Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ Training for the Job ❯ Volume 3 Chapter 21 ( Chapter 31 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
Volume 3 Notes: Very minor correction for those who caught the fic early, last time. Konohamaru is, indeed, the Third's grandson, not his son. I knew that -- must have been the painkillers. (Yeah, that's it... heh). Okay, about the number of genin thing: I think that, given the physical size of Konoha, there are actually about a thousand active genin. I also think that some of them NEVER go through the chuunin exam, or never make it past their first one, and so on and so forth. We know there were about eighty of them at Naruto's exam. We also know some genin miss the exam due to missions. We ALSO know that genin require the recommendation of their instructor in order to go to the exam, and must participate in teams of three. Finally, we know that there must be enough ninja to act as the military service for an entire superpower, given that they've been called the military force of the nation they're in and Fire country is essentially a superpower. I figured, then, that there are maybe ten times as many genin as take the exam. So, I was using as a number of total genin in Konoha as roughly eight hundred to a thousand. To this point, my math works... but I forgot to divide by three to account for how many teams there are. Oops. Okay, there are three thousand genin teams, then... (There certainly are a lot more ninjas in Konoha then the few we've seen -- it looks like a city of tens of thousands, their primary industry is ninja service, and Konoha appears to be one of the largest such 'villages' around. The number is not stated anywhere in canon, so I can just toss it off the top of my head) Any reasonable command structure would have more lower ranked ninja to higher ranked ninja. So, for the record, in Konoha\Blossom, there are 3,000 active genin, six hundred chuunin, and four hundred jounin... plus maybe two or three dozen 'elite' jounin, of which Ebisu, Kakashi, and Gai are part. Some of the genin teams are commanded by chuunin, I suppose... it makes a lot more tactical sense then having more jounin then chuunin and more chuunin then genin, which is just about the only other way things work. Otherwise, they REALLY need to read their Sun Tzu... (even he would say the division is too small -- he felt the ratio should be closer to 5 to 1 for each level of command) I missed, somehow, that Hanabi's mother died giving her birth. Where is this stated? It isn't mentioned in the manga -- at least, not in any scene with either Hinata or Hanabi in it that I could remember to look up -- and I don't recall it from the anime, either. Is it data book info, or is it fanon? Or, like the raikiri\chidori thing, is it something I just completely missed? (Although I'll still point out, on that debate, that even the publisher of the manga made that same mistake in their polls -- the raikiri is more popular then the chidori, IIRC, in their popularity polls for various ninja techniques. If THEY missed it, I think I can be forgiven for missing it too, huh?) Ah, well -- it doesn't matter over much. 'Mother,' in this case, could mean 'clan matriarch.' This is not a significant problem, as things are plotted -- I just needed another major power political player in the Hyuuga clan outside of Hiashi (who is definitely the 'clan patriarch') who could play a significant role in her upbringing. A matriarch might be referred to as 'mother' just as easily as a true mother might, and would likely still have a major role in raising the children. If I were to write the side story (where I planned to have Hinata and her mother meet and have some very... interesting conversations), I'd need to know for sure, but until Volume 4 it shouldn't matter here. However, I'm going to assume her mother is still alive unless someone explains just where that 'Hanabi's mother is dead' comes from. While I'm at it, someone commented a while ago (talking about my history of Anko) about how Orochimaru left Konoha two years after the death of the Fourth. Since I can read but don't have the wherewithal to write when I take my painkillers, I've been using the time trying to research such as that so I could figure out where it came from... and to the best of my knowledge, it's entirely fanon, based on a timeline some fan created a while ago. A timeline with VERY serious problems, as it includes (among other things) serious mistakes with regards to Kakashi's history, as it appears to have been written pre-Kakashi Gaiden and then added onto later but not corrected as KG progress.. I looked to see if it was possibly translated, in part, by the data books... and from what I can tell it wasn't. If anyone knows of an official source for such information, please let me know. The one piece of 'evidence' mentioned to me that seemed to indicate it would be two years after the Kyuubi's attack is a discussing about the Third possibly fighting with Orochimaru 'ten years ago.' That is not... quite... as certain as you'd think, as the phrase 'ten years ago' is a Japanese figure of speech which means 'as few as just under ten years and as many as roughly thirty years ago.' Oh, well. It shouldn't matter overmuch, but I'd still like to know. On a different note, Rock village and Stone village (and Stones village) are the same thing -- different translations (the one I usually use refers to it as Rock, but I do know that the Viz translation calls it 'Stones'). Not an attempt to make a new village, in this case. Rainbow IS an original village, and so far the only one. I don't THINK I'll need to add any others, unless I have need to make a list of villages and run out of canon-created ones, or unless I need to come up with the name of another defunct village (one possibility would be if I ever named the village which later became Konoha, for example). Okay, that's reviewer response taken care of. Enjoy the fic.
Chapter 21
Sakura woke up to the sound of whipers. He's having another nightmare again, isn't he? she thought sadly, rolling out of bed.
The moment she noticed the rings under Naruto's eyes, she decided to move back in with him again -- using the convenient (and increasingly flimsy) excuse of another fight with Ino as she did. It didn't take long to discover the reasons behind his insomnia -- he had been having nightmares, violent nightmares, since he learned of Genma's death. At first, she had a hard time figuring out when he slipped into them, and felt rather useless. Then, hitting upon what she felt was a brilliant solution, she used her skills as a ninja (it was her job, after all) to hide several listening devices throughout Naruto's bedroom. The end result was something akin to a baby monitor (though she would never call it such to Naruto's face) and it allowed her to hear the moment his dreams started causing him to toss and turn in his sleep.
Her slight fears of 'losing control' while living with him, again, were assuaged -- though not in a pleasant way -- the first night her monitoring system woke her up. She rushed into his bedroom and saw him thrashing on the bed. "No!" he was shouting. "I thought you were safe! I... I..."
Shaking her head, Sakura had walked over to his bed. She nearly woke him up, but decided to try and calm him instead. Gently, she stroked his brow, hoping that he would slowly relax and learn to enjoy her touch. He did manage to settle down -- and slept very hard through her treatment, considering that he was a ninja and should wake up at the slightest movement anywhere near him -- but Sakura was glad he had not. It made things so much easier. Since then, he'd helped him through several nights worth of these problems. He'd talked with her about what she was doing, to let her know that he was aware of what she was doing, but he had yet to talk to her about his dreams. "Some things," he sighed as he explained why, "Just don't make any sense when you're awake."
She had thought he had recovered sufficiently that day at the hospital, when he expressed his fears that she wouldn't be able to love him if he had 'so much blood' on his hands and she had accepted him nonetheless. As she quickly discovered upon realizing he was having violent nightmares every night, he had not. Vaguely, Sakura wondered how much he was sacrificing of himself to achieve his dream of becoming hokage. His only concern had always been protecting people and making them happy -- he had seemingly never considered the harsher aspects of the job: He would be ordering people to fight, and die, in their careers as ninja. Furthermore, there were other unpleasant things he would have to get people to do: there were always missions requiring a 'courtesan,' meaning he'd be prostituting some kunoichi... there were always missions which would harm an innocent, or ruin a person's life, or worse... and there was always the chance he'd have to lead people in war. People died in war -- it was inevitable -- and the number of people he would be ordering to his deaths if such a thing were to occur would be so great that... well, Sakura wasn't quite sure what would happen to him, but it'd definitely hurt him.
She checked the clock. 4 A.M. Not exactly how I wanted to start my birthday, she mused sardonically. It was her seventeenth, and she had made a number of plans -- some of which included Naruto, who outside of the nightmares seemed to be more-or-less back to normal -- to celebrate. Well, at least she could truthfully joke to Ino about having spent her birthday morning in her boyfriend's bed... even if they didn't really do anything.
Sliding out of bed, she haphazardly grabbed a robe and tied it around her waist. She staggered out of her own bedroom and into Naruto's. He was already awake by the time she got there, and was sitting on the bed with his head clenched in his hands. This must have been a more severe nightmare then most -- they rarely woke him up. That was more then enough to make Sakura's concern spike. Considering how hard it was to wake him, usually, the fact that this particular night's nightmare was that severe meant that he was getting worse, not better... and she was trying so hard to help him, she hurt when she couldn't. She'd thought he'd been getting better -- he hadn't had a nightmare either of the previous two nights... but apparently, she was wrong.
"Naruto?" she whispered tentatively. "Is everything alright?"
Naruto grinned up at her sadly. "Sorry, Sakura-chan. Did I wake you up, again?"
Sakura forced a smile. "That's okay, Naruto-kun. I like getting up early on my birthday... maybe not quite this early, but still...."
"Your birthday!" Naruto exclaimed. "Oh, god, I'm sorry, Sakura-chan, I--"
"It's all right," she said calmly, sitting next to him and putting an arm over his shoulder, hugging him to her. As a bit of an afterthought, she mused, "As long as you remembered to buy me a birthday present, that is."
Naruto swallowed nervously. "Um... I did! Really, I did! I... um..."
She smirked at him slightly -- yes, she knew he had. She'd seen him trying to hide it away (rather successfully, actually, since she didn't see what it was), but his nervousness was rather cute. She could tease him about it, though. "If you haven't, there's still time. The party's not until seven this evening, and I'm not opening any presents until then."
"I've got a present for you!" Naruto promised. "But... I'm not sure the party is the right time to give it to you. I... it's a bit personal."
"Oh! You got me lingerie, didn't you? Naughty, naughty boy!" Sakura teased.
Naruto scooted away from her, holding his hands up in panic. "No! I'd never... well, actually, I might, but not before... look, Sakura-chan, it's not like that. Really! I--"
Sakura laughed, though she found that comment about how he 'might' rather interesting. "It's okay, Naruto-kun. Whatever it is, just give it to me after the party, okay?"
Naruto smiled slightly. "Okay, Sakura-chan."
"You might also want to give me something at the party, too, though," Sakura said, laughing. "Unless you want to deal with rumors that we're having... difficulties."
"As long as they're not true, I can deal with them. I've always had to deal with them, before, now isn't very different," Naruto said, gently pulling out of her grasp an lying back down. "Thanks, Sakura-chan, I think I'll be able to sleep now. Why don't you go back to bed?"
With a grin, she lay down next to him, pulling the covers over them both. "Good plan... I think I will. Good night!"
Naruto blinked at her, bewildered. "Sakura-chan...."
She kissed him on the corner of his mouth, half-laying on him. "Hey, I'm here, I'm comfortable, and I'm not leaving. There's nothing wrong with the two of us doing this... but don't be getting any ideas! We're just sleeping, got it?" Naruto nodded furiously, shutting up. "Good. Now, I'm tired -- let's get a couple more hours of sleep. We both need it."
* * * * *
It was tradition, more than anything else, that lead to the naming of every ninja village as the "Hidden Village of" whatever its people were called -- usually patterning themselves after techniques developed by whatever element they identified. The five Kage states, while they may have started out that way, were no longer entirely true to their 'elements. The First named the village Konoha, or Leaf, after his own abilities with the growing of trees and foliage... abilities no-one else in any of the clans of Konoha, or indeed in his own clan, could attain. The village of Rock was the origin of most Earth Element techniques. The village of Mist taught just about every technique involving water that existed... and so on. In other words, they tended to 'blend in' alternate styles -- Konoha, especially, as they were the result of at least four large ninja villages (and possibly several smaller ones) coming together (Shadow, Flame, Wood, and Fang) -- to round out their own techniques. Those naming traditions were still held even today -- Blossom was named, in part, because it would be a training ground -- it would have a very metropolitan style of teaching ninja skills, and it would be prodomenantly a place for the youth of Konoha -- and possibly, in time, the Sand and a few other close allies as well (although few of the current residents of Blossom were aware of that, yet), should everything go according to plan, though nominally always under the control of Konoha -- to come for training.
However, the 'Hidden' aspect of the traditional names was no longer true, in most cases. There was no secret where Konoha was, nor were Sand, Rock, Mist, Grass, Waterfall, Cloud, Rain, nor just about any other ninja village. Even the location of the Sound was supposedly common knowledge -- there was a reason Sasuke didn't really need guides to find his way after leaving Konoha -- although there were doubts after the Sand-Sound invasion as to whether the sleepy little ninja town they had sent their embassies to was really the location of the main base of operations of Konoha's greatest enemy. The most common theory, now, was that it -- like Blossom -- was a satellite village, intended mostly for the training of cadets... but that wasn't especially relevant. The point was -- there was a place where the civilian population believes the sound to be, and where they could go to interact with Sound ninja if they so desired.
The village locations were now well known, in large part, because of how commercial being a ninja had become. It used to be that only the wealthy could hire ninja... but those days were long gone. In a desperate attempt to modernize and stay within the local economies, each 'hidden' village had opened at least a visitor's center up in their towns, advertising them for any who wished to hire their services... because otherwise, they were starve economically. That, in part, was what Zabuza had been rebelling against that lead to his exile and eventual death -- the loss of secrecy and other traditional elements which, he felt, were important in making a ninja be was a ninja was, and not some overblown samurai-for-hire with a bunch of ridiculously overpowered special techniques.
When Blossom was formed, despite the 'hidden village' tag attached to it, the location became an open secret. So, it wasn't difficult for a foriegn girl to find its location pretty easily... especially once she awarded her informer with a few favors of the variety she was trained in best... not the ultimate favors, mind, but things she was sure the boy had enjoyed, nonetheless. Furthermore, her arrival wasn't especially remarked upon, since she went straight to the easily identifiable building for foriegn visitors to check in at.
She waited in line -- it was a very short line, but there were two clients who arrived that day and only one administrative ninja to service them. Considering it took an average of an hour and a half to complete all the paperwork, two clients was a long wait. Finally, however, her turn had come, and she went up to the clerk with a well-trained sexy smile on her face and a flirtatious hint in her eye.
"Can I help you?" the bored administrative ninja said, not looking up.
"I understand that Jiraiya-sama is supposed to be living here, at the moment. Is this true?"
Hearing the voice of a pretty woman, the man looked up to find a woman who was obviously a prostitute standing across from him. His eyes widened. He, of course, knew of the legendary ninja's... less respectable reputation in certain fields outside of being a ninja, but he'd never expected him to send out for women to... entertain him. "Um... well, he comes and goes as he pleases, but he does have a home, here. Is he expecting you?"
"Probably not," the woman admitted. "I'm actually here because the... business I work for needs to hire the services of some ninja. However, I once met Jiraiya-sama when he was training a student, of his, and hoped that I could talk with him."
The admin ninja raised an eyebrow. "Jiraiya hasn't taught any students since the Fourth passed away. I find that highly unlikely."
"Really?" the woman replied, looking quite surprised. "But there was this blond boy -- it was his fourteenth birthday -- and I'm certain he was in training from the man who I know is Jiraiya-sama. I think his name was... Naruto, I believe."
The admin sputtered. "Naruto? Wow... maybe the rumors are true...."
"Rumors?" the woman asked. "What rumors?"
"Never mind, never mind," he replied, waving her off. "Okay, let's get these forms filled out, and then I'll see if Jiraiya-sama is in town and willing to meet you, okay?"
* * * * *
Naruto was sitting, his feet propped up on the desk in front of him, eating lunch. Sakura was there, as well, having brought food for both of them... however, she had finished her meal already. She had the day off, however, and didn't mind spending her time with her boyfriend. Hanabi was out as well -- her team had been given one of its very rare missions (a class D mission pulling weeds from an herb garden) -- so, for once, they were left alone. It surprised both of them when there was a knock on the door.
Kicking his feet off the desk and swallowing his most recent bite of food, he called, "Come in!"
Jiraiya opened the door and strode in, smiling broadly. "Hey, Naruto! You'll never guess who just came into town! I... um, oh. Sakura-chan! I didn't know you were here...."
"I have the day off, since it's my birthday. I figured I'd spend at least some of it helping Naruto around the office. So, who showed up?"
Jiraiya hesitated. "Um... maybe I won't bother you, after all -- I don't think that you've got time to meet with them, anyway."
"Actually," Naruto said, "I've got plenty of time -- we've got a light day, today. Who is it?"
"Er... Sakura-chan, could you leave for a moment? This person is... um, a bit of a secret," Jiraiya explained.
"That's okay," Naruto proclaimed as Sakura eyed the perverted legend suspiciously. "Sakura-chan can keep a secret."
Jiraiya winced, knowing that he was in trouble now. And so was Naruto, but the poor boy just wouldn't take the hint. "Are you sure? I mean, she might not want to know about this...."
"Of course I'm sure!" Naruto replied, bewildered.
"Indeed," Sakura added dangerously. "Now, I'm especially curious as to just who it is who 'just came into town.'"
Well, I tried to warn you, kid, Jiraiya thought. "Um, okay. Come on out, miss."
The prostitute who had arrived that morning came out from behind the door, smiling slightly -- not one of her sexy smiles, but rather a proud one. "Long time, no see, Naruto," she said.
"Naruto, Sakura-chan, let me present Kireme Sakura...."
Sakura frowned, wondering just why Jiraiya would be bringing such a woman here, expecting Naruto to be happy. She knew how loyal Naruto was, after all, so why would he be surprised to see a prostitute. She turned to Naruto to see his reaction. He looked quite confused, at first, but then his face lit up with recognition. He stood up, pointing at her enthusiastically.
"You!" he cried happily. "I never expected to see you, again. So, you're a Sakura-chan, too, huh?"
"Yes," the older Sakura replied, blushing slightly and bowing her head. "That was why what you said shook me up so much, after all."
It was the younger Sakura's turn to look confused, but before she had much of a chance to think about it -- and just after a vague idea was forming on her head -- Naruto confirmed just how he knew the woman.
"You remember me telling you about her, Sakura-chan, right?" he said, looking at his girlfriend. "She's the girl who I got those oils from...."
Oh, she thought, turning a new, appraising eye on the woman. So this is that woman. She looked to be in her late twenties or early thirties, with a good body, long legs, and perfect grooming. This was the only other woman to touch Naruto in the same way she had. Seeing her, now, the younger Sakura could understand why Naruto -- who she knew was as hormone-driven as any other boy out there from personal experience, even if he seemed to have better control over those urges then most -- would have allowed this woman to give him that massage. In fact, his refusal to engage in anything more than a massage with her made her respect for Naruto rise a notch. Still, she couldn't help but feel... at least a little jealous at how this woman had been the first to touch Naruto certain places. Well, at least there were places niether one of them had yet to touch, and she knew she was in a much better position to be the one to deliver those final pleasures.
The older woman distracted her from her thoughts, though, as she descended on her with great enthusiasm. "So, you're that 'Sakura-chan,' huh?" she said, looking her up and down. "How are things going between you two? I've heard some of the story, since my arrival, so I know you're finally dating him, but I'd like to hear it from your own mouth."
"So you're that woman from the brothel, eh, Kireme-san?" Haruno Sakura replied, finding herself unable to answer. Her effervescence was so great that she couldn't help but like the woman, despite feeling rather jealous and a bit unnerved knowing what she did for a living. "And, to answer your question, things are going fine. We're taking our time and enjoying this relationship as much as we can."
"That's good," Kireme said, smiling. "I was very touched when Naruto said he was going to be loyal for you, despite your wanting some other boy, and you can't imagine how happy I was to hear that you changed your mind. Loyalty like that... is a very precious thing, Sakura-chan. Treasure it."
Oddly warmed by the honesty behind that smile, the younger Sakura nodded. "I will, Kireme-san. Thank you."
"I'd like to talk with you while I'm in town," Kireme added.
"Why are you in town, anyway?" Sakura asked, curious... and a little jealousy still making her hope that, whatever the reason, the stay wouldn't be too long.
Kireme's smile fell a bit. "Well... the brothel I work at sent me here. We've... been having problems. Problems we're afraid we'll need ninja protection to handle."
Naruto was suddenly all business. "What kind of problems?" he asked.
"We're being... harrassed," she answered. "A rather odd-sounding thing for a brothel to complain about, isn't it? Even a high-class one like ours."
"What kind of harrassment?" Jiraiya asked, showing an unusual amount of concern.
"Well, first it was obnoxious, loud, annoying customers -- the kind a high-class brothel like ours throws out unserviced," she explained. "We usually get one or two a month, but we started getting dozens of them a day. Then incidents of small-time vandalism, the chasing away of our regular clients, and the opening of a new brothel just down the street from us. A brothel owned by the Kaigara Corporation, which used to belong to an organization I've heard you've had dealings with before: The Gatoh Group."
All three people in the room stiffened, and Naruto's mouth flattened into a grim line. "Yes," he finally said. "We've dealt with them, before. Unfortunately, this assignment will be out of our league, as there is a high probability of the need to combat foriegn ninja on a mission involving them, which would be at least a B class mission, and we're only equipped for C-class missions and below. I'll have to refer it directly to Konoha -- we aren't precisely forbidden from entering into A or B class missions, but we must get the Hokage's permission first. And... I'm not sure your brothel can afford it."
The prostitute sighed. "Yes, I was afraid of that. Well, my instructions were -- if we could not afford to hire you to help protect us from this Kaigara Corporation, then I should ask you if you would assist us in finding a new site where we can relocate our business -- and our employees -- to where we would be safe from Kaigara and other, similar, organizations."
The younger Sakura winced, considering what it would be like to escort a company of prostitutes from one town to another. She already began drawing up the escort roster -- she wouldn't want any men as part of that mission, after all; there was no telling what a team of boys would do with that kind of temptation.
"Well," Naruto mused. "There are a few places where you'd be safe. We're in Wave Country, which has a law forbidding any businesses which were once connected to the Gatoh organization from ever operating in its borders. Some villages in Fire country, Konoha included, have passed similar laws. There are a number of places you could be relocated to, and such an operation could probably be ruled as a C-class, since the Gatoh -- I mean, Kaigara Corporation would be unlikely to hire ninja to harass you on your way out of the territories they have targetted. Hmm...."
"Hey!" Jiraiya exclaimed, a perverted smile on his face. "I bet you that your business could move here! Blossom doesn't have a brothel, yet!"
"Blossom doesn't need a brothel," Sakura pointed out flatly. "As it is a ninja town, and ninja towns rarely require the services of a brothel."
Naruto considered things for a moment. "Actually... I think it's a good idea," he finally said.
"Naruto!" his girlfriend exclaimed, feeling betrayed.
"I... forgive me, Naruto-kun," Kireme said, wincing, "But I would rather we not interfere in yours and Sakura-chan's relationship, so--"
"This has nothing to do with me," Naruto exclaimed, facing down both Sakuras. "Look, Sakura-chan, you're right -- this is a ninja town. Most ninja towns don't require the services of a brothel." He paused. "Most ninja towns have kunoichi in courtesan training, instead."
The pink-haired girl blushed to match her hair. "Naruto, we don't train kunoichi as courtesans so they actually become courtesans -- rather, we train them so that they can fit in as one if they must go undercover in a location where being a courtesan is ideal."
"I know," Naruto agreed. "But... didn't the puppy lady herself pulled out of courtesan training, herself? She's not eligible to teach, and she's the only female in this town who's even had the basic lessons. Sakura-chan... when the time comes that you and Ino -- or at least one of our girl genin -- turns twenty, they may need the training. We don't have anyone who can teach them around here. And believe it or not, Kireme-chan," he added, deciding to call the older Sakura by her family name in the future, "You proved a great help during my own training, just from your own simple suggestions."
"Konoha could send someone," Sakura protested, blushing even further at the thought of attending such lessons herself. She was actually safe from the requirement, being too valuable as a medical ninja to be 'risked' on the hazards involved in courtesan duty, but she understood his point. She just felt that there were better ways... ways which didn't involve letting this rather nice young woman who seemed to know all the tricks and had some sort of attachment to her boyfriend stay in Blossom that long.
"Yes, it could," Naruto admitted. "It probably will, unless we make some sort of arrangement beforehand. But we do have an opportunity to make an 'arrangement beforehand,' so why not use it?"
Sakura opened and closed her mouth several times, trying to think of a reason why not. She tried to think of someone from Konoha who might come in and teach, instead, but unfortunately the only woman she knew who had completed the entire course was Yuuhi Kurenai, the jounin instructor for Hinata's team of genin... and the woman who, according last letter she'd recieved from one of her non-ninja friends back in Konoha, recently got engaged to Sarutobi Asuma, and so -- if even half of the rumors she'd heard about Kunoichi training were true -- wouldn't be interested in teaching. It would be a complete stranger sent to Blossom... and would a complete stranger really be any worse then this friendly-seeming woman she had just met?
"I'm, um, not sure we're qualified to instruct ninja," Kireme pointed out. "Don't you, I don't know, use special... um, things? I'm really out of my element here...."
"Actually," Sakura mused, "Most of the ninjitsu is stuff I already know -- it's largely, according to Hana-chan, birth control techniques, special pressure points, and so forth -- things any medical ninja would know. What niether I nor Hana-chan have are the, um, traditional practices of courtesans. Well, we both know how to give a massage, now, but other than that...."
"It's a lot more fun finding out for yourself," Kireme noted. "But you won't necessarily know everything if you do it that way. I suppose we could... help. But would there be a market for a brothel in a small ninja town like this one?" Jiraiya nodded, smiling broadly. "Besides the one from the legendary pervert here?"
"Well, Jiraiya isn't the only pervert in town," Naruto noted. "We've got the closet pervert... um, Ebisu, I think his name really is...."
"Ebisu's a closet pervert?" Sakura asked, astonished. "So that's who you meant all those times. But... how is he a closet pervert?"
Naruto chose not to answer that one, not wanting to explain to Sakura about the first time (and, so far, only time in practice) he'd ever used the 'harem no jutsu.' "Then there's Kakashi-sensei. He's always reading those perverted books ero-sennin writes."
"Hey, he's not the only one!" Jiraiya exclaimed. "My books are a best-seller!"
"They're boring," Naruto shot back. "I've read them, remember?"
"Naruto!" Sakura exclaimed, shocked yet again.
He flushed. "Um... well, anyway... there are a lot of ninja who would be likely to use your brothel's... services." He got a lot more serious as he turned to look at Kireme. "There comes a certain point in every ninja's career, if he's good enough to recieve the tougher missions, where he or she realizes that every mission they go on might be their last. This tends to encourage them to do certain things some people might consider perverted, including visiting brothels, in order to relieve the stress. I am not one of them -- my way of the ninja prevents me from being disloyal to the woman I have chosen." At this, his girlfriend blushed brighter then she had the entire time they had been talking. "But I certainly understand those ninja who do. You will have plenty of clients." He paused, and looked at Jiraiya. "And you'll have him, regardless -- from what the old hag who used to work with him told me, he was a pervert even before he became a ninja. She seems to think he's been a pervert since birth."
"Yes," Sakura laughed, recovering from the embarrassment of Naruto's declaration. "Tsunade-shishou has said that on occasion, as I recall."
Kireme hesitated, then nodded. "Well... I don't know how my employer will take that, but I'll pass along your recommendation to her. Can we count on your taking the mission?"
"Yeah," Naruto said, nodding. "I'll need to take a look at your request forms, assign a priority, negotiate a price, and all that, but yeah, I think we can do that."
"You'll have to stay here in the meantime," Sakura pointed out. "Since you're here... I'm having a birthday party tonight. Would you like to come?"
"Oh, thank you," Kireme replied, smiling. "I look forward to talking with the young woman who inspired such loyalty in a man like Naruto."
* * * * *
Oh, I'm so sure you wanted to come to my party just so that she could talk to me, Sakura thought to herself, sarcastically. She was staring at the corner of the room, where her boyfriend was engaged in deep conversation with a prostitute. One she'd come to actually like, oddly enough, but a prostitute nonetheless... and during her birthday party, too! Still... she knew he would be loyal to her. Loyalty did not mean sensitivity, however....
"Relax," Ino said, coming up behind her. "He's just catching up with her. She's not going to take him from you."
"Oh, I know that," Sakura agreed bitterly. "Naruto is mine, and no-one and nothing is going to take him from me. I don't think she's trying to, either... no, I'm not worried about it. I'm just... I'm jealous that she is getting all of his attention during my birthday party. I realize I'm being a little selfish to say that, but this is the one day in the year when I'm entitled to be perfectly selfish about things like that. And how do you know he's just catching up with her?"
Ino smirked at the other girl's declaration of ownership over the boy. Yes, it was true, but it was still amusing. "I'm not certain, of course," she answered. "In fact, every time I got near them, Naruto clammed up. But while the Naruto I know best may be the Naruto of three years ago, I still know how he thinks about things like this. He's catching up, because someone he made friends with showed up unexpectedly -- it's not that he doesn't love you, it's that there's another person who, as he puts it, 'recognizes' him in town, and he's glad to have a chance to talk with them. Because he's had so few friends in his life, finding another one is always pleasant... even if he's now getting a lot more friends."
Sakura smiled. "Yes, he's definitely getting more friends. Especially among our students... they hero-worship him, I think."
"I hero-worship him," Ino laughed. "It's not something to be ashamed of. He is a hero, after all, even if most people don't know about the most heroic things he's done. You've got a good boy, there, Sakura-chan... I envy you."
"Thanks," she replied. Then she turned and glared in that corner, again. "But just because I understand it, I'm not going to stop being jealous. I want Naruto here, by my side, dammit, and he isn't."
Ino laughed. "Well, Naruto's reputation for stupidity does have its merits -- he's completely clueless, after all, which makes him seem less intelligent then he actually is. Sometimes, that cluelessness makes him do things like forget to pay attention to the woman he loves most in the whole world on her birthday...."
Sakura winced. "Yes, I suppose that's true."
Suddenly, the discussion over in Naruto's corner of the room seemed to have ended. Naruto stood up and dashed off, while Kireme -- who had changed into an outfit which did not proclaim that she was a prostitute to the whole world, but instead actually looked quite conservative and very nice on her -- started laughing. She stood up and walked over to where Sakura and Ino were chatting.
"You've got quite a boy there," the older woman said, a smile showing restrained laughter on her face. "Even if he is a bit... indelicate, at times."
"Where is he going?" Sakura asked, annoyed.
"To, in his words, 'take a piss,'" the prostitute laughed. "Now, I have to say I've heard worse language in my day... but that's not the sort of thing you'd expect to hear from a man in his position... especially considering some of the things we were talking about tonight."
"What were you talking about that had him so interested?" Sakura huffed. "It's my birthday party, after all -- no offense, but I'd really rather he paid more attention to me then to a... well... um... how can I put this politely?"
"A whore?" Kireme suggested, unashamed. "A call girl? A prostitute? A geisha? A courtesan? I've been called many things, some of them flattering, some of them not. And it's perfectly understandable why you wouldn't want your boyfriend to be talking to me, but I assure you that you have nothing to fear from me."
Sakura blushed. "Well, I wasn't really worried about that," she said. "I know that Naruto's loyal to me. But... but it is my birthday, and if he really is serious about being in love with me--"
"He is."
"Then he should try and spend it with me."
The older woman just laughed. "Oh, I imagine if I hadn't shown up, he would have. But he has been wanting to talk to someone for a while about you, and there wasn't anyone here he could talk to... so, he took advantage of an opportunity, and came to me."
"What did he want to talk with you about?" Sakura asked, suspiciously. "Is he... not happy about something?"
Kireme giggled. "No, I don't think so."
"Then why couldn't he come to me about it?" she asked. "I'm willing to hear anything he wants to tell me, you know."
"I know," Kireme agreed, not able to stop smiling. "But that doesn't mean he can tell you just anything, you know. He just... wanted some perspective, is all -- he was afraid of talking to you about certain things, not because he didn't think you'd refuse to talk about it, or hate him for mentioning it... but rather because he was afraid by talking with you about it, he'd be pushing for something you might not be ready for."
"He could have talked with me," Ino pointed out, interjecting herself into the conversation. "Or even Hana-chan -- they've been developing a mutual mentor-student relationship with each other, so I'm sure she'd be willing to give advice."
"Yes, he might have talked with this 'Hana' person you all keep mentioning -- I have yet to meet her, mind, but apparently she's my 'biggest competition' over the men, here, according to some of your... uh, civilians. However, she is apparently 'unavailable' right now, or something like that, so Naruto-kun was unable to talk with her." Kireme regarded the blond girl briefly. "You're Ino, right?"
"Uh, yeah," Ino replied, only just realizing that she had yet to properly introduce herself to the other woman.
"Thought so. He said he was afraid of talking with you for the same reason he was afraid of talking with Sakura-chan... or Sakura-chan's mother, for that matter."
Sakura considered that for a moment. "If... if he really needed to talk with someone like that, he could have talked with Anko-chan...."
"Anko," Kireme explained, "Is someone he told me was 'mentoring' you. Is that true?"
"No! We... well, we just talk about a few things on occasion. We were supposed to train with her to fight Orochimaru, but... well, we've actually worked more with Jiraiya-sama then her lately."
"At any rate," Kireme continued, "He wasn't entirely clear on how close the two of you were, so he didn't know if he should talk to her, either. He was really quite thorough in explaining why I was the only person he could talk to -- and he definitely needed to talk to someone." She smiled. "I think you'll like the results of our conversation, even if you don't... um, never mind. I can't say anything."
"Why not?"
"It would ruin the surprise," she answered, winking.
* * * * *
Kireme retired to the hostel, where she was being roomed in while her 'client status' was reviewed, shortly after talking with Sakura. Naruto returned to the party -- and finally took the position by Sakura's side that she'd been longing for the whole night -- shortly thereafter. Soon came the time for her to open presents, and she had a delightful time forgetting her jealousy and frustration over Naruto's visit with the other Sakura earlier that evening and allowed herself to enjoy the happiness that came with each new package to open.
Some of the gifts were, as apparently intended, a little embarrassing. For example, her mother gave her some nicely-framed family photos -- which weren't embarrassing, in and of themselves -- that included a note -- which was -- declaring that both of her parents were willing to "come and help redecorate your new place -- We remember how hard it was to learn how to keep both your father and myself in mind when we moved in together." Her mother had just figured out that Sakura had moved in with Naruto and, despite her constant protests that it was just a temporary thing, she was still being teased about it constantly. Another present in this vein came from the absent Hana, who had left as a gag gift a book on the art of massage (which also happened to include, as a bookmark, a gift certificate to the local book store for its grand opening, as well).
Some presents were quite practical. Anko had given her a special kunai, which she had been told was something which had been made by her 'former lover,' that was slightly larger then usual and had a bone handle. The wink in the jounin's eye when Sakura opened it letting her know that it came from the Fourth. It was oddly balanced, but somehow felt right in her hand anyway. She'd have to practice with it to see how well it really worked.
A nice dress came from Ino, some sweets and flowers and the like came from her students, and even Jiraiya got her a gift... although she wasn't exactly sure what to do with the 'Complete Collector's Edition of Icha Icha Paradise.' She wasn't exactly a fan of hentai manga... (well, she didn't exactly discount something because it was a hentai manga, but the small number of illicit literature she did own was a lot more tasteful then anything Jiraiya have even contemplated writing). True to his word, though, Naruto held off on giving her his gift during the party.
However, he had promised to give it to her in private, and at the moment he was carrying her new presents over to their home. Sakura was still intending to move back to Ino's once Naruto was over his nightmares, but she didn't see any reason to take the trip there -- nothing they were carrying would need to be moved once she left. She still stayed over at Naruto's often enough for some basic comforts to be left on hand, and nothing she'd been given that day (save perhaps the flowers and sweets, which she expected to be gone long before she left) needed to be taken when she left. Well, maybe the special kunai, if she wanted to practice with it some, but she'd want that with her as long as she was staying at Naruto's, anyway.
They chatted amiably the entire way back, but the moment they got through the door to his apartment, Naruto dumped everything on her bed and left, shooting a quick, "Be right back," over his shoulder.
Shaking her head, Sakura started putting things away -- starting with hanging up the dress Ino gave her before it wrinkled. It was nice to have something that could expand her 'dating' wardrobe, considering how few items of clothing she had in that regards... although she obviously wouldn't be surprising anyone with this outfit. They'd all seen it, already.
Naruto returned a moment later, carrying a package. It was poorly wrapped -- he'd obviously done the job himself -- but that didn't matter to Sakura. She wasn't sure what to expect -- he could be so clueless about some things that she wouldn't be surprised if it was a lifetime supply of ramen or something silly like that -- but she was prepared to love it no matter what it was. He offered it to her silently, a nervous grin on his face and one arm behind his head, running his hand through his hair nervously.
Sakura took the package, giving him a reassuring smile. "Hm... now what did you give me, huh?" she said, weighing it gingerly in her hand without opening it.
"It's a surprise," Naruto explained, a slight tremor in his voice. "And I'll need to explain something once you've seen it."
"It's a good thing you aren't dating Hinata-chan," Sakura mused, peeling at the tape.
Naruto shook his head, still not understanding why she insisted on trying to save the wrapping paper. He'd argued with her over it at the party, but apparently she just had to do things her way. Deciding to avoid the topic, he instead focused on another. "Why? And why would you even mention Hinata anyway?"
Sakura paused, blinking up at him. "Surely you knew she had the largest crush on you? Has for years...."
Naruto's eyes widened. "She... she did? But I don't even know her!"
"You fell in love with me before you knew who I was," Sakura mused, returning to the package. "At least, that's what Ino tells me."
"Yeah, but then I tried everything I could to learn who you were and to get you to learn who I was," Naruto explained. "I've said all of, what, ten sentences to her? And she's barely ever said a word to me!"
"She was too shy to ever say anything to you," Sakura pointed out. "And I suspect she's moved on, since she hasn't seen you at all over the past three years. She's got too many problems to worry about it, anyway."
"Hm," Naruto hummed, thinking about that. "Well... yeah, I suppose she does. But why is it so good for me that I'm dating you and not her? Besides the obvious thing about me having been in love with you since I first saw you, that is."
"Because," Sakura said, finally peeling off the last piece of tape from the present. "You'd never be able to hide any secrets like this from her. Byakuugan and all, you know."
"Oh, right," he replied, still not seeing the point. Why would Hinata have used a powerful jutsu like that just to figure out what she was getting for her birthday, anyway?
"She's always been a rather... curious... girl," Sakura pointed out, unwrapping many layers of paper. "I once caught her standing outside of one of the community bath houses, using her family technique to peak on the boys. She wasn't being too perverted -- she didn't leer at anyone, or anything like that -- but she was still peaking, if for no other reason then because she just wanted to know what a naked guy looked like. She was blushing... like... Naruto, what are these?" Finally pulled the gift out of the package, and was a bit surprised at what she saw. "I mean, I know they're bracers, but these look real old. Where in the world did you get them?"
The forearm guards, or bracers as they were more commonly known, must have been ancient. They were made of dulled bronze and antique leather -- it was well maintained, but the small cracks along the edges showed its age anyway -- and had the spiral decoration that was common in Konoha. Careful examination revealed it to be lined on the inside to prevent chaffing, yet the bronze was mostly decoration -- revealed by a slight fraying in the lining, a series of steel plates were bound by the leather. Dents and scratches showed that it wasn't just for show -- it had been used, and often, in combat. And, surprisingly, it had a pair of hidden sleeves for kunai to be stashed... but not a normal kunai. Instead, one just like what Anko had given her.
"The Third gave them to me, once," Naruto explained. "He told me it was the only Uzumaki clan property that was still in my family's name -- most of the rest of it had been sold off or was inherited by others, and a number of titles to my clan's land were lost about the same time as the attack by Kyuubi."
Her eyes widened. "Naruto-kun... I cannot accept this. It must mean too much to you -- it's the last connection between you and your family, so you must keep it."
"I can't use it," Naruto replied, shrugging. "It's designed for girls, and it wouldn't fit on my, anyway."
"Nevertheless--" Sakura protested.
"Besides," he continued. "I couldn't imagine a better gift for someone who I intend to ask to join my family."
She froze. Was he doing what she thought he was doing? "Naruto... did you... did you just propose to me?"
He got down on his knee in front of her. "Sakura-chan, I know we are very young, but I do love you more than life, itself. I'm certain that you are the only person I will ever want to marry... the only thing I'm not certain of what you want. Sakura... will you marry me?"
Slowly, Sakura set the bracers down on her bed, allowing her hair to fall and obscure her eyes. "Naruto-kun," she answered. "I will keep your gift... in trust. But I will not wear it yet...."
"I... is that yes, or no?" Naruto asked, confused.
She smiled, and a tear dropped from somewhere behind her hair. "Naruto, I will marry you one day, so I suppose that it is a yes... but it's also a 'not yet.' I'm going to keep the bracers... but I won't wear them until I am ready. Then, and only then, will I consider I properly engaged." She looked up, her hair parting naturally to reveal eyes crying out of happiness. "I love you, Naruto-kun... but I'm not going to marry you for quite a while, so don't expect to see these again for a while."
Naruto grinned. "As long as the answer is 'yes,' the time doesn't matter to me," he laughed, pulling her into a fierce embrace. "I love you, Sakura-chan." His kiss ended the discussion for the night, and their kisses continued for quite some time. And, while they remained chaste, they shared the bed again for the whole night... and Naruto's nightmares ended.
* * * * *
Notes: Well, after the long (for this fic) delay, here's a larger-then-normal chapter to tide you over. I'm still not happy with that last line -- the content is exactly what I want, but somehow I can't seem to phrase it properly without it sounding either too forced, or too trite, in my own mind. It might just be because I've struggled so much during this chapter (I don't know if it's the drugs or something else, but even when I could write things didn't seem to flow as well as they have been) or something like that, but I decided not to worry about it and just post it. You've been waiting long enough. (I almost split the chapter in half, at one point, since it had grown long enough... I decided against it, however, in the end). I'm still not fully recovered, although my medication is only supposed to last another day or so (and I'm not supposed to take any more after that for a VERY long time, regardless of what else happens -- if I need a painkiller, I'm supposed to take something else. My doctor said he was stretching things, as it was, by giving me as much painkiller medication as he did) , so I have no idea how long it will be until the next chapter. Sorry. To let you know just how much this story has evolved, I started this fic with six pages of notes to summarize what would be happening in all four volumes. Between deciding what techniques each character would be able to perform, minor subplots which I had to work out because of story evolution, figuring out how the rank structure, pay structure, the clan system, etc. would work, certain bits of additional history of Konoha, certain concepts I later decided to abandon (and what to put in thier place), and things like that... well, my notes have now topped one hundred pages. (It's all hand-written, so no, I can't send them to any of you. I may be willing to type up the original six pages -- some day -- but not until the fic is complete). Yet to reassure you that I haven't lost track of where I'm going, the fic has yet to deviate in any significant way from the original six pages.... Those of you wondering about my portrayal of the prostitute(s?) in this story, I want to make one thing clear: I don't support the practice of prostitution in the United States. However, there have (historically) been societies where being a prostitute was one of the highest callings available to a woman. In ancient Greece, only the prostitutes were allowed outside of their own homes -- and they could have as much political power as men (in other words, only the prostitutes had equality). In Japan, geisha were considered high-class prostitutes for a reason: They weren't just prostitutes, but the product of the best education their society would provide a woman outside of either the nobility or the priesthood (and, in many cases, even better then either of those two paths). For those of a religious bent (and, believe it or not, I am one of them), some of the greatest heros of both Jewish history and Christian religon were, in fact, prostitutes (Rachel, for example, who saved the two Jewish spies, and the same Mary who, according to some Gnostic texts (the legitimacy of which are questionable, but the DaVinci Code makes good use of them), was the wife of Jesus Christ were both prostitutes... and that's just off the top of my head. I'm certain there are other examples I could find if I looked hard enough). In modern society, at least in the U.S. (I cannot speak for other societies in this world, as I am not much of a world traveller), however, prostitution is NOT a high-class career for women, and I have a hard time feeling as if there is a justifiable reason for a woman to enter into that... profession, in this day and age, given how much more opportunity there is for women in modern society. However, as I needed a prostitute (and courtesan training, etc.) for several aspects of this story -- one of which is to make ninja society as it is portrayed in Naruto functional -- I figured I could go ahead and make the prostitutes of this fic in the same mold as those of historic times, where prostitution was, indeed, a justifiable enterprise. Namely, because it would be a higher-class job then others available to women in Naruto society could apply for (outside of ninja -- Konoha and Sand both seem strangely absent of brothels, whereas Jiraiya found several while travelling outside of those ninja towns), the standards for becoming a prostitute would be higher. They'd have to look good, be reasonably well-educated, emotionally sturdy enough to talk with world leaders about anything -- including international politics -- and so forth. In this vein, the prostitutes in Naruto (for the purposes of this fic) are more like the women in Ancient Greece and the geisha of Japan then like, say, the ordinary modern prostitute, or even someone you'd be able to hire in a business dealing with legal prostitution in a modern society. There's a small dig at what I felt was a small plot hole in the Tea Country filler arc in the chapter above -- namely, the 'hunt' for the Sound village, as if Konoha had no idea where it was! It seems to me that, if the Sound were known enough to be invited to participate in the Chuunin exam, their home village's location should also be known. Not a big deal, I suppose, but don't come after me with how my interpretation is flawed because of Tea Country. Gah -- the fillers are getting worse and worse. Help us, somebody! Save our anime from itself! Bring in Kakashi Gaiden! (that's where the fillers SHOULD have been put, anyway, if we had to have fillers -- there's ample space for filler arcs, there, whereas Naruto's losing valuable training time running a bunch of stupid missions in filler arcs....) Well, at least one person guessed correctly who the 'unexpected visitor' would be. There were a number of other guesses, however, so I guess it wasn't too obvious... (I love hearing people's speculation about how the story is coming out -- both when it's right and when it's wrong. It rarely effects the story, much, but it usually gives me something to think about). Next chapter: A couple of options still available. I think I'll go with this one -- Hanabi tries to do what she believes is her duty as a Hyuuga, but Naruto prevents her. Until next time!