33 I, Your Father, am Popular

Though she knew about Wu's frequent visits to Jigokudani, hearing him claim that he had 'popped' out of a thousand-year-old statue, alongside many other outlandish claims, left Tenten feeling lost and confused. She believed he was telling the truth, largely because he had allowed her and her father to examine some of the items in his Storage Pouch, but it was just so...unbelievable.

Wrapping things up, Wu claimed, "So, yeah...ever since the Third adopted me, I've been doing my best to fit into human society. I am human, mind you. I have the medical records to prove it. I'm just something...more. The old man seems to believe I'm the flagbearer for the next era, so he's been doing his damnedest to keep me linked to the village. The rest is history in the making..."

After waiting several seconds to see if Wu had anything else to say, the most exasperated sigh of her life escaped Tenten's mouth and throat. She had always known Wu was different; pretty much everyone did. Now that she knew just 'how' different, she couldn't help wondering if she was even worthy of him...

"Hey..."

Grabbing Tenten's hands, Wu's expression and gaze were serious as he said, "I chose you, and you accepted me...remember that..."

Regaining a faint smile, Tenten joked, "You're right...I'm just worried that our kids might end up as half-monkeys..."

Understanding what Tenten was trying to convey, Wu's eyes narrowed, a fiery red hue spreading from his pupils. However, before he could reply, Tenten adopted a severe face of her own and said, "Thirteen is a little too young to be a mother...I still want to focus on my career as a Kunoichi, at least for the time being..."

Instead of pressing the issue, Wu nodded slightly and replied, "I'm not exactly in a hurry to be a father. As for the matter of me becoming a Clan Head, I'll keep you posted..."

Squeezing Wu's hand, Tenten 'glowered' as she said, "You better..." in a low, threatening tone. She had already forgiven Wu for keeping secrets from her. After all, he did have a pretty compelling reason. Now that the truth had come to light, however, she expected transparency from him moving forward...

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With three days passing in the blink of an eye, Wu was preparing for his second trip outside the village when one of the servants showed up at his door to inform him, "Young Master Wu, Uzumaki Naruto is asking to be let into the Estate. Shall I show him to the greeting room...?"

Though he was tempted to have the servant send Naruto away, Wu could already guess what the mustard-haired youth wanted. Thus, after a brief moment of consideration, he answered, "You have my permission. Tell him I'll be with him shortly."

Despite there being a bamboo door separating them, the middle-aged housemaid gave a polite bow, responding, "As you will, Young Master." before quickly setting out to convey Wu's words. At this point, everyone affiliated with the Sarutobi Clan believed that Wu was being groomed as Hiruzen's successor. He might be an adoptive member of the Clan, but he had earned the respect of 'almost' everyone within...

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Several minutes after he had sent the servant away, Wu was unsurprised to hear the sound of agitated footsteps, followed by Naruto sliding open his door and shouting, "Wu! We need to talk, you hear me!?"

Maintaining a calm, borderline deadpan expression, Wu replied, "Even if you weren't shouting, I could still hear you just fine. Now, what has your panties in a twist?"

Walking up to Wu, Naruto attempted to grab the shorter boy by the collar. His attempt was successful but was immediately followed by Wu closing his hand around his wrist, squeezing it like a vice as he kicked the feet out from under him.

As Naruto lost his footing, Wu used the former's wrist and arm as leverage to pin the boy to the ground, his voice flat yet penetrating as he asserted, "Grabbing people by their collar isn't very polite. I showed a willingness to hear you out. Why are you being so aggressive?"

Ignoring the pain in his shoulder, Naruto's usually blue eyes gained a faint red hue as he practically growled, "You know why! Stay away from Hinata, you bastard...!"

Raising his brows, Wu feigned ignorance, questioning, "Why? The 'three' of us have been friends since we were children. In case you've forgotten, I'm the one that helped set the two of you up. Why should I stop meeting one of my good friends just because you're feeling insecure...?"

"Damnit...!"

Attempting to free himself from Wu's hold, Naruto's finger dug through the tatami mats of the floor and even the wood below. His Chakra also began to saturate the air around him, prompting Wu to mutter, "You used to be a good kid..." before releasing him.

Bounding to his feet, Naruto turned to face Wu in the basic stance of the Academy, his chest heaving as the color of his eyes alternated between pale blue and murderous red. However, instead of attacking, he gradually eased out of his stance and asked, "What's that supposed to mean?"

Shaking his head, Wu answered, "It doesn't matter, not if you're unwilling to improve yourself. I've already given you multiple chances, Naruto. I'm not some endless fountain of knowledge you can drink from whenever it suits you. It's time to grow up and start figuring things out for yourself..."

Punctuating his words, Wu walked past Naruto, giving him one final clap on the shoulder before departing the room. He had helped Naruto out of a dire situation, played matchmaker between him and Hinata, and given him no less than seven chances to rectify his behavior. Since they had been in the Academy at the time, Wu didn't mind it as much. However, now that they had graduated, Wu had much better things to do than being the one to make up with his former friend...

Seeing Wu walk away, a confused expression marred Naruto's face. This was far from the first time they had a 'disagreement,' so he was used to Wu sticking around to try and talk things out. More often than not, well, every single time, the conflict between them resulted from some kind of misunderstanding. He had expected Wu to give him the same 'assurance,' so Naruto didn't know how to react to one of his best and longest friends simply walking away from him...

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Though he was tempted to depart the village immediately, Wu dropped into an alleyway a few blocks away from the Sarutobi Estate and waited. Less than a minute later, a familiar figure entered the alley beside him, her hair noticeably shorter than a few days prior, but her body concealed in a thick, excessively baggy hoodie.

With an extremely apologetic expression, Hinata looked like she was on the verge of tears as she muttered, "Wu-kun..."

Shaking his head, Wu said, "You don't need to apologize, Hinata. This is one-hundred-percent Naruto. Now, tell me...what's with the hoodie? I'm pretty sure I beat the lack of confidence out of you..."

Hanging her head, Hinata remained silent for nearly a full minute before revealing, "After I cut my hair, Naruto-kun...he got really upset. When he discovered the reason was because we talked, he started saying...some very mean things..."

Shaking his head a second time, Wu said, "You don't need to get into the details..." before narrowing his eyes and asking, "Did he hit you?"

Raising her hands, Hinata waved them rapidly, simultaneously shaking her head as she loudly insisted, "Naruto-kun would never do that!" Then, in a far meeker tone, she divulged, "He just...he doesn't like it when other boys stare at me..."

Exhaling a tired sigh, Wu felt compelled to say, "You're not his possession, Hinata. It would be best, for both of you, if you didn't change things about yourself to soothe his insecurities. I've said this before, but the more you appease and pander to him, the worse his behavior will get. You're not his mother, Hinata..."

Hanging her head low, Hinata gave a slight nod, a heavy silence lingering between them as she couldn't bring herself to speak. Her instinct was to defend Naruto, touching on the point Wu was trying to make. Thus, even though she had many things she wanted to say, she remained silent and simply...endured.

Shaking his head one final time, Wu's expression and tone softened as he said, "I can't live your life for you, Hinata...just try not to do anything you'll regret..."

Punctuating his words, Wu ruffled the slightly shorter girl's head before retracting his hand and turning away. Then, because he knew she was about to ask, he added, "I'll be gone for around 2-3 months this time..." before following it with a faint, "Good luck..."

Without waiting for Hinata's response, Wu appeared to vanish into thin air. The former's Byakugan immediately activated, but, as remarkable as her eyes were, tracking Wu when he didn't wish to be seen or followed was easier said than done. In fact, as his speed and capabilities increased, it was becoming nigh-impossible...

Exhaling a sad sigh, Hinata turned away from the direction Wu had departed. However, instead of making her way to where she and Naruto had been spending time together before he stormed off, she decided to return home. Naruto wouldn't be happy about it, but as she continued to spurn his advances, there weren't a lot of instances where he was...not since he had started doing 'boring' and 'meaningless' D-Rank missions for people that once treated him worse than garbage...

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After carefully considering his destination, Wu decided to make a quick stop over at Otogakure, just to 'touch base.' If the Otokage attempted to punish or imprison him for leaving without permission, he would just bust his way out and cut ties with the unorthodox hidden village. There was a chance this would result in her canceling the invasion of Konoha, but that wasn't exactly a bad thing.

Upon reaching the entrance to the underground base, Wu ignored the hundreds of spiders staring at him, casually strolling into the interior with his hands in his pockets. Before he could get far inside, however, the floor beneath him turned to sand as the green-haired Kagero emerged, asking, "Where have you been...?" in her hunchbacked disguise.

Raising his brows, Wu asked, "Didn't you read my note? I said I was going on a walk. I know you probably won't understand, considering you spend most of your time playing in the dirt, but spending weeks cooped up in an underground bunker isn't my idea of a good time."

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Sinking back into the ground, Kagero muttered, "Otokage-sama will want to see you..." before quickly slinking away. Kimimaru had instructed them to attack if Wu dared to show his face again, but the memory of their first encounter was still fresh in her mind. If Kimimaru was determined to repel or punish Wu, he could put his own ass on the line...

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"Welcome back, Dadi-sama. Did you enjoy your 'walk'...?"

Exhibiting no indications of anger or condemnation, the Otokage had her usual smile as she welcomed Wu. In response, the latter adopted a smile of his own as he replied, "Not really. I hit up the Tanzaka Quarters in the Land of Fire, but there was nothing interesting going on. I think I'll head up to the Land of Lightning next. See if I can't bully some Kumo Shinobi."

As Wu's words were actually the truth, the Otokage couldn't see through them even if she wanted to. He had stopped by Tanzaka Quarters, albeit only for a few minutes, and he absolutely intended to head to the Land of Lightning next.

Perking her brows in apparent interest, the Otokage asked, "Do you have enmity with Kumo?"

Shaking his head, Wu answered, "Nah, not really. I just find their names dumb and their actions questionable. I figure someone ought to put them in place, so it may as well be me. Why, did you need me for something...?"

Pausing for a moment, the Otokage's smile broadened as she responded, "No. Just a passing curiosity. However, to avoid future misunderstandings, I would appreciate it if you notified me before abruptly departing. You are a precious ally...I'd hate to lose you."

Adopting a wry smile, Wu pretended to be embarrassed as he pointed out, "Well, I told you this time...that ought to count for something, right?"

Exhaling a raspy chuckle, the Otokage mused, "I suppose..." before rising from her snake-themed throne and adding, "Now, while we're on the subject of your journey to Kumo...might I suggest taking Tayuya-chan with you? She didn't take it well when she found out you had 'gone for a walk.' Here, take this key. You can find her in the prison ward, cell D-16."

Catching the proferred key, Wu raised his brows and asked, "Did she go on a rampage or something?"

Nodding her head, the Otokage affirmed, "The Cursed Seal of Heaven has the unfortunate side effect of making the recipient...unstable. Don't worry, she will have calmed down by now. We were just keeping her there for the safety of herself and others."

Seemingly finished with what she had to say, the Otokage made her way past Wu. However, before departing the chamber completely, she took a moment to look back, adding, "Oh, you should probably speak with Guren before you leave. Her reaction wasn't nearly as extreme as Tayuya-chan's, but she has been in a depressive state since your departure. I'm sure she would appreciate it if you stopped by to give her an explanation..."

Truly finished this time, the Otokage turned away, departing the room as Wu spun the key around on the tip of his finger and mused, "It seems I'm quite popular~" in a voice he was sure the five-headed woman could hear.

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