Ginta had been in the bar just long enough to really feel welcomed back. He'd been missed, Rei the bartender told him. Several people had asked after him, and rumors had been flying, including a couple that he had died and been revived. One of the regulars was a staffer at the hospital, and he'd sworn it was true. Ginta just grinned. "Yep, I died. But I got better." That earned him a hearty laugh, and three guys had bought him drinks. Several others stopped by to exclaim over how good he looked, considering everything. Ginta had pouted over that a bit: he thought he looked pretty damn good even not considering.
Sipping an apple-based cocktail of unnatural hue and sour-sweet flavor, he leaned against the bar and told Rei and a few others the story of his mission. Sort of. Enough that their curiosity was slaked and their admiration for Ginta's bravery reconfirmed. He left out almost all the really important details, but that was as it should be. It was good to see the Konoha Queer Gossip Mill was still churning away, and a good thing to give it a little extra fodder.
Rei pushed another drink towards Ginta and tipped his head at a tall, beefy jounin leaning at the end of the bar. The man nodded and smiled, and Ginta nodded and smiled back. It was good, he decided, to disappear from the scene every now and again. And coming back on crutches with your leg in a rather elaborate cast didn't hurt either. The only real drawback was the difficulty of dancing.
But hell. He could dance on crutches, right? What kind of ninja would he be if he couldn't pull something like that off? He left his drinks in Rei's care, pulled the aluminum struts up under his arm, and crutched out to the crowded floor. Dancers swung out of his way; sweaty, flushed faces grinned at him; and the guy from the bar, who was a a good half a foot taller than him, sidled up with a look that was pure come-on gleaming in dark eyes.
The music changed to something with an even more insistent beat, and someone turned on the glitter ball. Colored lights flicked on and off, bathing the sea of gyrating bodies in a kaleidoscopic display. Ginta grinned up at his dance partner, leaned on his crutches, and did a slow teasing hip roll.
Kuromaru leaned up against the spot where Ginta had just been. He'd seen Ginta, he knew he had, and as soon as he leaned close and sniffed the green drink he could scent Ginta underlying the alcohol and sugar. Still leaning on the bar, Kuromaru looked up at the bartender and tipped his head to see out from under his shaggy hair.
If only Tsume would go bald, he wouldn't have this problem when he turned human. That would be so much easier.
The bartender leaned close and waited.
Kuromaru waited too. He wasn't sure what they were waiting for until the bartender, with a frustrated look, bellowed, "Drink?" over the sound of the music.
Kuromaru pulled back, ears ringing even more than they had been. "Beer!" He liked beer.
The bartender waved to a bank of levers, all topped with different names. Kuromaru pointed to one at random, shifting his weight from foot to foot as the bartender poured. This was going to be great. He got to have beer sometimes. Sometimes, people snuck it to him. He didn't like it when Tsume drank it, but he liked it for himself just fine.
He hummed under his breath, watching the golden liquid fill a glass. Shifting his weight from foot to foot switched to swaying back and forth at the hips, tailless but still happy.
The bartender set the beer down and Kuromaru picked it up, pausing to sniff it. Alcohol stung his nose and sinuses, a whole different sensation again, and drove away the overpowering scents of sweat and musk. Everyone here was horny, but he hadn't seen hardly any women. That was probably why they were horny. He got hornier when he went without a bitch for a while, too.
Kuromaru sipped his drink, noticed the bartender was still standing there, and leaned across the counter, hips continuing to twitch. He reached one finger out, tapping Ginta's glass with his claw so that it chimed sweetly. "Ginta was here?"
"You gonna pay for your drink?"
He reared back, nonplussed. He'd forgotten that part. He glanced down, as if pockets might appear on the mesh shirt he'd been wearing when he turned human. There were pockets in the pants...
Before he had a chance to pat them down (though he didn't know why Tsume would have made him human with money), someone slid up to the bar next to him, smiling. He smiled back, matching the lazy, half-lidded look with an edge of his own, unsure if this were challenge or friendliness. There was no reason to be that close, not really. And not on his blind side.
"I'll cover his drink," the man said, and Kuromaru relaxed. He turned sideways, blind side to the bartender, keeping the man who'd just arrived in view while he scanned the crowd for Ginta.
"Nice tags." A fingertip brushed the dogtags sitting at the base of his throat, and he only barely muffled a growl, chin lowering as he glared a silent warning. Around him, space cleared a small fraction. Even the man who'd touched him backed off, but smiled bigger at the same time. "Nice tats. Inuzuka, huh? Does your family know you're out?"
What a ridiculous question. He glanced back over the crowd, dismissing the man next to him. "Of course they do." He wasn't some stray. "I'm looking for Ginta."
"Join the club," the bartender muttered, barely audible above the music. Kuromaru twitched to hear better, wishing momentarily for his canine-ears. Ah, well. He could wait for a little while. He had beer!
The evening was going splendidly. Ginta's dance partner turned out to be a jounin-sensei named Masao. Three songs in he knew the man's students' names, that Masao was not in a relationship and not on the rebound from one, that he was closeted to his students, and that he wasn't looking for anything serious. That suited Ginta to a T. The man was athletic and very good looking, Ginta's equal in rank, not in ANBU, a few years older, and not looking for anything more complicated than a few sweaty dances and a trip to one of the old dressing rooms at the back of the club for some mutual stress relief.
The club was a former children's store, still called by it's old name, Rocking Horse World. When the bar's new owners had bought the place they'd made good use of the space. Those dressing rooms where Konoha mothers had once helped fretful little boys try on fancy clothes were ideal little nooks for amorous pairs (and more) who didn't want to go home with each other but didn't need a charge of public indecency on their records, either. The fact that the rooms still sported mirrors was an added bonus. Now, in place of tailor's pins and measuring tapes, there were bowls of condoms and sample-sized packets of lube on the little shelves just inside each dressing room door.
Masao grinned, open mouthed and sweaty, and matched the sway of his hips to Ginta's, writhing tantalizingly close, bare inches away from making contact. He was careful about the crutches, careful about Ginta's leg, and the bulge in his slim-fitting jeans made Ginta's mouth go a little dry. It was tiring, dancing on crutches, and it made his leg ache a little. Now would be an excellent time to suggest a visit to the back. Ginta glanced at the purple-curtained hallway that led to the rooms. Masao's smile broadened.
"I just want to grab my drink from the bar," Ginta told him.
Masao nodded. "I'll carry it. Your hands are full." He laughed, and Ginta laughed with him. In five minutes it wasn't just going to be his hands that were full...
At the bar, an almost familiar Inuzuka leapt up with an excited grin as soon as Ginta approached. He was small but fierce looking, hot in his black mesh and oversized dog collar, and sporting an outrageous pink-rhinestone eye patch. Ginta gave him a puzzled smile.
"Ginta!" the Inuzuka exclaimed. He slunk over, rubbing his head against Ginta's shoulder, working his way around Ginta's back in a strange almost-hug that nearly knocked Ginta off his crutches. "I was waiting for you."
Masao made a distinctly unhappy noise and folded his arms over his chest.
"Do I know you?" Ginta asked. What Inuzuka did he know who were gay? None, right? Wasn't that the fiction that clan maintained? So who the hell was this?
Kuromaru stopped, stepping away, his smile fading. "It's me!" He spread his arms to show himself off. Really, now, how many half-blind Inuzuka did Ginta know? Who else could it be?
"This is the guy you've been waiting for? He doesn't even remember you. C'mon, handsome, I'll buy you another--"
Kuromaru snarled over his shoulder, exposing one over-large incisor. The man at the bar silenced, leaning back to fold his arms over his chest.
A lot of men were folding their arms over their chest, it seemed. Over Ginta's shoulder, Kuromaru leveled a flat, single-eyed stare at the man who'd walked up with Ginta and was now glaring. Or sulking. It was so hard to tell with humans. When the man didn't respond, though, Kuromaru realized everyone here recognized him as alpha, and allowed the gaze to break. He looked back at Ginta, wilting a little at the still baffled look. Slightly helpless, he gestured toward the bar and Ginta's drink. "I saved your drink for you. I even bought you another one."
"I bought that, and not for him!" the man at the bar protested. "I thought you--"
This was getting old. He really didn't appreciate the uprising from the omega back there. He swiveled his shoulders to look back, snarling this time, trying to pull it from deep in his chest. Stupid human bodies.
The man rocked away and, cursing, shoved through the crowd. That was better.
Kuromaru put his sad-puppy face back on and turned hopefully to Ginta.
Ginta smiled and shrugged his shoulders in a slightly helpless gesture. A moment of meaningful eye contact with Rei gained him nothing more useful than that the bartender didn't recognize the Inuzuka, but thought the guy was weird, maybe a little nuts, and a bit of an ass for the way he'd been treating the hopeful who'd been buying him drinks.
They had gained an audience, too. Storming-off suitors, sexy men who flipped from adoring puppy to snarling predator to kicked dog in the blink of an eye, and a popular regular just back from a mission and still injured who could engender such things made for excellent entertainment.
"I thought you said you weren't seeing anyone," Masao said quietly. "I don't want to get in the middle of anything."
"You're not," Ginta answered, turning to give Masao a reassuring look. "I'm not seeing him. I really have no idea who this guy is."
The Inuzuka made the most mournful sound imaginable.
"But I see you all the time!" Kuromaru protested, taking a step closer to Ginta. The place was crowded, and it brought them almost chest to chest. He wasn't any taller than Ginta, in this shape. "I even let you stay in my apartment, that one night when you were being weird."
Under the driving beat of music, he could still hear bits and pieces of the conversations around them. He turned to give a cool stare when he heard someone whisper, "I always knew Ginta was kind of a heartless bastard, but that's cold." No one got to call Ginta cold. Ginta was part of his pack. He twitched the other way, catching the smile of a guy as the guy finished saying, "I didn't know Ginta had a lover. He's cute! Man, if Ginta's done, I'll take him."
These people were very strange. He looked back at Ginta, leaning close to brush his nose along the edge of Ginta's cheek, scent-checking. He couldn't read emotion very well on a human body without it, and it was so smelly here--
Ginta yanked back and stared at him for a long moment before saying, "Look, I know you're an Inuzuka and you obviously don't get out of the clan compound much, but that's really not okay here."
Kuromaru wilted again, and slunk away until the bar stopped him from moving any farther. "You didn't tell me no when I scented your crotch last time."
Two people down, someone fumbled their drink. "C'mon, Ginta," the guy muttered at his spilled alcohol. "And you don't remember him?"
The scowls coming Ginta's way were growing now. Even Rei was giving him a disapproving look. For a moment Ginta went blank-faced as he processed the possibilities. Then he broke into a grin, laughing heartily. "OK, that's hilarious. You guys totally got me. Teach me to go on a long mission and leave you to your own devices. That was good, that line about the crotch sniffing. Very Inuzuka. So who are you really? That's a very good henge." He looked around to see who else was laughing. Who was in on the joke. Rei had to be.
A couple people laughed, but only in that ha ha, I don't get it way. The guy henged as an Inuzuka looked utterly crestfallen.
Ginta's laughter died in his throat. "Uh, seriously. Guys?"
"I was just gonna come in here and see you 'cause I got a new eyepatch and you hadn't seen it and I didn't know anybody else," Kuromaru muttered under his breath, halfway between sad and sulking. He turned so his blind side was facing Ginta and he didn't have to look, then trailed a claw through the condensation to make thin patterns on the wood.
Maybe he'd go home. It was smelly here, and not so much fun anymore. He tugged his hair down into his face, over the wreck of his ear, and saw the bartender wince. Suddenly self-conscious, Kuromaru flattened his hand over the still vibrantly red scarring and looked quickly from one side to the other to see if anyone else had noticed, or if he'd hidden it fast enough.
"Here," the bartender said hastily, shoving the untouched second fruity drink toward Kuromaru. "Have a drink. We appreciate our shinobi."
Kuromaru looked up soulfully, saw that the bartender meant it -- even if the bartender was still casting confused looks at Ginta -- and began to cheer up. He straightened, shoulders rocking back, smile reappearing. And everyone nearby was looking at him! That was fun, too. He squirmed side to side, absent a tail, and tried the drink he'd bought for Ginta. It was very sweet.
"Maybe you met him on a mission?" the bartender suggested over Kuromaru's head. He sounded a little desperate.
"Yeah, maybe," Ginta echoed. Who was this guy? What Inuzuka did he know who wore an eyepatch? What Inuzuka did he know, period? There was Tsume, of course. And a few others he'd run into every now and again, but... The eyepatch had to be the key. Damned if he could figure it, though.
The mystery Inuzuka looked a lot happier, at least. Masao was definitely, by contrast, not happy and probably not going to wait around much longer. He looked over his shoulder to give Masao another apologetic shrug and encouraging smile. He'd just make as graceful an exit as possible, try to mend any hurt feelings, and then the back rooms called. Yes.
Masao's answering eyebrow raise was not entirely encouraging.
Ginta turned back to the Inuzuka. "Look, I'm really sorry. I usually have a much better memory," he started. The Inuzuka turned toward him, and that's when Ginta caught sight of that ear. What was left of that ear. His mind spun at light speed, as all the tumblers clicked into place and the lock sprang open.
Inuzuka. Eyepatch. Ruined ear. Kind of clueless. He did know one, albeit one that was usually a whole lot furrier and four-legged.
"Kuromaru? What are you doing here? Where's Tsume?"
Kuromaru eyed Ginta, wondering why he sounded so surprised. "Sleeping. She had to work really hard today, but I couldn't sleep so I came out and she stayed home." He glanced around the crowded, dark den and added, "I don't think she'd like this place, but I can ask her if you want." Then he brightened and held out Ginta's drink. "Or we can just drink! She never lets me drink." He took a step forward, wanting to rub up against Ginta again and maybe get petted, but unable to do so with a glass in each hand. If Ginta took one, though...
"Everyone here smells so happy! Though I think they probably need to get out and find some women." He leaned in and whispered loudly into Ginta's ear, "They all smell horny." He paused, glanced at Ginta, and added, "You smell kinda horny, too."
Before Ginta could answer, Masao touched his shoulder and said, "Maybe next time," with an inflection that sounded more like probably not, but it would have been fun. Ginta regretfully watched the man melt back into the crowd before he turned to give Kuromaru an exasperated sigh. "I am horny. And so was he. And we were going to take care of that problem, before you showed up."
He took the glass from Kuromaru and drank a quarter of it in one go. Rei, who was chuckling, got a dark scowl.
Kuromaru looked around carefully, then leaned close once more. "Ginta," he said, a little worried that he needed to say it at all. "There's no ladies around here." Then he brightened, remembering his trek along the edges of the room. "Oh! But there's a guy over there who will grab your nuts. I tried to tell him that you're supposed to use your nose, not your hand, but then things got really weird." He shook his head slowly, at a loss as to why people were so socially retarded. "I told him I had to come find you. He really didn't understand how to greet properly."
Ginta's carefully blank face reappeared for a moment, and then he burst into laughter. "Oh, I'll just bet it got weird." Their audience laughed too. "Kuromaru," he said, and slid into the vacant spot next to the canine-man, "you have no idea what kind of club this is, do you?" That got another laugh from the crowd, and a mildly confused look from Kuromaru.
"Remember when we had that conversation about 'gay'?"
Kuromaru glanced uncertainly at the people around them, then let his gaze settle back on Ginta. Since everyone else was smiling, he offered one, too. "You mean how you're very happy and you need some balls?"
More people laughed. Kuromaru smiled at them quickly, then eyed Ginta's crotch and eased backward, sitting down on the barstool and crossing his legs oh-so-casually. "Is this a place where you go to get balls, then? I don't need any. I have some. Big ones. That aren't for anyone but me."
"You could say that," Ginta agreed. He took the barstool next to Kuromaru that had been recently vacated by Kuromaru's crestfallen suitor. Someone to his left helpfully took his crutches from him and leaned them against the bar. "But don't worry, I think you successfully fended off the guy who was hoping for yours."
The men sitting nearby were still listening, still laughing, though looking rather puzzled. Ginta downed another quarter of his drink and leaned a little closer to Kuromaru, until their shoulders were comfortably touching. "Besides, everyone here thinks you and I are an item now. You realize you completely blew my chances of getting laid tonight, right?"
Kuromaru leaned closer in return, leaning slightly against Ginta. He turned his head to whisper. "I didn't mean to. But if these guys are after your balls, you might think twice about mounting anyone around here, anyway. I don't know if I'd trust them. I bet they're just waiting for you to let down your guard." He pulled back slightly to ponder Ginta. "Good thing I came along when I did."
With a bright smile, he swiveled on his barstool, turning his back to the crowd and trusting Ginta to watch them, and picking up his beer before swiveling back. "When Tsume goes to a bar, she almost always knows everyone. Do you know everyone? There's a lot of people here." He glanced around, the darkness and flashing lights hiding the exact width and breadth of the room. He couldn't quite gauge an exact number, but there were a lot of people. "You could fit my whole clan in here," he muttered into his drink. Then he sniffed, and shook his head to clear it of pheromones. "And everyone is horny."
Ginta watched the dancers with Kuromaru and sipped his drink. "Yep," he agreed, "everyone here is horny. And getting hornier. See?" he indicated a couple on the dance floor who were in grave danger of being asked to relocate to the back room by management. Konoha's moral standards might differ rather markedly from villages without a large shinobi presence, but law enforcement still liked to maintain a veneer of respectability. As long as any cop who happened to stop in saw only dancing, there would be no trouble. The only Uchiha who ventured into the back rooms were the off-duty ones who didn't exactly want their clan to know they were here.
"And maybe I should explain about the whole balls thing again," he continued. "I promise you, nobody's balls are being detached. Those guys want each others', but only on each other. Just like you, uh, want the... what do you call the part of the female you want to mount? You want that, and she wants your dick, but not to take it, right?"
"She doesn't want my dick!" he squawked, alarmed. "She wants me to mount her! Why would she want my dick? If she wants a dick, she can talk to her familiar about making her human and then get a henge. She doesn't get mine." He shook his head, disturbed about Ginta's take on things -- what did Ginta think they got up to? -- and looked around the room. "Besides, I bet not all these guys want your dick, so you don't have to worry." He turned to the man next to him, smiling. "Do you want Ginta's dick?"
The man -- who'd been talking with someone else, glanced over sharply. "Excuse me?"
Kuromaru gestured toward Ginta. "Ginta. My friend. Do you want his dick?"
His gaze flickered past Kuromaru, danced up and down Ginta, and then flicked back. "Is this a trick question?"
Kuromaru eyed him, then finally turned back to Ginta. "I don't think he's very smart."
Ginta choked on his drink. He held his hands up in an appeasing gesture. "Sorry, sorry. Ignore him. My friend here is... uh..."
"Special?" the offended man's companion suggested with a smirk.
"Yes. Special," Ginta agreed. He hoped that would cover it. "Listen, Kuromaru," he said, slinging an arm around the Inuzuka's neck. "How about you just talk to me and leave these other guys out of it? In fact maybe we should go someplace else."
"Aww, leaving so soon?" Rei asked sweetly. "I wouldn't dream of it. You two are so entertaining. Here, on the house." He nudged a fresh beer towards Kuromaru and another violently green cocktail towards Ginta.
Ginta gave him the dirtiest of dirty looks. "Eavesdropping is one way to make sure you don't get a tip."
"Who's eavesdropping?" Rei returned. "It's my job to make sure I know what my customers need. And you clearly need another drink."
"I do! He's good," Kuromaru exclaimed cheerfully, picking up his drink and guzzling. "Besides, you were doing things here! I saw. Tsume likes to play pool. Maybe we could play pool! I'm pretty good, you know." He smiled brightly, wiggling on his stool. It seemed warmer in the room than it had before. Cozier, he thought. And hornier.
"Or we could dance, but there are no girls. Still, dancing's fun. I can do that, if you like it. Do you like my shirt?" He looked down at his clothes, then at the people around him. "I think maybe my pants are too loose. Tsume put me in the wrong clothes."
"Your shirt's very nice," Ginta agreed. "But I think mesh might be sending mixed signals in here. If your pants were tighter, people would be sure you wanted them to want your balls." He stretched out his leg, propping the heavy cast up and wiggling his toes. His own stylishly tight pants, he mourned, had had to have one leg sacrificed for the sake of the cast. He'd slit it carefully up the side seam, in hopes they could be repaired.
"I'm okay with just sitting here watching other guys dance for a bit. It's actually kind of tiring, dancing on crutches."
"Oh, yeah," Kuromaru said knowledgeably. "That's why I never use them. I just get the vet to wrap my leg up against my body." It was, of course, a superior way of doing things. Silly humans.
The music changed before Ginta could respond, an announcer bellowing out over the crowd. Kuromaru winced and clapped his hands over his ears, still able to hear the rumble of the over-loud voice. Something about the fabulous Ms. Hedda Lettuce and The Escorts. Everyone started whistling, and Kuromaru opened his one eye to look up.
Very tall, very muscular women had trooped on stage. Kuromaru caught a flash of colorful garb before the crowd closed in. He stood on tip-toe to see over their heads, but still wasn't tall enough. "Ginta -- what's up there?"
If explaining gay had been a challenge, "drag queen", Ginta was sure, was going to prove impossible. "There's a stage," he told Kuromaru. "And a show. They do it twice a week, with different performers. They um... Okay, so the one with the green wig, did you see her? She's Hedda Lettuce, she's one of the regulars. Only she and her girls there, they're guys."
"You should take your friend up close where he can see the action," Rei suggested. He handed Ginta a tall, thin glass adorned with a piece of melon and a paper umbrella. The drink inside was a slick yellow-green, with carbonated bubbles rising excitedly to the surface. "On the house. Here's one for you, too, cutie." He offered the second drink to Kuromaru.
Kuromaru took it with an adoring grin for Rei. People here were so nice. He grabbed Ginta's crutches and held them out expectantly, practically wiggling with the excitement of going forward.
While Ginta got himself sorted, Kuromaru took both drinks and started pushing through the crowd. They probably couldn't hear his low growl -- humans being practically deaf and all -- but somehow most of them moved anyway. A few even pushed others out of the way, and Kuromaru gave those ones a smile to let them know they'd done well. Some of them smiled back, and one came really close, pressing right up against him.
Kuromaru leaned in to sniff, momentarily distracted, and was surprised by the guy's hand landing on his butt. He reared back in confusion. "You can't have my balls!" he shouted over the din.
The man looked really confused, too. Poor moon-blind pup. Kuromaru glanced back to make sure Ginta was coming, then continued on.
Ginta was starting to be of two minds about this whole situation. On the one hand, he felt like he really ought to be looking out for Kuromaru, who was clearly in way over his head. On the other, Kuromaru seemed unassailable in his conviction that he could figure it out for himself: strutting through the crowd like he owned it, dressed in mesh and a pink rhinestone eyepatch, for fuck's sake, and flirting.
And breaking hearts, evidently.
Ginta just crutched along in the Inuzuka's wake with a wryly amused smile tracing over his lips. When they got close to the edge of the stage, he reached out and grabbed Kuromaru's shirt. "Give me my drink," he said. "I think I need it. Can you see enough from here?"