Prologue - Fifteen Million Ryo
Naruto usually tried his best to stay alert during his missions. But when the sun above Sunagakure seemed like it had something against his existence and all he wanted to do was peel his sweaty clothes from his body and lie in a freezer somewhere, focus was a rather difficult thing to ask of him.
"Do you understand?" Kakashi asked him, "we have to deal with this delicately. There are people around. Civilian people." He looked pointedly at the Suna civilians drifting lazily through the streets under the midday sun.
"So…hot…" Naruto managed. He hiked up the bottom of the rough robe that was supposed to shield him from the sun but was actually giving him a rash, and tried to un-stick his shirt from his chest. Kakashi watched tiredly as the bright orange clothing underneath was exposed.
They were standing outside a rather small teahouse that boasted to serve the most calming tea in Wind Country. At this time of day when all the respectable people were off working, it was mostly empty. Naruto peered through the dirty windows and spotted two figures in Suna jonin-flak jackets sitting inside, at a private table in one corner. They were both wearing loose cloth tied around their faces, which made it hard to identify so much as their gender. But that was common during the summers of Wind, when the sun bore down with a vengeance and skin protection was a priority. He vaguely realized that this was one of the only places where his masked sensei didn't look out of place at all.
"I'll take that as a yes," Kakashi sighed, "focus, Naruto. This is an important mission, and we have to meet up with Sakura and Sai in three hours after we find the hideout. I'll retrieve the information; all you need to do is follow wherever they go without making yourself known."
Naruto nodded, "Right. You can count on me, sensei." He remembered catching some words here and there, and made up the rest in his head. Kakashi-sensei went in, beat up the rebel jonin until they told him where their rebel leader was, and then they went to his hideout and beat him up too. Simple enough. He didn't know why Gaara had asked for Konoha nin to take the mission.
Kakashi looked like he wanted to stay and explain further, but he nodded and quietly entered the teahouse, leaving his student outside. Naruto watched through the window as he went directly for the lone occupied table and paused in front of it. The two Suna jonin who were suspected of being part of the rebel group Kazekage Gaara had asked them to take out looked up at him sharply.
Naruto turned to lean back against the windowpanes of the building, looking out onto the street. He absently continued pulling at his sweaty shirt, drawing strange looks from people who saw the burst of orange under the typical drab cloak, and wondered what he was doing wearing something so bright in the desert heat. Some glanced at his Konoha forehead protector.
He sighed in frustration and dug a hole in the sand with his shoe. After proving himself worthy by defeating that Kakuzu person with rasen-shuriken, he'd thought that he would be assigned another Sasuke retrieval mission, and that he would finally be able to try to bring his teammate back. But it had only served to show Tsunade baa-chan that he was ready to do higher ranked missions. Normally this would have been great news. But it was taking away from potential Sasuke-retrieval time.
She'd decided to begin by sending him on a mission with his sensei, Sakura, and Sai. The four of them made a good team; Kakashi and Sakura had been frequent mission partners during the days Naruto had been away, and Sai just took some getting used to.
He heard a vague thud behind him and turned quickly. Naruto's eyes widened at the sight inside the teahouse.
One of the two figures was swinging Hatake Kakashi's limp body over his shoulder. They were heading to leave through the back door of the building.
Without a second thought, Naruto burst into the shop, sending the door crashing into the wall. Thoughts of the unbearable heat were replaced by anger at what was being done to his sensei. Anger, and slight confusion. Why on earth was Kakashi-sensei being bested by two lesser jonin?
At the sound, both Suna shinobi turned around with kunai in their hands. Their eyes narrowed, and the larger one's grip over the unconscious Copy-Nin's waist tightened.
"Who are you?" The shorter one demanded. Naruto could make out a female voice, even though it was muffled by the cloth around her face.
"Let go of him," Naruto growled back. His fingers itched to leap into the clone seal.
"Sorry kid, this man knows some dangerous information," she replied. Then her eyes flicked up to his forehead protector, which proudly boasted the symbol of a leaf, "and maybe you do too…"
"What information? We were just…passing through the area," Naruto faked, forcing himself to think a little rationally. Kakashi-sensei had always told him that a shinobi's brains were more important than his jutsu. Frankly, Naruto preferred to simply rush forward into things, but he recognized the value of some restraint. Especially when his unconscious sensei had just been taken by an enemy.
The taller man, who still had Kakashi over his shoulder, was looking at him incredulously, as if questioning that someone with such a lame excuse could actually be any danger to them at all. "Oh yeah? And let me guess, this person's your father?"
Well, not unless he'd had Naruto at fourteen. The blond boy tilted his head to one side briefly for a few seconds. "He's my older brother," he said firmly, the effect ruined by his obvious momentary thought.
"Kuroda, let's go," the woman whispered, drawing back, "looks like this boy's probably just a genin," she turned to him, "get away, kid. This doesn't concern you."
"Yes it does!" He told her, "he's my teammate, and I can't just leave him behind!" Even though he was technically a genin, he figured he had a good chance against two lower-end jonin. Rasen-shuriken might have been declared a kinjutsu, but they would taste his Oodama rasengan instead. If it came to it, he would just have to forget about the people around and use his tajuu kage bunshin to take them out.
The two jonin simply turned towards the back door with the unconscious Kakashi, prepared to ignore the loud blond boy.
"You're not going anywhere with my sensei!" Naruto yelled. He pushed his fingers into the clone seal, oblivious to the small group of people wondering who had broken the teahouse door.
Almost immediately, two Narutos rushed forward. As they went, one scratched at the other's hand, creating a whirling blue ball. They leapt up over the tables and sent various wooden chair legs flying. Naruto smirked as the two Suna nin started at the sight of the rasengan. Kakashi-sensei was totally going to owe him ramen for this.
But before they could get close, the shorter figure pressed her hands to the ground.
With a large creak, the ground in front of Naruto burst upwards, and he had to leap back as a wall of earth rose in the middle of the shop. The clone beside him burst, but he pressed on, slamming the rasengan into the earth wall in front of him. The ball of blue chakra crashed into it, sending stones flying as it easily cut through the doton jutsu. Naruto put his hands at the ends of the hole he had made, prepared to leap through it and pursue the two figures who were making away with Kakashi.
"Get back here!" He yelled, "I won't let you take Kakashi-sensei!"
At that moment, a firm hand landed on his shoulder. Naruto blinked at the familiar weight and turned around sharply. Behind him stood Hatake Kakashi, solid and not being kidnapped by two rebel jonin.
Behind him stood a small group of civilians, curiously looking into the ruined teahouse.
"Maa, Konoha's Number One Unpredictable Ninja strikes again," Kakashi sighed, patting his student's shoulder, "well I suppose I should have made the plan more clear, since it was obvious that you were being distracted by your heat rash."
"…plan?" Naruto blinked, "that was a…"
"They were going to take 'me' to their hideout," his sensei explained patiently, "and we were going to follow them there."
"Although I suppose that's no longer possible, seeing as they just escaped in the commotion you made."
"You look surprisingly not worried, Kashi-sensei," Naruto observed. Seeing that the Copy-Nin's mission record was almost impeccable, he had expected him to be a little more….
Without missing a beat, his sensei patted the pocket of the flak jacket he wore underneath the brown desert robes, and Naruto heard the crinkle of paper. "They had a map with them when I first came in," he explained, "I figured I'd just take it in case any loyal students of mine decided to run in to my rescue."
"Aha…sorry," Naruto managed. He couldn't help it; it was an inbuilt response. After all, he was the student of the one shinobi who was known for never letting his teammates die.
"I looked over it while you were busy trying to rescue me, and they've marked the hideout. We'll just collect Sakura and Sai and head straight there," his sensei finished. He then looked back at the group of people who were eyeing them curiously, "alright, we should go before we attract any more attention-"
Naruto jumped a foot in the air at the shrill voice behind him. He turned to see a middle-aged man rush forward out of the crowd, regarding the ruined building in absolute horror.
"Er, sorry about that-" He tried.
"I leave for two minutes and this is what happens?! I'm going to report you two to Kazekage-sama!" The man went on yelling, "and-"
Kakashi pulled Naruto behind him as he ran.
Two hours later, they were standing in front of a destructed hideout in River Country, watching plumes of smoke emerge from the top. A stream of four loyal Suna jonin entered the hideout, and some of them came out carrying the rogues who were still alive, presumably to take them to questioning. Above them, the sun was just beginning to lose the bulk of its intensity, and Naruto no longer wanted to drown himself in ice water. Instead, he hopped on one foot while shaking pebbles out of his shoe.
"That's done, then," Kakashi stated, eyeing their handiwork appreciatively. He turned to Sakura and Sai, "you two did well catching the messenger. I was worried about having to split apart, but you seemed to handle yourselves."
Sakura brightened with the praise, "we did what we could, sensei."
"Indeed, he was only an C-rank jonin at most," Sai added, "and Suna's standards for jonin seem to be lower than those in Konoha." He looked across at the shinobi exiting the ruined hideout.
It seemed that they had finished retrieving all the rebels for questioning. It had been important that the ones taking them out were not Suna nin, since that could escalate into political misunderstandings. There was also the fact that their leader was rather strong. Suna was the youngest of the Five Countries, and so it didn't have too many strong legacies.
"Mou, don't let Gaara hear you say that," Kakashi smiled under his mask, "he's done very well helping this country grow; it's shinobi force has gone up by almost forty percent since he became Kazekage."
"Suna's awesome," Naruto agreed firmly, "the fact that these people can survive the heat is evidence enough that they're strong."
"Your standards are even lower, Naruto," Sakura muttered. She turned back to the masked jonin, "how did it go on your end, Kakashi-sensei?"
Kakashi reached up to rub the back of his head sheepishly, "it went…smoothly."
That evening, the four members of Team Kakashi were gathered in the Kazekage's office. They were all still dressed in their desert robes apart from Sai, who was sporting some interesting tan lines across his stomach that were revealed whenever he lifted his arms. Kakashi had his small green book in his hand, which he had read and re-read at least twenty times since Naruto had returned from his training with it. Gaara sat behind the desk, fingers steepled beneath his chin.
"Mission completed, Gaara," Kakashi reported casually. He reached into his jonin flak jacket and pulled out the scroll, tossing it onto the desk, "this was the location of their hideout, in case you need it for the report." Mission finished, he delved back into his book, allowing his students to take care of the rest of the diplomacies.
"Good." Gaara pulled open a drawer under his desk and dropped the scroll into it, "it was necessary to call help from you since these rebels consisted of a few of our own jonin. Konoha has not disappointed us."
"Of course not!" Naruto grinned, "anytime, Gaara!"
Sakura stepped on his foot, "idiot, you have to treat him as the Kazekage while he's in this office," she hissed.
"You didn't do anything when Kashi-sensei said it," he mumbled back, rubbing his toe.
"She seems to enjoy harming you more, dickless," Sai added helpfully.
Naruto fumed silently over Sai's continued use of his nickname while his masculinity went ahead and dropped by thirty percent. Unfortunately, it seemed that even Sakura had gotten used to it. It seemed that he would be 'dickless' for a long while to come.
Gaara cleared his throat, "nevertheless, there are a few other things that should be taken care of before you leave. Firstly, there is a rather disgruntled civilian who is charging you both for major property damage, Naruto, Kakashi-san."
Sakura raised an eyebrow, "what does he mean, sensei? You didn't destroy any property…"
Kakashi sighed and looked up from the enticing scene on page ninety-four, "it happened while you and Sai were away taking care of the messengers," he explained.
"Sensei!" Sakura said, slightly shocked, "how could you let that happen?" She ran a distressed hair though her pink hair. Unlike the rest of her teammates, she had spent quite a long time working with their current Hokage. As such, she knew the repercussions for a shinobi being charged in a foreign country.
"It wasn't my jutsu anyway!" Naruto huffed, "it was that Suna kunoichi's doton jutsu! I only broke a few tables, I swear!"
At this point, that wasn't very reassuring news.
"Well, most of the rebels are either dead or arrested, so there's no way to know," Gaara replied, "on the other hand, there are around twenty civilians who claim to have seen a boy wearing orange and a grey-haired man both with Konoha forehead protectors come out of a ruined teahouse."
"I'd like to add that I had nothing to do with the actual collapse," Kakashi put in smoothly.
"Then why did you not stop dickless from causing it?" Sai asked. He struggled to keep his hands away from itching the heat rashes over his exposed middle, and was starting to question the wisdom of his attire.
The masked jonin shrugged, "I was busy looking over the maps. If they hadn't revealed anything, I would have taken out the two nin from behind while they were distracted."
"So what's going to happen?" Sakura turned to Gaara and bit her lip nervously.
The red-haired boy looked on calmly, "the civilian man submitted his charges a few hours ago. Baki was the one who responded to his requests for an audience, and as a council member, he has the right to make decisions like this."
Naruto waited impatiently for their verdict.
"He was lenient," Gaara went on, "he knows about our strengthening alliance, and has decided that the shinobi charged need only pay for the rebuilding of the man's business."
"Oh?" Kakashi raised an eyebrow, "how much is it?" His head swam with memories of being an exemplary shinobi and refusing pay whenever the clients weren't very rich. He lived in a one-room apartment, after all. Money was not something he generally cared for.
"Fifteen million ryo," Gaara informed them.
There was silence for a while.
"Wow," Sakura commented, "that's almost as much as my parents' house is worth."
"It's a good fifth of the bounty on my head," Kakashi added.
"Fifteen million?" Naruto lamented, "Ero-Sennin takes all my money! Gama-chan is starving himself to death, and you want fifteen million?" He drew out the small green frog-purse from underneath his cloak and shook it upside down over the desk. A pitiful five hundred ryo spilled out, and Naruto felt like bursting into tears.
"That's not even enough to buy dinner," Sai put in, "maybe you could sell your apartment."
"Even that wouldn't make up for it," the blond boy mumbled, "why don't we go trade sensei in for his bounty, and use that to pay?" He suggested half-heartedly.
"Maa, don't I get a say in this?"
"Nope. Come on Sakura-chan, let's go for his head."
Kakashi sighed in mock sadness, "and after you so valiantly went in to rescue me, too."
His blond student huffed and crossed his arms over his chest, "sorry, but this is my financial future we're talking about. Some sacrifices have to be made, sensei."
Gaara looked over each member of the Konoha team they had sent for. The pale boy he had never met before had a bland smile on his face. Sakura looked like she wanted to strangle someone. Naruto had now given up his worryingly semi-serious attempt to collect his sensei's bounty, and was hopelessly trying to spill more non-existent money out of his frog-thing.
He sighed. "if you cannot pay for his inconvenience, you will have to spend time in prison as punishment. I will use my influence to bring it down to two weeks instead of the month that is usually given for these offenses, but Suna cannot be seen allowing such things to go unpunished."
Sakura nodded sadly in understanding. She understood that since he was such a young kage, some regarded him as soft. Of course, the truth was far from that, but he could not be seen allowing them to leave unscathed.
"Of course, I'm aware that you could escape," Gaara went on, "but I would ask you not to. Tsunade-sama may be very agreeable to our alliance, but some of my council is still hesitant, and they may see it as an act of aggression."
"We understand," Sakura spoke up for her teammates, "will it be alright for us to remain here as well?" She gestured to herself and Sai, "we can't go back without the rest of our team."
"That is permissible," Gaara nodded, "you may choose any inn you wish, Suna will add it to mission expenses."
"Why can't they add our debt to mission expenses?" Naruto whined.
"Because destroying that poor man's business was not part of your mission," the Kazekage stated matter-of-factly, "I am sorry, Naruto. Suna's prisons are not as ideal as those in Konoha, but I'm confident that you'll both be fine."
"Stupid politics," Naruto muttered. His eyes lit up suddenly as he had an idea. He turned to look into his Kakashi's revealed eye. "Sensei, we don't need to worry, right? Tsunade baa-chan is the Hokage, so she'll pay for us, right? She's got lots of money cause of her work, right? And we can go back to Konoha and focus on finding Sasuke, right?"
Sakura sighed in defeat.
The masked jonin didn't reply. He instead took great interest in an old sculpture of the Shodai Kazekage, which was balanced in the corner of the office, before burying his nose back into the comforting pages of Icha Icha Violence.
"Right, sensei? Right?" Naruto pushed.
Kakashi looked up and turned to Gaara. "Tsunade-sama is…not very good with money," he admitted stiffly, "if you could put us in the same cell, that would be nice."
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