his heightened agitation.

"Fancy running into you 'round these parts," Jiraiya starts, and is taken at the gruff man's countenance. He looked angry and sad, a stark difference to his usual aloof nature. Even from when he was young, Jiraiya rarely ever saw Asuma show much sadness or anger; not that he came around much. Changing tactics, Jiraiya asks, "glad I did, tho. Could use a drinking partner?"

Asuma turned to him and for a split second and Jiraiya thought the younger Sarutobi was going to attack him. Instead, he turns his ire toward the ground and Jiraiya's mind wonders what could be going on as he follows the silent Jōnin-sensei to the Jōnin only bar in the market.

KURENAI

The couple laid comfortably together on her soft couch.

Snug against his hot chest, the side of Kurenai's enchanting face pressed to the side of Naruto's, her frazzled brain can barely think, let alone wonder how long it's been since they've been together. Inhaling the scent of pine, leather, and his uniquely sweet musk, all that matters is that the wait is over. She couldn't press her pliable body close enough to satisfy her growing need of him, rubbing her nose against his neck before kissing the long hot muscle of his nape. Feeling his hands dive underneath her red and white tunic, Kurenai suddenly recalled the danger of being too aroused with a man as sexually dominating as Naruto.

Pulling back for fear of succumbing too quickly, an aroused Kurenai weakly pushes back as she struggles to voice, "wait… Naruto… we still have to talk."

Without removing his hot hands from her sensitive back, he leans back to softly say, "I know." His eyes were black pools of arousal and his thick meat tower pressed against her strong thigh is a few twitches away from ripping out of his pants. It's no surprise when he adds, "I want to tell you everything; I mean everything… but it's been way, way too long and I need to be deep inside you before we do anything else!"

With desperate energy, Naruto leaps off the couch and lifts her entire body over his shoulder in one smooth motion, making her yelp, "Naruto!" One hand gripping her butt cheek, he hastens to her bed upstairs. Tossing her on her cushy mattress, making her heart beat incredibly fast. She hears him undress and it's nothing they haven't done before, but to know it's going to happen again, and possibly for the rest of her life, Kurenai feels nervous, shy, yet incredibly aroused.

To distract herself, she voices into the darkness of the room, "I, uh… mnn going to talk… with Ho-Hokage-sama tomorrow. Mnn," she moans when she feels Naruto grip her fevered hips and pull her to the edge of the bed and perfectly leveled with his erect steel rod. Her red silk panties are soaked, her inner thighs grow unbearably humid, and her beautiful pink nipples are stiff and sensitive. "Let mmme… talk to him fir-first," she tries to communicate as he expertly removes the white bindings at her thighs.

Lifting her tone legs and resting them against his bare chest, Naruto slowly plucked the edges of her silk panties, gently shuffling them down just like she taught him. Embarrassed by how drenched they were, Kurenai blushes down to her chest as she hides her red face behind her forearms. Feeling his sizzling skin press directly against her leaking center, Naruto lowers her legs and wraps them around his waist before he lifts her by her arms. He pulls her tunic over her head, causing her lustrous raven locks to fall around her shoulders, and soon after, Naruto's kissing her deeply.

Through their suckled lips, she felt his desire for her and her hunger for him to match. His starving lips and tongue are the sustenance she's craved and delighted in the overwhelming emotion until he pumped the under-length of his love muscle into the moist entrance of her juicy womanhood. She could feel her cockpit eagerly softening for him and thrust back. The pair of lovers didn't even think about foreplay as Naruto lifting her feverish body high enough to align their sexes without even breaking their kiss. Kurenai wrapped her arms around his neck, holding on tightly as she felt his thick, dribbling gland at the entrance of her twitching pinkness. She managed the shortest gasp of breath before he thrust into her full-weight drop, stuffing her full and wide of his towering hot-rod.

"AAAMMMMMHHHH," they both blissfully moan, her slippery heat squeezing him to the base of his rock hard cock. Kurenai took him to his balls and she swore she could feel him in her throat.

Hold him with weak arms for dear life, Kurenai's wanton body took over. Rolling her head forward, she takes his lips aggressively, conquering him like enemy territory. Feeling her blissful love canal begin to boil in ecstasy, Kurenai felt doomed to a great orgasm, but when his soulful eyes unexpectedly look deeply into her crimson irises, and wholeheartedly expresses, "until my last breath, I will always love you." Kurenai lost all strength to hold herself up. Her mind, body, heart, and chakra told her she wasn't going to last the night.

Because she loved him just as much, she realized, making her nose stuffy and eyes water.

Naruto fondled her round ass-cheeks before laying her on the edge of the bed and shoving himself back home over and over again, provoking a constant song of moaning, panting, and humming. He was only building a steady rhythm, but the moaning Kurenai's heavily aroused quim wasn't going to last another minute. His deep thrusts were so hungry—so hard and hot—he nearly sends her tightening love muscle over the edge with every filling. She couldn't stop moaning, losing her drowning to the rapidly building pleasure. When Naruto grabs lifts her left knee to turn her orientation, penetrating her gushing g-spot perfectly, Kurenai doesn't last another dozen seconds before she screaming her moan through clenched teeth and clamping down on his thick dick as her whole body quivers in gushing ecstasy.

"Ugh… Kami… I missed you," Naruto moans as she squeezes his thick cock, her sweaty thigh quivering against his chest and her toes flex and tense in surging pleasure. Still hard inside her, Naruto gives her a few seconds to recover a bit of her awareness before he begins pumping into her sensitive love lane again. Kurenai quickly comes to the conclusion that she wouldn't mind sharing this part of Naruto with a sister-wife because she doesn't think she could survive this on her own.

JIRAIYA

Walking in Elite Spirits, Jiraiya has the sense that whatever this anger in Asuma is, has more to do with Kurenai than Naruto. Asuma simply grabs a bottle from behind the bar-top and takes a seat in the empty booth in the back of the black steel and hardwood bar. After Jiraiya settles with the bartender, he takes a seat in front of the troubled man.

Asuma chugged the brown liquor from the bottle, and Jiraiya's experience is telling him, 'no doubt about it… girl troubles.' Though he wants to continue surveilling his Godson in hopes of learning who this love of his is, Asuma is his sensei's son, and absent the Jōnin's friends, it falls on to his shoulders to make sure he's alright.

"Believe it or not, I've been there," Jiraiya slowly starts. "You know that gaping wound you're feeling right now can't be fixed with sake, right?" Ignoring the old sage, Asuma swallows another mouth-full. "If you want my personal recommendation," Jiraiya continues. "You need sake and ladies! How about we get out of here and find a proper distraction?"

Angered, as if upset the alcohol is taking too long, Asuma demands to know with a razor edge to his voice, "did you know?"

Unsure if he means Naruto's Omiai or more than likely something else, Jiraiya casually replies, "you're going to have to be specific there, Asuma-kun."

"I looked up to you, as a child," Asuma admits to him. "In some ways, I was jealous of the attention otou-sama preferred to give you."

Wondering if this is somehow about Hiruzen, Jiraiya asks, "hey, now, what's all this about?"

"It's about your fucking Godson!" He yelled so loudly, everyone in the low-lit bar turned to them. Jiraiya can't figure out the intel he's clearly missing, but the possibility of this getting physical is much higher as Asuma continues yelling, "you owe me the truth! Did you know!?"

Taking a sip of his sake, Jiraiya patiently waits out the flare of anger before finally voicing, "how about we have another drink? Come on, drinks are on me tonight."

The pair kept on drinking for dozens of minutes in silence and just when Jiraiya wondered about the toad scout he left at Kurenai's, Kakashi mercifully walks into the bar along with a few other Jōnin from the Torture & Interrogation department. With Asuma midway through his third bottle of sake, Jiraiya stands and rushes over to Kakashi. Wrapping his large arm around the elite, one-eyed Jōnin, Jiraiya's alcohol breath made Kakashi heavily tilt his nose away from the stench.

Jiraiya holds firm as he bids to know, "did Naruto prank Asuma recently?"

Orochimaru's former protégé stops to listen as Kakashi groans, "mah, not that I'm aware of. Why?"

Letting Kakashi go, Jiraiya points to the heavily drinking man in the corner before asserting, "he's aiming to drown himself in sake and the only thing he's mentioned was Naruto."

"H-How do you mean," Anko quickly asks.

"Ah, Anko-chan," Jiraiya starts suddenly noticing her fishnet stalkings, tight skirt, and mesh armor over her large breasts under her brown overcoat. Smoothing back his currently stealth-black hair, Jiraiya suavely asks, "may I have the honor of buying a lovely lady a drink?"

"When one comes in, I don't see why not," Anko effortlessly retorts before asking, "now what about Asuma and Naruto?"

"Bah," Jiraiya huffs waving her concern and turning to the white-haired Copy-Ninja. "Kakashi?"

Kakashi answers, "as far as I know, he's stopped pulling pranks on people… nothing intentional, anyway. He does play some things close to the vest."

Standing straighter as if to leave, he replies, "I'll just have to ask him myself then-"

"I'll ask him," Anko quickly announces.

"It's fine," Jiraiya assures her, moving to leave. "I already know where he is… though I'm surprised he hasn't left yet. Can't imagine why he'd still-"

Asuma jumps on Jiraiya's broad back, yelling, "thiz izz al'your fault! For not teachin' tha brat!" Asuma then takes one uncoordinated look at Kakashi and tries miserably to punch the veteran as he yells, "this iz al'your fault! For not teachin tha thievin' brat!" Kakashi effortlessly sidesteps around the wide-swinging punch, but Asuma doesn't stop lethargically attacking either Kakashi or Jiraiya, and as the pair do all they can to calm the intoxicated man down, a dark-violet haired kunoichi slips out of the bar.

ANKO

With the cold air whipping loudly past her, Anko sprints from rooftop-to-rooftop toward the residential area at max speed. She runs so fast she barely has time to wonder how Asuma might've learned about Naruto and Kurenai, assuming that's indeed why Asuma is drinking his sorrows to oblivion. Part of Anko always knew her best friend's relationship with Naruto would get out, however, she also hoped it didn't blow up in her babe's face. She cared too much about Kurenai to see her ridiculed and shamed by the village for daring to love outside the social norm. After all, she knows all too well how it feels to be treated as substandard by Konoha's 'upstanding' citizens.

Landing by Kurenai's front door, Anko looks around the quiet neighborhood as she applies her chakra to the Fūinjutsu security on the wood frame before stepping in. Detecting familiar noises upstairs, it took everything in her not to rush upstairs and sneak a peek at this 'mind-blowing' sex her best friend had described. Alternatively, she yells, "babe! I'ma need you to get off that bucking stallion and get down here! We have a situation."

Pacing at the foot of the stairs, Anko anticipated Kurenai's responsibility to kick in and rush downstairs. Instead, thirty seconds of rustling pass by before she hears the bedroom door open a crack before her friend's winded and amorous voice calls out from the second floor, "wha-what is it-t?"

Anko's face deadpans as her sharp ears easily pick up the moist suction of faint thrusting through the door upstairs as well as Kurenai's, 'N-Naruto, w-wait- mmmnn, she- she'll hear-' Nearly four months without fucking anyone, Anko has no patience for this and yells, "are you seriously still fuckin' right now!"

Anko hears back a muffled, "j-huust a minnnute," before the click of the door closing.

Anko takes a deep calming breath around the faint rustling, panting, and smacking noises in the master bedroom upstairs. Three restless minutes and a muffled scream later, a flustered and peeved Anko sights Kurenai—flush red, ebony hair a mess, and alive from vigorous sex—walking down the steps in her short red robe. Tapping her right foot in grand annoyance, Anko rolls her pupil-less brown eyes at the small smile Kurenai can't seem to remove from her deeply blushing face. Anko's nose picks up the scent of secretions, semen, and sweat from her best friend, stirring up a bit of jealously within her. She didn't regret her decision to stop her philandering ways, however, she is unnerved by the large void within her created by the lack of male distractions.

Kurenai has the decency to at least look remorseful as her hoarse voices, "what's up?"

Ignoring how hot Kurenai's voice sounds, Anko irately replies, "probably the bottle of sake Asuma is downing right now."

Looking up at the ceiling to the man in her bed before turning to Anko and confessing, "yeah, he uh, found out about me and Naruto."

With alert eyes, Anko deadpans, "found out that you're 'going steady,' or that you're locking legs and swapping gravy?"

Slumping her shoulders, Kurenai huffs, "I wasn't exactly specific. He just knows."

"Either way, he's wasted right now and trying to fight Kakashi and Jiraiya as we speak," Anko reports.

Understandably, Kurenai reasons, "I'm the last person he wants to see."

"That's not why I rushed over," Anko replies. "If Asuma hasn't already spilled the beans, it's only a matter of time before the entire bar knows, and by tomorrow, most of Konoha. Hell, Jiraiya's probably on his way here to talk with Naruto."

When they both hear the window in Kurenai's bedroom faintly open and close, Kurenai voices what they're both thinking, "this isn't going to end well."

Sensing Naruto speed away, Anko asks, "should we go after him?"

Kurenai doesn't immediately answer, giving Anko the impression she's mentally strategizing. "…No," Kurenai eventually replies. "There's something more important I need to do… and I'm going to need help."

"What is it?"

"It'll involve a little trespassing," Kurenai voices, making Anko smile.

"My favorite," the busty kunoichi replies. Looking at the door and imagining Naruto running to deal with Asuma, Anko chuckles, "thank Kami I never said which bar."

Snorting, Kurenai simply voices as she rushes upstairs, "it's Naruto."

NARUTO

"Tajuu Kage Bunshin no Jutsu," Naruto calls. Nearly a hundred clones emerge to help him search the streets for whatever bar Asuma might be in. Knowing Konoha as expertly as he does, all the Narutos spread out to the civilian and non-civilian bars, restaurants, and pubs in hopes of talking with the heartbroken man.

HINATA

Sitting up in her bed, Hinata is surprised by her visitor, especially as it's getting close to bedtime. It's been a few days since she was transferred from the hospital to her home to finish recuperating, but other than her reserved cousins attending her, she hasn't seen her teammates or family. So it's a welcome surprise when her dear cousin Neji slides the door closed before making his way to her side. She bows from her up-right position in bed and greets him with a smile.

As he takes a seat beside her, she can tell he's troubled. Hinata was told of the invasion and how clones of Naruto protected Neji and herself. She's nearly certain he wouldn't like being protected and wonders if he blames her for closing a few of his more vital tenketsus and hindering his ability to fight. Though she couldn't know of the invasion, Hinata empathizes with his feelings of being unhelpful and blames herself for doing that to him.

The silence lasts so long, she's ready to apologize when Neji asks, "how are you feeling?"

"Oh, um, much better," Hinata assuredly answers. "Thank you for asking. How are you?"

Side-stepping her concern, Neji slowly admits to her, "…I came to tell you I still believe in destiny, and that I wasn't wrong… but I've had a wealth of time for self-reflection and I've also come to believe I wasn't truly right. I felt so strongly destiny would always remain unchanged, no matter the person—set from the day of your birth—however, I now know we do have the potential to change it, if we truly desire it. I had ignored the strength within the individual because I thought destiny was stronger, and that was the error in my logic. We are in charge of our own destiny, we simply have to be strong enough to earn it, or it will be as others decide for us." Bowing his head to the tatami mat, Neji conveys, "I'm sorry for the way I've treated you, Hinata-sama. If you can find it in your heart to forgive me, I will be forever in your debt-"

Helping him up, Hinata professes, "please, you don't have to apologize. I know how much you were hurting, so I never took offense." Sitting back, she adds, "and you're right. I also realized I had to harness my strengh and conviction if I ever wanted to be useful to my team, my village, and my family. I should be thanking you."

"Please don't thank me for being that way," Neji asks but at her serious eyes, he simply nods. With a small smile, he remarks, "it seems we have more in common than I originally thought."

"As talented as you are, I can only be honored by that," Hinata humorously bids.

Smirking, Neji informs her, "Hiashi-sama has begun training me. Our first session was earlier today."

"That's amazing," Hinata beams. "I'm so happy for you."

"He's a very strict instructor," Neji good-naturedly comments. "But I appreciate his dedication."

"I'm glad," she expresses before offering, "um, if there's any way I can help, please don't hesitate to ask."

Tilting his head in thought, he admits, "actually, I'd appreciate sparring with you when you're able."

"I'd be happy to," she answers with a regal smile.

With concern he asks, "how are you feeling? Is there good news?"

"I'm getting better every day," she reassures him. "Another week or two and I'll once again return to full strength."

"I'm truly ashamed-"

"Please, Neji-niisama," she interjects, shaking her head and forcing her silky hair to follow. "Because you're here and we can have a better relationship, I take pride in these injuries. I regret nothing and neither should you."

"Even still, as the hand that wanted to… destroy you," he hates to admit, furrowing his brow. "I will forever carry that shame and ask if there's anything I can do to assist you, please let me know."

There is a knock on the door before it's slid open. One of their cousin-servants reveals to Hinata, "if you're well, Hinata-sama, your sensei wishes to see. She says it's urgent."

"I'll leave you," Neji instantly speaks, standing. When Hinata moves to speak, he assuages, "it's fine, Hinata-sama. We can speak again tomorrow, if you would like."

Hinata nods happily as Kurenai enters the room. Neji bows to her before confessing, "thank you for watching over and instructing Hinata-sama."

Kurenai is taken aback by the usually cold genius before bowing and thanking him as well. Hinata can tell she was surprised but is grateful her sensei is respectful to everyone. It's one of the things she thoroughly loves about her sensei, to be strong and respectful regardless of station or wealth. It's admirable.

Sitting beside her bed, Kurenai asks about her prognosis and when she might start training again. Hinata secretly enjoyed it when her beautiful sensei would fret over her well-being and life, just like a mother would. They spend five easy minutes briefly catching up on what's been going on and then Kurenai hesitated when she brought up Naruto. The hesitation made her ask, "sensei?"

"Just out of curiosity," Kurenai begins to reply. "Did you have any idea Naruto was the son of the Fourth Hokage?"

Shaking her head and loose silk strands, Hinata replies, "I didn't but I'm certain he must be very proud. Even father looked up to the Yondaime Hokage." When Kurenai still appeared distracted, as if something weighed heavily on her mind, Hinata asks again, "sensei?"

Smiling to her student, Kurenai voices, "I have something very important to tell you… and you should know, it has the potential to be very upsetting."

"…Okay," Hinata slowly acknowledges. "I'll try to keep an open mind."

"I know how much you love Naruto," Kurenai begins. Instantly, Hinata's entire face grows beet red, her eyes widen like saucers, and though she opens her mouth to deny it, no sound comes out. Raising a calming palm, Kurenai reassures her, "remember your training. You have a right to express yourself and there's nothing to be nervous about."

Taking a deep breath, Hinata is comforted by her memories with Genjutsu Naruto and Kurenai's counsel, and repeats to herself, 'there's nothing wrong with expressing your feelings.' Though she talks to Kurenai about nearly everything in her life, it's still incredibly embarrassing to the point of crippling to voice her feelings for Naruto.

When Hinata eventually finds her center and calms down some, Kurenai continues, "I've known for some time and it only makes me that much more proud of you."

Unsure what she means, Hinata asks, "why?"

"The village is only now starting to see how amazing Naruto is," her beautiful sensei begins to explain. "But you've known him and loved him long before that information came out. When everyone saw an annoying prankster, you saw an honest and hard-working future shinobi. To my everlasting shame, even I thought nothing of him in the beginning, but because of you, I got to know him for the truly beautiful person he is." Hinata felt even hotter with under such praise, as Kurenai adds, "I never thanked you for that."

"You don't have to," Hinata quickly assures her. First Neji, and now Kurenai, Hinata didn't have experience being appreciated to this degree.

"I think I do," Kurenai tells her. Noting her change in demeanor, Hinata pays close attention as her sensei articulates, "you see, I… don't want you to wake up in five, ten, or twenty years and imagine you missed out on having that love. I would've missed this if it wasn't for you and I want you to have the same."

Confused and also apprehensive, Hinata asks, "what do you mean?"

"I believe Naruto can love you just as much as you love him," Kurenai admits, and smiles at the feverish blush to overtake a swooning Hinata. "Breathe," Kurenai commands, and Hinata follows. "Even if I know it'll be difficult for you—not unlike standing up to your genius cousin—I know you will stand and protect your love for him and his potential love for you."

Swallowing what may as well have been a brick, Hinata deflects by asking, "w-why are we talking about t-this?"

"Because of what's happened," Kurenai softly answers, making Hinata forget her embarrassment for just a moment to wonder what's happened. "There are certain politics you don't know about and sadly I can't quite explain it here without upsetting your father or the Hokage. I just wanted you to know that if you're presented with the opportunity of being with Naruto, I know you'll be honest with yourself and others. You may have the Byakugan but as a woman who knows love, I have faith in your bravery because I can see your love for Naruto is just that strong."

INO

At a soft, 'tap tap tap,' against the window behind her, Ino turns from her dresser to the sight of Anko outside her window. Setting her brush down, she opens her window to allow the woman in, voicing in curiosity, "Anko-chan?"

"Hey kiddo," Anko greets, looking merrily around Ino's white and purple room. Suddenly it felt too girly for a mature woman like Anko. "Sweet room," the Jōnin adds.

"Thanks," Ino tentatively answers, pausing a moment before she asks, "what are you doing here?"

Analyzing the photos of a royal-purple Sterling, of Sakura, of her family, and teammates around the mirror of her desk, Anko asks without turning to her, "got a question for ya?"

"…Okay."

Eying Ino through the mirror, Anko asks, "how much do you love Naruto?" Ino is taken aback by the woman's stunning bluntness and barely has a few moments before the dark-violet haired kunoichi continues to ask, "think you'd be happy with him if you had to share him?"

Donning on her mask to think without being studied, Ino hesitates to answer. She can't be sure what Anko knows or who she's talked with and resigns to ask, "…I… Did Naruto talk to you?"

Placidly, Anko asks, "about what?"

Ino can't be sure what's known and what isn't, however she isn't so simple and asks, "why are you telling me this?"

Smiling, Anko explains, "I'm being legit, here; no tricks." Ino watches her as she walks around the room and claims, "I really do want to know how much you love him. After that little verbal smackdown you gave Genma, I came to help you. Honest."

Ino examines Anko but can't derive anything from her exterior, not that was expecting to, and honestly answers, "…I love him."

Unsurprised a smiling Anko asks, "would you be willing to share him? Maybe with a little ol' girl like me? Maybe another girl?"

Training her mask to show no sign of surprise or worry, Ino calmly asks, "you? Do you… Are you in love wit-"

"Nah," Anko quickly affirms, leaning on the edge of her desk and crossing her arms. "I like him more than most, sure, but that's mostly because I get where he came from. At the moment, I'm more into that self-love; just don't have the room for men." With a shrug she admits, "bit cheesy, I know, but such is the way when you feel the winds of change."

Believing her, Ino shares, "I don't think it's cheesy at all. If not for yourself… I don't see how this helps me."

"You haven't answered my question," Anko notes before adding, "which is fine. You don't need to, but I think you ought to know, if you can't imagine a guy like him being with any girl other than you, you should give up on him now-"

"He's not a cheater," Ino quickly asserts. Ino may not know what information Anko has, but if she believes Naruto is just using her or Sakura, Ino will happily correct her mistake.

"Never said he was," Anko assures her. "But my warning still stands. If you think it's just going to be you and him in a big house with a litter of blond little Uzumakis running around, you should give up on him; go love someone else. Harsh, I know, but, it'll hurt less in the long run." Walking back to the wind, Anko braces the window frame to leap from as she says with finality, "think about it."

However, Anko doesn't know what Ino's gone through with Naruto and Sakura, her road to redemption, the way her love for them has grown, and the beautiful Yamanaka stands proudly as she states, "don't need to," halting Anko halfway through the window. "The love I have for Naruto will happily share him with another girl… as long as she's right for him… for us."

Ino hadn't expected the widest grin on Anko's faces before she starts chuckling to herself, communicating, "hahaha, oh Kami, I always knew I liked you. You got spunk." Before Anko leaves, she departs with, "if that's how you really feel, then tomorrow should be really interesting for ya."

Though Ino calls, "wait," Anko doesn't. Dashing to the window sill as she asks, "what do you mean, tomorrow?"

Though it didn't seem as if Anko was trying to extort anything more than a bit of honesty, Ino was left to wonder if the busty kunoichi knew about her polyamorous intent with Naruto and Sakura. Though it didn't seem likely, in a ninja village, anything is possible. Certain Anko could've learned the information without Naruto or Sakura confessing as much, Ino makes plans to talk to Naruto and Sakura the first chance she gets.

NARUTO

With his hundred clones scouring Konoha's nightlife, Naruto searches the most popular sections of bars, stands, and restaurants from both shinobi and civilian sections. Other than being chased by a few city patrols, the Narutos don't pick up Asuma's trail for an hour. When a clone alerts him to a brawl in the civilian sector, Naruto rushes over to find his clone helping a tall broad-shouldered blond man he recalls was with Mabui and Samui. The blond man is drunk and yelling for a clone to let him fight but there's no one around to fight.

Watching the man struggle with a clone, Naruto calls, "Atsui-san?"

Turning to the approaching Naruto, Atsui slurs, "An- noother one! Hoow many o' you are therre?"

Taking the man's arm and wrapping it around his neck, his clone disperses as Naruto answers, "it's just me. Come on, let's get you home."

"Uwhhhhy? Youuu already took my sister! And my girrl!"

Thinking of Asuma, Naruto mumbles exasperatedly, "not again," before asking, "who's your girl?"

"Mma- Maabui-chan," he hiccups.

Tilting his eyes up to the taller man, a surprised Naruto asks, "wait, really?"

"Weee belonggg together," Atsui proclaims loudly to the entire village. "We werre happy in Kumo! And thennn you! You! Cammee… defiled heer… confused hhher… corrupted herr…"

Atsui could only keep mumbling and occasionally, vomiting. After an hour of slowly trekking through the lively streets and then the dark paths of the agricultural section, Naruto finally manages to get Atsui to the shack at the edge of Nagano's farm. Setting the large heavy man down in the futon, Naruto covered him comfortably so that he could, at last, divert all his attention on the one thing that Atsui said.

"…They're from Kumogakure?"

Come morning, Naruto is sitting on the tatami mat, leaning against the weathered wooden wall as still as can be. Every half-hour he delves into Sage mode to sense where anyone he cares about is in the village. Because he knows the chakra signature of his friends and teammates, he can tell Iruka is already at the hospital, Karin is at the construction site with Haku, Sasuke is in his home, Ero-sennin and Kakashi are somewhere Naruto's never been before, Kurenai, Hinata, and Ino are with Ji-chan in what seems to be Hokage Tower. Naruto can also sense Samui and Mabui are two hundred yards away from the shack, likely scouting for any traps. It isn't until noon when he finally hears a familiar voice.

'Yo,' his future counter-part calls.

Still in sage mode, Naruto returns, 'hey, Naru-nii.'

'So what happened yesterday?'

Feeling Samui and Mabui move in unison another twenty yards closer, Naruto answers, 'a lot actually.' The most pressing of which has Naruto ask, 'can I ask… do you ever think about what it really means to be a leader?'

Snorting, Naru-nii naturally answers, 'of course-'

'No,' Naruto interjects, ignoring Atsui's loud snoring and Mabui and Samui's synchronized movements. 'I don't mean it like, just protecting everyone, wearing the hat, sitting behind the desk, complaining about paperwork… I mean really think about leadership. There's just so much more to it I hadn't considered before.'

The concerned voice in his head asks, 'like what?'

Slowly, he answers, 'like whether I have to be a different person in order to be a good leader.'

'…Seems serious,' Naru-nii eventually sympathetically voices. 'Everything alright?'

As Mabui and Samui move closer still, Naruto briefly explains what happened with Ji-chan and Jiraiya and how it's made him wonder about the things he doesn't know about being a good leader. 'Honestly, it's made me feel pretty dumb,' Naruto finishes.

'Maybe you don't have all the pieces yet,' Naru-nii points out. 'I've always struggled with trying to understand why people do the bad things they do; why they scheme, cheat, and try to control others. I mean, why can't we all just be friends, right?'

'Kami, that'd be so much easier,' Naruto enthusiastically agrees.

'But,' Naru-nii sorely continues. 'I figured a lot of people see something wrong and they try to find an answer. They can be so sure the answer they figured out is the right one, they do everything they can to prove that to everyone.'

'You mean like Sasuke,' Naruto remarks.

'Or us if you think about it,' Naru-nii responds. 'There are loads of lost people out there trying to find their way. It's why I think you need to know the whole story before you can make a decision.'

'No offense, but I think we have to do that a lot faster,' Naruto wishingly commiserates.

'Maybe it'll help to think of it like a prank,' Naru-nii brainstorms out loud. 'Yeah… like you know they're trying to pull one over on you and you have to figure it out before you fall for it.'

'Hmm, that makes sense,' Naruto wholly feels. 'So what am I missing from this leadership prank Ero-sennin's talking about?'

'You tell me?'

Naruto senses the two beautiful women approaching the front of the shabby shack as he answers, 'I'm sure it has to do with Ji-chan, and if it's a ''prank,'' then there's something I'm not seeing that'll trip me up if I don't…' Samui and Mabui cautiously open the rickety door to the old shack, letting a plethora of noon sunlight into the single-window room as Naruto finishes, 'something… that I think I'm certain about… is actually wrong this entire time…'

The alert girls scan the entire room, note a slumbering, and snoring Atsui in his futon before eying a seated and very stern Naruto still in sage mode. When it appears Mabui is about to speak, Naruto puts his finger to his lips, telling her not to speak as Naru-nii voices, 'well, I can tell you Ji-chan wasn't without regrets. I heard him say as much when he was reanimated; which was pretty sad to hear. I think you're on the right track. I'd suggest learning more about the past; most of the time, it's always about the past.'

'Thanks, Naru-nii,' Naruto voices as the girls slowly close the door, suffocating much of the sunlight. Examining Samui's blank face, sage Naruto still wonders if she'll attack as he can't tell what she's thinking; even her chakra is harmonious. Sensing the end of their conversation, Naruto mentally voices, 'real quick, before you go. Do you know any other ninja from Kumo besides Ay, Bee, and that rubber guy?'

'Mnn… there's this funny kid Omoi,' Naru-nii responds. 'I love getting him going on his world-ending disaster predictions. He can go from someone randomly sneezing to global famine! It's hilarious!'

Though curious about Omoi's predictions, Naruto remains sober of levity and as he stares at the silver and blond-haired kunoichi, he asks, 'anyone else? Any females?'

'There's Omoi's teammate, a redhead named Karui,' Naru-nii answers. 'Their team leader… I forget her name—she didn't say much—but she's blond and stacked; can't forget a girl like that.'

'Samui?'

'Yeah, that's-' Naru-nii stops himself to ask, 'how'd you know?'

Rather than answer, Naruto asks, 'do you remember a Mabui?'

'Oooohhh, yeah, silver-haired girl, caramel-skinned, super pretty, was Ay's secretary,' Naru-nii reports. 'Why? Have you met 'em?'

'Yeah,' Naruto sadly voices as Samui checks on Atsui.

'Another change,' Naur-nii notes. 'You'll have to tell me about that one next time, but from what I can remember, they're all pretty cool. I still wish I could've met the Jinchūriki of the Two-Tail in person but maybe you can.'

'Maybe,' Naruto voices back.

'Alright, mini-me,' Naru-nii hails. 'I gotta get. I think I'm close to figuring out a way to use tou-chan's Hiraishin here.'

'Sweet,' Naruto exclaims. 'Let me know. Later.' Once Samui's certain Atsui is fine, Naruto mentions, "he's sleeping off last night. I found him out on the street, pretty wasted."

"Thank you for taking care of him," Samui voices as she stands next to Mabui.

"I'm only going to ask this once," Naruto starts, eying both girls in front of him. Feeling his time in sage mode beginning to shorten, he adds, "and I'm really hoping you tell me the truth here because I don't want to feel sad for having ever met you."

Mabui tries to explain, "whatever Atsui might've said-"

Interrupting, sage Naruto stands and asks, "tell me who you really are and why you're here?"

Mabui's green eyes flicker to Samui and after several silent and tense seconds, the blond beauty asks, "may I ask you something first?" At Naruto's nod, Samui asks, "if we had asked you to come with us, would you have left Konoha and Fire country?"

"No," he quickly answers. Naruto couldn't tell if the silence coming from Samui was a good thing or not but in sage mode, he can feel their chakra fluctuate and elaborated. "That doesn't mean I won't visit. I have something important to do and I have to visit the other nations to do it."

Samui asks, "what do you have to do?"

Again, Naruto asks them, "who are you? And where are you from?"

"We didn't lie about who we are," Samui begins to voice. Looking from a snoring Atsui to a stern Naruto, she calmly voices, "however, we didn't disclose everything. We're from Kumogakure and we came with Ōyashiro-san to purchase Kubikiribōchō from you."

"That was weeks ago," Naruto retorts. "What are you still doing here- …were you planning on stealing it?" Turning to Mabui, he questions, "is that why you got close to me?"

"NO," Mabui vehemently refutes. "No, no, meeting you in the library was a complete coincidence. I didn't even know you were the owner of Kubikiribōchō until after I met you."

Paying close attention to the flow of their chakra, Sage-Naruto asks, "how do I know you're telling me the truth?"

"There's no advantage in lying to you now," Mabui asserts, and as Naruto senses no change in her chakra, he can only assume she's being honest. "We… had planned on stealing it, however, that was amended to persuading you to join us in Kumo or kidnapping you. I don't know why the order changed, but in either event, it became imperative we get close to you."

A familiar fear flooded his chest as he dared to asks, "…so neither of you actually cared about me?"

"In the beginning… no," Mabui slowly voiced. She takes a step forward, flattening her right palm over her heart as she pleads, "but then I learned more about you and my feelings for you grew to be genuine."

"I've never been in love," Samui casually voices. "But I can say I'm very much in favor of keeping you in my life."

"I'm so sorry we lied, Naruto," Mabui genuinely apologizes. "Truly, I am. I know nothing we say can ever erase the hurt and betrayal you must be feeling right now, but I promise you, the second I started loving you for who you are, I hated lying to you."

Even if her chakra feels stable, Naruto can't help but wonder about her supposed love for him and nods at Atsui as he asks, "and him?"

Eying Atsui with a quirked brow and confused, squinted eyes, Mabui hesitates to ask, "…what about him?"

"He really is my brother," Samui interjects.

Shaking his head, Naruto reveals, "he said you're a couple and that the two of you were going to get married."

Immediately bug-eyed and upright, sage-mode Naruto is taken aback when Mabui struggles to yell, "that! He! Ooohh, Kami… Kami, give me patience!" After calming down a bit, Mabui hotly explains, "that's a complete fabrication of his infatuation!" Naruto looks at Samui who nods with closed eyes whilst Mabui continues. "Atsui-kun has an unhealthy crush on me that I've consistently rejected throughout this entire mission! He just doesn't seem to get that I don't share his feelings no matter how many times I reject his advances."

Striking a little close to home, Naruto nearly chuckles pitifully when he recalls how he used to be with Sakura. "So you aren't getting married?"

"No," Mabui assures him and repeats, "no," a few more times before summarizing, "he's a teammate and nothing more."

Sensing the relief within himself, Naruto curiously asks, "and you don't have a boyfriend back home?" After lamenting in the part he played in unintentionally hurting Asuma, he didn't want to inadvertently do the same to another guy.

Mabui shrinks a bit and clears her throat before admitting, "I, uh, thought I did, but I learned recently that I was just kidding myself. I admit there was a guy but it wasn't as serious as I thought it was and it's over."

With a deep, accepting exhale, Naruto turns to Samui and asks, "and you?"

"I only have time for missions and training," Samui casually answers, nearly making Naruto smile. "Additionally, I thoroughly enjoy our sexual sessions over all my previous partners. To my surprise, I'm apprehensive at the thought I might never enjoy our time together after this or ever again."

Naruto couldn't be sure of which emotion within him was more dominant, betrayal, forgiveness, disappointment, or appreciation, Naruto felt like he could easily focus on the hurt of being lied to and used. It's happened to him enough that he can see the pattern—like with Kurenai, Ino, and Temari—and like those past experiences, he could choose to look past their mission and focus on who they are as people. Thanks to Naru-nii, he at least knew they were being honest about hailing from Kumogakure. Additionally, now that he's getting engaged, this will make it easier for him to end things with them.

"On the one hand," he starts to say. "I feel like I don't know either of you. I was just your target and you tried to trick me, which makes it all worse. On the other hand, I get you were on a mission. And I do think it would be better for the future if I did get to know you… as friends… but you can't ever lie to me again; even if you're not allowed to tell me something, at the very least say that."

"I promise," Mabui quickly assures him. When Naruto turns to Samui, she simply nods.

Accepting that it's still possible to be friends with them, Naruto allows the rest of sage mode to dissipate as he moves on to inform them, "I can't give you the sword since I promised Zabuza-jiji he could work for it when he recovered. Are you sure you don't know why Kumo wants me?"

"I assumed it had to do with your clan," Mabui offers. "Your ancestor's entire village was decimated for a reason. On top of that, you're practically God-like when it comes to Fūinjutsu. It would make sense why Kumo's interested."

"You and your cousin rate as high-value targets," Samui supplies. "Acquiring you both would be logical."

Shocked, Naruto retorts, "Karin too!"

"No need to be concerned," Samui reassures him with an even shake of her head. "She was only a target if we couldn't acquire you. Adittionally, Atsui already failed in seducing her."

Shaking his head in disbelief, he's happy they told him the truth but equally as upset by how far they're willing to go. 'And I nearly fell for this prank,' his mind thinks. Leaning heavily on the fact that nothing happened to Karin, Naruto gruffly asks, "what was your plan for me?"

Mabui happily answers, "invite you to a luxury hot springs to thoroughly and repeatedly congratulate you on your promotion for two straight days before, eventually, dosing you with a strong sedative."

Naruto's cheeks blush at the thought of the three of them organ grinding for two days straight before he shakes his head of the temptation. Returning to the task at hand, he voices, "alright, if we're going to be friends, this is a problem we need to fix."

Mabui looks from Samui to Naruto and asks, "what do you propose?"

Naruto wasn't sure how to work all of this until he remembered Naru-nii's words. Smiling, Naruto answers her, "a prank." At the thought of pranking people, his doubts vanished, his mind cleared, and suddenly, all sorts of possibilities and outside the box reasoning became apparent to him. Naruto understood what he needed to do. Turning to both of them, still smiling, he starts with the obvious, "your team's mission is to bring me to Kumo, but I'd already planned on going there anyway."

Puzzled by his statement, the two girls look at each other before Mabui asks, "why?"

"So we can be allies, if not friends," Naruto nonchalantly answers, tapping his chin with his finger as he fine-tunes his plan. "Which isn't going to happen if you're caught in Konoha illegally." Turning to them, he proclaims, "okay, you guys go back home and talk to Ay-jiichan. You're going to tell him about a contract between Fire and Wind nation that Lightning should also sign."

Curious, Mabui quirks her whitish eyebrow as she asks, "what sort of contract?"

"It's an Omiai," Naruto answers and Samui appears as accepting as everything else while Mabui looks shocked. He then answers their unasked question. "You guys weren't the only ones trying to trick me. Suna went so far as to create an Omiai between me and Temari-chan."

Mabui begins to ask, "why would-" However, Samui's strategic mind candidly answers, "to get close and neutralize him before the invasion. Impressive strategy."

"Except they lost," Mabui adds in real-time realization. Then her brows scrunch in confusion as she thinks out loud, "I can understand why Sand has no choice but to accept the Omiai, but I don't understand how we would be included in a marriage contract meant for two people."

"It's not like I wanted to take advantage of Temari," Naruto begins to clarify. "She's smart and nice, and I wanted to be friends with her and her brothers, so I told her I couldn't do anything with her because I'm a polyamorist."

Mabui snorts when she instantly realizes, "they changed the contract to include multiple spouses!"

Samui then asks, "are you saying you want us to marry you?"

"No, no," Naruto tells her. "First, it doesn't have to be both of you. But using the Omiai as a way for our nations to meet peacefully could work."

"There's a long history of blood between our nations," Samui voices. "That will be difficult to overlook."

"There is also a long history of marriages being used to bridge the mistrust between rivals," Mabui remarks toward Samui.

"We won't actually get married," Naruto further details. "We can use the time to get to know each other and I can meet Bee and the jinchūriki of the Two-Tails. I forget her name." Both women turn to the sleeping Atsui and Naruto can only assume they're wondering how much he revealed. To help a kindred romantic, Naruto explains, "he didn't tell me all that much. I know about Bee because of other sources."

Samui asks, "does your source have something to do with being a jinchūriki yourself?" Naruto hadn't expected such a close guess, raising his blond brows. Samui answers, "Bee-sama and Nii-sama have mentioned speaking with their Tailed Beasts."

"Ah, well, yeah," Naruto easily answers. "But I can't say more than that until I get permission. If you guys can convince Ay to sign the Omiai, you'll have to come back here to talk to Ji-chan. I'll convince him to go with it and then I can go to Kumo."

"I don't think that's how the Raikage wants us to bring you to Kumo," Mabui reasonably voices.

"I'm certain Ay-sama wants you to defect to Cloud," Samui asserts. "Without a promise of that, I'm not certain he'll go for this."

"Well, I'm going there regardless, so it's either this or something else that won't make as much sense," Naruto argues. Though he's certain he could come up with another idea to meet Bee and the jinchūriki of the Two-Tails, the Omiai is the fastest and makes the most sense. He feels confident when he adds, "you can tell him I know stuff he wants to know or that Konoha's jinchūriki needs to talk to the Eight and Two-tails, but whatever you tell him, I am going to Kumo."

The girls look at one another and communicate with their eyes before Samui slowly asks him, "what is it that you know?"

"Sorry, Sa-chan," Naruto bids. "I can't say right now, but trust me, it's important. And if my saying so isn't enough for the Raikage, you can tell him I'm sure the Hokage will back me up on this."

In the little space of the shack, Samui considers the information for many silent moments before she ultimately nods with a, "okay."

With a plan in place, Samui and Mabui immediately collect the few things they have and Naruto seals it in a seal of his for ease of travel. After waking Atsui up, Naruto escorts them out of the agricultural sector to the village's main gate. Naruto waves to the Chūnin at the gate before Samui shows them their papers. Mabui takes Naruto's hand and moves to kiss him, but he steps back.

Answering her hurt expression, he tells her, "I have a girlfriend now." At her raised eyebrows, he adds, "since yesterday. It's still pretty new but I'm happy."

Taking a moment to let that information marinate in her mind, Mabui then asks, "and she's okay with the Omiai to Suna?"

"Yup," he replies with a nod. "We haven't talked about the details yet, but unless she backs out, I think we might actually get married."

Naruto could tell her happy expression wasn't genuine as she struggles to say, "wow… Naruto… that's…"

"Crazy, I know," he helps her out. "Ah, but don't worry. I'm going to insist on a long engagement to give you and Sa-chan enough time to convince the Raikage. I'll talk to Nai-chan and Ji-chan in the meantime, and hopefully, when you guys come back, I can head to Kumo with you."

Nodding sadly, Mabui asks, "what are you trying to do?"

Though he wants to say, 'unite the nations against Madara's forces,' he settles with, "something that's never been done before."

Extending her hand, Naruto happily shakes it and the Kumo team leave immediately after. The blond shinobi watches them leave until they disappear from sight. He makes a mental note of asking Kakashi or Kurenai for the travel time to Kumo so he can guess how long it'll be before he sees them again. He hopes everything goes well with their superiors. It'll be a toss-up if they go for it or not, but Naruto knows they shouldn't wait for war in order to join forces.

On his way to the construction site, Naruto is approached by a team of Anbu.

INO

Early in the morning, Ino is awoken by her father and told to get ready to meet the Hokage. She was encouraged to be fast and throughout the entire time it took her to change and sprint beside her father to the Sandaime's office, Ino is wondering if this has something to do with Anko's visit last night. She couldn't stop thinking about Naruto and Anko until she eventually fell asleep, and walking into her commander's office, she's surprised to see Kurenai standing beside the seated Kage, as well as Hyūga Hiashi and Hinata.

Ino and her father greet the other father and daughter in the room before standing beside them ahead of the Hokage's wide desk. The elder leader was setting aside papers before signing off on an official scroll, then handing it to a Chūnin aid. Ino was worried about his bandaged left arm as it was in a sling and wrapped in Fūinjutsu-scribed gauze. He looked wearier than Ino has ever seen him and it made Ino wonder if he'll be alright.

After an Anbu agent appears at the Hokage's side and whispers something in his ear, the Hokage orders, "keep searching," before turning his attention to them. "Thank you all for coming on such short notice and so early in the morning. I apologize for the delay. I should begin by confessing that no one here will escape the awkwardness or embarrassment of this meeting, however I ask you to treat this highly sensitive information with as much aplomb as you're capable of."

"Hai, Hokage-sama," the four speak in unison.

"There's no easy way to say this…" Clearing his throat, their leader eventually voices, "uh… Kurenai-kun."

Even if Kurenai maintained a professional countenance, Ino felt the woman's amusement as she explains, "before the invasion of our home by the combined forces of Sunagakure and Otogakure, they attempted to neutralize a key shinobi they deemed a threat to their plans."

Hiashi asks, "who?"

"Uzumaki Naruto," Kurenai reports.

Confused, Ino isn't so uncomfortable in the room she won't ask, "why?"

"If you recall his match against Uchiha Sasuke, you know he's a very special shinobi," Kurenai answers her. Ino recalls Naruto's red chakra transformation—and Sasuke's demonic transformation—as Kurenai voices, "his strength appeared to be something they hadn't anticipated, and so, their attempt to disable him needed to appear as legitimate as possible despite the time constraint."

Ino's father asks, "what was their plan?"

"Emotional instability," Kurenai quickly summarizes before elaborating. "They plan to seduce and ensnare his heart until moments before the invasion's launch. The intimate betrayal would severely disable his confidence and, or, distract him enough for Sabaku no Gaara to over-power and kill him. In order to get close without drawing suspicion, the Kazekage approved a plan to have his daughter, Temari, to proposition Naruto with an Omiai."

Ino noticed both Hiashi and her father stand a little straighter, and Hinata answers her curiosity by asking, "a marriage contract?"

Standing straighter herself, an uneasy Ino is only slightly relieved when Kurenai answers, "not quite. It's more of a courting process with the promise of marriage if both parties are satisfied. Regardless of the politics presented at the time, Uzumaki Naruto never planned on getting married, nor did he take the Omiai seriously."

Hiashi asks, "did he suspect the deception?"

"Naruto's a genuine and honest person," Kurenai happily answers. "His primary goal was to build a friendship with Temari, and specifically, with Gaara."

"He's been trying to be friends with Gaara since the Chūnin Exam began," Hinata notes. It felt like decades ago, but Ino recalls as much.

"Naruto sees a kindred spirit in him," Kurenai explains to the room, but it seemed to Ino the clan heads were more concerned.

"Seems dangerous," Hiashi points out, though Ino isn't sure why.

"He has my trust," Kurenai returns.

"And mine," their leader spoke, and the hard-speaking Hiashi said nothing more.

"With the goal of friendship in mind," Kurenai continues. "Naruto would not allow Temari to go far with him—romantically, that is—and in an effort to dissuade her advances, proclaimed he was polyamorous and couldn't take advantage of someone who could never accept the lifestyle."

Ino blinked in surprise at the mention of polyamory while her father beside her chuckled before voicing, "smart. A lie like that would definitely discourage any girl from getting involved."

Without turning to correct her father, Ino recalls Naruto's confession and knows her blond love wasn't lying when he said that. For having the guts to proclaim as much with Temari, Ino couldn't help but think, 'Kurenai-sensei's right. Naruto is an honest guy.'

Snagging the room's attention with his harsh voice, Hiashi gravely explains, "perhaps it would dissuade her, Inoichi-dono, if she weren't on a mission."

"Correct," Kurenai states, making Ino uneasy yet again. "To retain mission-viability, Temari amended the Omiai to include multiple spouses, which the Kazekage then ratified. Naturally, we thought it odd, but, it seemed incredibly unlikely the Omiai would produce an actual marriage and it seemed an easy foreign relations victory for us."

"You signed it," Inocihi asks with surprise.

"Correct," Kurenai confirms. "This was all before the invasion, of course."

"Now that they've lost," Hiashi voices. "We would naturally support the Omiai to keep Temari in the village, however, it would not be wise for Temari to be first wife." Ino didn't like the implication of that, like Temari will only be a hostage, but understood the cold-hearted politics behind it.

"As you say, Hiashi-dono," Hiruzen finally voices. The Hokage seems far too tired to Ino as he continues. "I've already spoken with Naruto and I've been informed both Naruto and Temari have agreed to the Omiai."

Hitting Ino like a ton of bricks, it all makes perfect sense. Anko's visit last night, her declaration that if she can't support Naruto being with another woman, then she should give up on him. Anko didn't know anything about her history with Naruto and Sakura. She knew about the Omiai and truly was trying to warn her. Ino wasn't a hundred percent sure why Anko cared to that degree, but she was grateful to not be taken completely by surprise.

"If peace between our nations is truly the goal," Hiashi continues, interrupting Ino's thoughts. "Marriage aids greatly in that respect. Am I to assume you wish for my daughter to be his first wife?"

Feeling super slow, Ino suddenly remembers Hinata is in the room as well, clearly alluding to her as a candidate for the position of first wife. Though Hinata may have a pretty face and bigger chest, Ino feels confident she has better sex appeal. Additionally, Ino feels she's more outgoing to the shy Hinata. Ino feels Hinata would likely beat her in a one-on-one matchup, she also knows ninja ability isn't the biggest factor to being a wife.

"We would like to offer you both, Hyūga Hinata, Yamanaka Ino, the opportunity to get to know Naruto," the third Hokage tells them and Ino resists the urge to look over. "And if all parties are in agreement, there will be an engagement and marriage at the expense of the villages. I understand this is a lot to digest. Please take your time-"

Much too tired of being quiet when it comes to Naruto, Ino proudly voices, "I accept," easily shocking everyone in the room.

After her father finally understands the bold proclamation came from his own daughter's mouth, he loudly declares, "no you do not!"

"It's my decision-"

"Enough, Ino," Inoichi strictly voices. "We will talk about this when we get home." It's very rare for Ino to hear that voice and in the presence of the Hokage, she knows well not to be so disrespectful.

"The Hyūga clan will only consider this offer if Uzumaki-kun adapts his family name to Namikaze," Hiashi voices, surprising everyone in the room. "He is the son and heir to Namikaze Minato, the Yondaime Hokage, is he not?"

"While he is the son of the Yondaime," Hiruzen replies, finally confirming the wide-spread belief. "I can assure you Naruto isn't the type to change his name."

"Then we have nothing further to discuss," Hiashi purports. Turning to his daughter, he commands her to, "come Hinata." It's then that Ino understands why Hinata is so meek. Living with a brash and strict father like Hiashi every day, critiquing or commanding her however he feels, Ino would've gone mad. It's why she's impressed when Hiashi is nearly to the door and the Hyūga heiress hasn't moved. Hiashi turns and sternly calls to his daughter, "Hinata?"

The defiance draws all of their attention, until Kurenai gently voices, "Hinata, if you're unwilling to speak, we can't be certain you'll be able to protect Naruto's interests and that of the village's."

With a determination Ino rarely sees in Hinata, the lovely girl swallows cutely before voicing, "I- I don't know i-if I would be good enough, but i-if you w-would consider me, I'd also like the opportunity to try."

Ino watches Kurenai lean beside the Hokage's ear and whisper council no one else could hear. With a nod, Hiruzen tells the room, "I will speak with Naruto. In the meantime, take as much time as you need to consider this. Ino-chan, Hinata-chan, I personally want to thank you for your service and courage. I know such a formal courtship is unorthodox in this day an age, and I apologize if this takes away from the romance of it. Please come to Kurenai-sensei with any of your concerns." Looking to her father and Hiashi, the Hokage adds, "I am also available if need be."

NARUTO

When Naruto walks into the Hokage's office, Hiruzen is standing by the window looking out across the village with Jiraiya leaning against the wide desk full of papers and scrolls. They seemed to be in the middle of a conversation when Naruto walked in and immediately a tired and haggard-looking Jiraiya laser-focuses pin-drop eyes on Naruto. The blond genin checks his red and black cloak and uniform for anything that could explain Jiraiya's outlandish focus on him. Hiruzen waves Naruto over to the window all the while Jiraiya locks his gaze, slowly swiveling his head with his Godson's every sandaled step.

Naruto not only wanted to ask about Asuma but he also wanted to think about the 'leadership prank' in this scenario, however, he forgot all of that when he stood next to his Ji-chan. His oldest friend looked worse than the day before and his left arm's bandages now had Fūinjutsu characters on them. Naruto immediately tried to read them but as the gauze was folded over with each roll around his arm, he couldn't. So while he was worried about Asuma, he remained focused on Hiruzen.

Still gazing out of the very wide window, the Sandaime begins, "just a few hours ago, I told two leaders of Konoha's honored clans that if they needed me, I would be here." Naruto looked from the comically freaked and focused Jiraiya—becoming certain something is wrong with his Godfather—back to Hiruzen as he adds, "however, that isn't strictly true. The healers have only been about to slow the unique poison coursing its way to my heart. They have not been able to stop or even remove it."

Completely forgetting about Jiraiya and everything else, Naruto quickly asks, "how long do you have?"

"Not long," he slowly answers. Exhaling, he turns to Naruto as he sternly states, "Genin Uzumaki Naruto, for your exemplary service to the village amidst great strife, I'm promoting you to the rank of Jōnin." Naruto's blue eyes blink before they become large as saucers in dumbfounded surprise. "However," Hiruzen continues. "For omitting information vital to the security of this village…" Momentarily flicking his gazes at to Jiraiya, he adds, "…regardless of the understandable circumstances, I'm demoting you to Chūnin." Though feeling less enthused overall, Naruto is still happy to be promoted. His friend and leader then enlightens him by saying, "as unexpected as it is, you already have the talent to become a Jōnin, but until I see the ability of leadership to match, a Chūnin you will forever remain. Do you understand?"

Standing at attention, Naruto responds, "Hai, Hokage-sama."

"For your first mission," Hiruzen tells him. "You're to accompany Jiraiya on his search and assist him in any way he needs."

"Searching for what- wait!" His yell surprises the old kage but more so when the blond voices, "Tsunade-no-baachan!" Hiruzen was speechless a moment before smiling and nodding. Naruto smiles as he explains, "it makes sense because Ero-sennin would be the one you send to find her and she could heal your arm!"

"My thoughts precisely," Hiruzen speaks. "If there's anyone who could do something about this, it would be Tsunade."

"Sweet," Naruto voices eagerly, adding, "we'll find her in no time and heal ya right up!"

"I feel comforted already," the elder voices as he walks over to his seat. Passing Jiraiya, Hiruzen wonders what's wrong with his former student and why he keeps staring at Naruto as if trying to decipher a mystery.

Ignoring Jiraiya, Naruto moves to the front of the Hokage's desk before asking, "Ji-chan, can I bring Sakura with me? She's been studying Iryō-ninjutsu and maybe I could get Tsunade-baachan to take her on as a student."

"Mnn, I think that might be a good idea," Hiruzen sagely admits. "On to other news, I received word from Kurenai-kun-"

"UHAH," Jiraiya loudly huffs. With his little pupils and raise eyebrows, the man's loudly repeated, "UH-HAH, UH-HAH, UH-HAH," sounded inauthentic to Naruto, as if he wasn't laughing out of anything humorous but because there was no other response. Hiruzen and Naruto are weirded out by Jiraiya's loud and monotone laughter, and when the old sage didn't explain, a fed-up Hiruzen simply shook his head and continued.

"I've signed the Omiai and sent it to our Daimyō," the Hokage tells his blond Chūnin. "It's potentially too late, but, I could send someone to catch up to the messenger if you're having any second thoughts."

"Nah, I'm good," Naruto answers before being weirded out by Jiraiya whispering to himself, 'is he? How good, is good?' Naruto shakes his head before asking Hiruzen, "can I talk with Temari-chan and Gaara before I leave? I want to make sure they're okay."

"I'll inform the guardsmen to give you free access to their cell," Hiruzen offers. "But they will not be released until negotiations between our villages are concluded. As for Gaara-kun, what can you tell me of his mental stability?"

"Gaara? He's a puppy," Naruto merrily expresses. "Sure, he was pretty angry before, but no more than I would've been without you, Iruka-sensei, Teuchi-jichan, and Ayame-neechan. Now that we're friends, I'm sure he'll be cool."

"I see," the old man hums. Seemingly satisfied, he then asks, "and the Nine-Tails?"

"He's been pretty stubborn lately but we're still good," Naruto answers before thinking about visiting the other Jinchūriki. "I want to talk to you about the other bijū but it can wait till I get you help first."

"Then I wish you a speedy return," Hiruzen gratefully replies.

Rather than leave through the door, Naruto leaps out of the window and the second his feet land on the dirt ground, Jiraiya is right beside him with his arm wrapped around his neck to bring him close. It was so fast, Naruto didn't even sense the speed and was as incredibly impressed as he was jealous.

"Ne, Naruto," he slowly begins with a low and suspicious voice. "I heard a few things last night I'm hoping you would provide some clarity on."

Getting out from under Jiraiya's broad arm, Naruto asks, "do we have to do this now? Ji-chan's sick and he needs us to find Baachan."

Humming to himself, Jiraiya looked torn for a moment before proclaiming, "I'll give you twenty minutes to meet me at the main gate. Then we talk."

"Twenty minutes! I have to tell people I'm leaving and didn't you hear Ji-chan when he said Sakura could come? She has to get ready too!"

Swiping a hand at the irrelevance of that, he cries, "bah! Who cares about all that?! Just tell me… is it… is it true?"

Rolling his eyes, Naruto crosses each hand's straightened index and middle fingers and voices, "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu," summoning five clones of himself. Naruto informs Jiraiya, "I'll meet you at the main gate in an hour," before all Narutos leap away.

KARIN

"We've made the changes to the first-floor business fronts per Konoha's regulations," Tazuna conveys to Karin and Haku as they walk around the empty space of the newly built sixth floor. Normally, the floor would be divided into six separate apartments, but the entire floor is being allocated to the Clan Head. "So everything's ready to continue there. Floors five and six have also been approved so we can keep working there too."

Gazing around the very spacious sixth floor, Karin can't help but gasp, "what's Naruto going to do with all this space? His old apartment was a closet compared to this."

"It's befitting someone of his stature," Haku voices with a smile.

Tazuna grumbles, "last I talked to him about it, all he rambled on about was making sure you both had your own rooms, there was a training room, a kitchen with enough space for ramen, and a personal room to practice his scribbling jutsu."

Karin mentions, "since Fūinjutsu is going to be our main source of trade, his personal room should include security measures to protect trade and clan secrets."

"Yeah, I kinda figured that," Tazuna lazily responds. "Your shop on the first floor'll also have a secure room for these almighty squiggly lines of yours."

Rolling her eyes at the man's indifference to Fūinjutsu, Karin turns to the beautiful boy and asks again, "are you sure you don't want your own store? It really isn't a hassle."

With a short respectful bow, Haku voices, "yes, thank you Karin-dono. I'm doing quite well operating from Ten Out of Ten. The business is also boosting Tenten-chan's profits and I wouldn't want to ruin that."

"Well, the offer stands if you ever decide to," Karin promises to which Haku bows gratefully.

The three turn when they hear a loud, "oi," and see their blond leader, defender, friend, and family rushing toward them wearing his now signature red cloak with black flames at the hem over his orange and black outfit. "I'm glad you're all here," Naruto merrily relays. "I just got a really important mission and have to leave in less than an hour."

Shocked and saddened to hear, Karin immediately argues, "but our first official meeting is tomorrow. I got out cloaks and everything." Karin really liked the black cloaks with the Uzumaki swirl on the back and shoulder and was eager for herself, Naruto, and Haku to wear them.

"I know, I know," Naruto sympathetically voices. "But trust me, this is really important. It's time-sensitive too, so the faster I finish it, the better for all of us."

Groaning unladylike, Karin grumbles, "I guess we can postpone until you get back," to which Naruto hugs her in gratitude. Feeling the disappointment wash away in his warm embrace, Karin caves under his affection and hugs her family back.

"I promise I'll be back as quick as I can," he assures her before turning to Haku. "Keep an eye on her."

"I can take care of myself, you know," Karin voices in protest as Haku agrees. It's not that she doesn't appreciate Haku guarding her but it annoys her when her cousin acts as if she's completely helpless. "I know I'm not the strongest fighter, but I know what their chakra signatures feel like. I won't let them get close again."

"That's good," Naruto voices. "And I know you can protect yourself. Think of Haku like your teammate and you guys can fight together."

"Seems pretty dangerous to stay in a place where they're after the little lady," Tazuna remarks.

"I don't like it either," Naruto replies. "But I'm not ignoring Danzō. Staying on alert is enough to keep him back until I have the time to deal with him." Looking around the open, wide, and empty space of the sixth floor, Naruto tells Tazuna, "so it looks like I'm getting married." Tazuna's face breaks in stunned surprise and his small glasses fall off his nose as Naruto asks, "do you think it would be too hard to add rooms for them?"

Karin shrieks, "so Temari agreed!"

Tazuna gasps, "them!?"

While Haku asks, "has she finally confessed her feelings for you?"

Turning to Haku, Karin desperately wants to know, "who? Who has? Why don't I know?!"

"My girlfriend," Naruto blushes with the biggest grin on his face.

His body is swooning left and right, clasping his hands together so sweetly it's nearly sickening to her, but she loves it and demands to know, "who? Who?"

Tazuna still wants to know, "what do you mean by them?"

"I'll explain everything when I get back," Naruto starts, stabbing the Dagger of Patience in Karin's impatient romantic heart. "Basically, I'm marrying the Kazekage's daughter for reasons I can't get into now, but, I can also marry another girl, and the village would prefer my first wife be from Konoha."

"I know all of that," Karin whines before demanding to know, "who's this girlfriend of yours and why didn't you tell me? Is that why you never made it home last night?" Realizing her cousin's absence wasn't as innocent as she originally thought, Karin squeals loudly as her face blushes deep red before demanding to know, "what were you doing last night?!"

Chuckling, Naruto easily replies, "a lot happened last night, but I was talking about all this with my girlfriend, who by the way, only agreed to be my girlfriend… and I guess… fiancé… last night. So it just happened." Karin squeals happily at the news making Naruto blush even more.

"We have to figure out how this will affect the clan," Karin voices to no one in particular. Running against a mental snag, the redhead asks her cousin, "is there anyone in the village I can talk to about this?"

With a genial smile, Haku suggests, "Kurenai-sensei may be a good option," to which Naruto's smile practically reaches his ears. At her cousin's nervous nod, Karin makes a mental note to speak with her.

JIRAIYA

Jiraiya lands swiftly and silently in the shadows of an alley. With his back flat to the stone wall of the scroll store, he used Henge no Jutsu to transform into one of his many roles, a short, old, homeless beggar. Yellowing white hair, very tan and wrinkled skin, layered clothing ripped and dirty, Jiraiya hobbles out of the alley to rattle his tin cup for any spare ryō. Jiraiya sensed a male presence exit the scroll store, then stop behind him to adjust his leg holster.

With stern gravitas, Jiraiya uses subtle genjutsu to mask his voice as he asks the man behind him, "what've you learned?"

"Nothing yet," Kakashi voices to his holster, also ignoring the larger man behind him. "She was busy all morning but I'm meeting her in a few hours."

"Gyehh," Jiraiya grumbles, though happy to earn a coin from a passerby. "I won't be here," he explains as he wonders if he can make enough for a shot of sake.

"Mission?"

"Mnn," Jiraiya confirms. "By the way, I'm taking Naruto and Haruno with me."

"Why Sakura-chan?"

"Naruto asked for her," Jiraiya readily answered.

Kakashi remained as calm as ever, but Jiraiya knows the man is just as flummoxed by this entire earth-shattering revelation, and wasn't surprised when he starts to ask, "could she also be involved-"

Heading him off, Jiraiya argues, "I already thought of that. It doesn't make sense, does it?"

"At this point, nothing is certain," Kakashi reasons, and Jiraiya couldn't agree more.

"I'll talk to Naruto on the road," Jiraiya informs him, getting another coin ryō. "Go to the nearby lake with whatever you learn. I'll leave a toad there for you."

"Understood," Kakashi replies, standing after securing his side-arm's binding.

This deliciously odd situation is simply too bright to ignore, and like helpless moths to a flame, Jiraiya and Kakashi need answers. As another Good Samaritan drops a charitable two coins into his tin cup, Jiraiya warns his fellow co-conspirator, "be strong, Kakashi-kun. Kurenai-chan may be unlikely to admit anything."

"Hai," the masked man finished with before disappearing.

SAKURA

Rushing to the meeting place, Sakura spots Naruto in his dashing red and black cloak with a small, traveling backpack on. Understanding how prodigious Naruto is with Fūinjutsu, she wouldn't be surprised if he had most of his travel gear stored in scrolls rather than carrying it all. The sight of his clone earlier made her excited to finally see him, but at the sight of the original, she can't help but miss their quality time together; not simply the amazing sex, but all of it. Her time with Naruto is always one of the brighter spots in her otherwise Sasuke-less world, not that would gladly accept that unhealthy obsession again, but it's a daily struggle she compares to addiction.

Walking up to Naruto, she's grateful for a mission without Sasuke as she calls out, "hey." It will offer her a reprieve from constantly thinking about going to visit him.

"Yo," Naruto happily returns with his signature smile.

Considering the bombshell his clone revealed thirty minutes prior, Sakura immediately begs to know, "please tell me this isn't a prank. Tsunade-sama's been my hero since I was a little girl!"

"Yeah, I thought you'd get a kick out of it," Naruto replies before asking, "why didn't my clone pop?"

"He wanted to wait to talk with Ino," she answers him, wondering how long Naruto's clone will wait. It seemed so obvious to her Naruto and Ino love each other. She can feel her own heart begin to beat harder at the memory of what Sakura has done with Naruto in full view of Ino. It was the most exciting sexual experience she's had yet. Clearing her throat, Sakura adds, "she's been in the conference room with her parents all day so I don't know how long he'll be waiting for."

With obvious concern, he asks, "is everything okay?"

"Aaawww," Sakura cutely coos. He rolls his impossibly blue eyes at her poke, only making her giggle before responding, "I don't know what's going on, but they told me it was clan business and no one can interrupt." Happy to tease him more, she asks, "why? You worried about your girlfriend?"

"She's not my girlfriend," he argues, but she won't be fooled by that. "But, of course I'm worried. Aren't you?"

After what they did on Ino's bed, it's so obvious Naruto and Ino are together, however, it's possible they haven't cemented their exclusivity, so she asks, "what do you mean she's not your girlfriend?"

Shyly, almost remorseful, Naruto explains, "if you're thinking about the time in Ino's room, she said that to make your, uh, recreation time a little more exciting for you."

Sakura's fist instantly clenched as she felt completely humiliated, shouting, "that lying pig!" Crossing her arms, Sakura tries hard to assert, "how could she- Ohh, I hate her!"

"Sheeuut up, no you don't," Naruto humorously returns. For fear of losing this righteous anger, Sakura doesn't want to listen to any arguments, but when he says, "it's not like you were complaining at the time," Sakura's kinky side couldn't agree louder. It was the biggest thrill of her young life—to fuck Naruto in front of Ino. The orgasms rocking her body were monumental. She even passed out afterward, and somehow, Ino knew that about her. Sometimes it unnerved Sakura just how well Ino seemed to get her.

Blushing, Sakura changes the topic by asking, "I- I don't get why you two aren't together. Don't you love her?"

"I do," he easily answers, taking her aback.

"Oh," she hums, feeling a bit rattled by his candor. "You never told me that before… I mean, I sort of figured, but I never heard you say it out loud."

"You've been busy, Sakura," he reasons. "I didn't want to distract you from all the progress you're making."

Clearing her throat, she's almost scared to ask, "are you going to ask her… to be your girlfriend?"

With an exhale, he answers, "no."

Suddenly feeling great empathy for Ino, Sakura quickly asks, "what? Why?" Turning from the views of Konoha, he looks at her, and Sakura's mind quickly travels to the most obvious and scandalous answer. "It's not… it's not because of me… is it?"

"Whaa, no," he laughs, slightly too hard for Sakura's liking. "You and me are totally cool now."

That stung more than she's willing to admit and mumbles under her breath, "you didn't have to deny it so quickly." Ignoring the confusing flare of slighted emotions, the pink-haired kunoichi pushes on to say, "if that's what your clone wants to talk to Ino about, I think maybe you should tell her in person, you know, after we come back."

"That's not what I want to talk to her about," Naruto admits but doesn't elaborate, confusing and slightly annoying her. Sakura used to be able to tell what her blond teammate was thinking. Now he feels different; the same blond idiot from a distance, but upon closer inspection, less idiocy and more maturity. So distracted by her thoughts of Naruto and Ino, Sakura is surprised when Naruto yells, "you're late!"

Turning, she spots one of the legendary sannin landing lightly on his wood sandals before them. Chuckling, the large white-haired man calls, "my bad, my bad. My world's been turned upside down and I couldn't navigate the village properly."

"Liar," Naruto quickly calls.

"Lying, am I," the large legendary ninja comically voices. Scratching his chin a moment, he then tilts his head to ask Naruto, "well, then, you certainly won't have a problem telling me why I had to keep an eye on Asuma all night long?"

Sakura's alarmed to hear of Asuma, and then more so when Naruto casually answers, "yeah, fine. But can we at least run while we talk? I have a good idea where she might be."

Nodding, the three begin to sprint. Out of the tall gates and on the wide forest trail, Naruto mentions a gambling town with castles, to which Jiraiya leads them eastbound. They're sprinting a solid twenty minutes before the chakra they're molding to their legs cycles enough that they can continue running without getting exhausted.

Worried about Ino's sensei, Sakura asks Jiraiya, "is Asuma-sensei alright?"

"I don't know, Sakura-chan," Jiraiya nearly mockingly answers. He then whips his head to her blond teammate and replies, "why don't we ask Naruto. Is Asuma-kun okay, Naruto? Huh? Is he? Is he?"

Sakura is very confused and potentially angry at Naruto as her blond teammate deflates at the question. Though she's certain he's stopped pranking the village, she's ready to smack him if he unintentionally hurt Asuma.

When Naruto asks, "what did he say," Sakura's sure he pranked the cool sensei.

Jiraiya simply teasingly retorts, "what's it matter?"

"Oh, whatever," Naruto bellows, as if fed up. "Yes, I have a girlfriend, but-"

"HEEEEEEIIII- KOATH," Jiraiya's loud squeal is cut short when a bug flies in his wide-open mouth, tripping and rolling on the dirt floor over and over with the push of his strong momentum. Sitting up, the large man tries to forcibly cough out the bug as she and Naruto watching in sympathy. Jiraiya points a strong finger at Naruto and manages to demand, "ex- KUOHH. Ex- plainn, UGHH."

It then dawns on Sakura that Naruto admitted to having a girlfriend, but only twenty minutes ago, he said Ino wasn't his girlfriend. Sakura's heart started puttering, her stomach felt lighter, and her knees weakened at the thought he might be referencing her. She grows confused when she recalls Naruto already admitted he didn't feel the same for her only minutes ago.

She grows further confused when Naruto answers, "you're going to need to let me finish. Yes, I have a girlfriend but we only became official last night."

'He's not talking about me,' Sakura realizes, and again, hates the feelings of inadequacy creeping into her heart. She then realizes he's not talking about Ino either and after they begin sprinting again, Jiraiya asks, "Kurenai-chan?"

Rolling his sky-blue eyes as if he's over it but also blushing, Naruto answers, "yeah, Kurenai," and Jiraiya squeals loudly, reverberating his voice throughout the tall trees of the forest surrounding Konoha and flushing out dozens of birds.

Though certain his high-pitched squeal could be heard a mile away, Sakura could only concentrate on her confusion. She isn't sure how the beautiful sensei is involved with Naruto's girlfriend and asks her teammate, "Kurenai, what?"

Ignoring his red-faced and squealing Godfather prancing beside them like a ballerina basking in the sunshine, Naruto turns to her. With a straight face, gentle eyes, and a soft smile, he fractures her sound mind to pieces by confessing, "Kurenai's my girlfriend."

Sakura's gut seizes and she loses chakra in her legs, tripping and rolling not unlike Jiraiya had earlier. After she rolls to a stop, they both check on her but she can only stare at Naruto wide-eyed shock before voicing, "tha- that's not funny, Naruto! What're you thinking? Joking like that!"

"I'm not joking," Naruto voices as honestly as she's ever heard him and Sakura's wide eyes turn to the madly blushing and giggling Jiraiya as he writes in a little notebook. Naruto is seemingly upset by this and calls out, "alright, alright. Look, I get you guys are curious, but let's not forget we're on a mission." Turning to Jiraiya, Naruto points as he asserts, "this is for your sensei—my Ji-chan—so I'm going to quickly explain some things, and then we're going to run until we find Baachan! Got it?"

Jiraiya body-flickers right in front of Naruto with his notebook out ready to listen and take notes. Sakura was still on the floor reeling in turbulent mind, body, and chakra from the craziest most impossible news she's ever heard, like feeling the waves of the ocean after already leaving the water. Her gut feels just as kicked in as when she learned he was the son of the Yondaime. From learning about his insane training regiment to beating Momochi Zabuza, Sasuke, Sabaku no Gaara, and being the son of a Hokage, she couldn't help mentally yelling, 'how can one person be so surprising!?'

"I met Kurenai a couple of weeks after graduating the Academy," Naruto begins to quickly explain. "She wanted help with training stuff, and in return, she taught me a bunch of stuff like strategy, training, chakra nature. I didn't know about Asuma-nii and their history until yesterday, which is also when Kurenai and I decided to officially become a couple. There! Now can we please continue the mission?"

Recalling her and Ino's attempts at getting Asuma and Kurenai together—for months—Sakura blurts out, "how could you not know?! Didn't you see them?!"

Jiraiya responds, "don't you 'there,' me, like you explained anything! What about all the juicy stuff?"

"It's so obvious that Asuma-sensei and Kurenai-sensei love each other," Sakura adds impatiently.

Jiraiya begins to rapid-fire question-after-question. "Who made the first move? Was it love at first sight? How is she okay with this? How are you okay with this? Have you… How far have you two gone-"

"Enough," Naruto practically yells. Though she's heard him raise his voice when he boasts, he rarely raises his voice in irritation. He continues to sober her up by voicing, "Ji-chan needs our help! How is my romantic life more important than his health?"

Sakura instantly realizes why they're looking for Tsunade-sama, and sadly repeats, "the Hokage is…"

He confirms her suspicion, saying, "that's why we're searching for Baachan," before turning to them both. "Look, I promise you can ask me all the questions you want when we rest up, but can we please focus on the mission now?"

Jiraiya walks up to Naruto and stares down at him with intensely focused eyes for several silent moments. After imagining all sorts of piercing criticism for such an illicit affair, Jiraiya lands his large and heavy hand on Naruto's shoulder before seriously telling him, "I'm dedicating Icha Icha Palace to you."

Naruto rolls his eyes before he starts running again, and for the next seven silent hours, Sakura felt like she was in a horrible mind trap. Her inadequacy as a person, her sisterhood with Ino, her relationship with Naruto, and suddenly learning that he's possibly in a romantic relationship with a strong, gorgeous, and respectable woman like Jōnin-sensei Yūhi Kurenai… it was the biggest mind-fuck she couldn't stop focusing on. Her heart was so heavy it felt like she was slowing the team down.

Sakura had too many questions, and at the core of it all, was her false sense of reality. Recalling her past behavior, if she truly saw Sasuke, if she truly saw herself, or Naruto, she knows for certain her entire life would be completely different. She feels she wouldn't be struggling with her obsessive love for Sasuke if she truly saw reality for what it was and not only accepted it, but embraced it. At the thought that Naruto could be dating someone as amazing and respectable as Kurenai-sensei, Sakura never felt so motivated to stop being that blind girl she was.

KURENAI

Kurenai and Anko walk up to Kakashi, who's leaning against the wall of a mildly busy teashop, reading his little orange ero-literature. Kurenai is fairly certain this has to do with Asuma as Anko had already told her Kakashi was with Asuma last night. Additionally, the two are friends, so it makes sense that Kakashi knows some things, though not the whole story. The way their senior Jōnin captain put away his little book as they approached him made Kurenai thankful she invited Anko.

Turning to Anko, Kakashi closes his eye genially before voicing, "I'd wondered where you went last night, Anko."

"Yeah," Anko casually hum as she looks at the teashop's menu on the wall. "Just forgot something I had to do."

Aware of what this was all about, Kurenai asks, "what'd you want to talk about, Kakashi?"

"Just thought I'd give you the opportunity to tell me your side of things," he voices, confirming to both kunoichi that he's fishing for confirmation rather than knowing outright.

Unbothered, Kurenai asks, "could you be more specific?"

"You, Asuma, and Naruto," Kakashi replies, gauging their reaction.

"Kakashi," a young voice calls out and they all turn to the sight of Sasuke walking up to them. Oddly, at the same time, the three Jōnin sense a shift in the air; the little hairs on their skin vibrating at the slightest disturbance in the air pressure due to chakra interference. To Kurenai, it felt as if a sort of gentle veil was all around them, concealing a sinister chakra… a lot of chakra. "I just met Naruto's clone," Sasuke continues before asking, "is it true?"

"Mah, why don't we go talk about that," Kakashi answers his student as they all sense the large body of chakra body-flicker away. With his single eye, Anko and Kurenai understand his command and shunshin after the two men while Kakashi first leads the young Uchiha away.

Anko and Kurenai are surprised by how far they have to sprint to catch up to the two men walking on a sidewalk beside a wide river. Landing ahead of the pair dressed in black, full-body traveling cloaks with red clouds designed on them and a high collar, cutting them off. Both men wore wide straw sun-hats and white neck-covers, but the tall one had a large, thick sword wrapped in white cloth at his back, while the other appears to have black hair. The well trained Jōnin immediately begin to cross-reference these markers with any known enemy combatants they can recall, but it isn't until the ebony-haired suspect raises the edge of his straw hat, showing them his eyes, that they have any sense of who they're dealing with.

Both Anko and Kurenai are startled to see blood-red Sharingan eyes staring back at them.

I hope this isn't too much of a cliffhanger ending. I originally wanted to include half the fight but after some life-delays, I thought it best to cut it here.

I was planning on updating From Ruin but the ideas weren't flowing as fast as TLP. So I started just jotting TLP ideas down for posterity and next thing I know, a full chapter. I have a novel that I would write to warm up with(which I just finished). I think I'm going to write FR like that. Just a couple hundred words a day. I really do apologize.

Yes, I know. The lemon was very short for my taste, too. I just had too much story to tell. Speaking of, I haven't forgotten about Mei. I only wanted to introduce her before. She'll be coming around fairly soon I think.

You know, part of the delay for this chap wasn't just publishing my 2nd novel, but I had written 8K of this chapter before I realized it wasn't good enough and started over. It was just too much talking. I love dialogue but my scenes were just people in a room with no urgency, nothing else going on. It was flat; no bueno. I was also stuck on how to punish Naruto for keeping the invasion to himself. I didn't want to just keep him as a genin because he helped out so much, but just promoting seemed insufficient. The demotion will appear in his record which is a good compromise. I'm glad I started over though. This is much better I think.

Yay! Naru-nii is back! I'll try to use him more in the future.

The knowledge of Naruto and Kurenai wrecked Sakura. She half doesn't even believe it. She's in limbo right now until it's confirmed... which will be fun to write.

If any fans of my fic would like to support me on (pa -~ tre -~ on dot come /graefoxx) that would be fantastic. However, I just finish my first (family-friendly) novel titled, Old Hand Steel, available on amazon for $3. I'm going to keep writing for the rest of my life, so earning a living as writer would be a dream come true. So if you would consider buying Old Hand Steel by Santana Bazil (my family-friendly stage name) that will help me and my craft a mega-ton! It's available at amazon -~ dot -~ com /dp/B08HGSY65T If you'd like to leave a review, I ask that you please be honest. I have thick skin. As long as it's not flaming poison, I see all critiques as helpful in some way, shape, or form.

Thank you again my amazing patrons! And as always, please let me know your thoughts. Reading them helps my focus and drive to bring the best updates I can possibly write. Really I can't thank you guys enough and I hope I can continue entertaining you 😊❤

Lastly, Rest In Power, Chadwick Boseman 👑

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