Hello, been a while, I've been working on this on and off for the last week or so, along with Lost Soul and God from the machine, so you can expect updates on both those stories soon enough.
My internet connectivity has been less than stable for the last week but when I get back home by Mon. or Tues. that should clear up also.
So, hope you enjoy it.
The music from the tea house washed over him like fresh water, soothing in its melody, over already frayed nerves as his hands clenched and unclenched, fingers brushing over sweat slick palms.
He sucked in a breath, gathering his courage before he marched forward, parting the heavy wooden door with ease as his nose was soon assaulted by the scents of various types of teas and the stronger, acrid odor of tobacco and pipe weed.
And from the back room, the snake sannin could faintly detect the smell of more...illicit substances. Still, as he marched in, the hostess of the establishment greeted him with a warm smile, not at all visibly frightened by the sickly white pallor of his skin.
She was a pretty little thing, thin, young, probably no older than her mid twenties. Dark hair, flawless skin with a light tan, the type of girl every male would love to have on one shoulder.
He had to admire her professionalism.
"Good evening sir. Table for one?"
"No." He said. "I was hoping you could show me to the private room."
"Ahh right this way sir." She said, her smile recovering so quickly that he felt that he'd only imagined it falling.
"No." He said as she turned to lead him to the room his heightened senses could detect the sweetened smell of opium from.
She turned back to him, confused. "Sir?" She asked.
"I did not say 'The private rooms' I said the private room."
The young woman looked confused for a moment longer, before her features shifted with the creeping realization. Dread lining the corners of her eyes as she bit her bottom lip, nodding once before she turned down the other way. The click clicks of her shoes snapping their way up to the sannin's ears.
Finally, she reached a slim doorway of rice paper and wood, sliding it open she bowed quickly, averting her eyes as though she sooner wanted to purge the memory of his face and this meeting from her mind, than ever have to look at him again. The snake didn't say a word to her before he began to climb the shadowed stairway, away from the sounds below.
He reaches the doorway, past the winding staircase, taking a moment to collect himself before he finally opened the door, finding her starting straight at him, her scared eyebrow raised as she spun her sword in her hand, its sharp tip on the floor, the pommel pressed lightly under her palm to keep the blade vertical.
"Snake." She greeted with a nod, the drawl of her voice showing neither contempt nor elation at his arrival as she took a sip of her undoubtedly expensive sake from the cup in the hand not holding the sword.
"Kushina." He greets back with a bow at the waist. "I'm-"
"You just missed him." She interrupted, getting straight to the point as she always did.
The Sannin's eyes snapped up towards her, amber slits narrowing as he found that all too taunting smirk on her lips. The one that she always seemed to have whenever they spoke.
He straightened, taking a step into the room. "So you have seen him?"
"By what I just said that should be obvious." She said before taking another sip, her teeth peeking out from behind her lips.
"Then you must tell me where he is? With an agent? Call him back."
"You cant order me around." She said, her smile dropping for a moment as her tone became severe. "So I must do nothing. He is with an agent, and as you well know I wont reveal his identity. You have your cell and he has his own."
"Kushina." He growls, frustrated exasperation leaking into his voice as he rubs his finger across his creased brow as if to stave off a headache. "The boy is in danger. You know that, I know that, Sarutobi knew that. He made you the master of the order. You're th-"
"Yes that was always a bitter point with you wasn't it." She smiles again. That cold, cruel, taunting smile that's found its rightful place on her face over the last decade. "The fact that he trusted me and not you with this little...boys club of his."
"That's not the point and you know it!" He snarled, turning his gaze away from her and towards the wall, not trusting his emotions to remain hidden. He could see her shoulders shrug from the corner of his eye.
"Maybe not." She admits, laughter in her voice. "But its always fun to see you resist the urge to tell me to fuck off."
He grits his teeth, turning to face her, glaring into her teal green eyes as she still rests casually against the back of the couch, sword still spinning as she held it vertically from the ground.
"I." He begins slowly, marching forward until his leaning over the waist height table between them. "Need. For you to tell me who the hell took him Kushina. And I need you to tell me now."
"Or what?" She challenges. "You'll kill me?" She stands now, the heels of her boots making her seem just a few inches taller than himself as he straightened. "You could try." She continues as she casually kicks the, possibly, sixty plus pound table out of the way and into the wall beside them.
She marched right up to his face, her nose inches from his own . "We both know how that would end though."
"Don't be so certain." The hiss in his voice was eerily similar to the animal he resembled.
She snorts, amused. The same way an adult is amused when a child thinks he can hurt them before he's reached his first decade.
She turns around, exposing her back to him, unafraid, and he seethes, clenching his teeth so tight his jaw begins to ache.
"You..." She continues. "Had your chance. You, Itachi and Kisame. You blew it. Quite frankly I think this is too close to home for you in particular."
There was an accusation there.
Another taunt saying that he couldn't keep things in perspective. That he couldn't handle it. She knew just where to push and she was doing so shamelessly. "Time to give some of my other boys a crack at this thing." Finally, she finishes, and she sits again, leaning back onto the still warm seat as she smiles up at him.
"I think you're done here." She says, dismissing him. As though he were some lackey bidden to do her every whim.
He held his tongue...again.
"This boy..." The snake began again. "Is too important for you to just be passing him around like some pretty bauble at a festival. He is not your plaything."
"Yes." She said, her smile dropping again. This time, it didn't recover. "He is currently a pawn in a game of chess. So are you, and so is the man watching over him right now. I'm the one playing the game. So, I can do whatever I want with him. I can do whatever I want with all of you if I think it'll work out for the better in the long run. That old fool you ran through with your sword almost a year ago liked doing it a lot more than I do. And he always did it with a big smile on his face."
He forced himself not to have any reaction, swallowing down his ire at the woman's words against his former master.
He took a deep breath, calming himself down again. For now, this conversation was done. She wouldn't budge, and he doubted he could force her. The conversation was far from over though. He knew that, and he knew that she knew that. He would bring it up again at a later date, at least now he was assured to have a solid lead should Naruto slip through their nets.
He just needed to calm down right now. See things clearly.
Sarutobi had trusted her. Seen it fit to place the ultimate trust of his organization in her hands. Given her all the information. Contacts, agents, resources. Everything. He had to believe that his sensei had known best. And that perhaps Kushina...was...right...that he was too close to this, he needed to take a step back, look on from a more detached perspective.
He closed his eyes, and took a step away, pinching the bridge of his nose before he renewed his glare over her. By the look in his eyes she knew she won and her smile became all the bigger because of it.
He decided to change the subject.
"Were there any...adverse effects due to your meeting the boy?" There was just the barest hint of concern in his voice, not entirely false , but present because of things entirely different to the reason implied.
"Not really." She shrugged. "I felt a..." She seemed to search for the proper word, lips pursing before she spoke. "A resonance...from the taint I suppose." The smile that her lips formed this time was bitter "Hard to believe its lasted for over a decade isn't it?"
The question was rhetorical, and so he chose not to answer. "I can run a full diagnostic over your seal by tomorrow. I can make sure the taint wont spread furth-"
"Forget it." She said, adjusting her position on the couch. "I don't need your help for a two second head-ache.
He stiffened, spine going ramrod straight, though, thankfully, she didn't notice, busy rolling and popping the joints of her neck.
"Kushina." He began, keeping his voice carefully controlled, belying none of his anxiety. "You know that the Kyuubi's taint within you is a great unknown. To this day even with all my research I've barely uncovered what long term effects it may have on you if left unchecked."
In response the woman snorted. "Leave it alone snake. I'll live."
He swallowed, his only reaction. He couldn't push too hard or she would become suspicious, but now he found h had a much more pressing matter to address than Naruto's location. For if the seal that provided her fabricated memories broke, then her wrath would fall solely on his head with Sarutobi dead.
And dissension, among the Order's highest ranking member and her lieutenant leading one of the five cells would be an open door to disaster.
He would need to fix this very soon if she refused to cooperate for much longer. Her memories could not return. Not now.
It was raining again.
Naruto was sincerely beginning to hate the rain. For the last two days since they'd left Honou it'd done nothing but rain.
They'd managed to make good time hitchhiking with some travelers that had a horse pulled carriage. But that didn't stop them from getting soaked from head to toe.
And worse than that there was nothing to do on the road. Tadakatsu was more than happy to spend his time reading whatever scrolls he had on him whenever the rain let up.
But Naruto wasn't a reader, he would have probably fallen asleep on his feet before he could sit and enjoy a complete book.
Well, at least they'd made it to...
Wait...where exactly were they?
He looked around at the closely cropped buildings, dark, rotting wood adding to the dreary atmosphere brought on by the rain, a faint fog clinging to the wooden surfaces.
From his observations he could tell three things with definitive certainty.
One: This place creped him out.
Two: He may have seen this in a movie once.
And three: He didn't have the foggiest notion of where the hell in fire country they were...
Were they even in fire country anymore?
"Where we goin old man?" He asked hugging his cloak tighter around himself., irately blinking away a drop of rainwater that found its way right over his eye. And did it again in the next second, and again, and again and so on and so forth. "You know, I need ta get me one of those hats."
The older male chuckled, passing by the side of an inn, the smoky smells of sake, wine, tobacco roasted meats and cooking rice wafting out towards them, making the blonds mouth water as he realized just how hungry he actually was.
Then he realized Tadakatsu wasn't stopping in this place.
His horror stricken face would have been comical if the bearded male would have seen it.
"H-hey old man wh-where the hell are you going!"
"We wont be staying here my boy!" He yelled without turning back, already guessing the nature of the boy's protest. "As hospitable as the "Hog'n Ale inn" is I find myself desiring a more tranquil place of rest."
"B-b-b-but...but they have food! They may even have Ramen!"
"Yes." The older man said, voice carrying over the cacophonous drum of the rain. A humorous lilt in his voice. "The pain I feel over the loss is sharp my boy."
Naruto sniffled, tears running down his face before he turned and followed the man, longingly looking back at the great smelling inn as it got further and further away from him.
They made a right, a left, another right, another left, by the time they got to the wherever they were staying, Naruto couldn't make heads or tails of where "Hog'n Ale" had been.
He looked up, squinting against the beat of the rain at the gate that loomed over them framed by the ten foot wall that spread out about twenty feet in both directions. He squinted through the darkness, finding a large estate within the high walls.
With a simple familiarity of someone returning home, Tadakatsu opened one of the gates with a creaking swing.
Head swiveling this way and that way, Naruto followed, staring at the surrounding foliage that lined the walkway like a wolf was about to jump out at him.
Confidently Tadakatsu climbed the porch steps. The constant beat of the rain over their bodies immediately cut off as they stepped beneath the tiled roof. Their clothes dripping with pitter pats of their own as water fell from them, pooling on the wooden floors at their feet.
The older male removed his hat, running a hand through his slightly damp hair before taking a step forward and giving three firm knocks onto the door.
There was a shuffle inside, the sound of footsteps coming closer, then the door was opened, the glow of firelight emerging from the inside, silhouetting the figure of a middle aged man, perhaps late forties or early fifties, his hair may have once been brown, though it was swiftly turning gray, with only the tips holding some semblance of color as it hung down to his shoulders as he peered out cautiously through the crack between the door and its frame.
He looked to Naruto, then to Tadakatsu, eyes narrowing in confusion as he hesitantly ventured a bit further past the door. "Tadakatsu?"
The smile that spread over the bearded man's features was impossibly wide as he spread his arms out as though to embrace the man. "Katsuye!"
The man at the door laughed, surprised but delighted as he opened the door and rushed forward, embracing Tadakatsu as though he were the prodigal son returning home.
Which for all Naruto knew he might very well be.
Katsuye pulled away, his hands on Tadakatsu's shoulders as he looked him up and down, taking in his appearance. "Oh, by the gods." He gasped, a chuckle in his voice.
"Its been too long, my old friend." Tadakatsu said squeezing his shoulder before sweeping his hand to the side. " Come, I must introduce you to my young friend here. Uzumaki Naruto"
"Ahhh." Katsuye breathed, smiling down at the confused blond. "Another apprentice for you Tadakatsu?"
"Hah." The man barked in response. "No no, Naruto is a ninja, guarding me as I conduct my trading business. You know how dangerous the roads are these days."
"Ahh I see." Katsuye said slowly, his lips twitching. "A ninja so young? Well you must be very strong then Uzumaki Naruto." He added, eyes shifting to Tadakatsu, mirth hidden in the depths of his irises.
In response Naruto smiled, flushing in embarrassment at the praise as he scratched the back of his head. The humor at his expense going completely over his head.
Katsuye chuckled, stepping aside in a hurry. "Ahh, please forgive my lack of manners, come in, make yourself at home please please."
Stepping through the wooden portal Katsuye wasted no time in taking their soaking cloaks from their shoulders and draping them over one arm. "Ahhh, Fujiko." He said, calling down a housekeeper from down the hallway.
Making her way closer she instantly grabbed onto the the cloaks, passing them from his arm to her own. "Could you please make sure that these are cleaned and tended to?" The homeowner asked, watching as the young girl nodded with a courteous. "Yes sir." Before making her way down the hallway.
Looking around, Naruto found that the interior of the home was much warmer than the exterior. A rich, cherry wood made up the walls and floors, casting a sort of, reddish glow in the firelight of candles.
The blond found himself smiling as they made their way further into the home, with Katsuye calling another maid as soon as they reached the study, asking for wine.
"It is late Katsuye-" The traveler said, holding up his hands. "I do not believe it would be best to-"
"Nonsense!" Katsuye interrupted, marching around his desk as he sat down. "When the great Tadakatsu Honda visits he must be offered the best wine."
Chuckling, the man answered with an overly dramatic bow. "And when the great Katsuye Murashi offers, then the great Tadakatsu must drink."
Watching as Tadakatsu took a seat on the other side of the desk Naruto mimicked his action, legs swinging freely as he did, unable to reach the floor from his place on the chair.
Looking to the bearded man Katsuye smiled as he spoke. "So my friend, how long will you be staying for?"
Tadakatsu looked down, a somewhat shamed smile creeping up on him. "You know me too well Katsuye. I was hoping to take advantage of your hospitality for three to four months."
Katsuye made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "Take as much advantage as you wish. You and your young ninja protector can stay for as long as you like. My home is yours." Looking to the door, Katsuye let out a pleased gasp as one of the maids entered the room, a tray with three goblets and a pitcher of wine on its surface.
Serving his two guests and then himself, (though Tadakatsu was pleased to note Naruto received a much smaller portion than the two of them.) Katsuye did not wait before taking a gulp from his cup. Tadakatsu half suspected that he'd only offered the wine to have an excuse to drink it himself.
When he was finished the man looked over his two late night visitors. "Ahh where are my manners the two of you must be tired from your travels. The servants will show you to your rooms."
"Thank you my old friend. Tadakatsu said with a bow of his head. "Oh and, where are your two young ones? It is two is it not? I'd heard lady Murashi was pregnant a second time years ago?"
"Yes they're in their rooms now, but don't you worry. You'll get to see your nieces tomorrow first thing."
"You have nieces?" Naruto asked, incredulous.
"Calm down my boy, we'll discuss it tomorrow."
"Am I gonna have to protect them too?"
Tadakatsu smiled before gently grasping Naruto by the shoulder and turning him around towards the exit. "We'll see wont we." He answered before throwing a mirthful look over his shoulder at Katsuye, who continued to smile from behind his desk, bidding them goodnight with a raise of his wine filled cup.
Just two scenes for this chapter, the next chapter (and possibly the following one) will be fillerish really, but in the one after that we should finally meet up with the "Old war dog" Kushina mentioned in the previous chapter. I'm actually looking forward to his introduction.
Anyway, hope you enjoy it, read and review please.