Haan: Umm.

Chidori: TALK! Where is Sousuke? Who do you work for?

Tessa: Let Mao handle him, she can do things with piano thread you wouldn't believe.

Haan: Now, ladies, honest. He'll be back before you know he's missing. *Someone pulls a Bowie knife* I promise! He's just busy earning money to buy you christmas presents!

Tessa: Oh, really?

Haan: You bet, just let me get back to writing and he'll be right on it. Would you mind letting that little troll out now?

Chidori: So he can start groping again?

Haan: No, there's a bunch of people over there that we can lure him into.

Tessa: The ones carrying pitchforks and torches?

Chidori: Who brings a flame tank to a lynching anyway?

*A Metal box is opened*

Happosai: SWEEETTTOOOO! Where are my silkie darlings?

Haan: Do a disclaimer and you'll find a whole lot over there, they're picketing for the right to go commando in public.

Happosai: Haanownsnothing,'. SWEEEEETTTTTOOOO!

Haan: Is it bad of me to enjoy doing that to him.

Tessa and Chidori: Nope!

Talks and thoughts

There had been a lengthy discussion that afternoon, as the story of what had happened at school while Naruto was away was repeated. Then Moka unveiled her double's painting, trying and failing to hide the small blush she got at Tsukune's unreserved and blissful reaction to his birthday gift. And then a certain blonde thirteen year old had to do his very first Explanation, a task feared by men everywhere in the same way that you fear disarming bombs while blindfolded, using your feet. It's the dread that accompanies a task that almost certainly will fail spectacularly, yet the option of not doing it isn't an option.

It was a horrifyingly embarrassing experience, as he tried to explain his absence to his friends (mostly Kurumu) and failed impressively. His story might have sounded more plausible if he'd been as alone coming back as he was when he left, but the two additional girls that had for some inexplicable reason followed him to the special little piece of inverted-pocket space they were currently living in complicated matters.

And had Kurumu sizzling with jealousy. She'd been miffed when she found Naruto having another moment with the 'really scary' Moka, perturbed when her shout of outrage was mimicked by two others and rather put out when they, including Moka, all seemed to give of a similar vibe of jealous irritation while trying to simultaneously keep an eye on each other and glare at Naruto. Then Naruto's long, confusing and altogether lacking explanation let her build up towards a point where, if there had been a Kurumu-anger warning system installed in the school, there would have been sirens, flashing red lights and people leaving the premises almost as quickly as at the end of a school day. Kurumu's aura was getting dark.

The other girls had no problem at all picking up the petite succubus mood. Even Tsukune could feel a certain amount of hesitancy in trying to placate the busty seductress. And so it was that Naruto had to save himself, as no one seemed inclined to come to his rescue. Both Mana and Ruby had to fight their instinct to wince at some of the more horrendous parts of the story, as well as the instinct to give each other pointed looks. While they both had developed a certain interest in the oblivious young boy (whether they admitted it or not), neither wanted to get in the way of a girl who could apparently grow dagger-long nails at will. Meanwhile Moka seemed to take his example of how to not lie to others in stride, although one might wonder why she suddenly had to do so from the other side of Tsukune's bed. Oh, and Yukari affected not to notice, instead focusing on getting in under Tsukune's covers, a much too innocent grin on a very much too happy face.

Tsukune spent most of the time on the sidelines, offering moral support to his fellow male and trying to keep Yukari away without resorting to violence. It should, in the name of fairness, be mentioned that she was the one suggesting him tying her up. Naruto spent the same time sweating. He'd first been absorbed in verbally sidestepping his creepy temporary boss, then had spent a few blissful minutes acting as a rather insane sensei, right up till he realized there was an audience and that said audience was potentially his fourth worst nightmare come true (He'd had a lot of them, so he knew how to rank them, even when they were real). Then it became true as his treasonous student unleashed Moka's sexier inner self. And then, just as it seemed that he'd gotten away with his life once again, if slightly anemic, his number one admirer had come storming in, bringing questions. And worse, raised eyebrows.

The fact that his bondsmate decided to beg off of being present during the interro- err, conversation, did little to strengthen his resolve or arguments, but Naruto was never one to play hardball with someone important to him. Besides, he was much too busy talking himself into trouble to start arguing with his mischievous demon servant.

Kyuubi was not worried however, and enjoyed spreading chaos in the little posse of beautiful girls before slinking out of the sickroom in her 'normal' fox form. She silently hoped that her master would be forced to start sharing some of his secrets, she knew perfectly well how deep Kurumu's change of heart went, and had a pretty good understanding of just how profoundly it might change an entire race. Kurumu deserved to know a bit more about her master before their relationship went beyond chaste kisses and teasing. It wasn't like the succubus would change allegiance again after all.

"Of course." She thought exasperated upon spotting a familiar figure up ahead, heading towards the medical facility carrying a bouquet of flowers. "Some never learn what no means."

Tripping Gin with her tails straight into a group of female trolls, she rounded a corner with the sounds of righteous retribution echoing down the hall. She had no intention of letting that spineless womanizer disrupt her master's unintentional courting, and if the poor monsters that really hated the human form got a chance to vent on the pervert, well it was a plus in her book. Once at the right floor and giving a quick glance to either end of the corridor to make certain it was empty, she transformed into her human shape and knocked on the imposing entrance to the headmaster's offices.

The voice that gave permission to enter was a familiar one. She opened one of the double doors and entered the outer office, strode through it briskly and entered the inner sanctum, ignoring the theatrics of the second door pair opening by themselves.

"Well, well, if it isn't my favorite substitute teacher. How are you this wonderful day, Kyuubi-sensei?" The Headmaster, or Mikogami Tenmei as the small sign on his desk proclaimed, was his usual creepy self, slightly too wide, sardonic smile and eyes that could go all the way from weakly glowing orbs to two baleful rays. They were currently in his normal, I-am-setting-you-up-for-immense-pain-and-you-are-too-scared-to-ask-why twinkle, easily confused with the normal twinkle of caring and slightly daft grandparents. The difference would only become obvious after a few brushes with death, angst or group homework assignments.

"Oh, I am very well, Headmaster. I am afraid that my master is not, however, which is why I would speak to you." She kept her tone light and neutral, hoping to bait the powerful monster a bit.

"Oh? Is something amiss?"

"Master was deeply affected by his last assignment, and as he is not the kind of person to whine and complain about his own hurts, I am going to have to do it for him."

"Hm, I can understand that you as his bondsmate would be less than pleased with any… issues your master may suffer from this. However, I gather that you better than most understand that in his chosen path such insights and experiences are unavoidable. Therefore, I gather that there is a deeper problem here. Something that I must say I can't quite grasp. Tell me, Kyuubi-sensei, is there a problem with my sight?"

"If your eyes can not perceive what lies before them, I would say so. Has the years dulled your gaze, Headmaster? Or has reading all those dusty tomes finally turned you blind? You should be able to recognize who your better is after all." Kyuubi's words seem to spark something in the perpetually grinning man.

"I hope you know what you are doing, there has ever only been one person to address me as you do now without blood being spilled." His voice came from suddenly gritted teeth, no matter that the smile stayed, and the challenge and threat was obvious.

"Very good, I am glad that the ways of old have not been completely forgotten. However, I do know exactly what I am doing. Rise and approach so that you may greet me." The reply was accompanied by Kyuubi raising her left hand slightly, palm out. She had a gleam in her eyes as well, challenging the male monster right back. Her speech, however, indicated something formal, formal and old.

The Headmaster was on his feet by the time she finished, his grin disappearing into parts unknown and all traces of sarcastic mirth gone without a trace. He approached the bonded daemon and knelt before her, then took her proffered hand and touched his forehead to it. As contact was made, there was a spark of power where her palm touched him, and he shivered slightly.

"Master." His tone had dropped all inflections of cynicism, calculated risk taking and flowery speech. Only a note of barely allowed hope could be heard.

"Stand, my disciple, and give me your affection." Her answer was, in return, filled with warmth. The one known as a Lord of Hades stood and stiffly embraced his temporary employee. When nothing happened, he sagged slightly in relief, a small smile of joy visible.

"I never thought I'd see you again." He was still smiling as he let her go.

"Well, neither did I Mikogami, we all figured that our work was done on this world. How are the others?" She asked as they parted slightly.

"Oh, you know pervert-san, he's both relieved and broken up over the fact that you turned him down. He's happily living it up with various beauties whenever he can, but I'm uncertain as to whether he ever truly got over you."

"He always was a sentimental fool." Kyuubi paused, and when she continued a touch of worry could be heard."And Akasha? What has become of my beloved and spoiled little vampire princess? Her presence has been hidden from me ever since I returned."

"Akasha… is, well, dead. But not permanently." He hastened to add the last part at her near soundless gasp.

"What do you mean?" Kyuubi's voice was alarmed, the question demanding a speedy reply. Mikogami was not fool enough to tease her.

"There was an incident involving her daughter and one of her step daughters. The oldest one. Alucard almost broke free because of it, and she sealed herself inside of him to hold him back until her daughter matured."

"Ah, let me guess. Akashiya Moka. That explains her Rosario, and why I've felt troubled whenever she appears." Kyuubi's relief was palpable, and a small sigh escaped before she had resumed control of her emotions.

"I see your mind has not dulled in that other world, despite where it has been forced to reside."

"Hm, do not disrespect my master, oh favored exorcist of mine. Naruto-sama carries the blood of the only one I've ever considered before or after Akasha, and is already showing signs of surpassing his lineage."

"I see. I expect you would discuss the nature of his first job then."

"Yes, but that can wait. Master survived, triumphed and has embraced his father's convictions as his own, all without either yours or mine influence. There will of course be more trouble due to his choices, but I will be there to aid him." She paused, a small measure of wonder flitting across her face. "After all my searching, it's hard to believe that my bondsmate would be a boy that I was unwillingly sealed and sworn to."

The usually controlled headmaster visibly started at her words."Are you certain master? He is still very young and unpolished."

"I know, but he has already assembled a small following of friends and lovers. They cannot stay away from the brilliance of his soul anymore than a moth can avoid the flame of a candle. And they in turn will help him heal as well, his childhood was not a happy one."

"I knew that he'd caused a few ripples, but to have his gathering start so soon…"

"Yes, Naruto-sama is much, much more remarkable than he can ever appreciate by himself. And unless I am mistaken both Tsukune-kun and Sousuke-kun may well prove to be almost on his level. It seems as if we're heading into some very interesting times here. On that note, I would ask you about one of the students. She was an avid participant in my classes and a most promising rival and mate for master, but then she disappeared."

"I expect you're referring to the school's current Mistress of Ice, Shirayuki Mizore?"

"Yes. What has happened to her?"

"Well, she never was very comfortable with crowds, and although Naruto-kun had seemed to draw her out of her shell a bit, she came to me the day after the swimming club incident and begged off her classes for a while, citing personal problems. My own policy concerning some of the more, ah, special yokai races is to let them handle their problems themselves, and the maidens of snow have always been very good at doing so."

"Hmm, that is not much to go on, she did not say anything else?"

"Only that something she'd hoped for had been taken from her, and that she needed the time to handle her own disappointment."

Kyuubi stood in thought for a bit, face scrounged in a frown and a hand supporting her chin."I may have an idea, but there are plenty of issues to handle before I can address the poor self esteem of a self centered girl. Now, tell me about the organization that can employ one of the great monster races to run a slave trade market."

"Yes, master. It is an organization I've been trying to bring out into the open for some time now called Fairy Tale."

"So, you've been off doing a favor for the Headmaster, and she's been helping you."


"And when you were away, you somehow came across this other girl, who for some reason that you won't tell me has sworn herself into servitude to you."


"I'd prefer the term sub-"

"Quiet! And when you finally come back from doing this favor, which somehow took several days, you barely get to campus, looking like you've been tossed into a meat grinder no less, before running off to yell at Tsukune-kun and get lovey-dovey with Moka."

"Err, it wasn't planned like that, but yeah. Sorta."

"I see." Kurumu put her head in her hands and drew a deep breath. "I don't know. I've been good, I haven't even tried to molest Tsukune all week, I've been worried sick ever since you disappeared without saying anything, and when you get back you treat me like I'm not even here." She started, quietly, to sob. Her body seemed to gently shake in time with what sounded like desperately bit back wails, and the light in the room seemed to dim.

Naruto, of course, fell head first into her trap. "Ah, no sorry Kuru-chan! It's just been a lot to do, we had to get the civvies out safely, that werewolf kept regenerating and trying to gnaw off my head and the ramen shop closed due to supply problems!"

Kurumu looked up, no trace of tears on her face and narrowed her eyes."What's a 'civvie', why would a werewolf want to do that and where does a ramen shop enter into all this?"

Naruto winced and wished desperately to take a quick time trip so he could take back those words. "Sorry Kuru-chan, that's kinda secret. It's part of the Headmaster's favor."

"Oh really? I'm supposed to believe that you just happened to pick up a few extra girls while out buying furniture? Was it a special offer? Buy a water bed and get a sex-slave for free? I know I'm not good in school, but I'm not a total retard. And you're not saying anything squirt!" The last was aimed at Yukari, whom simply closed her mouth again before returning to gaze longingly at Tsukune and Moka now that her hobby of insulting Kurumu had been curtailed. Kurumu had a glint of something in her eye that convinced everyone nearby that getting on her bad side right now was the wrong answer.

"Yeah, I'm sorry, but I made a promise." He really couldn't help himself, and lowered his gaze, a hand at his neck. It was turning out to be a lot more difficult to keep secrets from his important people than he'd expected.

"Fine, if you won't talk, I'll have to ask someone else. Was there any other boy involved in this 'favor' of yours?" Kurumu's tone was scathing, and Naruto briefly wondered if it was possibly to skin someone using only words and tone of voice.


"Forget it, I obviously have to wait until I can bed you before you're going to give me the respect of a decent lie. Ladies, since Naruto is being stubborn, I'm inviting you to a sleep over this evening."

Kurumu's last statement made the whole group do a double take.

"Um, I'm kind of sworn to Naruto-sama." The self-professed servant, who had been absently playing with a gemstone, replied as a healthy blush sprang to her cheeks.

"And I'm also obliged to stay silent." That was the girl who went by the name of Mana.

"I'm going to let the other Moka handle this." The silver haired vampire replied haughtily, before collecting and returning her Rosario to its rightful place. She was most definitely not running away. Perish the thought!

"Can we watch adult movies and use Mo-err each other for train- mmmff!" Yukari was swiftly gagged by Kurumu.

"Yukari, I'm washing your mouth with soap if you say one more dirty thing until tomorrow. And I really don't care about any of your excuses. My Destined Mate is hiding things from me and I am not suffering through tonight alone."

"Well, if it's like that… sure."

"I'm not going home for another couple of days. Naru-gaki, why don't you and Tsukune-san find No-smiles and have your own little get together?"

"Good idea Hot-stuff, just keep the others away from the boys dorm okay?" After those words Naruto felt an impressively dark aura pop up next to him.

"Hot-stuff? You're calling her Hot-stuff?" Kurumu's gaze could have burnt through steel at this point.

"Just a nickname, doesn't mean anything!" He could feel sweat gathering on his brow. Kurumu didn't seem convinced. "Err, how about you and I go and talk in private for a second."

Kurumu let her gaze burn into him for a few seconds more, before relenting. "I hate how much I love you Naruto."

"Err… right."

He led her outside and into an empty room down the hall. Turning around after closing the door he was greeted by crossed arms and a foot that seemed to be tapping a countdown to his execution.

"Look, Kuru-chan, I'm serious okay? There's nothing between me and Mana." He pleaded with her, knowing that he'd run out of excuses but determined to try anyway.

"And why the hell should I believe you? You're lying to me Naruto, and that hurts."

"I'm sorry, but there are some things I've promised to keep secret, and I never go back on a promise. Ever!"

"And what about me? I've done anything and everything I can think of to show you how I feel about you, what you mean to me, and then you run off and do something like this? That doesn't exactly make me feel very good, you know."

"Well, can I do anything to make you feel better?"

"Ha! Like you'd really want to do that, you're always running away from me when I'm trying to tell you how I feel."

"That's because I'm not used to it! Okay? I'm an orphan that grew up pretty much without friends and certainly without a girl, and now I'm all but smothered by one. I'm scared, okay?" Naruto, getting desperate, felt his tone rise as he found himself saying things he normally wouldn't have told anyone.


"Yeah, sorry to rain on your parade, but every time I think that someone might actually l-lo-that, rather than just accept me as a friend or something, I get terrified. I'm not used to people caring about me."

"Naruto…" At this point Kurumu felt that she had to do something, like jumping him for example, but decided against her first instinctive reaction. "Do you want a hug?"

Naruto blinked in response."You're asking me?"

"Yeah. I'm asking. I really want to just jump you, but I won't if it makes you scared."

"Oh, well in that case I think it's fine." He stepped closer to her, their gazes locked. "If you're actually restraining yourself to ask first, I should feel safe enough to accept, right?"

"Yeah, although that sounds really wrong." Another few steps closer."I just want you to want me."

Now, they were inches apart."I think I do, Kuru-chan. It's just hard." His eyes, always open and honest with the feelings they contained, held hers as she spread her arms in invitation and he accepted.

After a few seconds of holding each other, getting used to body contact that wasn't the result of a carefully planned ambush or 'accident', Naruto had an idea. "Kuru-chan, you like to touch me right?"

"Yeah, I guess. I like being close to people that matter to me, and you more than anyone else."

"Well, would you like me to touch you?"

Kurumu felt like her face might spontaneously combust at his offer, and had to fight down an urge to squeal and punch him in the face. "Wait a minute, why the hell would I want to do that to Naruto-kun? He just offered to-"

"YES! Please Naruto-kun, touch me! Anywhere, I don't care. Just show me that you love me too!"

"Err, you sure?"

"Naruto, either you start feeling me up right now or I'm going to rape you on top of the teacher's desk."

Swallowing heavily and wondering just what kind of demon he had unwittingly unleashed, Naruto placed a hand on Kurumu's cheek. She stilled at that, eyes closing, and he slowly let his hand slide down her face before letting his finger tips trace her throat, making her face turn an interesting shade of red and teasing a soft mewl from between her lips. He could see how quickly her heart was beating from her jugular and marveled at the sense of power he got from her response. As his hand continued downwards, caressing her collar bone through her clothes, he leaned in and let his lips brush against hers.

"You like this?"

"…Don't stop. Please." Her voice was a whisper, pleading with him. Even he could hear how badly she wanted this.

His reply was to kiss her again, more intensely than previously, as he let his hand travel downwards.

Shirayuki Mizore was confused.

She'd just finished reading the school newspaper for the third time, and the contents had her walking around in a daze.

First there had been the writing of that Tsukune guy. He was a talented boy apparently, phrasing himself elegantly and shamelessly using logic and common decency to appeal to the readers. In a school for monsters, that was the same as bringing holy water and silver to a fight. It was Just Not Done! She'd seen several kids break down in tears after reading the editor's column.

Then there was the subject matter. Do not judge others unless you know all there is to know. Hm.

She was pretty sure she knew what the piece was referring to, the rumors following the fight in the pool area had reached her through the usual spying on the local gossip traders, and although she'd felt cheated when Naruto let Moka satisfy herself on him like that, even she had been surprised at the way the rumors portrayed him. She was pretty sure he hadn't tied the whole swimming club up and forced himself on them after all. Besides, from what she'd seen before it would have been the other way around.

The newspaper had contained an article about the event, giving a widely differing account of what had happened, although the details had been carefully doctored to actually give very little information away except for the fact that Naruto had been defending the other students, not attacking them. She'd already heard a few girls gossiping about the article, although she hadn't heard their conclusions. Hopefully there would be a little bit less fear around him from now on.

Letting her legs take her wherever they wanted, she continued thinking about what Tsukune had written. Could she be accused of making the same mistake? She'd been very upset with the whole pool incident, and thinking back she couldn't help but wonder if there was something she was missing, or perhaps had misinterpreted. Naruto had been shaking while Moka licked and sucked up his blood, but had it really been from pleasure? Just because Moka had had something resembling an orgasm didn't mean that Naruto liked it.

As a small seed of hope started to bloom within her, she looked absently over to the entrance of the school hospital, and almost dropped her lollipop.

He was just leaving, school uniform worn and dirty. Tsukune was with him, and a few steps behind she could see five girls, two which she'd never seen before. The two groups stopped just outside the entrance and exchanged a few words, before the boys waved goodbye to the girls and headed off towards the male dorms, while the girls turned towards the main building.

She was about to follow Naruto, but he actually turned his head in her direction, as if looking for something. Given that he seemed able to notice her, and how hard it could be following someone on the path to the dorms, she started following the girls instead. When she overheard their discussions about a slumber party, snacks shopping and finding Kyuubi-sensei, she realized that she needed to pick up her camera again. While she wouldn't trade them to the resident perv-corp, a few embarrassing photos could always prove useful for blackmail. Or excitement.

Following the girls, she listened in on their conversation. It was well after normal school hours and they were speaking quite freely. After listening to their comments on the two boys, her confusion was growing. What on earth was going on between those people? First Moka and Tsukune liked each other, then even-sexier-Moka was literally necking Naruto, while Kurumu kept pushing Tsukune into her cleavage, before suddenly starting to chase Naruto? And Yukari kept trying to get Moka and Tsukune into a bed together, preferably with her in it? And who were the other two girls, one of whom called Naruto 'Naru-gaki', while the other referred to him as 'Naruto-sama'?

She'd heard about triangle relationships before, but this seemed more like one of those harem manga she'd read occasionally. Only there were two boys involved that were apparently both liked by various girls. Weird. Mizore had done her best to understand how people outside the Snow Maiden enclave maintained their relationships, studying both magazines and manga that seemed to have a lot of information on the subject. And although there were a lot of new and interesting information to be gained from there, some things didn't seem to apply. The concept of yaoi, for example. She'd gotten an awfully strange, warm, feeling in the pit of her stomach when picturing Naruto and Tsukune in the gym changing rooms together, but once she found a way to peek at them, there was a disappointing lack of pretty boys fondling and kissing other pretty boys. Very puzzling since some of the reference literature she'd gotten was almost exclusively about such situations.

She'd stayed and watched anyway, of course, but except for some things to dream and fantasize about, she hadn't really seen much. Except that both apparently worked out regularly. Naruto came off as a surprisingly underdeveloped boy, lacking body hair everywhere, while Tsukune obviously had gotten well into puberty, but was less well trained. She had quickly decided that either boy (or both) would be acceptable candidates for her to fulfill her obligations to her race, even though the blonde still was ahead on points.

Those two boys seemed to be good friends, as far as she could tell, but that was apparently it. Bit weird in a way, seeing as Tsukune was quite possibly the most polite, soft spoken and inoffensive monster she'd ever met, while Naruto was loud, brash and arguably the most talked about student on campus. He'd apparently almost made the honors grade on the last tests and always stood out during P.E. while somehow retaining a reputation as a "bad boy". His blond hair always drew looks, while Tsukune had managed to land himself in the dead center of his year test wise, tended to get stuck with helping the teachers with pretty much anything resembling chores and could disappear in a crowd of one.

She really didn't understand that friendship at all, they should barely acknowledge the other person's existence. To her it seemed obvious that there was something else that bound them together than the normal things friends had in common. Disappointingly nothing related to sex, but you couldn't have everything.

She had managed to conjure up a few theories, and hoped there would be an opportunity soon to see whether she was right or not about them. Maybe they kept themselves to themselves back at the dorms?

While the group of girls headed out from the cafeteria with their supplies for the night, Mizore took a short cut through the woods. She'd heard Moka ask if they could all fit into Kurumu's room, and since she lived on the same floor as the unusually happy succubus there was no point in following them anymore. Now it was time to get her camera, check on where her mark had gone and get productive. It seemed plausible that the boys would hang out for a while as well, and if they didn't, well, she never felt an hour spent staring at Naruto through a camera's lens was wasted.

Humming happily and blushing softly at the possibilities of boys alone in a room with a bed, Mizore headed back to her room.

Opening the door to his room, Naruto looked at the flutter of white briefly before picking it up and going inside. Normally he didn't bother with security measures, as he usually had at least one clone reading one school book or another while he was at class, or studying a scroll. However, leaving a clone around while away on a mission wasn't a good idea, and so he'd used a couple of classical tricks that very few people would be able to bypass or even know to look for. He couldn't trap his door or window with anything damaging, but he could setup signs so he'd know if someone had been inside.

Looking at the floor below the window and finding it spotless, he closed the door and relaxed. Sagara and Tsukune had been introduced, and since No-Smiles had changed into some fresh civilian clothes they'd wait for him in one of the common rooms. Meanwhile Naruto hadn't had a chance to shower yet, and could barely wait to get out of his ruined school uniform. After stripping down to his boxers he took out a replacement he'd brought with him, before wrapping a large towel around him and heading for the showers.

The Headmaster had actually had three extra sets waiting for him when they got back to the base, lying outside a locker with his name on it along with a small Konoha mark on the door. These were apparently a custom made kind with special reinforcements, several extra hidden pockets, and even the folds needed to put in select pieces of body armor. In the locker there was a new pair of dress shoes, a pair of boots, shoes for running in, an exercise outfit as well as more 'business' like outfits, one with a dark camo pattern and one in solid dark colors, comprised of everything from underwear and up. A note informed him that all tools he'd want and knew how to use could be checked out when needed, as long as they stayed in the underground base.

There was even an armored vest to stop frags. Whatever a frags was. He'd have to remember to ask later.

Mana and Sagara found lockers of their own as well, although they also got a soft kind of hat, which Mana said were called berets. They were both black, which in this case simply meant special ops. There were no markings anywhere on what his teammates called uniforms. For some reason he figured that it mattered, but the why eluded him.

The other two had stayed behind with the civilians, taking turns showering and changing into a school uniform set. He had had the doubtful honor of reporting on the mission to the Headmaster. There would be a full team debriefing the next day, but the bare essentials could be covered by him alone. As Sagara had joked "The only reason we tagged along was that you don't know how cross the street. You would have gotten yourself run over by a car and died if Mana wasn't there to babysit you."

And also, as Mana had put it, he'd taken command. He'd gathered intelligence, constructed a plan of action and directed the others in its execution. And Sagara, being a lot more military than not, added one of those loveable little truths concerning martial life. "If you have the luxury of deciding how your side is going to act and react, you're also entitled to the pleasure of explaining yourself. Have fun."

So, reported he had. Sneaking through the school to avoid the end-of-school rush was not easy, but fun and quite safe, as just like Tsukune he barely even registered energy wise.

Reporting to his boss, or whatever he should call the weirdo with the glow-in-the-dark eyes, was pretty much like reporting to Tsunade, except he didn't pound Naruto with fists but with words. Twisting, probing and darkly humorous words. After a few minutes of talking Naruto very much felt like he would be lucky to make it out alive.

"So, you sent in a pair of disguised clones into the store to scout and make more clones because they were, what was the phrase? Oh yes, 'super-packed with chakra'. Without conferring with your teammates I might add. Funny, I seem to remember someone saying that those clones could burst from a paper cut. Most perplexing. Then you pushed the team into striking sooner than planned, severely increasing the chance of an organized response since the opposition hadn't gotten drunk and worn themselves out "celebrating", split your team and refused to use deadly force, even against the werewolf." Here the Headmaster paused, somehow stretching his smile even further.

"And you decided to capture said werewolf because, and I quote, 'He wasn't in any moon light, so he was like a B class monster at most, right? No biggie!'. Now I know I wanted prisoners, and the order included seeing to the liberation of any slaves, but where in this rather exhaustive mission briefing folder do I find the part where you're supposed to bring said rescued slaves back to your hotel suite? Or the part where you are supposed to threaten to shove an empty bowl of ramen up someone's posterior unless they arrange a transport for everyone back to the school? I am all ears."

Yeah, who said getting knocked into a wall by a disguised old woman with crazy strength was tough? That bastard kept asking things like "And who will pay for their food?" and Naruto had to use every trick he'd ever learnt just to, as it felt, keep the man from hanging him from the school's highest building for the crows to feast on. Or throwing him into a scorpion pit. Naruto wasn't sure if there was such a thing on campus, but suspected that it could be arranged.

Of course, that he somehow managed to persuade, intimidate and barter his way through the whole thing, without selling his first born, was something he had totally forgotten the second he'd heard about Tsukune lying in the hospital. That any human would be willing to stay at a school for monsters without a large supply of silver, holy water and possibly an army should have tipped him off at the start, but he'd missed it. No use crying over spilled caltrops, he just had to face the facts. His student in the mystical ways of chakra was a suicidal idiot. He should know after all. He'd spent most of his shinobi career acting the same way.

The fact that Naruto acted like as if he'd almost just died from worry and then died again with relief could be explained by pretty much the same reasons. The possibility of finding another confidant at the school was laughably unlikely. Apart from finding another human, the only ones he could trust to any degree would be the girls. And as nice as they were, he wanted another guy to hang with, relaxed and unguarded. And although Tsukune could seem pretty wimpy, the fact that the guy stuck around without any reliable allies, powers or weapons, just to stay near a girl who wanted to be his friend (and suck his blood) pointed at a guy with a solid pair of brass balls. Naruto could respect a guy like that.

Stepping into an empty shower stall, Naruto absent-mindedly started to wash away the last remains of the mission. He was still confused about just how he felt about Kurumu. How she felt was obvious, and her obvious anger and hurt at being left out of the loop only served to enforce how serious she was. He was just not sure whether he could or should return those feelings. He was, despite everything, on a mission. Once it was finished, he would return to Konoha and normal shinobi operations. It was doubtful whether Tsunade would allow him to bring over a bunch of friends, or even a girlfriend. Never mind how he was going to explain Ruby. The idea of telling his baachan that a girl almost five years older than him had sworn herself into a kind of slavery to him sent shivers of dread down his spine. He sort of doubted that she'd be any less strong when he returned home, nor any less punishing of any perceived perverted behavior.

Ruby was likely to bring such punishment down on him the first time she said anything. The girl had a way of making the most innocent of sentences turn into something so full of innuendo that even ero-sennin would have been impressed.

Naruto frowned thoughtfully. He hadn't had time to reflect on her behavior, but now he started wondering if she really was as naïve as all that. Even he had been able to catch some of those accidental invitations, and he knew that it was only because the time spent around Kurumu and Yukari had sped up his learning on that front. Of course, if she was being serious about it…

Shaking his head vigorously to get that dangerous train of thought derailed, he relaxed a bit, letting the caress of almost painfully hot water fill his mind. Then, head still blissfully empty, he turned it off and started to towel himself dry, before heading back to his room. He felt like he was walking on clouds, free of worry and stress.

He had just entered the corridor to his room when he felt something weird in the pit of his stomach. It spread rapidly upwards, heading straight through his torso and up his neck. His breath suddenly seemed heavy and strained, his heart beating rapidly and filling his head with an incessant drumming. The corridor seemed to tilt even as his sight seemed to go out of focus and narrow, as if he was looking through a tube or a tunnel.

Even as the floor rose to greet him, he could hear his name being shouted.

"-then he stopped and asked me if I liked it, before he…"

Tatsumiya Mana tried not to stare at the unusual scene before her. That Kurumu wanted to tell her mother about the latest development in her ongoing campaign to find her Destined Mate wasn't so hard to understand, nor was the excited babbling of a teenage girl in love. The part where she was speaking into an enchanted mirror instead of using a phone was, however, unusual enough to make her feel slightly off center.

The detailed, candid and utterly unembarrassed description of an event that she herself felt was intensely private didn't help. Mana was no stranger to the unusual, but until now her interactions with the races that dwelled in the shadows of humanity had been limited to fighting or of such a nature that there was little of normality attached anyway. Here, however, she was put smack dab in the middle of what could be considered an everyday performance by a creature which had some distinctly different views on what was private and what was not.

She was so thrown by the strange behavior that she didn't even reflect on the small feeling of relief she felt when Kurumu, in a slightly disappointed tone of voice, described how Naruto had caressed her back instead of her front.

Focusing on the view through the window, she blocked out the excited succubus and tried to enjoy the efforts of the pink haired vampire girl, who was brushing her hair. Although she could, and had at times, forgone such luxuries as the newly discovered friend was now administrating on her, Mana was no tom boy. She knew she looked good, almost offensively so for a fifteen and a bit year old, and was quietly proud of herself and her looks. Pairing that with the stress she'd recently been forced to handle and it was easy to allow herself some impromptu spa time. Although her business psyche had handled the mission as efficiently as could be asked, there had been a few emotional traces to handle, and a bit of normal girly time was exactly what she needed.

As her body continued to unwind, in small fractions, she let her gaze wander over to the one other girl that had somehow managed to become part of their sudden sleepover. Ruby, as she called herself, seemed to fit in as if she'd always been part of the group. Mana was slightly envious of the older girl. Just over a day ago she'd been locked into a dungeon, facing an unknown future decided by cruel and uncaring people. Now, there was no obvious sign what so ever that such a traumatic event had occurred. This fact was part of the reason for her being there as well. While the other freed slaves were being cared for by the Headmaster's impressive resources, this girl had somehow differentiated herself. The lack of a proper debriefing, however, meant that Mana needed to stay on hand in case Ruby finally reacted. It was plausible that she was still in a delayed shock, and was therefore a walking bomb. A bomb whose fuse was lit and of an unknown length.

She claimed that she had done what she needed to by talking to Naruto, but neither he nor Mana were convinced that was all the help that Ruby required. At the same time they weren't trained to handle psychological trauma, and had decided to let her be for the day, as she claimed her servitude demanded a certain nearness to her newly minted master. They'd talk to the Headmaster about it and let him conjure up a solution.

"Just like home." She mused, wondering at how easily the eerie man leading Yokai Academy could give off the same vibes of comfort that her own headmaster did, despite their very different personalities. "At least Konoe-sama is human. I have no idea what species that man is."

Her musings were interrupted when the woman bonded to Naruto walked in. Her presence and focus was such that Mana almost missed the girl trailing in her wake, a pale, purple haired beauty with equally pale blue eyes. She was diverted from any further study when Kyuubi-'sensei' walked up to her.

"Ruby, Mana, I need to have a word with you."

Kurumu had just finished talking to her mother when Kyuubi walked in, taking the open door of the small apartment as an invitation. However, instead of the usual, slightly superior yet friendly greeting, the temporary teacher walked straight over to the two 'new' girls and said something in a low voice. The two girls immediately got up and follow the woman out of the room. She'd barely exchanged bemused glances with Moka before their red headed elder returned, looking serious and slightly preoccupied.

"Everyone, this is Shirayuki Mizore." She began, pointing to a girl with purple hair, a laid-back if attractive dressing style and blue, almost pupil less eyes, whom had somehow avoided notice until then. Kurumu felt her gaze stick to those eyes, seeing them partially shift from ice blue to a light purple as she moved her head. There seemed to be no emotion in them at first glance. If eyes could be pools, it was as if they had frozen over. "I found her with Naruto at the hospital, apparently he collapsed outside his room."

At Kyuubi-sensei's words, Kurumu's head whipped around, strange eyes forgotten. Before she could start the tirade of worried questions that were all clamoring to go first, she held up a hand and continued talking. Kurumu noticed that the woman was not just serious, but also something else, frustrated maybe?

"It would appear that the strain over the last couple of days, possibly combined with the silver haired Moka having a snack, was more than Naruto could handle right now. I've spoken to the doctors and he's been moved back to his room. He'll be fine by tomorrow morning, he just needs some rest. I'll head over there to watch over him in a bit and make sure he gets an uninterrupted night of sleep."

Kurumu fought shock and an urge to rush over and start knocking on doors to find out where Naruto's room was. The many, quickly shifting emotions pulled at her, and she found that she was unable to speak. Her worry had mostly been assuaged right away, but this was her one and only Destined Mate. Then another part of what Naruto's supposed friend said caught her attention.

"Shirayuki-san, why were you with Naruto?" She tried to keep her voice calm and polite, she really did, but the storm of emotions and questions made that difficult.

"Hmm." The girl replied evenly, staring at Kurumu without any real reaction showing. "I was passing by the boys' dorm when Tsukune and some other boy came out carrying Naruto with them. I was curious, and when Tsukune explained that they found Naruto passed out on the floor outside his room I decided to tag along." Kurumu was blissfully unaware that Mizore had enjoyed watching Naruto dressed only in a towel the whole way. "After a few minutes at the hospital Kyuubi-sensei showed up. She asked the boys to take Naruto back, since he was just tired more than anything else, and wanted me to come with her here, although I'm not sure why."

"Yes, well, I figured that if Kurumu here decided to run off and try to take care of Naruto you could help me hold her down. I also think you and Kurumu should get to know each other."

The two girls stared at their teacher, wondering at her answer. This time, Kurumu finally got to speak first.

"Why, exactly, should Shirayuki-san and me get to know each other Kyuubi-sensei? And why do you think I shouldn't be near Naruto right now?" She wasn't being overtly hostile yet, as Naruto and Kyuubi apparently knew each other well, but Kurumu's already lacking supply of patience was running dangerously low.

"Well, partly because you both know Naruto, and I know he'd like his friends to get along. "She replied, evading the fact that they also shared a common interest." As for you leaving Naruto alone I would like to point out that your habit of jumping the bones of people you like a lot is not what Naruto needs right now. His exhaustion is mostly emotional and as good as you might become with your mental abilities once you've trained them, Ruby is an experienced witch and taught in certain healing magics, including mind transference. I'll expect you to cheer Naruto up later, but right now he needs the company of people who know why he's currently in a mental limbo and convince him to come back."

"Limbo?" Kurumu replied weakly, latching on to the part that she could contest without sounding silly. Saying that she enjoyed getting physical with people she knew was like saying that Tsukune was a tad reserved, or that Moka could be a bit single minded about blood. And since she hadn't started practicing her mind travelling powers yet there would be little good she could safely do if Naruto's mind really was so overwhelmed that he'd lost contact with reality.

"Yes, limbo. The effects were delayed, which is why I didn't notice it. His mind was just waiting for a sense of security before shutting down."

Kurumu knew about limbo, or coma as humans called it. It was a special mental restoration state that the mind could go into if it felt overwhelmed as a last recourse. Human minds, lacking certain powers, could only do so by instinct and with no assurance of ever coming back or when such an awakening could occur. Among monsters it was simply a way to accelerate healing and deal with psychological trauma, or even boredom among the races that lived exceedingly long, and used by psychics and mediums to utilize some of their more advanced techniques.

She also knew that the ability to enter a mind in limbo took a lot of skill and power. To be able to guide the mind back demanded even more of that, as well as an emotional attachment of a magnitude that at least meant a blood relation.

"She loves him?"

Kyuubi gave the frazzled succubus a forthright look. "Is that something for you to be bothered by, Kurumu? You've claimed him as your Destined Mate, but since you've neglected to activate the bond and have foregone setting the Rules, I was under the impression that at least you had an understanding of the unfairness inherent in your bonding."

Kurumu started blushing fiercely.

"You know our ways, Kyuubi-sensei? You can't speak of them like that; it is forbidden knowledge for outsiders!"

"Hmm? Afraid I'll tell your mother that her cute little daughter can't get her thirteen year old Destined Mate to do the nasty with her?"

"He's too young!"

"Damn straight he is, there's barely enough hormones in him to call it puberty. I'm sure he'll have grown plenty before his birthday, but you'd better not get your hopes up."

"What about his birthday?" The voice that delivered the question was as cool as the ice-blue of her ice. Kurumu turned to her new acquaintance, Mizore, to tell her that it's none of her damn business, but Kyuubi replies before she has a chance.

"It is the day that I will allow any girl to ask Naruto to mate with her. Normally I'd not let anyone near someone so young for another few years, but due to some special circumstances I'll make an exception for him. However, if he doesn't feel ready or I think he needs more time, then the mating will be postponed" Kyuubi said this with a straight face, letting none of her thoughts show on her face.

"The way you say that it sounds like he's not spoken for." Mizore's statement was also an obvious question, which Kyuubi once again answered.

"He is free to choose as many mates as he wants. Of course, getting close enough to get him to trust you would take some serious effort." The reply managed to sidetrack Kurumu once again.

"Because he's an orphan?" She was completely unprepared for the fiery gaze that met hers.

"Where did you hear that?" Kyuubi's hackles were raised, and those red eyes suddenly seemed filled with liquid heat and aggression.

"He told me, why, is it a bad thing?"

"Maybe the part where you just toss out sensitive information is just a tad less than perfect, yes."

"Oh. But we're all friends here, right?"

"Maybe, then again, you just met Mizore here, and you never know who might be listening."

Kurumu contemplated trying to argue, but the gleam in Kyuubi-sensei's eyes hadn't abated much. Trying to deflect attention from her blunder she asked another question.

"What was that you said about Naruto and mates?"

"Well, aren't you just full of questions Kurumu-chan. The fact of the matter is, because of Naruto's rather unique background he'll be having as many or as few mates as he likes. He might actually choose to marry one day as well, but that isn't all that common where he comes from."

"Where is that?"

"If you want to know, ask him, I've told you plenty already. As for you two fighting each other, think again. I know that Naruto won't accept being treated like a prize to be fought over. Get along or get out of the way." Having delivered her message as blatantly as possible, she decided to address another problem. "Now, Mizore-san, I'd like to hear about you Snow Women. What's this I've heard about your population problems?"

In a completely different dimensional pocket, a powerful blizzard was making its way across the landscape, like it did with impressive regularity to facilitate patrolling, travel and picnic days. It howled through forests. It whipped snow into a frenzy out on open fields. And it was very helpful in freeze drying the day's laundry in the village of Snow Women that the pocket had been created for. While a few of the inhabitants bulked down inside the various buildings with various hot drinks, several females were moving about their community, seemingly without noticing the current weather.

Of course, as it was a village mainly inhabitated by Snow Women most didn't care about the climate, as long as it was at least close to arctic. A much more conscious, if oft avoided issue was their problem with procreation. It would seem strange to most that a race consisting of beautiful women, dedicated to caring for their families and passionate in their own way would have such problems. However, no other race had such a low life expectancy, nor such a short fertility span. Most Snow Women were barren before turning twenty five, and seldom lived past fifty.

The most blatant exception was currently tapping her nails on her desk. The Snow Priestess had lived for a long time already, and did not expect her replacement to be born for many years to come. She should know. She was a Seeress, and those that can see into the future (more or less) usually had a pretty good idea if they were about to die.

Of course, usually didn't give a rat's ass about unknown entities moving in and fucking up the fate strands right royally. Three young girls who were supposed to share two boys that she'd arranged for had been forced to find other means of getting pregnant, as the shipment, which she'd been certain would go off without a hitch, had been called off. Apparently someone not from this world had decided that slavery, no matter how necessary, was wrong. Normally she would agree, but the search for fertile males, whom could possibly turn their ever worsening trends in longevity and fertility was a difficult one. The boys had been specifically collected from a different world, and a ritual performed right after the crossing had allowed her to put their possible actions into the strands of effect. There was always a certain amount of chaos, allowing for a different outcome than the one she'd foreseen, but seldom did the results differ this much.

This was why she was now waiting for her 'guest' to arrive. She knew that Fairy Tale was a dangerous organization, but the need to breed new life into her race was too important. They had after all offered to let some of her 'daughters' bear the off spring of some of the more prominent races, and had even hinted that a vampire might be added to the mix if the negotiations went well enough.

Even as she tried to push her excitement down again, she felt the strands sway, informing her that the devils had arrived. It would be costly, and the girls involved would most likely end up as servants once their fertile period was over, but she would do anything necessary to secure her race's future.

A/N: CUT! Awesome, thanks everyone, get the set ready for our next scene.

And there you have it, I finally finished of another chapter. Slightly shorther than I would have liked, but hey, I needed to end it somewhere. Hopefully it doesn't suck, after going over it again and again...

Lots of talk, little action, although I hope that several interesting facts/clues are now obvious. Kyuubi has apparently been here before, so why didn't the Headmaster recognize her?

Enough note, I'll see ya when I update, whenever tha'll be. Take care.

Ja ne!