Naruto determined this, and really, he used to like the rain.
At least as long as it didn't rain every other day like it did here.
Maybe he was being unfair, what with them being somewhat close to Ame and it being near autumn and all but all it did here was rain.
He was so sick of getting drenched whenever he walked out of that house.
Sometimes it was good for his awareness training, after he'd learned to hear the sound of rain striking flesh and clothes it actually helped surprisingly, but there were only so many days that you could walk into a home, dripping from head to toe and freezing cold that one could stomach.
His feet pound on the muddy ground, he nearly trips when his feet slide on the slick surface, catching himself before landing flat on his ass, he keeps running.
He passes by villagers that barely spare him a second glance, each of them running home to avoid the downpour as best they could, or perhaps save their groceries.
He reaches the gates of the estate, slipping inside, he closes it behind him with a screech of hinges, Running over to the front porch, he knocks on the door.
One of the maids answers it, she smiles and steps aside to allow him in. He looks around. She winks. Miss Sachii is with Master Katsuye now. The Master is...her lips tightened, laughter caught in the hollow of her cheek. "Playing house, so to speak."
He smiles wide, muttering a quick thanks before he slipped past her.
Tadakatsu looks ridiculous.
Furthermore. He knows he looks ridiculous.
Frilly polka-dotted pink aprons were not made to be worn by men.
He's not sure how the hell this happened.
But apparently, out of the entire houseful of maids he is the ONLY one that knew how to bake. The normal person they called to bake was sick.
Why does a top ranking Nuke-nin, who is a member of a clandestine organization know how to bake?
Well, it involved a bet, an infiltration mission, an explosion, several million dollars worth of damages in the weight of stuffed animals, a cook book and a rusty oven.
And that's all that will be said on the subject.
The cake is done really, all that's missing is the-
"I'm here!" Naruto all but shouts as he barrels into the kitchen.
"Good, you're just in time."
When the blond hands him the frosting tool, filled already from the bakers with the frosting they'd ordered, Tadakatsu quickly begins putting in the final touches.
He looks to the blond, still dripping wet all over the nice clean kitchen floor. The maids had just mopped that too.
"Go and get yourself changed, you can't exactly arrive looking like you've taken on the role of the villages spear fisherman."
"Oh right." And the bot immediately flees.
They're sitting in a room, kneeling behind some furniture. All of Sachii's classmates along with their parents and several of the maids were there too. The most surprising part to Niko was that the six year olds around them were doing a better job at sitting still than Naruto.
He shifted, fidgeted, peeked his head up over the furniture at random intervals. It was almost funny really. Like watching a jittery cat.
He was dressed in dark blue. Her father never threw out anything. He gave him some old shirts of his to wear from the days of his early teenage years, and even though they were a bit big on him, with a seam here and a hemming there he was able to wear it rather well all things considered.
"Keep still." Her uncle chided. "They'll be here soon."
Naruto didn't protest, he indeed did sit still for the rest of the time they waited until her father and sister's voices could be heard coming down the hallway, then he perked up again.
She was sure the boy was going to jump out of his skin before they heard her father say the code words.
"Do you remember that old toy of yours Sachii-"
And just like that everyone rose up to their feet, shouting at the top of their lungs.
The rain helped to hide him from the unwary, resting within the thin shell of greenery, he watched the men as they patrolled the building.
Two on the rooftop, six at the front entrance, two outside, the other four in. There were at least three on the second story. There were no windows on the third.
They were alert, which is more than he could say for most guards. They were not strong, he could kill them, but that would take time, and lacked subtlety.
He saw someone else...out the back, a man, not a guard, older. A servant by the looks of him.
When it was time to start opening presents, Naruto felt panic rise in his chest.
He didn't get her one!
He inched his way over to Tadakatsu hissing up at him as discreetly as he could while the older male watched his youngest niece rip open another present, she was presented with surrounded by her friends, sister and father.. "Psst. Old man!"
When Tadakatsu turned to look down at him, Naruto all but fidgeted in place. "I didn't get her anything."
Tadakatsu smiled a kindly smile, pulling out a wrapped gift, about the size of a large book.
"You could present this to her."
"But that's yours!" The blond protested.
"Say it is from both of us."
Tadakatsu's kindly smile grew just a bit. "Don't worry. Now give it to her." Turning him around he pushed the boy a bit so he was standing closer, 'volunteering' to present the next gift.
Katsuye smiled at him where he sat next to Sachii, the little girls eyes were fixated on the last gift she'd opened until her father nudged her.
Her face lit up when she saw him with the gift wrapped package, and his heart sank a little knowing he hadn't really gotten her anything.
He held the gidt forward, handing it to her, she took it and ripped it open.
And inside were four scrolls.
Naruto's brow crinkled, but Sachii's face lit up with the brightest smile he'd ever seen. She released a gasp, so delighted that he had to take a closer look at the scrolls to see just what was so special.
The first one he didn't recognize, but the labels on the other three were all very easy to recall.
Bunshin, Kawarimi, Henge.
"Thank you Nii-chan!" She squealed, jumping up and doing her best to hug him until his spine snapped at the neck.
Tadakatsu chuckled, more or less coming to his rescue as he stepped up behind the hapless boy. "You'll have to practice at it every day if you want to learn Sachii."
She nodded, shaking her head so fast her hair whipped over her eyes and forehead.
She felt something slipping over her head. She blinked, looking up at the strange fabric now decorating her forehead, a glint of metal could be seen just beyond the peripheral.
She reached up, pulling it free, and found a leaf headband glimmering back at her.
She looked to Naruto, now free of the piece of clothing., his wild hair let loose across his head.
He smiled at her. "When you learn to do those, then you can wear that okay?
She looked down at the headband, her smile still present. She was too young to understand the significance of it, this piece of clothing, but Naruto felt good giving it to her.
It was his headband, he'd worked to get it...but it wasn't his village anymore was it?
He smiled as best he could, slipping on his most convincing grin as someone else stepped forward to show their gift. Sachii turned, putting the scrolls and their case down right next to her as she looked to the next person.
The tray was light in his hands, the food atop it carrying a delightful scent. He made his way up the stairs and through the halls, passing by a variety of unsavory sorts as he came closer to his destination.
Finally, he saw two guards at the door, one of them eyed the food but made no comment.
Finally the man opened the door, pushing it wide.
He stepped through, walking up the last set of stairs.
The master of the house was agitated, brow furrowed in thought, palms sweaty leaning over a map with five full suitcases by the doorway.
The man looked up when he entered. "Ahh Shugen. Leave it there. I'll get to it later.
"As you wish sir."
Placing the tray down, the older servant bowed. "Will there be something else you'll require sir?"
"No nothing you may go."
"By your leave then sir."
"I thought your headbands were important to you"
Naruto turned his head finding Tadakatsu sliding the door closed behind him as he stepped out to the outside hallway.
Naruto shrugged. "It is. I'll...get another one when I get back to Konoha.
Tadakatsu nodded, "Is the mark of your allegiance so replaceable then?"
Naruto's face slackened for a moment, surprised, or perhaps dumbfounded at the question. "No. I'll always be loyal to my home. Its just...she'll appreciate it...right?"
Tadakatsu walked forward, placing a hand on the boy's shoulder, looking down at him. "Naruto. Is there something you wish to speak of?"
Naruto's face scrunched up, then he grinned again, that smile spreading once more. "Nah old man. Go back inside, I'll just stay out here for a bit. Maybe practice my awareness again.
"Don't overdo it then." He answered after a moment, turning and marching back inside.
Shugen stepped into the room, once more near midnight eying his employer and the empty tray on his desk.
"Did you enjoy dinner sir?"
"Yes, very good." He answered not looking up from a file he was reading. "Take the tray and go do what you wish, I won't be needing you for the rest of the night Shugen."
"Thank you sir. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed your last meal."
It took them man a moment, a blink as his brain caught up with the words.
He moved to stand, only for his words to choke off in his throat, his neck stretching and his eyes bulging wide in shock, the papers falling from his hands as he clutched at his neck, grasping at something.
Shuzen stood there, face placid, the wrinkles fading, the skin becoming taut and firm, tanned rather than pale, the bald scalp replaced by a head of sand hair, the mustache thickening, becoming darker, growing around his lips, one eye hollowing and blackening until it revealed an eyepatch, the other eye shifting from dull brown to sharp green.
The dying man shook his head. 'Y-yo-"
It was a chain. Coiled around his neck, rising up to the ceiling before pivoting somewhere above to return to the grip of its owner, extending from the end of a rod in his hand, its slate grey iron body proving more menacing than a sword, all harsh edges and bandied steel.
Tadakatsu woke the next morning with a sigh, detecting the glimmer of a chakra presence still outside the house.
The boy had stayed up all night.
It wasn't a surprise. He'd rather expected it truth be told.
He stood, groaning as his back popped, throwing on his clothes he left the room.
The body hung stiff, its eyes bulging and tongue black as it stuck out of his victims mouth. The smell of urine thick in the room as he worked, sealing documents, sifting through records, a casche of information he would have to sort through in greater detail later.
Most of what he saw was finances, but one file in particular, the one his target had been perusing shortly before his death, was most interesting.
It did not hold troop movements, financial records, future plans. No. It only held a person. A boy to be precise of twelve, with bright blond hair and blue eyes.
He closed his eye sighing. Not with dismay, or agitation.
In hindsight; perhaps Tadakatsu should have expected this.
Feet planted over the bark of a tree trunk, nearly twenty feet in the air with a blond child staring up at him with the widest smile on his face, pointing with one finger as his shirt all but slipped off of him as he dangled from his ankle.
"Hah! I knew it!" He yelled with something very much like triumph in his voice.
He'd been sleeping. Or...better to say the boy had been pretending to sleep. That should have perhaps, been his first clue that something was odd. Naruto possessed a boundless energy and ever since he'd discovered the ability of his clones to absorb information, he could be found almost every day training until it was time to eat or until he or someone else, particularly Sachii, called him away.
The second thing that should have probably given it away was that the boy had been laying on a tree branch.
It was not uncommon for Anbu or Jounin to catch rest where they could on missions that brought them into enemy territory but for a gennin to sleep on the rough bark of a tree rather than the comparatively soft ground...
Tadakatsu had marched out into the yard, determined to wake the boy with a shout when, before he could get a word in edgewise Naruto had promptly rolled over, falling straight down to crash on his head.
Perhaps that perfect timing should have tipped him off as well.
But at the moment, the act did not matter, only the boys un-broken neck, and the fact that he wanted to keep it very much the way it was.
He'd jumped; catching the boy by his ankle.
Only to find himself exactly where he found himself now, with Naruto staring up at him with the biggest smile threatening to split his face open.
"What the hell do you want letch?"
Tsunade's voice was harsh, all but growling as she entered her office and found Jiraiya lounging on one of the chairs.
The pervert smiled, and Tsunade knew something was off in an instant. "Hey Hime."
She sighed, aggravated, throwing down her files on the desk before she leaned against the edge, her rump pressing itself against the wooden corner straight across from him. "Alright what the hell is wrong?"
He leaned forward, staring into her eyes. "I need to take a leave for about a month."
She raised an eyebrow. "A leave? Jiraiya you come and go as you please, why is this any-"
"I mean without contact. Any contact." He interrupted. "There are some things I need to corroborate. Make sure of. If I'm not back in five weeks-" He reached into his pocket, handing her a scroll, a time seal glowing across it. "That should open up. Read it. When you do...well...hopefully you'll be smarter than me."
She eyed the scroll, and him for the longest time. She'd thought this was about Naruto. She thought better of that assumption now. If it was about Naruto it wouldn't need nearly as much secrecy or caution. Her teammate genuinely felt he might not come back from this. "Jiraiya what is this? You're worrying me."
He smiled a little wider. "Its just a precaution Hime."
She took the scroll.
Jiraiya moved to stand when she grabbed him by the scruff of his shirt, pulling him so that their noses were practically touching.
"If you fuck up and have me go rescue your sorry ass, on Dan's grave I swear I'll make you regret it."
She pushed him away with a snort, placing the scroll on her desk as she ignored his laugh. "Get out. I have work to do."
He smiled, a soft touch to his features as he left the office. She waited to hear his footsteps become distant, to feel his chakra signature getting further away from the building before she moved again.
When she looked, the captain was already beside her.
She took the scroll, tossing it at his chest where he caught it with a snap of his fingers on its surface. "Get me the seal masters. I want that thing opened by the time the weeks out."
"That long?" He questioned.
"Actually, I'm most likely being unreasonable considering its one of Jiraiya's seals. Get the sealers to work twenty four hours straight if you have to. But get it done."
The man bowed, as you wish.
When he vanished, she sat at her desk, picking up her file and returning to work.
Like she would wait five weeks.
"So how long have you suspected?"
"A few days now." The boy admitted, unabashed at the fact that they'd been traveling together for weeks now. He smiled up at the man, his hands clasped behind his head.
"What gave me away?" Tadakatsu asked, raising a mocking eyebrow. Though he hadn't really been trying after a certain point he'd still like to know.
"It was all the little things really." Naruto said. "Even though you said you were looking for something in the library you never really told me what it is. You haven't finished one book either. You were real excited when you found out about the clone thing, you also always end up giving good tips whenever I get stuck in my training."
Tadakatsu's eyebrow notched itself a little higher. Those were little things. He'd hate to see what passed for obvious in the boy's mind.
"And the reason for the-" He looked up to the tree "Theatrics?"
Naruto stuck his tongue out. "Well I wasn't just gonna ask you. What if I was wrong? It'd be awkward. And if I was wrong I would have just rescued myself."
"And if you were right and I hadn't moved to catch you and you'd have been forced to save yourself anyway?"
He stopped then, his expression growing flat before his eyes swiveled this way and that way. Thinking.
Tadakatsu chuckled. Innovation was a powerful tool in strategy, but he needed to learn that no plan could account for every variable.
"Yeah well..." The boy ventured. "That didn't happen. Anyway, why were you hiding it in the first place?"
Finally the important question.
"Because it was important for us that you discover it on your own."
It took the boy a second to catch up. "Huh, wait. Us?"
Tadakatsu nodded. "Come on. Let's find a seat, this will be a long conversation I think.
Serving himself some tea as the early morning mist finally began to dissipate with the increasing heat of the rising sun, Tadakatsu stared at Naruto's expectant eyes before he took a sip.
The older man cleared his throat. "I'll start with a formal introduction then. My name is Takechio Tadakatsu, former jounin of Takigakure."
Naruto smiled. "You already know me."
Tadakatsu's gaze grew serious. "Indeed. Uzumaki Naruto. Former gennin of Konohagakure."
The boy went to nod when the older male continued, stopping him.
"Gennin of cell seven under elite ninja, 'Sharingan no Kakashi'. Former cell members Haruno Sakura, Uchiha Sasuke. Graduated from the academy nine months ago. First chuunin examination attempt, three months ago." The boys eyes were getting wider, shock and not a bit of trepidation taking over the confusion. "Mission profile states seventeen D rank missions completed, along with two C rank missions and One impressive A rank in which you encountered the so called 'Demon of the Bloody mist' Momochi Zabusa. Unofficially, you were part of the Toad sannin's excursion in finding Senjuu Tsunade and offering the position of Godaime Hokage of Konohagakure."
He paused, taking another sip of his tea as he stared at the boy's slackjawed expression.
"Your last mission, which ended in failure of your primary objective but notably eliminated five Oto ninja of C rank or higher with the help of auxiliary relief forces from Suna, was the attempted capture and recovery of Uchiha Sasuke."
Placing his now empty teacup down he laced his fingers together before placing his hands atop the table. "Did that cover everything?"
"What the f-"
"We've been watching you for a very long time."
"Who the hell is we!"
"We." Tadakatsu began hoping to calm the boy down before he shouted loudly enough to wake the dead. "Is an order of elite ninja from all across the Shinobi lands. We work in small cells, each consisting of no less than three, but no more than six individuals."
"That's not really answering." The boy accused, squinting with unveiled suspicion.
"Its as much as I can answer" He confessed. "For security reasons, the members of one cell do not know the members of another. Only the grandmaster, and the acolyte, his chosen successor, know every member."
"And who are they."
"I will not tell you."
The boy sucked in a breath, ready to protest, quite loudly when Tadakatsu cut him off. "Do not bother demanding an answer, I will not tell you. You're not ready to know."
The boy shut his mouth, looking displeased when he latched onto something else. "Alright well you said you guys all have teams right? Well which is your team then!?"
"I am a member of Cell B, there were five of us once. Now there are only three. An old Iwa ninja named Haseba and another man. We've never known his real name. He only goes by the name Cyrus."
Naruto scrunched up his nose. "That's a weird name."
"Contrary to popular belief, strange names are the most difficult to remember. You can always put the name to a face if you're used to it. But recalling a name you've heard only once to a face you've seen only once is much harder. I have no doubt he uses other names in various places. Its why he's so difficult to track. Secrecy is our best weapon."
The boy's face showed everything, and Tadakatsu could sympathize with his confusion.
"Who are you guys keeping a secret from?"
Tadakatsu leaned back in his seat. "Ahh...now there is the heart of the matter, isn't it?" He mused, serving himself a little more tea as he stalled for a bit, searching for the proper words.
"Allow me to say-" He began. "That both our organizations pre-date the founding of the ninja villages as the world knows them. How long before the founding is anyone's guess, but we have all been fighting under the guise of others for far longer than any one man can claim to have lived."
"Well its quite simple really. Both sides have only one half of the whole. They have a key. We have the location where that key can be used."
"Is this being meta-whatsis?"
"Metaphorical?" The older man shrugged. "In a sense. Though not entirely. Please forgive me, but I cannot reveal more than I already have on the matter."
"What can you tell me!?"
A much easier question now that the boy mentioned it.
"In truth only that we've been looking out for you since you were born."
Naruto opened his mouth, but them seemed to think better of it before he snapped it shut, glaring at the man as though accusing him of not being able to answer the unspoken questions here as well.
He smiled a bit. "The Sandaime Hokage...was very influential with us, as was the Yondaime. At Sarutobi's request, we've kept as close a watch as we dared. You and I were never supposed to meet. Your use of that escape route activated old seals we'd left behind. It alerted several of us to be on the lookout for you. I was the first to arrive. Else wise you may have been found by another cell." He sipped at his tea. "In short, you and I never should have met unless under the most dire circumstances that required your escape or flight from Konohagakure."
"Ok I can get that." The boy nodded. "But what now? What were you supposed to do after you found me?"
"Protect you from whomever you were fleeing from. Train you and induct you into our ranks."
Tadakatsu nodded. "Yes you did hear me right. The plan was always for you to join us."
"But-but I don't even know anything about you people! I'm not some...secret, weird information salesman wanderer guy."
"You're a ninja." Tadakatsu answered simply. "You will be whatever you need to be."
Naruto blinked owlishly at the man. Thinking. In truth it wasn't as if he had anything else really planned but this seemed like too big a deal to just say yes to out of a lack of any other options.
At his silence Tadakatsu decided to placate the misgivings he could see forming there. "You do not have to decide immediately, even should you decline we will still train you. The organization known as Akatsuki is still after you and it would be foolish to protect you all these years, only to abandon you now when you need our aid most."
At that, Naruto's tension eased, believing the lie, things had already been decided, and one way or another Naruto would join them, otherwise...well...there's a reason the order had been kept a secret for so long.
Tadakatsu choose not to contemplate such a possibility. The future was always open. The boy would warm to the idea in time.
"Alright so when do we start?" The youth finally asked, breaking the tense silence.
"We already have." Tadakatsu shrugged. "Reading through Katsuye's library was not merely an expenditure of time. Knowledge is as powerful as any blade. The book you've already started on, is proof enough that you can glean much from pages and ink."
"Well...yeah but aren't we gonna do more?" He asked, scratching the back of his head.
"You will." The older man answered. "But not with me. In one month's time, one of the members of my cell will come here, and he will continue your training."
"Why do I have to go with him? Why can't you teach me?"
"I could." He admitted to the protest. "There are a great many things I could teach you, but in truth there are duties I have neglected. Things I need to get back to, and quickly. I am not sure which one of us would be a better teacher, but I do know which one of us is stronger. You will become very powerful under Cyrus' tutelage.
"So its the guy with the weird name?"
Naruto's lips pursed, his face scrunching up in a strange expression.
Finally, he spoke, his voice hesitant and full of misgivings.
"Can't wait to meet him I guess..."
He made his way back to the place he'd taken as his own, the murder weapon nowhere to be seen, only scrolls, scrolls with instructions as he sat down atop a near rotten chair.
He held up the first one, and a man stepped out of the shadows, taking it in hand.
"You know what to do, I trust."
The man nodded. Nothing more nothing less before left.
He held out the second, and this time a boy emerged, dressed in rags, his hair a tangled mess. A gutter rat if there ever was one. "Take this." He instructed. To our southern friend." The boy nodded.
"And this." Cyrus continued, pulling out a third scroll. "Is for her."
The boy looked startled. "You're not taking it to her yourself?" He questioned, his voice high pitched, not even a teenager yet.
"No time." I should venture to meet my new student before our unwanted friends do."
The boy nodded.
Well here we are. Sorry for the wait. But I'd been plagued by a major writers block for the first time in about a year. And it was bad. Sometimes I could barely sit down and write two sentences.
Either way its done now. Hope it was worth the wait and hopefully the next chapter will come easier.