Previously: It is near the end of the "timeskip", shortly before Naruto Part 2 begins. As the last step of her training under Tsunade, Sakura learned a super-secret reincarnation jutsu and remembered her previous life as someone named "Saotome Ranma." But while retraining to use Ranma's skills she learned that ki is not chakra. The two energies seem to interfere with one another – violently. Also, perhaps frustrated by her own love-life problems with Sasuke, she attempted to solve other problems by connecting up Naruto and Hinata. That resulted in the Hyuga clan elders sending an assassination squad to kill her in her bed. So she's letting things cool down with a mission away from Konoha.
The Fire Daimyo receives super-secret briefing scrolls from the Hokage. Someone has been copying these and stealing them, which is a major threat to all Konoha ninja. While investigating in the capital, our team found a card-dealing executioner who used the same card techniques as Orochimaru's henchman, Kabuto. There was also a clue from Ranma's past life – the name "Tsukino Usagi", the secret identity of Sailor Moon! By the time the girls had followed this clue and signed up for waitress work, they realized that this had nothing to do with Sailor Moon or past lives. They had signed up with Tsuki no Usagi, the "Rabbit in the Moon" – a Fire Country version of the Playboy Club!
Plenty of people have seen the basic Playboy Bunny costume – a sort of leotard-like outfit, except that it lacks shoulders or straps. And the girls wearing it usually look more than a little shapely.
Lies, all lies.
The insidious outfit was designed by some sadistic ancestor of Morino Ibiki, for the sole purpose of torturing helpless young girls. While it appears to be a satiny sheath not unlike a leotard, it is in actuality a rigid plastic shell, stamped out in a shape that some man decided was an ideal feminine figure. Forget girdles, forget corsets. The Playboy Bunny armor exceeds those horrors in every way imaginable.
For one thing, it imposes perfect posture. It's impossible to lean forward or back, your spine is clamped rigidly upright, with an extra bit of curve forced in, just where your lower back loves to spasm. Your belly is pressed in until it's flattened against your tortured spine, your waist is squeezed in from the sides. And your breasts – they use as much padding and manipulation as necessary to give you ample rounding up at the top of the hell-garment, while the underside of your "shape" is filled with compressed foam. It's roughly as comfortable as having your face pressed inside a clamp for eight or nine hours.
The three of us were given lockers for changing.
Thong underwear was a necessity, and I'd long since bowed to the inevitable concerning thongs. I didn't mind panty hose, either. I'm rather proud of my legs, and these were top-quality hose. Strong and shimmery at the same time, they had just a hint of pattern to the weave, giving a very subtle fishnet effect, but you had to look for it.
The open-toed high heels had the other girls groaning in instant terror. Here's where I had to button my lip. Ki usage strengthened my muscles and body to the point where I could balance on a fingertip, or break bricks with my forehead (no jokes please). High heels were nothing. I could dance in them. I could fight in them. I could dance and fight while balancing on a high wire above a waterfall, in high heels. Delivering food for eight hours straight would be nothing.
"I don't know what sadistic bastard ever invented high heels," Anko was saying, "but someday, I'll hunt him down. His death will be slow and painful, I promise!"
I laughed uncomfortably. "Ah, yeah. I sure do hate 'em!"
"Do they make my legs look okay?" Hinata asked, standing, in nothing but hose and heels.
It was about at this point where Anko and I reached out little agreement about Hinata's bulky coat. The agreement was: Keep her wearing it, whenever possible!
The truth is, Hinata's figure is just too damn good to be true. Not that Anko was lacking either, but Hinata was slender in all the places you're supposed to be slender – only more so. And she was full in all those places where you wish you were full, only way more so. As if that wasn't bad enough, she would move with this tentative, awkwardly shy style that I just knew would have the guys eating out of her hand. And when she wasn't thinking about that, when she forgot to remember that she was underconfident, she didn't walk, she slinked like a cat. And absolutely worst of all, there is no way that breasts that large should be able to be "pert." That sort of weight sags – it has to. It does not jut proudly forward without hint of droop.
It made me want to barf.
"Alright girls, I think I have your suits," our "hutch mother" Mayumi told us, striding into the changing room.
"Anko dear, I've gone with a black for you. I think that should suit you well. Hinata, I think this lilac will match your coloring. And Sakura? I've picked pink for you."
"Uh," I protested, "but my hair is brown, see? Definitely not pink."
"I know, dear, but somehow pink just seemed like your color."
"Yeah, I understand."
To be honest, pink is my favorite color, but if you can't have a little change when you're on a mission and in disguise, what's the point?
"The zipper is built in to the side here, see? Some places might pinch or be a little tight, but you'll get used to it."
We all struggled into the hell garments.
"Remember to change out your shoes if they don't already match your suits. How's the fit?"
Having my waist pinched like that didn't allow for deep breaths, but I could live with that. The main problem was the pre-fitted cups, up top. I fell more than a little short.
"I think I'm a couple of cup sizes off," I protested.
"I'm okay," Hinata said, further crushing my ego.
"Not me," Anko said, giving a pleasant boost to my morale…
"I mean, am I really expected to squeeze into these tiny things?"
…only to utterly destroy me, a sentence later.
Mayumi came over to help me. "Don't worry dear – you'd be astounded what we can do with some padding and a little spirit gum…"
The Rabbit in the Moon was posh. I'm not sure if it was the most elegant club in the capital – it's not like I travel much in those circles – so who knows? The interior was completely covered in red velvet with soft and sensual curtains and tapestries of thick red felt.
Girls like us, decorated with long, white rabbit ears and little puff tails on our butts glided about with trays for drinks, or small plates of extremely expensive snack food. There were roulette wheels and card tables, dice tables and even pachinko.
Our goal was to spot a leak that originated on one end with the Daimyo himself. On the other ends – well, we didn't know. The clue about Kabuto might pan out, and it might be a red herring. But for the moment, the Rabbit in the Moon was a good angle to investigate. There were certainly plenty of members of the Daimyo's family here.
I'm not sure how the original Playboy Clubs were set up, back on Ranma's earth, but I suspect they didn't have bars and chairs for the samurai.
Every member of the Daimyo's family, every nobleman present, arrived with a samurai guard. The age, experience, and number of samurai served as a tricky demonstration of status. The Daimyo himself, should he ever show up, would probably be accompanied by at least four of the famous twelve guardians.
So while the upper crust gambled and drank, the perimeter of the room had arrangements that allowed samurai to lounge and engage in modest entertainment, without distracting them from their charge of observing their noble charges.
Anko grabbed me as I headed back toward the kitchen. "Hinata's no good," she whispered urgently. "Some samurai can detect chakra. They'd feel her genjutsu, maybe even dispel it."
"What about you?" I asked,
"I'll be busy at the blackjack table."
I nodded. "I've got it covered, then. They won't get a whiff of chakra off me."
I headed out to Samurai Row, along the far wall. It was raised three steps above the main floor, and had a bar that they sat behind. Every single one of them had his back to the wall, and sat facing the interior of the room.
I came to the first of the bodyguards, and give him a bunny-curtsey – a quick up-and-down that gave me a nice stretch through knees.
"Hi, I'm Sakura!" I chirped. "Can I get you anything? Everything on our samurai menu is complimentary."
The bodyguard had his arm inside his kimono, and was scratching at the three-day stubble on his chin. His was like a wannabe Toshiro Mifune.
"Darlin'," he drawled, "you say 'complimentary' like it's free. Nothin' in life is free."
"Perhaps not," I bantered back. "I'm just the drink girl, but it seems to me that by being here, you're already paying the price. Might as well get the free drinks that go with it, right?" I smiled winsomely at him.
Two seats down was another samurai, an older man who appeared almost dapper – if such a word could be applied to samurai.
"Just as well," the dapper man stated, "Jigo doesn't really need any more saké."
"Yes I do!" The first waved an empty bottle. "And make sure it's properly heated!"
The third of their group, Ichiro, was a fairly plump fellow. That was a bit surprising, since Samurai tended to be on the lean side.
"Don't mind Kato," he said. "He can't resist poking the drunk."
"'m not drunk," Jigo mumbled.
I took their orders cheerfully, and returned quickly. Since I was new, I thought I'd be permitted a few mistakes. I brought Jigo's ceramic saké bottle on a small saucer. His bar seat left him nearly three feet higher than a normal counter, so it was difficult to reach up. I had to go up and behind, to serve them. As I held out Jigo's saucer, I "accidentally" stumbled, tipping the saucer forward.
It was just as I'd suspected. Jigo barely moved. With little more than a twitch, his hand was there intercepting the saucer and placing his precious bottle down with scarcely a sound.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" I gushed. "Thank you, so much!"
"Eh, don' mention it."
"He means that," the dapper Kato followed up. "No need to mention this mishap to anyone. We wouldn't want you to get in trouble, would we?"
"Oh, no sir! Thank you!"
I finished, serving the dried fish to the plump Ichiro. He was the worst of the three, since his eyes were frankly studying me, and not the way my costume would draw the eye. But he said nothing.
By the time I finished my rounds, I'd begun to make a name for myself as a "samurai groupie." I'd chatted up the entire group and shown such sincere interest that our floor leader, Mayumi, permanently assigned me to the "bully boy" patrol, which was one of the less popular duties.
She'd had to intervene one other time, around the far side of the room as I was serving a younger man. He was obviously the type that was granted bodyguard status as an inherited position. The son of a famous swordsman, or maybe even the lesser son of a noble. All of us were careful not to use the word "punk" out loud when referring to him. He had a lean face and a sharp nose that might have been attractive, but his eyes were always moving and studying – a bit too nervously I thought – and he seemed to have a rather covetous expression.
As I dropped off his saké he clamped a large hand around my much smaller wrist.
"You like samurai, huh babe? How 'bout I show you some real fun? When do you get off?"
I smiled inside. I'd already evaluated the kid's fighting skills, and he was one of the lower ranks in the room. If I wanted an even match with him, I'd have to be blindfolded, and have both arms and a leg tied behind my back. Ah, who was I kidding? Even like that, I'd still wipe the floor with him.
On the surface, though, I forced myself to look concerned. "Sir, please! It's against club policy to have any sort of relationship with a customer." I attempted, "helplessly" to escape his fearsome grasp.
"Rules were meant to be broken, didn't you know that, girl? I promise you'll enjoy breaking them, almost as much as I will."
From the corner of my eye, I noticed Mayumi frantically signaling to Suzuki-san. The older woman was second-in-command most nights. She wasn't dressed as a bunny, but wore a subtly understated kimono that screamed megabucks to anyone with the skill to see the stitching, and the care that had gone into each layer of her wardrobe.
"Is there a problem here, Tatsuyuki-san?" she asked, in an utterly neutral voice as she addressed the dumb punk.
I was slightly surprised that she knew the kid's name, but she'd been remarkably attentive throughout the evening. I'd have to play my part very carefully, with her in the vicinity.
"Naw, no problem. Just your girl here won't tell me when she gets off."
"And it is proper that she does not. No doubt our rules were not sufficiently explained to you, Tatsuyuki-san. The girls in our establishment are expected to be friendly and attractive, and nothing else. If you desire the services of an unsavory dancing establishment or perhaps even a bordello," there were mild gasps as this, "this city maintains many such establishments. However, there is only one Tsuki no Usagi. For your own enjoyment, as well as that of your fellows, I hope my modest reminder has been sufficient. Might I offer you some refreshment from the patron menu, to soothe you in the wake of this regrettable discovery?"
"I'm not going to be bought off with some fancy food or drink. I just want to know when the girl gets off!"
Suzuki-san raised a hand to her mouth, to conceal a slight laugh. Withdrawing her other hand from the sash of her kimono, she held a pair of long wooden blocks. She struck these together, producing a sharp CLACK! sound that was audible through the length of the club. A moment later, a pair of samurai stepped forward. I'd never before seen samurai in tuxedos. It was an interesting look, and an interesting cut, as well. It looked like they've have no problem moving or fighting in those outfits – at least for standard kendo moves.
"Gentlemen, Tatsuyuki-san insists on knowing when…" she looked at me, though I'm sure she knew my name.
"Sakura," I supplied.
"When Sakura-san finishes with us for the evening. Please take him to the schedule room, where you can provide him with the proper information."
Not sure what to make of this, the punk rose and allowed himself to be escorted away by the two bouncers who were obviously both stronger and more experienced than he was. Once they'd left, I had to ask, "Will you really give out my schedule?"
Suzuki-san smiled indulgently. "It is sometimes a kindness to engage in a small, harmless deception in order to maintain the tranquility of an establishment. If you like, we shall provide you with an escort home for the next few nights." With that, she gave an abbreviated bow, superior to inferior, and left.
Our "lunch" break came shortly after midnight. The small break room was empty, and the three of us decided to share information. We each had a small bento box from the kitchen, and sat down at the smallest table. Hiding her hands under the table, Anko made a quick set of seals.
"It's a hush bubble," she explained. "It won't be obvious, but no one should be able to hear us."
Her manic grin would have made her a scary-looking kunoichi in her regular outfit. The look was slightly spoiled by being in a bunny costume. Also, there was the fact that Anko was probably grinning because her bento box was filled to the top with dango.
The special jonin rubbed her hands together in glee. "Jackpot, girls. Half the daimyo's sons and nephews come here. When the betting and stakes get high, various heirloom items get tossed into the pot. Deeds, calligraphy, artwork – all usually rolled up in scrolls. The table dealer may choose whether or not to accept these, and the dealers have to estimate a value. The pot, of course, goes to the winner."
"In other words," I realized, "the exchange can happen in plain sight, with no one the wiser."
Anko nodded, picking up a skewer and gleefully crunching into it.
Hinata took things up from there. "You noticed that one nin with the Sand headband? We're on embassy row. Each embassy is allowed to include up to four shinobi on staff, for protection. They can come and go freely throughout the capital, provided they wear their forehead protector. And, due to an incident nearly two decades ago, the forehead protectors can be kept out of sight, 'to avoid provoking a public reaction.' They only need to show it if challenged by authorities. In other words, police, registered samurai, or Konoha shinobi."
Anko groaned. "I can see it coming. How many concealed shinobi are in the crowd?"
"Three. Two mist, one rain."
I nodded, somewhat comforted. "The pair in the blue kimono, and the woman in the ugly pants suit?"
"Yes. How could you tell?" Hinata asked.
This should have been standard ninja training. In the academy and afterward, this was one of those things they talked about but seemed unable to teach. My time as Ranma had made such evaluations almost automatic.
"A combination of things," I tried to explain. "Their stance, their movements, very much their eyes and how they studied things, but also what they were looking at. The hands, too – calluses, the way their arms hung and the movements of their fingers whenever something would happen."
"What did you discover about the samurai?" Anko demanded.
"About two thirds I'd place at genin-level, or the equivalent," I judged. "Some green kids similar to our academy graduates, some experienced and with fair skill, but all about genin-level. The last third I'd rank as chunin. That is, fighting with a Konoha chunin, they'd have even odds to win or lose. But watch out for those three at the end." I described Ichiro, Jigo, and Kato. "Mid-jonin, at least. Ichiro caught me testing the 'drunk' one, and he's probably talked to the other two since then. And Jigo looks drunk, but it sure hasn't affected his reflexes. Any of them alone should be extremely confident, but they also have the look of easy and experienced teamwork."
Anko finished another dango skewer and sighed in happiness.
"How do you eat all those sweets and still keep that figure?" Hinata challenged, whimsically.
Anko rapped her knuckles against the hard suit. "Hear that? Rock-hard abs. Hey, maybe we could convince people to use this as ANBU armor! Steel instead of plastic… it might work."
We speculated briefly on the equivalent armor for guys. It shouldn't be surprising that Anko's ideas were more than a bit smutty. What was an eye opener was that Hinata was at least as dirty minded – maybe more so.
As we left the break room, I looked at my roommate with new respect and more than a touch of apprehension.
"I hadn't realized you were so…experienced," I said, trying to be tactful.
"I'm not, personally," she explained. "But I keep my eyes open, you know?"
I gulped, wondering if Naruto would ever forgive me. I mean, she seemed like such a nice girl. Innocent.
Was it a mistake to try and set her up with Naruto?
The most interesting of the chunin-level samurai was a young fellow named Hirotaka. His Lord was about the same age as Hirotaka, unmarried, and from a noble family unconnected to the Daimyo. I approached, carrying a tray of fresh food up over my shoulder.
"Ah, go read one of those stupid pumpkin books!" The samurai bellowed across several tables, to where his lord was working away at the craps table.
"You dare speak ill of my beloved Icha Icha masterpieces? Surely the gods will sympathize with my suffering, and reward me with… Yes! A seven!"
I began setting out the food. "Pumpkin books?" I asked, quietly.
Hirotaka spotted me and eyed me appreciatively. Inwardly I fumed, but after sixty or seventy times, you begin to get used to it. My inner self – the self-image of myself that I keep in my private thoughts, had lately been walking around in the nude. It felt less revealing.
Hirotaka smiled, accepting a plate of snacks. "Aha! The beautiful girl plies the handsome samurai for information! Perhaps she is, in truth, no simple serving girl, but rather the beautiful and elegant agent of a mysterious foreign nation!"
I froze. Had I been identified so easily? But…I wasn't from another country, like the disguised Mist nins.
"Lay off, Hirotaka! Can't you see that you're confusing her? Besides, we're tired of hearing about those stupid books!"
"Books?" I asked.
"Indeed, yes," the samurai confirmed. "But they are far from stupid. Unlike the bestselling Icha Icha series, which appeals to the, ah, more perverse elements of the public, the Koneko and Jiro series focuses on romance! Romance set against the blazing backdrop of nation against nation, as governments and clans vie for supremacy!"
"There he goes again," complained the samurai to Hirotaka's left. "I'll need another full saké if I'm going to have to hear this tripe again."
I curtsied to acknowledge the order and hurried away. When I returned, Hirotaka resumed his narrative as if I'd never left.
"Imagine Jiro – a handsome and dedicated samurai. Perhaps he focuses a bit too much on honor and training. His looks: rugged, not unlike my own. His skill, unmatched. All he needs is a battlefield to prove himself on. Jiro is utterly loyal to his nation, the Country of Hills."
"But," I protested, sounding a bit more stupid than I needed to, "there isn't any Country of Hills."
"Fiction, my dear, fiction. Jiro's one and only weakness is the beautiful kunoichi girl, Kaneko. She's from the Lowland Countries, protected by their massive dikes. Ruthless, cunning, and a genius at disguise, the only battle she's ever lost was when she met Jiro – and lost her heart. Tragically, fate pits them against each other, as both are manipulated by the evil Ninja Master who lives in the Dark Castle that lies in the center of the Country of Swamps!"
"Well, I'm sure they have to be better than those Icha Icha books," I offered, charitably.
Hirotaka nodded vigorously. "More tasteful, too. The Icha Icha books have orange covers and binding, but the Koneko and Jiro series are all done in an attractive forest green!"
The end of our "day" came shortly after sunrise. We'd each carefully packed our costumes away in our assigned lockers. Mayumi told us how happy she'd been with our performance, and finalized some details on salaries and schedules.
Then, finally back in regular, comfortable clothes, we staggered home. That is, we headed toward the hotel that was our temporary home. I was enjoying the feel of having my upper anatomy back in the shape that nature intended. The other two girls didn't have their intimates cruelly abused, but they did have their own problems.
"Sakura…?" Hinata began, in her quiet way, "when we get back to the hotel, do you think you could look at my feet? In a medical sense, I mean. I want to make sure I'm not doing permanent damage to them."
"Hell, yeah!" Anko agreed. "Here's my plan. A B-rank mission to hunt down the inventor of those shoes. We'll need Ibiki along to provide inspiration. Then a long interrogation session with the man, but we've only got one question which is: What the hell were you thinking?"
I didn't want to admit that my ki-strengthened feet felt fine. Instead, I griped, "At least you didn't have to have your boobs stretched and glued into weird shapes, just to fit an incorrectly-sized costume! I'm gonna have nightmares!"
Anko began picking her teeth with a fingernail. "Only two good things I can see from this. First – like I said before, I think we hit the jackpot. I feel good about this. I think we've figured out where the transfer is done, and we've mostly figured out how. The only thing left is identifying the parties involved, and catching 'em red-handed."
"What's the second thing?" Hinata asked.
"That guy following us," Anko admitted. "I could use the stress relief."
Right on cue, a voice called out, "Hold it right there ladies, and there won't be any trouble!"
The three of us smiled and cracked our knuckles, slowly turning around.
END OF CHAPTER 11
A bit short compared to other chapters, sorry. But the fight really belongs in the next chapter.
I made a remark sometime earlier about not wanting to simply rehash the wave country mission or the chunin exam. Don't get me wrong, I've read a ton of fics that play with those plotlines. (Heck, Chunin Exam Day redoes the exam sometimes two or three times per chapter, and it's reaching toward sixty chapters. And it's a hell of a lot of fun.) At the same time, I think there's an opportunity to push the edges of the universe a bit, and explore other fun details of the world. (Though to be fair, Chunin Exam Day explores the universe more than most any other story out there.)
Thanks for the wonderful reviews! They definitely motivate me!