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Summary: Kakashi and his team return a lost cat, but then find something fishy going on in a village on the borders of Grass and Fire countries.

The Law of Nonequivalent Exchange


Someone or something was following him. He could sense it from the slight tingle in his chakra. Something malevolent...

Konoha's Genin Team 7 was on its way back from escorting cargo from Fire Country to Wind Country. It was just a C mission, in case of bandits. Not a particularly dangerous assignment and nothing eventful happened on the way. Not surprisingly, who would want to steal a hundred cartons of widgets? There was no hurry to return to Konoha so the team had been taking its time walking along the main roads instead of leaping from tree to tree like primates.

The shortest genin was lagging behind his teammates, having had to take a piss. No one bothered to wait for him or to check on him. He could've been abducted for all they cared.

He scrambled to catch up.

Someone was following him. Someone quite good. He could barely hear footsteps or sense any chakra.

A few yards before rejoining his team, from the corner of his eye, barely within his peripheral vision, the blond boy saw movement in the tall grass by the side of the road. The grass swayed, then parted.

With near lightning quick dexterity, Naruto drew his kunai from his leg pack and threw it at his pursuer.

' A cat!' Naruto just missed hitting it with his kunai by a fraction of an inch, cutting off only its left whiskers. Thanks to his quick reflexes, his fingers veered off at the last second when he recognized his foe. The cat meowed in anger and fright, then ran up a nearby tree.

The ruckus caught the attention of his teammates, who now turned back to see what trouble their mischief loving comrade had gotten into this time.

Their sensei walked over and looked up the tree. "A domestic cat," Kakashi observed.

"What do you have against cute furry animals? Last time you nearly killed that poor bunny! And this time you attacked a lost cat!" Sakura yelled, recalling the incident from their mission to Wave Country just weeks ago.

Sasuke thought, ' That bunny was a decoy. Maybe this cat is too. Maybe this cat is dangerous.'

But before Sasuke could voice his paranoid thoughts, Naruto called out, "Here, kitty, kitty!" In apology, he offered it part of his remaining shinobi ration. The brown tabby carefully approached and accepted the peace offering, even allowing the one who used up one of its nine lives to pick it up.

Kakashi turned over the tag on its red collar. "Koukan Village. Hmm.we just passed that way about a mile back. Guess we should do a good deed and return it. Not an official mission, won't get paid for this, but might make some nice old lady or kid happy. Good for karma."

"And we can get lunch there!" Naruto suggested excitedly. He was now completely out of food for the journey back.

"Koukan Village.an interesting name. It'll be nice to visit someplace new and not worry about missions. We can have some fun, right, Sasuke-kun?" Sakura smiled at Sasuke who as usual said nothing in reply.

' Fun.how can any of us think of having fun?' Sasuke thought dourly . 'We should be training harder, accomplishing tougher missions, not escorting crappy widgets and returning a stupid cat!'

Naruto pondered, "I wonder why it was following me. Maybe because of the seafood ramen I had for lunch.Hey Sakura-chan, do you think I smell fishy?" He turned to his crush and exhaled.

A not so delicate fist immediately met his face. "Ugh! You are so disgusting! What is wrong with you?"

The cat meowed in anger and fright again, and fought for release, biting Naruto's hand to achieve its freedom.

"OW! That hurts... I just wanted to know if I smelled fishy." He dropped the cat.

"I can tell without you breathing on me! Here, take these." Sakura took out the breath mints she kept in her back pouch (for the unrealistic possibility of kissing Sasuke).

Sasuke deftly grabbed the escaping cat and held it by the nape of its neck. ' This cat looks suspicious.' He glared at the cat. He was about to turn on his sharingan eyes when the cat reached out and scratched his hand. The sole remaining Uchiha/self-proclaimed avenger, didn't flinch, despite the four lines of red now oozing from his wrist. Before he could exact his revenge on his attacker, his sensei quickly swooped it up in his arms.

"You guys seriously have no talent with animals. I'm a dog person myself but both cats and dogs should be treated gently. Not dropped, or grabbed, or used as target practice!" Kakashi reprimanded.

"I didn't do anything." said Sakura defensively.

"I didn't mean to drop it or kill it." Naruto protested.

Sasuke just shrugged because he did mean to.

' Looks just like Madame Shijimi's (wife of Fire Country's Daimyo) pet cat Tora from our mission last year, except for the strangely mottled skin,' Kakashi thought. 'I don't like cats. They make me sneeze. Good thing I'm wearing a mask.' The veteran jounin led his team back to the road leading to Koukan Village while the cat slept fitfully in his arms. After its near death experience, the cat was exhausted, but continued to have nightmares of flying kunai.


The village was a typical little village on the border of Grass Country and Fire Country. There were a number of inns and restaurants in addition to various shops lining the main road. There was no other address on the cat's tag so the gray-haired shinobi, who much preferred dogs, dumped the cat (despite his admonishing advice to the contrary) in the middle of the road and watched it scurry away.

"All right, lunch time!" Naruto looked around for a ramen restaurant. Sasuke, who was indifferent to the type of food since it all ended up as crap, and Sakura, who was always on a diet, followed unenthusiastically.

But the devotee of scandalous books spied an old bookstore. To his shock, on display in the window was.the original handwritten notes and sketches for Icha Icha Paradise by Jiraiya-sama himself! Kakashi practically drooled through his mask . 'I have to have that!' he thought frantically as he quickly opened the door and entered the store. 'I wonder why it's in a place like this.'

An old woman screamed as soon as she saw the masked shinobi. She ducked behind the counter and pressed the panic button to set off the alarm. "Bandits!" she cried out.

Kakashi looked around and noticed he was the only one there other than the old woman. "Who me? I'm not a thief. I just want that book, the one in the window, how much?"

The old lady calmed down and stood up, realizing now that she had a customer. "Which book?"

"The one.the notes on Icha Icha Paradise !" demanded the usually unflappable shinobi.


Kakashi dug out all the money in his pockets and poured it onto the counter.

The old woman looked at the pile of coins and bills and shook her head. "We don't accept foreign currency."

"Foreign currency? These are all ryou! They're accepted everywhere!"

"Well, not here. The name of this village is Koukan (Barter) Village. We use our own form of cash, widgets. You can normally exchange for them at the bank, but that's closed for renovations. There's too much risk of counterfeit currency, especially from strangers, and there's less chance of being robbed this way." She eyed him suspiciously, thinking, ' Never trust a man who won't reveal his face .' "You'll have to trade for that book if you want it," she explained.

"Trade? Like what?" Kakashi asked as he mentally itemized his current belongings. 'Eight kunai, a dozen shuriken, first aid kit, six scrolls, a lockpick set, spool of wire, smoke, flash, and poisonous gas bombs.'

"Well." the old woman looked doubtfully at him. "You're a shinobi, right? You probably don't have anything I want. What would I do with ninja weapons? We're a nonviolent, peaceful village." She shook her head in disapproval at his existence.

"Maybe I can be of some service?" he winked (actually it was a blink, but since he had only one eye, it looked like a wink). ' Hell, I'll sleep with the old hag if I have to!'

"Don't be making eyes at me young man! You're about 20 years too late for that!"

"Huh? Who me?" Kakashi replied innocently.

The old woman turned her attention back to their problem. "Let's see... my cat's missing."

"A brown tabby?"

"Yes, if you could find it."

"I did, but I let it go."

"Well, she hasn't returned so that doesn't count. If she returns on her own that won't count either. That book's worth a lot you know, but it's been sitting in that window for a long time." She gave themasked man before her an appraising look. "Tell you what, I'd like to just get rid of that smut. How about a sack of coffee."


"That's a luxury item around here. And I don't mean just any coffee. It has to be grown in the mountains of Thunder Country and vacuumed sealed for freshness."

"No problem." ' I hope.' "Where can I get it?"

"In Thunder Country of course."

"What! That's a two week trip back and forth! I can't wait that long!"

"Well, maybe you can find someone around here who's willing to let you trade for it."

"Sigh, I'll try the marketplace first." ' I must have that book at all costs!'

Kakashi walked up and down the main streets, then the side streets. But none of the stores stocked Thunder Country's Mountain Brand Coffee.


The genin had settled down at a nearby restaurant. Ramen was not the restaurant's specialty, but it was on the menu to Naruto's delight. Sasuke ordered pork and vegetable dumplings. Sakura ordered the same thing as Sasuke so in case he wanted more, she could share hers.

Just as Naruto finished slurping down the last of his third bowl of noodles, Kakashi came running in. The team looked up in surprise. They had never seen their sensei looking so anxious. "You guys.you didn't eat already did you?"

"Just finished," Naruto announced, happily patting his stomach.

Sasuke continued to eat his remaining dumplings.

"I'm done. Sasuke-kun can have the rest of mine," Sakura smiled at the dark haired-dark eyed boy and pushed her plate toward his.

Sasuke glared at her dumplings. ' Germs!' he thought with disgust.

"You know, they don't take ryou here. That's considered foreign currency," their sensei explained.

"What? Ryou is the standard monetary unit," protested Sakura.

Sasuke continued eating calmly. "They can't force us to pay," he pointed out. He added to himself , 'I'd like to see them try.'

"Don't worry, we don't have to pay," explained Naruto, "Remember, the waitress told me 'your money is no good here.' That means it's free, right?"

"No, she must have literally meant your money is no good to use in this village," groaned Sakura.

"I thought she meant we could eat for free because we're shinobi." Naruto felt his teammates' eyes bore into him.

A pretty brunette waitress interrupted their discussion, "Is there a problem?"

"We're, uh, new to town and we didn't realize the custom of bartering. We don't have much to trade but maybe we can be of some service?" the masked shinobi suggested.

She looked at him warily, thinking, ' He's why we don't accept money. Bandits are less likely to steal from a village with no cash.' "Well.you could clean out our storage rooms." the waitress started to say.

' Storage rooms .' Kakashi mused. "Do you happen to have any coffee? Specifically Thunder Country's Mountain Grown?" he asked anxiously.

"Well, we might, but."

"We'll do anything to get that!" Kakashi interrupted.

The team stared at their sensei's uncharacteristic behavior. ' Why was he acting so strangely? What was with the " We'll do anything" ?'


"In Konoha, we would owe about 3500 ryou for our lunch," Sakura calculated. "Cleaning out these storage rooms should be worth a lot more than that!"

"She mentioned rats, too!" added Naruto.

"Rats?" Sakura's face turned a shade lighter. ' Well, I'm a shinobi now. I'm not afraid of some furry rodent. A rat is just an ugly bunny, that's all. Just a very ugly one, with sharp teeth and claws, and beady little eyes, and germs and fleas and.'

' Rats.another crappy mission,' thought Sasuke.


Meanwhile, Kakashi had been sent over to the waitress' father's store on the other side of town. The old man was the sole occupant of the run down wooden three story building.

"Er.excuse me Ojii-san." Kakashi started to say.

The old man looked up at him and suddenly screamed, "Sic him!"

A very large and very vicious looking black dog jumped from behind the counter at the Leaf shinobi's throat. Kakashi deftly darted to the side and grabbed the dog's jaws in his hands.

"Help! Bandit! Killer!" screamed the old man.

"Who me? I'm a shinobi from Konoha. I'm not here to rob you. Your daughter sent me."

"You? What's with the mask?" The old man came out from behind the counter, grabbed his dog by its red collar, and peered at the shinobi curiously. Now up close, he could see that the masked man was wearing the forehead protector of the Leaf ninja.

As usual, Kakshi avoided the question and changed the subject. "I'm here to help clean up your store and do some repairs in exchange for a sack of Thunder Country's Mountain Grown Coffee."

"Coffee? That's stuff's expensive!"

Kakashi sighed and mentally did some calculations. ' If a pound of good coffee is about 800 ryou. Then a 25 pound sack would be worth 20,000. But since it's in bulk it should only cost about 10,000 ryou wholesale. That book is definitely worth 10,000 ryou!'

"Okay then." the old man said after some consideration. He scribbled on a piece of a paper. "If you finish all these tasks, you can have the coffee."

Kakashi looked at the list and around the room . 'What this wily old geezer wants would take the rest of the day!' But the veteran shinobi resigned himself to doing an honest job instead of resorting to stealing. At lightning speed, concentrating his chakra to his limbs, he quickly swept and organized the store first, then painted its walls, both interior and exterior.

' I would normally charge at least 80,000 ryou for all this work!' Kakashi thought bitterly. ' Next the attic.'


"All right, Kakashi-sensei put me in charge, so listen up!" Sakura ordered. The genin had been cleaning the storage rooms behind the restaurant. Kakashi had put Sakura in charge of the guys not because he thought she would be a better leader, but to mitigate any further competition between Naruto and Sasuke. "If you would, Sasuke-kun," she added more gently, while smiling at him. ' Damn, now Sasuke's going to be mad at me for being in charge!' "Okay, we managed to put everything back in its place and we cleaned the floors, so all that's left to do is exterminate the rats."

"So how do we find them?" asked Naruto.

"We'll draw them out."

"With cheese?"

"No, we'll smoke them out."

"Using smoke bombs?"

"Yes, of course. We'll flood these rooms with smoke and the rats will come running out. Naruto-kun and I will take care of the ones inside. Sasuke-kun, please see to the ones that escape outside." Sakura really wanted to be with Sasuke inside, but decided it would be better for her to keep an eye on Naruto.

Sasuke nodded and exited, leaving Naruto and his crush alone together.

"Okay, there might be a lot of them so be ready," Sakura warned.

Naruto performed the seals for Kage Bushin, so now there were ten Narutos with their kunai ready.

Sakura threw smoke bombs into the suspicious holes she found, then waited with Naruto. As the smoke emerged from the holes, so did the rats. Lots of them. Big ones. All with dirty gray fur and beady black eyes. All with razor sharp teeth and pointed claws.

"Where the hell are all these coming from!" screamed Sakura as the undulating waves of gray fur advanced on them.

Naruto's clones valiantly kicked at the furry little monsters, but the rats fought back. As they sunk their teeth into the clone's fake flesh, the clones disappeared.

Sakura jumped on top of a crate, but the rats climbed over each other, forming steps for the ones behind them, and reached for her ankles.

Though Naruto's clones had protected him, there were no more clones to be seen and he became open to attack. He joined Sakura on top of the crate and chivalrously kicked the rats away from Sakura's feet, while thinking, ' This is why wearing sandals all the time is not a good idea !'

"How are we going to get out of here?" Sakura asked frantically.

"We don't. We get them out," Naruto explained as he again performed the seals for Kage Bunshin. As two clones fended off the rats from the crate, Naruto threw a kunai with an explosive tag at the wall. The resulting explosion blew open a six foot hole.

The wave of rats headed toward the open where Sasuke was waiting. He was expecting to use a few kunai and shuriken, but at the sudden wave of rats, he quickly resorted to ninjutsu. The dark-eyed boy inhaled deeply and held it for a second before he released a huge fireball, engulfing the advancing rodent army, then.


Okay, next clean out the attic.

The attic stored the usual assortment of junk that people obsessed over and could never throw away, even though the existence of these items had been long forgotten. It was surprisingly large and spacious with high ceilings and sturdy rafters. There was a single window. Now with the sun low on the horizon, it was difficult to see. The first chore was to change the lightbulb. Kakashi concentrated chakra to his feet and walked up the walls. Suspended upside-down from the ceiling, he easily reached over to the lamp.

' How many kage does it take to change a lightbulb?' He was trying to recall the punchline when.


.a massive explosion! One that took out nearly all the rats and the entire back of the restaurant! Wood debris and burnt rat parts flew all around.

"What the hell was that!" Naruto exclaimed, addressing no one in particular.

"The rats blew up?" pondered Sakura. ' Sasuke-kun must be super amazing to do something like that!'

"There must be something strange about those rats," Sasuke remarked suspiciously. He walked over to some of the identifiable remains and poked around with his kunai. One corpse was still intact but half of its body fur had been burnt away. Sasuke noticed strange symbols on its skin. He stabbed it with his kunai then jumped back to avoid the resulting explosion of rat guts.

"These rats have been tattooed with explosive seals," he concluded. ' What's going on?'


.Kakashi saw the shadows move. Shadows of triangular shape. ' Bats! The old geezer didn't say anything about having to exterminate bats! Crap.'

Before he could decide on how he should rid the attic of bats, the black mass flew at him. Caught off guard, he lost his concentration and fell from the ceiling onto an old wobbly chair which stood under the light from the last time someone futilely attempted to change the lightbulb. The chair, with its legs already irreparably cracked, immediately splintered and fell apart. The cushion had broken his fall but his fall had demolished the chair and now he felt a sharp pain in his thigh. A shard of wood pierced his leg and blood began to pool around the wound. Luckily it missed any arteries and it was close to the bandage he wore on his right leg. The veteran shinobi pulled out the large splinter, pushed his bandage up and tightened it around the wound.

' That book may not be worth it after all ,' he thought ruefully. But there was little time for regrets as the bats amassed for another attack.

This time the Leaf jounin was ready. His quick hands summoned a whirling wind funnel, much like a mini-tornado, which gathered up the bats as it made its way across the room and toward the window. But the window was closed. The swirling mass of flying rodents crashed into the glass and.


When the fire and smoke died down, the people who had escape the restaurant came back, curious to see what had happened. The restaurant owner, a very large burly man with a mass of black hair and beard, started shouting at them, "What the hell did you do!"

"It was the rats! I swear! They exploded!" Naruto tried to explain, unsuccessfully.

"You blew up my restaurant! I'm going to kill you!"

' I'd like to see you try ,' Sasuke was about to say but then Sakura cut in.

"We're very sorry about all this," she told the man, "but it really wasn't our fault. We were trying to exterminate the rats but it seems these rats."

Sasuke moved in front of her and interrupted, "It was entirely my fault. I didn't realize the strength of my fireball jutsu. Please send the bill to the Uchiha clan in Konoha. You'll be compensated adequately."

' Sasuke must have a reason to prevent me from mentioning those exploding rats ,' Sakura thought, so she stayed quiet.

"What! You're gonna pay them for the damage? But it was their rats!" Naruto ranted.

Sasuke kicked Naruto hard in the shin to prevent him from saying any more. "Shut up," the Uchiha hissed dangerously, "We need to investigate this. They might be in on it."

It slowly dawned on Naruto that rats tattooed with explosive seals were not normal in a civilian village.

"Please leave the cleanup to us." Sakura smiled at the restaurant owner and his soon to be unemployed employees. They left the Leaf genin to their task.


.the pane shattered upon impact and glass shards flew all around. The miniature tornado sucked the shards back in, creating a funnel of whirling glass blades. But now that the window was broken, Kakashi directed it out to the open. As soon as it cleared the window ledge, the controlled gust of wind exploded! Glass and burnt batwings flew black into the room where Kakashi was hobbling about.

' What the hell was that? That jutsu does not cause explosions .'

He picked up a fragment of a bat's wing. Strange symbols appeared when he spread the wing out to its fullest. ' Symbols similar to those found on explosive notes. and that cat...'

An angry voice emanated from the floor below. "What the hell are you doing? You blew up my house! You useless bastard! Can't do a simple thing like change a lightbulb!"

"Excuse me Ojii-san, but you didn't tell me you had a problem with bats."

"Rats? I don't have problems with rats. I have a cat, or rather I used to."

"I said bats," Kakashi explained patiently while thinking over the implications.

"Bats? In my attic? Don't think there were any last time I was up here.Well, whatever, you have to replace the window or no deal!"

The sun had already set. There was no time to replace the window. Kakashi would have to wait another day before he could get his hands on the book. Or would he?


"It's getting late, where's Kakashi sensei?" Sakura complained. Her dress was no longer recognizably red.

"Where did he run off to anyway?" asked Naruto. His usually bright orange outfit was no longer bright and barely orange.

"He said something about a book," Sasuke informed his teammates. "Probably at the local adult bookstore." Somehow Sasuke's clothes were still clean.

"We're almost done clearing out the debris and rat parts, but there's still rebuilding that entire wall," groaned Sakura. "We'll have to camp outside since they won't take money at the inns."

"Look, here." Sasuke pointed at a large hole in the ground inside the storage room. The hole was clearly visible now that the crate was destroyed.

"I wonder where that leads." mused Sakura.

"I can find out! Just wait." Naruto transformed into a rat and jumped into the hole.

"Do you think it's safe for him to do that?" Sakura was worried despite her pleasure at being left alone with her crush.

Sasuke shrugged. ' Idiot. If he gets in trouble, it's his own fault.'


The bookstore had already closed, but the object of Kakashi's desire was still in the window. ' I'll just break in, take the book and leave an IOU ,' he thought a bit guiltily as he channeled his chakra to the lockpick set to short circuit the security system while unlocking the door.

"I thought you'd be back," a voice greeted him as he entered the room.

"Your little plan to get rid of me didn't work. Tell me what your real plans are," Kakashi replied coldly.

"You're smarter than you look, but so am I. After all, what pervert would desperately want a book like that? As soon as you said you saw my cat, I knew you'd be trouble."

'The cat, just like Tora!' realization dawned on him. "You're planning to assassinate Fire Country's Daimyo and his wife..."

"You're as smart as they say, Sharingan Kakashi. Don't you recognize me? It's been twenty years since I left Konoha." The old woman transformed into a beautiful voluptuous redhead. "I, Gesshirui Saikoubi, rivaled Tsunade-sama herself back then. I was the original inspiration for Icha Icha Paradise ."

Kakashi's jaw dropped, but of course it wasn't noticeable.

"Jiraiya-sama gave me his notes, and a lot of cash, after I threatened him with a lawsuit. But money isn't everything. Revenge is sweeter. That bitch Shijimi stole my man! I should've been the Daimyo's wife!"

"That was a long time ago."

"When you get older you start to think more about your life and what went wrong and.how certain people should die before you!"

"In any case, I can't let."

The redhead pressed a button behind the counter to open a panel in the ceiling. A swarm of bats swooped down on the Leaf shinobi. Kakashi quickly ducked, turned, and threw six kunai. Six decapitated bats crashed and exploded behind him, demolishing most of the front of the store. Luckily, the book lay unharmed. The remaining bats turned for another attack.

' Damn, there's too many of them, my leg is injured, and I have to be careful not to damage that book!' Kakashi performed the whirlwind jutsu he had used before, carefully directing it away from the book. But now the bats used a different attack - a sonic attack. A collective high piercing shriek reverberated through Kakashi's head, disorienting him. The room began to sway like a not-so-fun amusement park ride.

' I have to avoid them... Best to dig under and come out from behind.'

But the rodent master was prepared for that as she pressed another button to open a panel at the base of the cashier's counter. Teams of rats poured out.

But instead of swarming over Kakashi, they attacked their master. The woman screamed hysterically as the rats ran under her robes and into her sleeves, nipping and clawing wherever they touched flesh.

One of the rats suddenly transformed into a blue-eyed blond. Kakashi immediately understood and took out his spool of wire to bind the woman from head to toe.

"Good job Naruto," he said to his genin, then turned to face the old woman who had transformed back. "You were only Tsunade-sama's rival in beauty, but never in power. Your plan for revenge has failed."

Kakashi then walked over and removed the object of his desire from its place in the window. "I'll take this as compensation for this mission," he said happily.


"You see," Kakashi explained to his team on the way back to Konoha the next day, "that village's favorite trick is to force unsuspecting visitors into what's tantamount to slave labor. All sorts of shady activities conspire in these border villages. In our case, we accidentally came upon an assassination plot. The old woman at the bookstore was worried that since I saw her cat, I would uncover her plot to assassinate our Daimyo. That cat we found looked exactly like his cat. I noticed some strange marks under its fur but I didn't think anything of it at first. Then I saw the same marks on the bats, and the dog at the old man's store had a similar collar."

"Knew there was something strange about that cat. Should've killed it immediately," muttered Sasuke.

"You mean the old man and that pretty waitress was in on it too?" asked Naruto.

"Probably," Kakashi answered, "There is no such thing as coffee from Thunder Country. The climate there is too cold to grow coffee. That was a code phrase between the three of them. I was wondering why none of the other stores knew what I was talking about."

"How come they're not all arrested?" complained Naruto.

Kakashi shrugged. "We don't have evidence against the other two and I just received word via the messenger bird that our Daimyo pardoned Saikoubi. We shouldn't have any more problems with them."

"So all this because Naruto smelled fishy." mused Sakura.

"Oh! I just had eel ramen. Do I still smell fishy?" asked Naruto as he exhaled his breath inches away from Sakura's face.

Naruto's jaw was again introduced to Sakura's fist.



After the mission: Naruto stopped eating seafood/eel ramen. Sakura developed a phobia of all furry animals. Sasuke resolved to kill all stray animals. Kakashi started to buy books via mail order.



Daimyo - Feudal Lord

Gesshirui - rodent

Saikoubi - most beautiful

Authors Notes: Written for Mediaminer's action autumn contest. Requirements: action, broken chair, coffee, a small event develops into something bigger.