The Cost of Living

Teachers

Naruto concluded rather quickly that Kakuzu liked money.

"Brat, did you hear what I just told you?"

Naruto sighed from his position on Kakuzu's back. "Yeah."

"Then what did I say?"

"You were sayin' how any ninja that's worth more than 15 million ryō is a good bounty and worth huntin'."

"…Good."

Maybe 'like' was an understatement. Kakuzu was obsessed with money. That wasn't to say the bounty hunter wasn't upholding his part of the agreement; throughout the entire journey – which was sped up thanks to the tall shinobi's efforts – Kakuzu had continued to lecture and tutor Naruto on the basics of the ninja world, including countries, Hidden Villages, Kages (the rulers of the larger Hidden Villages), and anything else of importance he could think of.

Suddenly, Kakuzu came to abrupt halt, throwing Naruto violently against his back with the sudden change in momentum. "Um, Kakuzu, why're we stoppin'?"

The older ninja's head turned slightly in indication of the question. "We are on the outskirts of a small town within the Land of Fire, close to the border of the Land of Grass. I believe we are far enough away from any major village that we are safe from scrutiny, and so this town will be our temporary base of operations while you gain the skills necessary to become competent."

Naruto nodded in understanding. "So where are we?"

"If memory serves, the town is called Onanji. It is relatively unknown, and therefore quite self-sufficient; I am sure we will find everything we need here." He paused and then growled, "Now get off," and Naruto immediately relaxed his grip, sliding off the giant's back. The two walked side-by-side until they reached the small village, entering it silently and veering to the right as Kakuzu spied an empty field of short grass nearby. He walked to the center of it and turned around, gesturing for Naruto to stand about 10 feet away from him.

The blond shifted restlessly from foot to foot as Kakuzu stared at him, silently weighing his options. At length, the bounty hunter spoke, his tone low and commanding. "I am going to begin teaching you how to be a shinobi. Since you apparently have no training, it seems I will have to explain everything to you from the beginning…despite how irritating that is. Watch and listen.

"In order to effectively become a shinobi, you must learn how to access and utilize chakra." When Naruto opened his mouth to speak, Kakuzu shot him a glare that silenced him instantly. "I will get there, brat. Chakra is a combination of energy from your body's cells and the mental and spiritual energy gained from physical exertion. You will first need to practice accessing your chakra in order to use it for jutsu; I will teach you that shortly.

"Now, ninja techniques can be broken down into three categories: ninjutsu, taijutsu, and genjutsu. Ninjutsu is the broadest category, incorporating the hundreds or even thousands of special techniques that ninja use in battle; you have experienced ninjutsu firsthand already." Naruto shuddered at the memory of the searing heat from Kakuzu's fireball, but otherwise remained silent and still. "Taijutsu encompasses the realm of physical attacks; genjutsu involves the use of illusions to confuse and disorient the enemy. Do you understand so far?"

Naruto nodded slowly. "Ninjutsu, taijutsu, genjutsu; ninja techniques, physical attacks, illusions. Got it!"

Kakuzu's green eyes narrowed, focusing intently upon the young boy. "You are very fortunate that you met me, brat. I have one of the most extensive arsenals of ninjutsu you will ever come across in your lifetime. The basics of ninjutsu are as such:

"There are five main categories: Katon, Suiton, Fūton, Raiton, and Doton; fire, water, wind, lightning, and earth elements. Each one is strong and weak against another. Water beats fire, fire beats wind, wind beats lightning, lightning beats earth, and earth beats water. Additionally, every ninja has a specific chakra alignment that places emphasis on which element he or she is strongest in and therefore more adept at learning and using efficiently.

"Now I will show you how to channel chakra, simply to make you are aware of it. Put your hands in this position," continued Kakuzu as he performed the motion, positioning his left index and middle fingers upright and curling his right hand under the left, leaving the right index finger standing. "This is the Ram seal, one of twelve different hand signs used to activate jutsu. The Ram also helps to increase concentration and allows for easier access to your chakra." Kakuzu waited as Naruto fumbled with the hand seal, clumsily putting his hands together in a decent replica of his own positioning. "Now, focus within and try to bring your chakra to the surface."

Naruto closed his eyes and tried to feel for something, anything, within himself. After about a minute, he opened his eyes to see his teacher watching him intently. "Considering that you have had no formal training in controlling or even using your chakra, I cannot say I am surprised at this attempt," Kakuzu mused. "Keep trying, I will return."

The bounty hunter then left, walking towards the main thoroughfare of Onanji. He glanced around at the shops as he went, noting with his keen memory where all the places of interest (few as they were) were for future use. Stopping suddenly in front of a store, Kakuzu gazed at the sign with curiosity before pushing open the doors and heading inside. The proprietor – an average-sized man in his mid-thirties – looked up from the counter, instinctively taking a slight step backwards at Kakuzu's imposing presence. "H-how can I help you today?" he stammered.

"Do you sell shinobi supplies?"

"S-some. A-anything in p-particular?"

Kakuzu merely smirked behind his mask.

Ten minutes later, he exited the shop, a handful of supplies for his new charge buried within the folds of his cloak. He snorted to himself. One brat with interesting abilities and I find myself pandering to his needs and spoiling the little shit. How far the mighty have fallen…

The bounty hunter wandered down the road again, taking a branch that led to one of the outlying farms when it appeared. A simple house appeared shortly thereafter, and he approached the dwelling, rapping sharply on the door. He heard shuffling from inside and waited momentarily for the door to swing open, revealing a tall man (though not Kakuzu's height) with short-cropped brown hair and intelligent green eyes. "Yes?" he asked, looking Kakuzu up and down.

"Your name is Ryo, correct?"

Ryo blinked, caught off-guard. "That's correct. I don't believe we've met before; how do you know me? And who might you be?"

"That is not your concern," Kakuzu stated dismissively. "You teach some of the local children, if what I have been told is accurate."

"…Even if that was true, I don't associate myself with people whom I've just met or don't trust. You seem to fall into both categories. Good day to you." He stepped back and began to close the door, but Kakuzu's hand shot out and grabbed the man's collar before it could shut, yanking Ryo up to his face.

"Listen here, Ryo," Kakuzu sneered, "I do not have a lot of patience, so I will explain this to you in the simplest terms possible. I have taken an intriguing student under my wing to teach the ninja arts to. However, he is quite young and will require tutelage in the more mundane aspects of learning as well. Therefore, it will be your job to teach him what he needs to know with regards to reading, writing, arithmetic, and whatever else you can think of, while I handle the rest of his training. In return…" Kakuzu paused and pretended to think, allowing the ominous silence to build tension. "In return, I will guarantee the lives of you and your pathetic family, as well as everyone else in this village. I am reasonably sure this place would not be sorely missed if it mysteriously vanished from what few maps it does happen to be on. So…do we have an accord?"

It was a slight gamble to threaten the teacher, since he could easily request aid from the Hidden Leaf, but Kakuzu was confident that he could dispatch anyone who did come if such a scenario came to pass. Plus, fear was a powerful motivator, and the fact that he wasn't requesting anything more complex than taking on another pupil would hopefully detract from the instinct to call for help.

Ryo stared at the ninja, his feet barely touching the ground, quaking as Kakuzu delivered his proposition. He gulped; Kakuzu noted the gesture, taking great satisfaction in it. "W-when do I start?" he asked meekly.

"Excellent, I appreciate initiative. Come by tomorrow at noon, to the field at the entrance of the town. If you are not on time, then I will be forced to hunt you down…and I guarantee that you will not enjoy that. Good day," he finished, echoing Ryo's earlier dismissal with a healthy amount of derision.

Kakuzu spent the next several hours wandering around the town, mapping out Onanji's landscape. He hadn't survived as a ninja for over 80 years by slacking off and making stupid mistakes. The only reason he had felt secure in leaving Naruto alone was because they were far enough away from any major village (primarily Konoha) that it would take some time for any search party to reach them, if any were in fact searching.

He cut a wide swath through the streets, his height and obscured features screaming to the civilians that he was not to be trifled with; Onanji had little to offer as a threat, especially to a ninja of his caliber, but so long as he didn't antagonize the townsfolk (any more than he already had), he felt it was unlikely that they would do more than whisper about his presence. The town possessed a slew of different craftsmen – making up for a lack of quantity with an increase in quality – ranging from tanners to blacksmiths to tailors. Farms surrounded it, raising a variety of products and allowing for it to be, as Kakuzu had told Naruto earlier, almost completely self-sufficient, if slightly backwards (in his opinion).

When the bounty hunter decided to return to the field he had left his new protégé at, he fully expected Naruto to be passed out, unconscious from chakra exhaustion. He arrived just in time to see Naruto flop to the ground, sweat dripping from his face and breath coming in heavy pants, but still conscious. One eyebrow rose in surprise at Naruto's stamina, but he merely approached the boy and unloaded the bundle of camping equipment he'd picked up on his voyage through the town and been carrying around for a while. "Get up, brat," he ordered.

"'m not a brat," Naruto sulked, climbing shakily to his feet.

Kakuzu chose to ignore him. "Can you sense your chakra?" Naruto's head bobbed, a pleased expression on his face. "Very well…show me."

The blond boy shifted his legs so they were firmly planted on the ground and brought his hands together into the Ram seal, closing his eyes. Several seconds passed before blue chakra swirled around him, weak but nonetheless visible. Kakuzu blinked in surprise. So, he managed to get it after only a couple of hours. Impressive…for a brat. "Alright, that is enough." Naruto dropped his hands and opened his eyes, the blue energy dissipating as he straightened and looked at his teacher. "Do you remember what I told you earlier about elemental ninjutsu?"

Naruto bobbed his head again, and Kakuzu was half-tempted to slap him upside it just so he would stop that ridiculous motion. He reigned in his rather hair-trigger temper as Naruto recited, "Water beats fire which beats wind which beats lightning which beats earth which beats water, right?"

"Correct. You will recall that I told you every ninja has a specific chakra alignment with one – or on rare occasions, more than one – of these elements." Here, Kakuzu reached inside his cloak and pulled out two square sheets of paper. "This is chakra paper," he explained, "created from trees that are specifically grown with chakra within the Land of Fire. It is the easiest way to determine which element you have an affinity for." Kakuzu moved one of the sheets to his left hand and focused chakra to his right. The paper there immediately became water-logged. "My main chakra nature is Suiton, though I possess the capacity to use every element. Now, take this—" and here Kakuzu held out the paper in his left hand, "—and channel your chakra into it."

Naruto reached out rather hesitantly and took the paper, staring at it momentarily before closing his eyes and focusing on the feeling he'd spent the last several hours discovering. He heard Kakuzu 'hm' in what he could only guess to be interest before opening his eyes. The chakra paper in his hand had split down the middle, right where he had grasped it with his thumb and forefinger. He looked straight up into Kakuzu's strange green eyes. "What's this mean?" he asked, holding up the paper.

"You have a strong Fūton affinity."

"Is that…bad?" Naruto hazarded.

Kakuzu waved his hand in dismissal and Naruto could have sworn he heard the tall ninja snort. "There is no 'bad' element. It is curious, though…wind affinities are quite rare in the Land of Fire. However, it is a very versatile element, primarily known for its ability to cut." At Naruto's lost expression, Kakuzu sighed. "The wind element is sharper than any blade, able to cut through virtually any object with relative ease. I will train you to hone that ability in time.

"However, you have done enough for today. We will get something to eat and then get some rest. There is much to be done tomorrow, and time—"

"—is money," finished Naruto before Kakuzu could. Kakuzu blinked once more in surprise before smirking beneath his mask. Clever brat. You and I will get along just fine.


Kakuzu woke later than normal, taking advantage of Onanji's anonymity to be a bit more relaxed than he might normally be. He sat up, head scratching the top of the tent he had bought the previous day, and watched Naruto sleep as cluttered thoughts roamed his mind.

The boy was talented, Kakuzu would grant him that. He seemed to have an unusually large amount of stamina, which for ninja translated to a larger chakra capacity (always a good thing). Although his grasp of language was a bit lagging – and Kakuzu assumed therefore that his reading and writing talents were also behind – Ryo would be around to fix that; such basics were more important than any of the ninja arts Kakuzu could teach him at this point, serving as the foundation of his education. Ryo wasn't necessary – after all, Kakuzu could read and write and execute other simple educational exercises – but with the teacher taking Naruto under his wing, Kakuzu was free to bounty hunt and keep his coffers flowing while Naruto learned.

Plus, Kakuzu was sure that he would end up killing the kid if he was forced to remain trapped in one place training him. He'd lived by himself for far too long to so quickly adjust to a life of caring for another human being. Besides, as it stood, the blond was simply going to be an asset to his operation; his intention was to raise the boy to become a competent shinobi and then release him upon the world, taking a percentage of his future income to offset the cost of training him. It was a long-term investment, in no small part because the bounty hunter didn't have experience in teaching, and because his own growth was based on rigorous self-improvement. Naruto would find a reason to grow strong or he would perish; the sink-or-swim methodology worked for him, so there was no reason it wouldn't work for the blond.

His pupil rolled over and mumbled slightly in his sleep, bringing Kakuzu back to his original train of thought. The brat seemed to have an impressive healing ability that he hadn't known of before, and more importantly, that Kakuzu, with his decades of experience, had been ignorant of. He assumed that its hidden nature was because no one else had tried to kill Naruto previously, and so the ability had remained dormant until it was needed – it wouldn't be the first time such a requirement was needed for the activation of a kekkei genkai – though it didn't explain why the former Taki-nin had never heard of it beforehand. Still, the chakra that such a Bloodline Limit required had to be massive, which would explain the boy's larger-than-average capacity, especially for an untrained five-year-old. There was also the way it felt, though…evil, tainted…

That chakra was more than just mere killing intent. Killing intent was based off of emotion either inadvertently leaked or intentionally used for intimidation purposes, and was typically dependent upon age and experience. But Naruto was too young to know that, nor did he really possess the capacity to utilize it, which meant that the nature of the chakra itself was evil. There were also those strange whisker-like markings on Naruto's cheeks, though that could simply be a physical manifestation of some family trait, similar to Konoha's Inuzuka clan.

Still, Kakuzu wouldn't write off any potential explanations until he could definitely rule them out. He couldn't tell for sure what was different about Naruto, but there was something different. Until that time…

"Get up, brat, time to start training." Naruto groaned but woke up nonetheless, groggily following Kakuzu outside the tent. What followed was Naruto's first of many rather brutal training sessions to prepare him physically for the life of a shinobi.

Several hours later, Kakuzu made out the figure of Ryo approaching their training spot. The teacher carried a scroll under one arm and a backpack over the opposite shoulder. He stopped in front of the taller man, watching as Naruto finished a series of stretches and calisthenics that the bounty hunter had shown him. Kakuzu cleared his throat and Naruto looked up, face morphing into a confused expression as his gaze settled on Ryo.

"Naruto," Kakuzu stated, voice brusque and business-like, "this is Ryo. I have asked him to teach you how to read and write properly, as well as to make sure you learn math and whatever else he considers pertinent. You will show him respect while he is here, and you will pay close attention to what he has to teach you. While not directly related to being a shinobi, these subjects will affect your life and sharpen your mind; a good mind is a valuable tool. Finish up here while I have a word with your…teacher."

Kakuzu beckoned Ryo to follow him out of earshot. Once they were a safe distance away, he leaned down into Ryo's face and stared intently at the man, an intimidation tactic he'd learned worked wonderfully on civilians due to his unusual eyes. "I will be leaving on and off for missions during our stay here. While I am gone, I expect that you will house and guard Naruto with your life. Am I understood?" When Ryo nodded, Kakuzu dismissed him with a wave of his hand. "Good. Now, your pupil is waiting. I have some business to take care of, but I will most likely be back tonight. He is under your jurisdiction until then." Then Kakuzu strode off, leaving a visibly shaken Ryo to walk over to Naruto and introduce himself. Spreading out the scroll he had with him, he began to tutor his newest student.


A year passed without incident. Just as he'd said, Kakuzu disappeared rather frequently to hunt rogue ninja, partially for the money and partially to vent his frustration that it appeared he was getting soft. He would remind himself that the time, effort, and frustration was all for an ultimate purpose that would benefit him down the line, but it didn't change the fact that mentoring such a young, impressionable child was something he'd never even considered putting on his bucket list…especially since some of his expeditions were really just outings to make sure there were no shinobi targeting his young pupil. During these trips, Naruto would stay with Ryo, who despite his fear of Kakuzu, learned to like and enjoy Naruto's company; the boy listened to anything he taught with rapt attention, hanging off of every word.

In addition to his daily workouts, which consisted mainly of running, stretching, and shadow-fighting, Naruto was often tested by Kakuzu and Ryo on random subjects pertaining to anything and everything. Kakuzu realized rather quickly that Naruto was able to grasp general concepts pretty swiftly for someone his age, despite his previous learning handicap. And while Naruto would never be as smart as Kakuzu himself, the blond was clever and cunning, able to pick out flaws in strategies and set up traps on a level that surprised the bounty hunter. With the right training and teachers, it looked as though Naruto could've been (or still could be) the prodigy of whatever clan or family he belonged to.

The bounty hunter heavily suspected that part of Naruto's drive to learn came from a desire to try to impress him. Throughout their interactions, Kakuzu always remained aloof of any attachment for his pupil, and so he looked to the bounty hunter for approval. It was an awkward notion, probably because the former Taki-nin knew that it was how he had grown up, and the idea of an emotional connection with the blond was…distasteful…but he had to admit that it was an effective stratagem. Naruto was a tool, a means to an end, and despite his apparent potential, he had a long way to go before he became truly useful to Kakuzu.

Perhaps it is time to start teaching him the basics of ninjutsu. It will take some time for him to master the artI suppose I should start when I return to the village.

Kakuzu was currently headed out on another hunt, traversing the border between the Lands of Grass and Rain to head to the southern part of the Land of Earth. Rumors of a skilled missing-nin from Kusagakure – the Village Hidden in Grass – had started floating around, and Kakuzu wanted to cash in on the new high bounty before someone else did.

"Oh, he seems to be on a mission. Do you think it's okay to distract him for a few moments?"

The tall ninja paused in his trek as something green melded from the ground not twenty feet in front of him. The green thing opened to reveal a man with short green hair and yellow eyes, body chromatically split in two – right side solid black, left side snowy white – and engulfed by what appeared to be a large Venus Fly Trap. Wrapped around his body was a full black cloak (much like his own, Kakuzu noted) decorated with red clouds. Kakuzu prepared himself for anything, unsure of how to react to this strange appearance by someone he didn't recognize from a Bingo book. He would be hard-pressed to admit it, but anyone who could sneak up on him so unexpectedly – heedless of the fact that Kakuzu wasn't a sensor-type – was someone to be wary of. "Who are you?" he demanded. "What do you want?"

"We are Zetsu," spoke a darker voice than the first, and Kakuzu blinked as he postulated that the different colors of Zetsu were probably separate personalities, "and we are here to make you an offer."

He peered intently at the person calling himself – themselves – Zetsu. "What technique was that? Your approach was undetectable. Even Moguragakure no Jutsu is incapable of doing that."

"That was my— shut up, fool!" hissed the black side. "Leader-sama said to tell him what he needs to know, not every detail. He does not need to know what our abilities are."

Kakuzu stared, the mere act of watching two halves of the same person argue with himself allowing him to drop his guard slightly. It also did not appear as if this…ninja…was looking to fight him. He cleared his throat. "You mentioned an offer; I will hear you out."

"Thanks, Kakuzu-san," chirped the white half. "Have you heard of a group known as 'Akatsuki'?"

"No."

"A shame then, but to be expected."

Kakuzu's eyes narrowed; that almost sounded like an insult, and he had a relatively low tolerance for people who pissed him off. Especially ones who had the capacity to sneak up on him. "What is 'Akatsuki'?"

"We are a group of S-class missing-nin, much like you, working towards a united goal of world domination," Zetsu explained.

The bounty hunter quirked an eyebrow. "And how exactly do you plan on accomplishing that?"

"Have you heard of the Bijū or the term 'Jinchūriki'?"

"I have heard stories of the Bijū, chakra monsters of enormous power, and of Jinchūriki, human hosts with these creatures sealed inside of them, but my knowledge of them is limited beyond the fact that they supposedly exist. I admit that I do not find it overly pertinent to trifle with such matters myself." Kakuzu had a tendency to ignore the outside world when the people in it weren't mentioned in his Bingo Book, and the political implications of learning about Jinchūriki didn't appeal to him; he'd had enough of the double-talk that pervaded most of the governments of the Hidden Villages to last a lifetime. He thought he heard Zetsu's black side scoff. Wanting to show him up, he continued, "However, I have heard that my home village has a Jinchūriki within its possession, though I have not yet taken the time to confirm the veracity of this information."

"Interesting," Zetsu mused, "we have not heard of Takigakure's creation of a Jinchūriki; that will need to be looked into. However, the other rumors you have heard are accurate. There are nine Bijū ranging from the Ichibi to the Kyūbi, most of which are sealed into humans known as 'Jinchūriki'. These humans are generally granted some form of power from their demon, have the capability to access the Bijū's chakra, and can normally be identified by some physical trait of their Bijū. It's Akatsuki's desire to capture and seal all the Bijū in order to attain our goal."

"It seems unlikely that you would just choose S-class criminals at random to join your organization. What part would I play in this?"

"…He is much smarter than I gave him credit for," commented the black half to the white half. "Yes, very," the white side responded. To Kakuzu, he said, "Akatsuki requires a lot of funds in order to run properly. Since you're a bounty hunter, you would be really good at helping us out, plus any contacts you've gathered over the years. Also, whispers of your power abound if you know where to listen. Your ability to use multiple elements in conjunction with your analytical prowess would be a great asset in the capture of the Bijū and success for Akatsuki's goal."

It appeared to Kakuzu that Zetsu was done talking, and so the two stared at each, Kakuzu's gaze glassy as he thought over the proposition. Akatsuki's information network was…interesting, to say the least. With how long it had been since his defection from the Hidden Waterfall, and his own covert activities, few people even knew he was still alive, so the fact that Zetsu had managed to discover his existence was…impressive. His lack of knowledge with respect to Takigakure's Jinchūriki was a little surprising, especially since that seemed to be Akatsuki's target, but Kakuzu's former home was notorious for trying to hoard power in secret, and as a small nation, it was entirely feasible that it could be overlooked as a target.

Disregarding the strange inconsistencies in Akatsuki's intelligence, Kakuzu had to admit that the offer was intriguing, almost tempting. A year ago, he would have had no reason to not accept the offer: world domination, a wide array of powerful allies with a common goal, not to mention the money he could get from the alliance…

A vision of Naruto, the blond-haired brat with strange abilities and great potential appeared in his mind's eye. He refocused on Zetsu and calmly stated, "Tempting as it is, I will have to decline your offer. While I have no problem attempting to form a mutually beneficial relationship with Akatsuki, I am uninterested in membership at this time."

"Very well," muttered the black side. "We will contact you at a later time to collect any relevant information. Perhaps then you will be interested in our offer."

"And how will I know who is Akatsuki?"

Zetsu's black side sneered. "Anyone wearing this black cloak with red clouds is a member of Akatsuki; the dawning of a new age, red with blood. It's rather poetic, isn't it?" finished Zetsu's white half with a smile. With that, Zetsu melted back into the ground and Kakuzu was left to continue his journey with a multitude of new thoughts in mind…but one in particular.

Bijū and Jinchūriki, hm? Interesting.

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