Ho no Kuni Monogatari:"Kage
Fire Country Stories: "In the Shadows"
By Aoi Kami Sarah
I've given characters in Naruto who have not been named by Kishimoto-sensei names of characters from Rumiko Takahashi's Maison Ikokku just to have something to call them. These are NOT their real names in Naruto. The characters called Yotsuya and Kozue are property of Aoi Kami Sarah -aks
"It's really annoying how the living go around like they know what they hell they're doing..." - Shinigami Yotsuya
One typically sunny afternoon in the Hidden Leaf Village, Tsunade tapped her foot and made a face. "Well?"
Naruto tried to close his mouth. "I…"
"This is what you've always wanted, isn't it?"
He tried to calm his racing heart. "Am I really good enough to be Hokage?"
That night Uzumaki Naruto looked down from his perch, high atop the Hokage monument. Fifteen years ago he was caught painting graffiti over the faces of the town elders. Usually, this memory brought a smile to his face. Today, Naruto frowned and rested his head on his folded arms and recalled Tsunade's yelling at him.
"Whaddaya mean, 'good enough'!" Godaime shouted at him. "Ok. Who are you and what have you done with Naruto? How many freaking years have you been badgering me to get out office so you can take over, huh? And all of a sudden it's 'I'm not good enough?!" Tsunade's face was red and looking a little older than usual these days. She was tired, and now she had a headache.
Naruto hung his head a little. "I know. Just for some reason I never thought anyone would take me seriously."
"Naruto," she said softly. "As much as it might surprise you, we all take you very seriously. The council and I would like you to succeed me. Please. At least take the test. You can decide if you want the position later." She tilted her head to one side and looked up into his deep blue eyes.
"There's a good boy. The oral will be a week from tomorrow."
Naruto turned white. "Oral?!"
Tsunade balled her fists. "The oral exam. It's not written, you answer verbally."
"Oh! Hahahahaha I'm fucked." His brows pinched together in the middle.
Tsunade put her hand on his shoulder. "Don't stress. It'll be hard, but you'll do just fine." As Naruto turned to go, Tsunade followed him to the door. "Oh, by the way, there's a meeting in the inner chambers tomorrow morning at dawn. You don't know anything about it but you will be there." The seriousness on Tsunade's face made him shiver.
An ultra-classified meeting was not something to be taken lightly. "Understood, Godaime-sama," he replied and let himself out.
Naruto sighed again and watched the sun sink into the horizon. He decided to take his time going home. As he strolled through the streets of Konoha, lost in his thoughts, he didn't notice much of what was going on around him. The second time his name was called he finally stopped to answer.
"Ah! Hyuuga-san!" he replied, startled by the head of the Hyuuga household and his entourage. "How nice to see you." Naruto parroted through his teeth.
"Save it, Uzumaki." Hiashi flashed a copy of the evening news. "I see you're moving up in the world." Naruto's name was splashed across the headlines.
"Wa! Already?!" Naruto grabbed the paper away from him and read the words quickly. 'Jounin Uzumaki picked for 6th.' "Oh man…" he groaned softly.
"I suppose you're happy," Hiashi grumbled. "Once you are Hokage you can meddle with the glorious traditions that families such as ours have held sacred for generations."
A grin slowly spread across Naruto's face. "Oh yeah. There's that, too. Thanks for reminding me! Oh, hey. Look at the time! I gotta run. Hinata will be sad if I'm late. See ya!" Naruto turned and without excusing himself, started walking away.
"If you think for one moment the people of this village will accept YOU as their leader you've got another thing coming." Hiashi muttered, loud enough for him to hear.
Although Naruto kept the spring in his step as he disappeared down the road, his brows knitted together and Hiashi's words did their damage.
At dawn Naruto slipped into the Hokage's chambers and found that Tsunade and the two elderly council members Mitokado Homura and Utatane Koharu were waiting for him. Each was seated around the crystal ball with which the Hokage used to observe the goings-on around Konoha.
"Uzumaki Naruto," Koharu began. "You have been selected to follow in a great tradition of honor and service; you have been chosen to be the next Hokage. You will endure three tests. The first will begin momentarily." Naruto swallowed but said nothing. "The second will be an oral exam to test your knowledge and intelligence. The third will be a test of skill in combat. The second and third tests are merely formality and for show. You see, the general public knows nothing of this first test."
Homura picked up. "Anything done or said here this morning may never leave this room. If you ever need to discuss the things that will be done or said, you may approach the council members or previous Hokage only and say you need to talk 'about what it means to be Hokage'. We will then meet as we are meeting now and you will be free to talk on the subject. We will now begin the first test."
Naruto looked to Tsunade again but her eyes were trained on the crystal ball.
Koharu extended her wrinkled hand and placed it over the orb. The usually pinkish milky color turned violently purple then completely black. When she removed it, the ball returned to normal. Homura then did the same with the same result. Tsunade then extended her hand and rather than turning black it swirled with bright red flames. They looked to Naruto and bid him do the same. He took a deep breath and without hesitation stuck his hand out. To no one's surprise the ball turned red immediately. The elders relaxed noticeably and Tsunade beamed.
"I'm betting that means I passed," Naruto said with a measure of relief.
"Indeed it does," the old man replied. "Only those whose souls are prepared to take on the role of Shadow can make the crystal react that way." He looked to Tsunade who took a deep breath.
"Naruto," she began. "Being Hokage doesn't end when your life is over. When one accepts the job of leading the Fire Country, he or she agrees to help while living, and in the Spirit World as well." Naruto raised a brow and looked to all the eyes in the room to see if they were trying to pull his leg. "No one knows what happens after a soul leaves the world of the living, but we few do know that there is a Spirit World that exists between this world and the next, and that the Shadows of each country go on to protect the spiritual side of things after they die. Is this acceptable, Naruto? Do you still wish to become Hokage?"
They allowed him to take a moment to think. He folded his arms and bit the inside of his lip. "There's a lot of strange stuff that goes on in this world, I don't doubt what you're saying is true. But, if it is true, then who's watching over the fire country right now? Sandaime sealed the First and the Second inside himself with the Fuuin Shiki and Yondaime is sealed inside me…"
"We have long considered that," Homura cleared his throat and shifted his weight. "And we have come to the conclusion that someone must be looking over us, for if there wasn't someone, the entire Spirit World would have been thrown into turmoil by now and even the living would have felt the repercussions of such a state."
"Good answer," Naruto mumbled. He unfolded his arms and put his hands on his folded knees. "There is no question. I still wish to become Hokage. I will do my best in life and after it to serve Konoha, the Fire Country and its shinobi for as long as I am able."
The elders smiled and Tsunade put her hand over his. "I'm really proud of you, Kiddo." Naruto gave them a small grin but the venomous words of Hyuuga Hiashi still hovered over his heart.
Three of the seven scrolls Naruto brought home with him that afternoon rolled off the edge of the table and onto the floor as he set the load down. Hinata giggled. "Got enough homework?" she asked.
"Heheh… Too much." the young man answered. His brows came together as he picked the scrolls up and stacked them on top of each other. The expression wasn't lost on Hinata.
"Well before you get too far into it, would you like to have lunch?"
Naruto smiled that closed-eye smile of his at her. "You bet." She was the best girlfriend a hungry man could ever want. Lunch was huge. Onigiri, tamagoyaki, cold buckwheat noodles with sesame dressing and a towering pile of tiny cucumber and ham-salad sandwiches were all decimated by Naruto's incomparable appetite.
"Waaaaa that was gooood!" he cried as he patted his stomach. Hinata's smile turned to a light pout as she saw him get up and go straight for the scrolls.
"Naruto, the Hokage exam isn't for another week. You should pace yourself."
He hugged the scrolls to his chest using them as a shield to hide the real reason for his anxiety. "I know, but you know how bad I am at stuff like this. If I don't study my ass off I'll never pass the oral," he said, his back to her. "I can't fail."
"Surely Tsunade-sama will let you retake…" Hinata stopped herself. She'd had this argument with him before. His mind was made up. She started clearing the dishes. "Study hard, Anata."
"Thanks, Hinata-chan," Naruto said as he went into the living room to start reading. "Shodaime," he read off the scroll's label. "Best place to start, at the beginning!"
By nightfall he was only a third of the way through the third scroll. Hinata rubbed his shoulders and looked over at the writing. "Sandaime, huh?" she asked. He nodded. "Almost done, then, right?" He shook his head and showed her the thick end of the scroll. She wilted.
"I got this one then there's that one," he said and pointed to the fourth scroll. "Don't have to study Godaime 'cause there's no publication about her yet and I think I know her term cold anyway."
"Naruto, you can't possibly stay up all night and read, none of it will stick!"
Naruto's foot twitched a little. "Yeah, I guess, but I'm not tired yet. I'll come to bed when I do. I promise."
Hinata knew she wasn't going to get anywhere with him when his mind was so set, so she gave him a kiss on the top of his blond mop and left him to his studies.
"Let's see here, Jiji," he addressed the late Third Hokage and delved back into the scroll. "In his fourth year as Hokage, Sarutobi was faced with…" He read for a few minutes, but once again his mind wandered. "These men all did such amazing things… They were smart and charismatic and everyone loved them." Naruto pouted and leaned back in his chair. "Not like me at all…"
Hands chased each other around the clock. Konoha was quiet and dark. Naruto's eyelids started to droop. He shook himself and leaned forward, trying to work against his body's will. "I gotta study as much as I can. I'm too dumb not to. Even if it's just for show, how am I ever gonna pass this thing? I gotta answer questions and stuff. And if I do it… if I become Hokage, can I really do it? How will anyone believe I'm fit to lead them?" He put his hands behind his head and stared up at the ceiling. "Can I be as great as all of you?"
Naruto's blood ran cold. He looked up from the scroll to the piercing blue eyes of a man sort of half-sitting on the right hand corner of his desk twirling the scroll marked 'Yondaime' with his left hand.
"Who… who the…" Naruto stuttered.
The man was of average height. He had blond hair and wore very formal traditional-looking garments decorated with red flames. "Don't tell me you've got cold feet?" he drawled.
"Who the hell are you!?" Naruto shouted.
"Hey, keep it down, it's the middle of the night!" the man yelled back.
"You shut up! And get out of my house!"
"Baka yarou! I came here to…!" the man was cut off. He jerked forward as if he had just been struck upside the head.
"Anata!" a woman's voice cried angrily. "You are supposed to be helping him!"
"K… Kozue-chan…" he held a hand to the back of his head and made a face. Naruto's eyes bulged as a wisp of smoke took a woman's form at the stranger's side. She was of average height, slight frame and even wearing a pout, her face was round and beautiful with moon-shaped green eyes, a small nose and a fine acute-angled triangle marking on either side of her rosy cheeks. Her hair was flaxen, pulled back into a tight bow. She wore a woman's business suit with knee length skirt and on the left arm of her jacket was an arm band decorated with a black and red flame insignia; the same that adorned her partner's robes.
The woman called Kozue clicked her tongue and folded her arms but the sour expression didn't last long. She smiled sweetly and relaxed. "Long time no see, Sweet Heart," she addressed Naruto who rubbed his eyes. Kozue laughed softly. "I tried to send him to help you out, but I see the two of you are more alike than I thought!"
"I've seen you before, on the other side of town…" Naruto squinted, his brain not able to tell if he was dreaming or there were really ghosts in his dining room. Years ago he had a dream he remembered from time to time. The young woman who materialized before him had been sitting by a pond in his dream. She wore a kimono then, and had called him 'sweetheart'. "Nee-chan…" Naruto whispered, remembering her smiling, crescent shaped eyes.
"She's not your Nee-chan," the man muttered. Kozue jabbed him slightly in the ribs and gave him a look. "Anyway. What's this about you having doubts? Isn't being Hokage what you've always wanted to do?"
"It's not that I don't want it anymore!" Naruto said, crossly. "There's still people who don't think I'm worth anything; Hinata's family especially. I've been on hundreds of successful missions and even pretty much saved this village at least once already and there are still people who only see nine tails when they look at me." He looked up into the man's blue eyes. "I want to prove myself to all of them. I want them to look up to me. I want to be the one they rely on, not the one they fear."
The man straightened up, folded his arms and looked down on him. "Then what's the problem?" He set the scroll he'd been playing with down.
"I…" Naruto glanced and read the scroll's title again. "Yondaime," he addressed the man sitting on his desk. "I don't know if I can be as great as you."
Yondaime shot a glance at his wife. 'Does he know the connection?' his eyes asked.
'No. Not yet,' her eyes replied.
"Heh," Yondaime grinned. "I was something else, wasn't I?" He gripped the lapels of his jacket ostentatiously.
"Anata!" Kozue scolded. "What Mr. Great Big Head here is trying to say is…" She folded her arms and pouted. "You know, you haven't been helpful at all yet." Yondaime deflated. Kozue giggled. "I'll leave you boys alone for a while." With a breath she dispersed into the air.
"Nee-chan…" Naruto reached out at the air where she used to be. Yondaime pulled up a chair. Naruto blinked at him, still logy and tired. "Are you really Yondaime?"
"Yup. Don't worry. I'm still dead," he said with a small smile.
Naruto drooped. "Why are you talking to me of all people? I don't deserve to speak to you. I took your life."
"Wrong," he said quickly. "I gave it to you. No, not just to you, to everyone in Konoha." He leaned back and folded his hands behind his head. "You know, when I was chosen to be Hokage, I was astounded. I couldn't think how I could possibly fill Sandaime's shoes. He was such an amazing leader. If you've been selected to be the next Hokage, Naruto, a whole lot of people already recognize your greatness, whether you do or not."
Naruto blushed a little. "Yeah." He thought of Iruka and Sakura and Kakashi, Lee and Neji and Kiba, Shikamaru and all the others that he called friend who had come to call him the same. "Yeah!"
"And don't you have some legislation you want to get through? You can't help the Hyuuga if you aren't Hokage."
Naruto nodded. "That Hiashi…" he muttered. "I've got to get his respect."
"That's the spirit!" Yondaime cheered.
"Hey, speaking of spirit…" Naruto leaned in. "If you're sealed inside me, how are you, you know, watching over us?"
Yondaime grinned. "It's a long story, but I'm doing both. You have your… eh… You have Kozue-chan to thank for that."
Kozue reappeared hastily at his side. "The Hyuuga, eh? I've heard something like that before…" she changed the subject and gave her husband a pinch. Yondaime stood and put his arm around her shoulders. She covered his hand with hers and looked up to him. "My family didn't think much of you until you got your title."
"Yare yare…" he muttered. "Sorry, Naruto. Our time is up."
"Yondaime-sama… Kozue-san, I…" Naruto tried to stand but suddenly felt very tired.
"Good luck, Naruto." Yondaime said and waved. Kozue smiled and waved as well and they both vanished like smoke from a dying candle. "We're very proud of you."
Naruto's head fell back and he snored just once before snapping to attention. "What? Where? When did…?" he asked the silence. The desk lamp was bright and made the white paper of the scroll seem to glow. He squinted and looked at the text. "What the heck is this…? Best Fire Country Soups? Musta got the wrong scroll…"
"Naruto…" Hinata walked into the room in her nightshirt, rubbing her left eye. "You're still awake?"
"Sorry, Hinata… I'm…" he looked down at the scrolls and changed his mind. "I'm coming." He turned out the light, paused for a moment to look at a chair that was out of place and followed her to bed. Naruto slept deeply, but his dreams were as vivid as if they were on the silver screen.
Twenty years earlier Konoha was ravaged by the disaster that changed Naruto's life and sealed his future. The cries of the great beast echoed in the empty streets. Most of Konoha's inhabitants had fled to the emergency shelters within the palisades or were out fighting in vain. Their leader was at the hospital, which would soon be beyond full of wounded shinobi.
Yondaime Hokage clutched his wife Kozue's pale white hand as her life slipped away.
"Save the village," she whispered. "I know you can do it,"
Almost ten years before that, Kozue was walking out of a small green grocer she liked to frequent when she tripped on a loose stone and fell. She squeezed her eyes shut and prayed that she wouldn't break anything. Rather than put her hands out, she clutched the bags to herself and braced for impact. When she didn't crash to the ground Kozue blinked and looked around, only to find a young man's arms around her.
"Are you ok?" he asked urgently but gently and helped her stand. He quickly collected the apples and artichokes that had fallen out of the bags and stuffed them back in.
"I… I…" she stuttered. 'If anyone from the house finds out I fell I'll never get to go out again!' she thought and looked up at her savior. He was almost six feet tall, had blond spiky hair and unbelievably blue eyes, which made him stand out regardless of his typical green and blue Jounin attire. Kozue held her breath. 'He's an angel!' she thought. 'But I can't be seen being rescued! What will Haha-ue say?!' "I'm sorry!" she cried and blushed, her pale green eyes sparkling and scampered away. The young man was dazed. He watched her go and cursed softly to himself for not asking her her name.
"Shit what?" a growling sort of voice behind him asked.
"Sensei!" he cried, surprised. "Who is that girl?"
"Ohhhhhh," he mused and rubbed his chin. "THAT girl… yes… I don't know about that one, Yusaku," he said apprehensively.
"Jiraiya-sensei," the Jounin called Yusaku whined. "I didn't ask you to undress her with your eyes, I just want to know if you know her name."
Jiraiya laughed and clapped his student on the back so hard he stumbled. "Don't worry. I saw that lovey-dovey look in your eyes. I wouldn't dream of doing such a thing to such a sweet creature. I do have some honor you know."
"Yeah right. Come off it, who is she?"
Jiraiya narrowed his eyes and looked off in the direction she had left in. "Her name is Kozue. She's of a prestigious if not aristocratic shinobi family related to the first and second Hokage if I recall. They've got a huge house over by the Uchiha complex somewhere…"
Hey!" he called as Yusaku trotted
off after Kozue. "Ah well, he'll find out soon enough about that girl."
To be continued...