How to Win Friends, Influence People and Start A Secret Ninja Organization
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto and I make no profit from this work of fiction.
Many thanks to my beta reader SpiegelofNowhere!
One beginning was three months into Naruto's training trip with Jiraiya. The Konoha spymaster received a pressing message from one of his spies in Tsuchi no Kuni. Naruto didn't know what it was about; the pervert refused to tell him why he was left to his own devices and more importantly without any training for two whole months – if everything went well. He didn't even know why Jiraiya refused to take him along, because the lazy pervert refused to cough up even that much. So he said Iwa was dangerous, sure, but how was it supposed to be more dangerous than Mizu no Kuni? They had already been there and that place was full of psychos.
Naruto had had his reasons for this uncharitable opinion and it wasn't entirely because of poor Haku. During his first week in the country he had made a few shadow clones to help a fish merchant's cart up from the ravine it had fallen into. The merchant had offered him protection money and, when Naruto had refused, begged for his life, scared he had offended Naruto, and he kind of had, but… Any place where being nice to people got that kind of reaction had to be totally messed up in Naruto's opinion. And that had only been the beginning of it all.
"At least this is far from anywhere important. Even you can't make too much trouble here," Jiraiya said and ruffled Naruto's hair, making him huff in indignation and swat the hand away.
"Just so you know, that swamp village thing wasn't my fault! I don't care if they were high and mighty Kiri chuunin, nobody demands protection money from little flower girls! She was ten years old for heaven's sake!" he protested. Oh yes, that country had made an impression on him all right, just not the kind of impression Naruto would voice in polite company. But whatever Jiraiya was, polite company didn't enter into it. "Those syphilic bastards of a plucked vulture and oyster with the shits, and they got their spines from the oyster and the vulture was a whore."
If there was one plus side to the time he was forced to waste in every red light district they came across, it was that he didn't have to stoop to unimaginative four letter words.
"If you – say so," Jiraiya managed to say, and Naruto was sure that the hitch in his voice was a swallowed laugh. That made the lecture about remaining inconspicuous that followed less than effective.
Makimura was a beach town in the southern Tea Country. Jiraiya said he had to check in with his informants there, but Naruto was sure they were really there just because the only country Tea had land border with was Fire and it was just about as far as they could get from Rain and Sound; he could read map just fine, thank you very much. Blessed by a sunny, temperate climate, Makimura attracted tourists from around the continent. It had long golden beaches, a nice seaside promenade with luxurious hotels, posh restaurants and expensive shops, a war monument to the dead of some historic civil war, several big shrines and of course a large red light district with geisha houses, tea houses, uncomplicated whorehouses, bars and casinos. It came as no surprise to Naruto that the safehouse Jiraiya tucked him into was in the far corner of the red light district, huddled between the wall circling a geisha house's garden and the seashore. It was small, but reasonably nice-looking.
"What, no back gate?" he asked and gave the garden behind the high wall a knowing look. Jiraiya thwacked him over the head.
"Behave, you. There's food for a week stored inside, be mindful of the traps. Your cover's a worker for one of the local merchants, he's my contact. I'll send someone from Konoha to help you stay undercover and keep an eye on you." Jiraiya gave Naruto the merchant's contact information and codes, and the codes he would recognize his back-up slash babysitter from. The he left Naruto to sort through the traps that had kept the house untouched in such neighbourhood. It took Naruto half an hour to figure out how to get past the seal on the door; inside he got scratched by one poisonous kunai and found himself hanging upside-down from the ceiling.
Kyuubi took care of the poisoning, though it still turned his tongue purple and his urine blue. This was Naruto's first afternoon out in the big world on his own.
And there was another beginning, the beginning before beginning, long before Naruto even became genin. The beginning Naruto didn't know had started anything.
Another beginning was actually a middle; two Kirigakure graduation escapees on the run.
Mizushima Konatsu was the eldest daughter of a prominent Kiri ninja family. Both her parents were jounin, likewise her uncles and aunts and she was hailed as a prodigy. She excelled in kenjutsu and genjutsu, she was good at ninjutsu and taijutsu and she was passably good at information gathering; no one ever had any doubts that she would graduate. She was beautiful as well, her hair inky black and her eyes dove gray. She had money, she had two offers for her hand in marriage already, she was one of those people who had everything.
Kaede was another story. He was a clanless, nameless orphan who had signed himself for ninja life after his mother's death because it was the only alternative to living on streets. He was a passable student, but didn't truly distinguish himself in anything, staying in the middle of the crowd by the skin of his teeth and thanks to Konatsu's tutoring. He was frequently bullied because of his feminine name and his teachers didn't really expect him to survive.
He only had one advantage; he was Konatsu's half-brother and for all she wasn't supposed to care about the bastard son of her father, she did. She cared a whole lot.
In Kirigakure the graduating students were pitted against each other in one-on-one duels to the death, and so Konatsu and Kaede found themselves standing at the opposite ends of an empty room. Konatsu wondered if her father was the one who had arranged for this, for Konatsu to end the life of the son he never wanted and never acknowledged. The proctor was standing with his back to Konatsu, redundantly going through the rules and even though Konatsu couldn't see his face she thought the line of his shoulders and the tilt of his head spoke of pity as he watched Kaede. She couldn't afford pity, so she stabbed the chuunin from behind. They then went through his pockets for money, ransacked the Academy kitchen for as much food as they could comfortably carry and ran for their lives. Incredibly they made it into a seaport and into the first ship that left it. It was headed to a Tea Country resort town.
"We will be alright, I promise. I'll protect you. As long as we have each other it's going to be just fine," Konatsu promised her brother and smiled, but she was simmering with frustration at her own impotence. It was a miracle they had made it that far and she knew it.
"I know," Kaede said and smiled nauseously. Part of it was the rolling, sickening way the ship bobbed up and down on the waves, but most of it was that he knew just how unlikely that was.
But even one day of life was more life and without Konatsu they would have put him into the cold ground of Kiri already. There was still life, as long as there was life there was hope and he hoped for a miracle – one miracle had already happened after all.
When Mizuki revealed himself to be a traitor it was the beginning of one end. He had a lover, Ono Tsubaki, a kind, warm woman and a loyal kunoichi of Konohagakure who found herself in a very difficult spot after his incarceration.
The first stage was denial. There must have been some mistake, she thought, he would never, he could never… But he had and she didn't know why. Was it for money, had he grown that dissatisfied as an Academy teacher, what it was that Orochimaru could offer and Konoha couldn't? What it was that was so much greater than life as a valuable Konoha shinobi, as her lover? Hadn't he cared any? Anger followed soon at denial's heels, anger for abandoning her, for spitting at her love and trust and for leaving her to deal with the consequences of his actions.
For the first few weeks she became an outcast among her fellow villagers. She was tarred with the same brush as Mizuki, the one who had sold them out for whatever reason. It was a legitimate concern that they felt, she knew that much. He might have taken her into his confidences, she might have been an accomplice, a spy left active even when he had been caught. After all, she had been the one closest to him, the one most likely to notice something was amiss. Knowing this didn't make her feel any better. She was interrogated rigorously and even after she was declared innocent there was a black mark on her record. It wasn't in any official papers, but in people's minds; and if she hadn't already made a jounin, she probably never would have.
"I have been thinking, maybe that was why he turned the way he did. I mean, I'm well aware it isn't an excuse, but I just feel the need to understand even a little," she told Umino Iruka, Mizuki's onetime best friend and a comrade in this mess; even though Iruka was better off than she was. He had been the one to apprehend Mizuki after all. "He was suspected when that missing-nin killed his teammate with his kunai, and even though he was found innocent the suspicion lingered about for years and blocked a lot of advancement prospects."
"That might well have been the start. And it's a reason, but you are right, it isn't an excuse. If we excused him because he was treated unfairly, we would do grave disservice to those who also suffer prejudice, but never lose their integrity," Iruka answered.
They were eating ramen at Ichiraku's and it didn't take a genius to know who Iruka was thinking of. The heat of the ramen broth burned on her tongue and shame burned in her mind. She hadn't ever treated Uzumaki Naruto cruelly, true; but then, she hadn't treated him in any other way either. She hadn't given him the benefit of doubt he shouldn't have even needed. It was only now, after his bravery during the Chuunin Exam Invasion and his retrieval of the Godaime Hokage, that people were beginning to see their jinchuuriki in a favourable light. Having tasted the same bitter medicine, Tsubaki wished she had offered the boy just one kind word, even once. She had learned the value of those the hard way. She had bargained with any higher power that might listen that everything was merely some terrible dream, or even enemy genjutsu, but she was even past that now. She was merely depressed.
"Have you thought about a change of scenery?" Iruka asked her. He was looking at her worriedly and she realized that her chopsticks had frozen halfway from the bowl to her mouth. She took a bite and chewed on the noodles, not really tasting them.
"I hope you aren't suggesting I go missing," she jested, but it fell flat even in her own ears.
"No, but I could give you two month long C-rank mission in Tea Country, no hostilities expected. You could think of it as a paid holiday," he suggested.
Tsubaki took the mission. She was sick of remembering training together with Mizuki, their nights together, the sweet words and kisses and the small, cruel things that occasionally slipped from his lips that seemed so obvious in hindsight. She was tired of looking at her friends with suspicion, wondering if Mizuki hadn't been the only one to harbor treachery in his heart. It was time to put an end to the chapter of her life named Mizuki and two months of fresh air were just what she needed.
The safe house that had become Naruto's accommodation was in much better condition inside than the outside had led him to believe. It had been built traditionally, with a hallway that followed the edge of the house, a small kitchen with a stove and a very small oven, a bathroom, an all-purpose room that doubled as a living area, a bedroom, and a dining room, covered by tatami and sparsely furnished. There was a small table easy to carry to the side, a book case, a chest and a few pillows to sit on and that was that. He found musty-smelling bedclothes from the chest. Everything was dusty and his steps left clear footprints on the mats.
Once Naruto got through the traps – some of them were ingenious and he was so going to learn how to set them back up – the next thing in order was to search for dinner. He went to the kitchen and started rummaging through the cupboards.
There wasn't a single packet of ramen in the house.
"What sort of a sucky safe house is this?" he grumbled as he picked cans randomly from the shelves and read the labels. There were cans of green beans, leeks and sliced water chestnuts, there were cartons of apple sauce with seals carefully painted on top to keep the sauce from going bad, and canned peaches in syrup. There was canned chicken and canned tuna and several jars full of spices and from the far end of the lowest cupboard he found a carton that read Mama's Better Powdered Milk. Naruto had a feeling this food supply would survive a small scale apocalypse. But no ramen.
"Note to self: go shopping tomorrow," he muttered as he took a can of beans and a can of tuna to make ninja hash, not looking forward to the shopping trip. The shopkeepers always charged him more than other people and the customers would glare. Actually, things had gotten better after he had brought baachan back to the village, but that just meant that now he didn't know when he would get the cold shoulder treatment… But no one here knew anything about him! All they would know what he chose to tell them. Happy with this revelation, Naruto cooked his dinner and ate it. After this, there wasn't really anything to do with his day except prepare his futon, and a new problem came upon him. Boredom
Naruto and boredom. Back in Konoha and halfway through the Tea Country prefecture Iruka, Kakashi and Jiraiya felt a shiver go down their spine for no apparent reason.
Naruto scoured the house for something to entertain himself with. There wasn't much except a deck of cards and Naruto hadn't ever gotten through a single game of solitaire; the only person he lost to in cards was himself. The he turned to the bookcase and looked what it had to offer. There were two Icha Ichas, one with a man and woman in the cover and the second with two women, but Naruto had completely lost all the naughty fun he had at first gotten out of doing something perverted when Jiraiya had made him a proof reader and now he just didn't get what was so great about telling the same plot a hundred times with different names. There were a few romance novels, one book about poetry that made Naruto's eyes cross when he tried to read it, and several ninja manuals. There was one about making simple seals, storage seals and similar, a few about weapon maintenance, something about Art of War that also made Naruto's eyes cross, but the last looked promising.
From Cleaning Supplies to Warfare; How to Prepare Your Own Explosives, a Training Manual in Kayakujutsu.
Ten minutes and Naruto was hooked. He had only learned that explosions were something that came from exploding tags, and the simple instructions the book was giving him opened a whole new world. Ten more minutes and he was rummaging through the cupboards again, this time in search of the mentioned supplies. There was a bottle of bleach in the bathroom and the kitchen had hot plates, but there were no enamelled steel containers so that was one more thing he needed to shop for. The second recipe needed ammonia and iodine crystals; there was ammoniac for cleaning the toilet, but Naruto didn't even know what iodine crystals were. He hoped they weren't terribly expensive. Then there was the thing with rust and some other powders he wasn't sure where to get to make touch explosives.
"Why don't they teach this at the academy? Doesn't seem too hard," he asked of no one, and looked at the pots and pans at hand. He hadn't expected much, but this was promising to become a learning experience after all.
Once the morning dawned Naruto left in search of ramen and employment. The merchant Jiraiya had sent Naruto to was named Matsuzaki Arikko. The old man glared at Naruto when he had laughed at the girly name and promptly laughed himself sick when Naruto gave his own name.
"You are living in a helluva big glass house, ramen topping," he bellowed and clutched his stomach. Now Naruto glared at him, even though he felt this was something Iruka-sensei would have said he deserved.
"It's written with the kanji for maelstrom!" he protested. The old man just leaned against the desk in his office and finally got his snickering under control.
"Yeah, and mine's an herbal remedy," he said. He wore a stupid sunflower-pattern yukata, and liked thwacking Naruto over the head with his cane. Naruto proceeded to sort him under the heading 'Crazy Old Man' in his mind and they got along just fine after that.
The job was paying, which was good because while Jiraiya had left Naruto travelling funds enough to last the two months, he had learned early in life that having a buffer never hurt. There shop was located near the harbor, a good thing considering that the man sold all sorts of imported delicacies like coffee, chocolate, raisins and nuts, fresh fruits, cookies and cheese, and naturally all this was brought to him by ships. There had been a shipment just a few days before and the crates had been moved to a warehouse Matsuzaki had rented, and now they needed to be moved to the shop's storage rooms.
"I can't afford to keep men on payroll so they can sit on their fat asses so I hire them for this every time. How many you need?" he asked and fanned himself with his account book; it was a hot day and promised to just get hotter.
"Heh, none. Just look at this: Kage bunshin!" There were small puffs of smoke and ebbing, chattering noises as the number of Narutos at Matsuzaki's Better Delicacies Shop was raised from one to ten.
"And here I thought you were supposed to not let people know you are a shinobi," Matsuzaki drawled with a voice that could have beat out Suna for dryness. Naruto scratched his head and smiled sheepishly.
"I can get around that too," he promised and applied henge; now there was one Naruto and nine of his fellow genin. No girls because girls didn't really do the heavy lifting in the civvies world and so he had to use Neji, Lee and this guy Gennai from the Chuunin Exams, the one who chose not to complete the first phase so the rest of his team was disqualified, to buff the ranks. He felt kind of bad for making the clone look like that chicken, but not everyone could be a winner every time. And so Naruto and his clones got to work, ducking and darting and climbing and carrying crates between the warehouse and the shop. Kibatwo flirted with Nejitwo to freak Naruto out, but as it turned out, freaking yourself out didn't really work. They had the same sense of humour after all.
Everything went well until the very last crate of nuts, which Naruto carried with his own two hands. Some fifty feet into the busy hustle of the street a man with a messy beard brushed past Naruto, hitting him hard with his shoulder and almost toppling him to the ditch.
"Watch where you're going, punk," the man grumbled on contact, glaring down at Naruto from an impressive height. His biceps looked like whole hams were trying to mate under his skin when he moved his arms.
"You're the one who pushed me, jerk," Naruto snapped back at the man and then things happened really fast. The man moved to hit Naruto, and Naruto might just be a genin, but even a newly graduated Academy student could have cleaned this guy's clock. Naruto didn't even bother doing anything fancy, just jabbed him hard in the stomach with the corner of the crate and marched on while the man was lying in the ditch, moaning. He was humming happily and if people were staring at him, well, he was too used to that to even remember they weren't supposed to do that here.
And being from a village with no organized crime whatsoever, he had never bothered to learn what that kind of tattoos and a missing middle finger meant.
AN: Maki = Black Pine; Mura = Village; GWG = Grammar, What Grammar? I'm not Japanese.