Naruto Fan Fiction ❯ Training for the Job ❯ Volume 4 Chapter 7 ( Chapter 67 )

[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
Volume 4
Notes: It's curious how wide a gap is in the audience for some of my fics. Within twenty four hours of posting the previous chapter of fic on FFNet, I'd recieved more than twelve hundred hits and fifty reviews. The next day, I posted a chapter for my ongoing Voltron fanfic, and I had seven hits and no reviews after the same length of time. Funny thing is, the per chapter hit count (though not overall hit count; the Voltron fanfic and Patlabor: Personal Files swap positions for overall) says that my Voltron fanfic is my second-most popular fanfic on FFNet, despite having other fics in more popular series such as Ranma and DBZ... and yet, the difference is still that large. Gah!
If you're going to warn me that someone is plagiarizing me, be sure of your facts, and be sure you know what plagiarism is. A concept or idea is not something that can be plagiarized. A single line of dialogue is something that yes, technically can be plagiarism (or, perhaps more accurately, trademark or (in fanfiction) gimmick infringement), but given such a small sample size one should usually give the benefit of the doubt and assume that it's just two different authors with the same idea (I believe the line in question for this specific case was "What is this -- Whack-a-mole?" I certainly wouldn't assume I was the only person to think of that line). There have been legitimate cases of plagiarism made with this fic, but I've had twenty false alarms to every one true example I've seen. I appreciate the loyalty, but try not to have such a hair trigger.
Oh, and has anyone caught Chapter 361 of the manga, yet? In it, Sasuke makes a fuss about the fact that his technique is called 'chidori,' not 'raikiri.' Could it be that these are seperate techniques after all? Heh....

Chapter 7

Neji read through the document he had been handed. "And you are bringing this to me for what reason, exactly?" he asked darkly.

The young man -- an older administrative ninja who was attached to the Konoha-Blossom Messenger Pipeline Service, blinked in surprise. "I understood that Tsunade-sama had briefed you. Or am I mistaken?"

"She briefed me on a great many things," Neji replied. "But that still doesn't explain why I am getting Gai-sensei's mail."

The administrative ninja appeared confused. "Hokage-sama's letter explained to me that you would be taking the leadership role in our shadow government, while Gai-sama would be the official leader of the village. Is this... incorrect?"

Neji cocked an eyebrow. "I was merely told I was to take Naruto-san's role as the 'power behind the throne,' as it were. I was not told anything about a shadow government."

The administrative ninja sighed. "Well, I suppose she might not be familiar with our own internal workings. It took quite a while, and evolved quite a bit, since it started during Blossom's founding year."

"Could you, perhaps, explain it to me?" Neji asked. "I'm quite curious as to the situation I've walked into, here."

"Well, it all started rather informally, with Naruto-sama arranging for messages to the jounin-oyabun to come through the office at the private residence he and his betrothed were staying in. He--"

"Betrothed?" Neji repeated, clearly shaken. Hinata had been trying to get some information on the situation in Blossom since assuming the mantle of leadership over her faction of the Hyuuga clan, as Hanabi was present here and so, apparently, was a scion of the old clan in Adaha. He'd read everything she had on the village before taking this mission, and while confidential information was scarce it had appeared as if personal data was accurate. He had known about the brothel before arriving, unlike his teammates, for example. He knew of Moegi and Konohamaru's sudden marriage and pregnancy. Hanabi's twisted relationship had even been mentioned in one report, but had been discounted as false data due to the shear improbability of it. However, no mention was made of Naruto being engaged to anyone.

"You are familiar with Haruno Sakura-dono, are you not?" the admin-nin asked. "From everyone's accounting, he had been close to the young lady even before arriving in Blossom."

"I knew Sakura-san, yes," Neji agreed, a little startled at how both Naruto and Sakura were so formally addressed. "Not as well as some in our little group, but I knew her. I was just not aware they had been 'betrothed.'"

The admin grinned slightly at that. "Ah. Well, they were trying to keep it a secret. Naturally, with gossip like that, everyone knows... but we're all too polite to ruin their illusions." He paused. "If you were looking through intelligence reports on our town, I suspect you wouldn't find anything out about that. Blossom has taken much the character of Naruto-sama, its greatest hero: It appears to be full of holes, leaks of information, and sometimes makes rather dangerous-sounding decisions. However, that is all an illusion -- secrets are hidden by appearing to be open about things that are not as secret, spies are allowed in but are known to be spies, and bad decisions are made at the top... but the shadow government that actually controls Blossom smooths out the problems those decisions cause. There are known leaks that have been supplying your Hinata-san with information for years, but the really important things have all been hidden from them. While everyone in town who knows anything is 'aware' of the betrothal, we are conscious enough of Naruto-sama's privacy to not leak his secrets to your spies, even if they are as unimportant as this one."

Neji pondered those words for a moment. It meant that, most likely, much of the information he had on Blossom was material its residents either didn't care about or wanted Konoha's residents to have. "I need a briefing on the real situation here... and then we'll get to the matter of this letter."

"Of course, Neji-san. Now, as I was saying, when Naruto-sama realized he needed to formalize this little shadow government of his, he started out by adopting a varient of the Imperial 'Insei' system, where he would be playing the part of the 'retired' Emperor...."


It took several days, but finally Naruto, Sakura, and Hanabi were 'allowed' to have an audience with Kiba and Hinata. Sakura found it slightly amusing that she needed to make special arrangements with her renter in order to visit the condo she owned, but she said nothing about it to anyone -- only Ino would understand, and the blond girl would likely be more angry about it than she was.

Hanabi, however, had been growing increasingly impatient and irritable over the course of the week. To make matters worse, she wasn't allowed to bring Inari, Adaha, or Umiko with her -- they had tried to accompany her, but some members of the Branch line of the family stopped them from entering the building in which Hinata lived. Those Branch members glared at her with disdain, and a few years back she would have used their seals against them for such treatment. The fact that she restrained herself this time may have bought her some points, but she was unaware of it as they climbed the stairs to the second floor condo.

It wasn't helping Hanabi's mood that Naruto was acting wierder than usual. She had asked Sakura about it, since the pink-haired girl -- even now -- would normally 'discipline' her lover with a blow to the head for acting up like he was. Sakura was merely rolling her eyes at his antics, however, and said 'He's just been out too long, that's all.' What that meant, Hanabi didn't know, but she was still getting frustrated with the whole business.

"What's the big idea of making us wait so long, Hinata-nee-chan?" Hanabi griped once the five of them were seated -- Naruto, Sakura, and herself on a couch while Kiba and Hinata shared a loveseat across from them. A few other chairs around the room -- and some not really hidden but still out of eyeshot paperwork -- made it obvious that this was the war room for Hinata's side of the Hyuuga faction, but the seating was more comfortable than they should have expected. "And why can't my lovers be with me when we meet?"

Hinata and Kiba shared a look. Kiba gave a barely perceptible sniff, and nodded. "We're sorry, Hanabi-chan," he eventually replied. "But security has had to be pretty tight, lately... and quite frankly, we're not sure whose side you're on."

"But Naruto-sempai was vouching for me," Hanabi pointed out. "I know that, whether you trust me or not, you like him. Why did it take so long?"

Hinata was looking at her sister oddly. "You've become a lot more expressive lately, sister. When you left town, you were so much like mother I was almost afraid of you."

Hanabi flushed. "Well... Naruto-sempai and Inari-chan have been helping me open up a lot, and... well, Adaha and Umiko-chan's presence in my life make it difficult to hide my emotions entirely."

"To answer your question," Kiba continued, still not sure what to make of Hanabi. He also wasn't sure what to make of Naruto, whose attention seemed to be wandering quite a bit. In fact, the young man looked like he would be literally bouncing off the walls if Sakura wasn't holding him down with a hand on the inside of his thigh. "We've had quite a difficult time with Hyuuga-sama's attempts on our lives, lately, and it makes us suspicious of anyone who wants to see us. She's had assassins impersonate the Hokage, herself, in an attempt to kill us."

Hinata smiled at her lover. "Kiba-kun saved us both that first time, thanks to his nose. We've been a lot more cautious since then. However, he's never been able to, ahem, 'smell' your lovers, sister, so he couldn't be certain of their identity. That is why we only allowed the three of you to visit."

"Well, I'm glad we finally got the chance to see you," Sakura replied, stroking Naruto's thigh to passify him, and doing a good job of it. Hanabi still looked a little put out, but she supposed she understood her sister's reasoning. "Naruto wants to get this whole mess with your clan sorted out, Hinata-chan, and we've got some important information that might help with that."

"Oh?" Hinata asked, her voice taking a different -- stronger -- tone. Kiba recognized it as her 'faction leader' voice, and grimmaced. He'd been hoping that they had come as friends -- especially as Hinata had been unable to take many 'social' visitors for some time -- but it looked as if this would be another business meeting, after all. "And what information is that?"

Sakura took a deep breath, as this was going to be a difficult conversation. "Well... I've been conducting some genetic tests on the Hyuuga clan, recently, using Hanabi-chan as my prime example. I also had a stroke of fortune thanks to the appearance of Adaha, a Hyuuga from before the byakuugan was, um, completed -- it gave me a baseline to compare to. And what I've found is disturbing, but may lead to a compromise solution between your faction and your father's."

Hanabi and Hinata both blinked at that, looking equally surprised. When the pair wore the same facial expression -- and the same hairstyle as they now wore -- it was easy to see the resemblence between them. Had they been born the same year, they would have been identical twins, it looked like. "What have you found?" Hinata asked, recovering from her surprise.

"More than a century of inbreeding is starting to cause serious problems inside your genetic structure," Sakura explained, taking a deep breath. "Without bringing in fresh blood from outside of the clan, genetic defects will start showing up in great numbers within the next couple of generations. They may have already started, in fact."

Kiba looked overjoyed. If this were true, Hiashi should have no argument to his daughters marrying and having children from outside of the clan, which would drop most of the conflict they had with each other. Hinata, however, noticed how solemn Hanabi was, and how serious Sakura still looked, and knew that wasn't the whole thing.

"There is a 'but,' of course," she said, signalling for Sakura to continue.

"There is a 'but,'" the pink-haired woman agreed. "A serious one, too, and it affects you more than Hanabi-chan, because of your choice of lovers."

Kiba's expression turned angry at that. "What? What's wrong with her and me being lovers, huh? You just said she needs to have children with people outside of the clan!"

Sakura looked unphased, despite Kiba's bared fangs. After all, she had been around Naruto when kyuubi had much sharper fangs showing on him, and had learned never to be intimidated by them. In fact, considering the cases she most often saw bared fangs, she was feeling a little uncomfortably turned-on. "I did say that," she replied. "And the problem isn't you, specifically, Kiba-san. It is your clan's blood that is the problem."

Kiba flinched. "My clan's... blood?"

"It comes down to the biggest genetic difference between the old Hyuuga clan and the new Hyuuga clan," Sakura sighed. "Had the Hyuuga's not, er, completed the byakuugan, there would be no problem. However... I was researching the Uchiha clan to see what I could determine about the Uchiha clan. It seems as if the Uchiha clan had a genetic predisposition towards insanity because the Uchiha contribution to the clan was intolerant of the genetic differences that allow most major clan's bloodline abilities to work. Bring in someone from outside the clan who doesn't already have a major bloodline, everything's fine, but bring in, say, an Akimichi, say, or... or an Inuzuka, and you will likely cause the same genetic predisposition to insanity."

Both Hinata and Kiba stilled. "Are you sure the Inuzuka clan's blood will cause a problem?" Kiba asked. "We may look it, but according to our records we never bound a lesser demon into our bloodline like some of the major clans did...."

"I'm sure. I tested it against Hana-chan's blood," Sakura sighed, resigned. "Hanabi doesn't have to worry, because none of her lovers have this problem, but..." She couldn't finish her explanation.

"Is there a treatment?" Kiba demanded stiffly. "Some way to... avoid this problem?"

Sakura glanced at Hinata apologetically. The pain in the Hyuuga woman's face was heartbreaking. "Well... if we can seal up her blood before she gets pregnant...."

At the stricken look on her sister's face, Hanabi rushed in to re-assure her. "Don't worry, Hinata-nee-san. I know you want to help our cousins in the Branch family, but I promise I'll take over your place in that. I'm sure father will, too, if you can get him to agree--"

"I don't care about that," Hinata said, forcing the words out with such determination it shut Hanabi up and momentarily stopped Naruto's fidgetting. "I have to know... is there a way to fix the problem if my blood is not sealed up before I get pregnant?"

Sakura blinked. "I don't know. I'd have to look it up. But... well, I don't see how that would matter much -- surely this situation with your father will end some time, and I can teach you some birth control techniques so--"

"You don't understand!" Hinata screeched. "I said I don't care about that. What I care about is that I'm pregnant right now, and I want to know if there's a way to save my child from becoming insane!"

Sakura's eyes widened, but it was Naruto's reaction which was the most unexpected. He leapt up, spinning to face the wall next to them. "No way..." he said, looking shocked.

"Naruto?" Sakura asked, though she didn't seem surprised.

"It's not who we thought it was," Naruto replied, then vanished in a puff of smoke. With the exception of Sakura, the remaining ninja looked confused.

"He was a clone," the pink-haired kunoichi explained. "According to Tsunade-shishou's reports, someone has been listening in on your private exchanges from here inside the apartment. So, Naruto sent a clone with me while the real him went searching for the spy, using his clone here as an extra pair of ears so he would know what to listen for."

"And who's the spy?" Kiba growled. Yes, he was distressed about the news Sakura had brought, but someone spying on them was a more immediate danger.

The front door opened, with Naruto dragging someone behind him. "As I said, it's not who we suspected." Dumping the body on the floor, Hinata started crying.

"Shino-kun," she sobbed, the sting of betrayal piercing every syllable of her words. "Why?"


"Lee!" Tenten called, waving at the young man in green as he made his way towards the northern training grounds.

"Oh, Tenten-chan!" Lee cheered, enthusiastic enough to remind the young girl of his older days when he was practically a clone of Gai. "I've got a mission so I have to hurry!"

Tenten jogged up to his side, a smile concealing the worry on her face. "Yeah, I heard. Sounds like a big mission, since you have two teams in addition to your own."

Lee nodded. "Yes. Gai-sensei has entrusted me not just with my own team of chuunin, but also Matsuri-chan and Daichi-kun with their teams of genin."

Matsuri and Daichi were the latest leaders of rookie teams. Now chuunin, they had both recieved teams following the recent Blossom Academy graduation. Tenten had seen Daichi moping about town because his 'Futaba-chan' was in Konoha proper, and had mentioned it to Neji... who, as Tenten was aware, had been the person who actually assigned the teams for this particular mission of Lee's. Apparently, Neji was hoping a mission would distract the rookie chuunin and help him to lead his team of rookie genin properly. Still, two teams of rookie genin lead by a pair of low-level chuunin wasn't exactly much reinforcement to a team like Lee's.

"Are you sure you want them?" Tenten asked casually. "Some spare genin aren't likely to be all that useful in a fight."

Lee nodded, smiling slightly. "But the power of youth flows through them! Um, and we're not expecting any fights -- this is strictly a surveillance mission. Manpower is more important than fighting ability, here."

Tenten frowned. "But you're a combat specialist. Why would you be sent?"

Lee shrugged. "I think Neji is the only jounin left in the village who is a surveillance specialist, and this mission needs a jounin in overall command. Neji can't afford to stay away from Blossom for too long, according to Gai-sensei, so he can only take missions that are expected to last only one week or less. I don't know why he picked me and not you, however."

Tenten sighed. "Well, I suppose that makes sense. Um, here." She pulled out a bottle of what appeared to be a very expensive sake. "This should be a lot more pleasant tasting than the cheap rotgut you've been using... and it's stronger, too, so you won't need as much of it to pull out your drunken fighting techniques. I'm told it's also less likely to give you ulcers than the stuff you've been drinking."

Lee looked both touched and embarrassed, but took the bottle anyway. "Thank you, Tenten-chan. I... um, I wish...."

Tenten smiled and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "For luck. Now, go -- your team needs you."

She watched him go with a sigh. The stuff she'd been learning in courtesan training had really made her think... and Lee wasn't such a bad guy. She was worried about him, though -- even surveillance missions proved dangerous from time to time. She had been trying to decide if she wanted to take the abbreviated courtesan training or the 'advanced' course, now that she was more aware of what it was really all about. From what she understood, he was supposed to be gone for about a month... which would bring him back just before she needed to make that final decision. Maybe she'd give Lee a welcome home to remember, and use that to decide....


Sakura was having a hard time concentrating. Shino had, of course, protested his innocence, and so Naruto had given him a chance to explain. But Sakura hadn't waited to hear the questioning. When Naruto dragged Shino into Hinata's bedroom, accompanied by Kiba, Sakura had promised Hinata that she would spend every moment she could looking for a solution to her future child's problem. So saying, she went out to research.

The ideal records to go through would have been the Uchiha records. They were the only other Hyuuga hybrid around, and while they were a 'failed experiment,' of sorts, it was often through studying failures that a solution could be found. But no-one knew exactly where the Uchiha records were, and she wasn't about to try searching through the closed-off Uchiha district to find something that hundreds of ninja hadn't been able to find in over a decade. The next best option would have been the Hyuuga family archives, but until the Hyuuga clan situation was settled she would have to deal with the Hyuuga matriarch to access those... which meant they were out of the question entirely.

The only other archive which might have any information regarding the Hyuuga was the Hokage's confidential archives. She had to get Tsunade's signed and sealed permission to enter the room, and now she was down in with the dusty scrolls trying to find anything she could on Hyuuga genetics. It was a harrowing process. Fortunately, there actually were archives related to the Hyuuga there.

In fact, there were archives related to all of the 'original twelve' clans. When the treaty unifying Konoha was signed, each clan had been required to submit a scroll full of techniques, a scroll full of medical data, a scroll full of clan history, and a scroll full of information on the weaknesses of their clan. This information was usually restricted to ANBU on a 'need to know' basis, but some things had slipped into more casual use.

Some of the scrolls she found were notable, despite not being relevant to her current search. Sakura suspected that Daichi, back in Blossom, would have been greatly intrigued at the Aburame contribution -- since their contract with the insects destroyed any ability for them to use their old techniques, the Aburame had given Konoha scrolls containing the complete set of Aburame skills prior to that contract. Since Daichi was trying to redevelop those skills, these scrolls would be of great interest to him. The Akimichi clan had brought the instructions for making soldier pills, blood pills, and many other kinds of food pills to the village, for example, and every ninja used them now. The Haruno clan, much to Sakura's surprise, had developed much of the medical ninjutsu that was now standard for every medical ninja. The Uzumaki clan's style of taijutsu was what was now taught as the standard hand-to-hand combat style at the academy. The Yamanaka clan lay down many interrogation techniques still in use. The Inuzuka clan taught all manner of animal care, not just for dogs but for birds, insects, frogs, monkeys, snakes, slugs, and every other creature Sakura had heard used as 'tools' in the village. The Nara clan's contribution turned out to be a set of genjutsu and genjutsu counters -- many of which she had learned from Kakashi and Anko, later and passing them on to her student, Munamoto Sousou.

When she actually found the Hyuuga contribution, she was very disappointed. The techniques they listed were merely chakra-building exercises, like the classic tree-climbing and water-walking skills she learned as a genin. The medical data was incomplete. The 'weaknesses' were things that were obvious, like 'poison.' The history was obviously little more than a mythical account of their 'creation as the ultimate ninja clan.' Nothing was useful, at all.

But she plowed on, hoping to find more medical information, somewhere. She found bits and pieces, and she was trying to put those bits and pieces together, but she couldn't concentrate. No, she was too angry to concentrate -- angry at Shino for spying on Hinata, angry at the Hyuuga clan for being so secretive and arrogant they were likely to destroy themselves, and angry at herself. After all, she should have known that Hinata might get pregnant -- she should have sent her warnings on to Tsunade when she discovered them, instead of continuing her research endlessly and allowing Hinata to get pregnant without knowing the added dangers hidden in her blood.

She had just stumbled across a large archive of sealed records on the Hyuuga from before Konoha's formal unification (largely compiled by their enemies) when she heard a noise coming from the direction of the doorway. Tsunade had assured Sakura that no-one would be allowed to disturb her while she was researching, and that even she wouldn't come in until Sakura came out. Which meant... this was an unauthorized intruder. But why would an unauthorized intruder by coming into these record halls now?

Unless the Hyuuga matriarch, warned by a spy (possibly Shino, but even if it wasn't him the fact that he managed to infiltrate Hinata's domain meant there was a good chance that others could spy on the young woman as well) that Sakura would be researching Hyuuga medical records, figured that this was the place to come. It was entirely possible that, as secretive as the Hyuuga were, there would be assassins sent after the person who tried to read those records.

With that in mind, Sakura employed the genjutsu she had taught Sousou. In theory, by melting into the shadows, even the Hyuuga couldn't see through the genjutsu... and fortunately, these musty archives were kept in low light to preserve the paper, and so there were plenty of shadows to sink into. She had a kunai at the ready to deflect attack, just in case... and there was a fairly good chance she could defeat most ninja by herself, if it came down to it. Hopefully, it wouldn't.

The figure, who Sakura couldn't see well because of the technique she was employing but nevertheless looked vaguely familiar, turned back to the door. "Are you sure she's in here? I can't see her at all?" a muffled female voice asked. A moment later, after apparently recieving some sort of non-verbal confirmation, the figure stepped further into the room, glancing up and down the aisles. She started up and down, checking everywhere.

Sakura slipped through the shadows as silently and invisibly as she could. If this assassin had a confederate outside of the door, she would have to fight her way through... but if she could take out the one inside without alerting the person outside, that would make the odds much better on her behalf. So thinking, she got as close as she could, then emerged from the shadows.

Leaving a world of silhouettes and shadows, knife at the ready, Sakura almost made a horrible mistake. Fortunately, she stopped herself in time, and the kunai she was throwing was pulled back before it could harm anyone. "Mother!" she cried, startled.

To say that the older Haruno was startled, herself, would be an understatement. She wasn't aware of even half of what her daughter was capable of, she knew, but a genjutsu of that level combined with the surprise that said genjutsu was intended to cause made her jump back, nearly knocking over one of the stacks of scroll-bearing shelves in the process. Recovering her wits, the glanced pointedly at the kunai.

"I know I'm sometimes a bit of a pest, dear, but isn't this going a bit too far?" she asked, humor obvious in her voice.

The kunai almost dropped to the floor in a clatter, but her grasp tightened as a thought occured to Sakura. Making a seal, she said, "Kai!"

The older Haruno raised an eyebrow. "I'm not a genjutsu, daughter. We're in Konoha -- why are you being so paranoid?"

Sakura swallowed. "You aren't supposed to be here. The Hokage said she wasn't giving anyone but me permission to enter these archives. And there's a good chance the Hyuuga clan would be sending an assassin after me if they knew I was here, researching their medical history."

Her mother grinned and nodded proudly. "Glad to see more proof that you inherited the Haruno brains. However, I got in just a few minutes ago, and when I told Hokage-sama why I wanted to see you -- and that I wanted to set out again later tonight -- she let me come in and let you know I was here."

Sakura blinked. "So soon? But... but why?"

"Because your father didn't come with me and I miss him, because I've done everything I need to do already on this trip but talk to you, and because I want to get back to Blossom in time to get ready for the start of the next semester at the Academy. Which means I probably should be on my way back by tonight, preferably, but by morning at the latest." She paused. "Hokage-sama explained that you might not come out of the archives even to sleep, tonight, so I figured I needed to come in after you."

"Okay," Sakura sighed. "I guess I can understand that. Okay, tell me something to prove to me you're my mother, and we'll go out to dinner, and we can talk."

Her mother smiled in amusement. "Well, since I packed all of the things out of your apartment in Blossom to help move you here, I know where you were keeping everything. Including the jars of edible massage oils, body chocolate, and other lubricants and sex toys -- in the locked set of drawers of the office you and Naruto-kun were running your shadow government from, second from the bottom, in a secret drawer."

"Eep," Sakura replied, flushing. "Geez, mom, you... geez. Well, only someone from Blossom could have found that out, so I'm convinced you are who you say you are, but... well, you... but..."

"It's all right, dear," the Haruno woman laughed. "If you think I haven't known for years about you and Naruto-kun's bedroom activities, you're fooling yourself. And I'm happy for you."

Sakura's blush didn't fade, but a slightly proud smile adorned her face. "Naruto makes me happy, mother, and I never thought I was hiding anything from anyone. After all, you'd only need to watch Moegi to know that Naruto and I... well...."

"I understand, dear." Her mother offered her arm. "Now, you said something about dinner?"


"Well," Kiba said reluctantly. "It makes a lot of sense. He has been able to warn us of danger many times in the past, and I can see why he would need his bugs in order to be that 'early warning system.' We knew he was using bugs to help keep us safe, though not how he was using them."

Naruto was studying Shino carefully, looking for any signs of dishonesty. Other than some small effort to hide his nervousness, however, Shino didn't appear to be attmepting any form of deception. That, in itself, was suspicious for a ninja. "I agree, it makes sense. But there are some things that don't."

"Such as?" Shino asked, looking for any wat to redeem himself. Naruto didn't say anything for a moment, then flashed his hand out and swatted a bug on one wall, squashing it flat. Shino flinched, his lips tightening in anger. "What was that for? Did you have to kill one of my bugs to prove yourself, or something?"

Naruto grinned dangerously. "Oh, that was your bug? I was kinda hoping that it wasn't. See, I noticed that bug in this room from the moment we entered... which would mean it was in here before you were, Shino. And, if all your bugs were just here to 'look out for your fellow teammates,' there would be no need to station one here in the bedroom. No, if there was one in the bedroom, it was for... other reasons."

If Shino could have blushed, he would have. "I... well, I wasn't revealing any secrets I learned, here, to anyone else."

Naruto nodded. "I think I believe you on that. I don't think you would intentionally allow Kiba or Hinata to come to harm. If you had been thinking about it, something would have happened to them by now, and nothing has. But please, if you're going to be a freakish pervert about it, at least try getting you jollies honestly -- don't pretend to be all noble about it when you're just trying to peak at your friends having sex."

Hinata, who had been coming in from the doorway, squeeked. "Eep!" she cried, then left in a rush before delivering whatever message it was she wanted to give.

Shino sighed. "It honestly did start out as a simple matter of keeping them safe," he confessed. "The first time I caught them... in the act... it was an accident. But I was fascinated, and couldn't stop myself from watching them again... and again... and again. But I never abandoned my duty keeping them safe in order to indulge these... vices. And I never mentioned anything -- and I mean anything -- to anyone else, whether it was a secret or not."

"Of course not," Naruto agreed. "As I said, I don't think you'd hurt Kiba or Hinata intentionally. I've got a question, though -- are you the only person who can talk to your bugs, or can any Aburame clan member do it?"

Shino stiffened. "I... well, it is possible that some of my lesser drones would be unable to tell me apart from another of my clan. It happens, but it is considered taboo by my clan. Any who would attempt such a thing, for whatever reason, would be ostracized, if not outright killed, for such an action."

Naruto frowned. "Then it looks like I've got to meet with your folks, next...."


Hinata, who had looked so much more mature and confident than she had been before the trip to Blossom every time Sakura had seen her, seemed to be regressing to her old ways when she returned from her bedroom. "I... I'm sorry, S-sakura-kun," she said, blushing brightly and stuttering worse than he had as a genin. "B-but N-naruto-kun and K-kiba-kun are still busy."

Sakura sighed, and shrugged. Who knew why the old Hinata suddenly appeared? It didn't matter to her. "Well, thanks anyway, Hinata-chan." She turned to her mother. "Looks like it's just us."

The older Haruno, holding a bag of take-out food, shrugged. "Just as well. There were a few things I wanted to talk with you about without him around, anyway."

Leaping down the street to her childhood home, Sakura spared an eye to glance at her mother curiously. "And just what do you want to tell me that Naruto shouldn't hear, anyway?"

"Oh, it's not something he shouldn't hear," her mother answered. "Just something you probably don't want to talk about with him around."

They landed at the front door and entered. The house had been fairly well kept, despite the long absence of its residents -- the Hokage had been certain to keep it in good shape, having trusted people come in to clean and maintain the property while the owners were in Blossom. A large number of boxes were in one room, however -- boxes Sakura realized were filled with her and Naruto's things from Blossom.

"Okay, mother, what's going on?" Sakura asked.

"Nothing much, dear," the Haruno woman answered, smiling. "I just figured, since your father and I have decided to stay in Blossom permanently, we would give you the property here in Konoha."

"But--" Sakura protested.

"Hush, dear. We've all grown to know and love Blossom, and your father and I enjoy living there more than we ever did in this stuffy village filled with arrogant Hyuuga, lunatic Uchiha, freaky Aburame, and intrigue and danger around every corner. We may be ninja, but we prefer 'small town ninja' to 'big city ninja,' we've decided."

Sakura sighed. "But I...."

"We'll visit frequently, of course," her mother continued. "Your father is a merchant, and I'm sure many of the things he trades and sells will be coming back to Konoha whenever possible. And, well, I know that Naruto has things he must do here, and you need to be here with him. So, I'm giving you a place to live."

"This is a very expensive house, mother," Sakura protested. "It's too much to accept as a gift."

"Nonsense!" Haruno replied. "After all, it is my job to provide you with a dowry, and this seems like a pretty good one to me." She paused, then reached into one of the boxes. "I know you've been thinking these mean something else, but with the way life has been going for you, lately... don't you think it's time you started wearing these?"

In her hands were the bracers Naruto had given Sakura as an engagement gift. Sakura stared at them for a very long moment. "I'm not ready to retire, yet," Sakura said. "Naruto will need me at his side too much, and there will be a lot going on in this village that will require me to stay unretired for a few years, still."

Her mother grinned. "I know, daughter. But I think... remember, dear, this village isn't Blossom. I think you should be wearing these, just to tell Konoha how proud you are of your fiance. Given the prevelant attitude most people have here about him, don't you agree?"

Sakura studied them for a long moment, before taking them into her hands. "Maybe," she finally said. "I think... maybe now is the time. But I need to talk to Naruto first."

"Of course, dear," her mother laughed. "Of course. Now, let's have dinner, shall we?"

Author's Notes, Historical References (Long, but possibly pertinent to the long-term future of this fic):
The 'Insei system,' mentioned briefly in the first scene, is referring to a form of government Japan once had where the 'retired' Emperor held more power than the Emperor, himself. It got a bit convoluted, at times, however. At one point (and only one, as there was only ever one attempt to use an insei-style shogunate, and it lasted only through part of one of the smaller shogunal lines) there was an Emperor, a 'Junior retired emperor,' a 'senior retired emperor,' a shogun, and a 'retired shogun,' all of whom could claim -- either by law, by custom, or by fact (though in none of the cases by all three) that they were the rulers of Japan. Most Japanese history texts in America -- and possibly in Japan, as well -- gloss over the retired shoguns, as they didn't last long and were rather insignificant in terms of their actions, outside of being one factor instigating the Kemmu Restoration.

I've even had others tell me there was no such thing as a 'retired shogun,' citing laws which would make it impossible. In fact, the laws of the Tokugawa Shogunate made it so that no Shogun could retire, they could only be replaced in death, and most people know of the Shogunate by the Tokugawa system... but prior to the Tokugawa line, there were many other Shogunal systems... including the original Hojo clan (if I ever did an Inu Yasha fanfic, you KNOW this little bit of historical data would find its way in there, somehow), which was wiped out during the Kemmu Restoration (and years later, adding to the confusion, another Shogunal Line would take their name in what is sometimes known as the 'Go-Hojo Shogunate'). It was the Hojo clan which founded the Shogunal Insei system, and it was because of their attempt that the insei system collapsed completely.

The retired Shoguns I was able to find the names for (there may be one or two more, but these were the ones listed in Kodansha publishing's Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (just to give at least one reference, as my little-used history-major's reflexes are begging me to do)) all belong to the original Hojo line: Hojo Tokimasa, Hojo Tokiyoru, Hojo Masamura, Hojo Sadatoki, Hojo Mototoki, and Hojo Takatoki. Only the first (who instituted the system with the Shoguns) and the last (who we'll get to in a moment) are of any importance. It is interesting to note that, had Japan attempted to surrender to an impending Mongol invasion force, there would have been a large question as to whether that surrender would have to come from the Emperor, the Senior Retired Emperor, the Junior Retired Emperor, the Shogun, or the Retired Shogun (Masamura, I believe, although my source doesn't say specifically; the dates line up right for it to be him, though).

The Kemmu Restoration was Emperor Go-Daigo's failed effort to restore power to the Imperial line by employing Takatoki's generals against him and the whole idea of Shoguns or Retired Shoguns. A complex set of betrayals within betrayals lead to the complete destruction of the Hojo clan, the end of the failed 'retired shogun' experiment, the end of the Insei system altogether, the replacement of Emperor Go-Daigo by one of his relatives, a more centralized government that weakened the power of the lesser daimyos, and the rise of the Muromachi Shogunate.

Why does any of this matter? Well... for this fic, it doesn't, but something intended to this fic's sequel (which is looking less and less like it will ever get written, which is why I'm giving this rather huge spoiler away now) is for all the Daimyo, all the Kage, and all the Jounin-Oyabun in the Naruto-verse attending the 'Capital' (I figure there is one -- the leaders of the 'countries' in Naruto are all Daimyo, which in a European feudal system is like a Duke. While Dukedoms do retain autonomy (in lesser or greater amounts, depending on where you are -- In England, a Duchy would be pretty directly ruled by the King. In the Holy Roman Empire, the 'Emperor' was little more than a figurehead whose rule didn't actually extend far past his castle walls, while his Dukes were like Kings of their own countries) they do at least pay lip-service to an Emperor who lives in a Capital). The situation these Daimyo, Kage, etc. enter is one where the situation is essentially identical to that during the Hojo Shogunate, where there were five people attempting to claim that they rule the whole country... while outside forces (Historically, the Mongols; in this fic, well, I haven't decided what to call them yet, but essentially are a 'barbarian' horde) are preparing to invade. Hence the reason for this history lesson...

Next Chapter: Naruto confronts the Aburame. Lee begins his mission. Sakura and Naruto talk. And maybe more -- we'll see what fits. No clue when it'll come out -- might take a year, might take a day. We shall see.