Mei's narrowed eyes lingered on me with a suspicious gaze for a heart stopping moment. My mind raced, trying to figure out how exactly I managed to do enough that Mei herself had shown up. It could be that Zabuza somehow tipped her off, which was bad news for my whole 'Recruit Zabuza' thing that I had going on. Still I quaked appropriately under her gaze and didn't break character.
I was a professional.
Her glare slid from me to Gato.
"I see that you are finding time to beat helpless women, but can't find time to make sure that our supplies reach us in a timely manner." Mei stated as she looked away.
There was no way that Mei didn't know I wasn't a civilian. The henge could do quite a lot, but it couldn't disguise the fact it was currently using chakra, which quickly ousted you when you were trying to pretend to be a civilian.
Mei was apparently playing this one by ear.
"Not my fault. Something has been attacking my ships. Locals are blaming some sort of golden crab thing." Gato snarled, spittle flying form his mouth.
"And you didn't feel the need to contact us over this problem?" Mei's voice was cold and sharpened with killing intent.
To his credit, Gato didn't back down. "It was my problem. I was going to handle it. Bad business to make customers deal with my problem."
"It's our problem when out troops don't get their equipment." Mei scoffed. "I will deal with your crab problem. In the meantime, I will take this girl as well."
Yeah, I saw that coming.
"No! This bitch was caught stealing from me! She had a partner on the inside and I need to get the information out of her!"
"You...caught her stealing?" Mei asked with a raised eyebrow and looked down at me.
"No! I didn't! I swear, they were gifts!" I begged.
"Quiet you!" Gato swung the cane at me.
Mei caught it.
"Allow me. These thefts and your problem with crabs might be related." Mei stated and shot me a knowing look. "I'm going to question her while I fix all your other problems"
"What!? You can't-"
Chakra size and the intensity of killing intent are directly linked. Killing intent was like an emotion that flared brightly in chakra. Something that humans had always been aware of, training or not. Something in our lizard brain, something more primal and raw than most humans deal with, screams at us that death approaches. Screams that we should be afraid. When backed by all the chakra of a Kage level ninja? That scream is very loud.
"I can do exactly what I want. We warned you what consequences would come if you failed on your end of the bargain. Be glad I am only giving a warning." Mei turned to me. "Come. You have explaining to do."
Gato's face had vein's bulging and so much blood pumped to his face it had gone past red and was turning a shade of purple. His fists clenched at his side in rage, he said nothing as I stood up and walked out the door with Mei.
Well, if nothing else, this adventure was worth it just for seeing that face.
It was a short walk down the hall before Mei spoke.
"Stop right there." She stated before backing up several more steps from me. "Who are you? Why are you here?"
A thin layer of mist started to creep into the room. Mei's acid mist. The technique was not one I wanted to face indoors. Smaller space meant it concentrated quicker allowing it to ramp up to deadly levels quicker than an open space would allow.
Lava in a confined space had similar issues. Splatter effect was a major problem in a narrow hallway.
I considered that for a moment before dropping my henge, showing my true self, floral dress with gaudy jewelry and all. I brought my own chakra to the surface. Chances are Mei wouldn't want to fight here unless she was very confident she could win. My reputation tended to not make people feel confident.
Mei jumped even further down the hall from me and got into a fighting stance.
"Ara ara. No need to be frightened." I said soothingly. "I'm not here to fight."
"You're..." Mei paused in consideration before continuing with clear confusion, "Orochimaru?"
"Well yes, but no." I answered. "I go by Orochitama these days."
"Orochi...tama." She asked in disbelief, but got herself under control adopting an aloof and haughty expression. "Fine. Whatever you wish to call yourself. What are you doing here? What are your intentions with Mist?"
"Mist?" I asked lightly, "Don't you mean the Mist rebellion?"
Mei's expression never changed. "Rebellion? Mist has no rebellion."
"Of course. How silly of me." I chirped back. "Well I wasn't here about the Mist rebellion. Oops. How silly of me. I wasn't here about the incredibly legitimate business that you have with Gato. I was here for Gato himself. I knew he had some sort of ninja backer but I wasn't sure who. I was simply beating around the bushes to see where he'd run to."
"And what is it that you plan to do now that you know?" She asked.
Now that was the question here, wasn't it? There were plenty of causes that I'd just screw out of this deal and leave them, but the Mist rebellion was a cause that I actually agreed with. Plus it was a poke in the eye of Akatsuki to help them. The number of people that could move product on a large scale and were willing to it with dubious legality were few and far between. Not to say it didn't happen often, just that the people that did it often found themselves having unfortunate accidents. There is a solid chance that Gato was the only person that could have met their shipping needs. Losing him might very well kill the rebellion before it could truly take off.
"Well I had need of my own lines of transport and some capital. Gato Shipping seemed like an excellent choice. Assuming that Gato had no part of it."
Mei didn't move outwardly at that, but her hands were starting to stray slightly closer together, probably restraining herself from throwing ninjutsu already. Mist didn't want to share. Which made sense. When it came to knowing how to share the various hidden villages where like greedy toddlers, only with even more biting.
"As you can see, his services are unavailable currently. So sorry that you had to waste your time." Mei stated in a tone that was anything but sorry.
"What if someone that wasn't Gato took over?" I asked, "I'm certain that if one of your definitely-not-rebellious ninja took over I could do lots of business with you?"
I was lying through me teeth. While I did need supply lines, I needed capital to get everything going, the supply lines were of secondary importance. The real question was if they were open to cooperation if they held the control.
"We can't replace him. His business collapses if he disappears and if a ninja is in charge of it then all the villages will come out of the woodwork to tear it apart. If we could replace him, we would have."
Aha! That wasn't a no. Meaning they are desperate enough to play ball. Meaning if I manage to seize control of the company they'll still participate, they just won't be happy about it. That just left one more question I needed answered.
"Such a loss. At least I did get to meet with Zabuza. I can't believe you all let that one get away."
Mei paused. I had just mentioned I knew that one of Mist's missing-nin was here. A very high profile one. Mei either needed to go kill him, as a good Mist-nin should, or let someone who attempted to kill the Mizukage go. If he was part of the rebellion she'd let him go. If he wasn't then killing him and bringing in his head would help make her look loyal.
Which also meant I'd have to stick close by to stop her from killing him if that's what she decides to do.
But she also knew that was a trap that she couldn't say anything about. So she did what most people do in that situation.
"You know Gato's backers now. Are you going to back off? Or are things going to get ugly?" Mei asked as lava began to drip from her fingers.
"With someone as beautiful as you around? Terrifying, awe-inspiring, or even sticky, but certainly never ugly." I give a wink.
That brought Mei up short. "Huh?"
"Ara ara. You should learn to take a compliment better, Terumi-chan." I said with a dismissive wave of my hand. "I look forward to meeting you again."
I dashed away, slithering through an air vent that would be impossible to fit through if I had to worry about pesky things like a normal human skeleton.
Mei watched...whoever that was leave but she didn't drop her guard. There was a strong possibility the woman was still hanging around waiting for her to lower her guard. She wasn't confident in her victory and the fight would almost certain destroy the building and the residents here. Including Gato. Which would have felt nice but would have been very inconvenient for the rebellion.
Mei heaved a sigh and warily walked towards another room. There was still some other ninja in the room with Gato, but revealing him might get this Orochitama to start something.
The question also was how much, if any, of what was just discussed was true. Orochitama could easily have been hired by the Mizukage to flush out rebels. The obviously mad mind of Yagura would probably plan something as ridiculous as a flirty house mother themed Orochimaru. Which, really, could only have come from a very special kind of crazy.
Her feet soon lead her to a door. Zabuza's door. She paused and considered her options.
Orochitama knew both of them were here. Leaving Zabuza alive could compromise her position. The rebellion wasn't ready to strike yet. They didn't have the right people in the right places yet. The smart thing to do here would probably be to kill him.
She raised a hand and knocked on the door.
"Enter." Came the gruff voice.
Mei obliged and took in the room. Zabuza was in a sorry state. He was pale, more so than usual, and had bags under his eyes that spoke of deep weariness. Zabuza's little pet had come to their feet and held a senbon needle in each hand.
"Mei." The man grunted from his spot.
"Zabuza." Mei responded. "We got your message. Any reason you failed to mention Konoha's most infamous missing-nin lurking around?"
"You wouldn't have responded as quickly to a report saying sex changed Orochimaru broke into my room and started flirting with me." Zabuza said simply. She would have scolded him if it hadn't been true. Everyone would have sat around trying to figure out what the message actually meant before acting.
"So it's not just me she flirts with." She observed.
"She does it to unbalance people." He said simply. "She says whatever she can to keep the other person feeling out of their depths, alternates between obscuring what she's saying so much you have to think about all the implications then jumps to being blunt."
Mei gave a hum of agreement as she looked Zabuza up and down again. "Your report also said the Copy-Ninja is here. You said you were handling him. How's that going?"
"I'll kill him in three days." Zabuza responded.
Mei gave a raised eyebrow.
"He's struggling with chakra exhaustion. I'll be fighting fit by the time he's well enough to do anything."
Mei hummed an agreement as she looked at Zabuza. The only sound in the room being Haku, who shifted into a more aggressive stance as the tension in the room grew.
The last fight between Zabuza and Kakashi had clearly been close. So close that another fight between them was questionable. The bridge builder issue was of little importance compared to the threat of Orochitama. And the information that Orochitama now knew. If she killed Zabuza now and brought back his head then this little side trip she took while out on a mission would seem perfectly reasonable. Plus she gave it a 50/50 shot that Zabuza would survive his next encounter with Kakashi.
"Made up your mind yet?" Zabuza asked. "You won't get a better time than now."
All her training told her to go for it. There was more risk to keeping him alive than reward. It wasn't like they couldn't send someone else to kill the bridge builder later, but keeping him alive risked her cover and by extension the cover of the whole rebellion. It was a hard choice, but wars were made of hard choices.
The only thing stopping her was a little voice asking how many hard choices led to Yagura being in charge of Mist.
"This Orochitama knows you are Rebellion now. Do you think she'll use it against us?" She asked, hoping he'd say something to tip the scales back in his favor.
"I don't know. She's tough to get a read on. But, she approached me with a job offer, said she's willing to wait until this job's done but she wanted me to come and help train her people."
Tension melted from her. That was worth while.
"Good. If you're still alive after all this and she comes to you, accept, it'll give us a man on the inside. She's a chaotic element that can throw a wrench in our plans, but she could also be a wrench we can throw in Yagura's plans."
"This mean you aren't going to melt my face off with acid?" Zabuza asked dryly.
Mei scoffed. "Please Zabuza, you're a friend. I'd have killed you with lava."
I watched the window to Zabuza's room from a distance, Kusanagi at the ready, but Mei walked out of the room with no attempt on anyone's life. She was leaving him alive. Good.
I had fallen into a mental trap. I honestly had been expecting Akatsuki would be the ones to show up. This sort of thing seemed like it would have Kakuzu all over it. I missed the obvious. Zabuza tried to kill the Mizukage and got exiled. Of course the dissidents of Mist would want him. Location wise it was optimum for Mist.
Mei showing up had been pretty low on my expectations.
Which was a failure on my part. The realtor that read a manga in her teenage years overrode what the experience of a 50 year old ninja that trained his whole life thought might be going on. Which I'd probably think was a bad idea if that thinking didn't also say vivisection on children was a great way to pass the time.
"Hey, Boss Lady." Tayuya said as she approached. "Are we compromised?"
"I'm not sure yet." I answered. There was clearly no love lost between Gato and Mei, but I had no idea if she'd go to him and let him know what was going on. "Did he fall for it?"
"Oh yeah. As soon as you left, he threw a tantrum for a while then went to go count his money like a baby sucking on a pacifier. I know where he keeps his stuff now. If you move his bed, pull up his rug, and then remove some specific stones you'll find where he has a big ass safe hidden."
Under his bed? What was this, amateur hour?
"Ara ara! Excellent job, Tayuya-chan." I congratulated, the pink haired girl still clearly didn't know how to take praise. Not sure if it was because it came from me or if it was just because it was praise. "Well lets just hope Mei leaves soon. I don't want to fight her if I don't have to."
"You don't wanna fight her? Shit, who is that lady?" Tayuya asked.
"Terumi Mei. If things go how I expect, she'll be Mizukage within three years." I answer.
"Oh." Tayuya responded. "You..um-"
"No." I interrupt. "I don't want you or Kidomaru to participate in fighting her. You should run if it comes to that."
"Yeah." She said slowly, sounding relived and confused. "Good. Okay."
"You two might need to inconvenience Kakashi or Zabuza though. I'll probably be busy handling her."
"Inconvenience?" She asked.
"Don't go in for the kill. Even together those two have a decent shot of killing you." I answered before continuing with my orders. "Lay low for now. Give Gato some breathing room. Mei will be watching him for a while and we don't need her grabbing you."
"Sure thing. What about you Boss Lady?" She asked.
"I need to pass on a warning and give Kidomaru some orders." I replied.
"Sure. Meet you tonight at the bridge?"
"Yes. Stay safe Tayuya-chan."
I leapt away quickly. Kidomaru needed to be sure he didn't deploy anymore of his spiders. I was very confident that if he did it now it would end with his spiders, and possibly him, being turned into puddles. More importantly I needed to warn Kakashi.
Unlike with Zabuza, Mei could destroy the house and everyone in it with no warning and just a few seconds.
In seconds I found my way to Tazuna's home. For once I didn't release my hold on my chakra and announce my presence beforehand. I simply walked to the door and rapped a knuckle against it. Within moments Sasuke cracked open the door to peek through.
"Hello little boy, is your sensei home?" I chirped.
The door slammed shut.
I gave a soft giggle before a few moments later Kakashi came to the door and half opened it, hiding his right side, which was doubtlessly clutching a weapon just out of view. It really was commendable how much he still clung to his illusion of being able to actually do anything.
"What do you WANT!?" He said with the tone of desperate man screaming at the sky.
"Zabuza called for back-up. A kage level ninja showed up." I stated simply. "Another Mist nin. You might want to keep a closer eye on the kids. I'm gonna disappear."
The man flashed rapidly through a series of emotions before finally settling on a flat stare.
"So you're leaving then?" He asked.
"For now." I replied kindly. "Tell Tsunami-chan I'll catch up with her later."
The level of seriousness I was displaying seemed to be effecting Kakashi. I could actively see the weight of the world stacking up on his shoulders. Poor guy.
"Keep them safe Kakashi-kun."
"Of course." He responded without hesitation.
I leapt away. It appears my vacation in Wave would be coming to an end.