There's No Such Thing as an Easy Mission
Never did Naruto think that working in a kitchen would be so exciting. The thrills of meeting new and interesting people every day and getting to be surrounded by his favourite food for hours at a time almost made him rethink his lifestyle. This train of thought often caused him to crinkle his nose in thought. Maybe if he was ever disabled in battle and was forced to retire he could work in a ramen stand. It was definitely something that even after almost a solid month of doing 6 times a week he never got bored of.
Wiping his forehead and pushing some dangling blonde strands back into his headband, Naruto plunged his hands into the steaming tub of water in front of him and pulled the plug, causing all of the dirty dish water to drain. Before he could start to dry them the bells on the bottom of the door curtains rang and the blonde snapped his head up.
"Dad!" He called with a large grin that Jiraiya gladly returned. Naruto gave a glance at his boss, who in turn raised a hand with all 5 fingers extended signalling that he was willing to allow the blonde a 5 minute break, and folded down the top of his apron to dry his hands on.
Jiraiya waited until Naruto was seated before saying, "How is your shift? Was the dinner rush busy today?" Naruto shrugged and said, "A bit, but no-one seems to be ordering out much tonight so I've been staying mostly in the kitchens. What's up? Want some ramen? You don't usually come to visit." The frown that Jiraiya formed on his face made Naruto's heart skip a beat.
"It's about Kaori-chan." The older man turned his eyes so that they didn't meet Naruto's. The younger blonde knew that this day was coming soon and had tried to prepare for it, but the suddenness caught him unawares and so his heart started beating faster and his face drained of colour. Thankfully to his boss who was eavesdropping, it looked an awful lot like he was worried about his sister-in-law and not about the exciting flee and possible fight to the deaths that were about to come his way.
"Is she going to be ok? Is there something wrong with the baby?" Naruto managed to choke out. To be perfectly honest, Naruto didn't have to act as hard as he had originally thought he would. Living with Jiraiya, Beni, Minato, and Kushina was a lot of fun. Sometimes he would find it so easy to fall into his role that he would have to remind himself that he was on a mission. Thinking about how he missed Himawari and Obito certainly helped though, he hoped they both enjoyed the gifts he had gotten them.
Jiraiya shrugged and said, "Well as you know she went into labour last night, we all heard her screaming. Beni and the midwife say that it's going to be a really hard birth," Jiraiya lowered his voice and, although still loud enough for the eavesdropping ramen chef to hear, still managed to sound sombre and choked said, "The midwife used to be a medic nin in her younger days and she says that the baby might not make it and Kaori's vitals are starting to drop. Makoto's an absolute mess."
Naruto paled considerably more. That was pretty much code for 'your stuff has been packed for a week, and the plan is going to be put into motion tonight, so be prepared and on guard.' Still, it stung to hear that his fake family was falling apart. At least he'd get to be around when Kushina and Minato finally stopped being stupid and started their own inevitable family down the line.
"Are you going to be ok?" Jiraiya asked, placing a large hand on his shoulder. Naruto nodded but didn't speak. Jiraiya stood up and stretched slightly, but pushed down on Naruto shoulder when he moved to join him.
The older man gave him a kindly smile and said, "No, finish your shift. Time will fly and maybe by the time you come home tonight you'll be an uncle." Naruto look absolutely downtrodden but Jiraiya just smiled tiredly. "If anything happens I'll come get you, I swear. Ok?" Naruto nodded, "Ok. Bye Dad, tell Ni-san and Ne-chan that I wish my best, ok?" Jiraiya nodded and left with a tinkle of the bells.
As soon as he had left, Naruto's boss came around the corner and gave the boy a sympathetic smile. "If the late dinner rush isn't too bad tonight I'll let you home early." "Thanks boss." Naruto replied, trying to calm the quivering in his voice that his boss thankfully mistook as trying not to cry.
His boss held up a long receipt and said, "Well, in the meantime, you have three deliveries due in the next hour so I suggest we work extra hard for Kaori-san's sake!" Naruto shook his head and gave a small laugh as he grabbed for the ticket.
Minato put on the act of a worried father-to-be very well. He paced the area outside the small house built into the rock for an hour before going inside only to be kicked out again by the midwife. Several older neighbours, men and women alike tried to console him in their own ways, and even another man who claims his wife had just had their first child a mere week ago told him that he had nothing to worry about and he acted the same way when his wife was giving birth.
Minato acted grateful for the reassurance, despite the difference in situations. He was extremely nervous that something would happen tonight when Kushina moved in for the kill on the council member. He had spent the last month training for a desk job in the Tsuchikage tower, just a small job that Beni had set him up with until he could find something that could better support his growing family, and along with the numerous insiders that only Jiraiya knew about, they were pretty sure that they had this assassination down to an art. Butterflies were trying to burst through his belly though, and not so deep down, Minato was anticipating something going wrong.
After Kushina went in all contact was going to be severed until their rendezvous outside of the village. He was worried for a multitude of things, but he was mostly worried that although she looked perfectly healthy, it wasn't even two months prior that she had been beaten into pulp. The rate at which she had recovered from that was surprising, and he was starting to suspect that she either had a bloodline that allowed faster healing, or she was just being stubborn as usual. He was leaning towards the second option.
Another old woman came to pat him on the back and tell him that everything would be fine, but his mind was miles away, trying to visually map out and plan the entire ordeal, including the major and minor details that were involved. Most of Kushina and Minato's nights in their embarrassingly shared bedroom were spent trying not to look at each other in the eye while they discussed over and over the details of how things should be going down.
His cheeks reddened a bit at that. He realized over this past month how much he actually liked this girl, but despite Naruto telling him how much she liked him back (enough to try dating at very least is what he said) he just couldn't muster up the courage to initiate anything. He resolved to ask her on a date by the time they reached Konoha. Hopefully she wasn't bored stiff with him and would say yes. Smacking his hand down on his fist and wearing a determined face, Minato slowly remembered what was supposed to be happening in the building and degraded back into pacing and fretting, soon to be joined by Jiraiya who was back from informing Naruto, and his friend named 'bottle of sake'.
Fortunately for Naruto the late dinner rush died down to a near crawl. His boss had told him that after he finished this delivery he could cash out, take his tips, and go home to see if he was an uncle yet.
It was almost 11 pm and it was pitch black out. Most of the shops were closed, with only a few bars dotting the long main road of Iwa. Naruto took a deep breath and gazed around. This was probably his last night in Iwa. Well, possibly, he wasn't sure how long they had to stay in the village to process the 'death' of Kaori.
The customer he was delivering to was a regular, and Naruto delivered to his place at least once or twice a week. Sometimes he ordered ramen, and sometimes not, but he always tipped generously and for that Naruto couldn't help but like him, despite being a bit of a snob. He was a director of merchants or something and was fairly well-off. His house was a large building that was ornately painted and near the centre of the village where all of the other rich people lived. When Naruto approached the gates the guard waved with a smile that the blonde returned, and let him in. He ordinarily just dropped the food off in the kitchens, but when he saw that the lights were off he hesitated.
"Hello? Delivery for Taika-san?" He half shouted, hoping that someone heard him. Thankfully a sleepy head poked around a corner rubbing a tired eye. She eyed Naruto up and down and said, "Oh, it's you. Uh, Ok, here follow me. I'll..." she broke off in a yawn before saying, "I'll take you to Taika-san's den. He'll be working late again I suspect." Naruto nodded hiding his disdain at her blunt tone.
Naruto had never been in the house farther than the kitchens before and so he treated this like any 14 year old would and tried to stare everywhere at once excitedly. The place was sparsely but smartly decorated, with the odd tapestry here and a thoughtfully placed vase there, but it kind of underwhelmed the blonde. He hid his disappointment very well however; he wasn't stupid enough to accidently offend someone.
Before long they came upon a pair of guards that were relaxing against the wall. As soon as the woman leading him turned the corner, they both straightened and greeted her. When Naruto stepped into view, they both eyed him suspiciously.
"Uh..." Naruto held up his bag, "Delivery?" He said, smiling nervously. The closest guard took the bag from him and proceeded to open each container. Naruto started to protest but a glare from one of them shut him up. After taking a small taste from each container, the second guard frisked Naruto quickly. By the time the second guard was finished, the first had all of the containers closed and back in the bag.
"Sorry kid," he said, "Standard procedure. The Boss has been a little paranoid these days." Naruto shrugged and he guard continued.
"Just go down the hall and it's the first door on the right. Be sure to knock or you might get a face full of kunai." A look of apprehension must have entered Naruto's expression because the second guard started to laugh quietly. The first shook his head and pushed the blonde to get him started down the hall. He turned to thank the lady who took him here, but she had already disappeared.
The guards watched him disappear down the hall and knock quietly on the door. When they heard Taicho's voice calling him in, they both turned back to face the opposite direction. This was the easiest job that the pair had taken up so far. Their boss was paranoid, but not in any real danger, which made this very good and safe money for the pair. They were childhood friends, both academy dropouts that had enlisted in the reserves. The reserves got most of the at-home jobs, like guarding houses, doing security patrols and the like. The one thing that separated the two of them from the rest of the group, and something that often had gotten them jobs before this was their choice of weapon.
Long bamboo spears that stood at almost 6 feet with an extra foot of sharp steel tips stood beside them. They were hard to use, and although they were kind of awkward to use in a house, the reach that they gave them in hallways made them worth it, despite their horrible throwing accuracy.
A crackling noise followed by a crash and the sound of glass breaking had both guards suddenly alert and running down the hallway with their spears wobbling the entire way. The first guard whipped the door open and blanched. He stopped in the doorway and was suddenly pushed forward as the second guard rammed into him. When the second guard saw what the first one was gaping at, he too stopped to gape.
There standing in front of him was the ramen boy. His face was white and his eyes were wide. On the ground in front of him was a broken glass dish, it contents in a heap among the shards. Behind the desk that the bowl had been knocked off of was Taicho's body still sitting in his chair. His chest had a large blackened hole in it where his heart had been. There was minimal blood due to the wound being cauterized as the attack had passed through it. His head, however, was being held a good few feet away from his body in the hands of a figure dressed completely in black, even his face was covered, save for the eyes. All four people looked at each other for a heartbeat before everything broke out in chaos.
Minato stared at the clock. It was nearing 1:00 in the morning. Kushina had been 'dead' for over 2 hours now, and he suspected that she was almost, if not already finished her task and was on her way out of the village. The blonde paced the kitchen and glanced at the clock every couple of minutes. Naruto should have been home 45 minutes ago. His shift ended at midnight.
Sitting, he reasoned with himself. He simply could have been held up at work... Sighing loudly he forced himself to relax. Jiraiya was already on his way to pick the boy up. The little brat was going to get a good talking too about punctuation when he got home. The thought of that seemed almost normal and Minato managed to relax for a few minutes before he decided to, for the fourth time this evening, recheck and repack their bags to make sure he hadn't missed anything.
Only the most experienced of ninja would have been able to detect the hint of anger mixed with worry in his gait. He sure hoped the boy had a good excuse for picking tonight of all nights to come home late. Reaching the familiar stretch of road, he was surprised to see that the lights and gate to the ramen shop were down. The lights upstairs were on, so Jiraiya rang the buzzer.
"Hello?" The crackly voice that Jiraiya identified as Naruto's boss answered.
"It's Raido, where is Naoki?" The man didn't answer but pressed the button to open the door. Instantly all anger that Jiraiya possessed was flushed away and replaced with an intense blossom of worry. Jiraiya was met by the man at the top of the stairs with his hands on his hips.
"I was hoping you could tell me. He left for his delivery at about 11 and didn't come back. I just assumed that you grabbed him to take him home to see the baby. Now I'm worried though." Jiraiya grabbed his forehead and closed his eyes. The ramen chef continued carefully. "How is Kaori-san? Has she had the baby yet?" Jiraiya looked up at the chef with a sad look.
"We didn't come right away because we thought it would be better to let ourselves get organized before Naoki came home. I should have. Dammit!" He smacked the stairwell-wall with a dull thump. Jiraiya continued quickly, he needed to find Naruto and fast. "Kaori-chan... There was too much blood. She went into shock and died."
The chef paled and said in a quivering voice, "And the baby?" Jiraiya shook his head and the chef let out a breath. He pulled his order pad from his pocket and flipped through to near the end. Ripping the sheet out, he gave it to Jiraiya and said, "This was his last delivery. Please make sure to find him, he's my best employee..." Jiraiya glanced at the address and nodded.
When the toad sage arrived at the block his heart jumped up into his throat. There were shinobi everywhere. Not very many spectators due to the early hour, but enough that the shinobi were forming a perimeter around the address that Jiraiya had been given. He crunched the paper in his hand. He knew this address.
Limping up to the shinobi who looked like he was the leader, he was stopped by another just a few metres from him by another ninja.
"Can I help you sir?" This man looked to be a chuunin at the very least. Jiraiya looked at him with determination and disparity. He said, "What happened here?" The shinobi hesitated before saying, "Nothing that concerns a civilian."
Jiraiya looked at the shinobi and replied with a bit of an edge to his tone. "I would like to speak to your commander please." The shinobi was about to refuse when the commander called his name and told him to let Jiraiya come over. Jiraiya was extremely afraid. If Naruto had been caught by guards or another shinobi, the chances that he wouldn't be put to interrogation were very slim. Shinobi don't really believe in being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"Is there something I can help you with sir?" The shinobi said, rather respectfully considering Jiraiya was posing as a civilian. Jiraiya looked around nervously before speaking.
"Can I ask what happened?" The commander pursed his lips and crossed his arms. "Please," Jiraiya continued, "My son was supposed to have come near here a while ago and he hasn't come back yet. It's been a few hours and I'm really worried..." Jiraiya sounded almost pathetic, but every part of it was real. He didn't want to lose this kid on this mission. The commander's face fell a bit and his eyes softened.
"What does your son look like?" The commander said. Jiraiya knitted his eyebrows together. "He's about 14, blonde, blue eyes, about this tall," Jiraiya motioned with his hand before continuing, "and he's got three scars on either side of his cheeks."
The commander was frowning now. He motioned over one of the ninja that was coming through the gate and whispered something in his ear. The ninja quickly whispered something back and the commander shook his head.
Turning back to Jiraiya the commander said in a soft voice, "I don't want this getting out, but you'll find out tomorrow anyway. The owner of this building was assassinated a few hours ago." Jiraiya's eyes widened in feign surprise but very real fear. The commander continued in his soft voice, "The assassin, unfortunately attacked both of the guards, killing one of them, but the other survived miraculously, and the medics say that he may even survive the night. He claims that if it wasn't for a delivery boy who was startled by the sudden appearance of the assassin, they would have never heard a thing." Jiraiya realized he was holding his breath, and let it out slowly. They definitely didn't have him for interrogation by his tone. Maybe just the standard questioning that civilians had to go through.
"I don't really want to be the one telling you this, so I'm very, very sorry. You say your son was the delivery boy? He was killed in the struggle. The guard says that he got in the line of fire from the assassin and was killed instantly. The guard also said that the assassin took the body with him, probably to hide evidence of the boy ever being there. I'm really, really sorry. Please, go home and sleep, tomorrow you'll be visited by us again and they will be able to explain it better." The commander gave a short bow of his head and back away to continue his duties, leaving Jiraiya gaping.
Jiraiya managed to limp over to a wall before sliding down it and sitting down. He knew that Kushina was the assassin, and he knew that she took his body to hide village secrets, but these facts wouldn't bring him back.
How was he going to tell Minato?
End Chapter 11
A new chapter? In less than a month? PERPOSTEROUS. Anyway, it's a lot easier to write this arc now that I had figured it all out. I don't want to promise anything because I don't know how life will treat me, but you may be able to expect another chapter in the next few weeks. Maybe even next week. We'll see!