Chapter 28: Bribery Knows Best
Disclaimer: Shit, it's been forever…
"What happened last night?"
Tsunade was clutching her head in pain. She had just woken up and the noonday sun was adding to the misery of her hangover. Shizune handed the woman a cup of tea, specially made to ease the pain.
"You drank too much and passed out again," Shizune sighed, "You really should make a stopping point."
Tsunade waved her off. She was old enough to do as she pleased. The woman looked through her coin purse, surprised to find money still in it.
"Shizune," she began, "I distinctly remember losing last night and then going to a tavern."
"That's because you did."
"Then where did all this money come from?"
Shizune sweatdropped. Why would she question actually having money for once? If it wasn't so pathetic, she might have laughed.
"Someone picked up your drinking tab last night," Shizune said without adding 'Before you passed out.'
Shizune shook her head.
"None that I'm aware of."
Content with that answer, Tsunade began planning how to gamble the extra money she had left over…
Jiraiya could sense that the blonde was still worried about her teammate. Gai had conveniently shown up soon after the Uchiha face-off to bring Sasuke back to Konoha (although accidentally attacking them in the process). Nariko had been silent ever since, even through the night. He knew she wasn't the quiet type or the kind with a long enough attention span to do nothing for hours upon hours.
"Hey kid," he began, "Are you alright?"
She looked up at him with clueless blue eyes.
"You seem out of it."
"There's an organization out to get people like me and my boyfriend just was tortured into a coma or something. Not to mention I was close to worthless in that battle. I have things to figure out."
Every second he spent near the blonde, the more she seemed like her father. It was almost scary (although, Jiraiya had yet to see her darker side). If they were so alike maybe she could learn…
"Kid, how would you like to learn an amazingly powerful jutsu?"
Tsunade took her time to consider her options. Orochimaru wasn't someone she trusted anymore, but the offer to resurrect both her brother and previous love… there probably wouldn't be another chance. Her former teammate seemed confident enough, even with both arms crippled. Both his lackeys would give their lives for him no doubt. It was sad how some people sold their souls away for no apparent reason.
The blonde couldn't make a decision. But the offer was too tempting to resist.
"Tsunade," Orochimaru began, "I'll give you a week to decide. Meet us here with your answer."
As soon as they left, Tsunade felt like breaking down and crying. She couldn't let herself betray Konoha for two of the people she loved the most. Would they forgive her?
Shizune's expression softened. She knew this was a hard decision for her, and the only thing she could do was to try and make her choose the right one.
Nariko peeled melted rubber off her hand. Jiraiya had been explaining a jutsu called the rasengan and told her to focus her chakra into a water balloon. Apparently, the spinning chakra was supposed to pop the balloon. The problem was, she had turned chakra into fire for so long it was hard for her to stop it from becoming combustible. So far, she had popped several balloons… all by melting a hole in the rubber.
"I wish he had given me better instructions."
The sanin himself had left her in the forest to train while he looked for Tsunade in town. Nariko sighed in frustration as she melted yet another balloon.
"Some help would be nice," she sighed.
You'll get it eventually.
"I've been concentrating really hard all day! This is getting frustrating! I thought I'd have it by now."
You are to make a sphere of turbulent chakra, yes?
"I hope so, because that's what I've been trying to do for the past three hours."
Why don't you try to just use fire instead?
As you are part of my brood, you have control over fire. Therefore it would be easier for you to grasp the concept by using a more controllable medium.
The blonde nodded and put aside the water balloons. Bringing chakra to her hand, she created a thin strand of fire.
Now, try spinning the fire into a ball without letting it get out of control.
Nariko took a deep breath and focused on the flame, letting it bend and curve into a sphere. The only problem was that the sphere kept growing, and growing, and growing… Seconds later, she scrambled to douse the flaming trees. Perhaps the forest was not the wisest place to try out a fire-based jutsu…
"Lord Orochimaru, what do you wish me to do if Tsunade refuses to heal your arms?" Kabuto asked.
"She won't refuse my offer," he replied, "But in the slight chance that she does, I may have to switch bodies sooner than planned. Now leave me, both of you."
Kabuto and Akira left their master as commanded.
"May I ask for information on Lord Orochimaru's condition?" Akira asked.
The medic nodded and explained how the sanin's arms were dead, nerves and chakra pathways severed. But it had been in a way that only a highly skilled medic could fix it, as if the man who caused the damage intended for it to be healed later. Akira asked if he knew who had been the attacker.
"I believe you've seen him," Kabuto replied, "He was at the chunin exam preliminaries with Uzumaki. But Lord Orochimaru has eliminated him."
The only sign of surprise the miko showed was a slight widening of the eyes. The sanin would not be happy with the new information she had for him…
It had taken all morning, but Nariko had somewhat constructed a spinning ball of fire without burning down anything by accident (although, she had decided to train near a water source just in case…). The Kyuubi sat nearby, having been summoned earlier.
"This is easier with my own chakra," Nariko stated, "Less explosions that way."
The Kyuubi smiled.
"You're coming along to become a great kitsune."
Nariko looked up from her work to her mother.
"I know you're stuck with me all the time," she began, "I can take care of myself for at least a few hours."
"Are you sure you don't want me to stay?"
"You deserve to get away from me," the blonde laughed, "The jutsu will let you be a few miles away, so don't worry about that either."
The immortal turned to leave before being stopped by her adopted daughter. The blonde handed over a small purse stuffed with money.
"Please don't spend all my money."
Nariko waved until her mother was out of sight. She laughed to herself. She was like a parent sending a child to school. The blonde laughed again. There was no one there to ask why she was laughing. It was a cycle that was only broken by the growing ball of fire she had lost track of…
"Shizune, you deserve a day off."
"But Lady Tsuna-"
"I need some time to think alone."
The brunette sighed before leaving the room they were staying in, Tonton close behind. Shizune was worried about her mentor and the encounter with Orochimaru. There was no way she could let Orochimaru regain his ability to destroy places such as Konoha. He was an evil man. No doubt.
Shizune continued to walk down the street. What she needed was a quiet walk to think things over and plan what to do next. Her plan was doomed to fail as she soon bumped into the same man she had met the other night.
Akira resisted the urge to hold her bow. It was apparent that Orochimaru was very, very angry with the news that the red-head who had disabled his arms was still alive.
"Why was I not told of this sooner?" he hissed.
"I was not aware that he was close to the Hokage or desired to help Konoha," she replied.
"And why did you not shoot this threat?"
"I cannot," she stated.
"It is miko rule to only attack those of evil spirit. He has faced judgment already."
Akira kept a stoic face. She did not fear Orochimaru or any threat of death.
"My clan supports your enterprise to defeat the Akatsuki," she continued, "But our rule comes before yours."
Kabuto bravely stepped forward, ready to pacify his master's mood.
"If this man still lives, perhaps it would be easier for you to convince him to help you. I have run examinations on your injuries and I believe that he purposely made it possible to fix them."
Orochimaru seemed to consider the possibility, although still angry.
"Akira, gather information. Kabuto, offer him my deal and report back. I want to know his reaction."
The Kyuubi perused the village, unsure of what to do. Human towns had never interested her by the time her third kit was born. And those cities had been more advanced than any in the present time, but nonetheless life in the wild among the kitsune clan had been enough to satisfy her. Soon after, she had become leader of the clan as the world began to crumble and the need and want to go into human settlements had completely vanished (coincidentally the cities had disappeared as well due to their own devices; pollution, deforestation, war over lack of fuel… qualms long forgotten by the ninja world).
She sighed as a group of men whistled at her. No matter the species, males could be so immature. The woman approached a small, but decent looking tea house. Even though she had been summoned at least twice (excluding the day of the chunin exams) she had been with Nariko. And of course, they ate ramen. It wasn't that she disliked it, but she had been sealed for years and now that she could walk around a bit, she was going to get some real food damn it!
The first thing, or person, who caught her eye was none other than the woman they were after. Supposedly, Tsunade was a powerful medic. A powerful medic who clearly had a hangover. The blonde woman sat at the bar, her torso slouched, and emitting a smell of fear? Worry?
Interested, The Kyuubi quietly perched on the stool next to the woman. The blonde didn't give a second glance.
"You seem down," the red-haired woman said, "Are you alright?"
She looked at her with tired brown eyes before replying, "I'm fine."
Ah well, she tried. But just as she was going to settle down something picked up on her senses causing her to groan. Takeshi had trailed them to the town and now she would never get the peace and quiet she desperately needed. It wasn't that she disliked him, but he had always been… off. His interest in humans and healing them had been a practice rejected by the whole clan. The Kyuubi's time in her young vessel had opened her mind to more human tolerance. They only lived for a few decades before dying, unlike her own family.
Youkai spent little time together as it could lead to trouble. If fish and house guests stunk after three days, think of the harm eternity could do… Despite this, she had rather neglected her youngest son and perhaps karma was now shoving it back into her face.
"Karma sucks," she muttered.
The woman next to her chuckled.
"Now who's down?"
The red-head frowned.
"I just realized my son's in town," she replied, "We don't exactly get along."
The blonde woman quirked a brow. The woman next to her couldn't possibly be older than thirty, with the way she looked.
"So, let me get this straight," Tsunade began, "You're hiding from your kid?"
"He's not a kid anymore," she sighed, "He was a lot less trouble then. Wait until you have kids of your own…"
Tsunade shook her head.
"I'm a lot older than I look," the sanin replied.
"So am I."
"I'm Tsunade," she said.
"Nice to meet you, Setsuka."
"Can I ask you something?" Shizune asked.
She had been walking around town talking to Takeshi for the past few hours about this and that. He seemed like a good guy. Younger than her, but still quite a conversationalist. Nonetheless, Tonton had seemed to shy away from the red-head.
"The village you live in, you'd protect it if it was in danger, right?"
"What do you think I am, a ninja?" he grinned, "But I guess so."
"Then," Shizune continued, "Would you help someone destroy the village if it were to save someone you loved?"
"Is this one of those test questions?" he asked, unfazed by the awkward hypothetical, "Because, you're a nice person an' all, but I've already got a somebody-"
"N-no! It's not that at all," she flustered, "You're too young for me!"
His ever increasing grin made her realize yet another mistake she had made.
"J-just forget about it!"
"Consider it done," he winked.
Shizune looked down to try and hide the redness of her cheeks. Stupid! Why would she bring up something like that with someone she barely knew? To her luck, the smell of burning wood and sound of crashing trees brought a much needed distraction.
"Let's check it out," she said.
"Isn't that a bit dangerous?" he asked.
"Don't worry. I'm a ninja."
"Strange how you ask me odd questions, tell me I'm too young for you, then suddenly admit you're a ninja," he teased.
Takeshi had always had a strange aura about him that made people comfortable around him. It probably had to do with his goofy amiability, and it most definitely was the reason why he hadn't been slapped clean across the face. The two (and Tonton, who was much less confident about heading into a possible forest fire) headed towards the source and found smoking cinders on the forest floor. The tree that had caught fire had been burned to the core and had shattered upon impact.
"It's like," Shizune began, "The tree just exploded with fire."
Takeshi was silent and approached the fire, holding his palms inches away from the embers. He looked at Shizune.
"It burned quick and hot, then dissipated," he said, "A flash fire of sorts."
"You can really tell all that?"
"My family's full of pyromaniacs," he laughed, "Of course."
There was a pause.
"See? You managed to get something out of me after all."
She nodded before approaching the now dead embers herself. Shizune could sense the chakra that went into making the fire. Whoever was doing this was powerful, probably, and she didn't want a civilian to get hurt when they met.
"I'm thinking," Takeshi continued, "That this has to do with some crazy ninja stunt."
Shizune looked at him for an explanation.
"Explosives would have taken out the surrounding trees, and regular fire can't possibly burn this hot. You ninja can do crazy things, so that's the easiest explanation I can think of."
"Not all ninja blow up trees."
"Anyway, I think a trip back to town would be best," he smiled, "If trees are suddenly bursting, then I'd rather not be around when they do."
"That was so cool…"
Nariko grinned to herself. The fire sphere had worked like a charm, and it was a brilliant display of destruction. The blonde grinned until she felt a pull in the back of her mind. The Kyuubi was moving around in the town, and there was a distance limit in which they could be separate. Nariko groaned and started moving in the direction of her mother, away from the smoldering tree.
Her mother deserved to walk around for at least a little while, and Nariko was done learning the fire sphere thing, so… maybe she'd go bother someone.
Jiraiya knew that the good time he was having was coming to an end as soon as he heard someone yell for help. Was it the blonde? Probably. Should he care? Probably not. Jiraiya sighed before reconsidering. If the blonde destroyed something, he'd be held accountable, and that would make life even more difficult. Might as well fix the problem now while could…
Tsunade couldn't help but laugh. This woman, Setsuka, was opinionated and was not afraid of saying what she was feeling. It was rare to find an older woman who hadn't wrinkled into a serious snarl.
"Men… what can you do?" the red-head sighed.
"You can beat them as much as you want," Tsunade replied, "And they still don't learn."
"Too stubborn for their own good," Setsuka replied, "I know my own husband would rather die than say he was wrong."
"Marriage isn't something I'm looking into."
"Good, because unless you want kids, it's not good for anything else. I haven't seen my husband for years…"
Tsunade drank her tea.
"So you're a traveler?" she asked.
"I suppose you could say that," Setsuka replied.
"As am I," Tsunade sighed, "I just got to a point where I couldn't live the same life any more and I took to the road."
"If only I could run around like what I was a kid," the red-head replied, "It seems so long ago."
The two women laughed at that. The Kyuubi was surprised that she had come to friendly terms with this human so quickly. It took her years to accept Nariko. Perhaps it was because their meeting was forced, but years it still took, nonetheless.
"I should find Tsunade-sama," Shizune sighed, "But it was nice seeing you again."
"If you need help, just a-holler and I'll be a-coming to help."
"You are a very strange person," she smiled.
"Some would argue that I'm not a person at all."
She laughed and waved, and the two turned their separate ways. One was to find the ninja who almost set the forest on fire, the other to ignore the fire-setter and remain incognito.
"Is this a serious deal?"
Takeshi was skeptical that Orochimaru, the man who had already tried to kill him twice, would want to help him.
"What's the catch?"
"You have to heal Orochimaru-sama's arms," Kabuto replied.
"Ah, so the truth comes out!"
"That's ok," Takeshi shrugged, "I was going to bribe that guy anyway for the same thing. I guess you just beat me to it."
Kabuto nodded, dumbfounded. So his assumption was right after all… But why would the youkai, immortal, need Orochimaru's help in anything? The medic saw the youkai's eyes shift to where Akira now stood.
"I know who you are," she said.
"Do you?" Takeshi asked.
"I do," Akira continued, "And I believe that it would be worth your while to join our cause."
"Oh really?" he replied, "Look, a trade is a trade. I don't feel like joining for life. Commitment's not my thing."
"What… do you know about Akatsuki?"
Kabuto tensed. The Miko could blow the entire operation if he didn't turn out to be an ally. Information was their greatest asset, and she was going to give it away.
"What do I know? I know that I shouldn't like them."
"It was destiny that you would come into this," Akira continued, "It was destined that you would join us and get your revenge."
"You…" Takeshi began, "You know where he is?"
"Not exactly, but he runs Akatsuki, and Orochimaru-sama aims to destroy them."
Takeshi was silent. He had been waiting decades to find this man and kill him. Maybe not for them, but for himself. And the fact that he was after both his mother and sister gave the youkai even more reason to go with the plan. He looked at the Miko. They were bound by honor to do the righteous thing, and lying was not part of their nature. She could be trusted, even if Orochimaru could not.
Kabuto twitched under the sudden shift of attention.
"So, when and where do I meet you?"
"W-well, Orochimaru-sama has planned to meet Tsunade within a week."
"Oh, the fake Tsunade… they're going to make her Hokage, y'know."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"A fact for a fact. You never answered me. When and where do we meet?"
A/N: Kill me if you want. Heh… Edelta88 reminded me that I actually have an account here. Whoops. Anyway, the Kyuubi's name, Setsuka, was a suggestion by someone a loooooong time ago...