Looking at the World Through Rose Colored Glasses
Frank Sinatra, Count Basie
"Come on, Ino. It'll be fun!" Tenten said, dragging her friend from the taxi onto the bruised pavement and down the street, not even dwelling in the car to give a polite 'Thank you' to the driver.
She had been far too excited. Earlier in the afternoon the brunette – still reeling over the information overload from the previous night and desperate to find somebody that she could share this new knowledge with – had told Naruto that she would find her own ride to tonight's gig, immediately texting her best friend and pleading with her to share in, as she put, 'A wonderful new experience that will blow your fucking mind'.
The best friend in question lagged behind a bit, putting some small force of resistance into her walk to counter her brunette companion's aggressive hauling.
"Tenten, you haven't even told me where we're going. And I had plans tonight! Kiba invited all of us over and I was looking forward to it," Ino complained.
Tenten slowed herself a bit and let go of the girl's arm, instead slowing her pace to match strides evenly with the blonde and grabbing both of her shoulders from the side.
"I promise you this will be much better than letting Kiba feel you up," Tenten retorted.
"I do not let Kiba feel me up," Ino countered vehemently, her face contorting into a disgusted visage at the sheer thought of her gruff best-male-friend placing his hands anywhere on her body.
"Tell that to the nine other people sitting in his basement every other Saturday," spurred Tenten, rolling her eyes.
"I let Kiba touch me?" Ino asked, horrified.
"Frequently, now come on. We're almost there."
The ringleader nudged her follower softly from the back, urging her forward around the corner of the street and towards the familiar green door dimly lit by the waning lights above.
"Where is there?" Ino queried, suddenly coming to a halt as Tenten pressed down on her shoulders and presented her with the gruff exterior of a clearly decaying pub.
"There is here," the brunette said excitedly, waving her arm theatrically to present the outside of The Leaf.
"A bar?" Ino asked dejectedly, clearly disappointed in the outcome. "Tenten I didn't bring my fake and-"
"You don't need your fake," Tenten interrupted. "There's no bouncer and I know the owner."
Ino raised her eyebrows in mild surprise. "Since when do you know the owner of a bar?"
"Since last night."
"Is he hot or something?"
"On a scale of…?"
"Just follow me."
Tenten pushed the door open with a bit of a heave and motioned for Ino to trail, striding into a pub already filled with a healthy amount of patrons. She turned her head to give a comforting nod towards her accomplice, shifting back and making her way straight to the two consecutive empty seats she spotted near the bar.
The girls hopped awkwardly onto the slightly too tall barstools and set their belongings down, adjusting into the tooled leather and making themselves comfortable.
Once they'd settled, Tenten immediately made to satisfy the curiosity Ino was showing on her face, interrupted by the sandy, worn voice belonging to the owner of the club.
"Tenten! Good to see you again!" Hiruzen sounded with a warm, toothy smile, bringing himself to a halt behind the counter opposite the two girls. He looked at Ino, beckoning the girl he'd met the previous night, asking, "And who's this friend of yours?"
Tenten didn't hesitate in answering the kind man with a delighted smile of her own.
"This is my friend Ino from school. I brought her to hear the band play tonight," she said, now keying Ino onto her intentions.
"We're here for a concert?" the blonde asked after receding the polite wave that she'd given Hiruzen, crossing her hands restfully in her lap. "Have I heard of the band?"
Tenten became visibly giddy, shifting a bit in her seat before lodging her right elbow on the countertop of the bar, looking at Ino with a knowing grin. "No, but you've met one of the members."
Ino wanted to roll her eyes but restrained herself, once again finding displeasure in the series of surprises Tenten had bestowed.
"Are we here to see some school garage band, Tenten? I'll be pissed if we are." She didn't want what was supposed to be a happily drunken Saturday to devolve into soberly drowning out the noise of a wannabe Green Day deep in the city's ghetto.
Tenten ignored her friend's question in lieu of quizzing Hiruzen on the location of her new gang-member-turned-club leader. "Do you know where he is, Hiruzen?"
"They're in the lounge backstage right now getting ready. They'll be on in a short moment," the man responded politely before excusing himself at the call of another customer ready to be served.
Naruto took the stage to the familiar hoots of the crowd below him. He looked through the faces, spotting all the regulars and, shockingly, even a few newcomers who must have found the place through word-of-mouth.
Glancing towards the bar, Naruto grinned slightly at the appearance of Tenten, who had told him that afternoon that she would find her own ride to the gig. He didn't know if she had a vehicle or was taking a cab, but was generally relieved regardless, as later in the night he would have to immediately abandon The Leaf to head straight for a match. He wouldn't have been able to get her home in time and still make his booking, and the heads of the cages weren't ones to fuck with when it came to schedules.
While it wasn't suspicious, he did find it a bit strange that she was going out of her way to find her own transport. Did she not feel safe with him? Was riding on his bike a bit too reckless and she'd rather take a car? The second felt a bit better to consider, so he nearly accepted it as the answer until a long streak of platinum blond hair poked from behind her and out came the face of his school's self-appointed queen Ino Yamanaka.
A storm of conflicting emotions arose in his stomach, and he combatted them with a gentle wave and convincing smile, turning towards the piano's bench and taking a seat.
Naruto wasn't mad, per se. He was irritated, and he didn't really know why. Hiruzen letting both of them in without his knowledge was suspect to suspicion, but the senior citizen had met Tenten the previous night and probably took a liking to her immediately, which prompted him to allow Ino to stay as well.
But why was she there in the first place?
Tenten invited her, of course, Naruto surmised. But why?
It explained the reason that Tenten told him she didn't need a carpool, as his bike definitely wouldn't physically – or legally – fit the three of them, but he didn't take Ino as someone who enjoyed this kind of music or the environments in which it took place. She seemed more of a 'drink on the weekends in our friend's basement' kind of party girl. How Tenten dragged her here he had no idea, and he had an equal amount of idea as to why he cared so much.
It wasn't the end of his world. There was no disaster waiting to happen if his academic peers unintentionally found out that he was an aspiring jazz student. Additionally, he hadn't explicitly told Tenten not to mention his hobby to any of the other students. In fact, he should have known that she would tell her friends. He wouldn't have even minded if she had let slip that he was the Jazz club's president and he enjoyed listening to the music.
However, his interest in the music and his life in the scene were two entirely separate things. Of all the backhanded remarks that he'd heard made about himself, he didn't want his legitimate passion to be added to the mix. Hearing rumors of him being a criminal or a drug addict weren't much to his ears in the school halls as long as the people who mattered knew the truth, and he'd even be able to take being made fun of for taking an interest in jazz. But if he were to hear even one whisper of 'This kid actually thinks he can make it in music', it could actually be enough to hurt him, which was the one thing that the other students had never been able to do before.
If he were to be honest with himself, meeting Tenten had been a huge step towards making friends with those his age. In fact, letting her in had been easier than he suspected, and he was lucky that she found his personality and interests somewhat endearing. He was a long way off, but if things with Tenten could keep going as they were, he may be able to actually find a peer to trust – something he hadn't strove for in quite a number of years.
Adding Ino to the equation was an entirely different ball game, due to the fact that if the girl with ninety percent of the student-body's contact information was here to watch him play, it was essentially the equivalent of the entire city being there as well.
He quickly decided that thinking on it wouldn't do him any good, and he shoved those thoughts away to instead make one last run through of the heads and changes for the night's set.
That had been his plan until the band's bassist, a regular cat who'd played with Naruto for years at The Leaf, laid his upright gently on the ground at his mark and strolled towards the piano, serenaded by the drummer and horn players making last minute adjustments to their microphones and instruments.
The bassist was old, most likely playing far before Naruto had even been born. He looked the part of a modern jazz musician, wearing a maroon blazer with matching pants and a black buttoned shirt tucked neatly into them. To go with the outfit were a trilby and a bowtie, both the same color as the jacket. His shoes were neat, new leather – Probably the same texture as his fingers after all those years of playing the upright, Naruto had thought.
The man took his time walking until he reached the mahogany shell of the battered piano and bent over its side, coming face to face with the younger man. Before he spoke he let out a short sigh into Naruto's face, his breath smelling of smoke and spearmint.
"Naruto, did you eat any of those brownies backstage?" the bassist asked quietly, his voice scratched from one too many cigarettes in his hey-day.
"Yeah, sorry," Naruto responded absently, still mentally going over the heads of the songs they had prepared for that night. "Were they yours?"
The blonde looked over at his colleague and noticed a slightly nervous look in his eye. It was curious, as the man had never really shown hints of stage fright at any of their previous gigs together. In fact, he was the most laid back guy on the stage at any given time. Any hint of doubt in the man's face worried Naruto.
"Is something wrong?" the pianist asked.
The bassist chuckled nervously.
"I mean, maybe?" he started. "Those brownies were for all us cats, but only after the show, ya dig?"
Realization at the circumstance struck Naruto, and his eyes widened at the implication.
"Oh shit shit shit," he began mumbling.
The bassist put a hand on the boy's shoulder.
"Relax, brother. Relax," came the older man's voice.
"Shit shit shit shit," Naruto continued. "What was in them?"
He was officially freaking out.
He just fucking drugged himself.
It wasn't the drug that got to him the most. He had taken some substances with some of his band after shows – it was just in a bit of fun and they had great times jamming while completely vacated from their right states of mind. In fact, Naruto was a healthy and regular user of weed, alcohol, and all sorts of narcotics – given that they aren't those that leave you comatose or dead by age fifty. He'd had more than his fair share of highs, so it wasn't much of what was currently robbing him of his peace of mind.
No, what was so disturbing to him was that he'd never played while high on stage. He'd done it in hundreds of places on hundreds of occasions. While bored in school? Yes. While jamming with some cats? Absolutely. While drinking in The Leaf? There's no other way to do it. But playing in front of an audience while intoxicated on whatever-the-fuck was in that brownie? Not on his bucket list.
The bassist's voice brought him from his stupor.
"Kid, relax," he sighed. "It was just a little grass, no biggie. You'll be fine. I've heard you play on it."
"Yeah, but never in front of people!" Naruto whispered harshly. "What if I fuck up?"
The bassist laughed loudly at that, which caused the blond some confusion. How could he possibly be taking this so lightly? What if he totally blew the gig because he couldn't play properly? What if he played so poorly that the newcomers wouldn't want to return? What if word gets around that he plays while scuffed on stage?
It seemed like the older man wasn't taking the situation as seriously anymore. The look of worry was completely gone, and now he was seemingly laughing at the blonde's misfortune.
"What if you fuck up?" the older man reiterated between chortles. "If you fuck up? Do what we do! Keep on playing and call it free jazz!"
The joke made Naruto laugh against his wishes, and through his disbelief he let out a near-straight-faced chuckle – half at the absurdity of his predicament, and half at what the man had said.
Upon seeing the boy stepping out of his worry, the man spoke again.
"Listen, kid. I just wanted to let you know, and I'll admit I was a bit worried. But I forgot who I was dealing with for a second. You'll be fine. Trust me."
With that, the man walked back to his bass and picked it up from the ground, leaning it on his body and looking towards Naruto. The boy was confused until he realized that all of the band members were looking at him, ready and waiting for their queue to begin playing.
Naruto took a deep breath, dreading the fact that he could be so stupid, and counted himself in to begin the first song of the night.
"Is that Naruto Uzumaki?" Ino asked, incredibly perplexed at seeing the boy take his place at the piano on the stage.
"Yep!" Tenten replied cheerily.
"He's the one you were talking about?" the blonde girl reiterated.
Ino sat silent for a moment, nearly dazed at the events unfolding around her. The shock at witnessing the subject of interest take the stage had been immediately overshadowed when he began playing a bouncy tune on the piano.
"You're telling me that Naruto – the same Naruto that has face tattoos, calls half of our teachers by their first names, and comes into school every week looking like he just got finished at a fight club – plays the piano?"
"That's what I thought, too!" Tenten exclaimed excitedly.
"How did you even find this out?"
Tenten bounced excitedly at the prospect of telling the story. She braced herself, the girl opposite her doing the same as if sharing some vital secret, pulling their heads down and closer together, hunching their shoulders and locking eyes.
"Okay," Tenten began, "so you know how I told you I wanted to join more extracurriculars and was looking at the Jazz Appreciation club?"
"Yeah?" Ino egged her on.
"He's the president!" the brunette announced ecstatically.
"Of the mafia?" came the response.
"Of the club you bimbo!" Tenten scolded. "Yesterday during first period I went to the recording studio where the club is held and he was just sitting there listening to music. After asking a ton of questions it turned out that he had another show last night that I asked if I could see and he brought me here."
"That's why you missed the game?"
"Are you kidding me?" Tenten shot back in disbelief. "This is way more interesting than watching a game! How often is it that you find out the school's supposed gang member is a musical prodigy?"
Ino blew out a huff. "I can't believe no one's found out about this."
"That's the thing," Tenten boasted. "Apparently only the teachers know. He's good friends with a lot of them because he knew Mr. Hatake back when he was a kid."
The blond looked at her incredulously. "And he hasn't told anyone?"
Tenten nodded her head excitedly, still thrilled at dispensing the information. "Nobody wants to get involved with him because they think he's some deadbeat flunkie," she explained, nearly sounding as if she were complaining. "Who would want to listen?"
Ino took on a familiar visage at Tenten's words – one that the bun-haired girl had only known her to adopt when some mischievous machination was being concocted in her mind. Ino quickly snatched her hand from the counter and dug into her pockets, pulling out her large, decorated smartphone and quickly opening the camera app.
She smiled wickedly, her eyes fixated on focusing the phone's lens on the band's pianist.
"Well, a lot of people are going to now!" she exclaimed.
As the last horn died away, the crowd's applause hit a crescendo. Naruto stood from his bench and walked towards one of the microphones at the front of the stage. He pulled it from its stand and let the cord fall, addressing the audience.
"Thank you, everyone," he spoke. "That piece right there was called 'It Could Happen to You'. As you may already know, my name's Naruto, and these boys here are…"
His mind wandered as he continued his talking on complete autopilot.
When is this going to kick in? he wondered. God, the waiting is the worst. Fuck, what if it's right in the middle of my solo.
Finishing his short monologue of introductions, the blonde tried to quickly get the next tune underway, not wanting to stand in front of the crowd for any longer than he needed to with an impending high looming over him.
"This next song…" he began.
Sadly, some cosmic being had it in for him.
And he felt it.
And it hit hard.
His senses left him for a moment before returning dulled. He stared out at the audience but couldn't focus on one single face. He tried to find Hiruzen or Tenten or even Ino, but his brain wouldn't allow him to recognize a single visage among the crowd. He cleared his throat once and gave a small chuckle, trying to delay the situation that he already found himself in.
Well, he thought. I'm already here. I guess there's no point in delaying the inevitable.
"Ya know what?" he found himself speaking, now gazing aimlessly at the wood of the building's floor, trying to get some semblance of control over his body and not caring much that he was failing.
Naruto heard some dulled shouts of 'What?' from both the patrons and the stage before continuing.
He paused, lifting his head to stare over the crowd, eventually letting his eyes come to a halt and focus on the exit sign above the entrance to the bar.
He gave a single hearty chuckle, not even realizing what he was saying anymore. It felt like he was in the back seat of his own mind, and there was no fighting it anymore.
So he gave in.
Roars and laughter from the audience followed the blonde's statement. A few men whistled and applause mingled with the hollers. He laughed with them, completely giving himself to the marvelous vibe that the experience was granting.
"Now, I don't know about you all, but I haven't had a vacation in a while," he yelled over the crowd's screams.
Naruto swore that he heard the familiar dry snickering of his bass player, and he let himself become engulfed in the positive energy that was being sent from all around him.
"In fact, I have never travelled out of this city in all my life."
Naruto's smile grew wider, and the crowd never gave themselves the chance to go quiet.
This was what he lived for.
This was what he wanted to feel every night, the drugs be damned.
"So I hope you'll indulge me, as we all take a trip to a little place in France – just a little place named Strasbourg…"
The bar's patrons became even louder, if at all possible, recognizing the introduction and excited that he would play one of their collective favorite pieces.
"This is Strasbourg St. Denis."
This is jazz.
Naruto awkwardly stumbled back to the piano, falling into his chair laughing as the bassist began the song. The line was sweet and smooth, riding easy and subtle along the strings as the player bobbed his head along with his own rhythm. Naruto quickly joined in, tapping joyfully at the keys to perfectly compliment the plucking of the upright's strings. With the piano came the drums, and before any of the band knew it, the horns had risen with the melody, letting the music drip from the bells like honey.
Naruto could barely notice the song passing as he happily pounded at the ivory. Soon the melody fell to the trumpet taking his turn at a solo, dancing around the notes beautifully. After only a few measures of the first run of the head, Naruto could pick out the horn would hit next on the scale. It was predictable and simple, but at the same time sweet and smooth, letting Naruto match right to the modes and add a few alternative chord structures that accentuated the trumpet's hits.
The saxophone followed, ripping through an alluring set of scales complimented by the player's dynamics. There wasn't much Naruto could or wanted to do to match the man's speed, so he fell back again into the music behind him, supporting the man with the occasional hits of the changes.
The sounds were perfect, and the blonde pianist barely paid any attention to where he was hitting on the keyboard anymore, just knowing that his fingers would guide themselves to where they needed to be.
The saxophone's noise fell, and he immediately heard the bassist holler 'Play it kid!' over the noise of the band.
Naruto was happy to oblige.
He laid his left hand over the strings inside of the opened instrument, muting the sounds of the keys to an audible peck. His fingers glided over the staff, playing a subdued groove to the straight beat of the kit. He rocked his head backwards and squinted his already closed eyes, searching for where his heart thought the solo should move next.
He started by modifying the existing melody, letting the notes arise curtly while he poked away at the ivory, resolving the bar in a series of mellow chords. Soon after his right hand glided to the top of the staff, pinging some higher notes and resolving back down to the middle once again, substituting the chords he'd just used at the end of the bar with a complicated run of a few scales he'd figured would work.
The blond continued, soon removing his left hand from the belly of the piano to add some more chords to his work, gradually picking up the intensity and volume of his playing. The drummer must have gotten the hint, as he moved from playing solely on the rim of the snare to including the hat, weaving between complicated patterns of the two.
Finally, when Naruto had decided that the climax of his solo was fast approaching, he'd concluded the end of the section with a powerful hammering of his fingers on the keys, the drummer rising with him and smashing the crash symbol to help his crescendo. The boy took his last run-through of the changes to the extreme, banging his hands on the piano, hiding the melody of the song between loud, dirty chords and the heavy clattering of the drummer.
Naruto's legs could barely sit still. He wanted to shoot the bench backwards with his foot and stand, forcing everything he had into these last few notes. This was the feeling that he had always searched for when playing; the feeling that every performer wished that they could not only experience but transfer to the crowd as well. He was so giddy and excited and his music was moving him towards happiness, a feeling that the audience shared if he could tell by the hollers off – hell, even on – the stage was anything to go by.
When his solo had reached its edge, he quickly pulled back on the volume, and just as quickly as he'd begun his onslaught of the instrument, he was once again behind the horns as they repeated the melody, overpowered by the cheers of the crowd. He smiled brightly, wanting to shout out to the other members of the quintet.
During Naruto's solo, Tenten and Ino were still sitting on the faded-leather barstools, trying without success to muffle hysterical laughs – not at the expense of Naruto's actions, but instead sharing the excitement of the bar and expressing joy at how happy the blonde boy looked up on the stage. Ino's phone had been recording since before Naruto had started the song, and it now shook in her grip with the thrill of the moment.
Ino had never known such a side to the boy – certainly not one endowed like this. In all her life, she had only ever seen Naruto through his straight-faced expressions in class and through the lenses of the rumors that circled in his presence. She never could have imagined she would see him playing his own emotions of elation so vividly using only a piano and the grin on his face.
The song was over too quickly, having been shortened proportionately to the girls' giddiness. By the next song Ino's phone no longer had her attention, now lying flat on the bar next to her arm as her eyes reflected the colors of the stage.
The first set ended swiftly, followed in a similar fashion by the second, and the two students didn't know whether the songs were actually cut short or they had lost track of time within the thrill of the concert.
After the show was over and the band was finished accepting their round of applause, the girls watched as Naruto, instead of following the band through the door leading backstage, clumsily wobbled off the low standing platform and awkwardly shuffled his feet toward them, maneuvering the best he could to behind the bar and landing himself comfortably where Hiruzen had once stood across from the two girls.
Tenten watched his abnormal behavior and movement patterns, perplexed as to why he had lost the grace in his step from the night prior. She wondered if he was drunk but denied that Hiruzen would serve him alcohol – at least while the rest of the bar was still populated with watchful eyes. Additionally, she didn't think he would be able to play with such dexterity while drunk, regardless of his levels of talent.
Thus, she came to another conclusion, figuring it wouldn't hurt to at least pop the question.
"Are you…are you high right now?" Tenten asked the boy in front of her.
Naruto smiled a bit more smugly than either of the two were comfortable with, happily responding, "The answer to that question is a resounding yes, though not by choice. Also, hello Tenten, good to see you as well."
The grin never left his face as he shifted his gaze from his fellow club member to the blonde woman sitting next to her, resting her pale elbows on the bar and greedily digging her mint eyes into his own.
"Though, who do we have here?" he questioned.
Ino leaned away, pressing a hand to her heart and taking on a mocked hurt expression, her mouth slightly agape and her eyebrows raised over simulated heartbroken eyes, as if offended by the insinuation that Naruto didn't remember who she was.
"I thought you'd recognize the most beautiful girl that you go to school with?" Ino challenged, her voice taking on an obviously parodic tone.
Naruto, with his grin still fueled, saw her facetious mannerisms and quickly responded, not eager to become the first flustered in his initial true meeting with the girl.
"I am neither high nor stupid enough to answer that out loud," Naruto said, getting a smile from Ino that mirrored his own.
"Smart," Tenten commented, feeling left on the side and still deciding whether to roll her eyes or gag at her female companion's flirtatious nature – one that her best friend consistently took on when a male she considered even remotely attractive was in the vicinity. Still, Tenten resolved that a proper introduction be in order before Ino said something embarrassing or Naruto's THC riddled mind made this weekend's big mistake and dove deeper into the grasp of his counterpart blond.
"Ino, this is Naruto. Naruto, Ino," she said, motioning between the two.
Naruto reached his hand out which Ino met with a firm shake, spouting, "Pleasure to officially meet you."
"The pleasure's all mine."
They released their handshake before Naruto looked behind him to check if Hiruzen needed any help. Seeing that he was in the clear, he put both his hands on the bar, using it to rock himself back and forwards playfully. He split his attention between his classmates.
"So what'd you guys think? Good?" he inquired.
Tenten burst forward with her opinion. "It was amazing, Naruto!" she gushed.
"It was so good!" Ino followed up. "I mean I don't know anything about what it was but the music was incredible!"
Naruto giggled like a child; his mind immoderately happy to hear their praise. He ceased his body's swaying and raised his hand, innocently batting away the compliments that Ino had offered.
Ino grinned deviously. "Is it working?"
"A little bit," he responded, still refusing to back from whatever battle they were verbally fighting at the moment.
Naruto guessed that they probably could have kept their back and forth going for quite a while had Tenten not interrupted them, drawing both Ino and his attention.
"Hey, flirting with Naruto is my thing," the brunette stated, staking her claim. "Go toy with Kiba."
Ino turned towards her friend, mustering whatever latent innocence still found itself inside of her body and barreling it into the cadence of her voice, questioning, "And why can't I do both?"
"Because when I flirt with Naruto it's enjoyable and funny. When you do it's weird and horny," Tenten responded quickly.
Ino saw Tenten's inferred 'dibs' on the attention of the pianist resting across the bar from them and rose to her challenge. "How could I not pass up an opportunity to talk to someone as cute as Naruto."
"Aw, you're gonna make me blush," the boy in question interjected, uncharacteristically enjoying the attention he was being given.
"The only thing she's gonna make you is emotionally confused," Tenten clarified. "Ignore her pathetic attempts to pull you in."
"Why? Is it not working, Naruto?" Ino asked, pulling the focus back towards the whiskered boy.
Before he could respond, the thick rasp of Hiruzen's voice alerted them of his presence as he passed behind Naruto to make for another clean glass.
"What have you gotten yourself into this time?" the senior tiredly asked his temporary fellow bartender, bending over behind the boy to reach for a bottle of cheap bourbon.
"Not quite sure, but my ego is through the roof at the moment," Naruto responded as his surrogate benefactor once again retreated to tend to the diminishing population of the club. He realigned himself back to the girls, enticing them to, "Please, continue with your interest in me."
"I'm just saying Naruto, I wouldn't mind a date if you would be so kind," Ino said, half-lidding her eyes and playing a huskiness into her voice, intent on finalizing the game that the two were playing with each other.
"I already called dibs," a voice sounded, brunting its way into the conversation and startling those already present.
"Fuck!" Naruto yelled in surprise at the voice, searching for its owner and quickly finding it in a mess of violet hair framing brown eyes and a pale face caked in makeup. The woman's head was resting on her crossed arms as her gaze bored into Naruto.
"Christ, Anko, let us know you're here," Naruto demanded, retaking the breath that had been scared from him a moment earlier.
After seeing who the mysterious addition to their conversation was, Tenten and Naruto calmed themselves, realizing that there was no need for them to have been alarmed save for Anko's fatal lack of courtesy and appropriate conduct.
Ino, however, now noticing that her school's physical education instructor was sitting directly to her right inside of a bar that neither she, Tenten, nor Naruto were supposed to be in, sent the girl's fight or flight response to its height rather than to an agreement with the calm that her two peers had settled into. She immediately moved to take initiative and find some realistic excuse. Unfortunately, the excitement of the situation coupled with the absurdity of it all did little for the educated portion of her brain, and what followed instead was a poor attempt at salvation polished with humorless wit hoping to incite a cheap laugh from her discoverer.
"Ms. Mitarashi there is a perfectly good explanation as to why I am here if you would just give me two minutes to think of one," she said nervously.
The girl was calmed slightly by Tenten's gentle hand on her back, and even more by the words that came from Anko next.
"Kid I couldn't give a fuck about where you are right now. What I could give a fuck about is another drink. Waiter?" The woman motioned towards the only man in their group.
"Are you talking to me?" Naruto asked, expecting her to respond with the slightest addition of respect to him considering she was asking him to make her a drink – a drink he could very easily spit in. Still, once he noticed the slightest twitch of her lip to respond, he realized his silent request was too much for the woman. Sober or drunk, Anko was not one for tact.
"No, the other blond stud who's tripping balls at the moment," she replied sarcastically. "Yes, you."
The blond musician let out a wistful sigh at the violet-haired alcoholic's remark and, noticing that Tenten's partner for the night was still in a slightly guarded position at the inclusion of such an authority figure to their activities, did his best to coat his words with an affinity of calm and familiarity to ease his fellow blonde's distress.
"Ah, I see," he started, addressing both Anko and the still half-frightened Ino sitting next to her. "You're at the stage of drunkenness where I have to tell Ino to forget everything you say so our school doesn't get put on the news."
"Listen kid," Anko started, instantly on the attack after his jab, "the only way I'm getting put on TV is either because I finally got on Deal or No Deal or the police find the bodies. I ain't losing my job just so you can have the best day of your life."
"I don't think sex with you would qualify as the best day of my life," Naruto responded nonchalantly. "Honestly, that seems more like a midlife crisis or some 'I-went-blind-and-deaf-and-thought-you-were-Jennifer-Lopez' kind of deal."
Anko visibly lost a portion of her anger and she finally lifted her head from her arms, her expression becoming much kinder and her eyes altering from their previous agitation into a sort of graciousness and compassion.
"Aww, you really think you could mistake me for J-Lo?" Anko asked with far more sincerity than Ino and Tenten were prepared to hear.
"I mean you have the ass for it," Naruto admitted with an honest shrug, to which Anko responded with an earnest smile – something that the girls once again weren't equipped to fathom at that moment.
It wasn't very rare to hear an eighteen-year-old boy spout some dirty joke or sexual remark in the halls of a school. In fact, it would likely be far stranger for it not to occur. Of course, it was a bit more uncommon, though not unreasonable, to hear one of your respected educators doing the same. They're only human, too, and are naturally going to conduct themselves in a manner completely opposite their normal professionalism.
However, two of those individuals jokingly talking dirty to each other in front of multiple separate students of the same school was where Ino considered the impossible to have become possible in the most unfathomably inappropriate way.
Tenten had mentioned during the show that Anko and Naruto shared some healthy banter the previous night, even including that Anko was much more…free with her conduct when out of an educational setting. It was an entirely conceivable notion, yet somehow Tenten had neglected to mention the 'banter' that Naruto and Anko engaged in was borderline pornographic.
Reasonably, hearing her gym teacher verbally mate with the boy she had met only a few moments ago made Ino uncomfortable, and she manifested this unease in a comment to disrupt wherever else the conversation surrounding her could go.
"Wow, Naruto," Ino started, silently urging her will to break from this topic to overcome the teacher and musician's hardheadedness, "Tenten mentioned you were close with some of our teachers but I didn't think she meant…close. I thought it was more of a 'dinner at your place once a month' kind of thing."
Anko, now piss drunk and far past the prime of her night, snorted at her student's remark, easily adding her agreement.
"I'm as shocked as you are, blondie," she spoke, staring at the now full glass of whatever alcohol she'd forgotten she'd ordered on the counter courtesy of Naruto. "You'd think with his intelligence he'd be more of a pet than a friend. Something like a dog."
"And how many times has this dog gotten your ungrateful-ass home safe and sound after you passed out ass-up in the middle of a bar," Naruto demanded, his voice now a bit aggravated at her insinuation that he could be more likened to a mutt than a friend.
"Four?" Anko questioned, her tone showing little interest in an actual response.
Still, Naruto knew the answer and wasn't one to let go of an ability to guilt trip Anko for all that he'd done for her in the past. "Fourteen," he corrected. "And I'm still counting."
Tenten, having been absent from the conversation for longer than a socialite like herself was pleased with, as well as ever desiring clarification and not one to leave a question she's formed unanswered, spoke up.
"Over the span of…?" she trailed off, letting the question form from her silence.
Naruto picked up where she left off. "Five years, including the very day I met her," he cited from memory, shifting an irate gaze towards Anko.
"Listen brat, I didn't ask you for shit," the woman immediately defended.
"Yeah yeah," Naruto replied, his visage softening after hearing her most frequent excuse when he requested any sort of thanks. "I don't wanna hear your angry rants so save them for your next boyfriend."
"Is that an offer?"
"Not even a little."
For the second night in a row, Naruto felt that Anko was going a bit far with her rather risqué comments in front of minors. He had already begun his move to steer the conversation towards, quite literally, any other subject. Luckily, he found an indication that Tenten was catching on quickly to how the dynamic between the sexual nature of the words Anko spoke and the amount of alcohol she'd consumed that night when the brown-haired beauty piped in first, steering the talk from anything that could come to be too damning towards the teacher's image – even by Anko's standards.
"Well, regardless of whatever you all are talking about now, you played great Naruto," she spoke happily. "You have to bring me to more of these."
"I'll definitely think about it," Naruto returned. "It's nice to have some consistent fans in the audience, especially when I'm not playing here."
Ino jumped in after his comment, still intent on making an impression and showing a shocking amount of interest in the prodigy's craft. "I don't know how often you play, but I would be more than willing to come and watch every so often," she promised.
"Every so often doesn't sound too bad," the boy replied casually.
"In exchange," Ino interrupted, "I'd like for you to come to my place next weekend with Tenten and me to hang out with a few of our friends."
Naruto nearly gave a rude huff at the suggestion. Not that he was unappreciative of the offer. In fact, a small part of him – the still incredibly high part, mind you – was almost ecstatic at another person his age taking an interest in him so quickly after the last. Spending time with friends was certainly not something that he was opposed to but spending time with friends in close proximity to individuals that he didn't know and who presumably already had a negative impression of him wasn't as welcome an idea.
"That is a very heavy maybe," he declared, the end of his proclamation becoming intermingled with the footsteps of Hiruzen walking back towards the quartet, taking a small rest from the dwindling customer demands.
"The band called off next Saturday and Sunday. Go on, my boy. It'd be nice to see you with people your age for once." Hiruzen sounded more commanding than anything, most likely desiring that the boy seek out those his own age for once rather than surround himself with intoxicated mid-lifers each weekend.
Naruto turned his gaze toward the man as if betrayed. "Thank you for your kind words, Hiruzen. What are you, my dad?"
"I'd always thought Grandpa," Anko spewed.
"You'd think so with the age, but I was leaning more towards uncle," Tenten added.
Ino finished the assessment, finalizing, "Nah, it's gotta be Grandpa."
Naruto heaved a tight breath. "Well congrats Hiruzen, you're my grandfather now," he stated mockingly. "I'll be waiting on all of those birthday and Christmas presents you missed over the last eighteen years."
Hiruzen had the audacity to laugh in his face, much to the chagrin of his blond protégé and the amusement of the surrounding girls. "With everything I've let you get away with since you first stumbled young and stupid on my doorstep? If I owe you anything it's a stern talking to and a meeting with a therapist."
Instead of retorting to the incredibly accurate statement – not that he would ever admit it, Naruto brushed it off and fished his phone from his pocket, quickly checking the time.
He put it away and looked merrily to his friends. "And on the subject of sending me to therapy, I have to leave," he said. The whiskered boy turned to the girl he'd only just met. "Ino, I very much so appreciate your offer and if nothing comes up I'll be there." He then glanced away and turned to Anko menacingly. "If you get smashed and make the old man get you a cab again I'm going to hit you."
"Joke's on you. I'm into that," the woman replied tiredly.
"Of course you are," Naruto responded, patting his pockets to make sure that he had everything to leave. "It was cool to see you again Tenten and I'll be waiting for your thoughts on Davis in the studio on Monday. Ino, it was nice to officially meet you and I'll see you both at school."
With that he retired from behind the bar and briskly made his exit from the club, the building's door swinging shut heavily behind him. Hiruzen took this time to depart from the women's company as well, intent on serving his customers what would hopefully be their last drink of the night so that he could close. It left Ino and Tenten to make conversation amongst themselves, the woman next to them sinking into the back of their minds again.
"Why the whiskers?" Ino immediately piped up.
The question actually stumped Tenten, herself confused as to why she'd never thought of the same thing. She'd already requested more than an appropriate amount of answers from her club leader in the past two days, having dished more than her share of inquiries into what they had all missed in his contrasting appearance and personality. How had she missed one so glaringly obvious?
"Ya know what? I actually forgot to ask," Tenten replied, playing it off as though she wasn't interested, yet already taking a mental note to ask Naruto about it the minute she next saw him.
The denial of a straight answer, however, did not deter Ino's quest for deduction.
"It's just that…out of all the tattoos to get – on your face, nonetheless – why whiskers?" she wondered.
"Maybe he just thought they looked cool?" Tenten suggested. "We're young and dumb and I don't think he has any parents to tell him no."
"Maybe, but…I mean, it's just…whiskers?"
"I think they're kinda cute," Anko put in, once again making the girls jump from their seats.
"Shit!" Tenten yelled. "I keep forgetting she's there."
"That's rude of you to not notice," Anko slurred, sounding betrayed by their lack of awareness of her presence.
Her purple hair fell forward as she nodded her head, noticeably making an attempt at getting a more menacing glare towards the girls in preparation for her next comment. The look truly would have been frightening, as well, had the woman's skull not continued its forward motion past what should have been its stopping point, thankfully impacting Anko's still folded arms on the counter, cushioning the blow.
Tenten gave a slight call, but the woman did not respond, the only evidence that impact of her forehead and arms hadn't truly killed her being the shallow rise and fall of her back in time with her breathing.
She was still breathing.
"Is she gonna be okay?" Ino turned between Tenten and Anko, having never had to take someone so incredibly drunk home from the bar before.
This was why she enjoyed drinking at home. If someone passed out in a friend's basement, they could just be covered by a blanket and have a pillow shoved under their neck. As long as they weren't puking, they would be up by morning and ready for a glass of water and the obligatory 'What did I do last night?'
This was different. Both girls knew that someone would have to physically remove her from the bar, whether she regained enough consciousness to walk or not.
"From the looks of it, no," Tenten responded. She looked behind the bar and called for the only person she thought would know what to do with the currently comatose drunkard. "Hiruzen?"
The man pleasantly made his way over, not even sparing a glance at Anko's limp form. He was all too familiar with her ritual of drinking to excess, falling unconscious, and requiring the club's owner to find her a way home.
"Yes, young lady?" Hiruzen requested kindly.
"Is Ms. Mitarashi alright?" Tenten asked. "Should we take her home?"
The senior smiled, calming them with his ease.
"She's usually like this on the weekends, so don't worry. By tomorrow morning she'll be awake and regretting those last few shots she ordered," he spoke, letting the girls relax their stiffened bodies and breath simple sighs of relief.
This is normal…apparently.
"However," he added deviously, "I certainly wouldn't at all mind if you took her off of my hands for the night. I would greatly appreciate it."
Hiruzen needed them to take care of her.
The opposite, in fact.
Without having to speak, both girls had subconsciously agreed that, 'No, I do not want to do this', followed by, 'Hiruzen asked for help, though', and ending on the optimistic not that, 'Maybe he'll let us drink next time we come as thanks'.
The thoughts were quite obvious to Hiruzen, having run the place for however many decades he'd been at it. Many disgruntled teens seeking an easy drink did favors for the man in hopes that he would reward them with free alcohol.
Free booze was always worth the struggle.
Ironically, what they did not know about The Leaf, and what would one day be the second most important reason as to why they went and watched Naruto play, was that the old man was not a stickler for the rules. With his reasoning being that if those who were served in his bar were able to both vote and die for their country in the military, it wasn't his job to turn them away from the simple pleasure of cheap vodka.
No, he'd been at it far too long to care much about the age of whoever was ordering, not basing his allowance to drinking at the legal age, but instead judging the quality of the minor's character, assessing them on how they acted around both himself and the others present in the bar at any time. That same judge of character was the reason that he'd let Naruto share his first beer and cigar with him on the lad's sixteenth birthday. Surely if he found that he liked someone enough, he wouldn't deny them their share of his liquor.
In fact, he'd already grown fond enough of the two girls to share a similar view to them as he did of his own pupil. He had always been a great judge of character, and within meeting Tenten and Ino and seeing how they treated his ostracized surrogate grandson – how the two relit the glint of loneliness and isolation from those his own age, it took little for him to think of them as those worthy of what little he could provide them
So, in simple terms…
If they had simply asked Hiruzen for beer, he would have given it to them.
Alas, the girls had already confirmed their own separate resolutions in accepting the quest to get Anko home safely in exchange for the possibility of future boozing, not knowing that if they had asked five minutes ago, they could have already been halfway between sober and Anko.
"No problem," Tenten said, adding enough feigned cheer to her voice that it sounded unnatural. "Would you happen to know where she lives so we can get her out of here?"
"Ah, yes. I always keep spare copies of a card with the address on it. Just in case she's a bit too tired to tell the taxi driver."
The old man reached into the open pocket of his apron, pulling out a thin business card and handing it over to Ino. It was exceptionally well-designed despite being a tool to instruct unfortunate cab drivers how to get the vomiting woman in the backseat home as quickly as possible. Her address was printed neatly on the front, flanked on the right by two phone numbers – one designated as Kurenai's and the other as Kakashi's.
She turned the card over, seeing more text written on the back detailing what to do, 'IF SHE PUKES IN THE BACK OF YOUR CAR'. There was another phone number, apparently belonging to a man named Jiraiya. Alongside it was a set of directions: '1) Call number; 2) Ask for Jiraiya; 3) Repeat, word for word: 'This bitch spilled her beans on my fresh velvet'; 4) If Jiraiya begins to argue, repeat, word for word: 'I don't have times for this, Chucklefuck. This is a Code Violet'; 5) Give proper payment information when prompted; *6) If Jiraiya does not answer, continue to call until he does.'
Beneath the instructions was one more line written in fine print.
'If Jiraiya continues to argue after being called Chucklefuck, call Kurenai or Kakashi and explain the situation. They will get the money from him – one way or the other.'
And another line written.
'The other way is violence.'
Ino stifled a chuckle at the amusing instructions on the card, only left wondering in Ino's how either depressing or fucking legendary Anko's partying life must be to require custom business cards detailing how to get her home and what to do in case of a 'code violet' in the back seat of an Uber.
"Do be safe girls," Hiruzen spoke, pulling Ino's attention from the paper. "I've called a taxi that should be here in a few minutes."
"Thanks, Hiruzen," said Tenten, sliding off the barstool and getting her things in order.
"Of course, my dear," he replied, just as kind as he ever had been. If either of the girls had looked, they may have been able to see the relief in his eyes at having been able to hand over what would have been the most troublesome part of his night to the two kindhearted, naïve teenagers. "Now, have fun getting her out the door. Kurenai has mastered the art but none of us can seem to get it quite the way she does, and if you want to make the taxi you might want to start now."
With those parting words he left the bar into the storage area behind it, not intent on being caught in the struggle he knew was about to occur.
"He's joking, right?" Ino asked, not desiring to even consider the possibility that the mission they'd been tasked could get any more difficult.
Her hopes were dashed when Tenten grabbed a firm hold of Anko's hand, which had somehow wriggled itself underneath the countertop and clasped onto a decorative railing traveling at height with her knees. Tenten pulled to break the hand free, but it didn't move an inch from where it was holding onto the rod of gold extending on the outside of the bar. She pulled a bit harder, achieving only the same result and an increase in determination. With one desperate show of force, she pulled once again, this time in a quick jerk, only greeted with more of the same.
The ride was a short one, and by the time Naruto pulled up to the curb, Kurenai was already waiting, checking her phone and impatiently tapping her foot. She caught the sound of his approach and put her device away, watching as the teen rolled to a stop a few feet away from her.
He already had the extra helmet waiting when she'd gotten close enough to hop on. She awkwardly fumbled until she found herself on the bike, her balance restored. She took the offered head protection without much emotion, not sparing any words to the one who already held her ire.
"How was the reunion?" Naruto asked, hoping to get some reaction.
Buckling the clip of her chin strap, Kurenai didn't bother looking him in the eye.
"Shut up and drive."
Naruto didn't need to take the hint and set off with haste, navigating the streets they sped through with practiced ease. The bike carried them East, away from the city proper and into a setting reminiscent of the neighborhood that The Leaf had come to survive in.
It hadn't taken very long for the two to find the building they had been looking for – a bar, unnamed for the moment as its neon sign had lost its power and there was no way for Kurenai to distinguish it. The parking lot had a decent number of vehicles, to which Naruto pulled in between two pickups, turning the motor off and allowing his passenger to remove herself first, following suit afterwards.
As casually as he did when leaving the thing at The Leaf, he simply walked away from his transportation, leaving Kurenai to follow in his stead as he entered the bar, unbothered by the bouncer who simply nodded the two in.
In Kurenai's opinion, the inside had been forgetful. Especially with what had been churning within her head.
She couldn't believe she had complied with this asinine agreement made between herself and her blond ward. The recollection that she'd even considered the idea had astounded her until the dawning realization that it was done after a very heated, emotional argument, clouding her proper judgement on the matter and trying to find compromise when there should never have been any.
Still, they were here – wherever here was – to follow through with the arrangement.
It sickened her.
She followed Naruto silently, gazing at her surroundings out of the corner of her eyes, not taking in much while still reeling at herself for allowing this.
She caught Naruto's look at the bartender who returned it with a stern glance and a flick of his head, motioning to a doorway on the left wall. With a polite nod as a thank you, Naruto strode through the patrons, offering his hand to Kurenai as to not let her become separated in the small crowd of people. The gesture was met with a glare, causing the hand to fall to his side as they walked through the passage and into the kitchen.
They made their way to the back of the room where a thick steel door opened to reveal a fragile looking wooden staircase.
This just keeps getting better and better, Kurenai drawled.
Descending the stairs revealed the basement, showing dozens of men and women crowded around and shouting at a small, barely heightened arena enclosed by a chained fence. Inside were two men, bruised and bloody, grappling desperately with each other on their feet, exchanging whatever blows they could without losing their grip on the other.
Kurenai became nauseous.
Sensing her discomfort, Naruto took her hand, squeezing firmly to bring her back. She looked to his eyes, trying to raise the rage she held not moments ago. Instead came only desperation and fear as the pair communicated through their interlocked gazes.
I'll be fine.
Please don't do this.
There isn't a choice now that we're here.
Please. I don't want to watch this.
Stay close to me. It will be fine. I promise.
He dragged her by the arm around the gathering of gamblers, finding that there was no more resistance in her touch. They approached a man distanced from the horde, leaning on the cobwebbed brick walls and smoking a cheap cigar. He saw the two approaching, bringing himself straight and pulling wads of paper disinterestedly from his back pocket.
Kurenai didn't hear what they were saying over the powerful roars of the mass of occupants behind her. Instead, she watched Naruto, still clasping her hand with his own, retrieve his wallet, opening it as best he could with a single arm, unwilling to let go of her while she was still in a state of distress.
He conjured a few bills, yelling something at the other man who took them and replaced them with a few slips of paper. Naruto gave a short thanks before dragging Kurenai to the corner of the room, and retrieving a decaying wooden chair for her to sit in.
He squatted down in front of her, coming to lower than chest level on the woman. He dared to raise his head to meet their gazes, his eyes reflecting determination.
Her own were softer, still filled with the fear that had overwhelmed her previous felt fury. She was still angry – there was no escaping that – but seeing the reality of the places that Naruto visited for these excursions was terrifying. Hordes of people screaming, cursing, and banging on the fence of the arena, violently encouraging the unsanctioned barbarism taking place within that circle of fencing.
She knew that Naruto could see it easily. He had always been able to see through her.
He took both of her hands and brought them together in her lap, enveloped by his own. Without hesitation he leaned down and kissed them gently, squeezing tighter to pull her back from her dread.
Neither knew how long they stayed like this. Naruto was sure that a few fights had already passed – ones that he had gambled on and would've liked to have seen. However, she was more important than that. She was more important than any amount of money he could win here.
He could see it in her the moment they'd entered the room. He could feel the terror exuding from her – the panic wasn't well concealed. He hated it. He hated seeing her like this. The strongest woman he had ever met reduced to a state of dazed shock in the mere presence of where he spent time.
And he was the cause of it all.
There was no more time to consider what could have been had he listened to her. He heard a match called and knew that he was up next.
He pulled his lips from her knuckles and gave her a final trusting glance, easing the grip of his left hand to raise it to her cheek, brushing her skin lightly. If she was like this, there wasn't a single possibility that he could focus on the fight. He wouldn't be able to properly consider his opponent for even a second with the thought of her alone and scared in the corner of the room, watching him.
The touch told her everything.
I need you to be strong for me.
Finally, after the many minutes of silence since he had picked her up, Kurenai spoke to him, firm and strict, masking whatever waver would find itself in her voice as best she could.
She would be strong for him. Until this was over, she would be strong.
"I can't believe you're going through with this," she said agitatedly.
Naruto could have almost smiled at the annoyed remark, somehow conjured from the courage she'd found in his touch. However, he decided it wouldn't be quite appropriate considering the setting and her mood. He instead gifted her hand one final squeeze, standing up and beginning his preparations.
"I told you that you didn't have to come," he replied, unbuckling his belt and sliding it off, laying it at Kurenai's feet.
"Then what would happen if you get your skull bashed in?" the woman asked.
Naruto chuckled, bending down to slip off his shoes and socks. "Same thing that always happens. They put me in the 'dead-brotha-storage' until I wake up."
"The what?" Kurenai hissed.
"I'm kidding," Naruto replied, finishing the removal of his footwear and placing them neatly next to his belt. "They have a doctor on payroll, though I don't think his license has been renewed in quite a while."
"That's incredibly reassuring."
"Really? I thought it was a bit fucked up, to be honest. Though I've never had to see him so I guess it doesn't matter."
The quip was pointless and unamusing to Kurenai, who drifted her eyes upwards towards his own. He seemed calm, given what was to happen. His pupils focused blankly on the concrete beneath them, twitching ever so slightly now and again. He was still – not what she'd expected, seeing as how before physical events he usually did no small amount of warming up.
It was odd, Kurenai opined. The unusualness of his actions gave rise to the familiar feeling of doubt she'd only just cast away, wondering if Naruto was now having his own apprehension toward this event. She'd beat the hell out of him if it were true. If he had dragged her here and forced her to come to terms with it all and actually watch, then he was sure as hell going to be man enough to fight.
She waited for the next minute for him to regain his bearings and become himself again, expecting to see him suddenly stretching his muscles and boasting about the speed with which the contest would be over.
She spoke when the change never came.
"What's wrong with you?" Kurenai grilled, half glaring and half fretting at the teen. "Why are you staring at the floor?"
The excuse was quick. "This is how I hype myself up," he responded, his form remaining unmoved. "If I look scared they underestimate me. The fight is easy if they do."
The excuse was easy.
The reality was harder.
The drugs hadn't worn off yet.
His senses were dulled, his moves felt slow, and his mind was unfocussed. He wasn't in a correct state of mind for what he was about to do.
He was still high.
"If they don't?" she quizzed, ignorant to Naruto's dilemma.
"Then it's not," he responded matter-of-factly. He finally turned and looked at her with a smile. "Take some context clues, Kurenai. You're an educator."
Before getting to speak again, the thunder of the basement's dwellers uplifted once again, causing Kurenai to turn and bear witness to one of the men in the cage lift the other over his shoulder, vigorously slamming him onto what she hoped was a padded floor.
Once the match was taken to the ground they both disappeared, with the actions taken on evidenced by the repeated raising of a fist over the head of the spectators, returning to view again and again, each time covered in more blood than the last.
The fight was called there, and the next two contenders were announced.
"Are you seriously fucking doing this?" Kurenai asked again heatedly.
Naruto removed his shirt, setting it on her lap after she had proved to be non compliant in taking it from him herself, reigning in her involvement with his approaching combat to the minimum.
"No stopping it now or I get shot in the parking lot later by anyone who bet on me," he mumbled.
"Gotta go. Wish me luck."
By the time that Ino and Tenten had gotten Anko through the door of the apartment's address Hiruzen had given them, they'd already made an incredibly long list of things that the teacher would have to do to make things up to them, not limited to skipping class, automatic A's for the year, and the occasional financial support or booze run should they so desire.
The list had only been made longer when Anko had abruptly woken on the couch she'd been settled into, enough of her senses reclaimed to let the two students know that she was, in fact, about to aggressively vomit, and if they didn't want a mess they'd better get her to the bathroom within the next minute.
The coming hour had been spent making sure that Anko didn't choke on her own bile, and after quite a bit of time, Ino and Tenten felt safe enough to leave the woman with her head firmly planted in the toilet while they relaxed on the couch until she felt well enough to be put to bed.
"Well this has been an adventure," Tenten mumbled, her head resting on the sofa's arm. Beside her, Ino was sprawled abstractly, lying down with her limbs every which way and her head resting in Tenten's lap.
"Yeah. It's weird being in a teacher's house," the prone blonde responded.
"I know," Tenten acknowledged, picking her head up and rubbing her eyes. "Imagine how I felt seeing Ms. Mitarashi down six shots in about three minutes last night."
The duo was too tired to do anything but pathetically chuckle at the comment, instead taking the time to finally get a good view of the apartment. It wasn't very large, but that was to be expected on a single educator's salary.
The couch they were on was placed in a humble living area openly connected to the dining space behind them, housing a square table flanked by two seats. The table itself was a good number of feet away from a few stools sitting underneath the overhang of an island, which did well to separate the kitchen from the rest of the room. Across from them was a generously sized television sitting on a stand against the wall, the remote sitting on the small coffee table at Tenten's feet.
A hallway where they'd entered the apartment from, while another paved way to the main bedroom and the master bathroom that Anko had currently claimed as her territory. There were two more doors in the open room that they occupied, one slightly cracked open revealing a coat closet and the other on the same wall as the TV most likely leading to a powder room.
The place was decorated well. A few fake plants were placed intermittently in corners or wherever they would fit. The furniture matched in theme, as did the rugs and small trinkets hidden around for them to find.
What interested them the most, however, were the pictures hanging on the walls or sitting on the end tables. A moderate amount of photos had been spaced evenly around the room, protected by black frames. They studied them closely, recognizing a few of the faces as teachers from their school and pointing out the occasional few with Naruto in them.
What most perplexed them, though, was not the variety of individuals depicted, nor was it the events occuring of any of the images. Rather, what brought Ino's verbal musing was the common factor that each picture had in common. A factor that she was nearly afraid to make sense of.
"Ya know, for Anko's house there's a lot of pictures of Ms. Yuhi around," Ino remarked, still glancing between the subjects of their interest.
"Well I'm pretty sure they're good friends. At least that's what I thought from last night," Tenten replied.
"Yeah, I understand," Ino returned, "but I mean, there's a few pictures with Ms. Yuhi and Ms. Mitarashi together, and then there's a few pictures of Ms. Yuhi with people that aren't Ms. Mitarashi, and then there's a few pictures of Ms. Yuhi alone."
Both girls fell silent. They immediately knew the answer to their ponderings. It was painfully clear once you really took any sort of detailed look at the innards of the home. Yes, it was ridiculously noticeable. So noticeable that they prayed beyond doubt that this was one of those moments in which 'The-answer-was-so-obvious-that-there-was-absolutely-no-possible-truth-in-it'.
But they both knew that it was true.
It was a truth that they wanted so badly to be a lie.
"You don't think…"
The opening of the front door ended whatever incoherent thought she would have spouted.
"Listen, I understand that you're mad," a pleading male voice rang over the powerful slamming of the door and the rummaging sound of what Ino and Tenten assumed was the male taking his shoes off.
"Shut up and get inside so I can grab the rubbing alcohol," commanded a seemingly livid female.
The awkward shuffling of the removal of the couple's footwear stopped and was replaced by their steps resonating through the hall and approaching the living room.
"Okay, okay, I will. But just admit that I did well," the male spoke again, seemingly finding some intangible form of satisfaction to grasp onto despite his partner's obvious displeasure.
Their footsteps got closer.
"Sit. Down." The female demanded once again, her voice having become quieter and sharper.
"I would, but it seems your couch is already occupied," the male said, escaping the darkness of the hallway and laying his eyes on the two classmates who'd made themselves comfortable on Kurenai's couch.
The female finally emerged from the hall and caught a healthy dose of the room's light, placing Ino and Tenten face to face with their English Literature teacher and the wayward blond jazz musician they had said goodbye to only a few hours earlier in the night.
"This isn't Ms. Mitarashi's house?" Ino asked, dreading that she already knew the answer.
"It is not," Kurenai affirmed dryly, doing her best to get a hold of how and why two of her students were making themselves at home in her apartment.
To her credit, Tenten spoke up in spite of the astonishingly uncomfortable mood now permeating throughout the room.
"But this was the address that Hiruzen gave us," she spoke meekly. It came out as more of a question than a statement. By now she had considered herself thoroughly drained by the evening's newest development, feeling far too stale to attempt any guess at an explanation. She figured it best to just go along with whatever would happen next so that she may soon wake up from whatever nightmare this may turn into.
Kurenai did admirably to hold onto her regard for the virtue of patience, which had been slowly dragged away from her in a subconscious tug-of-war that had lasted the past two hours – a battle which she now felt that she was losing.
She spoke calmly and clearly to those in the room.
"My address is the one she gave Hiruzen so she can be dropped off right on my doorstep when she needs taken care of," she explained, setting her bag on the kitchen counter and leaning on it for much needed support. She turned back to look at the two girls, intent on at least giving a proper greeting. "Hello Ino, Tenten. Glad to see that Anko has embarrassed herself in front of yet another student."
In an effort to diffuse the tension – an effort that was both unneeded and unwanted by all parties – Naruto spoke in his usual cocky baritone, saved usually for assuaging an indignant or morose Kurenai. He had utter faith in himself that whatever words he spoke would contain the same wizardry that could tame the tensest of situations.
It would work.
It always worked.
"Let's be honest here, Kurenai, she's done worse in front of far more important people."
It did not work.
It never worked.
Kurenai sighed for the umpteenth time that night – she'd lost count half an hour ago. "Just…just go and check on Anko or something. I need to find where I put the first aid kit," she spoke apathetically, leaving them to start her search.
Naruto followed suit and walked awkwardly from the living room and down a hall and into the bedroom and towards the master bathroom. By the time he had reached his goal his waltzed had devolved to a waddle, his legs now feeling the strain from earlier.
He pried the door open slightly to let as little sound out as possible, trying to save Anko whatever shred of dignity Ino and Tenten still held for her after that night. He slid in and closed the door gently, slowly and excruciatingly kneeling down to the hunched form of his violet-haired friend, her head nearly completely engulfed by the rim of the toilet and her body shaking lightly.
He put a light hand on her back and rubbed it gently to try and soothe her, whispering questions of how she was feeling at the moment.
"Naruto…" she spoke lightly.
"Yeah?" he replied gently.
"Am I still hot?"
Her voice was a bit shaky, and from what Naruto could see from when her eyes would crest the toilet bowl, she had been lightly crying. Whether it was from the strain of regurgitating her day's food intake or some sort of sadness that had overtaken her, Naruto didn't know. So he decided to indulge her to try and ease her current state, knowing that it likely wouldn't stop her from sleeping in the bathroom that night.
In summary, as Naruto so eloquently put it, 'She's fucking shivering and crying into the toilet. Patting her back won't cure tomorrow's hangover but might as well entertain her conversation and pamper her so she doesn't start bawling.'
"Yes Anko, you're still hot," he droned lightly, as if it were common knowledge.
"Do the boys still talk about wanting to bang me in the locker room?" her quivering voice once again rose, barely echoing inside of the porcelain chamber.
"Of course, kid," he assured her. "All the time."
"Really?" Anko asked
"Would I lie to you about something like this?"
"Even though I'm old?"
"You're not old, Anko," he encouraged. "You're mature. Us hormonal teenagers think that's really sexy."
"…Would you fuck me?"
The question had thrown him for a bit of a loop considering Anko was most likely too drunk and/or tired to be joking at the moment, but Naruto had already committed to the conversation and spoke to her as if a father to a daughter, assuring her of her beauty.
"What are you kidding? Of course, Anko!"
"Would…" She choked a bit on what must have been some leftover bile and continued after settling herself again. "Would you let me dom you?"
"Hell, champ, what other way is there to do it?" At this point he thought that the whole 'encouraging dad' shtick may be getting a bit patronizing, but Anko didn't show any signs of anger. In fact, she seemed more affirmed than anything.
"You're a great friend, Naruto," she said, her voice calming from its previously rattled form.
Naruto simply continued to rub her back, smiling stupidly at how ludicrous the woman could get when she was drunk and grabbed hold of the sink to help raise himself again. "Shhh, it's okay bud. You just rest," he encouraged, giving her one last gentle pat on the back and evacuating the room, letting her have some space to finish off the rest of her Saturday as she normally did – violently puking into someone else's toilet.
He trudged his way back to the living room, sitting down with more effort than he'd usually like and heavily sighing as he finally relaxed into the seat. Still aware of the two girls in the room who were most likely desperate for answers to the current circumstances they'd found themselves in.
"So you guys had to drag Anko home?" he started.
"Not a fun experience," Tenten replied, seated beside him. "I didn't think she'd fight back so hard."
"I've never seen someone latch onto a door so violently," Ino agreed from the armchair she'd moved to. "How is her grip so strong?"
Naruto snorted at the question. "We've been wondering for years. We think she's some sort of anatomical anomaly, though the doctors refuse to run tests for 'lack of funding' or whatever."
"I think making such a groundbreaking medical discovery would be worth the funding," Ino joked.
"That's what I told the doctor!" Naruto replied excitedly, straightening up to continue but stopping abruptly at the pain of moving so quickly. He slowly sunk back downwards, continuing. "But she was all like 'No, Naruto, we can't waste hospital funds on testing Anko's grip strength while drunk' and 'How did you get in the surgical suite' and 'No you can't touch that, that's his heart'. You know what those are? Excuses. Excuses for a coward too blind to see the truth."
Ino stared at him amused. "Are you still high?"
"A little, yeah," he admitted.
Both girls huffed, containing a laugh at the forwardness of the comment. It was good to see that regardless of whatever battered state he seemed to be in, he was still at least enjoying it to some degree.
"I thought you said you had something to do tonight. Why are you with Ms. Yuhi?"
"That's what I had to do," Naruto responded, slowly shifting to find a bit more of a comfortable position.
"Do I smell a scandal?" Ino spoke, her eyes glinting with the prospect of undiscovered gossip.
"No, you do not, Ino," Naruto shot her down. "She was at a class reunion at some bar across the city. She wanted to leave but she didn't want to get in a taxi alone so I went and got her."
"And you came back with another black eye," Tenten noted.
It was true. The fight had not been as far in his favor as he'd hoped.
The man facing him wasn't skilled. At the least, he wasn't as skilled or experienced as Naruto. In the right state of mind, the clash would have been quick and easy with Naruto collecting his winnings and escorting Kurenai home with little trouble.
However, the blond had kept to himself that at the time of his fight he was still in the final stages of a body numbing high. His dulled senses and poor decision making were capitalized on with the addition of a substance in his blood, and though he still took the win and his share of the bets, it cost him another bruised eye socket and more than a few lingering pains in his exhausted limbs.
If he could have lifted his arm without groaning, Naruto would have scratched the back of his neck bashfully in a poor attempt to ease her bloomed concern. Instead, he remained still and appeased them with the lie he'd conjured to cover his injuries when he had first laid seen the two sitting on Kurenai's couch. "Yeah, some dude started hitting on her and he wouldn't leave her alone. I intervened and we sort of got into a fight."
"Did you win?" Ino requested.
"Against him? Yes. Against his friends? No."
"That's rough buddy."
Naruto chuckled. "Thus, I am no longer allowed back into that bar."
"I don't think that will be a problem considering you're not even old enough to drink. You've gotten too comfortable at The Leaf." The comment came from Kurenai as she bounded back into the room, her left hand holding a small first aid kit and her right clutching a spray bottle of peroxide.
She made her way in front of Naruto, kneeling down and opening the small red box, retrieving some of the bandages within. She motioned for the boy to lean forward, who did so with some resistance – mainly from his own body – and she aggressively sprayed the peroxide at a cut on his cheek, to which he winced at the sting. He opened his eyes hoping for some bit of sympathy from her, only to find the threatening stare of his already irate nurse.
Naruto continued on. "Hiruzen's a nice guy and you know I don't drink."
"In front of me," Kurenai corrected, placing a bandage over the cut and moving on to another just above his eyebrow. "I know you don't drink in front of me. In front of Anko, Kakashi, or Jiraiya – well, I'll have to ask them."
At the thought of her actually seeking those people out for the truth, he mustered the best poker face possible and looked her directly in the eyes, doing his damndest to sound sincere. "I have never seen alcohol in my life. The devil's brew is not for me, no sir. I live a sin free existence."
"Naruto," she commanded.
Kurenai finally directed the conversation towards the two teenage girls still lounging in her apartment.
"Ino, Tenten, I've called you both a ride home. It should be here in about ten minutes and I've already paid. Feel free to wait here until then."
"Thank you Ms. Yuhi," Tenten replied. "We apologize for the trouble."
Kurenai sighed, purposefully poking the bruised tissue around Naruto's eye, eliciting a sharp yelp of dissatisfaction at her abysmal first aid skills. "It's not your fault," the woman acknowledged. "I can guarantee that as long as you don't tell anybody about this you automatically pass Phys Ed for the year. Maybe even longer."
Ino jumped in, eager to take the deal, whether fictionalized by Kurenai or not. "That sounds fine by me."
"Additionally, I hope it's self-evident that no word should be spoken to anybody about The Leaf," Kurenai added, "especially to any students in school. I'll allow you to continue going to watch Naruto as long as you agree to keep quiet about it from now on and you never once touch a drop of alcohol. Anko and I would much prefer to keep our jobs and I'm sure Naruto wouldn't like it if his favorite jazz club was shut down for allowing the entry of minors."
"What happens at The Leaf stays at The Leaf," Tenten recited, remembering her conversation
"Good, Tenten. Ino, same goes for you," Naruto said, weakly pointing a finger at the other blonde.
Once the affirmatives were given, Kurenai collected her supplies back into the kit she retrieved them from and stood up, walking towards the kitchen and stowing them on the countertop for the moment. She walked to the fridge, intent on getting something cold for him to put on his eye.
"Is Anko okay?" she asked, clearly directing the question towards Naruto.
"She'll be fine," he responded in assurance. "She's been worse before. Remember New Year's Eve? Ya know, that time when I was in the bathroom holding her hair, wondering if I'd have to call an ambulance while you were still out here getting shitfaced?"
"I refuse to apologize for having fun," Kurenai declared, finally deciding on fishing a bottle of water from the back of the first shelf and walking it back to the boy writhing on her sofa, dropping it in his lap unceremoniously.
"You know who wasn't having fun?" he asked accusingly.
"Was it you?" Ino piped in.
Naruto pointed a finger gun at her exaggeratedly. "And she gets it in one." He settled the arm back down, regretting having moved it and tilted his head back gently to stare straight up at the apartment's owner. "I had to throw out that entire outfit, Kurenai. I liked that outfit."
Kurenai pinched the bridge of her nose, nearly given a headache by even remembering the violation of fashion he'd worn that night. She directed him to place the bottle she'd given him on his eye, to which he complied. "Honestly, remembering what you wore that night, I'm glad it's gone," she admitted.
"Take that back."
"Wait wait wait," Ino waived her hands, sliding forward in the armchair and switching her gaze between Naruto and Kurenai. "I have to see the outfit first."
Kurenai held no hesitation in pointing to a picture that hung on the far wall, held in a cheap frame and depicting a group of people grinning happily at the camera. She recognized Kurenai on the far right, and beside her was Naruto, wearing…
Ino nearly gagged. "Honestly, Naruto, I think puke might have made it look a bit better," she whispered, visibly horrified at the image.
"I've been begging him to let me take him shopping for years," Kurenai stated.
Naruto quickly interrupted, vehemently trying to take the heat from himself. "When did this turn into a witch hunt on Naruto?" he nearly shouted. "Can't we get back to making fun of Anko?"
Ino ignored his plea, instead looking away from the photo and towards the raven-haired woman, both in respect at having the courage to hang up that photo despite what it portrayed as well as in admiration for her courage to try and eliminate any presence her wayward student's eldritch-like taste in clothing.
"Ms. Yuhi I will gladly help you get this boy a better wardrobe. One that doesn't sully his name," she promised.
Naruto was still confused and glancing frustratedly between the two.
"Why is Ino on board? We met an hour ago!"
"This goes beyond technicalities, Naruto," the girl responded.
"There's no technicality! It was literally like an hour ago! Tenten help me out here."
Tenten merely shrugged, both content with the offer of shopping with her friends and basking joyfully in the playful discomfort of the boy next to her. "I mean, I honestly wouldn't mind a day at the mall. It's been a while, right Ino?"
Naruto gaped at the only girl he thought might have his back in all that was happening.
"I've been forsaken," he muttered.
Before long the car to take Tenten and Ino had found itself in front of Kurenai's complex. The two said their goodbyes, now much more comfortable having joked with the English teacher and still-injured occupant of her couch for the better part of their time together. They disappeared with a none-so-gentle slamming of the front door that immediately diminished into silence for the still occupied living room.
Kurenai let out a fatigued breath, letting her posture relax in the absence of her students. The entire night had been consecutive events seemingly intent on exhausting her. She left Naruto on the couch to fester in the pain of his stupidity – the boy would argue that the only stupid thing he had done that night was leaning out of that side kick instead of into it, but she disagreed for quite a number of reasons. Entering her room, she changed from her eveningwear to more comfortable sweats and a t-shirt decorated by the emblem of a band she wasn't familiar with. She hadn't remembered buying the article but could make an easy guess as to how it ended up in her dresser.
Probably Naruto's, she'd deduced.
Once content, she again checked on Anko, finding the woman had comfortably fallen asleep on the bathroom floor, her head squeezed snugly between the toilet and the wall. Kurenai chuckled lightly at the sight and bent downwards, gently removing Anko's head from its predicament. Once the extremity had been moved, Kurenai grabbed her friend's legs, dragging her off of the bathroom's tile and onto the carpet of her bedroom, somehow managing to get the limp body parallel with the bed.
She hoisted Anko's arms upwards, carrying her torso with it, and readjusted to get her own arms under the listless arms that were now frantically snapping in every-which direction upon the lightest touch. With no small amount of effort, Kurenai was able to raise the majority of Anko's upper body onto her bed, and with the leverage, finagled the rest of the sprawled limbs onto the mattress and sloppily covered whatever she could with a blanket.
Having felt that her duty was more than accomplished, she retraced her previous steps back into the living room, finding that Naruto had maneuvered himself to be half-lying down on the cushions.
She dimmed the lights in the room and walked around the sofa, adjusting the boy's legs herself so that she could comfortably fit between them. She laid herself out in a similar fashion to him, putting her back on his stomach and her head on his chest, listening to the calming rhythm of his heartbeat. It could have almost been a perfectly peaceful end to a chaotic night.
Her hopes were dashed when, as in most cases, Naruto opened his mouth to speak.
"Are my clothes really that bad?" he asked.
"No," Kurenai responded curtly. "But your outfit on New Year's was atrocious and most likely violated some article of the Geneva Convention."
"Then what the fuck was all of that about?"
"Consider it part of your punishment for what you dragged me to tonight. Enjoy carrying their bags and playing dress up for five hours."
Naruto looked down at her in desperation, pleading for any indication that she was exaggerating. "Five hours?"
"I've heard Ino talk about her fashion exploits in class. Good luck."
"Do I not deserve some credit for coming up with such a good lie to explain why I was here?"
"No. Now shut up," Kurenai directed, turning the television on. "You're my pillow while Anko takes my bed tonight. If my head budges an inch I'll spoil more movies for you."
Letter from the Esteemed Dicktock McJerry, Esquire
Glad ya liked it. Here's another.
Naruto's piano solo is based on Gerald Clayton's. Give it a listen. Good shit.
Just in case, here's a bit of a vocabulary:
Changes – the chords of the song they're playing
Modes – Scales
Head – the melody of the song, usually played at the beginning and the end with time in the middle for the musicians to solo
Grass – You know this you degenerates, don't lie