Chapter Five: Death Speaks
No rest for the great.
Kakashi's head snapped up. Only moments later, Asuma stood up a little too quickly for it to be casual. Shikamaru lay back from the shogi board and muttered, "Don't walk away just because you're losing." He took quick inventory. He was in a high position, for lookout, Shikamaru and Asuma beneath him. The others were in the house, having breakfast with the family. The client was with them.
Three incoming, attack? Asuma's hands fluttered quickly in Konoha Sign Language. The chakra signatures weren't hidden; they were obviously Naruto, with his unique chakra, Zabuza, and the fake hunter-nin's – Haku's – distinct ice-tainted chakra. They meant for the Konoha Jounin to notice their approach.
Wait, Kakashi signed. Tentative friendlies.
Or at least, he hoped Naruto's task had gone well. Goodness knows what the two Mist nukenin would do if they suspected him of conspiring with Konoha nin. They might only be coming under the sign of a truce, as a 'viper wrapped in white'. "Sit back down, Asuma, and take the loss like a man," he said out loud.
"What happened?" Shikamaru asked quietly. Kakashi glanced down in surprise. "My da's a Jounin," the Nara explained defensively. "I know some KSL, and Asuma-sensei said attack. What's going on, Kakashi-sensei?" Asuma sat down opposite him at the board again.
"It's plan A, Shikamaru," the Jounin said wearily. "If all goes well, we can take out Gato."
"Won't that be a diplomatic nightmare?" The boy's sharp, Kakashi noted, a bit too much for his own good. "It isn't an assigned mission and Wave is pretty far from us."
Asuma leaned back on the dying grass with a sigh. "Ordinarily, this wouldn't be okay. It's a bit risky for a genin team and not entirely within mission parameters. And Wave is actually the closest port to Fire. We're right in the middle of the land mass but closer south, so Wave is our closest sea connection. Also, the Crimson River just east of Konohagakure flows through Wave's capital."
"If Wave is an economic asset, why didn't we help them before?"
"Well, after the Kyuubi attack twelve years ago Konoha was in no position to help neighboring countries. We still really aren't. And Wave is small; we've hardly had any missions pass through here, and never with a High Jounin attached. On this team, we have two High Jounin, both capable of making diplomatic decisions outside mission parameters, and we can choose to take down Gato."
"I'm afraid the questions are going to have to stop here, Shikamaru," Kakashi interjected. "They're here." Zabuza was most easily visible, a blob with his sword on his back; Haku was to his right and Naruto to his left. Haku's mask was off and he held senbon in his hand.
Kakashi's senses whispered danger. He cautiously let his hand hang down by his weapons pouch.
Asuma stood up again, cracking his neck. "Shikamaru, go tell the others to come out and set up a four-point rotating guard around the house." Unusually serious, Shikamaru nodded once and sprinted off. When he was out of sight, Asuma turned to Kakashi. "Are you sure they're friendlies, Kakashi? They've got metal out."
"I said tentative friendlies," Kakashi said, a little defensively. "And Naruto's with them, but stay on guard."
Kakashi shifted a little, preparing chakra for a replacement, feet moving into ready stance, weight on the balls of his feet so he could move quickly. Beneath him, he saw Asuma shifting and felt the gathering of chakra. Living with the Sharingan this long had made him sensitive to the use of chakra.
They were approaching quickly and not slowing down. Kakashi slowly, hesitantly drew the kunai out a little.
"Stop," Zabuza's gruff voice called, a little too softly to have been meant for the Konoha-nin's ears. "Okay, kid, you said you'd be able to win them over." His hand was on his sword, clearly ready to swing into battle, but he nodded at Naruto and the blonde shot forward.
"Kakashi-sempai," he said, when he was about 10 meters away, "Asuma-sempai." His hands flashed told them I Chuunin nukenin. His signing was by no means good but Kakashi hadn't expected any at all. It caught him off guard. When had the boy learned it? Pretend… He floundered for a word, bargain. "I have a proposal for you."
Kakashi played along. "Why should we trust a Konoha nukenin? I should kill you on the spot."
He had to wonder if the Mist nukenin noticed the deceit, or if they thought Konoha was that soft. If Naruto had really been a nukenin, Kakashi would have killed him, no questions asked. With another High Jounin at his side, Zabuza was no trouble, and his little protégé probably could have been defeated by the four genin working together (if they managed to work together).
"You know the circumstances," Naruto said with a grimace. He walked closer. Kakashi would have to teach him that in truce negotiations, one did not go out of the instant strike zone of allies and into an enemy's lethal zone. "And it's a… mutually beneficial proposal that allows you to complete your assigned mission with no difficulties."
"If you're talking about your little group there," Asuma sneered, "We'd have no difficulties with that." A bit of a stretch, since Zabuza was part of the Seven Swordsmen. But in the end, Kakashi knew that he'd end up dead before two of Konoha's finest: himself a respected ANBU captain, and Asuma part of the guard of the Daimyo.
'Can they still hear us?' Naruto mouthed slowly, overemphasizing each gesture so Kakashi could hardly make it out. He'd have to tell the kid, later, that talking 'normally' was best when mouthing things. Overemphasizing led to a distortion of the lip movements. And KSL was a better bet, anyway.
"Now, now, Asuma," he said, by way of response, "Always overestimate your enemy."
Asuma snorted. "Listen to your own advice." Pitching his voice louder, he said, "Let's hear your proposition."
Naruto visibly halted at the long word. "Well, the plan is…" he started slowly, and seeing Kakashi's slight nod, continued more confidently, "that we team up and go after Gato. We'll provide you inside information and help take them down by providing support and holding down the rest of the fort, and we can split Gato's money half each."
"If he has a will, we can't take his money," Asuma protested.
"It's black money," Naruto said. "Perfectly illegal and not anything he can leave behind. Gato's been making money running drug businesses and a prominent black market alongside his shipping business. He'll definitely have it in cash and it won't be recorded or anything. And after this, Zabuza wants to go back to Mist to help the Civil War, which is something Konoha has wanted over for a while."
Kakashi tapped Asuma and moved his hands. Nice weather we're having today. He saw Asuma's face twitch. It's only a little cloudy. Asuma shook his head. Don't joke around, you. This is dangerous. KSL isn't perfectly secure, either.
"We'll be providing most of the firepower," Kakashi said. "Splitting it half and half is not fair. How about three quarters to us and one to you?"
"What the-?" Naruto almost shouted, a little startled. "No! We're providing all the inside information." Kakashi released a little Killing Intent and Asuma stared at him like he was crazy. "Please, Zabuza does that to me all the time. I'm not scared of you."
Kakashi released a little more, building up pressure, watching for Naruto's breaking point. Then, abruptly, he stopped. "Sounds good to me," he said. "Asuma?" Asuma rolled his eyes and nodded. "Okay, you can go tell Bandages we're good with it."
Naruto nodded and jumped away.
They watched him go. "Do you really think he'll be okay?" Asuma asked, after a while.
"He's more than you think," Kakashi said, and that was the end of that.
"What did he say?" Zabuza asked, when they were out of earshot and halfway back.
"He agreed," Naruto responded, more of a question than anything. Zabuza already knew that.
"I already know that," Zabuza scoffed. "It was obvious enough when they didn't kill you and let you come back to us. I mean what did they say, when they agreed?"
Naruto frowned. "He just said it sounded good," he muttered. Zabuza sighed.
"My goodness, kid, don't you know how to listen? People don't talk with their mouths alone! What was he looking at? What was he thinking? What was his reasoning behind agreeing to our plan? You should know yourself that we had about a 40-60 chance of getting it."
Naruto shook his head. "We'll make it easier for them to take Gato down, and Gato's been controlling trade through here for a while. The towns I passed on the way here, even in Konoha, suffer a little from him. And they should be thinking about the safety of their students, because," he swallowed, bittersweet memories rushing up and then away, "Konoha always puts the team first. That's what they were thinking. They'll complete their mission and more, and nobody's in danger. Isn't it best when everybody lives to see another day?"
Zabuza didn't look at him, just focused on the jump to the next tree. Haku glanced over after a little while and laughed. When Naruto thought the conversation had finally died, Zabuza grunted and said, "Konoha ninja." It didn't have his usual disdainful tone.
Naruto smothered a smile.
The best time to perform an assassination was not, as many civilians thought, at midnight. No, the surest bet was early in the morning – very early, around three or four o'clock, when the sun was just circling back around the Nations. And it was at 3:50 that Kakashi went into Gato's stronghold.
He wasn't terribly worried. But he wasn't careless. Good shinobi were never careless. But if it came down to it, Kakashi knew he was a match for the civilian grunts and the low chuunin brutes, especially with insiders on his side and Asuma waiting just outside the compound. No, Kakashi was not worried, and he had no reason to be.
If he and Asuma had wanted to, they could have stormed through the warehouse in the middle of the day. Concrete walls were no match for shinobi techniques. The civilian guards, however well trained, were similarly negligible.
But such a thing would be messy. A lot of blood, a lot of death, and a lot of crying families.
Kakashi hated crying families.
And so it was assassination. A callback to his ANBU times. A little familiar, a little bitter, a little sweet. And not much blood at all, and not many tears, either. Sometimes, Kakashi thought all the problems in the world could be solved with some well-placed poison, or a nicely thrown kunai. Or not even – he could use a knife to maybe pin blame on a civilian, a clumsy technique to point elsewhere, though the sneaking in and out screamed shinobi anyway.
In fact, he didn't even have to be here. With allies in Zabuza and the others, he could use slow-acting poison to take out Gato and any poison testers the man might have.
Heck, the nukenin didn't even need him.
But Kakashi knew it was safer for Zabuza this way. And he and Asuma had the weight of Konoha behind him. And usually, he would have absolutely no compassion for a foolish nukenin who thought he could take advantage of Kakashi, but Naruto was with them.
And so it was assassination.
Kakashi ghosted through the halls.
When he was much, much younger, almost before he could remember, his father had taught him movement. He didn't know the game was a lesson at first. It was fun, and he loved it, as he had loved much of anything to do with his father when the White Fang had still been a breathing, caring man. It was something to do with sneaking around, something to do with surprise tickle attacks and tiptoeing. His father told him that the walls had ears, but Kakashi now knew it was only that the walls were no barrier to Sakumo's own ears.
But Kakashi was sure that even the wall's figurative ears – even his father's ears – wouldn't be able to catch him now.
Bypassing yet another layer of useless security, Kakashi fingered a kunai. It wouldn't be hard to simply break through an adjacent wall, ceiling, or floor, and kill Gato with a well-placed kunai. Alternatively, he could knock out the guards and take Gato out courteously, through the door.
Either way, he would use a blade. He would watch the lifeblood pump out from the pudgy man's veins. He would wait until the last breath was gone, until every vestige of hope was gone for the tycoon. It was the only way to kill somebody properly, and Kakashi always personally disliked the quick kills of the battlefield. Murder was something better done with time, better done with contemplation. The heavy weight of a stolen life and whatever that might mean to spouses, friends, or little Kakashis – such a weight couldn't be carelessly created.
It was a weight that needed to drag down on his shoulders, a burden that could never be made too heavy.
He decided to knock the guards out, as he'd spent long enough wandering the stronghold. He didn't feel like finding another room and knocking down a wall. This kill would be courteous, legal even, with no breaking of furniture or architecture. The door opened easily after Kakashi sliced the locks out with a quick application of chakra. The carpet was lush, the great bay windows closed. Gato sprawled out over his bed in a comfortable position.
Kakashi sent up a single prayer as the life fled from Gato's body. He had long since stopped trying to justify it. All that was necessary was an apology; there was no justification for murder.
Naruto ran. He would've walked, but though Wave was an island, it was a big island, and Gato's headquarters and Tazuna's house were on opposite ends. It was nighttime, probably around three in the morning, and Zabuza wanted to leave before sunrise.
Sometimes Naruto thought the big, eyebrow-less man was a little too dramatic for his own good. Honestly, a couple more hours of sleep never hurt anybody.
But Zabuza said so, and Haku always agreed with what Zabuza said, and Naruto didn't have anything better to do anyways.
So he ran, holding the large trunk of money on his back, occasionally jumping into the trees if there were trees. The vegetation was rather sparse, maybe because everything that could be eaten had been dug up and eaten. Naruto had eaten questionable wild things in his past too, though he didn't like to think of those days. Some of the 'foods' he'd tasted were rather nasty. So Naruto wrenched his mind away from them and thought only about the pounding of his feet on the ground, the crisp cold smell of the wind, and the places he imagined he was running to.
He found himself at a dilemma, with his destination quickly approaching. He hoped to leave the money and go, without risking been seen by any of the Konoha ninja likely standing guard. Discovery by one of his former classmates would just be painful. And he wasn't yet sure what to make of Kakashi, who was altogether too helpful and friendly and Naruto didn't quite understand why, which made him uncomfortable. And he couldn't just leave the money out of range from the house, for some random citizen to stumble upon. Zabuza would kill him.
As he was talking himself into dropping it off through a window or at the front door (imagine the looks on their faces when they woke up to a big pile of money in the living room!), Naruto stumbled upon Sasuke, propped up against a tree, sleeping.
And for a moment, all he could see was a little boy sitting at the edge of a bridge. Somebody loved and somebody hated, and two people who maybe were not so different after all. And then Sasuke before him, holding out a kunai in a reverse-grip, eyes searching for an opening against Naruto. Through the holes in his mask, Naruto had seen him clearest of all, always searching, always straining for something he didn't know.
But the moment passed. Naruto hefted the trunk in his hands and considered. Sasuke breathed. He lay the money on the ground beside his would-have-been teammate, quietly. It didn't feel right to leave just like that, so he squatted there for a moment.
Finally, Naruto found words. "The next time I see you," he said, "I hope we are standing on the same side. I hope you acknowledge me." But it wasn't all about him, either, so he added, "The next time I see you, I hope you find whatever you're looking for." He wanted to add believe it, but it was a hope, not yet a truth, and the words were enough as they stood. It felt right.
With a quick burst of chakra, just like Haku had taught him – very little, not much at all– Naruto burst off the ground and into the trees.
To get off the island, Zabuza rented a boat. Haku pointed out, quite reasonably, that as shinobi they could water-walk and save the money expended to hire the boat. Or Haku could freeze a path for them, something he claimed wouldn't be too hard and Naruto suddenly desperately wanted to see. A frozen path on the water? Talk about the epitome of coolness, pun intended!
But Zabuza shook his head.
"We're going to Mist, not freaking Konoha," he said. Except he didn't say freaking.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Naruto cried, upset at Zabuza's choice of adjectives. "Konoha is better than Mist! At least we're not bloody ripping ourselves –" Haku clamped a hand over his mouth in a flash and Zabuza rolled his eyes. Naruto did his best to coat Haku's hand with spittle.
"Someday your mouth is going to kill you, brat," he said. "I only hope I'm there to see it happen, because it should be embarrassing and very funny."
Haku seemed to be sure there was no way Naruto could bring up a touchy subject with Zabuza from that, or maybe he was disgusted by the amount of slobber Naruto had managed to get on his hand, because he took it away. "What am I going to do, bite myself to death?" Naruto asked. A couple months with Zabuza had done wonders for his snark.
"There was that time you bit your tongue really hard and you thought you were going to die," Haku offered.
Naruto yelped indignantly. "That was your fault! You cooked that weird fish thing and then expected me to just-"
Zabuza sighed. "This conversation is going nowhere. We're using a boat because I say so. Let's go." Haku seemed just fine with that. Naruto thought to himself that there was something seriously wrong with Haku's reasoning if he accepted 'because I say so' as an argument.
But he trailed after anyway. "Can you still show us your freezing water path thing? Ooh, what if you made the ice thing and we slid across it on the boat like a sled? Wouldn't that be fun? Hey!"
Author's Notes: Much thanks to my most wonderful beta, she who flies. If you have time, please check out my other story:
"Hey," the little boy says exuberantly. "I'm here to be a ninja!"
But that's not the important part. The important part is that the boy looks like Uzumaki Naruto (whom Minai admittedly did not know was a girl until she read the damn girl's profile), and she has been missing for two years, and this might get her promoted again, just maybe.
"Are you okay, miss?" The little brat asks, and Minai realizes she is standing. She runs a hand down her skirt, smoothing the fabric out, and forces a smile on her lips. But before she can get a word out, the brat is off again, "I'm Shindou Toshiro, but everybody calls me Shiro, and my father," a significant glance here, "and I recently moved here, and Konoha is famous for having awesome ninja, so I want to be a ninja, okay?" He puts a hand on his hip and stares up at her, with an expression so entitled and snobby Minai blinks twice.
This… is not Uzumaki Naruto.
-Break the Sky, Chapter 2