Kakuzu's missions were not normally this straightforward. Usually he had to scour the world for his target's location. Usually his targets were well known, or at the very least competent, ninja. Usually his targets put up a fight.
This mission was not so time consuming. It was easy money - just how he liked his missions. Get in, kill the target, get out. The target was on his way home, apparently he hired a ninja team to protect him - but Kakuzu wasn't too worried. His target was most definitely not a ninja - just a civilian that was causing a little too much trouble for a businessman.
Honestly, Kakazu almost wanted to kill the nuisance and forgo payment. Money was sacred, and Kakuzu could sympathize with his client in this situation. But he was not about to pass up on the money.
His most recent partner was also at least helpful in that he didn't get in Kakuzu's way in this venture. He did not speak much, just followed quietly.
Kakuzu figured attacking before the target crossed the water into Wave Country was the best time and place to attack him. After all, from what he understood, the client was not the most affluent of targets and probably didn't have the best protection.
For a whole week, Kakuzu had been camped out by the ocean. His partner - Kakuzu didn't bother remembering his name (if he was like his predecessors, he'd be dead soon anyway) - brought him meals as he stayed in place.
"You know, you're kind of wasting time here."
It figured that after a week of silence he'd be badgered by his minion so close to the target.
"You could just go after him already and be done with it."
Kakuzu almost rolled his eyes. Almost.
"You may be my longest surviving partner, but we can always remedy that."
There. Silence at last. And it seemed that it was just in time too. Out there, just beyond the fog was an approaching party of four - which obviously meant that there were only three ninja hired. From the looks of it, they appeared to be children.
Kakuzu almost snorted in disgust. He was up against children? They were obviously playing at being ninja, but this was almost an insult. He was almost ready to just walk away from this mission. Kakuzu was many thing, but as of yet, he was not a child killer.
Still, the money . . . It wasn't the best pay, but it was pretty decent considering the target was a mere civie.
So Kakuzu took a closer look at the guards and frowned. They looked a little familiar, especially the little blond one. Kakuzu had the weird feeling that he'd seen him before, and the fact that he couldn't remember was making him irritated.
His mood was not at all helped by his partner opening his mouth again.
"The little blond one looks like this entry in the Iwa Bingo Book. Says here that he's -"
His glaring seemed to have done the trick at shutting up his stupid partner, and prompting him to hand over the open bingo book.
The picture was exactly as the kid was currently presented - very official, like one that would be in his ninja profile. Which it was. Apparently it was entered for the Suna chunin exams years ago that had ended in war. Son of the Fourth Hokage and the current Yellow Flash. No kills, but extremely dangerous. Kill on sight.
His eyes roaming over the description and picture, Kakuzu couldn't help the small amount of respect welling up. Small, because the kid had no kills to his name, but respect nonetheless because it's harder to take care of a problem without resorting to murder. And this kid seemed to have done it.
It didn't change the fact that Kakuzu really wanted that bounty.
He didn't even care about the mission he was hired to do at this point. He'd stumbled on a goldmine. Those soft leaf nin were stupid to have sent this team out on their own.
As Naruto's team reached the water's edge, something didn't seem to sit right. There was something in the air, Naruto was just having trouble pinpointing what it was exactly.
"We have to be quiet. Luckily there's fog to cover our crossing, but that doesn't change the fact that it might be dangerous."
The client was still slurring. It was honestly ridiculous, how much sake he had with him. Naruto swore Tazuna had to be hiding his alcohol in a storage scroll, because there was simply no way that he had been able to carry enough alcohol to be perpetually drunk for a whole week.
And he was still muttering about being quiet even as Sasuke and Sakura were helping the ferryman get the boat into the water - those showoffs, not wanting to get wet and blatantly walking on the water like that. Naruto was particularly annoyed because there was something wrong. There was something that was going to happen. The hair on the back of his neck told him so.
Which made next to no sense considering the client was pretty boring and this was only a D-rank - C-rank, his mind supplied - but there was something wrong. And he couldn't put his finger on it.
It was as he was staring at the client, who really looked way too nervous, that Naruto felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up.
He reacted as quickly as he could, which considering he was the Yellow Flash was actually quite immediate, and flashed to the client, pushing him down and narrowly missing a launch of cables, or whatever it really was. Naruto couldn't really tell.
"What the hell?" Naruto heard Sasuke mutter even as Naruto pulled out his sword and brought it up just in time to parry the arm and shit it's alive - the cables were alive and bypassing his sword and Naruto just grabbed the client and flashed him to Konoha, before flashing as quickly as he could back to Sakura and Sasuke.
"What the hell?" Sasuke muttered again, slightly acknowledging Naruto as he stood up shakily.
"Who the hell are you?!" Naruto shouted as two figures (in black cloaks that sported some really cool looking red clouds) emerged from beyond the tree line, the arm - cable - thing - winding back into one of the freaks as they continued to advance.
"What a shame," the freakier freak said, "And here we were hoping to be able to accomplish the client's mission without a mess."
"Kakuzu they're just kids."
Creepy laughter, Naruto decided, was never a good thing.
"Shut up. This kid, as you call him is worth more than you are."
The other guy did not look impressed.
"Okay but who the hell are you guys?"
Freaky freak spared Naruto a glance, and he almost shivered - almost, because he'd gotten worse glares from Iwa-nin that wanted him dead more than they wanted to win the war.
"My name is irrelevant. What is relevant is the fact that you have a sizable bounty on your head."
"Cut the crap already. Why did you attack? You said the client's mission. Were you after the bridge builder?" Sasuke spoke up that time, and Naruto was slightly grateful - this guy had basically just said he wanted Naruto dead.
The creepy cable guy laughed that creepy chuckle again.
"That was a primary goal at first."
Well shit. That shitty bridge builder. Naruto had half a mind to bring him kicking and screaming back here and just give him up.
"But after evaluating the benefits of your bounties, I thought it would be a good idea to cash in on this little gold mine."
"Like hell, we'd let you take Naru-"
"Sakura, stop." Naruto didn't really know why he stopped her from speaking. Perhaps it was because the guy was eyeing him like a bowl of Ichiraku's special pork ramen, or maybe it was because Naruto wasn't sure they would be able to outrun them. So he tried to reason with the guy first.
"What do you want?"
His eyes crinkled, and Naruto assumed that under his mask he was smiling, "What anyone in my position wants. Money."
Naruto rubbed the back of his head before frowning and shaking his hair out, hand behind his back, but fingering a kunai.
"Sorry, no can do. I suggest you take your business elsewhere."
They did not look impressed.
"What do you mean-" the other guy was cut off by the creepy guy who rushed forward. And Naruto had to admit, the guy was fast. But so was Sasuke, he noted, as Sasuke - electricity cackling - moved to intercept.
And better than all that, Naruto was faster.
At first nothing seemed to happen, but this was mostly because Sasuke was moving too fast for the eye - okay so maybe not too fast for the sharingan - to see. Then, Sasuke was sent back, body still crackling with electricity and rolling his shoulders as a grimace crossed his face.
"So, he's a bit tougher than I expected."
Sasuke and Naruto shared a glance.
Naruto nodded and leaped forward, kunai in hand, even as Sasuke raced ahead. The key to formation four, of course, was to constantly flash to wherever Sasuke happened to be, cover his back, and leave little hiraishin tags so that formation five could be implemented at a later point in time during the battle.
They never really got to use Formation Five, because the fights were always over by then, but it never hurt to be prepared, especially since it seemed that no matter what Sasuke or Naruto did, they couldn't stop the freaky freak from making his attacks. Some of them were even almost successful. It was really starting to freak Naruto out, especially as the final movements of Formation Four came to an end and the two ninja children landed in front of Sakura out of breath but ready to implement the next Formation.
"You guys alright? Need a chakra pill?"
Sasuke shook his head even as Naruto scoffed.
"Maybe later," Sasuke replied, eyeing Naruto out of the corner of his eye. "Ready for Formation Five."
And even though Naruto was breathing heavily, he managed to smirk and breathe out quickly. "I was born ready."
Formation Five itself was simple enough to explain. It was in fact, a reversal of Formation Four. Instead of Naruto following Sasuke, Formation Five consisted of Sasuke following Naruto. Naruto would use clones and his flying thunder god technique to flash to the locations that Sasuke had been at various times throughout Formation Four, only this time, instead of tagging the locations for later use, he would have some clones with a hand full of rasengan and other clones that were set to explode - Itachi had taught him a pretty nifty trick to do that only a short while before this mission, in fact.
And so between the explosions and the lightning and the rasengan, Naruto actually managed to get a hit on the guy with Formation Five. He hadn't been expecting it, and he swore his heart stopped beating for a good while there, because his hand was sticking out of this guys chest, and ew - and is this his first kill? Damn it!
And so maybe Naruto was panicking just a bit, but, he thought, he was allowed to.
Except that a moment later he was forced to flash away or be impaled by those cables, and they were still alive, so Naruto assumed he didn't actually kill him.
Only fuck, he looked really angry, and -
"Sasuke! What the hell do you think you're doing!"
Because Sasuke, bless his soul, had just run forward with a hand filled with lightning and had broken one of the masked ghoul things.
And at this point they were really fucked, because freaky freak was looking angrier than Gaara's dad.
Sakura had never been the type of medic-nin to take a being cut off mid speech well, and she was already annoyed with Naruto because, let's face it, Naruto always got on her nerves. And to think she'd been about to tell the guy where to stuff it if he thought for a moment she and Sasuke would let him take Naruto.
Because, on second thought - take him. Good luck and good riddance.
Except that if Iwa ever got their hands on Naruto, there would be hell to pay, and based on the bounty hunter's words about what he wanted- "What anyone in my position wants. Money." - he would be more than willing to turn Naruto in, screw the consequences for the Big Five.
With the ensuing exchange that followed, Sakura struggled to keep up. Sasuke and Naruto were honestly just too fast and Sakura cursed the fact that all she was supposed to do was provide logistical support and medical care.
Don't get her wrong, Sakura loved being a medic. But she hated standing on the sidelines waiting for a fight to end.
The first exchange of fists ended just as quickly as it started - she was a bit impressed because the guy with cables for appendages was able to keep up with her teammates - and Sakura struggled to keep her face straight as Naruto and Sasuke came to an agreement for the next plan of attack.
Formation Four was only ever used in cases where her teammates were vastly outnumbered, and it was with this thought that Sakura began to worry - just a little bit.
Which was only exacerbated when her teammates stopped, the formation complete. She had never seen Formation Five in anything less than controlled conditions on the Training Grounds. They'd never had to use it in live combat.
"You guys alright? Need a chakra pill?"
Sasuke shook his head and Naruto scoffed at her question, but Sakura felt it was necessary to ask, considering the circumstances.
Her teammates were out of breath after all, and this was really their first solo mission. She had the strange feeling that if Kakashi read their report, they'd never be allowed to step foot outside the village.
She relaxed a bit when Formation Five yielded the result of a burst chest, but it didn't last long. The man looked murderous, and -
"Sasuke! What the hell do you think you're doing!"
Really, what was he doing? Did he want to make the cable guy angrier? Sasuke had just burst toward one of the growing mask -ghouls? Is that the right word? - things and stabbed it with Kakashi-sensei's technique.
And the enemy looked even more furious.
"I'm going to take your hearts to replace the ones you've destroyed."
His voice had taken on a manic tone, and Sakura rushed forward, because he was reaching toward both Sasuke and Naruto who were in the air at the moment, and she struck the floor.
The other ninja - the one that had stayed back this whole time, looked just a bit terrified.
"Kakuzu," he seemed to actually be able to grab this guy and start dragging him away. "We need to get out of here. This isn't the mission, and these kids are stronger than you expected."
And crap, the guy - Kakuzu? - looked angry and murderous and he was turning to his partner almost hungrily.
"Kakuzu, hey man, remember what leader said!"
Out of the corner of her eye, Sakura saw Naruto summon a toad, leave a hiraishin tag on him and then grab the boat owner and Sasuke before he flashed away to who knows where, leaving her alone - that moron.
But only moments later, just as the two ninja are turning back to Sakura, Naruto is back and flashing her all the way back to Konoha.
Sasuke eyed the client who was gaping like a fish before he turned to the Hokage - Kakashi - whatever. It was a bit jarring when just a few moments before he'd been in that fight and now he was safe - somewhat - in the Hokage's office.
"Yo," Sasuke greeted, trying to act casual, even as Naruto got back with Sakura in tow.
Kakashi did not look impressed.
"Why are you back so soon, and with the client."
Naruto glared at the client for a solid ten seconds before he turned back to Kakashi, "The client lied to us I'm pretty sure. There were two shinobi, and one was definitely at least A-Class, but probably S-Class. And he definitely said our client was for his client, but that he wanted to make money off of my bounty too. Sasuke and I may have pissed him off after, though."
The whole time Naruto spoke he struggled to keep his face composed. On one hand, Naruto was really excited, because that had been a fight of epic proportions, and he rarely had ever encountered that. On the other hand, the client had lied, and Naruto had to restrain himself, fists clenching, from simply handing the man over to whoever was after him. The client had lied, and maybe Naruto could have forgiven it if his team had not been put into danger.
The client did not look happy either, though, "I don't know why that ninja was after me, I'm just a simple bridge builder."
"Oh shut up." Naruto snapped. "We had to use formations four and five." Kakashi looked interested in that little tidbit of information. "But it didn't really work, he just got angrier."
Angrier was definitely an understatement.
"Naruto got a rasengan into his chest, but then the guy -"
"His name's Kakuzu, I heard his partner call him it." Sakura interrupted, and Sasuke really wanted to glare, but that was also important.
"Kakuzu then. He grew into a bunch of black cables with masks. It was similar to the puppets of Suna, but not. And I was able to destroy one of the masks when he said we destroyed his hearts and that he'd use ours."
"Yeah, he was a real creep. The only reason I was able to get us out of there is because his partner started annoying him, and I saw an opportunity to - oh, they've left the riverbank now."
The question must have been on Sasuke's face.
"Gekomatsu was left with a hiraishin tag on standby with orders to activate the tag when they're gone. I'm not making that stupid trip again."
"So you're sticking with the mission?" Kakashi asked.
"Oh, please. This is awesome. Kind of annoying, considering we didn't have all the facts at first, but definitely better than those stupid E-ranks. I haven't had this much fun in a fight in . . . well ever, to be honest. Maybe with Gaara? I honestly thought for a second that I'd killed the guy! Mr. Zombie-ninja can fight me any day!"
Naruto looked a lot more confident in Kakashi's office, Sasuke noted, but hey. At least they'd survived. Now, what to do with the client.
"What about me?"
Right, Sasuke forgot this guy was here - the person that was going to row the boat for them. Well.
"Who are you?"
Leave it to Kakashi, Sasuke thought as he smirked. The boat man sagged and looked about ready to cry - he was so scared.
They needed to talk about this. The client needed to lay it all bare, because Naruto was not going to go into a fight unprepared again. As soon as Naruto had gotten the team and the client, don't forget the boat owner, he stared the drunk bridge builder down and asked, "What the hell was that all about anyway?"
The drunk bridge builder was swaying from side to side and looked nervous as all hell.
"What do you mean?"
Naruto rolled his eyes, not even bothering to hide his annoyance.
"Before the freak with the noodle arms started attacking, he mentioned that you were his 'primary mission.' What was he talking about? Are you going to say it's just a coincidence that you hired a ninja team to protect you from bandits when someone wanted you dead? Because if you are, let me tell you not to bother. Kakashi told me not to believe in coincidences."
Tazuna, the drunk bridge builder, looked like he wanted to crawl in a ditch and never emerge, and Naruto almost felt sorry for the guy - almost.
"What do you have to say for yourself?" Naruto prompted, because apparently his tirade wasn't enough to get the client spilling his secrets.
And still, the client just stared at Naruto, though he did start to look a little green.
"Tazuna-san, we have to know who it is we're up against," Sakura cut in just as Naruto was about to start taking drastic measures - so they weren't that drastic, but they were certainly more questionably legal that what she was doing. "We can handle it, and I think Naruto is more excited about actually having what amounts to a real mission to even think about leaving you alone to fend for yourself. But, with that said, we need to have full disclosure. What are we up against?"
Tazuna looked more reluctant than Tora the monster cat when trapped between a river and a tracking Team. But he gulped and responded hesitantly anyway.
"Wave Country . . . Wave Country is poor. It has been for forever, really, but when the war started . . ."
He looked reluctant to continue, and so Naruto took the moment to interrupt.
"What happened with the war?"
Tazuna seemed to gather his thoughts, even as the ninja children in front of him got the boat ready. "Do you know who Gato is?"
Blank faces were his answer, and he sighed again.
"He's one of the wealthiest exporters in the world. When the war broke out, he made a lot of money by selling supplies to both sides - which is completely legal, but not very safe. With the war going on he needed to be able to have a monopoly somewhere in order to make more money - and he chose Wave Country. We're an island, and Gato has control of all our docks. Everything we have is heavily marked up by him and for the past four years, he has been draining our resources. I'm a bridge builder, though."
Something about that last sentence caused Sakura's eyes to widen, Naruto noticed.
"You're building a bridge that will cut into Gato's profits," she interrupted his story, but the bridge builder didn't even frown. He only nodded, and - Naruto noticed - looked more tired that some of the shinobi he'd seen at the front lines.
And Naruto clenched his fists in anger.
This guy was a civilian - both Gato and Tazuna - and they were no different from shinobi. Tazuna, that drunk, had to fight to survive too. And Gato? Well, there were monsters among shinobi too.
By the time Tazuna had gotten to the boat that would take him and the ninja team to Wave country, he was sweating buckets. Because there's no way that Gato would just leave him alone. He was right to worry, because they were all promptly attacked by two shinobi, and then he was in the Hokage's office, all of a sudden.
"Oh, um . . ."
"Naruto brought you here, it seems. What exactly happened?"
"I-I'm not sure."
Because - what the actual fuck?
How did he get here so fast? Why was he here? Where were the pipsqueak-play-ninja? Where they alright? He was so dead.
"Hmm. Well, let's give Naruto a little time. I'm sure he'll be here soon to explain things."
Tazuna had never felt so awkward in his life. In those minutes that it took for his escort - and oh, hello, they brought the boat man too, how considerate - to arrive in a flash of yellow light, he could feel the anxiety mounting. With each passing minute, the Hokage's eye became colder and colder.
Yep, he was dead. He was beyond dead.
When the blond, the pink haired girl, and the boy with the hair that resembled the back end of a duck finally arrived, he was able to breathe normally again.
He was so relieved, he didn't even pay attention to the conversation, and was taken by surprise when - fuck - they were all back at the coast, and the little ninja were asking questions, so many questions, and he just wanted to get home that the whole story came spilling out of his mouth - not all out once. He stumbled through it, skipped important facts. But they got the gist of it. Probably. Hopefully. Maybe?
It was honestly a miracle that they were sticking with him, though - to be completely honest. But he brought them to his home, and thanked them all profusely. Because he needed them - desperately. He needed them so that he could finish his bridge. He needed them so that they could get around this embargo. He needed them to be able to get that smile back on his grandson's face.
He needed them.
Kakuzu was frustrated and angry, and he just needed to kill something - someone, whatever. This was supposed to be a straightforward way to acquire funds for the organization. And instead, he was down two hearts and had made no money whatsoever.
He was beyond livid. He passed livid five kilometers after they left the shore.
No, Kakuzu could not be reasoned with.
He blamed his no good dirty rotten money stealing partner. If Kakuzu had not been distracted, he just knew that the little blond brat - his jackpot, his ticket to financial security - would not have disappeared in a flash. All his money - gone in an instant.
And it was all the fault of that no good dirty rotten money stealing partner.
Kakuzu was going to kill him. It had always only been a question of when he'd piss Kakuzu off so much that Kakuzu would relieve him of his head. But now, Kakuzu was in the red in the heart department, and while Kakuzu very much blamed the blond goldmine and his teammate - the Uchiha - Kakuzu also blamed his own partner. Which meant he was owed a heart.
Leader would not be pleased, but Kakuzu gave absolutely zero fucks.
Inari, a little boy disillusioned to the death of his stepfather, couldn't believe these ninja. They'd waltzed into his home without a care in the world, and acted like they could defeat Gato. They weren't even that much older than him!
He just - it wasn't fair.
He had been worrying ever since his grandfather had left, and he honestly hadn't thought he would see his old man again. He'd given up on hope when his stepfather had died.
With his grandfather defying Gato, Inari had figured it was just a matter of time before Gato made him another example to the people of Wave. His grandfather was basically just a dead man walking.
And somehow he'd come back.
Inari hadn't been doing much in the two weeks that his grandfather was gone - construction had stalled on that bridge, and most people were just struggling to scrape up enough food for dinner. Inari figured he'd die soon anyway, too. So, he'd sat in front of the house, ball in hand.
And that's how he was the first to see his grandfather come back, surrounded by three kids who looked not much older than him.
It was such a bad joke, Inari wanted to throw up.
"Inari! We're home!"
Instead of rushing to the grandfather he thought he'd never see again, Inari slowly stood, turned around, and headed into the house to tell his mother that grandpa was still alive.
His mother was ecstatic, rushing outside, not even minding the tea she was making - tea, that's all they really had left and grandpa had brought more mouths to feed?! And Inari was left to make sure that the house didn't burn down as his grandfather's entourage was herded into the tiny house.
"Is there anything I can get you? I only just started tea."
Inari didn't even bother trying to hide his contempt as he snorted in disgust.
"They should have brought their own food, mom."
It slipped out, and he could feel his mother and grandfather's glare. But, honestly, Inari didn't really care, because although they brought his grandfather back alive, these ninja were no better than Gato.
But then they answered, and he wasn't expecting what they had to say.
"We did bring food, you're welcome to have some if you'd like."
It was the pink haired delicate looking one who had spoken, and Inari almost scoffed again. She looked way too delicate to be useful in a fight.
"And who are you, the tag along fangirl?"
He said it to hurt her, but he didn't expect her to glare and look so scary. Inari actually became a little nervous, and - was that fire in her eyes?
"I'll have you know I can break every bone in your body with my pinky finger. Don't test me."
The other two - ninja? - held their hands up, trying to placate the girl, "Sakura, no need to scare the guy. He's doesn't know what he's talking about.
And oh thank God, she turned her glare to them! Inari slumped, feeling as if he could breathe again. What was that?
"Oh don't even get me started on you two! You jumped at this mission without even asking me!"
And Inari really didn't want to listen to them fighting. These ninja - they thought they were so much better than normal people. Just like Gato.
"Are you saying you want E-rank missions?"
And it wasn't fair.
"No, but I would appreciate being asked what I want everyone once in a while."
It wasn't fair because his dad - stepdad - died, and they were acting so unbothered by what they were facing.
"Well excuse me. I thought I was mission leader."
Inari clenched his fists, "You're all going to die." And then he ran out the back door, desperate to get away.
The first three days following the initial attack by those ninja in their weird freaky cloaks were calm. Naruto helped build the bridge with his small army of clones, as he and his teammates gorged on his food - and it was a good thing Naruto always packed for the apocalypse - and shared some with the villagers.
According to Naruto, they had only enough food for two weeks in his scrolls.
Which while certainly helpful, considering the lack of food on the island, was still quite distressing.
Naruto just shrugged it off saying, "If we need more, I can always head home in a flash."
Then he grinned widely before heading back to help build the bridge.
They should have known that it was too quiet, that Gato wouldn't let them carry on in building the bridge. The stakes were too high for Gato.
It really shouldn't have been as big a surprise as it was when, as Naruto, Sasuke, and Tazuna made their way to the bridge on their fourth day in Wave Country, that they saw the cloaks with the red clouds.
I was stuck for a good long while on how to go forward for this chapter. I knew it wouldn't make much sense for Haku and Zabuza, who are still with Mist, to be here. Which brought me to Akatsuki. Which then left me with the dilemma about how to actually write a believable fight.
The only way I was able to brainstorm this was to speak with The Real Snickie, who has a story, SO GO SUPPORT HER. Without her help, this chapter may not have happened.
I've also cross posted on Archive of Our Own - it is really me, not someone else. And I posted a new story too, if you like Self Inserts and DC.
Read and Review, please!