I sometimes hold it half a sin
To put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.
It was going to be one of those days, was all Emi Takahashi could think to herself as she scurried along the main road leading through Konohagakure at 7.30am, desperately trying to tie the white linen apron tightly around her waist.
It was a stupid, futile exercise anyways, she thought irritably- as she ran, she was already kicking up numerous clouds of dust so she didn't even have to look down to see that her black uniform was covered in dirt before she even arrived at work. Never mind the fact that no matter how hard she tried, she could never tie the black corset that came with the uniform properly- the thing always ended up hanging down around her hips by the end of the day, so really the apron made little to no difference whatsoever.
Even after four months of working within the Academy's Office, she still looked a disgruntled state as she punched in her time card. This was especially the case on a day like today- right in the middle of summer when it was blazingly hot and she was forced to bear through an entire day wearing a horrid black dress.
Looking at her watch as she ran, Emi felt her stomach jump inwardly as she looked at the time- 7.35am; she only had five minutes left to arrive at the compound and begin work or she would be late. Running past the early-morning coffee stand, her stomach squirmed again- this time in hunger, as she knew she couldn't stop for her usual breakfast. Giving the barista a quick wave as he gave her an odd look and then smiled at her, Emi looked forward and kept on going. She knew the boy was probably laughing at her general state of untidiness- her hair looked truly ridiculous the way she was wearing it, never mind her clothes- but for the most part, Emi didn't care.
In the first instance, Emi wasn't interested in the barista who worked the morning shift at her favourite coffee cart even though she saw him every morning, always gave him a little smile and if she was feeling generous, on occasions- a tip. So she flirted with him sometimes? So what? That was what sixteen year old girls were supposed to do- it was all harmless fun and it was good practice for when the real deal came along. Secretly- well, perhaps not so secretly as she had told all of her friends- but inwardly, Emi wanted to marry a shinobi. That's why she had taken the job of a cleaner in the Konogakure hidden village despite her parents living in a civilian village just a few miles away. She'd grown up hearing stories of fierce fighting shinobi, defending their neighbourhood, changing the world for the better and protecting all the civilians in surrounding areas too. As a child, it had all sounded so adventurous. Now, as a girl, it sounded daring and exciting, and she'd go to bed at night thinking of the day when she might bump into a young handsome shinobi who would come and sweep her off of her feet. The great romances of the previous generations of shinobi's had also managed to reach Emi's ears and she was determined to have one for herself.
Yet, four months on, little had happened to fulfil that dream- as she walked her usual route to work every day there was sometimes some old, lecherous, retired shinobi who might wolf-whistle at her or call out to her to come and keep him company but there was never interest from any of the younger generations- boys closer to her age. In fact, she hardly saw any of them at all- even around the Academy Offices- her friends at work told her they were all out on missions but they couldn't be all the time? She couldn't really understand their general ignorance of her as she wasn't un-pretty. In fact, Emi believed herself to be quite attractive- all things considered. No, she was never going to be a model, but she had been told on several occasions that she had nice eyes due to their unusual colour and her hair was a natural blonde colour that didn't look fake and that most of her friends envied.
Streaking past the windows of various shops, Emi resisted taking a peak at her reflection just to make sure she was as nice as she had been told; disregarding the fact that she was late it would have been a stupid endeavour anyway as she had literally rolled out of bed, tried to tame her hair unsuccessfully and thrown on her uniform.
7.38am- Scolding herself for beginning to daydream again, Emi picked up the pace, happy that the building was now in sight. The other reason for neglecting the looks of the barista today was simply that she didn't have time as this was possibly the most important working day of Emi Takahashi's young life; or so she had been told.
And Yamanaka-san had been so adamant that she could not be late. She could still hear the elder woman's voice ringing in her ears...
"If you turn up late you cannot do the job at all. You need to be in and out of that office within twenty minutes, understand? Even two minutes late after your shift starts and don't bother to enter that room- it will be on your own head if you do and I will not be responsible for what happens to you if you go ahead and do it anyways."
Curious as to why it was so important that she only clean the Hokage's Office from 7.40am to 8.00pm that morning, Emi had questioned her fellow cleaners who had all regarded her with a look of either incredulity or wariness.
"They picked you?" one particularly obnoxious man had asked as she decided to ignore him and turn to her closer friends to help.
"Don't worry- you'll be fine. Like Yamanaka-san says, twenty minutes in and out. Just ignore everything- clean as you usually do anywhere else and move on."
"But why is everyone acting so funny?" Emi couldn't help but ask, looking around nervously to note that all eyes were on her.
"There's something funny about tomorrow...for the Hokage that is. He doesn't like the day or whatever- but everyone knows the delegation from Suna is arriving tomorrow so the office has to be cleaned...but well- the last guy they sent in there this time last year came out with a broken arm."
Eyes widening, Emi felt like she was going to be sick.
"But you'll be fine! From what I hear, Yamanaka-san yelled at the Hokage for at least two months solid after that incident so I don't think it'll be happening again. And you know why they're sending you in so early- he probably won't even be in his office yet!"
That was something, Emi thought, as she finally arrived at the Hokage's building, shaking all thoughts of the rumours about last year from her head; the Hokage had a notorious reputation for being ridiculously lazy- so much so that the reputation had even reached Emi's little village where not much news about the shinobi world could ever be found apart from folklore and the like.
7.39am- looking at her watch and deciding that she didn't have time to punch in her time card- she'd do it later, Yamanaka-san would understand- Emi gave up on her apron and hurried up the three flights of stairs she needed to in order to reach the door of the Hokage's Office, her cleaning cart already standing waiting outside the door.
Looking at her watch and relieved to see that the hand was just reaching 7.40am, Emi's eyes drifted downwards to the date and she wondered, for the second or third time that day, was could possibly be so troubling for the Hokage about the 23rd of August.
Putting the question out of her mind, Emi steeled her resolve and pushed open the door.
"In and out in twenty minutes...do not touch anything you do not need to..."
Upon entering the Office of the Seventh Hokage, Emi at once understood why the space needed to be cleaned before the delegation from Suna arrived. For one thing, the blinds were drawn completely shut, the only light in the place streaming in from the gaps they left around the larger windows. From what she could see due to the bars of sunlight that littered the floor, there were papers and books strewn across the central desk but apart from that, nothing much else appeared to be out of place. However as she moved closer she could see a thin layer of dust that coated everything within the room- all the books shelves, the chairs and the paintings on the walls. Finally, as her eyes moved back to the desk, she caught sight of two large empty bottles of sake that sat on the surface next to a few open books as well as two or three used masu cups.
"...and whatever he says to you, under no circumstances are you to give him more sake. I do not care if he is the Hokage- you are answerable to me and I am ordering you not to, alright?"
Shutting the door behind her as quietly as she could, Emi was relieved that on a second sweep of the room, she could find no evidence of a person within it. Placing the cart to her left side as she began to sort through the cleaning materials she might need- mostly dust wipes by the looks of things- Emi began to think about what sort of village would have a leader where everybody was scared to approach him on certain days, who holed himself up in his office with bottles of sake and who broke the arms of the people who worked for him.
On reflection, she had heard many things about Konoha's head of state- most of which suggested that although the man was unorthodox- he was also brilliant. 'Not Hokage for nothing' was a phrase she'd heard bandied about many times before in the past. And although she couldn't be altogether quite sure what his jutsu was- in fact she wasn't altogether sure what a jutsu itself was- she had heard never to approach him in broad daylight. There were even rumours that he'd managed to kill an immortal in his early years and during the brief term of the Sixth Hokage, he'd saved the lives of at least half the village at some stage or another.
However, apart from the rumours and whispers about the man's skills and talents on the battlefield, there wasn't much else she knew about him- moreover, there was little else she could make out from her acquaintances in Konoha. Those who were old enough to know him well seemed to clam up whenever questions of a more personal nature were asked about the man and those who were of her own generation knew about as much as she did. They all knew he wasn't married- sometimes people even whispered of a tragic love story in his past- that he'd lost his one true love on the battlefield. Others insisted that Yamanaka-san was his girlfriend and no one knew but Emi didn't believe such stupid rumours- anyone who heard the way Yamanaka-san talked about her boss knew that it was just made-up nonsense. And given the fact that there were similar 'tragic love story' rumours floating around the Hokage's assistant's past life as well, Emi ignored anyone who told her they were in love with each other- it was just too implausible.
Her father had told her that the current Hokage's unmarried status was nothing new to the profession- most of the previous Hokage's had been unmarried or had some sort of love upset in their past but those had been mostly due to death or some known circumstances; it was suspicious even to him that there were so few who knew something about the man's life before his appointment.
Glancing around the office, Emi noticed no pictures on the wall- no photographs of families or even of friends- the portraits that adorned the circular walls were all paintings of past Hokage's and notable persons in Konoha's history- she recognised the ones of the previous two Hokage's but could not make out any further than that.
Picking up her duster, Emi decided to start work on the bookshelves first but knowing that she couldn't possibly work whilst the blinds were drawn and the room was shrouded in such darkness, she made her way over to the window and had just placed her hand on the drawstring when her eyes drifted downwards. Her breath caught in her throat as she eyed the long window seat that was stretched along the length of the room upon which the Hokage cloak was laid with the hat placed peculiarly at the top whilst at the bottom, a pair of legs were beginning to lengthen themselves in a heart-stopping manner.
"Whoever you are, you must be very brave to have come in here today," spoke the hat in a gruff, gravelly voice that made Emi jump even though she was waiting for it to happen.
"I am so sorry," she whispered in a high voice, her hand dropping from the drawstring as she felt as though it might drop off altogether. "Yamanaka-san said the Office would be..."
The hat made a deep noise that sounded like realisation, before speaking again.
"So Ino sent you...that makes sense. Well then you have a choice," the strained voice said, as the girl noticed a slight slur. "Decide who you are more afraid of; me or Yamanaka Ino."
It took Emi a moment to realise that the man actually wanted an answer, as her hand also slackened on the duster, and it drifted down through her fingers and nearly fell although she caught herself on just in time.
Swallowing, she pushed back her bangs, and sucked in as much breath as she could.
"Yamanaka-san said that I was to clean no matter what or else I'd be let go so I suppose her."
There was silence for a brief moment as a deep breath rattled through the cloak which rose and fell in what felt like an endless minute for Emi. Then, to her relief, came a throaty chuckle.
"Your job means that much to you?"
Nodding but then realising that he couldn't see her, "yes, indeed, Sir."
There was another deep sigh, after which a pair of arms produced themselves from underneath the cloak and folded themselves up behind the hat as for the first time Emi noticed a black ponytail protruding from the top of the ceremonial headdress.
"Very well- clean then, if you must. But leave the blinds...and don't call me Sir."
Deciding that silence was the easiest option, Emi merely tightened her grip upon the duster and felt her way back to the bookcase on the left side of the room before lifting the brush and beginning to dust. Coughing at the amount that fell off the shelves, she wiped at her eyes, feeling them begin to water at the now irritating air.
"It has been a while since I read," the man stated abruptly, the statement sounding neither like an apology or an explanation- rather a defence against any reproof she may have offered.
Replying with a small 'oh', Emi continued to work.
"So, what has Ino so desperate to have my Office cleaned this time?" came the next question, still slightly slurred and sounding remarkably bored.
"The delegation from Suna," Emi answered after another deep swallow and sigh, taking a step back from the bookcase so that she wasn't quite so exposed to the dust.
When silence greeted her, Emi wondered if she had said something wrong, but too afraid to query fearing it might provoke a less than placid response, she went about her task.
The question was posed in a quiet, soft manner that startled the young girl, whose ears had become used to the deep, rough way in which the Hokage spoke.
"Eh, yes, Si...I mean, yes, it is. At least, that's what Yamanaka-san told me," Emi finally managed to answer uncertainly, as she kept her eyes forced forward.
This time the silence kept itself well imposed for at least ten minutes as the worker became used to it and attempted to squint in order to make sure she could see properly. If there were foreign delegates arriving today than she would definitely be let go should the state of the Office let Konoha down.
As she worked, Emi fell into the habit of trying to make out the names on some of the books; her eyes widening when she noticed the great names that graced the shelves and she wondered how anyone could neglect such beautiful works. A fond reader herself, the girl was lucky when she could make enough to buy the novels she so longed to read and usually had to content her mind with the small library that existed in her village.
The manner and pace at which she moved was vastly dictated by the soft, slow breathing that came from underneath the cloak as Emi quickly gained the impression that the Hokage had fallen asleep. This proved itself to be false however, when as she reached the poetry section of the shelves, it spoke again.
"Pour me some sake," came the bleak order. "Bottom drawer of the desk. Quickly."
Fear jumped into Emi's stomach once more as she remembered Yamanaka-san's orders and wondered how to go about denying the most important man in Konoha.
"I don't care if Ino told you not to. I'm telling you otherwise. Go ahead. Bottom drawer."
"Do you really think that's a good idea? If there are foreign dignitaries coming today?" Emi managed to query, thinking that maybe she could persuade him as to the idiocy of being drunk on the job.
A grunt was the response although it was laced with sarcasm. "Girl, I'd have to be mad to face these dignitaries without a masu or two of sake. They're enough to drive a man to drink."
"But surely, it would be better to..."
"Girl, I am not going to argue with you. Now open the drawer and pour me some damn sake." The order was given in the most odd manner; the voice was neither raised nor angry but Emi was given the stark impression that should she not comply, she would immediately regret it.
Nonetheless, Emi knew her orders and was not about to be intimidated. Steeling her resolve, she lifted her duster back to the and tried to give a non-committal sigh.
"No, I won't," she answered, hoping she didn't sound obstinate or rude. "I'm under direct instructions not to give you any, but even if I wasn't, I still wouldn't because I don't think it's a good idea for the leader of Konoha to be presenting himself drunk to members of another country regardless of how annoying they are. You are Hokage for a reason, so I know you're not stupid but you're acting like you are. If you want some sake you're going to have to get up and reach it yourself because I won't supply it for you...and my name is Emi."
Feeling as though she was going to be sick, Emi steadied herself against the bookshelf and braced herself for the backlash.
"Shikamaru," the Hokage answered quietly, his tone impossible to make out. "Nice to meet you."
"You too," Emi replied, her voice coming out unnaturally high although she couldn't help it. Assuming that he had given up on the idea of sake as he remained still underneath the make-shift bedding, the cleaner was satisfied that her words hadn't been too forward and felt as though a weight had been lifted- he was scary...but he wasn't that scary.
"So, why is your job so important to you? It must mean a lot to you if you are willing to disobey a direct order from the Hokage, Emi-san."
"I need the money," she stated simply, although it was a lie and probably sounded like one.
"I wasn't aware the job of a cleaner paid that well."
"It's enough," Emi went on steadily, coughing again as she couldn't help it.
"Hmmm..." the Hokage intoned, and Emi could tell he didn't believe her. "Working with Ino isn't wonderful," was the next comment. "I can't imagine what it must be like working for her."
Unsure of how to reply, as any response would count as a bad one against her boss, Emi attempted to steer the conversation into cleaner territory.
"I can't believe that you have all of these wonderful books here and you let them sit here and collect dust," she said with quiet wonder, fully meaning the words she spoke as her eyes moved over the titles followed by her brush; W.B. Yeats' Collected Works, William Blake- Poems, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson...
"I've read them all," he repeated, though the dryness of the reply left Emi wondering as to whether she had offended with her words this time but then he went on. "You can take some if you'd like."
Gobsmacked, Emi actually dropped the duster this time before remembering to close her mouth.
"Oh no, Sir...I couldn't..."
"Yes you can. I've just said you could. And it's Shikamaru."
Eyes round as saucers, Emi surveyed the wealth of material before her and she blinked several times to try and clear her vision unsuccessfully. Slowly, her fingers drifted upwards towards the one book she longed to possess- the one she had taken on loan from the library more times than any other.
"So, what will you have then, Emi-san?"
Pulling the book down from the third shelf, Emi turned it over in her hands; The Complete Sonnets.
Unconsciously she said the name aloud, as a brief laugh followed her admission.
"A good choice. Although, do me a favour and take the Keats as well. And the Tennyson."
Astounded by both his generousness and his apparent lack of care for his property, Emi turned to face the cloak.
"Are you sure? They are such beautiful books; why don't you keep them?" she asked uncertainly, still gripping her newest possession.
"Like I said, I've read them," the Hokage said bluntly, cracking his knuckles all of a sudden. "No desire to read them again, either. Take them."
"This contains one of my favourites," Emi said more to herself than to the man, pulling down The Collected Poems of Alfred, Lord Tennyson and opening it to inspect the contents. Turning the book to page 309 where she expected to find In Memorium A.H.H., instead Emi found Edwin Morris staring back at her on page 393 and the stubs of where the missing pages had been ripped from their bindings.
"Sorry," he interjected before she could query, correctly guessing her favourite."I'd forgotten I'd done that..."
"You pulled out the poem?" she queried hesitantly, fingering the little torn stubs forlornly. She took his silence as confirmation. However before she could ask why, he explained.
"I got tried of looking the poem up after people kept dying," he said matter-of-factly through his slur, though the words shocked Emi. "So, I pulled it out to have it in my desk. Then, after I realised the words weren't true, I destroyed the pages. It didn't matter," he went on, after Emi remained silent. "I'd read it so many times by then I knew it off by heart."
"But it's more than eighty pages long!" Emi admonished disbelievingly.
"It's 133 cantos long, Emi-san," her interlocutor corrected as though the number meant nothing. "But the thing had lost all meaning to me by the end of my first month in Office...I believe I just got carried away. No doubt around this time of year."
Turning to watch the hat carefully, Emi couldn't help the pitiful look that came upon her features as she let her mind run free over the tragedies unknown that may have befallen the man before her. Such intense pain that he couldn't even bear to read the bitter sweet poem that he had ripped from the tome she held.
"Why?" she couldn't help but ask, trying to keep the tremble out of her high voice.
A long, slow exhalation followed...
"'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all'," was his next remark, said slow and scathingly. "If I read those words one more time..."
"But they're true," Emi interrupted softly, trying to sound encouraging. "...a lot of people who've lost someone..."
"A lot of people who've lost someone," the Hokage repeated, almost to himself. "Those people haven't lost someone- they know where that 'someone' is; they know that that person is gone forever. Maybe then it is better to have had them."
Pausing a little in trying to make out the meaning behind his words, Emi remained quiet.
"When you truly lose someone..." he started again, his voice once more gravelled with deep emotion, "...after a while, you begin to wish you had never met them at all."
Feeling her heart give another tinge at the grief-laden manner in which he spoke, the girl looked down towards the book in her hands- to the torn stubs of pages that cut across the middle of the book and tried to imagine the rage in which the deed would have been done.
"...it would have been easier if...if you hadn't."
The words echoed thickly around the circular room, resounding off of the walls as though hoping to make their mark felt on some object once more.
"If you want to read a true poem about loss, read Eloisa to Abelard," the voice continued, still sounding creaky as though it might fall through at any moment. "'Of all affliction taught a lover yet, 'Tis sure the hardest science to forget! How shall I lose the sin, yet keep the sense, And love th' offender, yet detest th' offence?'" he quoted lovingly, as if the words had been of some comfort to him in times gone by. "...to forget...to find some way of teaching the mind to stop remembering...that would bring quiet."
From the way he spoke, it sounded as though the man had not felt quiet for a long time.
"T-that's why I like the sonnets," Emi said softly after a little while, this time unsuccessful in keeping her voice steady. "They are so full of hope."
"They make you believe," the Hokage continued for her, and again, she could tell he wasn't being truly sincere in his sentiments. "I hope that belief comes true for you, Emi-san. As a civilian you may be a little luckier than most of my acquaintances."
Moving to dust the portraits having now finished the bookcases, Emi lifted the duster to the first one- a face she couldn't make out.
"There are some happy stories amongst shinobi," she said shakily, as through the light bars she saw the dust particles fall through the air towards her- no longer caring to move away. "My parents used to tell me them as bedtime stories when I was a child. Like Uzumaki-san and Namikaze-san..."
"...and the famous love between Hyuuga-san and..."
"Got any living examples?" came the second interruption, said with an impression of both resounding boredom and tiredness.
Emi stumbled for a moment before her mind thankfully caught onto a suitable example that she had been reminded of in the local papers just this morning.
"...well, there is the Kazekage's sister and her husband," Emi announced proudly. "They are both shinobi- married for ten years, three children..."
"She has two children."
"No!" Emi replied, happy to offer up such knowledge to defend her romantic ideal as she dusted off the third portrait. "Didn't you hear? They announced it yesterday morning- she is pregnant again. Due in the spring apparently."
As she waited for a response to her good example, Emi listened to the thick silence and when no response came she began to fear again that she had overstepped the boundaries of her station.
"They seem to be very happy..." she mumbled stupidly, afraid to look round in case there would be some unpleasant sight for her to look upon.
"That's because they are," he croaked eventually, as Emi heard the sounding of wood sliding and then of liquid being poured. By the time she had turned around, she saw a hand holding a masu almost tipping over with sake somehow manage to manoeuvre the cup underneath the hat. This was followed by a deep gulping noise.
Feeling very definitely out of place and a good deal more uncomfortable as the Hokage maintained his silence and continued to drink, Emi moved to the other side of the door, equally quiet, and continued to dust over the ceremonial pots and vases that she found there. Moving to the final object in that corner of the room after a few more minutes, Emi lifted her hand to dust and found she couldn't move.
She screamed aloud when she looked down at her hands and managed to make out long black binds wrapping around each of her arms and forcing them still.
"Leave it," the hat hissed, as the girl felt tears pool in her eyes- fear making her sick and she cast her eyes about for what she had done- but in the dim light all she could see was a long, thick black object that lay against the wall covered in cobwebs as though it had not been moved for some time.
As she stood transfixed with tears pouring down her face, the coils of darkness slithered away from her arms and pulled along the floor back to their owner who remained in his original position on the window seat.
Sniffling as she cried, Emi tried to remain still and not shiver but found that she could not help it- the high-pitched evidence of her fear making its way out of her mouth at regular intervals.
An exasperated sigh came from underneath the cloak at the sounds of her persistent groans, yet Emi let another one out as the figure began to rise slowly and with continuing noises of annoyance at the need for movement at all. Arms pulling the hat down from his face, and setting it on his lap, the figure remained seated on the bench.
And the girl came face to face with the Hokage.
"Don't cry," the man said, not unkindly, though his eyes were red-rimmed but from tears or drinking Emi could not make out. "I'm not going to hurt you, Emi-san. It was only my bloodline."
He was younger than she expected him to be- maybe only just thirty or thereabouts- yet his face looked tired, restless even as though it longed for sleep but could not find it despite his body's need for it. His eyes betrayed his youth completely, for they were a soft brown that looked wise but showed inexperience. Yet as they rested on her, they were contorted into a look of intense confusion.
"Did Ino put you up to this?" he asked quietly, his head tilted to one side.
"I-I-I'm sorry?" she stuttered in utter bewilderment.
"Your hair...did she ask you to wear it like that?"
Her hand involuntarily drifting up to the four tufts of hair that stuck out of the back of her head, Emi shook her head, slowly then quickly in decisiveness.
"I was late this morning so I just threw it up like this..." she said apologetically, feeling as though she might begin to cry again. "...I know it looks ridiculous but it wouldn't sit properly and I saw it in the papers yesterday so I..."
"Would you do me a favour?" the Hokage interrupted her softly, still looking at her blonde head fixedly.
"Could you take it down?"
Her breath caught in her throat as she had not been expecting the request, however she complied quicky, reaching her hands up to the binds and pulling at them until her hair fell down around her ears, the man's gaze never wavering from her hair as she moved.
"Thank you," he said briefly, sounding somewhat relieved- no longer looking at her.
Wrapping the bobbles around her wrist, Emi attempted to smooth down her unruly hair although without a mirror and in such dull light she wasn't sure the attempt was successful. She stood and watched in silence as the Hokage once more reached for the third sake bottle that he had placed on the desk and began to open it. She was about to offer another attempt at distraction when the door banged open.
"Emi-san," the voice barked and the girl did not have to have full light to see that it was her boss striding into the room. "I thought I told you to be done in twenty minutes. It is now 8.15am," she admonished, striding over to the windows and pulling at the drawstrings authoritatively.
The room became blindingly bright at the sunlight drifted in and the two previous occupants of the space winced simultaneously.
"And as for you," she added, banging a glass of white fizzing water down onto the table beside the Hokage, before snatching away the masu, "I thought I told you who was coming today."
"I was wondering why you hid the papers from me yesterday" the man behind the desk stated, eyeing Yamanaka with something close to dark suspicion.
Ignoring the remark altogether, the blonde merely began tidying up the bottles and dusting down the desk with her hand herself.
"You can read them on Thursday," she responded matter-of-factly. "In the mean time, get yourself ready;" a gesture to the robe.
"Who is it they're sending?" was the next query, as the robe was put on and the white drink eyed warily. Emi wondered if she imagined the note of fear or hope that echoed after it was asked.
The woman responded with a look which Emi could not see.
"Oh, wonderful," the Hokage answered through a sigh, sounding anything but happy, "it really has been too long."
"Drink," was all the reply he received, as she moved towards the door. "Emi, come."
Nodding at the unexpected command, Emi moved towards the door.
"It was nice to meet you, Emi-san," the Hokage called after her as she exited. "Enjoy the books."
She was about to reply, however before she could, her boss slammed the door shut and moved around to her own desk which was situated just outside the door.
"Whatever he told you in there, you repeat it to no one. Understand?" was the blunt order, to which Emi nodded obediently and tried to remember what it was she was told that was so confidential, as the woman kept her head directed towards the papers on her desk.
She was just about to scurry away, hopeful that she wasn't in trouble for deviating from her time limit, when another voice sounded.
"Is he up yet?"
A tall man rounded the corner into Ino's Office dressed in a deep black jumpsuit with an odd sort of purple make-up decorating his face. With him was a small blonde boy aged about six or seven by Emi's guess, who was looking around him rapidly as though afraid what he was seeing would disappear. He also had the most oddly coloured blue eyes Emi had ever seen.
"Kankuro-san," the blonde woman greeted coolly, giving him a sardonic look before her eyes drifted to his companion and narrowed a fraction. "Give him another five minutes."
"So, he's actually awake, then Ino-san? Well done, you run this place better than I assumed."
Rolling her eyes, Emi's boss sighed and set down her pen.
"Who's this then?" she asked in clipped tones that sounded as though they were meant to come out kindly.
"The nephew," Kankuro replied, banging his hand on top of the young boy's head and ruffling his hair affectionately. "Decided to bring him with me on the trip- we're moving around the country after this little bit of business is over. Doing a bit of sight-seeing."
"Are you enjoying Konohagakure?"
The little boy beamed a toothy grin and shook his head vigorously.
"A quiet one," Ino remarked, turning to Kankuro.
"Takes after his father," was the sardonic response. "Maybe getting him out of Suna for a bit will get him to open up."
"How long are you travelling for?"
"Around a month..." Kankuro replied happily, once more clapping the boy on the shoulder.
"A month?" the blonde repeated sounding surprised. "A long time to be away..."
"Probably, but Gaara has the other one for about the same amount of time so I figured he'd be bored in the house by himself. Better to hang out with fun uncle Kankuro, eh?"
The kid once more nodded enthusiastically, his eyes still moving all over the place, even landing on Emi a couple of times.
When Ino still continued to look perplexed, Kankuro leaned forward so the boy couldn't hear...
"To be honest, Tem' goes a bit weird in about a month's time every year. No idea why- just better to have the both of them gone."
A look of guarded realisation crossed Ino's features and she nodded slowly before smiling tightly at the boy.
"How would you like to stay out here with me?" she asked the child pleasantly, "they'll just be talking boring business in there and Emi-san here could take you to get some ice-cream?"
Looking down to study his nephew's face, Kankuro smiled a bit at the torn expression on the boy's face.
"He kind of had his heart set on meeting the Hokage."
"Oh, you don't want to meet him," Ino encouraged bracingly, leaning forward on her elbows. "Konoha has some of the best ice cream in the whole country."
When it looked as though this had decided the matter, Ino gestured to Emi.
"Bring him back in about an hour- but just to the front door, not in here...no reason why he should be made to wait around the Office."
"Enjoy yourself kid," Kankuro said happily, before adding "God knows I won't."
Ino rolled her eyes again as she stood and moved towards the door. "He's about as excited as you, Kankuro-san.
"Excited enough to be concious?"
"Ha ha," the woman replied dryly. "Go in. Try not to speak that quickly and whatever he says..."
"Don't give him any sake," Kankuro finished. "I know the drill."
The door opened and closed before Emi had time to comprehend what had happened and soon Ino was shuffling her and the boy out into the hall, pressing money into her hand.
"Remember, at least an hour and only bring him back to the door, alright?"
She nodded dutifully and took the boy by the shoulders, steering him towards the exit of the building.
"I wanted to meet the Hokage," the young boy mumbled eventually, seemingly unhappy and having changed his mind about the ice-cream.
"I'm sure you will, someday," Emi replied trying to sound positive.
"Have you met him?" was the next question, asked with a slight note of hesitancy.
Emi nodded as the boy's eyes widened even more and he let out a small 'oh'. "He's a very nice man," she added softly.
"My mother says he's amazing..." the boy continued as they walked. "She says he's the fastest fighter since the sixth Hokage and that one time, whenever he was young, he killed this guy who couldn't be killed. Except he did! And also, that whenever the sixth died, he didn't want to be Hokage, but my uncle convinced him to. Nobody would ever say no to uncle Gaara but he argued with him and then he wasn't allowed in Suna for six months! And after my parents got married, there was another big war and he killed like twenty people all in one go! And when..."
Smiling whilst she listened to the boy ramble on endlessly, as they moved outside into the broad sunshine, Emi felt a relief wash over her that her day was finished.
Yet, it occurred to her, as she walked away from the oddest working day of her life with her companion still gesticulating excitedly, that this little boy might know more about the Hokage than any other person in the Land of Fire.
Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drown'd,
Let darkness keep her raven gloss:
Ah, sweeter to be drunk with loss,
To dance with death, to beat the ground,
Than that the victor Hours should scorn
The long result of love, and boast,
'Behold the man that loved and lost,
But all he was is overworn.'
A/N: So, I know there are going to be a lot of you who either love or hate this type of a fic- it's a bit angsty (although I hope not too much), not very happy in its ending and doesn't feature our beloved heroine at all. Plus, I've made Shikamaru dark, which I know for some is a no-go but I really tried to put myself into the mind of Shikamaru maybe ten years after he and Temari had parted and see what way he would behave.
Either way, I know that it's not going to be everybody's cup of tea but I had fun writing it- exploring poetry is perhaps my favourite thing to do and as you can tell this was heavily if not wholly by Tennyson's In Memoriam A.H.H and Pope's from Eloisa to Abelard; two incredibly beautiful, touching and distinctive -not to mention lengthy- poems about how a person copes after they've lost someone, either by death or by separation. I would encourage everybody to read them.
So, I hope you've enjoyed this little ficlet anyways!
Moving on- there is a new poll on my profile about a possible ShikaTema fanfic competition that I may run over the next couple of months. I'd be interested to know how many of you would be interested in participating and I'll probably set up a forum in the near future to post the prompts, rules and to allow people to ask any questions or give advice. We can all agree that there is no such thing as too much ShikaTema! lol So vote and let me know! :)
Thanks for reading and...