Honokuni Monogatari - "Fire Country Stories"
Akimichi ni Naremasu - "To be Akimichi"
A Naruto Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah
The day before the boys left on their mission to get Sasuke back, Chouji went to the store. He emerged from the door with his arms laden with paper bags full of potato chips. "This should do me for a day or two," he said to himself happily and proceeded down the block.
"There goes one of those Akimichi kids," a boy across the street muttered to his friend as he passed. "Look at that one, he looks like a Gosho doll!" he said with a laugh, likening Chouji to the white, plump baby dolls. "I can't believe he's even ninja."
A year ago, this would have driven him crazy with anger or sadness depending on the day he was having, but lately Chouji didn't pay much attention to comments like that. He had a great friend who liked him for him. Even if it was only Shikamaru, it was a start. He smiled thinking he could swing by Shikamaru's practice before heading out on his own.
Chouji's vision was obscured by the large bags but he knew that the mostly empty streets were safe enough. His aloof happiness was short-lived. The vacant streets reminded him of the tragedy Konoha had recently suffered. As if echoing this, ahead and to the right the sounds of sobbing caught his ears. He poked his head around the paper bags and spied a young girl wearing a scarf like his sitting on the curb. "Oh, Akemi-chan, is that you?" he asked the youngster.
She sniffed and looked up at him. Her brown eyes were full of tears. "Chouji-nii," she mumbled.
"Aw, what's wrong, Sweetheart?"
She wiped her nose on her sleeve and stood up. "Nothing."
Chouji smiled. "Here," he said and rummaged in one of the bags and pulled one of his treasures out for his little cousin.
Akimichi Akemi's eyes grew wide but rather than taking it happily; she burst into tears and ran away.
"Huh?" Chouji wondered. "Guess she doesn't like shrimp flavor chips."
Akemi ran all the way back to the Akimichi family housing in the old section of town. When she finally reached her house, she was red-faced and panting. Kicking off her shoes, Akemi headed for the refrigerator. Her stomach growled. "No!" she scolded it. "Nothing for you!"
At the same time another Akimichi was coming down the stairs on the other side of the room looking for a snack. When the fridge door slammed, the person on the stairs stopped and sneaked into the room. The young woman was about five and a half feet tall, had bright red spiky hair and wore a large tunic over billowing pants. Her neck and waist were wrapped in scarves like the one Chouji always wore. She blinked at the fridge and watched the girl run out the door. She put the pieces together and sighed melodramatically. "Ah well. Someone's gonna hafta deal with this. Might as well be me."
Akemi sat on the deck and kicked her feet nervously. Her eyes were trained on the lawn in front of her in rapt contemplation. Her older cousin startled her.
"Akemi-chan! What's shakin'?"
"Ah! Hana-nee!" she shouted, leaping to her feet.
Akimichi Hanae put her hands on her ample hips and grinned down on her cousin. In reply, Akemi's stomach growled. She blushed furiously.
"Hey, wanna get a bite to—" her cousin began.
"NO!" Akemi shouted. "I'll never fit into anything cool if I keep eating all the time!"
Hanae raised a brow. 'Aha,' she thought. "What's so cool that a proud Akimichi clanswoman can't wear it?"
Akemi lowered her head and recounted her story.
That afternoon Akemi had been out with some of the girls from the academy. They had stopped in front of one of the few boutiques that was still open these days and admired an outfit on a mannequin. It was a tankini over netting with a miniskirt, all the rage with pre-teen kunoichi these days. When Akemi mentioned that she thought it was cute, one of the girls quipped, "I don't think it comes in Husky." The others laughed and moved on, leaving poor Akemi humiliated and alone, staring at her reflection in the glass shop window.
"Che," Hanae scoffed. "Those girls are stupid."
"They're my friends!" Akemi whined.
"Some friends you got! Don't know a damn thing about anything much less how to be nice!" she growled defensively. "But you know what? Your cousin Hanae is super nice! I'm gonna treat you to a trip…" Akemi gave her a worried look. "To the public bath!"
"What!?!" The color drained from the nine year old's face.
"Come on, I won't take no for an answer!" Hanae said with a wide grin, grabbed hold of her much smaller cousin and dragged her off to the local bathhouse.
"Irrashai-mase! Welcome!" The woman at the counter greeted them. "One?" she asked, not seeing Akemi over the lip of the reception desk. Hanae laughed and pointed down, making Akemi blush and pout.
"Ah! So sorry! And what a cute little girl you are!" she cooed. Akemi hid shyly behind her cousin who laughed again and thanked the receptionist as she handed her towels to her.
Akemi stood wrapped in the largest towel she could find. Hanae hummed happily behind her as she got undressed.
"How can you be so relaxed?" Akemi moaned.
"Taking a bath is the most relaxing thing you can do!" she chimed back. She unwrapped layer after layer of fabric from her large frame. The towel just fit. "Now," she said, leading the way to the showers, "before we get to the baths, I want you to pay attention to the other women in the showers."
"Ew…" Akemi said with a look of total disgust on her face.
"Not like that!" Hanae rolled her eyes. "Watch the way they look. Listen to what they say. This is very important, Akemi-chan."
The little girl looked up, a bit confused, but in awe of Hanae's seriousness. "Ok…"
Hanae smiled. "Ok!"
While she tried to be as invisible as possible, Akemi's cousin Hanae strode proudly into the common showers. She set her basket down and soaped up. When she stood to rinse off, she closed her eyes and Akemi started to notice what Hanae told her to.
women in the shower stared at Hanae's voluptuous frame. Some
clicked their tongues lightly. Some muttered undoubtedly unpleasant
things under their breath to their companions. Akemi felt like she
was going to be ill from embarrassment. Her only consolation was that
Hanae absolutely eclipsed her. When she was done, Hanae passed her on
the way out and whispered "ok Kiddo. Now pay attention a little
longer after I've left."
Confused again, but still curious as to what Hanae was getting at, Akemi finished up slowly and did as she was told.
"Ugh," one woman groaned loudly when she was sure Hanae was out of earshot. Akemi flinched. "Why are those Akimichi women…"
"So…" added another.
"So…!" A third put her hands to her chest and wailed. "Endowed!"
"Look at these things," the first complained, indicating her own breasts. "Like aspirin on an ironing board."
"Why does she dress all frumpy if she's got that booty to work with?" another moaned, running her hands over her rear.
Hanae was already in the bath when Akemi slowly emerged from the showers. "Well?" her cousin asked as she eased into the hot water. "What did you think?"
"You know what they said, right?" Akemi asked.
Hanae grinned. "I wouldn't be much of a ninja if I didn't."
"Then I don't get it." The young girl submerged herself to her chin. "If they're so jealous of your… curves… Why are they so mean to you?"
"That is a mystery," Hanae said as if she were about to raise a cup of sake to her lips. "Skinny, fat, tall, short, someone's always keen to point out someone else's differences. Why they can't see that we're all people, I don't know."
"You mean that's it?" Akemi groaned. "People are always gonna be mean to me, but behind my back they're jealous? What kind of a crappy lesson is that?!" she shouted and splashed water at Hanae.
She splashed her back. "Hey! I didn't say I had all the answers! I just said I'd take you to the baths! Sheesh. Ungrateful kid." Hanae leaned back against a rock and looked up at the ceiling. "Akemi-chan. No one can just make you feel ok with who you are. That's something that we all have to do on our own. But I wanted to show you that not only is being a woman of size sometimes enviable, I wanted to show you how I deal with it."
"But you hide underneath all those scarves you wear. You don't deal with it either!" Akemi pointed out, imagining her cousin wearing the cute outfit from the shop window underneath her tunic and pants.
Hanae narrowed her eyes. "You're thinking of the phrase 'If you got it – flaunt it'," she said and pushed the tops of her breasts up out of the water for emphasis. "We are women, but we are also ninja. Our best weapons are hidden. We can't give away all of our secrets."
Akemi submerged for a moment. "So," she said, wiping water from her eyes. "If no one can teach me, how'm I gonna learn to not feel bad about myself?"
"Confidence can take a long time to build up. Took me till I was about 14 or so. Your cousin Chouji's getting there, finally. Now that he's on a Genin team he's made close friends. Now if that skinny-mini blond on his team would just grow up," she grumbled. "You won't have nearly as hard a time. You're super-cute."
"I am not."
"Are too. The lady on the way in thought so, didn't she?" Akemi blushed, remembering the squealing woman. "She didn't have any reason to cheer you up, either. She just said it because it's true."
Akemi wondered if the hot water was making her tired or if that was good enough for her. She stared up at the ceiling and didn't push the subject any further. If feeling ok with who she was wasn't something she'd accomplish for a few years, she supposed she could wait. She had her family who cared about her and one day other people would see her for her, too.
The next morning, Hanae came down stairs into the large kitchen. It was just a little too early for breakfast, but already family members were milling around. She saw Chouji enter from the left and Akemi with her small hands rummaging in the pantry. She pulled out a bag of shrimp-flavored chips, opened them and began to happily snack away.
"Ah!" Chouji shouted. "Akemi-chan! That was my last bag!"
"You said I could have it yesterday!" she called back between munches.
"Hana-nee!" Chouji groaned to his older cousin for help.
"That's what I heard," she said with a smirk and put her hands on her hips. Akemi giggled. They were interrupted by a knock at the door. Too shy to answer, Akemi took her bag and ran up the stairs and hid behind Hanae.
"Hey, wake up!" a young voice called from outside.
"Ah, Shikamaru!" Chouji exclaimed. "Wait. If he's here this early, must be for a training mission. I need to get breakfast first! Hana-nee, can you tell him I'm still sleeping?" he whispered.
"Che. Your friend, your problem." She shrugged and winked at Akemi.
They listened intently for another knock. Instead they heard the distinct sound of a bag of chips being opened. At least two people on the other side began crunching away at the chips. Chouji's eye started to twitch.
"Wait for it…" Hanae muttered.
"I can't take it!" he shouted and threw the door open. "I won't let another soul have the last chip!" he declared.
Inside, Hanae put her hand on Akemi's shoulder. Akemi giggled then grinned with pride at Shikamaru's words of praise for his friend. Both Akimichi girls stood and waved as Chouji left for his important mission. Akemi felt sure that one day she'd have a real friend like that, too.