Serpent in the Shadow's Challenge Twelve




Chapter Fourteen

'When did you become so cold?'

It was dark out, rain thundered down on the roof and lashed at curtained windows, no one had even noticed night falling through the thick carpets of growling black clouds, snarling with captured lightning and churning heavy, cold, iron grey rain onto the streets of Konoha below. The room was quiet, filled with the sound of soft baby snores and rain pitter-pattering against the windows, it was warm and smelled sweetly of talc and biscuits and clean clothes.

'When did you become so cold?'

Minato flinched as the sky outside yawned with thunder, making the windows rattle in their frames. Naruto slept on, completely oblivious to the sound, a heavy sleeper like his mother, while his father, while Minato lay awake. Tired and tormented.

'When did you become so cold?'

They were alone in the room. The futon that usually flanked the other side of Naruto's bed was neatly folded and empty. Harii wasn't home. He had walked out of the Hospital during the hour the blond spent trying to get answers from the ROOT ANBU, not even the ANBU guards he ordered to follow him caught the green eyed male slipping off. He was just gone when Minato got back – he'd signed himself out and left.

The Hokage pulled his bed covers up over his head, desperate to get some sleep but his mind just wouldn't let him. It kept replaying those words again and again and again, like a never ending mantra. And the worst thing was, now that he had actually stopped and thought about it...

He knew Harii was right.

The Yondaime groaned quietly, frustration making him kick back his bed covers and sit up, rubbing his face with a tanned hand as he stared at the folded futon guiltily. Chances were Harii had gone to doss down at Obito's, possibly Inoichi's as the two of them had become surprisingly friends after the problems with getting into his skull during Interrogation.

'When did you become so cold?'

He sighed and got to his feet, maybe some tea would settle his nerves.

Padding silently down the stairs and into the kitchen, he went about brewing himself a cup and sat heavily at the kitchen table, mind consumed as he waited for the kettle to click off.

His behaviour of late had been unacceptable. Painful as it was to admit, he had been out of line on more than one occasion – Harii had been as well, but he was a civilian and a foreigner, he required leeway as the ways of Konoha were not his ways. When he fought his war, from what Minato had pieced together, he'd fought it almost completely alone with people withholding information from him left right and centre, trying to protect him from the enemy while simultaneously expecting him to be a front line fighter, giving him absolutely no training and expecting him to take down a man who sounded remarkably like Orochimaru. He wasn't of Konoha but even Minato could understand the issues that would have been born when it came to a situation like that, and the parallels it was currently drawing with the situation right now.

And it wasn't just Harii he had been unfair with either, both Kakashi and Obito had suffered him of late and Minato wanted to drown himself in his tea when he looked back on his behaviour.

He'd forced Obito to take Missions of C rank and lower when, by all rights, he should have been doing B ranks, possibly even A ranks with his current skill set – his Fire Manipulation Affinity was widely becoming the best in the Village, second only to his teacher who by now was considered a hazard to Doujutsu users and avoided by both clans, he was becoming so well known for it that he had tentatively been named 'Phoenix Obito' due to his fiery talents and the fact that he had been considered dead before now and was back, and better than before. Kakashi ended up on the opposite end of the spectrum, Minato trusted him more, had never really considered that he was weak in any form, had forgotten that Kakashi was still only a teenager and sent him on Missions that he had absolutely no business even knowing existed.

And until now, he had never sat down and given it a passing thought.

What kind of man was he? What kind of Hokage? He was shaming Konoha with his actions and that needed to change, and soon, before more than just those closest to him suffered and it ended up being the whole country.

"You need to go to the Hospital."

Minato frowned at the man, half standing up, a painful sinking sensation in his stomach, "Why? What's happened? Are Harii and Naruto alright?" he asked, voice beginning to border on frantic.

Shikaku shook his head and gestured for the somewhat younger man to sit down, "Calm down Minato, they're both fine. Naruto more than Harii in any case." The blond Hokage sat back down and frowned at the head of the Nara Clan, one of his most trusted Shinobi, he had guided Minato through some of his most confusing and frightening Missions when he was a fresh Chuunin and testing his wings out of Jiraiya's protective shadow. Back in the beginning of the war. If Shikaku was anxious about something, especially about Harii, then something was seriously wrong and Minato needed to pay full attention.

"How so? Please, explain Shikaku-san," he said, gesturing for the other man to take a seat.

Doing so, the scarred Jounin leaned forward and clasped his fingers, "Very well, I'll get straight to the point. Harii came and stayed with myself and my family last night, he claimed that if he went anywhere else you would be able to find him far too easily and he needed to get away, from you specifically." Minato winced at the reprimanding look on the Clan Head's face, while Shikaku and Harii weren't exactly best buddies, they were friends and shared more than a few drinks and giggled with one another, mainly over the whole Deer thing and how Shikaku attempted to breed him, even going so far as dousing one of the females with an extra strength mating pheromone to try and entice him. It hadn't worked.

He nodded at Minato's reaction, "I don't know what happened but he's pretty upset and confused. Not to mention concerned about you," the dark haired man pointed out coolly, "But he's not the only one who's noticed, Inoichi's spoken to me as well along with a few others, we're concerned about you Minato. I know losing your wife was a hard blow, harder than I could probably ever imagine, not to mention Sealing that thing in your son and ex-communicating your best friend from his home- " Minato sat up straighter in shock, what? " -but you need to get your head screwed on, you can't carry on like you have been. You're the Hokage. More than just Harii and Naruto rely on you right now, the whole village does."

"I know, I know..." he agreed quietly, Shikaku was right, he was always right, damn him. But that didn't make it any easier, he just had so much on his plate, too much, it felt like his head was going to burst open or whatever control he had would snap and he'd end up burning the village down cackling madly with glee.

"I want you to see a Councillor, Minato," the scarred man finally told him, making the blond look up at him in shock, "Inoichi's already volunteered and you know he's loyal, hell, he made a list of recommendations for people you can see, all of them one-hundred percent loyal and all of them psychologists." There was a pause and Shikaku kind of half winced as he scratched his hair, "Most of them are torture and interrogation though. But seriously Minato, you need to talk to someone about this shit and both you and Harii are too stressed and raw from everything to talk to each other without it degenerating into a full on fight – which is another thing. Why the hell are you babying him?"

"Babying? No, I'm protecting him. He doesn't have his magic anymore, he – "

"Just kicked my ass at Taijutsu without using Chakra, Magic or any of his Elemental talents," Shikaku finished bluntly, eyeing the younger Jounin with something that tasted bitterly of disappointment, making the blond wince in almost physical pain. "He fought a war Minato. You're trying to baby a living weapon here. You're only going to piss him off. He's too prideful and stubborn to let you shelter him when no one gave a flying fuck before hand. He's passed the Sink or Swim stage, he doesn't need rubber-bands and life guards anymore."

"Its just – " Minato tried to say.

"He has no Magic, yes, but he never really needed it, did he? You don't. I don't. Obito's pointed out that he rarely used Magic for anything other than heavy combat and healing, everything else was done with hand where as some Magic folk use it for everything, cooking, gardening, even summoning something from across the otherside of the room because they're too lazy to get up. Minato, he's trying to conform to our ways, you're stopping him and its pissing both of you off because you're both as stubborn as brick walls reinforced with Chakra and several inches of solid iron! Let him train for gods sake and then you can use those ANBU you have guarding him for something else, something important."

"But Naruto – "

"Do you trust me? Do you understand what I'm saying Minato because this can't continue. If it does I'm going to have to call the Council and request a change in Leadership," the Jounin warned, his eyes hard and unrelenting. "You're a fine Kage Minato, but that was during a war. Do you have what it takes to lead us during peace? If you don't, then you may want to start looking for a successor."

The room was heavy and dark with silence as the two men stared at each other, both with churning emotions and faces of immovable stone and steel. Shikaku felt guilty, badly, but it needed to be said, he liked Minato, honestly but the death of his wife had shaken him down to the core and he was drowning in everything right now. He needed jarring back into reality because nothing seemed to have worked so far, he hadn't even reacted to Harii's vanishing act, no ANBU looking for him, no village searches... nothing. What if someone had abducted him? For someone who held no respect or appreciation for the foreigner's skill, he was surprisingly accepting of his disappearance.

"I'll see myself out," Shikaku stated, already knowing that Minato needed time to digest his words and come to a decision, "Harii plans on staying with Kakashi tonight as Obito and Rin have something planned. Talk to him, and for Kami-sama's sake, get the stick out of your ass before hand!"

And he was gone.

Leaving Minato with nothing more than a piece of paper fluttering down onto his desk, the list of people who had been suggested to speak with him regarding his mental health and current issues. He stared at the names in silence, somewhat surprised to see the Sandaime there...

Minato sighed and got to his feet, casually creating a Kage Bunshin and requesting it finish the paperwork while he went and spoke with Sarutobi Hizuren, after all, who better to keep the confidence and understand the secrets and stresses of the Hokage position than the man who held it the longest?

Hopefully, hopefully, things would improve. He just needed to sort himself out and then he could work on everything else.

It was quite late when Minato showed up at Kakashi's flat, Naruto was back at the flat, fast asleep with Tenzou who had taken the day off at the Academy to look after his 'little brother' because Minato had to work and Harii had gone MIA after their latest argument. Kakashi had let him in without a word and began to prepare some tea, quietly explaining that Harii was asleep already and likely would be for a while after the herbs the teenage ANBU slipped into his cup. Minato frowned, prepared to scold the younger teenager for drugging Harii when the last Hatake silenced him with a hand gesture that was typically used during a battlefield scenario.

"He's worrying himself ill, Sensei," Kakashi explained quietly, "So is Obito, regardless of how annoyed he is."

Minato smiled, making Kakashi scowl slightly, "I know Kashi. Shikaku already came and gave me a royal chewing out over the whole thing. I've spoken with the Sandaime and I'm planning on taking some time off, just a week, to sort myself out completely, he's already agreed to step up and take care of things while I'm out of office."

Kakashi stared at him before nodding, relaxing into his chair, "That's good."

"I've arranged it so you, Rin and Obito get the week off as well," Minato pointed out, making the teenager jerk in surprise, "I've done the both of you a great disservice and while Obito's has been of no danger to him, to you... my putting you on those Missions, you shouldn't have had to go through them. And if you're anything like me when it comes to talking about that sort of thing, you'll have avoided the Psych-Nin like the plague, am I right?" he teased slightly, smirking when the visible skin just above his face mask turned pink and his eye darted away. Of course Kakashi avoided the Psych-nin, every Jounin did because every single one of them was crazy and if the Psych-Nin knew just how badly most of that went... Konoha wouldn't have any Jounin, at least no good ones, to be great, you had to be crazy. It was a scientific fact.

"There's no arguing with you on this one, is there, Sensei?" Kakashi asked, his tone already defeated.

Minato grinned evilly, "Nope. And speaking of arguing, what's this about you teaching my Son how to say Icha Icha?"

Kakashi gulped.

Leaning against the wall in the bedroom, Harry smiled in amusement and relief.

It sounded like his friend was coming back to him, slowly but surely, but perhaps not entirely unmarred by recent events he decided as he listened to Kakashi yelp in pain as Minato exacted some kind of punishment on his young student for teaching Naruto naughty words. Only time would tell just how marred Minato would be from this blue period, but Harry was hopeful.

The blond buffoon would be back to his old self, but newer and improved. Hopefully.

This Chapter... was beyond a bitch to write. I am so sorry to everyone who has waited so long for... well, this. Very lack lustre Chapter I know but I'm fed up with Minato being such a misery guts, yes he's serious and wise and shit but he's just turned into a dick. So, I'm getting him some therapy no jutsu from the Sandaime – who doesn't do it as well as Naruto so it'll take some time before I stop having Minato's temperment flip between neutrotic mother-hen, douchy dictator, uptight neat-freak, easily embarrassed best friend and wise all knowing-Hokage-sama.

Rest assured, I haven't abandoned this. It won't be abandoned until I post a Note SAYING so. 8) promise.

Also, still hurting for future ideas and scenes. Share any ideas you have, c'mon, if I like it, I'll work it in.