How to Win Friends, Influence People and Start Your Secret Ninja Organization
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto and I make no profit with this work of fiction.
It was precisely four hours into his employment that Naruto became responsible for the shop. It happened like this: Matsuzaki was standing on old, rickety ladder to put new jars of fruit marmalade to the highest shelf when an old lady in posh, embroidered kimono walked in and the lady was walking two little dogs with long, dirty white fur. The colour was dirty white, that was, Naruto didn't think those dogs were ever allowed to get dirty and he pitied them because forcing dogs to remain neat and clean all the time went against some inner dogness. He was crouching to put some crackers to the lowest shelf a bit behind the ladder and the dogs run towards him. And the leashes of the dogs, which had been tied together so they could be easily hold with one hand, were torn from the old woman's hand.
One dog went from one side of the ladder and the other the other. The ladder fell and Naruto leapt to catch Matsuzaki, already congratulating himself for the quick save. But then Matsuzaki clutched his chest and his whole body jerked.
Naruto wasn't a medic by any stretch of imagination. He could bandage wounds, of course, and set broken bones as long as the break was a clean one and even do stiches as long the one being stitched didn't mind them being a bit ugly and uneven, but his poor chakra control had made learning medical jutsu an impossibility and he hadn't ever shown any interest despite his one-time friendship with Kabuto (that rat-bastard!) either, to tell the truth. So he did the first thing he could think of and ran to the hospital, carrying Matsuzaki over his shoulder. Matsuzaki's life was saved which was good and the old lady even paid the hospital bill as the whole thing had been her fault, but that still left the problem of what to do about the shop.
"You must rest, Arikko-baka. You aren't as young as you used to be and you could stand to lose some weight as well. It was only thanks to the speed your employee got you here that you survived at all," a nurse with white yukata and angular, stern face told Matsuzaki. The old man gave him a dark glare from where he was lying down.
"Look, you evil, old hag…" he started and the nurse promptly hit him over the head with her papers.
"Who are you calling old, you mummy! I'll have you knowing, I'll still be a spring chicken when you rest in your grave…" she ranted and Naruto tuned her out. They were obviously old friends and the whole thing made him miss Sakura-chan a lot. Maybe he should write her, now that he was going to have an address she could write back to! That was a great idea! It was after a while that he noticed both the nurse and Matsuzaki turned to look at him speculatively.
"I could go to my niece, but can you take care of the shop?" Matsuzaki asked him. Naruto gave him a winsome smile.
"I worked for a lot of shops back home," he said. He didn't say it was about D-ranks because he didn't know if this nurse, Sakuya, was trustworthy, but Matsuzaki should know anyway and he looked reassured.
"You can leave your foolish employer to me. I'm his niece's neighbour, I'll see to it that he gets plenty of rest," Sakuya promised and ruffled Matsuzaki's hair. Matsuzaki made an offended noise deep in his throat, but he looked kind of happy anyway.
"I'll do very good job, I promise," Naruto said. He hadn't ever been responsible of a whole shop alone, but he had been behind the counter and he could do accounting – he had done his own finances since he was ten after all. So that left carrying things and protecting the place from robbers and stuff, and he could use those seals and traps that had been in the safe house before he went in. No criminal was getting in on his watch.
That evening Naruto set the traps and drew the seal carefully. He didn't really know why they worked as they did, but no knowledge of that was required as long as you weren't trying to create a new seal; being able to perfectly accurately – and the word perfectly couldn't be stressed too much – recreate what you had already been shown was enough. The next day he went to the shop early to sweep a bit only to find five thugs lying unconscious by the backdoor and the small window next to it. He didn't even bother with taking them to the police, but simply heaved them off to a stripe of wasteland overgrown with weeds between one street and another and was done with it. He then opened the shop for the day.
And he found that wasn't the end of it.
It begun just before Naruto closed the shop for a lunch break. The shop even had this cute little sign with a panda with a speech bubble and he was just waiting for the two housewives and their children, a cute little girl with pigtails and a boy Naruto was sure was hiding a frog in his pocket, to leave. Then two men walked inside. One of them he recognized as the burly man from the day before and he sighed; why did people have to be so bad losers anyway? They were like Sasuke-teme! The other was a little shorter and a little heavier than the first, but they looked very similar, They even dressed alike and they had the same tattoos and Naruto wondered if they were maybe brothers.
But they were both missing a middle finger and that was kind of a really funny coincidence…
"Now you are gonna get it, punk," the idiot from the day before growled. He was crackling his knuckles, but the effort just ended up looking funny because of the missing finger and Naruto smirked. But his smile froze when the women flattened themselves against the wall and the little girl begun to cry. The idiot number two snorted, mistaking his reaction for fear.
"And de womun tew…" he started and leered at the women, but he never got any further. Because if there was something Naruto hated even more than inconsiderate bastards who run away to play sensei and student with evil maniacs who invaded Konoha, the evil maniacs themselves and the evil maniacs' evil, backstabbing medic-nins, it was people who bullied innocent civilian women and kids.
The two men went down easily. One punch for each of them was all that was needed.
It was a strange scene after that. The women in their expensive, pink kimonos were watching him with eyes as round and wide as plates and the little girl stopped crying. Naruto flashed them a smile and made a peace sign. The little boy looked at him with hero worship in his eyes and Naruto felt his heart swelling with some warm, funny, stupid happy feeling.
"I have a frog," the boy volunteered and stepped forth, taking the small amphibian from his pocket. His mother grabbed his arm and pulled him back, giving Naruto a startled look and stammering apologies.
"Frogs are awesome," Naruto agreed and kept his eyes on the boy so he didn't have to look at the woman. It shouldn't hurt so much, but it still did, though the boy's grin made it a little better. Even the little girl smiled and giggled a bit and Naruto gave her a candied apple, and then another to the boy so he wouldn't feel bad.
The women made their purchases quickly and left, but that wasn't the end of it either. When it was time to close the shop for the night yet another thug approached Naruto when he made a shortcut through a small, dark alley. It was a huge, bulky man with a missing tooth and again that missing finger, and now Naruto was sure. Once was happenstance and twice was circumstance, but three times was a pattern already, like Kakashi-sensei always said. The third man didn't give any more resistance than the first two had either, but it was then (of course) that three women in revealing clothes walked past the alley and one of them happened to look there.
She shouted in fright. They all stop dead in their tracks.
They stared at the man on the ground and Naruto standing above him, perfectly unharmed and rubbing his head in a sheepish way.
"This isn't what it looks like," he offered and tried to look harmless. Predictably, their reaction was to scream and run in the other direction for dear life. Naruto drooped.
"What a lousy day this has been," he grumbled.
Makimura was a nice little town, Tsubaki decided when she walked the streets towards the safe house Jiraiya-sama had given her directions to. It was early morning and the chirping of birds drowned out the squeaking and rumbling of what few merchant charts made when they were rolled to their allotted plots for the day. She watched at the sea that glittered in the early morning sun and thought that maybe she would buy herself a swimsuit. This was shaping up to be a better and better idea by the minute. A paid holiday like Iruka had said.
Her only duty was to ensure that Uzumaki Naruto didn't do anything stupid and grandiose enough to attract shinobi attention. The boy's rambunctious nature aside, this was a country without a hidden village or any real political significance. This was the kind of place spies were assigned to as a punishment for messing up somewhere important.
What could possibly go wrong? This was a question Ono Tsubaki regretted asking herself when she realized her charge was in the middle of a small scale war with the local yakuza.
"What you think you are doing, Uzumaki? You were supposed to keep low profile, do I need to explain you what that means? And who is she?" she demanded answers from the brat sitting in the middle of the safe house's floor, bandaging the leg of a young woman. She was beautiful enough in that comfortable way that didn't leave anyone feeling intimidated, with brown hair and dark, pretty eyes in round face. It was not the moment to get interested in the opposite gender; in fact, she was beginning to wonder how he had survived to this age at all, let alone become a genin…
"She's Miwa-chan, those thugs were beating her up…" Naruto begun his explanation, but the girl laid a hand on his arm and looked Tsubaki to the eye. The sudden fierceness in the mousy girl's demeanor was surprising.
"They were going to rape me," the girl named Miwa said quietly. "I'm a… prostitute, I work for the yakuza. They take most of the money I earn and they take me whenever they feel like it. Naruto-kun killed those men." Her voice was barely a whisper, but the intensity of it carried through and so did the grim satisfaction. Naruto looked at his hands like he had never seen them before and Tsubaki realized with a sudden start that it had been the boy's first kills.
But the shadows were chased away and Naruto's eyes hardened.
"No one who does that to other people deserves to live! Don't worry, Miwa-chan, you won't ever be going back to those people," he vowed.
Many thoughts were chasing one another around in Tsubaki's head. The incredulous he was fighting yakuza without killing them, what did he do, arrest them was shoved away by the wistful that girl loves him and he has no idea, but what surfaced first was: "You will see that many, many people do so and live to do it again." The lecture was even part of the Academy curriculum; ninja sex ed covered the run of the mill contraception, diseases and health risks associated with underage pregnancy, but also rape as interrogation tactics and prostitution as a part of infiltration tactics. This was the kind of world they lived in.
"Well, I'm gonna change that because I'm not gonna change, believe it!" Naruto exclaimed and hit the air with a closed fist. It made Tsubaki sad, sad for someone other than herself, because some things could be changed by no one. But Naruto could save Miwa if Tsubaki let him, he was the kind of person who would. She remembered the cruel whispers that had always followed the boy, Demon Brat gritted between teeth, and he remembered the man who had lain with her under false pretense and how Naruto had been the one to catch him.
It hadn't been rape, she had said yes every time and enjoyed it, but she felt violated all the same. And she had been suspected and blamed, considered dirty, like many would consider whores dirty. Some would claim even in Konoha that it didn't count if you raped a prostitute.
No one who does that to other people deserves to live!
"I was Mizuki's lover; did you know that?" she asked. Naruto looked kind of squicked out, but also... gentle? Kind? She wasn't certain she was reading him right.
"That must have sucked. I bet he was a bad kisser too," he said and startled a laugh out of Tsubaki. She wasn't a violent person by nature, her career choice non-withstanding, and she was a bit shocked to notice her knuckles were turning white. She purposefully opened her fists.
"Those yakuza are lucky, Naruto-kun" she mused and looked out of the window, feeling loose-jointed and drunk. Mizuki had struck a fracture into her and she wasn't sure if Naruto-kun had just fixed it or struck her to pieces once and for all, but whatever the case, she had forgotten what it was to feel this good. Outside the sun had finally risen over the roofs. "This will be a beautiful day to die."
It had taken Saehara Hiro, the unquestioned leader of Makimura's dirty underbelly, years to build his criminal empire. It was destroyed in a week. And if Naruto dropped them off to the police and Tsubaki vented her frustration, he didn't seem to hold it against her. She was clever enough to never be caught anyway.
Time is a tricky, tricky thing, subject to perception. Sometimes days and weeks will fly away like hours and days, brief, fleeting moments. Sometimes even minutes can stretch into eternity, like Naruto could assert from his experiences from the Academy. Two months isn't that long time, objectively speaking.
Matsuzaki Arikko would attest that it took him barely any time at all to realize that the goofy, friendly façade that kid Jiraiya-sama had left with him presented was entirely false. The Chief of Police would claim that those were the longest two months of his life and he never received so many gray hair because of one person before while the prostitutes who at first meekly crept in to meet the new management would say their Naruto-kun left all too soon. They were, after all, very soon former prostitutes.
Even the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Naruto's journey begun when two missing-nin from Kiri stepped off the deck of a merchant ship, looking for employ and a place to hide.
The rumours were all over the place; Konatsu and Kaede didn't even need to go searching for them. The word was that the entire criminal world was in wild disarray, that Old Man Saehara had been dethroned and all his men were either dead or in prison and that – this was whispered with exited, worried, awed tone – it had been real ninja who did it!
They were sitting in a dango diner and slowly eating their lunch, but in truth more interested in what the small group of men sitting next to them had to say.
"I heard that Matsuzaki-san is involved somehow in this affair! Who would have thought? He was always so respectable," Person One spoke with obvious relish; he had red hair, mole in the left cheek and distinctive adam's apple.
"I hear the new boss is so young he doesn't even shave yet, that blond kid, remember," said Person Two; brown hair, brown eyes, buck teeth.
"There are two of them, they are identical twins. I saw them in the docks yesterday. But I don't think they are really ninja, I mean, they didn't have those bandannas with the metal plate, whatever they were called again…" said Person Three AKA The Good-Looking One.
"And what normal people run over rooftops?" Person Two asked with a dry voice and took a gulp from his sake jar. Konatsu and Kaede shared a look and finished their meal, leaving the diner.
"So, a missing-nin organization has taken over. Do you think they recruit?" Kaede asked, trying to hide his trepidation. He wasn't the most squeamish person there was – no one in Kirigakure stayed squeamish for long – but some of the rumours about the sort of missions missing-nin got involved in, starting with assassinating little babies and getting steadily worse from there, really, really gave him the creeps. But Konatsu's eyes were shining.
"If they have only just taken over, there must be much work to do. I'm sure I can get us in, and then we'll have safety in numbers," she said, gratified.
Mizushima Konatsu and Kaede had their expectations about how the world worked in general and the ninja world in particular. Those had been built upon years and years of ruthless training and eyeing their classmates with cold (and in Kaede's case, uneasy) eyes, knowing only half of them would survive. Years and years of watching little kids beg for food until they barely even noticed it, bi-yearly death patrols to weed out all Kekkei Genkai users and good, unselfish people like priests and volunteer workers at homeless shelters found mugged and sometimes dead had left them with firm opinion that you could trust only your family and often times not even all of them. Then they walked in to Matsuzaki s Better Delicacies Shop and the blond, grinning boy behind the counter made that certainty crumble.