Title: The Chosen Successor
Summary: How Naruto Became the Sixth Hokage at Age Sixteen. (Which Is Still Older than Gaara, Naruto Insists.) Or, five conversations that didn't happen.
Notes: Just a little something I had hanging around on my iPad. Meh.
"When Tobirama-sama named you his successor, I thought he must have gone mad," Homura admitted.
"You were such a naive and unreliable fool back then," Koharu added, in that brutally honest way she had.
If he had still been that naive fool, Hiruzen would have probably choked on his pipe and started spluttering. But he was decades too old for that, and the Sandaime Hokage only raised his eyebrows in amusement.
"Thank you for your kind words. What brought this on?" he said mildly.
"I was wrong. You were the best choice," Homura went on, sparing a faint smile for his old teammate's response. "You've made your mistakes, but you have done well by Konoha for all these years."
"Hashirama-sama built this village, and Tobirama-sama laid the foundations of our traditions, but you are the one who guided Konoha and made it what it is today," Koharu said, nodding.
This time, Hiruzen was genuinely surprised, enough to lower his pipe and stare at them in bemusement. This kind of praise was rare, especially from Koharu — and it put him on edge.
"I expect there is a 'but' to all of this," he said.
Homura nodded. "But you've grown old, Hiruzen. You were right to step down. It's unfortunate, what happened with Minato, but taking back the hat isn't the solution."
"You need a successor," Koharu said. "And whatever Danzou believes, he is too old to be an option… setting aside all the incident with the Uchiha clan."
For several long moments, Hiruzen chewed on his pipe thoughtfully. It wasn't as if they were saying anything he hadn't considered before.
It had been ten years since the Kyuubi's attack. At first, taking back his position truly had been the best choice. The village had needed stability and an experienced hand during the rebuilding — balanced with keeping the other villages from taking advantage of their weakness. It had been only a year since the war's end, after all. Orochimaru's defection had just made it worse.
Then, the trouble with the Uchiha clan had started. Even if Hiruzen had been able to find someone suitable, bringing in someone new, into that kind of political climate, had been a disaster waiting to happen — not that it hadn't become a disaster all the same, but at least the village had emerged mostly intact.
But now… Now the issue was finding someone. Someone strong enough, someone with enough fire, someone who understood… And there, Hiruzen found himself coming up without answers.
His own students… Well, that was a dead end. Jiraiya had turned him down flat, and Tsunade had not been back in the village in many years. Anyone from Minato's generation would fall short of Minato's legend and have to contend with the Yellow Flash's shadow.
As for the generation after, Asuma's group… several were becoming skilled, certainly. But none of them were right. None of them stood out enough, carried the weight that a Hokage would need. Except perhaps Kakashi, but… He had never quite recovered from the loss of his team. If Hiruzen asked, Kakashi would refuse, if only because he could not imagine himself living up to Minato's legacy.
"There is no one, at this moment, who could bear the title as it should be," Hiruzen said. "You know that. No one recognized by the entire village, for better or for worse, no one recognized by the other villages. Not yet…"
Homura and Koharu exchanged a look.
"Not yet? So you have someone in mind," Homura said.
"That's quite a gamble," Koharu said, far more disapprovingly. "How can you be sure?"
"He doesn't have any choice but to become someone great," Hiruzen said, a smile tugging at his lips — he enjoyed teasing his advisers, once in a while. "That's the legacy that was entrusted to him."
Koharu understood first. "No," she said flatly. "No. Hiruzen, absolutely not. He's a child! He's dead last in his class! He's so… annoying!"
"Jiraiya was considered a failure too, and he's one of the strongest in the shinobi world," Hiruzen pointed out. "And remember when Hashirama-sama called the Mizukage 'fish-eyed?'"
"…Their personalities are similar, now that I think about it," Homura said, smiling wryly. He seemed to have decided that Hiruzen was just joking.
Koharu shot him a cutting look. "He'll paint the entire town orange!"
"It's a very fire-like color," Hiruzen said serenely.
"He's ten! Just how long do you intend to stay in office?" Koharu insisted, apparently torn between practical considerations and disbelieving outrage.
"How old were we, when we lost Tobirama-sama?" Hiruzen reminded her gently. "I think we have it in us to last another decade. It'll be enough."
When Koharu angrily crossed her arms, with the same expression she had given Hiruzen when they were still just teenagers and doing something stupid, Homura began to chuckle. Hiruzen laughed too, though he had been mostly serious. It was a rare lighthearted moment for three people who had carried the weight of an entire village for far too long.
That, Hiruzen thought, was a wonderful power for a Hokage — to bring joy and life to people, to their village.
He didn't know exactly what kind of man Naruto would become, but he believed in that boy, just as Minato and Kushina had… even if it was perhaps in desperation.
The three of them, it turned out, did not have it in them to last another decade. Only a fifth of the way there, their team was reduced by one.
Fortunately, the issue of succession had an unexpected, almost miraculous resolution. Homura and Koharu would have backed Tsunade for the Hokage's seat no matter what — they had no better options, and the Sannin still carried a lot of weight, even if the one in question had been off active service for over two decades — but the Tsunade who returned was… different.
There was a fire in her eyes and in her heart that had been missing since the Second War.
Tsunade didn't wait for their approval. "I'm going to meet the daimyo," she declared the same day she arrived in Konoha and made known her intention to become Hokage in front of the jounin council, who had been too stunned to even try to protest. "Let's get the formalities out of the way. We've got a lot to do."
The daimyo, even with a few days' notice, was also quite surprised. "Tsunade-hime? As Hokage? Ah, yes, I see… That makes sense…" he muttered, fiddling with his fan. "The Sandaime's student, and one of the Sannin. And the Shodaime's granddaughter! How suitable! I approve!"
That kind of mercurial turnaround was common for him, and Tsunade only nodded sharply. The daimyo snapped his fan open and regarded her over the edge, a calculating gleam appearing in his eyes.
"I was surprised to hear about your sudden return," the daimyo said. "You had been away for so long that many said you would never return. And to become Hokage, no less!"
"Hah! I didn't expect it either," Tsunade said frankly. "But it's just a temporary thing. There was this brat… He convinced me. I'm just holding the hat until he's ready. The reason I came back is because I believe in him and in his dream."
The dream that Nawaki and Dan had shared — to become Hokage and protect their village and comrades.
That wasn't the last time the daimyo heard about Tsunade's boy. She was happy to speak of him whenever the daimyo plied her with enough sake. Her tone, whether recounting his failures or his successes, was of a doting grandmother, or even a proud mother.
But Tsunade aside, there was another memorable meeting where that boy was brought up once more.
The Fifth Kazekage's appointment caused quite a stir, and a great deal of gossip. None of it was positive, especially concerning Sabaku no Gaara's young age and inexperience. There were rumors as well, which painted him in a… less than flattering light. A rather bloodthirsty light, in fact.
So the daimyo was both curious and apprehensive, when the young Kazekage requested an audience soon after his appointment.
However, in person, Gaara turned out to be quiet and polite, with a presence surprisingly strong and solid for someone so young.
"The purpose of my visit," Gaara said, once the formalities were out of the way, "is to offer my apologies for what occurred during the Chuunin Exams in Konoha. That we were fooled is no excuse. Our village acted dishonorably and caused great damage to Konoha and to Hi no Kuni."
He bowed low, but the daimyo waved him up after only a few bare moments. "I liked Hiruzen," the daimyo said mournfully, "but I know the one thing he wouldn't have wanted was for children to bear the sins of their forefathers. He always hated that."
Gaara nodded. "Understood. Then, I will say this instead: Suna will be Konoha's true ally. This much I will make sure of, on my word as Kazekage."
The daimyo snapped his fan shut, smiling. "Wonderful!" he declared. "With such strong conviction, I can see how you became your village's leader at such a young age!"
Smiling faintly, Gaara said, "It's something I was taught by a boy from Konoha…"
A boy who was like him, but not, who understood but chose a different path, and showed Gaara another way to live.
"The dream of leading my village and protecting my comrades is something I share with him now," Gaara explained. "That's why I know that Konoha and Suna will certainly be allies. Someday, the two of us will shake hands as two Kages. I'm sure of it."
"And that boy's name?" the daimyo wondered.
Well, in truth, he already knew.
Uzumaki Naruto... He certainly carried the weight of many great expectations.
"Unbelievable. It's truly astounding…" the daimyo murmured pensively as the shinobi representatives finished their retelling of the events of Pain's invasion.
Koharu and Homura exchanged a look. "Nonetheless, that is what occurred. The Rinnegan is truly beyond the realm of ordinary ninjutsu," Koharu said.
That went without saying. Controlling six corpses, destroying the entire village singlehandedly… bringing back the dead. Shinobi were capable of great feats, which ordinary people had become at least somewhat accustomed to, but this was in an entirely separate realm.
This was more like a monster, or a natural disaster. Even the bijuu had been less destructive.
"Hmm?" the daimyo drew out. "Oh, I know that. I've heard of the Sage of Six Paths and his eyes as well… though that was a fairytale, we thought. What I meant was, for him to bring back everyone he killed… that is truly unbelievable."
The elders had taken on unreadable expressions that were nonetheless somehow discontent. For Koharu and Homura, they remembered Tsunade's reprimands and her faith in Naruto — which, in the end, had not been misplaced. For Danzou… his thoughts were far less charitable.
"Naruto is good at bringing out the best in people," Shikaku commented unexpectedly. "or at least that's what my son tells me."
"Uzumaki Naruto…" the daimyo mused. He snapped his fan shut and held it tightly with both hands. "Very well. I have decided. I want to speak with this Uzumaki Naruto. Bring him here immediately!"
There was a moment of stunned silence, and then the protests began.
"We don't have time for indulging in personal whims," Danzou said sharply, the loudest of the bunch. "Do you understand the situation? We must act now to stabilize Konoha."
The daimyo couldn't help but cower a little. The old war hawk had always scared him.
"It's a reasonable request," Shikaku said, his tone still lazy, but also unyielding. "After all, we only have a secondhand account of many things Naruto experienced in person."
"…I agree," Homura said, drawing a sharp look from Danzou. "He might have some insight on the matter."
He and Koharu exchanged a long look that held an entire conversation. Koharu frowned, but nodded, conceding.
"Then it's decided," the daimyo beamed. "Summon Uzumaki Naruto here!"
Naruto, when he arrived shortly, was equally bemused. But if he felt nervous, he hid it well — that was a big 'if' in the first place. Having never met an authority figure he actually showed respect to, Naruto greeted the daimyo with, "Yo! So what's up?"
"I've been told you're the one who defeated the Akatsuki leader Pain," the daimyo said, watching Naruto closely.
Naruto's expression quickly turned serious and uncharacteristically pensive. "I don't think you can say that. I didn't defeat him," Naruto said. "We just… talked, and Nagato decided to believe in Ero-Sennin's dream."
"Jiraiya's dream?" the daimyo mused, after a moment's thought at the nickname. He sighed. "It's a shame he's gone. I liked him. You were his student, weren't you?"
Naruto nodded. "Yeah, like Nagato and the Yondaime. We all inherited Ero-Sennin's dream. He believed in peace. He believed the world could be changed, so there would be no more war, so that people didn't have to keep losing everyone who is precious to them."
"That's a good dream," the daimyo agreed, though Danzou snorted quietly and the other two elders looked disbelieving. "And they both — Jiraiya and this Nagato — entrusted this dream to you. Just because you… talked?"
"It's important for people to hear each other out!" Naruto protested, crossing his arms and scowling. Sheepishly, he added, "Well, I did kind of beat up all his Paths of Pain first…"
The most important thing to know about power was when not to use it, one of his tutors had once told the daimyo, back when he was still a young boy. Sometimes, the time comes to listen and to hear the decision made by the other party. That is the wisdom of a ruler.
The daimyo chuckled, making Naruto laugh awkwardly as well. Slapping his fan down into the palm of one hand, he declared, "Very well, I've decided!"
"You said the most urgent thing is to choose an interim Hokage while Tsunade-hime recuperates?" the daimyo said, turning back to his advisers, the elders and the other shinobi. "Then, the person I choose is the successor Tsunade herself selected — Uzumaki Naruto!"
The meeting room erupted in protests, including from Naruto, and everyone else except three.
Homura and Koharu exchanged a look. Tsunade's chosen successor, who was also the one Hiruzen had placed his faith in, Jiraiya's student, and the boy who had made a miracle possible. Perhaps it was time to place their faith in him.
Shikaku just chuckled after a moment, shaking his head. No wonder Shikamaru was always sighing and groaning but watching this boy closely.
Naruto was certainly bound for great things.