The funeral of the Godaime Hokage was a solemn occasion, but also a triumphant one. The Godaime, after all, had died on the field of battle, in the centre of Otogakure as it was burnt to the ground by the victorious Konoha and Suna ninja. With the death of Orochimaru, Yakushi Kabuto and Uchiha Sasuke, the war wth Hidden Sound was decisively over and Konohagakure would hopefully have a few years to rebuild.
The first problem, as the interim leadership of Konohagakure saw it, arose the next day when they read through Tsunade's last will and testament. The first few words were a warning that she had arranged for copies to be distrbuted to trustworthy individuals who would ensure that her wishes were followed up correctly. That didn't bode well for the rest of the document, Jiraiya had noted wryly as he sat across the table from Koharu and Homura.
There were the usual personal bequests. Various books and medical equipment to her apprentices Shizune and Sakura and to the Hospital. Finances she'd split evenly between Jiraiya and Danzo - much to their dismay since Tsunade's finances were still made up largely of debts even after years as the Hokage. Clothes to the store run by the widows and orphan's fund. Various personal effects to Uzumaki Naruto. Homura and Koharu sighed with relief when it became clear that there wasn't anything controversial amongst those items. Then Jiraiya burst their bubble, pointing out that there had to be a reason that Tsunade had put a warning at the start of her will.
The reason was at the bottom of the document, right above Tsunade's hanko: 'It is my preference that my successor as Hokage be Uzumaki Naruto. However, in the event that Uzumaki Naruto is not experienced enough for the role, I have advised him of an alternative who I am sure will discharge the duties of my office with great diligence.'
The three looked at each other. "Uzumaki?" Homura sighed. "Just wonderful. He's a child."
"No younger than we were," Koharu pointed out, taking a moment to look out of the window at the Hokage Monument and the face of their old teammate.
"But still, could he possibly be ready for that sort of responsibility?" Homura asked. "I've nothing personal about him, but the job requires at least some maturity."
"I have no doubt that Naruto will rise to the challenge," Jiraiya said confidently. "What worries me is convincing the rest of the village of that. Legally, this is all Naruto needs to take the job. But if the shinobi refuse to obey him then it means nothing."
"And since he's the only one who knows who the alternate is," Koharu pointed out, "We can't pass over him without his consent. If he just refuses to tell us who it is..."
"He wouldn't do that," Jiraiya promised. "I trained the brat for three years, I know he wouldn't. But he'll be a pain in the ass if we can't give him a good reason."
"Are you sure he wouldn't just name someone totally unsuitable?" Koharu asked. "As a prank, or to make himself look like a better choice. If he says the alternate is Konohamaru..."
All three shuddered. Konohamaru would be a less controversial choice than Naruto in terms of his background, but he had yet to show any signs of the Sandaime Hokage's legendary skill or his idol's ridiculous power.
"No," said Jiraiya firmly. "Naruto doesn't want to be Hokage through some trick or deception. He wants to be recognised as the right choice for the job, not be appointed because we're trapped into it."
"Maybe we should talk to the boy," Homura suggested. "After all, this does concern him and we can get a feel for his competence at the same time."
It took longer to find Naruto than it did to get him to the Hokage Tower. After a couple of false starts at his apartment and then Ichiraku's, Jiraiya finally tracked Naruto down at one of the training grounds, where the boy was putting Konohamaru and his teammates through what looked a lot like the old bell test.
"You're too slow," Naruto shouted to Moegi and Jiraiya leapt forwards in alarm as the boy slammed a Rasengan into the younger girl's stomach, sending her flying. The sannin was relieved to see her still moving after the hit, so Naruto had probably only hit her with an unfocused version that wouldn't actually penetrate her skin.
"I liked this shirt, teme!" she shouted back, examining the rips and tears in the garment.
"Hit me back then!" Naruto said, and vanished in a puff of ninja smoke as Udon and Konohamaru tried to tackle him. The move had been well co-ordinated, but in the absence of a Naruto to hit, they went cannoning into each other.
"That'll have to wait," Jiriaya called. "Naruto, you're needed at the Hokage Tower."
"What?" Naruto asked, popping out of the bushes at the edge of the training ground. "Is it a mission?"
The Toad-sannin shook his head. "No Naruto, just some paperwork Tsunade left. You'll have to get used to dealing with it if you become Hokage, you know."
Naruto's face fell at the reminder that once again the Hokage Tower had been vacated forever by someone he'd cared about. "Sort of figured, the way Obasan's desk was always stacked with paper."
Koharu's approach to the coveration was an indirect one. "Firstly," she said, tapping a box on the table, "There are a few things in here that Tsunade-hime wanted you to have. Don't open it here," she added when Naruto reached out to do so. Take it home with you when we're done."
She looked at Jiraiya. "We're secure here?"
"No one else is on this floor or the floor below," Jiraiya replied. "And I've got someone up top keeping an eye out for intruders."
The old woman smiled thinly. "Now who should we be worrying about spying on us, Uzumaki-san?"
Naruto frowned. "Uh, Sound-nin looking for revenge. Shinobi from the other countries who think we're weak after Obasan died. Akatsuki agents looking to capture me."
"And?" she asked with deceptive mildness.
The boy shrugged. "I don't know. Does Konohagakure have other enemies?"
"Hmph," snorted Koharu. "He's not ready to be Hokage."
"What!" Naruto demanded loudly.
"You forgot that there are many inside Konohagakure who would like to know what we discuss here," Homura said solemnly. "Particularly, why we would bring you here. They wonder this, and would seek to discover this, not through disloyalty, but because they concern themselves with Konohagakure's wellbeing and wish to assure themselves that we are acting as they believe is wise. Some, for example, doubtless hope that you are being brought here to be removed as a threat to the village. Others will fear that we plan this and want warning to act if we should do so. Never forget that it is not just our enemies who will spy upon you."
Naruto frowned. "Eh. So what do you want me here for?" he asked, dismissing the lecture at least for now.
"Tsunade's death means that Konohagakure must have a new Hokage," Jiraiya said seriously. "From her will, she would have discussed that possibility with you."
Naruto shrugged noncommitally, eliciting a frown from Jiraiya, who had anticipated a louder response. "I know that she hoped to live long enough that you would be able to be her successor," he continued. "Equally, she had to consider that she might not do so. In her will, she appointed the three of us to decide what would be done if she died before a clear choice could be made. Because she discussed the matter with you, you may have an insight into her reasoning that we don't. So we want your opinion."
"How do you know I won't just say you should make me Hokage like she wanted?" Naruto asked.
"You could say that," Homura said. "Think for yourself how that would affect our decision."
"We have three choices," Koharu said from the end of the table. "We can choose Tsunade's preferred successor. We can choose her alternate. Or we can ignore her wishes and choose someone else. You tell us, boy who would be Hokage. What would be the advantages and disadvantages of each choice? Which path should we follow."
Naruto shrugged. "Well, if you made me Hokage," he said, and paused. "I guess there'd be a lot of trouble. Not everyone likes me much. Some of the ones who do like me don't think I'm very smart. The other villages would find that out and they'd figure I'm weak, so there would be a lot of trouble." He squared his shoulders. "I'm pretty sure I could make them recognise me, but it wouldn't be quick or easy."
"If you make him Hokage -" (So it's a man, the other three at the table all thought) "- I guess it would be a bit of the same. A lot of the old geezers don't like him and most people think he's stupid, but he's strong and they know he's strong. And he cares a lot, which everyone knows about, so no one would think he'd be like Orochimaru and just use the village as a tool."
"And the third option? What if we ignore Tsunade's wishes?" Koharu asked. "Jiraiya was considered as Hokage when the Sandaime died -"
"I'd refuse it again," Jiraiya objected.
"And there are many other strong jounin in Konohagakure. Why should we not select one of them," she asked, careful not to name an example, lest Naruto realise that she did not know who the other candidate was.
"You could do that," Naruto said. "But you won't. Tsunade-baasan left her notes with lots of people. If you don't do what she wanted, whoever you make Hokage will have to deal with the fact he wasn't her choice and everyone will wonder why you went against what Obaasan said, and if you'll pay attention to his orders."
Homura chuckled. "He's got you there, Koharu. So, boy, who do you think is the best choice?"
There was a cheering crowd when the Rokudaime Hokage of Konohagakure stood in front of the Hokage Tower, wearing the long robes and big hat of his new office. If there were any who doubted the wisdom of the choice, they were silent, at least for now. The Hokage would have many advisors, after all, to guide him if he needed it. And he was the choice of Tsunade, who would not have decided such a thing lightly.
Among the advisors, and probably the only one not nursing the effects of a hangover, was the new Hokage's assistant, with that oh so irritating smile on his face. What none of the crowd knew was that said assistant had been the other candidate for the position of Hokage.
His smile was quite genuine. Given five years working in the office of the Hokage, he'd have ample opportunity to meet and win over the other shinobi of Konohagakure, as well as familiarising himself with the responsibilities of Hokage. There would be another opportunity, and by then he would be the clear choice for the position, recognised by all as the Hokage.
Not that he wished his new Hokage any ill - much the reverse. But in five years the village would be more than ready to accept as Hokage any voice of reason, Naruto believed. And the man himself would be more than ready to stand aside.
After all, why would Maito Gai stifle the flames of another's youth?