But Not For Me
Four hours after having gotten home and falling asleep, Naruto's alarm shot him upright from his mattress in a stupor. The startle caused him to frantically search his room for the source of the noise before he felt the vibration of his phone next to him and recognized the persistent tone.
With mild frustration at having been frightened awake again, he silenced his phone and threw it aside, rubbing his eyes. Immediately he winced and flung his left hand away. The right hook he was unable to avoid the previous night seemed to have done a lot more damage than he had hoped. Lugging himself out of bed, he limped to the bathroom and stared into the mirror.
His face hadn't swollen, but the grotesque purple shined a clear ring around his left eye. Naruto cursed softly in frustration, prodding it with his finger.
Fuuuuck, she's gonna kill me, he mused.
He continued about his morning morning duties – washing, dressing, and eating – and subsequently grabbed his bag and headed to school.
The trip was painful, to say the least. Last night's events had left him in an unusually bad state, and while he wasn't sure if the leg sweep he blocked with his right shin had actually broken his tibia, it hurt like hell to walk on regardless.
The main cause of concern was the black eye, which was likely to both start rumors among the student population as well as get him an appointment with the Dean for a lengthy disciplinary conversation. Both situations were troubling to the blond, but he didn't have enough confidence in his ability to apply make-up to hide the bruise. However, these were the consequences of letting your guard down in a fight, and thus provided more than enough incentive for Naruto to never make the same mistake again.
All eyes were on him once he stepped through the gates of the school, and hurried whispers dominated the area as he strode through the courtyard, gritting through the pain of putting his weight on his right leg. He made an attempt at tuning out the ludicrous stories being woven all around him, but some still barreled through the static into his ears.
Roughed up by cops after robbing a convenience store? Now there's one I haven't heard before, Naruto thought. Still more believable than 'beaten for making a mistake during a job involving the mafia'. Though, the mob one gets points for creativity.
He cleared the entrance of the main building and navigated the halls towards the music wing. The dull grays and whites passed in blurs while the density of students became less and less as he neared the furthest classroom in the corner of the school's main building. He stopped a door short of the end of the hall and pulled a set of worn keys from his pocket.
The key slid into its slot with a small amount of force, and he twisted hard until the lock gave in and glided away from him, revealing an already illuminated red room covered wall to wall in a scarlet foam paneling. A piano was docked in the far corner, with other musical equipment lining the walls. Amps, guitar stands, and cased instruments leaned into the panels, flattening their jagged surface along the wall.
As the opening door revealed more of the room's interior, he stepped inside cautiously and closed the door behind him. From his unbruised right eye he could see a woman sitting soberly on a futon pushed against the closest wall. Knowing who she was, he kept his left side unturned as he moved his way towards the piano, doing his best impression of a man without a limp and set his bag down next to the seat, leaning his arms on the covered keys.
"I wasn't aware there was another set of keys to this room," Naruto spoke.
"The custodial staff has a master key that fits every lock in the school," she replied curtly.
Naruto nearly groaned. "That's troubling." He lifted the hinged wood that shielded the ivory and clasped it in the open position, gingerly tapping a few keys to a melody he was remembering. Giant steps, he recalled.
"The room is open for all students and staff, Naruto."
He chuckled. "And somehow, I'm the only one who uses it."
"Maybe because you lock the door on your way in and out?" she suggested.
"Well apparently there's a custodial key so they can always use that," Naruto replied, turning his head to the left to get a glimpse of her sitting on the futon. He realized the mistake as he swiftly shot his head downward again, hoping that she hadn't seen what had become of his left eye.
However, she had, and her face contorted into a worried visage as she slowly rose from the felt of the seat and carefully stepped towards him.
"Naruto…" she said quietly.
"Yeah I know I know," he replied. His hands now fumbled on the keys, not quite being able to pick out the melody that he had been playing before. He hoped that if he didn't look at her at all, she would perhaps think that she was hallucinating. That, or if he kept his head down long enough he could maybe come up with a viable excuse as to why a good portion of his face was now a swollen mass of violet rather than its normal pigment.
"Naruto." This call held more authority, and with it she stepped forward with more conviction towards the blonde.
Again, Naruto couldn't think of an excuse, simply repeating the words that he had already spoken. "I know, Kurenai. I know."
Kurenai grabbed a firm hold on Naruto's left shoulder and yanked it backwards, forcing the blonde's body to spin with it. As hard as he had tried to keep his head facing the keys, his body wouldn't allow the owl-like anatomy he wished for, and his face was pulled to meet the eyes of the raven-haired woman. She immediately knew what had happened and Naruto could see in her physicality that she was gearing to berate him.
"Naruto!" Kurenai yelled accusingly.
"I know! It was a mistake! I should have been watching for the hook-" he tried to explain.
"You shouldn't have even been there!" She cut him off. "You told me you would stop going!"
Naruto quickly went to defend himself, falling back on the argument that he had always used in this situation. "How else am I supposed to make money?" he asked. "Jiraiya sends me enough for rent and food but what about all my bills? What about my insurance?"
Kurenai raised her hand to the blonde's eye, lightly prodding the wound until he pulled back with a hiss. She let out a near whine and put a hand over her mouth, continuing to lightly jab at the bruise with her other hand. "What happened to the gigs you've been playing? I thought we had this squared away!"
"Gramps doesn't make enough to pay so I do it for free," Naruto elaborated, "and no serious club will hire me regularly! Nobody wants a kid with face tattoos playing jazz on weeknights!"
"But those tattoos weren't your decision," she said seemingly angry. Not at Naruto himself, but more towards the situation and the lack of understanding on the club's part.
"You think they care?"
"Can't you just get a part time job? I know there are other things you could be doing. What about that ramen place you love so much?"
"I'm not taking advantage of Teuchi's kindness towards me. They don't make nearly enough as they should and I would feel awful asking them for work."
She softened and let her hand fall from his eye to his jaw, cupping it lightly as if to support it and caressing her thumb on the thin black lines adorning his cheek. She then pulled away and turned back towards the door, seemingly in thought. Her head swiveled to show half of her face, despite her eyes still listlessly gazing at the floor.
"Did they even listen to you play on Tuesday?" she inquired.
"Yes! And I played – excuse my French – fucking amazing! Spectacular." He frantically turned back towards the keys, feeling safe from her while massaging the white bars. He positioned his fingers in a pattern familiar to him. "You should hear this one lick I played in Autumn Leaves. The bass player lost his shit laughing halfway through the form and-"
"Then what?" she demanded.
Naruto pulled back away from the keys, once again pressing his arms onto the boards above them and letting his weight fall into its hold.
"They told me I wasn't right for their image."
"Did he mention the tattoos?"
Naruto shook his head lightly and chuckled. "No," he said, "but he was staring at them the entire time."
"Is your gig still on for tonight at least?"
"You know the old man won't turn me down."
The silence fell heavily into the air. Naruto had no words to excuse himself anymore, and Kurenai could not believe the state that he was in. Soon, a shaking alto invaded the quiet space they had created, still seemingly in disbelief as to their current circumstances.
"You know, I told you I'd lend you money if you needed it."
Naruto lowered his head before replying.
"I don't want your money, Kurenai."
She turned around in a fervor and unloaded on the teen, now having lost her rage completely in lieu of a sad desperation to help.
"Then what are you going to do?" she asked. "Are you just going to keep letting yourself get beat up every week for cash? Do you know what that does to your body? Do you know what that does to me?"
She had begun crying, letting what little tears she allowed to fall race their way down her cheeks and plummet from her chin to the ground.
Naruto spun from the piano towards her, planting himself on the onyx bench and put his head in his hands, trying to explain to her as eloquently as possible the facts and his feelings on the matter.
"I'm sorry, but this is the only way I can earn decent money," he explained. "I can't get a job. I can't get access to my parent's accounts because of those corporate fucks. Hell I can't even find my Godfather to ask for more money! I can only do two things: play the piano, and fight; and until I get noticed by some recording company or someone already established in the business – an incredibly small and dying business, may I remind you – I'm stuck! I'm dead in the water with only one way out."
He looked at her with as much sincerity he could possibly fathom. He truly was sorry to put her through this. Naruto knew she cared deeply for him, and it hurt him far more emotionally than he already was physically to see her put in this state, especially since the fault had laid with him.
Still, this was his own choice, and one that he didn't have a right to back down from. He needed her to understand that.
"I'm just worried about you," she admitted. Though, she knew that he was already aware, she wanted him to hear it either way. She needed him to know from her own mouth exactly why she was acting this way.
He rose from his seat and stepped forward to embrace her, gripping her tightly into himself and hoping that she would reciprocate the gesture. Her arms instead remained at her side and he nestled his chin on her head as he spoke.
"I know, Kurenai, and I thank you for that. I can't tell you how wonderful it is that I have someone like you worrying for me and I mean that sincerely."
He separated slightly so they could see each other, with Naruto holding on, hoping that his close proximity would let her know that he was safe and out of harm's way. Kurenai took a minute to gather herself, still processing the conversation.
She was by no means content with the outcome. In fact, behind her tears she was still livid. Naruto's endeavors in the underground had been a point of contention between them since she had found out about it. Kurenai had tried for years to pull him from that life, showing him how much better it could be if he simply focused solely on his art.
It was one of the only things that they had ever argued about in five years of knowing each other, and unfortunately it was the biggest issue as well.
"Are you sure you can't just come live with me until we figure something out or you get a hold of Jiraiya?" she inquired warily.
Naruto jokingly scoffed, rolling his eyes exaggeratedly and then gazing back down at her.
"You and I both know that's a scandal waiting to happen," he said. "I can see the headlines now: 'Gorgeous Teacher Living with Handsome Student – What Goes on Behind Closed Doors. More on page six'."
The joke didn't seem to lighten the mode as he'd hoped, and instead served to only fuel her frustrations even more. Kurenai took one of her hands from her side and hit him on the chest, breaking from his grasp.
"You're being selfish," she all but yelled. "You're selfish and an asshole and you're not even considering how this makes me feel. You have no clue how awful it is to see you hurt all the damn time and it feels like you don't even care! You don't care that I hate it and you don't even seem to care that you're killing yourself. And for the love of god you won't even consider a regular job! What's so wrong with bagging groceries or working at a convenience store as long as it gets you through the day? Why won't you take care of yourself? Why won't you let me care for you?"
The words of her diatribe stung him. Not only because she said them so vehemently, but because deep down, he knew they were true to some degree. It wasn't that he didn't care about her feelings – far from it, in fact. Kurenai was one of the only constants since his early childhood. She was the rock that he could count on whenever he had trouble in his life, which seemed more prevalent than any other normal person's.
It wasn't like he hadn't considered a regular job, either. He'd done his stint in manual labor and menial tasks, but the truth of the matter was that it required a lot of time in exchange for an embarrassing amount of money. He had no desire to work a drive-thru four hours a day for minimum wage when he could make much more in one night and devote more time to music. The cages weren't his first choice by far, but with how Naruto had reasoned it, it was the best one.
Maybe she thinks I enjoy this, he wondered. However, the truth was that there is no joy in fighting. There are no good feelings in injuring another person. It served its purpose to make him enough money to get a good savings and keep up with whatever he needed to pay for, and he'd convinced her that that was all it was. He was simply good at it, he'd reasoned, and if that weren't the case he was sure he would have found some other skill that could serve him just the same.
"Kurenai, I'll be fine. I promise," Naruto assured. "I know you're angry, and you have every right to be. But I wouldn't make half the money washing dishes in a month as I do in two nights in the ring! I don't want myself to hurt as much as I don't want you hurting over me, but…"
"But what?" she demanded.
Naruto sighed. There was nothing he could say that would ease her conscience. There were no compromises that would please them both. Anything he could offer her would be superficial to her unease, but he still wanted to do whatever it took to at least comfort her in the slightest. "There is nothing I can say to help you feel any better. I won't stop, and I'm sorry, but this is what I need to do. If it'll help you relax then I'll pull back on the schedule. Three times a week, tops."
"Three?" she questioned loudly.
"Did I say three? I meant two."
He always thinks he's so damn clever, Kurenai thought, trying to use witless word games to make me laugh and blow off the situation.
In her tenure as his – whatever the hell we are, she speculated – the blonde had a habit of trying to denounce serious situations with shoddy attempts at humor. She'd admit that it was cute at first, but that was back when he was a five-foot-tall child. His strategy had lost its effect on her the more into adulthood he grew and the closer they became. She could see now that it was a poor attempt at hiding behind a façade of uncaring.
"You meant one at the most and I'm coming to make sure you don't get seriously hurt," she demanded.
Naruto narrowed his eyes at her.
"I don't know if that's the safest place for you to be. I wouldn't feel comfortable with you being there. Something bad could happen," he explained.
However, through all of the glowing traits Naruto could list about his teacher, the one thing that he could never truly come to terms with was her heavy-handed stubbornness. She always argued back and stood her ground, and he had no reason to suspect she would change her personality as quickly as he wished she would.
"And something bad will happen to you if I'm not there to check you over after your fights," she continued.
"Check me over? The scandal is starting sooner than I thought," Naruto quipped.
Kurenai pulled away from him, wiping whatever tears of anger and anguish remained on her face and walked to grab her bag from the futon.
"I have to go to my homeroom. You have Study Hall first, right?" she asked.
Naruto trudged to where she stood a moment ago and fell prone onto the sofa.
"I'll be here if you need me," he responded lazily.
Kurenai opened the door before quickly shutting it again to give some final private words to her student.
"Oh, by the way, Naruto," she began, "If anything happens to your hands and you can't play music, I'll pound you myself."
The door opened again as she stepped confidently from the room.
"That's hot," came the blonde's retort as the door quickly shut.
Once the door had been fully closed, Naruto shot his torso upwards and clutched his right shin in seeming agony. He was sure that if there had been a mirror in the room he would have found the position he was in comical, especially considering how it followed such a lengthy speech to Kurenai about how he was alright.
Still, he had to let her know that she shouldn't be worried about his lifestyle choices, and he couldn't very well prove that to her while walking crooked. In his own thoughts, he never knew that trying to hide a limp could 'hurt so god damn everywhere.'
Once the pain had subsided, he felt that music matching his mood might help the time fly and take his mind from the throbbing in his leg. He laid back down and reached his arm over the side of the futon, blindly brushing the carpet until he felt the familiar rubber of an audio cord.
His other hand slid his phone from his pocket and the cord found its way into the jack at the device's bottom. Naruto's thumb moved fast along the phone's glass as he searched the archive of albums for anything melancholy enough to suggest that perhaps someone felt as shitty as he did at the moment.
Dancing in the Dark, huh? Naruto thought. He tapped lightly on the track and let the phone fall with a thump onto his chest. Tell me how ya feel, Cannonball.
As if responding to his thoughts, the seducing moan of a saxophone surged from the speakers mounted on the walls. The haunting wails were quickly joined by the soft rumble of brushes on a snare and the gentle intrusion of chords from a piano, all pulled tightly together within the leisurely flow that the bassist provided.
Naruto closed his eyes, ready to lose himself in the song. However, an unfamiliar noise interfered with the rhythm, denying him the peace that he soon would have found himself in. His eyes rose with his head, and the boy saw that the door had been opened. From behind it walked a girl he had seen a few times around campus – tall, brunette, and a star on the track team if he remembered correctly. It was a shame he had completely forgotten her name.
She seemed to visually explore the room before her eyes finally settled on the blonde. It was clear that she knew who he was – everybody knew who he was, for better or for worse. It was also very clear that she wasn't expecting him to be in that room, as shown by the surprise evident on her face when they made eye contact.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I thought this was the room for the Jazz Appreciation Club," the girl remarked.
Naruto began the long trek of returning his body to a sitting posture, pushing himself upwards and swinging his legs back onto the ground.
"No, you got it right," Naruto replied, once again finding himself in an upright position. "This is that room. I am jazz. Appreciate me."
The girl cocked an eyebrow at the strange remark.
Naruto waved her off. "I'm sorry, that sounded funnier in my head," he stated, motioning for her to take a seat on the piano bench. "What can I do for you?"
The girl obliged his offer, placing her bag near his and taking a seat.
"Well, I was hoping to ask about joining, but I would like to get a bit more information first," she said.
Naruto was surprised by this, given the lack of enthusiasm much of his classmates had shown in his hobby of choice. Still, finding somebody with a potential similar passion as himself caused giddiness to swell in his stomach.
"Interested in jazz?" he quizzed.
"Actually my dad just gave me some of my grandpa's old vinyl and I took a listen," the girl explained. "It was a pretty good sound and I'd heard our school had a club for it so I thought I'd come check it out."
The excitement that Naruto was feeling lowered in intensity at the remark. It was a similar story that he had heard from quite a few other students investigating the club. I listened to some of my family's records or I heard it on the radio by accident and it sounded interesting. In the end, all of those commentaries had actually made way for a single motive that every student in the club actually held.
"You sure it isn't to make you look cultured on college applications?"
The brunette gave a wry smile at his question. "How dare you figure out my motives," she answered playfully.
Naruto chuckled. At least she's honest.
Still, he had dealt with many of these types before, and they usually only sought out his group for a particular reason.
"If you want I can just sign you onto the roster. You can just say you're in the club and I'll vouch for you," Naruto offered.
It was what many students had tried before. Spew some nonsense about being interested in the club, ask him to mark them down on the roster, and then make excuse after excuse as to why they couldn't come to any of the meetings.
It had honestly hurt him the first few times it happened. He had fought tooth and nail with the administration to get this club up and running, and it was especially hard since he was the only original member. However, with each new constituent leaving the same attendance at club sessions, the depression turned more into annoyance, and then into apathy. Now he had more members than he could have ever realistically hoped for, but the room was still always empty save for him. It seemed all too bittersweet.
Still, guess it's not my fault this school hasn't allocated much for the arts, he thought. It was a nice rationalization that he liked to tell himself even though the funds for the arts programs most likely had very little to do with the population of his club room after school.
The girl's voice brought him from his musings.
"Well, that would be nice, but I don't think it'd feel right. I like being able to say I'm actually involved in the extracurriculars I sign up for."
The excitement came back. Finally somebody was willing to give him a chance. He had convinced himself that if some of the students had just given him the opportunity to explain why he found jazz so interesting, maybe they could take some of that passion with them. Maybe they could become as invested as he was. Maybe he could finally have someone to talk to on equal grounds about the one subject he loved more than anything in the world.
Naruto felt that he was getting ahead of himself, and instead decided to open the dialogue that the girl wanted.
"Alright, you've piqued my interest. Anything specific you wanna know?" he asked.
"What is the club actually for? What do you guys do?"
That was truly the mystery of the school. Not many people thought to simply transfer the name of the club into the actions that the group partook in. They always seemed to think that there was some hidden subtext or fine print hidden in joining, which is why even most of the members stayed away from the club's activities.
However, contrary to popular rumors, there were no mandatory concerts or transcription homework. There was no one that seemed to think that maybe – just maybe – the club did exactly what the name suggested; that maybe it was just that simple.
"It's exactly what it sounds like," Naruto started. "We appreciate jazz as an artform. We'll listen to records and listen to how artists play. Occasionally we'll jam on our own, too, and play a few standards."
"How many people are in the club?" she asked.
Naruto had no problem answering.
"Including me, 15."
The girl then paused, smiled, and asked a devious follow-up.
"And how many people took your offer to sign up and never come?"
Naruto paused, not having expected that question. Still, as much as he did not want to answer truthfully, he assumed that if she ever did join, she would find out the truth eventually.
"14," he hesitantly spoke.
"So when you said we…" the girl led on.
"I meant me. I'm the only regular member," he elaborated dryly.
The question felt embarrassing for the blonde to answer – almost excruciatingly so. There was no silver lining to having your passion essentially mocked and belittled by your peers. He hadn't personally heard any derogatory claims made against the club, but the blatant show of disrespect from the active members still left a wound in Naruto's heart.
Yet, the girl didn't seem to desire making an antagonistic retort or any sort of joke that he would have found in poor taste. Instead, she dropped her teasing attitude and followed with the same curiosity as she had already expressed.
"So what do you actually do while you're here, then?"
"Mainly listen to music or practice." Naruto motioned towards the piano.
She seemed a bit surprised. "You play the piano?"
"I dabble in a few others, but piano is my main instrument, yes."
She nodded thoughtfully with a hint of surprise on her face. Obviously she hadn't even expected the boy to be in the room, let alone leading a club that appreciates a decaying artform.
As much as he hated to admit it – because he often found the notion to be incredibly self-centered and ridiculous – gossip had power. Whispers and hoaxes about his personal life were mostly enough to garnish Naruto with a reputation as a common thug, especially in a place full of teenagers who had nothing better to do but talk to and about each other. It was probably quite a thing to hear that the school's rumored gang member could do something as cultured as play the piano.
Again, however, the girl didn't go deeper, seeming content in her own pondering of the implications. What she was thinking, Naruto would never know, but he didn't want to draw his own conclusions. He knew from firsthand experience how dangerous of a game that could be.
"And how do you think I could benefit from joining your club?" she queried.
Naruto snorted. "You'd seem more cultured on college applications," he remarked.
The girl rolled her eyes at him. "Seriously, Naruto."
"And somehow I still don't know your name," he remarked playfully.
"It's Tenten, no last name."
"And how do you spell 'no last name' so I can put you on the roster?" Naruto responded, enjoying teasing her slightly more than he probably should. He had never had a rookie to haze like he heard many of the sports teams did, so even as tame as his badgering could be, it made him feel a little more like a legitimate senior member of an organization.
"Do you think this could be a good experience for me?" she said, expanding on the question she previously asked.
"Well, if anything I'd give you a room to listen to music and do homework in after school every day."
"And what if I want to actually learn about jazz?"
"Don't say things that will make me accidentally fall for you." Naruto said, smiling.
"Don't be so easy to lead on," the girl fired back, giving another grin.
"Then I'd teach you what I know, give you tracks to listen to on your time off and ask what you think about them. It's a dynamic artform and it can make you feel sad like your dog just died or happy like you just won the lottery – all with no words. You just have to learn how to listen."
"And would you happen to be having these lessons on how to listen after school today, as well?"
Naruto shook his head. "Not today. I have a gig across town and I have to leave straight from school if I want to make it in time for the sound check."
"Then how about I learn to listen by listening to you?" Tenten asked merrily.
Naruto doubled down on his previous joke, spouting, "Tenten you're making my heart flutter."
The girl giggled, enjoying the banter between the two. The more she talked to the blonde the easier she felt to be in his presence. He was nothing like what the others at the school had claimed – which she had already guessed, given she was never one to fall into believing rumors without any factual backing.
He was charismatic – far more than the grizzly stonewall that most of her friends portrayed him as. He could keep a good conversation going, he had no trouble smiling, and he was overall pleasant to be around. A far cry from the tales that had been spread over their tenure at the school.
Additionally, he was certainly an interesting person to speak with. From the general tone of the conversation, she could gauge that he was good company at the least. His responses were quick and often humorous without crossing the border to gaudy. It made her feel that she was speaking to someone with real wit. He responded naturally, and even though the conversation felt fast paced, it all the same felt calming and unwinding.
In fact, she felt relaxed enough with the boy to ask another dicey question.
"Where's the gig?"
"This rundown jazz bar across town called 'The Leaf'."
"Don't think I've ever heard of it," she answered.
"That's because it was probably where your grandpa went to see live music when he was our age."
They both laughed at what Naruto guessed Tenten had thought was a hyperbole.
"If it's a bar, will I even be allowed in?" she asked for clarification.
"I'm friends with the owner, he'll let you in."
"Wow, friends with the owner of a bar. Would you perhaps actually be as dangerous as the other students think you are," the brunette poked.
"I heard they think I'm in the mob now."
"Of course. Wanna see my yakuza tattoos?"
"I would have thought you an Italian mobster kinda guy."
"Nah, I didn't like The Godfather."
The jest was enough to make the girl exhale with a smile.
"Can I ask about the black eye and limp, then?" she goaded. "Maybe I can help set the record straight for you."
"I ran into a door," Naruto instinctively lied.
"And that gave you a black eye and broken leg?" she asked, completely unconvinced of the explanation that he had given her.
"It was a really sturdy door."
Tenten could almost laugh at how ridiculous the story was. She knew he was lying – any sane adult would realize that fact. One doesn't get a fist shaped bruise on your eye by slamming your head into a piece of wood.
Of course the girl realized that it wasn't genuinely any of her business as to the justification for why Naruto's face was a fifth byzantium purple, but she was sucker for the truth, and especially when somebody was going as far as possible to hide that truth.
"You're not making this easy on me, huh?" she asked.
Naruto sighed. No, you're not making this easy on me.
He thought he was making it pretty obvious that he didn't want to partake in any interrogations regarding his injuries. Why Tenten – a girl he had met for the first time about five minutes ago – was so interested in his personal life he didn't know.
Maybe to see if the rumors are true? he thought. Maybe she just wants a good story about a fight. Regardless, she's too nosy for her own good.
Luckily for himself, Naruto was a greatliar when the situation really required it. It was just that the situation normally never did. Nobody usually pressured him this much after the door excuse, generally understanding that whatever had happened was his own business and that he had no interest in them prying into his personal life.
Tenten did not seem to pick up on those social cues. That, or she just had no regard for respecting them.
"I go to a martial arts gym. The guys there are pretty hardcore and sparring can get out of hand sometimes."
The glory of it all was that it wasn't a total lie, either. He did do martial arts with some other guys and it very often got out of control. However, when a large sum of betting money was on the line, it was hard to keep cage fighters in control in the first place.
She seemed to believe his words, though, giving a slight look of interest at the alibi.
"Do you maybe have a ride I could catch for your gig tonight?"
The sudden question made Naruto smirk.
Tenten had never been to this part of town, if for no other reason than she had never felt it was necessary. Clinging to Naruto's back as they sped through the gridded streets on his bike, she could see that as they got further from her home, the infrastructure had started to become more and more dilapidated. Windows were broken, homes were abandoned, and many of the residents looked – for lack of a better term – sketchy. It almost made her wonder how the fabled jazz club Naruto played at could realistically survive in such a neighborhood, before she remembered the explanation he had given her before they had set off.
"The Leaf is in, what many would call, a bad part of town,"he had explained. "It didn't used to be that way, though. Quite a few decades ago the place was a thriving community of underprivileged families making lives for themselves. They worked hard jobs for little pay and found their comforts at the bottom of bottles at the club. It wasn't really even well known until a jazz legend stopped by and played one night, having had family who lived in the area. After he played there every cat in the city wanted to stand on the same stage as him and the bar became really popular.
"A few decades passed, though, and with new residential areas and major construction being done in the center and west sides of the city, the families here were eventually forgotten, having to move out once the neighborhood got too bad. The Leaf is one of the only standing remnants of that era of time, having been dragged into the modern day because of its legacy. Though, it seems to be on its last legs.
"Quite a few people still come, even though I often under-exaggerate the numbers. The city's big, and that means that there are a lot of people who are willing to come over to this part of town to listen to live music with a drink. It's not enough to save the place from sinking into financial ruin, but it'll probably survive until the old man running it either retires or dies and takes it with him."
The story interested Tenten, and she pondered over the knowledge as Naruto pulled them into a parking spot around the side of a large brick building settled into the corner of a dulled road. They both hopped off the bike, Naruto grabbing the keys from the ignition and telling Tenten to give him her helmet so he could store it backstage.
"Aren't you worried about someone stealing your bike," Tenten asked as they walked around the side of the building towards the front. "I feel like it's easier to steal a bike than a car and I don't know how much I trust this part of town, no offense."
"None taken," Naruto answered. "But don't worry, everyone in the area knows that's my bike and they also know better than to fuck with it."
The assurance perplexed the bun-haired girl. Naruto spoke with a confusing amount of guarantee, leading to the conclusion that he was not only well known in this less-than-stellar area of the city, but also either respected or feared enough that his reputation deterred potential thieves. She put the thought in her back pocket as another mystery about the boy that she would need to solve.
The outside of the bar left much to the imagination of what could be inside, Tenten concluded. There was a simple, thick green door surrounded by brick and two small windows. Above it was a sun-bleached sign indicating the name of the pub, already illuminated by two yellowed bulbs despite there still being plenty of natural light outside.
Naruto pushed the door open confidently and Tenten followed, entering a dimly lit interior. The floor was all wood – as seemed to be everything else in the room: wooden tables, wooden padded booths, wooden stools. The only things that didn't seem to be wooden were the walls, which were simply the same patterns and shade of brick she saw on the outside. If they were going for a rustic vibe, they surely achieved it, the girl thought.
The area was longer than it was wide by a good margin, with only a single row of round tables surrounded by chairs able to fit comfortably between the barstools and the booths lining the walls. The bar stood at the left, surrounded by seats and sitting a few feet away from large shelves balancing many different brands of liquor. At the end of the room opposite the entrance was a slightly elevated rectangular stage lit in a mellow blue that shone off the varnish of the grand piano and the cymbals of a drum kit. Accompanying those instruments were a multitude of microphones and what looked to be worn amplifiers.
"Naruto, my boy! How've you been," rasped a voice from behind the bar.
Tenten turned to the source and gazed at a man, probably the same age as her grandfather or perhaps even older. His skin was darkened by a heavy tan and quite a few darker freckles and moles bedecked his sagging cheeks. The hair on his head and chin was greyed and unkempt, giving him the aura of a disheveled but lovable grandpa.
"Good Hiruzen, and yourself?" Naruto returned, slightly limping – Tenten noticed – towards the senior from the door and beckoning Tenten to follow.
"Eager to hear you play again. And who's this young woman?"
The brunette took her turn to speak after reaching the glossed countertop and taking a seat on one of the elevated stools. "I'm Tenten. I asked Naruto if I could come and watch him play tonight. It's very nice to meet you."
"And you as well," Hiruzen nodded with a smile. He turned back to Naruto. "Is your guardian coming tonight as well?"
Naruto shrugged. "We got in a fight earlier today and she's most definitely still upset about it, so it's up in the air."
Hiruzen laughed in mocking disbelief. "Starting your marital troubles a bit early, aren't you, my boy?"
The blond gave an annoyed look. "Don't give Tenten any wrong ideas."
The older man merely put his hands up sarcastically, feigning surrender.
The three made a bit of small talk, with Tenten grilling him about the club and Hiruzen happy to have someone so interested in his life's work. Naruto pitched in a few words here and there before checking the time on his phone and looking over to his classmate.
"I'm gonna go meet with the other band members and get the mic check started before opening. Stay with Hiruzen. I'll be back when I'm done."
Tenten noticed that as more patrons entered the bar, the ambience became far more comfortable. The bodies filling the seats gradually grew more numerous but never gave an overcrowded feeling, making her feel warm. Even with a majority of the tables claimed by different groups – whether their occasion being social drinking and a show or suffocating their heartaches in alcohol – the company was pleasant.
Most of the other guest's conversations had been drowned out as Tenten continued to humor Hiruzen with superficial conversation. He was a lively man for having such a frail body, and his wit had made her chuckle at nearly everything he had said.
Soon, though, he had to leave her on her own to entertain those that had taken residence beside her at the bar, and she watched him chortle animatedly as he joked with and poured drinks for his customers, more than once getting a grin or howl from them as well, whether it be at his humor or the booze.
She turned her head back towards the doorway that Naruto disappeared through some twenty minutes ago but was only met with the same black curtains painted with a dim blue light.
Sighing, she pulled out her phone, planning to text him to ask if he would be any longer and when the show would begin. She hadn't even been able to pull up her messaging app when a threateningly recognizable voice called from over her shoulder
"May I ask what you're doing in a bar on a Friday, Ms. Tenten."
The teen whirled around to meet with the ruby eyes of her Literature teacher. Tenten's own eyes widened as if an animal caught on a highway, taking in not only the inane shock that the twenty-something Kurenai Yuhi had come to a bar on a weekend, but also the pure coincidence that it had been one so far from the school that she'd thought nobody she knew would ever catch her here.
The brunette fumbled over her words, trying to force out her explanation so as to not sound like a blatant lie. "Ms. Yuhi! I came because a friend of mine invited me to watch the show."
Kurenai narrowed her eyes at the girl, obviously not believing such a simple story.
Seeming to have sensed the distress coming from the two women and eager to diffuse the situation, Hiruzen paced himself back across from Tenten, leaning his elbows on the bar.
"Relax, Kurenai," he rasped, gaining the attention of the teacher. "She came with your blonde friend and has been nothing but polite and respectful. She hasn't done anything inappropriate."
Pleased with his role, Hiruzen strode from the two and made his way to start cleaning glasses.
Tenten's initial shock seemed to melt as Hiruzen offered his help, and the surprise relocated to Kurenai, who seemed confused at the words that Hiruzen had spoken.
"You came with Naruto?" she queried.
"Um, yes. Are you angry?" Tenten asked shakily.
Kurenai turned her eyes away towards the stage, responding, "No, I'm simply shocked that he has finally found a friend his age."
The woman looked back at her student. "If you don't mind me asking, why did he invite you?"
"I asked him about joining the Jazz Appreciation Club at school and he said he had a show tonight, so I wondered if I could come listen and get a better feel of what live jazz sounds like," Tenten replied.
"And you blindly followed him into a bar?" Kurenai inquired interestedly.
"Should I not have?" Tenten asked.
Kurenai finally took her seat next to her student, setting her purse beside her stool and shrugging her jacket off onto the chair's back. "Not at all," she answered, shaking her head. "I was under the impression that the student body didn't have a favorable opinion of Naruto."
"I don't really believe rumors about people until I meet them. So far he hasn't done anything to prove those rumors true," the teen admitted proudly.
Kurenai took on a pleased look. "Good. Thank you for giving him a chance. Most people wouldn't have. He has a hard time with others being prejudicial against him."
"Because of the face tattoos?"
"Because of the face tattoos, yes."
"They don't really do much for his reputation."
"I realize that," Kurenai acknowledged.
At that moment, Tenten noticed from the corner of her eye that Naruto had made his reappearance, emerging from the doorway that he had disappeared into earlier and sliding confidently – almost comfortably – behind the bar and beside Hiruzen, grabbing a glass and motioning to their teacher.
"Kurenai, what would you like?" he requested.
Kurenai gave a disappointing stare at the blond. "Shouldn't Hiruzen be pouring the drinks?" she asked accusingly.
Naruto waved his hand animatedly in the air, attempting to brush off her worries or accusations – whichever of the two it was.
"Let the old man rest for a bit," he reasoned. "Running this place is hard on him and I don't think any of the other bartenders could work tonight so he's manning it himself."
Kurenai huffed once and looked away, still obviously disapproving of his partaking in and general competency at bartending.
"Fine," she conceded. "Anko's coming in a bit so give me an old fashioned and have a few shots of vodka waiting for her."
Naruto looked slightly taken aback at the order. "And can I ask why Anko is coming to a jazz bar on a Friday. I thought she would be clubbing."
"She and her boyfriend broke up and she just wants sad music and cheap booze," Kurenai explained, citing it as if it was a common occurrence. "No offense to your alcohol variety, Hiruzen," she added as an afterthought.
The old man, passing behind Naruto to reach for a glass, let out a hefty snicker at her comment, brushing it aside. "None taken, it's the only way I can afford it."
Tenten, looking as though she was having a slight epiphany as to who they were referring to, shoved herself back into the conversation. "Are you guys talking about Ms. Mitarashi? Our gym teacher? The 'Sexy Single Anko Mitarashi'?" she asked carefully, shaking her hands theatrically when announcing the absent woman's self-appointed nickname.
Kurenai couldn't help a wave of secondhand embarrassment running through her, covering her face in her hands and muttering, "Oh god."
"I still can't believe they let her get away with that introduction every year," Naruto added, looking up at the ceiling and chuckling.
Desperate to change the subject from her best friend's less than stellar behaviorat work, Kurenai did just that. She dropped her hands from her face and took the glass that Naruto was handing her, bringing it to her lips and taking a generous gulp of the nearly opaque spirit.
"What time are you going on?" she asked the air after swallowing, indirectly addressing her temporary bartender.
"Probably in about fifteen minutes once there're a few more stragglers."
"Does this place usually get crowded?" Tenten asked, looking around at the assortment of patrons already in the bar, exceeding the meager attendance that Naruto underscored previously, though not by much.
The blond shrugged. "Depends on the night. At the least a crowd of 20. At the most 50. Just don't expect anyone under the age of 35 to be here."
"I resent that," came a call from Kurenai who brought her drink up for another mouthful, cleaning the liquid contents and placing it on the bar, motioning for another to be made.
Naruto took the glass and started making the drink again, replying to her while working. "Sorry. Sorry. You and Anko will be the exceptions."
Naruto placed the cocktail back in front of the teacher and, hearing a call for a bartender from the opposite side where Hiruzen was working, bid the two women a quick farewell to attend to the other customer.
In his absence, Tenten tried to open the dialogue with her teacher, favoring potentially awkward conversation over a guaranteed awkward silence. She'd already been caught red handed in a bar on a Friday night, so she concluded that she may as well try to own the situation and go on the offensive – whatever offensive there needed to be.
She turned to Kurenai, innocently asking, "Do you watch Naruto play often, Ms. Yuhi?"
Kurenai, already through another good portion of her drink and having recently calmed her inhibitions about drinking in front of a student – due to both her now impaired sobriety and a mindset of 'I'm still in my twenties, I can do what I want' – set the glass down not-so-gently on the counter after swallowing the spirit.
"If I can, yes," the raven-haired woman replied nonchalantly. "For all the flak he gets at school, the kid is one hell of a piano player."
"Is he really that good?" Tenten asked. It wasn't that she couldn't believe he was a well-versed pianist. Hell, anybody with enough time and motivation could play Beethoven if they tried. However, the magnitude of Naruto's skill was still quite unknown to her, yet both Hiruzen and Kurenai had been speaking about his finesse as if he were some virtuoso. So, it wasn't that it was hard to imagine the tattooed boy was experienced in the instrument but going to school with some jazz prodigy was a difficult thing to both accept and comprehend.
Kurenai, however, blew Tenten's expectations out of the water.
"Yeah," the older woman replied. "A lot of us are just waiting for the day he gets noticed and goes pro."
The sentence was said with such ease and casualness that Tenten was almost at a loss for words. Naruto the skilled pianist – not her first thought, but incredibly believable, nonetheless. Naruto the jazz prodigy? More unlikely, but not entirely improbable. Naruto being so good that people are simply waiting until the day he becomes famous? It seemed so foreign a concept that the poor bun-headed girl was awestruck at even the possibility.
However, Kurenai hadn't laid a hint of unease or even hope at Naruto going pro. She said it as if there wasn't a single doubt in her mind that it would happen. As if it was only a matter of time.
"I can't believe nobody from school has heard about this," Tenten said, almost to herself.
"I can," rose a new voice from behind her, and beside Kurenai, Anko Mitarashi slithered her way into a chair.
She was dressed unorthodoxly, given the setting. She pulled her brown coat off ungracefully and hung it crudely on the back of her chair, revealing a tight, short black dress that Tenten assumed had been intended for the clubbing with her boyfriend that Naruto mentioned, only to be repurposed for a lonely night of drinking. Her legs were hugged by fishnet stockings, and she unceremoniously peeled her black heels off with her feet, letting them fall messily to the floor. Her purple hair – Probably dyed, Tenten thought – was pulled into a ponytail that left itself splaying out, looking untamed.
"Ms. Mitarashi," Tenten acknowledged. Yes, she had heard earlier from Naruto that Anko would make an appearance, but reality was more sobering than words, and the realization once again struck her that she was sitting in a club on a Friday night, watching two of her teachers drink and waiting for the school pariah to play jazz music.
Anko, however, unintentionally attempted to dull her student's unnerved feeling.
"Kid, just call me Anko when outside of school. All this 'Ms.' and 'Mrs.' shit makes me feel old, and I'm not. I'm young. And sexy. These for me?" the purple-haired teacher finally asked, pointing happily to the five shot glasses that had reserved her seat at the bar.
"Only if you take back the young part," rose Naruto's voice as he returned to their unofficial post, leaning his elbows onto the flat wood casually.
Anko winked suggestively at the boy. "Aw, you think I'm sexy?" she asked, pressing a shot to her bottom lip in some attempt to get a rise from him. She then drained the contents easily, bringing the glass bottoms up with a simple flick of her head and wrist and placing it down next to the other three.
"Anko, none of those jokes while Tenten is here, please," Kurenai begged, placing her hand on her best-friend's arm.
Anko leaned forward and took the sight of Tenten in again, but whether she was indifferent to Tenten's presence at the bar or simply didn't care enough to inquire about it, the bunhead would never know. The woman simply shrugged with apathy and gave her student a warning.
"If you tell anyone what I say or do here you fail PE, understand?"
"Roger," Tenten responded curtly with a mock salute.
With that obstacle out of the way, the PE instructor, not even batting an eye at getting drunk in front of a student, snagged another shot of vodka and downed it just as quickly as the first, seeming furiously intent on getting as drunk as she could as fast as possible.
After the third shot – to which Tenten and Kurenai held impressions of admiration and disgust respectively at how quickly and easily she consumed the liquor – Anko slammed the glass on the bar uncaringly, placing her elbows on the counter and resting her head in her hands. She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths before addressing the blond behind the counter.
"Hey Naruto, start it off with a sad one. Let me wallow in pity for a bit, alright?"
"Anko, we already made the setlist," Naruto replied, his tone bordering annoyed.
Anko, not one to care for such a logical argument, whether due to who she was as a person or her rapidly approaching inebriation, fired back with what Naruto assumed was the only real concept she knew was involved in jazz music. Thus she rattled off a mixture of slurred and mumbled words not easily decipherable.
"Is jazz, you dope. Just impov- improse- import-"
"Improvise?" Kurenai cut in.
Anko turned her head to her colleague with a sultry smile, her temple still resting on her closed hands.
"Kurenai did I ever tell you how sexy it is when you correct me?" she asked.
Naruto, recognizing that Kurenai was probably at some sort of loss regarding how to make Anko refrain from any sort of sexual or flirtatious comments in front of Tenten, decided that it probably wouldn't hurt too badly if they changed the set list last minute. It wasn't as if they were playing arranged music, and he knew that the cats backstage probably knew almost every standard forwards and backwards. With a sigh and an unnoticed roll of the eyes, he relented.
"I'll be sure to give you the appropriate amount of time to mourn your failing love life," he offered.
Anko, however, having always been a greedy drunk alongside being a known lightweight and just having finished her fourth shot going into five, looked Naruto in the eyes and demanded with a shout, "Five songs!"
Naruto shot her down quickly, "Four and you owe me," he bartered.
"Play the one about the moon!" Anko demanded eagerly. Naruto surmised that she had most likely already cleaned her mind of the argument about how many songs would be dedicated to her and immediately went in for the kill, requesting whatever would soothe her aching heart.
Of course, Naruto, being incredibly well versed in his jazz repertoire – and also being one to never miss a chance to mentally mess with a drunken Anko – retorted, "Congrats, I've narrowed it down to eight songs about the moon. Which one do you want?"
"All of them!" Anko immediately answered,
"You get four songs. I'm only letting two of them be about the moon."
"Deal," Anko retorted quickly, raising her final shot upwards in a cheers motion and redirecting it towards her mouth.
Naruto threw the towel that was slung over his shoulder underneath the bar and made ready to walk back towards the door that he had disappeared into previously. "Alright, well I'm gonna go get up there and tell them that we're changing the set list," he said. Turning back to look at the women, he smiled. "We'll start in five. Enjoy the show ladies."
The set had gone well so far, in Naruto's opinion. They had started, as per Anko's request, with Fly me to the Moon. It was an oldie – and, in his professional opinion, incredibly overplayed – but still a fun tune to begin the night with.
The song had ended with rousing applause, and while the room was still deafened by the noise, he turned to look for Kurenai, Tenten, and Anko.
Kurenai was smiling sweetly at him, as she usually did when he would find her face among the crowd. It was always a favorite moment of his – to finish a song, turn to the bar, and see Kurenai there, clapping along with the rest of the room, and smiling with such pride that he could swear he felt it.
Tenten looked star struck, giggling a bit at what he assumed was the absurdity of hearing him sing and play for the first time. Of course, his voice wasn't some new tier Sinatra or Sammy Davis, but he could hold a pitch fairly well and he found singing with a soft voice like Chet Baker could give him a sweet tone fit for most laid back songs, so the fact that he had any singing ability at all most likely added to her shock factor.
Anko, as per her character, had already turned back to the bar and was ordering another cocktail from Hiruzen while still having a near full one in her hands.
While the cheering was dying from the room, Naruto stood from his piano bench and commandeered one of the microphones at the front of the stage, adjusting its height and addressing the crowd with an open smile.
"How are we doing tonight, guys?"
Another round of claps and shouts arose before dying quickly. He could hear some calls of 'Good to see ya kid!' and 'Great song!' between the cheers.
One of the things that Naruto truly loved about The Leaf was its aura of familiarity. It was such a small, unknown bar where most every patron was a regular. After a few years of playing here, he had grown to know almost every face that came in on the weekends and had cultured a feeling of intimacy with everyone there.
He wasn't just some performer on the stage to them. He was Naruto. He was the kid who came on the weekends to play incredibly jazz while they drank and talked. He knew the crowd and the crowd knew him, and when he spoke on the mic he could address them as friends rather than as a faceless mass.
Smiling at the warmth he felt, Naruto decided to try for a good laugh in his next song introduction.
"This next song is dedicated to my lovely friend Anko," he spoke, looking to the woman at the bar. "May you find your prince charming soon because if you don't I fear I'll be stuck with you forever."
Over the burst of laughter in the club, he could hear Anko's call of, "Hey fuck you!", which elicited an even larger uproar.
Naruto sauntered back to the piano and seated himself on the bench, placing his fingers on the keys and cueing in the band for the next piece.
"How was it?" Naruto asked after emerging from backstage, quickly making himself comfortable behind the bar once again to help Hiruzen pour more drinks.
"Fantastic as always, Naruto," Kurenai said with a warm smile. "You never cease to amaze me."
Naruto couldn't reply before Anko's heart wrenched voice sounded from beside the raven-haired beauty, drawing his attention to the woman's tear stained face
"Fuck you for making me cry," the gym teacher whimpered.
"Pick better men," Naruto responded curtly. "That guy was a piece of shit and you knew it. You can do a hell of a lot better."
"I know," she blubbered back, crossing her arms on the table and letting her head fall into the crook of her elbow to hide her tears.
All the while, Tenten had been sitting on the stool, dazed at the experience that she had just undergone. Once the conversation had cleared, she wasted no time intervening and letting her feelings be known to the group.
"Holy shit Naruto!" she exclaimed. "I know next to nothing about jazz but how did you learn to play like that?"
"Years of practice and intense study," replied Naruto.
"Years of sneaking into my bar to listen to the old cats play," replied Hiruzen, perching next to Naruto.
"Years of sneaking out of class to go to the recording studio to practice," replied Kurenai, getting a sheepish smile from the blond subject and a bold chuckle from the elderly man standing next to him.
"Naruto, are you single? Because I happen to be in the market for a new lover," Anko questioned drunkenly, barely managing to get through the sentence without losing her train of thought.
"You're drunk," Naruto stated, trying to give the woman a good excuse to pull back from the conversation and not say something that would make a fool of herself in front of one of her students.
"You have magic fingers," she replied erotically, attempting to form the most sensual face her plastered muscles could and completely ignoring Naruto's attempt at trying to save her dignity.
"Anko!" Kurenai nearly yelled, not hesitating to slap her friend's arm for saying something so vulgar in front and directed towards two separate students.
"Oh don't mind me," Tenten responded, jokingly smug. "By all means, keep giving me reasons to get out of gym class."
The second set had gone just as well as the first, and appearing from backstage once again, the thinning of patrons allowed Naruto to find Kurenai, who had relocated to the end of the bar, and a slightly disheveled Tenten a dozen seats down trying her best to make sure that an unconscious Anko was still alive.
Deciding to leave Tenten the pleasure of dealing with Anko for the moment while the rest of the herd departed from the club, he strolled behind the island and planted himself across from Kurenai, who seemed to have been waiting for him to reemerge from his post with the other musicians backstage.
"Great show tonight," she commented.
"Always glad to please a dashing woman such as yourself," Naruto replied, smirking at her.
Kurenai rolled her eyes, unimpressed at his attempts to smooth the ire that he had subjected her to earlier that morning. Instead, she reaffirmed her stance. "I'm still pissed beyond belief at you."
"You don't show it very well," Naruto countered, noting that though she claimed to be incredibly angry with him, she wasn't truly being much colder than any other day. In fact, for a woman who was livid with his current life choices not even twelve hours ago, she seemed quite amiable towards him, and he took it as a good sign.
"I promise you'll hear about it tomorrow," Kurenai pledged, dashing the blonds boy's hopes at having a peaceful resolution to their earlier argument. "But it's Friday and I'm drunk and I just wanna go eat leftovers and watch a movie with you."
"Yeah, that usually does it."
Fishing for her purse, Kurenai dug through the bag and pulled out her phone, dialing a number and looking back towards her emotional benefactor. "I'm gonna get a cab for me and Anko. Be at my house in twenty minutes. Bring your magic fingers."
Naruto almost laughed at her request. "If I didn't know you were hammered right now, I would say you were hitting on me," he joked.
"Naruto, what's rule number one?"
"Don't trust her when she says she's on the pill?"
"What? No you fucking idiot. My rule one, not Jiraiya's."
"It's never too early to invest in a 401K?"
"No, that's rule six- God am I that boring? What happened to me?"
Naruto sniggered at her sudden early-life crisis and tried to pull her from that train of thought, reciting the rule she requested by memory. "Rule number one is 'Don't take advantage of the drunk ones.' Followed by 'If she fucks me over, tell Anko' and 'Always hit on a soft sixteen'."
Kurenai smiled drunkenly at the boy. "Don't I teach you so much?" she slurred out.
"Get back home," Naruto ordered, waving her away. "We'll have a nice and platonic night in."
"It better be or I'll wring you out to dry."
"If the night's gonna stay platonic, stop trying to turn me on."
Kurenai strut away from Naruto, relieving Tenten of her duties to watch over Anko and hauled the barely conscious woman to her feet, guiding her from the bar towards the exit.
While Kurenai was making her seemingly impossible journey to get Anko to the door, Tenten migrated from where she was to Naruto, taking the seat that Kurenai had just vacated across from him and continually eyeing Anko warily.
"Is she going to be okay?" the girl asked worriedly.
"Anko? Hell, this is a light day for her," Naruto elaborated. "She's a big drinker on the weekends. Plus, Kurenai will make sure she gets back alright."
Tenten nodded at the information, seeming contented. Turning from the duo of women – who had miraculously made it to the door and nearly out of it, had Anko not suddenly latched onto the door with the grip of an ape – Tenten, continuing her streak of curiosity regarding Naruto, pried once more for information from him.
"I never knew you were so close to some of our teachers," she thought aloud. "How did that happen?"
The inquiry was interesting to Naruto, as he'd never really thought too hard about the circumstances as to how or why he was closer to the staff of his school than most of the students. It had always just seemed natural to him, considering how far back his history with some of his educators went.
Truly it was something he never thought too deeply into, and he took a moment to gather his thoughts before speaking them to his bun-headed companion.
"So, the story goes that when I was a troubled youth I was put in this special mentor/mentee program along with a few other kids. We each had our own messed up shit going on in our lives and got put in this program where our mentor was Kakashi Hatake."
"Mr. Hatake?" Tenten asked for clarification.
"Yep. Way back when he was still a part-time student teacher at our school. Anyways we spent a lot of time with him and he brought us to see his friends a lot so I got to know a few of them pretty well. Two of those friends were Anko and Kurenai."
"So you've known them since you were a kid, huh?"
Naruto beamed. "You'd be surprised with how many influential people I'm good with in the area."
"Because of the mafia?"
"You catch on quick."
Tenten chuckled quietly, finding the joke funny but still wanting to be respectful of the fact that these rumors were incredibly damaging to Naruto's social life at school as well as – most likely, she amended – factually untrue.
"How did those rumors even start?" Tenten requested, continuing her barrage of questions on the poor blond.
Naruto sighed, finishing cleaning the last glass and placing it in its rack. "They're rumors, Tenten. Somebody says something as a joke, somebody else overhears it and believes it's true, and then all of a sudden the word's gone around campus that I'm the bastard son of a Fortune 500 CEO arrested for drug trafficking and male prostitution."
"And how's the prostitution business been for you?" Tenten asked with a smile.
"Four hundred an hour, no kissing," Naruto countered, tossing the damp towel onto the bar's counter and walking around its exit towards the brunette.
"That's quite a bit of money."
"I'm a high-class whore," he stated, getting a chuckle from his peer. He then nodded to her, motioning for her to get up. "Come on, I'll take you home."
The bike rolled to a stop in front of a cracked driveway, flanked on both sides by intermittent bushes evenly spaced in the grass, all of which leading to a white, two-story house obscured by the night, lit only by the dull glow of a gaslight standing guard of the porch.
Naruto cut the ignition and kicked the stand backwards, allowing the vehicle to fall at a slight angle enough for his passenger to comfortably lift her leg over the side and find both of her feet once again on pavement. She pulled the visored helmet from her head, her hair a bit disheveled, but still held in place by two buns sitting on each side of her head. The driver did the same, pulling the plastic case away and running his hand through his locks, ruffling them from the flatness that they had been from being condensed and letting them spring back to their original positions.
Naruto pulled out his phone, his fingers drifting on the screen and pulling up his messaging app, copying the name of the album he had in mind into the text box and hitting send, immediately after which Tenten's phone lit with a notification and she opened to see a text from Naruto detailing her listening assignment.
"We'll start you off easy. 'Kind of Blue' by Miles Davis," Naruto said. "The record was voted the greatest jazz album of all time. Take a listen, and I wanna know what you think about each song on Monday, got it?"
"Sir, yessir," Tenten replied, handing her helmet back to the blond. "I'll text you if I have questions."
Naruto nodded, stashing her helmet in the bike and preparing to drive off.
"When's your next gig? I'd like to come," Tenten quickly asked, interrupting his attempt at starting the ignition.
"Tomorrow night, same place. I'll text you the details."
"Pick me up again?" Tenten asked, smiling.
Naruto grinned back.
"Kurenai?" Naruto called as he entered her apartment. He slid the door closed and hung his jacket up, casting away his shoes and making his way down the short hall. The faint sound of water hitting the floor from her bathroom could be heard, and a voice called from the same room.
"I'm in the shower. Mind putting the pasta from the fridge into the microwave?"
Naruto shouted an affirmative and made his way from the hall to the small kitchen immediately to his right. Opening the refrigerator, he pulled a container from the shelf, scooping the pasta from the tupperware onto the plates he retrieved from the cabinets above the sink.
By the time the meals had been warmed and the table outside of the kitchen set, Kurenai joined the blonde who was already sat down and raring to dig in. The woman could almost giggle at how comical the boy could be at times. In the twelve years that she had known the kid he had always been one for theatrics – only with those he was close enough with, of course.
Still, it was a blessing that she never had to guess what he was thinking. When with people he was comfortable with, Naruto was the very definition of 'wearing your heart on your sleeve', especially in her presence. When he was happy, he smiled a huge toothy grin that framed his face perfectly. When he was angry, he pouted like a child. When he was hungry, he did exactly what he was doing now – staring at his food with a nearly dazed look in his eyes.
She found it incredibly adorable.
Knowing all of this, Kurenai made sure to take her time getting seated, first walking to the kitchen and deliberating for far longer than normal on what wine paired well with leftover Italian food. Then she had to choose just the right glass to fit the mood and saunter casually towards the table, very careful not to spill her drink.
Naruto obviously caught wind of her act and gave her a sharp 'Hurry up', causing her to giggle and finally sit down at the table.
With that, they both dug in, allowing the room to open to casual conversation.
"You played amazing tonight, Naruto. I still can't believe how good you are."
"I always play well when you're watching, Nai," the boy responded with a smirk.
The woman rolled her eyes at his remark.
"Stop flirting with me."
"Why? Is it not working?" Naruto rebutted, smiling.
"Flirting is why I have Anko," Kurenai said before scooping some more pasta into her mouth.
After finishing chewing, Naruto posed a half-joking inquiry he'd had for a while. "Is she gay?"
Kurenai shrugged. "I'm waiting for her to come out as bisexual but until that day I'll never truly know."
The pleasant conversation continued for the rest of the meal, until finally both plates had been cleared and Naruto's appetite satisfied. He took the dishes to the sink and cleaned them while Kurenai grabbed the remote to the TV, flipping aimlessly through the channels, waiting for Naruto to return.
Soon the blonde found his way around the kitchen island and into the living room area, falling onto the sofa tiredly and motioning the woman to join him.
"Come on, let's watch that movie. I wanna know what happens after the last one."
Kurenai accommodated his request and sat beside him on the couch, leaning into his body and resting her head on his shoulder as he navigated the menu to find the movie.
"Do you think they end up throwing the ring into the volcano?" she asked sarcastically.
"I know you're a nerd and you've read the books but if you spoil anything for me I'll never forgive you."
Along came a pregnant pause, the air standing still and Kurenai looking at Naruto deviously, as if begging him to test her further. He rose to her challenge, staring back at her with equal daring, challenging her to back down from her now already set quest.
Alas, she had already decided her fate.
"Thewizardcomesback," Kurenai yelled quickly, shooting up and running from the living room towards her bedroom.
In complete exasperation at the utter betrayal he had just been subject to, Naruto chased after her, feigning anger and yelling his contempt.
"Kurenai, you heartless woman! Give me back my adoration!"
Letter from the esteemed Dicktock McJerry, Esquire,
Aight so this chapter has been in the works for about a fuckton of months now because I kept changing shit and wanted to work on the dialogue – which I hope you like, because I've been working on making conversations flow better and sound more human and realistic. I don't honestly know if all other chapters will be the same length as this one but I'd like them to be.
Reviews help. Lemme know what you think. This chapter is basically going to be the equivalent to a Pilot episode, and if it's well received I'll keep it going and if it isn't then I'll just make it into a cute one shot or whatever.
Either way this is the most passionate I've felt about writing a story on here, which I hate saying because writing Naruto fanfiction wasn't where I thought I would spend my early twenties, but it is what it is, ya dig? Not my fault my two biggest passions in life are Naruto and jazz music.
I do use some jazz slang, but it really shouldn't be hard to figure out, so I'll respect your intelligence to just understand it.
Enjoy. I've started work on the new 'Woes of an Immortal' chapter, so hope you're excited about it or whatever I dunno.
Stop asking me to write lemons. Y'all are too horny.