Chapter 2 – Solo mission
Early next morning, fifteen minutes before mission briefing began, Sasuke snuck into the nursery. Strictly speaking he was only allowing in during certain times of the month and on official visits, but the ninja guards of the morning were kindly konuichi who had a liking of Sasuke, as that 'cute little emo kid'. He walked past the empty waiting room and wandered down the corridor. He passed several doors, discretely checking to see if they were locked. If they were locked it meant there would be an over-protective parent on the other side. Sasuke found an unlocked door and entered the room. He shut the door behind him before scanning the room. Sasuke saw he was in a mammal wing, where the small ferret-like mammals were kept. He sighed and began the process of placing his palm against the chakra panels and testing the connection.
Naruto lumbered towards the ninja briefing room. He had slept well, curled up next to little Kuku, but Sasuke's words echoed in his ears from the moment he woke up. He punched the air and growled.
"I'll show him I'm worthless!"
He silently wished Kuku's first birthday would arrive faster and they could begin the proper training. Naruto had already gone against regulation by teaching Kuku ninjutsu, but his partner had picked it up so fast, Naruto wondered if he was a Kitsune at all. Kuku's first birthday was in a month, so not too far away, but Naruto wanted to get a head start on Sasuke.
"He is the one who hasn't even got a partner!" Naruto raged, and a villager looked at him curiously. Naruto reached the door of the briefing room and spotted Sasuke walking in his direction. Naruto frowned as he noticed Sasuke was walking from the nursery. He quickly ducked into the doorway and spied Sasuke looking gloomily at the ground. At first Naruto felt a pang of sadness for his frenemy, but then he remembered how cruel he had been to him and Kuku. Naruto looked away and walked up the stairwell to the briefing room. Inside the room was the Third Hokage, piling papers and organising himself for the day. He spotted Naruto walking into the room and pulled the pipe he was smoking from his mouth.
"You're here early," he noted. Naruto shrugged.
"Nah, you're just a late old man," he said half heartedly.
"Kuku been giving you trouble?"
"Yeah right. He's going to be the best partner ever!" Naruto said a little cheerier. The Hokage smiled.
"That's good. But today is an especially difficult mission, so there's no room for worry."
"Lighten up old man. I can take anything you got!" Naruto said, grinning widely. The Hokage sighed, realising the boy's disrespect actually brightened his mornings. Suddenly, Iruka appeared next to him.
"Hey! Iruka-sensei!" Naruto said. The Third noted Naruto used a honorific for his former teacher but not for the Hokage, leader of the village.
"Hey Naruto. You're here early."
"Yeah. I heard there is an extra special mission for me today?"
Iruka glanced at the Hokage, who hid a smile behind a pile of paper.
"Yes Naruto. It is a special mission."
"Can you tell me what it is?"
"Not until your team arrives here." Both senior ninjas noticed Naruto wince and knew that there was again a fight. They exchanged glances, and the Hokage nodded.
"Well, this mission is actually a solo mission -" Iruka was cut off before he could finish. Naruto accepted instantly.
"Don't you want to hear what it is first?" Iruka asked.
"No, just get me outta here quick," Naruto said smugly.
Naruto found himself running down the main road away from the village. He had a backpack full of supplies and tools and a frown on his face.
"Why didn't I listen to the mission first?" Naruto grumbled, "I don't want to deliver a letter to a bunch of rogue ninja!"
Naruto travelled two days, running most of the time. He fell asleep almost as soon as he lay down, and then barely stopped to eat. He was worried about Kuku, but knew the ninja-sitters would be on the case. Namely his landlord and Iruka. Naruto reached the base of the mountain by mid morning of the third day and decided to rest. He found a little hot spring town and bought a cheap room. Naruto was just about to catch some z's when he heard a commotion next door. He groaned, jumped out of bed and pulled a kunai from his bag. He padded softly to the door and opened it, wincing when the hinges creaked. He stuck his head out, noted that the coast was clear, and tiptoed to listen at the door of the next room. He listen carefully and heard the sound of kunai sliding over kunai and clanging. Then he heard a yelp and swearing. He burst into the room, shouting "What's going on!"
Laying on the bed was a woman, probably late twenties, early thirties, holding a kunai and a whet stone, sucking on her thumb. She was sitting stock still and staring at Naruto as if he was the last thing on Earth she expected to see. She had long blonde hair tied in two low ponytails and a small diamond in the centre of her brow. Sitting on the bed next to her was a small pink pig. She sat staring long enough for Naruto to realise she was the one he was looking for. She was off the bed quick as a flash, a fist headed straight for Naruto's face. He dodged at the last second. The fist hit the wall, and the entire section broke apart, revealing another woman standing comically in the corridor carrying towels. Both her and Naruto had wide eyes and mouths. The woman grabbed Naruto by his jacket and pulled him to within inches of her face.
"Who sent you?" she growled. "Was it Beni? I told him I will pay him back next week!"
Naruto waved his hands and felt sweat bead on his brow.
"No, no, no! I don't want any trouble! I just heard noises and thought... You are... that's a pig?"
The woman stared at him blankly. "Do I know you kid?"
"Probably not granny," Naruto replied arrogantly. The woman's face suddenly puckered and she raised a fist.
"Lady Tsunade! He's just a boy!" The other woman said, racing in through the hole in the wall and grabbed the blonde woman's fist.
"I don't care Shizune! He just burst into my room and called me old!" she roared, her teeth bared.
The black-haired woman called Shizune managed to calm Tsunade down and apologise to Naruto.
"I thought there was a battle going on in here, but it just turned out to be you," Naruto said after Tsunade finally released him.
"You aren't very perceptive are you?" Tsunade replied sarcastically.
"But I was actually sent by old man Hokage to give you a letter. I'm glad you came down from the mountain, because I didn't want to have to climb that!" Naruto said, reaching into his bag and retrieving the letter. Tsunade froze.
"I'm sure it's nothing Tsunade. I'm sure he's forgotten 'that' incident," Shizune assured with a nervous laugh. Tsunade snatched the letter and ripped open the envelope. Naruto slid over and peered over Tsunade's shoulder discretely.
Dear Tsunade of the Mountain Wolf Village,
Before you tear this up I want to assure you this is not about 'that' incident. No, I am writing to acquire your skills at battle, strategy and healing. Our village is having some troubles with rival clans and some of the covert operations are getting out of hand. I have heard that you have been banned from your village for causing the loan sharks, banks and even the leader to become bankrupt from your gambling. I'm sure our skilled counsellors can help you with your addiction...
At this Tsunade's fingers began to scrunch up the paper and Naruto swore he heard deep growling.
... But our most desperate call for your skill comes from animal partner training. This last year and a half we have had poorly results with our programs, and I believe this is not just because of the lack of skill in our ninja, but also lack of animal training. I hope you can forget 'that' incident just as the rest of the village has.
Regards, Sarutobi Hiruzen, Sandaime Hokage
Naruto finished reading just as Tsunade ripped up the letter.
"They want me? There must be a searious problem other than the ones on this letter," Tsunade mumbled. Then she clenched her fists.
"How dare sensei order me around after I change sides?" she roared. Naruto gasped.