"Hello?" Chikane tried, rapping her knuckles lightly on the carved wooden door.
"Hello!" A voice answered, and a woman appeared behind her, a basket of vegetables in her arms. "Can I help you?" Her voice was friendly, but her brown eyes were narrowed with suspicion.
"Ako-san!" Both of the women turned to see the Hokage leaping over the compound wall. "We have a new - Chikane-san! You're here already?"
The woman blushed and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.
"Hai," she replied, gesturing to her lone bag. "I don't have that much luggage, Hokage-sama."
"I see," he replied pleasantly, turning to the woman he'd called Ako. "Ako-san, Chikane-san is the new nanny for Naruto. Chikane-san, this is my assistant and housekeeper, Ako-san."
If the housekeeper was at all perplexed by this unusual turn of events, she didn't show it at all. She simply nodded.
"Very good, Hokage-sama. I'll prepare the room, then?"
Gesturing, Chikane followed the two into the Shiro, Ako carrying her basket and Chikane's bag with apparent ease.
"Thank you, Ako-san," she said, and the housekeeper offered her a small smile before turning and heading down the corridor. Chikane watched her for a moment, and then turned to her employer, forehead creased. "That bag is a little heavy, Hokage-sama. Will she be-"
"Ako's tougher than she seems," Minato said with a smile. "She could manage five more easily."
"Are you sure I-?"
"I'm sure," he replied, touching her arm lightly, "Come on. I'll show you around. And you can call me Minato, you know."
He simply smiled slightly at her and turned, gesturing for her to follow him. Lifting an eyebrow, she did so. A few minutes and about twelve rooms later, Chikane was beginning to realize how big the Shiro really was. Her glance diverted to her guide, who looked as though he was trying not to laugh, and her eyes narrowed slightly.
"I think you're enjoying this."
"What?" He looked far too innocent.
"Knowing that I'm going to get lost in here."
"It can't be that hard."
"I think I'll just stay in my room the entire time."
"We can't have that, you're supposed to mind my son. I guess I'll have to take you everywhere."
Chikane lifted an eyebrow, guessing that he was teasing.
"I'm not going to be a burden on the most important men in the Village."
"That's true," he said, a feigned crease to his brow. "Then I'll just leave you in the middle of the house where you can't cause trouble while I'm busy and come and get you at the end of the day."
"I could think of a good deal of trouble I could cause," she said mischievously. He lifted an eyebrow, but they were interrupted by Ako, who offered to show Chikane to her room. Minato nodded at her, and speaking her thanks once more, she followed the housekeeper.
Delicately painted walls gave the room a soft, warm glow. Sakura trees in full bloom and drifting petals set the tone, and the recline pillows scattered throughout the room in complimenting shades of greens and whites and pinks beckoned one to relax. The slightly silly thought that the way she always smelled of cherry blossom allowed her to fit right in. She giggled, and Ako raised a brow, but didn't question her.
"There's a bathroom in through that door, and a sitting room through that one, with a phone for your private use," she explained, pointing as she spoke. "We serve meals at eight am, twelve pm, and five pm for Naruto-sama and yourself, though if you wish to eat later, just mention this to the cook and a meal will be put aside for you. You have Sundays off, and will receive your weekly payments the evening before. If you wish to leave the compound with Naruto-sama, you must bring an escort with you. Are you keeping up?"
"Eh, hai," Chikane answered hesitantly, and Ako sighed before continuing.
"Your duties are as follows: getting Naruto-sama washed, dressed and fed before eight am, and keep him occupied until it is time for the next meal. He has a bath at six pm and is in bed by seven pm. He has a tendency to explore, so you are expected to watch him closely. If he does manage to elude you, notify one of the shinobi posted outside. Any questions?"
"Hai, just one," Chikane managed, "I have signed up for some classes to improve my knowledge; is there any way I can take them after I have finished for the day?"
"Of course, I will speak to Nohara-san about this immediately. If that is all, Minami-san?"
"Oh, hai, thank you," she bowed hurriedly.
"Very well. One of the maids will fetch you for the evening meal. Please excuse me." With a dip of her head, Ako slipped from the room and shut the door quietly behind her. Chikane paused for a moment, just taking it all in that this was really happening before making a bee-line for her (she giggled) sitting room. And more importantly, the phone.
"Hai? Who is this?" The yelled-out words made her jump, and she pulled the phone away from her ear with a wince.
"Nee-san! It's Chikane."
"Stop shouting!" she scolded.
"Stop shouting," she said, a little louder.
"STOP SHOUTING!" she bellowed, and then flushed as she realized that most of the shinobi that were stationed around the compound had probably heard her.
"Oh! I thought you said bear-clouting."
"What? Why would I say 'bear-clouting'?" Chikane asked in confusion.
"I don't know. You tell me."
"Why were you shouting?"
"I was folding the laundry and there's a thunderstorm brewing."
"What is it now?"
"Are you eating in my ear?"
"No. I'm eating in the phone." Chikane made a face, but smiled at her sister's quirkiness.
"Right. How are you?"
"Missing you. When are you going to visit? The children would like to see you again, and I know Daiki misses you."
"I doubt that's going to happen."
"Explain yourself or I'll cut you with a cheese grater."
"Do you have one on hand?"
"No, but I have a lantern and I'll set you on fire with it."
"Why do you have a lantern?"
"Chiyo made one in school. You still haven't told me what you mean."
"You'll never guess where I am."
"Kiri," Mariko said immediately.
"What?! Mariko - no! I'm in the Hokage's Shiro." There was silence. "In Konoha. Ringing any bells?"
"The Hokage? Is he as gorgeous as they say?"
"Mariko! You're married, for goodness sake!"
"That I am, it doesn't mean I've lost the ability to look at and appreciate a handsome man!" her sister defended. "Is he short?"
"Iie. He's about six foot, give or take."
"What are you doing in his home?" She gasped. "You're not doing what I think you're doing, are you?"
"Oh, you're too innocent, Chi-chan," Mariko laughed. "I'll bet you can't even say 'testicles' out loud."
Chikane gaped, her cheeks turning scarlet.
"Of course I can!" she defended.
"Then say it."
"Why not? You're such a baby!"
"No, I just don't want anyone to hear!"
"Nee-san, you don't understand. The housekeeper, Ako - if she heard me saying it…"
"I'm not saying it, and we're getting off the subject."
"I'm not going to listen to what you have to say until you say 'testicles'."
"Say it! Look, I'll yell it first." Chikane took that as a warning and held the phone away from her ear as Mariko bellowed, "TESTICLES!" so loudly that she might as well have been in the room.
"That was not funny, Nee-san."
Cheeks burning, Chikane glanced around before whispering, "Testicles," into the phone, her cheeks flaming.
"That doesn't count!" Mariko snapped. "You whispered it!"
"You didn't say it wasn't allowed, so I win."
"Fine." For once, her sister decided not to sulk. "What did you want to say?" Chikane's face darkened at the reminder.
"You know how Okaa-san's a complete bitch, right?"
"Wait...she didn't try to-"
There was silence, and then Chikane held the phone from her ear as a stream of cuss-words flowed effusively from it. When it seemed Mariko was finally calming down after about sixty seconds, she returned the phone to her ear.
"Why not talk to Tou-chan?" Mariko suggested. "You know he'll put his foot down."
"Nee-san, I'm fine. Besides, he's still sick."
Mariko was silent for a moment. "Where does the Hokage come in?" she asked finally.
"I met him a few days after I came to the Village," Chikane said, leaning back. "He wasn't… wasn't exactly what he's rumoured to be. I mean, he is, but he's not."
"That was very clear."
"Eh, well… He's friendly and very pleasant. Mariko, stop trying to find something that isn't there. He's my employer, that's it."
"He hasn't kissed you yet?" Mariko sounded disappointed. Chikane scowled as her face grew warm.
"Anyway, I found his son outside by himself, and then he appeared out of nowhere and we talked. Today, I was approached by a Jōnin who took me to the Hokage, he hired me to look after his son, I packed up and come to his home - which is huge by the way - and I'm staying here."
"No offence, but why not mind children at home?"
"You know why."
"True. Well, I'm not going to keep you. You have work to do and Rin's starting to cry. So, not to be rude, but go away."
"Tell everyone I said hello, all right?"
"Tell the Hokage that if he hurts you, I'm coming to snap off each and every one of his appendages."
"Um, I doubt you would be able to."
"I don't care. Get off!"
"Fine! Since you don't want me to talk to you-"
"I'm sorry about what happened, Chi-chan," Mariko said, sounding serious. "Next time I see Kaa-chan, I'll poke her eyes out with my middle finger, okay?"
"Making me laugh."
"No problem. I'll tell the children you said hi. Bye."
Chikane sighed, reaching forward and up to put the handset on the receiver again.
She started, whipping her head around to see a maid standing in the doorway.
"Dinner is served, Oujo-san. If you would follow me," she said politely, gesturing. Chikane smiled and got to her feet.
"Of course. Lead the way."